Indoctrination? I don't think so.
by Ruth Horowitz
- "My sister will never forgive them," (David) Horowitz wailed to the audience of some 200, then depicted the abyss of his own deprivation. He had never been allowed to go to Doris Day and Rock Hudson movies, but rather was forced to sit through uplifting Soviet features.” "David Horowitz Gets it all wrong" by Alexander Cockburn, June 4, 2003
- “Yes, while other American families watched The Lone Ranger or The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, the Horowitz’s watched riveting Soviet propaganda films.”
Larry Alex Taunton, April 4, 2017
Going to the old musty-smelling Stanley Theater on West 45 Street to see Soviet made films was a Friday night family outing. Just going out to Manhattan together, the four of us, was a treat. Of the films we saw, I remember three: Sergei Eisenstein’s classics, “Alexander Nevsky” and “Potemkin,” and one totally forgettable Soviet propaganda film, of which only the final scene remains as a visual memory: Stalin steps down from an airplane to receive adoring applause from those awaiting him. My take-away from this film: I would never be beautiful like the blue-eyed Russian girls with the thick blonde braids and high cheek bones. I was young; Soviet politics were totally lost on me. Did my parents take us to see Soviet movies to inculcate a love of all things Soviet? I don't think so; I think they were including David and me in an activity they themselves would enjoy. Whether we went three times only, or for Fridays on end, I do not recall, but given the ordinary fill of American movies I saw, the Stanley Theater influence was small. What I knew for certain was that my parents wanted the people of the Soviet Union and the people of the United States to be friends with each other. My childhood was filled with the sense that someday we would all live in peace and brotherhood.
Movies were such an integral part of my growing up that during my college years, I started to prepare for a career in movie production. My movie-going experiences stretched back well into elementary school years and included a myriad of ordinary popular films. David and I were never forbidden to see a film of our choosing. Left to my father, this might have been so. My father had a fairly strict hierarchy of what was good fare and what wasn’t, and a colorful way of letting us know, but I don’t recall his cultural dicta ever gaining much purchase in our household. Instead, my mother’s broadminded cultural attitude prevailed. So despite any objections my father may have had, I saw “On the Waterfront” many times, and don’t remember any flak for my devotion to this movie, despite its having been directed by Elia Kazan and written by Bud Schulberg, two Hollywood men infamous on the left for naming names before the House Un-American Activities Committee. As usual, my take-away fantasy was romantic in nature: that I could be Eva St. Marie’s character to Marlon Brando’s Terry Malloy.
Before the end of the 1950s, I had already seen: The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca, The Grapes of Wrath, Citizen Kane, The Great Dictator, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The Red Shoes, Great Expectations, Beauty and the Beast, Shoeshine, Bicycle Thief, Kind Hearts and Coronets, All the King’s Men, The Inspector General, Born Yesterday, The Day the Earth Stood Still and The Lost Continent (a double feature I saw with my brother), The African Queen, Cheaper by the Dozen, An American in Paris, Showboat, Member of the Wedding, Singing in the Rain, Viva Zapata, High Noon, The Greatest Show on Earth, The Wild One, The Blue Gardenia, Shane, Stalag 17, The Moon is Blue, Houdini, Three Coins in the Fountain, On the Waterfront, Sabrina, A Star is Born, Dial M for Murder, Seven Samurai, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Rebel Without a Cause, East of Eden, Marty, The Seven Year Itch, Picnic, and possibly Pillow Talk as well. And this is only the short list.
It was the evening my mother convinced my father to accompany us to my all-time favorite movie of the day, when I realized how dogmatic my father was in these matters, and how sensitive I was to his judgments. I had already seen “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” many times over when, in my enthusiasm, I begged my folks to go with me. Sensitive to my feelings, my mother understood how much this occasion would mean; walking up to the Center Theater that evening, I can only imagine her anxiety about my father’s possible reaction. In the darkened movie house, my father, unable to tolerate the garish technicolor, the song and dance, the unabated cheeriness of it all, squirmed in his seat and muttered his disdain. Eventually, he got up and walked out. The sting of my father’s judgment in this instance is one of only four remembered moments during my childhood in which my spirit felt utterly crushed by his harsh criticism. The others? My intense relationship with rock and roll which lasted throughout high school (“that crap!”); the purchase of a high school key in my senior year he considered a frivolous waste of $13, and my love of Carson McCullers’ writing, which cut me deeply as she mirrored the loneliness I was feeling at the time. I hated his judgments and his thinking he had all the answers.
Sunnyside had a Catholic Church with formidable power over what went on in the neighborhood. My next door playmate Mary came home from Catholic school one afternoon to announce she could no longer play with me. Because I was a Commie? A Jew? A heathen? An atheist? Fortunately, the Protestant family who lived upstairs in the same duplex continued to welcome me into their home to watch “Howdy Doody” every afternoon until we got our own television.
When “The Moon is Blue” came out in 1953, it was condemned by the Catholic Legion of Decency, but the Bliss Theater ran it anyway. Forbidden fare, and something of a curiosity for non-Catholics, my mother took me to see it. Too young to understand, I missed the whole central theme of the movie despite my mother’s attempts to explain. (How does one explain, “You’re a professional virgin,” to an eleven year old?!) But I liked the actress Maggie McNamara, and of course, William Holden. I was often smitten by movie stars, and by junior high school, I pored over photos in movie magazines with my girlfriends, wishing I could be sweet, like June Allyson, delicate, like Audrey Hepburn, beautiful, like Ava Gardner. Or be the love object of a Marlon Brando, a William Holden, a James Dean. I watched American movies and foreign films indiscriminately; my favorite movie stars were as varied as my favorite movies.
If there was reason for me to forgive my parents, it did not have to do with cultural indoctrination. My dismay had more to do with time spent away from home. My mother, in particular, taught school all day, and often came home just to cook supper before she left again for meetings, and to visit friends, most poignantly, her bed-ridden friend on 45th Street whom she took care of for years. Intelligent and accomplished, my mother felt claustrophobic in the confines of domesticity. Evenings, my father took up the slack, helped with homework, read to us, and played games. I loved his passion for ideas and compassion for people; they mitigated his strong and hurtful biases. From this end of my life, I realize there was never anything to forgive; my parents’ flaws were quite ordinary.
My up-bringing had less doctrinal influence on my life than it offered inclusiveness of different peoples and optimism for the future. What I treasure is the warmth I felt inside our home where friends stopped in, discussed issues heatedly, and left as friends - that feeling of camaraderie, and the sense that we were all in a larger family moving together towards building a peaceful, racially integrated world with jobs, fair wages and working conditions for everyone…all that, and the freedom to find my own way in all things cultural.
Ruth Horowitz has been homesteading with her husband in the backwoods of Nova Scotia since 1974.