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Golden Boy

ANYTHING YOUR LITTLE HEART DESIRES.\o7 By Patricia Bosworth\f7 .\o7 Simon & Schuster: 416 pp., $27.50\f7

May 11, 1997|PETER BISKIND | Peter Biskind is the author of "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: The Rise and Fall of the New Hollywood," which will be published in 1998 by Simon & Schuster. He is a former executive editor of Premiere magazine

It is inevitable that "Anything Your Little Heart Desires," Patricia Bosworth's account of her eccentric family, riding the crest of the flood tide of confessional literature, spilling into the bookstores, splattering more reticent writing with big gobs of daddy-daughter sex, pederasty and whatnot, will be lumped together with the contributions of the daughters of Mary Karr and most conspicuously, with Kathryn Harrison's recent "The Kiss" (Reviewed, Page 8). On the face of it, nothing would seem more preposterous. Bosworth's account does have its share of booze, pills, closeted homosexuality and suicide, but instead of a dark and claustral world of furtive incest, hers is a story told against the broad landscape of mid-20th century American politics. Still, there are stranger bedfellows than sex and politics, and her father's kiss left its own kind of scars.

Although this is a family history, it is mostly about Bosworth's struggle to come to terms with the life and death of her mercurial father, attorney Bartley Crum, a charming man whose quicksilver passage through the lives of the famous, rich and not-so-rich of his day, his flourishing corporate law practice, frantic good works and whirligig of speaking engagements and writing obligations concealed an absence disclosed only when he ended his life at 59 with a bottle of Seconal and a whiskey chaser. As a liberal Republican, Crum was truly an endangered species, a creature so maladapted that the very phrase now seems oxymoronic. He rose to prominence in San Francisco political circles in the 1930s working for a law firm that serviced William Randolph Hearst, but he deserted the great man to campaign for Wendell Wilkie in his futile attempt to unseat Franklin Roosevelt. He then cast his lot with American Zionists and crusaded for the creation of the state of Israel, bought and folded the New York Star, nee PM, a liberal New York tabloid, along the way lent his name to a number of Popular Front anti-fascist organizations and then really got himself into trouble by defending the Hollywood Ten.

Crum was raised in the Central Valley of California. On his mother's side, he came from shanty Irish stock; his father was a bronco buster who literally bet the ranch and lost, reducing his family to not-so-genteel poverty and himself to a lifetime of inebriation and disgrace. Young Bart was a lively, cheerful boy, well liked by everyone. He breezed through UC Berkeley, got his law degree from Boalt Hall and married Anna Gertrude "Cutsie" Bosworth, a petite, blond former crime reporter for the San Francisco Call Bulletin.

The Crums quickly found a place among the beautiful people of a beautiful city. But Crum must have inhaled something of the tradition of California Populism embodied in the gubernatorial campaign of Upton Sinclair, because he began mixing pro bono work for progressive causes into his corporate practice. He witnessed the violent longshoremen's strike of 1934 orchestrated by the legendary Harry Bridges and the two men became friends. Bosworth says she thinks that observing the government's persecution of Bridges radicalized Crum, although she goes on to ascribe more influence to his Catholic "search for redemption." In any event, he was too passionate and idealistic to be satisfied representing his deep-pocket clients and joined the radical National Lawyers Guild in 1937, along with Thurgood Marshall, Arthur Goldberg and Abe Fortas. Around the same time, he also joined the Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee, which raised money to help the defeated anti-Franco Loyalists.

Crum was already being called naive for working with communists, an epithet, like innocent, that would dog his footsteps throughout his career. But in those days, the Communist Party was one of the few organizations effectively organizing against fascism, and he was guided by the principle: The enemy of my enemy is my friend. It was the high tide of the Popular Front; everything seemed simple. Liberals and communists worked toward the same end. The Crums were always throwing parties and, at their home, with the booze flowing freely, Bridges would rub shoulders with Paul Robeson, Orson Welles, Dorothy Parker and even Crum's right-wing Hearst buddies. As Bosworth puts it, "They thought they were indestructible then, and so smart and beautiful and well connected that nothing could ever touch them."

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