The Book Club

A Sad Remembrance

Dear Katha,

What a good thing to meet another Rachel Ingalls fan. I hope the publishers are listening. Or Oprah.

As a last word, let me return to the book. I feel real gratitude toward Philip Roth for I Married A Communist. While he has, as usual, climbed into the too-familiar cockpit of Nathan Zuckerman, aspiring writer, this time he’s using that hot air balloon to explore a deadly serious chunk of American history. In the 50’s, Roth reminds us, betrayal was “destigmatized,” even honored. This novel represents a wonderful late growth in Roth’s powers. And let me end on a real case. Late in the book Roth brings up the sad case of Philip Loeb, who played Jake on the popular radio and TV show, The Goldbergs. In 1951 Loeb was named as a fellow traveler in Red Channels, the bible of blacklisting, and called before the House Unamerican Activities Committee. Loeb lost his job, and in 1955 he killed himself in the Taft Hotel in New York. While Roth’s Communist, Ira Ringold, does not kill himself, he has a bleak end, and in a review of the book in Bookforum , I guessed that Ira may have been inspired by Philip Loeb. Victor Navasky’s Naming Names tells us that Loeb was a widower, with a schizophrenic son. His co-star Gertrude Berg, the owner and writer of The Goldbergs, supported him through the start of the blacklist, when General Foods demanded his head and CBS dropped the show. But when NBC picked the show up and no one would sponsor it, Berg abandoned Loeb too. She paid him off, to the tune of $40,000. Loeb’s papers fill one narrow box in the manuscript division of the New York Public Library, and they offer a window on his last desperate years. At first New York society people wrote him encouraging letters enclosing “some small help,” but before long he was playing summer stock on Cape Cod, and no one was writing letters. In 1953 he was fired from the job he most loved, teaching at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. That year, too, he developed cataracts.

In the weeks before he died in 1955, New York tax authorities sent Loeb a summons for nearly $1000 in unpaid taxes. But his bank balance had slipped to $220.64, and he sent the taxman a pathetic letter, typed by a friend, saying his eyesight was going and he had no prospect of work. What had he done? Philip Loeb was a strong union man. He had supported the Moscow trials in 1938 (his Pol Pot), and fought for the integration of major league baseball. Loeb was willing to appear before the House committee but was never called. Till his death he was proud of his political beliefs. He had, he said, always been a liberal.