The current issue of Bradley Smith’s monthly journal, Smith’s Report, republishes my introduction to The Man Who Saw His Own Liver, along with a most thoughtful account by Bradley of how the work came to be. Here’s what the good man has to say:
WHERE I WAS WHEN I WROTE
THE MAN WHO SAW HIS OWN LIVER
It was 1982 and I was living in Hollywood, working in construction in Topanga Canyon and in the mountains above Malibu. For the most I was doing concrete and block. In the 1970s I had become involved with protesting the nuclear arms programs of the U.S. Government, and in 1979 I was introduced to Holocaust revisionism. In the 1970s it was one thing after another. Rather like it is now.
One afternoon I was off-loading concrete block from the bed of a pick-up truck with a couple Mexicans—illegals probably, I never asked—when in the middle of a “swing” with a block in each hand, something cracked in my back. The crack was so loud that one of the workers straightened up, looked around, and said: “Que fue eso?”—or “What was that?”
At first it didn’t hurt, but I stood aside from the work just in case. After about an hour it started to hurt. I thought it might get worse so I drove my laborers to their pick-up corner and then on to my mother’s little frame house in a canyon off Hollywood Boulevard a couple blocks behind Grauman’s Chinese Theater. Pretty soon I couldn’t walk, and then I couldn’t stand up. To make a long story short, I spent the next five months lying on my mother’s dining room floor.
Irene, my future wife, slept in a little sewing room a few feet from where I was laying. She was taking care of my mother, who had multiple sclerosis and was in a wheelchair. Marisol, her eight-year-old daughter, was there too. Years later Marisol was to tell me that that was the worst year of her life, having me lay around like that and having to go around or jump over me to get to the front door.
I don’t recall how it came to be, but I began working on a play that I would call The Man Who Stopped Paying. It would be a one-character monologue dealing with tax resistance and the nuclear arms race from a subjective and some-what unique point of view. The way I worked was with blank file cards and a pen. Lying on the floor on my belly I would print the idea for one passage across the top of one card, print the ideas for other passages across the tops of other cards, then arrange the cards on the carpet before me in a projected narrative order. It was a simple matter to change the structure of the narrative by changing the order of the cards.
After about five months, when I could sit up in a chair, I had Irene put my typewriter on the dinning room table and I finished the manuscript.
I began passing photocopies of the play script around. Never heard back. Turned out that Aldo Ray, the actor who starred in the screen adaptation of Erskine Caldwell’s God’s Little Acre, used the same post office I did on Highland Ave-nue off Franklin. I sent him a copy of the play. One afternoon a couple weeks later I bumped into him at the mailboxes and asked if he had found the time to read some of it.
He was rather a big fellow, and he looked down at me with a steady, unfriendly eye.
“I read it. I don’t do that kind of thing,” he said. He didn’t move. It was as if he wanted to get into something with me there in the little post office. I waited. After a moment he said:
“It’s not for me. I wouldn’t touch it.”
It was clear that while he wanted to say what he said, he wanted to say something else too.
“Okay,” I said. “Thank you.”
I had not gotten any positive responses to the play. I still couldn’t work so I kept sending it around. One night I went to a dramatic “reading” out in the Valley some-place and watched a big, burly guy read in a way that impressed me. I gave him a copy of the play and a week later he called me from Colo-rado where he was on vacation to tell me he liked it, that there were passages in the script that he wanted to speak. His name was Jon Ackelson.
Meanwhile, my friend Steve Leichter had read the play. Steve is a Jew, he had gone to Israel when he was a young guy and some Arab had shot him in the ass while he was driving a tractor. No hard feelings, but he decided to make his way back to America. There were a couple passages in the play that might offend some Jews, and in the event did, but Steve liked it and volunteered to be my pro-ducer. This was a real windfall for me because Steve was the kind of guy who knows how to do things.
It didn’t occur to me at the time, but Aldo Ray—he was a mainstream Hollywood guy—might have seen something in the script he read that could be seen as critical of Jewish tradition. Why would he risk it?
Ackelson and I began rehearsing the play in the garage in which the play is set. He and I were co-directors. We worked well together. We had one initial difficulty. There are passages in the text where the character is struggling with difficult material under difficult circumstances. Ackelson initially read in a way that emphasized the pain and I suppose the sorrow that he felt for the character. It took two or three readings to get it across to Ackelson that no line in the text could be delivered in a way that would suggest to the audience that his character felt sorry for himself. No complaining, no self-pity. No line.
About that time Steve Leichter got a business offer he could not refuse and moved his family to Berkeley, where I think he still is. In the end Irene loaned me the money to stage the play myself in The Theater of Note, a small house in downtown Los Angeles. It was money she had earned cleaning other people’s houses.
I announced the play in the Los Angeles Times, Dramalogue, The Free Press, and a couple other places. The first night there were maybe a dozen people in the audience. Then there was one review printed, then another, and another. Each was positive.
Robert Koehler, writing in Stage Beat for the Los Angeles Times, headed his piece:
“The Difficulty of Battling The Bomb”
“Something occurred to me the other day. What could be a more effective way of protesting the arms race than refusing to pay one’s tax bill that funds America’s side of that race?
“…How odd to see your errant notion, still fresh in the head, given life in a play, namely Bradley Smith’s ‘The Man Who Stopped Paying.’
“…[Smith’s] man who isn’t paying is big, burly, bearded and working-class pure. He isn’t a col-legiate, but he’s well read (he compares the great “play” of to-day—nuclear arms protest—to the great plays of the past—“Lear,” “Antigone,” “The Oresteia”…
“…Bureaucrats are the enemy, for, while they maintain the wel-fare system, they also maintain the machines that will destroy that welfare…For the first time in a long time on stage an anarchist libertarian has sounded out.
“Perhaps it’s right, then, that he’s alone in his garage work space speaking to us. Even though he’s married, and speaks of that love as tenderly as he does of na-ture, he’s his own man in every sense. Jon Ackelson plays him with little abandon but a great deal of heart.
“…Smith could become a kind of playwright laureate of an American Greens party. But, then, he’d probably rather go it alone.”
Audiences grew slowly from the first performance, to thirty and forty, and on to the final performance. There had been a libertarian conference in town and for the final performance. Mike Everling helped me fill the house that night with the perfect audience. It was a rousing performance by Ackelson and the audience alike, and I went out in a small blaze of glory.
Within the year I had given up working with the nuclear arms issue and had turned to working with revisionism. Tax resisters could meet openly in the Unitarian Church on Eighth Street, while the Institute for Historical Review was burned to the ground on the Fourth of July, 1984. Tax resistance was radical, but had the open attention of principled people. Revisionism was radical as well, but revisionists were judged to be evil and aligned with the Devil. The artist in me chose to challenge the Devil Himself rather than continue to harangue the bureaucrats.
Of course, it’s always the bureaucrats. Republicans, National Socialists, Democrats, Communists. As a class, bureaucrats always choose to follow their leader and dedicate themselves to convincing the people that their leader has a program … a path … to righteousness, truth, and liberty when righteousness, truth, and liberty are themselves the path.
The Devil now…that’s where the drama is. He hasn’t let me down yet.
The Man Who Saw His Own Liver is the first book to be released under the Hoover Hog’s ill-advised publishing imprint, Nine-Banded Books. It’s at the printer now, and copies are slated to begin shipping in the first week of February, possibly sooner. You can place advance orders through Amazon or Target, but if you want an autographed copy please send your inscription request through PayPal, or contact me directly.
We’re currently at work on three other books about which more information will be posted soon.