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Robert  Harper

I was thinking of Arthur Miller today

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Posted (edited)

With the justifiable use of the word “witch-hunt” to describe certain incidents of the past few years, one is inevitably drawn to the echoes from the 1692 trials in Salem, Massachusetts and it’s brilliant dramatization by Arthur Miller in 1953.

At that time, I was only 2 years old and living in Manhattan, near Fort Washington . My personal recollection of the concepts “Salem” and “Arthur Miller” would emerge about the same time as my concept of “John Kennedy.”   All intersected when my Irish-Catholic family moved from “the Heights”  viewing the George Washington Bridge, to the town near the Bay where Nathanial Hawthorne was an icon and the Witch House and The House of the Seven Gables were  local attractions. I received my First Holy Communion in Salem—dressed all in white, unlike my brothers who had worn blue blazers at theirs in Manhattan.

 “Salem” was the American version of “JeruSALEM” and religious affiliations were involved from the very beginnings of its formation.  People might not know that of the 8 original America colonial colleges, 7 of them  provided  training for Anglican/Protestant preachers and ministers, and the 8th prepared those of the Dutch Reform branch. The 7 schools eventually became the Ivy League; the other 1, became the public university of New Jersey—Rutgers, my alma mater.

 Miller, in his late 30’s, traveled to Salem, studied the transcripts and history and captured an intensely dramatic time in the lives of the Massachusetts citizens, in his play The Crucible. It is his most widely done play nationwide in amateur productions, and – astonishingly - was written within a 7 year period which also included his impressive debut,  All My Sons, as well as his brilliant Death of a Salesman .

Salem was also the place I first heard the name “John Kennedy.” The memory was always clear: my Dad, in white tee-shirt, going down the stairs loudly saying (don’t think he ever ‘screamed’ ) that  “John Kennedy was nominated last night.”

 So, unlike Dr Ford, for example, I can place my memory in time, place, location, with a consistent recollection over time.  It was  Thursday morning, July 14 1960, upstairs in one of the bunk bed bedrooms, on Loring Avenue in Salem, Massachusetts. It was the first time I recall any political expression by  my father, consequently, “nominated” and “Kennedy” were implanted.

 I had received a postcard from my father, dated February 4 1959, with a rendition of the Salem Custom House(image attached). We lived in Manhattan on a street called “Haven ” a Dutch word for “harbor” - a suitable association for a childhood home. He wrote that he “missed taking me to school each day – even when you rush me.”  Apparently, unlike some brothers, I wanted to get to school and get there early! My first day of school, is captured on home film, with the date and event, written with chalk on the sidewalk, as a sort of subtitleJ

 Jacket and tie, briefcase in hand; there was no day-care or even kindergarten at that time available; I went right to first grade. I’d walk home with friends or even alone. I had a local girl friend and played house with her, and walked with a pal in the building, a kid who went to a Jewish school, and recall talking of the 100th birthday of A&P supermarket chain celebrated that year. I’d go past the Audubon Ballroom where a few years later Malcolm X would be killed as I walked from the same school both my parents graduated from in 1931.

But back to Salem,  Kennedy and Miller.

 I learned JFK was the same age as my father; that he too came from a large Irish-Catholic family, that some of them had lived for awhile  in New York and were living now about 30 miles away.  Years later, I would also find that our great-great grandfather, Patrick Harper, had moved from Wexford County, Ireland – with his 11 children – to Brooklyn, NY in 1868.  A similar route taken by the Kennedy clan from Wexford  25 years earlier. Years further down the road, when we traveled to Ireland, my wife and I stopped by the church where they were married  in 1845, and visited the grounds of their home and  hospitality/pub,  while meeting the current owners and finding information on the graves of other ancestors. I found that the spelling of the name was often described as   always with an e”  as opposed to the French Harpur who also settled  there, and who frequently replaced the “u” “with an e.”

  The Lodge family was well known in Massachusetts and during the campaign I recall one of the candidates came through town and we wore  tee-shirts saying “I like Ike.” I remember thinking I wish it was Kennedy & Lodge rather than him and Johnson. Lodge seemed to be classier.

 Kennedy’s father – born in the late 19th century - had a huge influence on him and his siblings.  My Dad’s father - generation of Joseph P. Kennedy – got an accountancy degree, formed a firm,  married and then  moved up to Washington  Heights , way up  “in the country,”  and had 2 children, then died from the Flu epidemic of 1918.

 So I saw similarities in the families, and related to them. Later, I’d understand the great differences between the starting gates available for each of them, but essentially their value system overlapped with ours. Family, the discipline of learning, the understanding of Christianity. The dedication to excellence and character formation were prioritized over the accumulation of wealth.  My own father had the large family of the  Harper Brooklyn  landing - 9 children - and all 9 of his were parochially  schooled and college educated.  Difficult to pull off when one has money; very  difficult to pull off when one doesn’t. But I think  about large families the way F. Scott Fitzgerald felt about the very rich: They are different. They have  rewards and understandings and confrontations all of their own devising. They have  constant mental and physical stimulation unknown to the “normal” American household and they form fragmented loyalties at the dinner table unavailable to those without enough participants.

  My father was raised by a 30 year old widow, who worked as a sales lady on Fifth Avenue, and sent him to a private Catholic High school.  All Hallows was the first school founded by the Christian Brothers in the United States. The order founded the school upon the principles of its Irish leader Edmund Rice - which center on providing moral and scholastic training, especially to the children of the poor. Originally located at 13-15 West 124th in Manhattan, the school moved to the Bronx in 1928.Its motto, the Latin phrase Pro fide et patria means For faith and country.

 Themes of Family, church and country were similarly combined with the Kennedy’s.  They even had a “Robert Francis” – and that was my name too!( I chose Xavier for a Confirmation name, when I was 13. Francis Xavier was a founding member of the Jesuits and was the first Christian missionary to Japan and India and died while en route to China. Like JFK, he did a lot before dying at age 46.

When I got to college I was active in the Theater Arts Department and in the Spring of 1973 played the lead role of John Proctor in The Crucible and in the Fall of 1974 made my professional debut as the walk-on waiter in Salesman. Miller visited the cast afterwards and I was in jaw-drop time. Six years after that, in the Spring of 1980, I worked with Miller as we prepared the debut of his play The American Clock, off-Broadway, and  at the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, SC later that summer, and on Broadway in the Fall.

I adored Miller. Once I got past the anxious stage, I loved working on his material and discussing things with him. I recall  talking about our shoes and that broke a barrier so that I could get out of hero worship mode and become a colleague. He had a wonderful sense of humor and although there is only one laugh in The Crucible when you play Proctor, the scene in Clock was a riot and got whoops of laughter and scene ending applause. People who only know the “serious” Miller are bereft if they ignore his comic or tragic-comic impulses in such plays as The Price or The Man Who Had All the Luck.

By the time I was 30 years old, I had studied Miller  and performed him. But I also followed the history of the McCarthy Hearings and his refusal to name names. I knew of him working with Elia Kazan both before and after Kazan testified against others, so I knew that his esthetic integrity matched his political one. He was a defender of the group PEN which defended the rights of writers and was banned in Russia for this activity.

 He was what we rarely see anymore—a playwright.

 He loved the theater and anyone other than Ed Koch as Mayor of NYC would never have allowed the Morosco Theater—the place where Salesman debuted in 1949—to be torn down to “improve” Times Square by building a Marriot Hotel. Letters from him to me – typed as well as hand written—are among my most treasured mementos. Reading his book Salesman in Bejing is a treat should anyone be interested to read about the author directing his masterpiece with Chinese actors in China.

There is a another element to this Salem-Kennedy-Miller triangle.  I hope to explore it in a forthcoming essay.  That element is the witch.

.

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Edited by Robert Harper
correction

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Posted (edited)

Robert, loved reading this piece.

So much to reflect on in warm ways.

I think I get the connections you make regards your family history and make up and that of the Kennedy's, especially in your shared sense of national origins, Christian social values, encouragement of education and the fun and rich rewards of growing up in a large many sibling family, etc.

You were very lucky ( blessed? ) to be born and raised into such a healthily loving and nurturing environment and you have bore the fruit of this well in your sensitive and caring humanity which you have obviously shared selflessly with others all your life and continue to do so here on this forum in the spirit of JFK and searching for the  truth regards his tragic and unjust removal.

Your sharings Robert, about such things and JFK's humanity ( which you obviously sensed and appreciated about him ) touch my sense of JFK as well. Even though I cannot articulate this anywhere near as well as you.

 

Edited by Joe Bauer

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Joe--thank you for sharing your response, which, as usual is succinct, and honest . We share on this site a sense that "something happened" in 1963 that was important and never resolved and that "something" had meaning beyond  its immediate effects. I read your comments and responses as similar to one by a member I used to enjoy reading very much - Bart (I think name is right, avatar with hardhat). In particular he and you and I share a status- with others - as affected and interested participants who have relied on the research and reasoning of many of the people on this site; I think we are appreciators, not researchers. I think we write to express ourselves within this structure of "something happened" and reading such from others assists that process. It is said that knowledge is accumulated bit by bit; and understanding from a grasp of the whole. We are are on the journey to understanding (belief) through the encounter with knowledge (facts).

On 10/4/2018 at 3:26 PM, Joe Bauer said:

Even though I cannot articulate this anywhere near as well as you.

Please cut these words from your post? They do not apply; you express yourself quite well.

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25 minutes ago, Robert Harper said:

Joe--thank you for sharing your response, which, as usual is succinct, and honest . We share on this site a sense that "something happened" in 1963 that was important and never resolved and that "something" had meaning beyond  its immediate effects. I read your comments and responses as similar to one by a member I used to enjoy reading very much - Bart (I think name is right, avatar with hardhat). In particular he and you and I share a status- with others - as affected and interested participants who have relied on the research and reasoning of many of the people on this site;

 

I think we are appreciators, not researchers.

Robert, that is exactly right. Passionate ones.

Passionate about our loss of JFK and seeking the honest truth as to who removed him and why and has been able to contain the MSM from doing more to understand and seek this truth.

Nice that the forum and it's true researchers give appreciators ( of their work ) room to express themselves here as well.

I think we write to express ourselves within this structure of "something happened" and reading such from others assists that process. It is said that knowledge is accumulated bit by bit; and understanding from a grasp of the whole. We are are on the journey to understanding (belief) through the encounter with knowledge (facts).

Please cut these words from your post? They do not apply; you express yourself quite well.

 

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42 minutes ago, Robert Harper said:

Joe--thank you for sharing your response, which, as usual is succinct, and honest . We share on this site a sense that "something happened" in 1963 that was important and never resolved and that "something" had meaning beyond  its immediate effects. I read your comments and responses as similar to one by a member I used to enjoy reading very much - Bart (I think name is right, avatar with hardhat). In particular he and you and I share a status- with others - as affected and interested participants who have relied on the research and reasoning of many of the people on this site; I think we are appreciators, not researchers. I think we write to express ourselves within this structure of "something happened" and reading such from others assists that process. It is said that knowledge is accumulated bit by bit; and understanding from a grasp of the whole. We are are on the journey to understanding (belief) through the encounter with knowledge (facts).

Please cut these words from your post? They do not apply; you express yourself quite well.

I always appreciate your input as well as Joe's. The two of you have a very complementary style and insight. Likewise, as Robert points out, @Brad Milch  was a member whom I appreciated in much the same way. I really wish he was allowed back, although I will not inquire about this with the admins because I have used up a number of my chances here.

Michael

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       Very interesting thread.  My impression is that John and Bobby Kennedy's Irish Catholicism played a central role in saving the planet in 1962, and in their assassinations.

       Many Americans tend to think of "Christian" morality in terms of Puritanism-- the pietistic Protestantism of the original New England colonies, which has played such a major role in American cultural (and economic) history.  Max Weber, and others, have written at length about the historical relationship between the Protestant Reformation and capitalism in Northern Europe and the U.S.

      It seems like no mere coincidence that many of the most mercenary American capitalists (and CIA overseers) in our 20th century military-industrial complex-- including the Dulles brothers and the Bush family -- were only one  or two generations removed from pious Protestant clergymen.  But their familial Protestantism had morphed into a kind of mercenary, militant "manifest destiny" to oppose communism, even if it meant bombing millions of human beings back to the Stone Age.

     Of course, most people would scoff at the notion of John and Bobby Kennedy being examples of "Christian" morality.  They, certainly, weren't Puritans.

     But they were Irish Catholics who understood the basic, traditional Christian concept that all human beings are created "in the image and likeness" of God, and that murder and exploitation of the poor is a sin.

     I recall reading an account of a meeting President Kennedy had with the Joint Chiefs, in which one of the generals (possibly Curtis LeMay) had declared that the U.S. could win a first-strike nuclear war, even if our own casualties were enormous.  After the meeting, JFK told Bobby, privately, that "these guys are nuts."

     

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53 minutes ago, W. Niederhut said:

Many Americans tend to think of "Christian" morality in terms of Puritanism

Absolutely true and after decades of just taking it as a given, I punch out when I can. Interesting that for the first 175 years of this country, WASPs were the executives. Soon as the first change is  Catholic, he's killed. His possible successor, his brother, Catholic  is killed. A charismatic Southern Baptist, who started speaking out against  the Vietnam war, is killed. In a 5 year period, change was snuffed out. It's said that most roaches scatter when there is a light, while others go to  to eliminate the source of the light. We had some evil roaches running things.

I was surprised to recently learn that Martin Luther King Sr had declared he "would never vote for a Catholic" in 1960 when the issue came up. He changed his mind and became a backer of JFK, but I can't help but think about this good man who raised a saint - say he'd "never" vote Catholic. I thought that was part of the Reformation/ Counter Reformation spirit about the "popery" of Rome. Such thinking had overlapped with political selections as well I also knew--Al Smith 1928 - but like a lot of things in 1963, things were changing.

When reading a collection of the "Cold War Letters" of the Trappist monk Thomas Merton, I came across a few between Ethel Kennedy and him. Eunice went to a Catholic college in the Bronx and introduced her brothers Bob and Ted to their spouses who also attended. There is the little known, but memorialized version by Norman Cousins, of letters exchanged between JFK and Pope John XXIII during the Cuban crisis. 

JFK didn't make a show of his religion, but the morning of his Inauguration attended Mass and saw his mother already there. This mother of nine who used to pray the rosary habitually. One's children are not immune to this influence. In 1962 when the SCOTUS ruled any prayer in school unconstitutional, JFK was asked his opinion on the ruling, he answered that perhaps families will pray more together at home. Can you imagine such a response from anyone else in the past 50 years? You would have heard "Judges making laws, about "the loss of God - the Christian God - in the culture".  You definitely would have heard a bashing of Madalyn Murray O'Hair. Instead, you hear a measured, acceptance of the rule of law with a practical, most appropriate response. Prayer starts and should exist in the home. 

It would also be helpful to talk more of the Sermon on the Mount - actually delivered-- than rules about sexual behavior - most derived. During the Republican primary debates of 2000, one questioner asked GWB "which political philosophers had been influential in his life." I sat up, oh good, I'll hear something about thought from each of these candidates. I wondered - briefly of course - Locke?Jefferson?Franklin? GWB says "Jesus Christ." Done. The wind went out of the question immediately. How do you "top" that one? So no one else was asked their favorite political philosopher and, of course, the questioner never pursued the answer about which particular tenets of Jesus Christ he was referring to.

 

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