Stories that feature ‘Ernie DeMaio’


This story takes place in 1958. It was told on December 12th, 2010 by Frank.  Be the first to comment

I left Hyde Park and moved uptown to 11 East Superior, into the apartment that Hugh Hefner had operated out of when he set up Playboy. I got the place from Alan Ribback, who had been Albert Grossman’s partner in the Gate of Horn. We were right across the street from the Archdiocese. It was very convenient, but it further removed me from my friends and from my roots, and put me deeper into that show-business milieu that I never could completely feel a part of.

This was still a game to me. It was fun to play and I certainly was eager to explore, but I never really accepted its values, and I always thought of myself as a socialist who was only doing part-time duty here.

I never hid my politics. I never advertised them either, but I always said, when the press would ask, that I had worked in the steel mill. I knew that my best defense was honesty: if everyone knew everything, there was nothing anybody could expose me on.

Even though I had abdicated from active left politics, my friends were all radicals (if perhaps more middle-class radicals than before). My business associates, in the main, were absolutely not. I lived in two worlds, and the bigger the business got, the sharper the contradiction got. At what point have you crossed the line? I was in a fun business, but I was not too naive to realize it was a business, and that even presenting Pete Seeger did not get me a ticket to heaven. I was not doing socialist or communist work, I was making a living. A fairly comfortable one, by this time, but a living.

In a certain sense I was more acceptable to the left as a businessman than I had been as an activist. As early as 1958, I remember a dinner for the American Socialist at the Essex Community Church to celebrate the magazine’s fifth anniversary. There was a crowd of about a hundred and seventy, which was very big in those days. William Appleman Williams spoke, and Ernie deMaio, the district director of the United Electrical workers, was the chairman. Everybody was kidding me about my new station in life, but I was also being treated as a bit of a celebrity.

I certainly didn’t turn it away, but it did bother me a bit. It was a measure of how deeply bourgeois values had permeated the radical movement – how far we had fallen from the time of Eugene Debs — that my success under capitalism was treated as some kind of accomplishment that all could celebrate. It was as if one of theirs had made it.

I thought I might have been much more comfortable as a working class hero, which I’d never managed to become, than as a petit-bourgeois celebrity. It stuck in my mind that the honest longshoreman or the honest steelworker or the honest professional revolutionary is the one the radical movement ought to be emulating, not somebody who becomes a celebrity in bourgeois society. But we’re never immune to the world we live in.