On the Horizon: On Catfish Row
GRANDIOSE, foolish, and heavy with the stale perfume of self-congratulation, the Hollywood-Goldwyn-Preminger production of Porgy and Bess lumbered into the Warner theater shortly before the death of Billie Holiday. These two facts are not, of course, related in any concrete or visible way. Yet, at the time I was watching Bess refuse Sporting Life’s offer of “happy dust,” Billie was in the hospital. A day or so later, I learned that she was under arrest for possession of heroin and that the police were at her bedside. A number of people, some of whom I knew, were trying to have the dying woman accorded more humane treatment. “She’s sitting up today,” said one of the last people to see her alive, “and if they don’t bug her to death, she’ll never die.” Well, she is dead and I tend to concur with the woman who suggests that she was “bugged” to death. We are altogether too quick to disclaim responsibility for the fate which overtakes-so often-so many gifted, driven, and erratic artists. Nobody pushed them to their deaths, we like to say. They jumped. Of course there is always some truth to this, but the pressures of the brutally indifferent world cannot be dismissed so speedily. Moreover, though we disclaim all responsibility for the failure of an artist, we are happy to take his success or survival as a flattering comment on ourselves. In fact, Billie was produced and destroyed by the same society. It had not the faintest intention of producing her and it did not intend to destroy her; but it has managed to do both with the same bland lack of concern.
About the Author