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Lester Rodney 1911-2009

Dec 29, 2009, 1:00 PM EDT

Most of you probably never heard of Lester Rodney. And for good reason. His claim to fame was being the sports editor for The Daily Worker, the newspaper of American Communist Party from the 1930s to the 1950s.  I read scores of back issues of the Daily Worker for a class I took in college. It was a fairly awful newspaper before you even get to the politics of it all, but Rodney stood out. At least to me. The reason: he was beating the drum — loudly and unrelentingly — for the integration of baseball long before anyone had heard of Jackie Robinson.

Rodney died last week.  An obituary ran in the New York Times.  Today the Boston Globe has a more in-depth profile of his pro-integration writings, and it’s definitely worth a read.  Though I am a Marxist, I’m no communist. Indeed, I’m not a member of any party, really, because I don’t believe any one party has a monopoly on wisdom. But Rodney and the Daily Worker definitely had the subject of baseball’s color barrier right. And first. And he and it should be remembered for that.

Good goin’, comrade.  Rest in peace.

  1. Tom - Dec 29, 2009 at 1:05 PM

    What kind of Marxist are you? I was always partial to Harpo but maybe that’s because as a kid his silent routine was easier to follow than the others.

  2. Craig Calcaterra - Dec 29, 2009 at 1:06 PM

    I’m a hardcore Grouchoist.

  3. Chuck - Dec 29, 2009 at 1:14 PM

    Chico is my favourite. Totally underrated. He was the diplomat of the group, able to serve as the bridge between Groucho and Harpo and any of the straight characters. And he had the world’s worst Italian accent. That’s got to count for something.

  4. Tom - Dec 29, 2009 at 1:21 PM

    It probably depends when you watched the movies. I was certainly pretty young when I first remember watching them (probably around 5 or 6) so I think Harpo’s physical comedy was probably the only thing I really got.

  5. Craig Calcaterra - Dec 29, 2009 at 1:23 PM

    Good point. I came to the MBs much later, so the Groucho lines and puns were way more up my alley than the physical stuff.
    I met Harpo’s son Bill Marx several years ago. He used to do a touring show where he’d play the piano and a woman played the harp. They’d do numbers and he’d tell stories about his dad and the other MBs. Pretty interesting stuff. Based on that — and on a Groucho biography I read — Harpo sounded like the most well-adjusted and nicest of the MBs by a country mile.

  6. AdrianK - Dec 29, 2009 at 2:32 PM

    Try getting hold of the Harpo autobiography, facinating study of Hollywood in the 20’s and 30’s. There are great stories about wall of death croquet and his one and only harp lesson, the man was a genius.

  7. YANKEES1996 - Dec 29, 2009 at 2:37 PM

    Tom, agreed Harpo all the way, his silent slapstick was classic and makes me laugh just thinking about it!

  8. AdrianK - Dec 29, 2009 at 2:44 PM

    Having read his obituary, our Lester comes across as a man of some vision. Nice innings.

  9. Jacob - Dec 29, 2009 at 3:47 PM

    I didn’t fully appreciate Harpo until I realized there was more to his comedy than the physical aspect. It has a whole layer of absurdity that isn’t present with most physical comedians. The scene from Duck Soup with Harpo and Chico in Ambassador Trentino’s office is a perfect example.

  10. ralf - Dec 29, 2009 at 4:27 PM

    My Marx brothers ranking:
    5. Groucho- Could be very funny when talking or walking, but when another actor was delivering their lines, he was always looking around like he was thinking about something else. Very distracting.
    4. Elzer- Slugged .509 for Class D Lumberton in1947.
    3. Chico- The most underrated, didn’t have Groucho or Harpo’s gift for physical comedy but was great at dialogue.
    2. Harpo- Listen to the Jonathan Richman song “When Harpo Played His Harp.”
    1. Karl- Not so much funny-ha-ha, more funny-future-generations-are-doomed-if-we-don’t-stand-up-to-the-imperialist-capitalist-machine.

  11. The Rabbit - Dec 29, 2009 at 6:18 PM

    No mention of Zeppo on anyone’s list?
    Zeppo was to the Marx Brothers what Marilyn was to the Munster family. If you knew my family, you’d understand why I can easily relate to him.

  12. Old Gator - Dec 30, 2009 at 6:13 AM

    I met Lester as we were marching to the Winter Palace. He was carrying a copy of Mikhail Bulgakiv’s Master and Margarita and, being the big Jimmy Buffett fan that I was back then, I was wondering where you could get anything but vodka in that godfosaken icebucket of a town. By way of introduction I asked him how he had raised his political consciousness and he referred me to this album by the Firesign Theater:
    .
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Hcybitpaowynaaa.jpg
    .
    He said to call him “tovarich,” although everyone knew him as Nancy.

  13. Craig Calcaterra - Dec 30, 2009 at 6:19 AM

    Well he’s no fun, he fell right over.

  14. Old Gator - Dec 30, 2009 at 12:29 PM

    Uh oh, Craig, exchanging one liners from Firesign Theater is a genie you may not really want to let out of the bottle, you know? This could go on for years, by which time the assembled FT freaks on this blog will probably have deconstructed the entire complete works and posted them here bit by bit. I assume you’ve been to parties where Marrano FT people suddenly “discovered” each other, so you know how that works, right?

  15. Craig Calcaterra - Dec 30, 2009 at 12:33 PM

    Yeah, I’ve been to those parties, Gator. It can get ugly. And besides, I’m usually way out-gunned when it comes to FT quotes, as my waking memory of specific quotes is almost 100% limited to “How can you be two places . . .” which I’ve listened to a billion times because I lucked into an LP when I was a kid, but is really, really poor with the other offerings that I somehow never got around to more than once or twice.

  16. Old Gator - Dec 30, 2009 at 2:49 PM

    Well, while you’re enjoying your pizza to go with no anchovies (the other end of which conversation you have to listen to Don’t Crush that Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers in order to hear – for which reason alone it’s time to head back towards your second childhood), you ought to dust off Waiting for the Electrician or Someone Like Him, the aforementioned Dwarf/Pliers, and at least We’re All Bozos on this Bus. The first trio – Electrician, Two Places, Dwarf comprised the brightest flowering of stream of consciousness writing in American art since Benjy’s soliloquoy in The Sound and the Fury, only much funnier. And where else this side of Blood Meridian can you find American history so clearly and truthfully interpreted as in this little example from Electrician:
    Catholic priest (with heavy Irish brogue): Do you see what I’m holdin’ lads?
    Indian: Yes, it’s a cross – the symbol of the quartering of the universe into active and passive principles.
    Catholic Priest: (gasps) – May God have mercy on your heathen souls!
    Are you listening, Cleveland Indians front office?

  17. Blair Pitarresi - Jan 24, 2010 at 9:22 AM

    You made some good points there. I did a search on the topic and found most people will agree with your blog.

  18. wholesale t shirts - Feb 8, 2010 at 10:56 PM

    Hey who do you think was the best player for the Super Bowl Drew Brees? Or Jonathan Vilma?

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