Thursday, January 27, 2011

Lives of Our Leaders: Daniel Bell and Bruce Gordon

Daniel Bell, who wrote The End of Ideology, which was a forerunner of Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man, and Bruce Gordon, who played crime boss Nitti on The Untouchables, both received obits that together took up a full page in Wednesday’s Times. Another Untouchables regular, Paul Picerni, who played Ness’s sidekick Lee Hobson, was also memorialized in the Times several days earlier ("Paul Picerni, Actor in ‘Untouchables,’ Dies at 88," NYT, 1/20/11). Curiously, the Times’s description of how Bruce Gordon played Nitti was also a fitting description of Bell, if you switch the criminal enterprises for intellectual journals such as The Public Interest and The New Leader. "As played by Mr. Gordon, Nitti was memorably in control, presiding over an illicit network of late-Prohibition era breweries, drug running, gambling and much else…. Yet because of Mr. Gordon’s essential warmth as an actor, his Nitti had tremendous rough-hewn charm" ("Bruce Gordon, TV Mobster, Dies at 94," NYT, 1/25/11). The Times describes Bell’s rise from City College, "where he had no trouble finding his way to Alcove No. 1 in the cafeteria, where, among the anti-Stalinist socialists who dominated that nook, he found a remarkable cohort that challenged and sustained him for much of his life as it helped to define America’s political spectrum over the last half of the 20th century" ("Daniel Bell, Ardent Appraiser of Politics, Economics and Culture, Dies at 91," NYT, 1/25/11). One man was born from immigrant stock (Bell’s original name was Bolotsky) and one man played an immigrant on the rise in America. One man rose through the ranks of New York intellectuals and one played a character who worked his way up in the Chicago Syndicate, becoming a crony of Al Capone’s. But the two personae had much in common, emerging as they did out of the blood politics of Depression-era America.

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