Anger and affability: the rise and representation of a repertory of self-presentation skills in a World War II disabled veteran.
His positive self-image and response to rehabilitation earned him the attention of the hospital staff, which recommended he be cast as the principal actor in an Army training film, Diary of a Sargeant (1945), produced to inspire recent war amputees. Though without formal acting training, and though the dramatic possibilities open to him in the brief, matter-of-fact Army film were limited, Russell established a strong screen presence, which brought him to the attention of William Wyler, the Hollywood director, and William Sherwood, a Pulitzer Prize winning playwright and screenwriter. The two men had been attempting with little success to get ideas for the conception of a disabled character to be cast in the movie that eventually became the enormously popular The Best Years of Our Lives (1946). Alongside the Hollywood professionals Frederick March and Dana Andrews, Russell staffed in the movie, which concerns the troubled reintegration of three recently demobilized veterans. He earned two Academy Awards, one for acting and the other for the encouragement his performance and his life were giving to disabled veterans.(2)
In contrast to the creation of the characters played by March and Andrews, the conception of Russell's character, the Navy veteran and bilateral hand amputee Homer Parrish, involved a close, ongoing collaboration between actor, director, and writer that lasted throughout the production of the movie. For this reason, and because of Russell's uncommon injury, it was widely assumed then, and in later years too, that Harold Russell and Homer Parrish were, in fact, the same person. Believing this impression enhanced the film's attraction to popular audiences, the studio did nothing to correct it.(3) The fictional Homer, however, lacked the resilience, ambition, and independence that characterized Russell during the period of his own rehabilitation and reintegration.
This essay attempts to explain why Russell, a man who quickly came to the conclusion that he must not let his disability, and others' attitudes toward it, hinder his future or blight his feeling about himself, helped to create a character who is weak in resolve and ambition, and who lacks self-confidence and a spirit of independence. Indeed, while the movie ultimately carries an upbeat, inspirational message about Homer's future, he is more likely to inspire feelings of pity, and even to some extent of fear and aversion, than of equality of capabilities and common humanity in the able-bodied audience. I will show how, in playing Homer, Harold Russell was actually enabled to express a fuller range of emotions, both about himself and about how people reacted to him as a disabled and disfigured man, than he could ordinarily and publicly express. The culture and politics of the 1940s, placed considerable pressure on men like Russell to find individual solutions, within a constricted range of emotions, to the problem of bearing a visible disability in a world of able-bodied people. To put people at ease in the presence of his metal hooks, Russell had learned the importance of presenting himself as genial and unthreatening. But beneath the affable persona he developed during rehabilitation lay other emotions, principally bitterness and anger, largely due to the insensitivity manifested by able-bodied people when they were exposed to his handlessness. In allowing him to express such emotions, the role of Homer had a therapeutic value for Russell at a crucial stage of his emergence as a man desiring a normalized existence.
People with visible disabilities are not alone in experiencing being stared at, and other types of unwanted, intrusive attention, such as prying questions, paid them in public by strangers, as a form of social oppression. Women and visibly distinctive foreigners, for example, have similar experiences of being the objects of unwanted, even if at times flattering, attention. But, generally speaking, the attention disabled people receive under these same circumstances is not only intrusive, even if subtle (furtive glances, for example), but also, disabled people rightly suspect, combines emotions (pity, aversion, horror, fear, morbid fascination) that are negative and frequently unmixed with positive attraction. This unwelcome attention and lack of a normal street invisibility are intensified in their oppressiveness by the knowledge that most able-bodied people are incapable of looking much beyond the disabled body when encountering someone in a wheelchair, using a cane, or lacking a limb. Unconsciously interpreted as a defect, the visible disability becomes the sole basis for a prejudiced conception of the entire person, whose complex identity is crowded out before stereotypes associated with blindness, deafness, lameness, etc. People with disabilities, how- ever, often come to feel their disability is little more than an inconvenience, and thus, see themselves not as defective or freakish, but as different only in an unimportant way that is not the measure of who they are. While certainly not the only response to being physically disabled, this attitude is especially prominent today, as both the social acceptance and the social roles of the disabled are rapidly, if unevenly, expanding.(4) As we shall see, coming to terms with the oppression of unwanted attention formed a much more profound challenge for Russell in the course of his rehabilitation than did mastering the manipulation of his prosthetic hooks.
The spiritual and mental burdens caused by the social pressure of unwelcome attention for people with disabilities, along with the prejudices associated with those who give such attention, are dealt with in a variety of complex ways that are only just beginning to be understood. Researchers in the past adopted quite limited approaches in determining the range of self-conceptions found among the disabled. Until recently, the dominant paradigm for understanding the socialized self-image of the disabled was associated with Erving Goffman's conception of stigma. Goffman's point of departure was not the social oppression of people with disabilities, but instead the assumption that the disabled internalize the attitude of the able-bodied majority that physical difference is the mark of a defect, and thus, are unable to accept themselves in their physically impaired condition. For Goffman, people with disabilities are a particularly acute case of the way individuals respond to social stigmatization through shame and self-hatred, which he believed bred denial and efforts to pass for normal. In Goffman's view, then, the typical reaction, say, to being a hand amputee would be wearing a masking cosmetic hand, even though it is functionally useless and cumbersome, rather than using the highly functional but quite visible metal hook, or not wearing any prosthesis at all.(5) Sharing Goffman's assumption that devaluation and shame commonly take over the disabled individual's self-concept, other researchers emphasize how that state of mind may also produce resignation, invalidism, and a greatly exaggerated sense of physical weakness.(6)
The emphasis on the management of stigma through shame, helplessness, and denial represents a conceptualization largely framed prior to the enormous changes in the lives of people with disabilities that have been taking place in the last quarter-century. New, greatly expanded social roles for disabled people have been facilitated by improvements in diagnosis, medical treatment, and rehabilitation that have greatly lessened premature death and enhanced the quality of life, and by new technologies that facilitate personal mobility and access to the built environment and enlarge employment possibilities. Knowledge of the social contingencies and cultural biases, especially those present in intelligence testing, that shape diagnosis and labeling has led to effective questioning of the very existence of non-organically based mental retardation. In combination with analogous deconstructions of other categories of disability, such insights have greatly advanced the dethroning of medicalized models of disability, and have pointed to the normality of impairment and the extent to which handicaps are socially constructed. The authority of able-bodied experts over the lives of the disabled will probably never again be as unquestioned as it was in the first half of this century, under the reign of science and medicine. The growing acceptability, and frequently the valorization, of all manner of cultural differences, which have led to a challenge to conventional aesthetic and cultural ideals, has given rise to growing public tolerance and positive media images of the disabled. Buoyed by these trends, but impatient with the pace of the changes now underway, the growing number of healthy and ambitious disabled men and women have united in two political formations, the Disability Rights Movement and the Independent Living Movement. Allied with able-bodied members of families of disabled service consumers and sympathetic professionals (educators, medical doctors, psychologists, rehabilitation specialists, social workers, and architects), disability activists are demanding acceleration of the pace of both formal recognition of the rights of the disabled and of public and private accommodation of those requirements that would enable disabled people to become self-sufficient.(7)
In a social climate of growing opportunities for normalization, we would expect to find emerging views of the self-concept of people with disabilities and their management of oppression that holds out the probability of finding more positive orientations toward the self and a richer repertory of social skills than Goffman could have imagined from the particularly narrow vantage point of the United States in the 1950s. Certainly the activists staging "wheel-ins" and "crawl-ins" to protest government inaction on inaccessible public transportation, or struggling to bring together the public and private resources to make it possible for a woman with cerebral palsy who uses a wheelchair to live in her own apartment, give few signs of either denial or a desire to pass for able-bodied.
The late 1970s and the 1980s did witness the emergence of a larger view of disability and the consciousness of the disabled than had been considered by previous researchers. Two especially sensitive ethnographers, the anthropologist Gelya Frank and the literary scholar Marilynn Phillips, are representative of these new interpretive trends. Basing their work on extensive interviews, mostly with congenitally disabled or chronically ill adults, both Frank and Phillips have not only effectively criticized Goffman's view of the disabled self-concept, but have demonstrated effectively how, with various degrees of support from parents, community, and disabled peers, people with disabilities, as children, begin to learn a repertory of skills for managing able-bodied people's responses to them. By adulthood, they possess an array of, in Frank's term, "strategic behaviors" that provide a framework for confronting the daily oppression of unwanted public attention, while preserving their self-respect and maximizing their selfconfidence.(8)
This armamentarium is characterized by a combination of emotional styles and modes of self-preservation. In part, there is commonly an affable public presentation of self that is, in effect, acting, the purpose of which is to put able-bodied people at ease during first encounters. But this affability is not an end in itself. For it is accompanied by "display and avowal," a presentation of the body that openly challenges the able-bodied stranger to confront visible physical differences and move beyond them-or failing that, move away. Gelya Frank, who has done extensive work with congenitally limb deficient young adults, finds either no desire to mask their condition with cosmetic prostheses or a willingness to do so only on a purposefully selective basis. Frank has interviewed people who reject prostheses completely, if they are able to make a functional accommodation through the use of their foreshortened limbs, because prostheses are often painful, feel unnatural, and often require assistance to get on and off. A variety of positive orientations toward their bodies and negative orientations toward those who reject them, combined with a willingness to be assertive in projecting physical differences, accompany these strategies.(9)
The message here is essentially a normalizing one: Accept me as I am or leave alone; it's your problem and your choice. It is founded upon a full range of adult emotions from geniality to anger. There is another way in which normalizing strategies enter the lives of such people's self-conceptions, and reinforce this message. The traditional narrative for conceiving of the lives of the disabled, one which continues to be the official line when most politicians address the subject, or when charitable organizations engage in fund-raising among the able-bodied public, is organized around inspirational messages that emphasize a positive mental attitude, courage, self-help, and self-reliance. The lives of people such as those studied by Phillips and Frank are quite often lived according to these values, because this is a practical stance to adopt in living an independent life. But few of them wish to be conceived as symbols of anything for public consumption; nor do they conceive it their purpose in life to inspire others, able-bodied or disabled. They do not wish to be thought of as "special," but instead want it understood that they are as complex and multi-dimensional as everyone else. Their willingness to be open about their disabilities and, in particular, to make their bodies visible is based on a desire to lay out their differences in every encounter with strangers precisely in order to move beyond these differences. It is the way charities often represent disabled people, on telethons and in mail solicitations, as if they were nothing more than victims of a defective body or battlers against adversity, frozen permanently in the role of poster child, that alienates so many disabled people today from those who believe that they are due gratitude for helping them.(10)
Though suggestive, it is not clear how these recent trends in interpreting the behavior and the consciousness of the disabled may be of use to historians of disability. Because so little is known about the history of the lived experiences of people with disabilities, it is tempting to hypothesize that these selfunderstandings and styles for managing oppression could not have been possible before the enormous changes in roles, expectations, and social status during the last several decades. In other words, in the historical past the repertory of management skills and self-concepts available to people with disabilities would have to be as limited as the lives and hopes available to most of them. Goffman's assumption decades ago that the disabled shared the negative views of disability held by the able-bodied, therefore, may seem an accurate starting point for historical analysis. Another working hypothesis that may be drawn from current research to assist us in historicizing the response of disabled people tb oppression can be based on the argument now being advanced that the congenitally disabled, whose strategic skills emerge simultaneously with their personalities, have had the best chance of both possessing a positive self-concept and becoming effective tacticians in managing others' reactions to them. Impairment incurred in adulthood, we may thus assume, is too great a threat to the established personality to be absorbed and accommodated without an immense, and, for many, unsuccessful struggle. In the less accepting social order of the past, with its narrow roles for disabled men and even narrower roles for disabled women, we may be led to suppose that those disabled in adulthood, like Harold Russell, would be especially lacking in the psychological resources to strive for a normalized existence.(11)
There are several ways in which Russell's life suggests the need to question the usefulness of these hypotheses. Russell suffered a devastating loss as an adult, but embarked upon a rapid physical and spiritual rehabilitation. He was able to take advantage, it is true, of the considerable opportunities a grateful, and perhaps guilt-stricken, nation made available to disabled veterans. Yet Russell and other disabled veterans found that the able-bodied people they encountered daily in public showed a great deal of thoughtless prejudice in dealing with them. As important, therefore, to his rehabilitation as formal instruction in the use of his hooks was the understanding that he himself must purposefully develop the ability to manage others' impressions of him, and furthermore, that he could only do this successfully, if he accepted himself as he was.
Faced with this realization, he was limited in his range of tactics by the culture and politics of his time. That his basic response to oppression was, and would remain, an individual one was testimony, in a time long before the emergence of the social movements organized around disability, of the ideological primacy of traditional values of self-help and self-reliance among the disabled veterans of the 1940s. The very rudimentary psychological counseling they received in the hospital and the advice literature aimed at all veterans facing reintegration problems showed compassion, but urged men, just as they had been urged while in the armed services, to be tough, uncomplaining, and active in adjusting themselves to the social order, as it was. They also were told to mobilize private resources from within their families to assist them; and their wives, girlfriends, and mothers were especially urged by the various experts advising on reintegration problems to provide sympathy and inspire individual efforts. The principal goal of the national veterans organizations was linking individuals and their families with the public benefits they were promised under the G.I. Bill of Rights, which those organizations had been instrumental in framing through an intense lobbying effort. The benefits themselves were structured and dispensed not so that veterans would be dependent, but instead so that all but the most severely mentally or physically disabled individuals would possess the tools deemed necessary to reintegrate themselves quickly. No organization systematically sought to organize around the goal of confronting the prejudice shown impaired veterans. Russell did experience the informal solidarity of the hospital ward and thereafter of the friends he made there. These peer groups were places where men vented their frustrations and voiced their fears, and where they were offered morale support, but they did not function to organize them politically against the attitudes that oppressed the disabled.(12)
The culture of the 1940s also constrained Russell, as an individual fashioning a tactical emotional arsenal. The pressure on him to be a cheerful, inspirational role model for other disabled veterans, and hence to model his life within the narrative of triumph over adversity, was intense. That pressure was deepened by the upbeat, high-minded wartime propaganda messages, urging uncomplaining personal sacrifice and dedication, that the Roosevelt administration and American military commands constantly beamed at civilians and servicemen alike throughout the war. Victorian notions of propriety lingering in the public culture of the mid- 1940s advanced standards of politeness in speech and behavior that made angry confrontation with insensitive strangers undesirable.(13)
The result of all of these influences was an emotional style that combined affability with the calculated repression of anger, and bonded both of them to a tactical sense of human relations that emphasized the subtle management of interpersonal encounters with the able-bodied public. A certain tension would always lie below the surface of this self-presentation, because its attempt to substitute genial manipulation for confrontation provided no outlet for anger and bitterness. This tension assists us in explaining the significant difference between Russell's emerging conception of himself and the conception of Homer Parrish he created with Sherwood and Wyler, a conception that simultaneously allowed for both masking and articulating his inner feelings about the oppression he experienced as a disabled man. As we shall see, at the heart of that explanation must be the limited cultural possibilities available to Russell and other disabled veterans of his generation to confront oppression publicly and to challenge the official, inspirational narrative of their lives.(14) Even today Russell addresses "negative" emotions obliquely, through symbolic anecdotes, as I discovered in interviewing him in 1990. It took me some time to understand that Russell's affability, which quickly makes one feel like an old, valued friend, has had its limits, and that Russell was attempting to explain to me what those limits were at the time he made The Best Years of Our Lives.
The project that eventuated in The Best Years of Our Lives originated with the intuition of Hollywood producer Sam Goldwyn that, when the war was over, American society would face profound challenges in reintegrating the sixteen million men whose lives had been disrupted by military service. There was ample oral and literary tradition, going back to Odysseus, and including the recent American experience after World War 1, to support this belief.(15) But Goldwyn's immediate inspiration was an article in Time that described the ambivalent feelings about returning home on furlough of some servicemen who had been in combat in the South Pacific. Happy as they were to return, they also found broken romances and marriages, high prices, profiteering, and shortages waiting for them.(16) Goldwyn commissioned the journalist and occasional screenwriter, MacKinlay Kantor to do a screenplay based on the readjustment problems of recently demobilized men. Overwhelmed by the classical provenance of his theme, Kantor produced Glory For Me, a 268-page novel written in Homeric blank verse about three variously combat-injured men, whose intricately connected homecomings in the all-American metropolis of "Boone City" are filled with tensions, insecurities, frustrated hopes, and misunderstandings, mostly with the wives, sweethearts, and daughters. The characters are all disaffected from the emerging post-war social order and unable easily to resume their personal relations, for which Kantor ultimately blames the social order, rather than the men themselves or even their recent combat experience. Goldwyn was mystified by Kantor's prose poem format, and feared controversial material, preferring safe, formula entertainments. He paid Kantor, shelved Glory For Me, and began to plan an epic based on the life of General Eisenhower.(18)
The well-regarded Hollywood director William Wyler, who owed Goldwyn a movie under contract, could not be persuaded to undertake the Eisenhower project, but when he discovered Glory For Me, he was interested in its cinematic potential. Thus began the revival of Kantor's treatment, which would be greatly changed in order to defuse its political messages and make more acceptable its troubled, alienated characters. Robert Sherwood was hired to work with Wyler in revising Kantor's material.(19) For all three men, there was no doubt of the need to reformulate Kantor's character Homer Wermels, a severely disabled, young Navy veteran whose brain injury in combat led him to drool, slur his speech, twitch and shake, and walk with a Foot-dragging gait. Kantor himself had described Homer as "a boy" when he entered the service and "a monster" when he left it.(20) Goldwyn, Sherwood, and Wyler were united in feeling that the character was impossible: no audience could remain seated for long before the images that would be necessary to realize Homer; and no actor could be persuaded to play him. It was at this point, as they searched for ideas to help them reconceive the disabled member of the trio, that Wyler and Sherwood saw Diary of a Sargeant, and decided that they wanted Russell in the movie. Goldwyn and a number of Hollywood insiders he consulted were unsure, fearing that the public would be as put off by a hand amputee fitted with hooks, as by Kantor's original character. The humanitarian concern with the rehabilitation of disabled veterans expressed in a series of public opinion polls that Goldwyn had privately commissioned finally convinced him that it was worth the risk, so he agreed to sign Russell. There was probably no precedent in movie history for giving a starring role in a big budget project to an amateur, let alone a disabled one.(21)
What goals shaped the revision of Kantor's treatment? The question cannot be answered without an understanding of Wyler's recent history. Known in Hollywood before the war as a demanding and gifted, but facile director, Wyler had made such successful middlebrow melodramas as Dead End (1937), Jezebel (1939), Wuthering Heights (1939), and The Little Foxes (1941), each one considerably more stylish and with greater pretensions to seriousness than the average Hollywood product, but like the man himself, thought to be lacking gravity. Wyler returned from the war, however, a changed man, with larger goals than box office receipts. He had had a commission in the Air Force, which asked him to do documentaries on the combat experiences of B-17 bomber crews flying dangerous missions over Germany. He lived with the young crewmen and experienced, while filming from a narrow perch near the bomb bay, the same dangers. He knew many men who never returned from these missions, and he lost a cameraman over Germany. Wyler himself left the service deaf in one ear, because of the engine noise he was exposed to while shooting film. These experiences left him disgusted with what he felt to be the frivolity and opportunism of his pre-war life and movies. For him, he later wrote, the war had been "an escape into reality," from which he vowed never to return. He now wanted to make realistic films that portrayed the hopes and fears of ordinary people. He also felt a sense of obligation to remember the courage, sacrifices, and hopes for a better world of the men, living and dead, with whom he had served. The Best Years of Our Lives was the immediate focus of his effort to discharge this debt and transform his artistic goals.(22) Russell remembered Wyler's approach to the movie as less a project than "a mission; a crusade."(23) Wyler filled the production crew with veterans. He went to great lengths to give the film the gritty look of reality, expending considerable energy and money to obtain the right sets, costumes, acting, and camera work. And, above all, he wanted characters and scenarios out of "real life." Sherwood, a New Deal Liberal who had once been a close advisor to President Franklin Roosevelt, was infused with the Depression decade's ethos of the dignity of "the little man," and he felt comfortable with these goals.(24)
The movie they made, however, was much more a reflection of the Hollywood system than a bold, new departure into politically charged realism, such as characterized the Italian cinema in the immediate post-war years. The look of daily life was certainly there, but the movie did not penetrate very far into the meanings of its characters' difficulties in daily life.(25) To some extent, this was a result of the tug-of-war Wyler and Sherwood engaged in with Goldwyn over whether the movie should have obvious political implications. Sherwood wanted development of those post-war social problems that most affected veterans' lives, and wrote into an early draft of the script a riot of veterans over inadequate housing. Fearing attacks by the Right and adverse audience response, Goldwyn vetoed such material, which also offended his patriotism.(26)
But pressure from Goldwyn alone cannot account for the final shape of the movie. Goldwyn respected Sherwood too much to interfere in fundamental ways with the script, and he kept the promise he made to Sherwood to let him develop the plot as he saw fit. Instead we must look to the artistic goals Sherwood and Wyler themselves brought to the film. Wyler's newly born commitment to social realism must be understood in the context of his own artistic philosophy, which would never evolve far enough to alienate him seriously from the Hollywood system that he had been working in for two decades. As Wyler explained in post-war articles and interviews, audiences would not accept unadulterated reality on the screen. Realism and the social messages it usually projected had to be wrapped in a melodramatic storyline that stressed the sort of interpersonal difficulties (romance, unrequited love, sexual desire, and conflict between parents and children) that audiences could easily understand.(27) Audiences also demanded sentimentality and happy endings, and this Wyler was willing to give them, if he could also get across what he believed to be his larger points. Sherwood had little trouble with this. His brand of liberalism, the celebration of the common man, easily turned into the sort of sentimentality characteristic of Frank Capra's films about hard-pressed, decent people, who do the right thing and experience happy endings. It was Sherwood who changed Kantor's brooding ending to Glory For Me, in which all of the characters had dedicated themselves to fighting the "savage ... weather" of a peace characterized by racism, anti-semitism, and class inequality, and put in its place a conclusion that sees each of the three veterans securely united with a mate. As critics at the time and since have observed, while a stunning technical achievement and consistently well-acted, The Best Years of Our Lives seems locked in a battle between melodrama and message that ultimately sees the latter concede more and more ground to the former, which is, after all, the path of least resistance.(28)
The transformation of "Homer Wermels" into "Homer Parrish" involved a different creative process and a more radical departure from the original characterization than did the reconceptualization of Kantor's other two veterans, Fred Derry (Dana Andrews) and Al Stephenson (Frederic March). With Al and Fred, Sherwood largely accepted what Kantor had done, changing the two men only slightly, to make them more sympathetic and reformulating their adjustment difficulties so that these were somewhat less politically charged. Homer's character changed in fundamental ways and continued to evolve significantly throughout the production process. Sherwood and Wyler dispensed with so much of Kantor's character - his name, disability, inarticulate and slurred speech, alcoholism, suicidal rages, frequent cruelty to those close to him - that it was necessary to imagine a quite different person.(29) Once it was decided to cast Russell in the role, moreover, it was logical that he would have to be intimately involved in assisting Sherwood to imagine the feelings of a man without hands. This was the other unique feature in the recreation of Homer's character: it was an ongoing collaborative process. During production, Russell met with Sherwood two or three times a week to discuss how Homer might act in one situation or another. In emotional terms, moreover, Homer continued to evolve long after Sherwood's script was completed. One especially crucial scene, in which Homer and his girlfriend Wilma talk about their future one night in his bedroom, was rehearsed for a week on the closed set, while Wyler, Russell, and Cathy O'Donnell, who played Wilma, tried to find plausible emotions for the characters.(30)
Yet, though Russell's own biography was an important source for Homer, Homer and Russell were quite different people. Sherwood also incorporated into the character aspects of the personalities of men Russell had known on the amputees ward at Walter Reed, and even of Franklin Roosevelt, who was paralyzed as a consequence of polio in 1921. Sherwood had worked with the president in much greater intimacy than was ordinarily true for members of his staff. This intimacy included discussion with Roosevelt of his paralysis, which the President had with few people other than immediate family and old friends.(31)
What did remain the same from novel to movie was that Homer's story is embedded in a melodramatic romance. Prior to going into the Navy, Homer made a commitment to Wilma, who has lived next-door since they were children, that they would marry upon his return. When he returns, in his own eyes a changed man because of his amputations, he fends off all discussions of the future. He will not talk about getting a job, a subject Wilma's father introduces at an informal get-together on Homer's first night home. He has been physically rehabilitated to the extent that he can do many physical tasks that require exacting coordination, but he is content to spend his days drinking beer at his Uncle Butch's tavern and taking piano lessons there, target shooting in his garage, and cashing his generous veteran's benefit check at the bank. He continues to be embarrassed by his condition in spite of his prowess with the hooks. He has his hooks hidden in his pockets when we first encounter him awaiting a plane ride among strangers in an airport hanger, and then when he meets his family on the front lawn of his home just after arriving in Boone City; and he will not embrace Wilma when they first meet. He is defensive and hostile when a prying stranger evinces interest in his hooks late in the movie. His anger at unwanted attentions and his psychological impasse regarding his future gives his target shooting a trace of menace, and in one scene leads him to frighten his little sister and her young friends by violently using his hooks to shatter a glass window through which the children have been staring at him.
Homer is evasive, even hostile, when Wilma attempts to discuss their future. He suspects she mistakes pity for love, and as it is eventually, delicately, established in the much-rehearsed scene in Homer's bedroom, he is ashamed at the possibility that he will not be able to play the conventional, dominant male role in their sexual relations after his hooks are removed upon retiring for bed. Wilma will not accept these evasions, and presses him repeatedly for a commitment. Earlier in the movie, in a conversation with Al and Fred in which the three men share their anxieties about returning home, Homer has spoken fondly but dismissively of Wilma as "Just a kid." As it turns out, however, in his absence she has matured as a consequence of having to live with the knowledge, first, that he might not return, and then, though neither she nor Homer's parents appear to have visited him during his hospitalization, with the knowledge of his injury. She knows her own mind, and will not be dissuaded. When her parents suggest that she go away to live with an aunt in order to make a break with Homer, Wilma forces the issue by coming to the Parrish's, setting in motion the interpersonal process that eventuates in the bedroom scene, in which their future is finally resolved.
It is Homer, however, who suggests that the discussion, which begins in the kitchen, continue up in his bedroom, where he wants to share with Wilma his bedtime ritual. Now Homer finally finds his own voice, and quickly becomes the focus of the scene. At night, he says, he must have help getting the hooks off, after which, until someone helps him get them on again, he is as "dependent as a baby." He asks for her help in taking off the hooks, and takes off his pajama top, leaving him in a tee-shirt. She assists him, and for the first time in the movie, we may clearly see his stumps, as the camera focuses unambiguously on Homer's arms. Rather than being appalled or frightened, as Homer anticipates, the script tells us that Wilma is inspired by his courage.(32) She passionately kisses him and tells him that what he has told her makes no difference. He is now convinced of her love. She maternally tucks him into bed, and quietly leaves the room. The scene ends with the camera focused on Homer: framed against his pillow, he is lying in bed, and there are tears in his eyes. Soon, in the movie's last scene, the couple are married.
This powerful narrative sequence has its dramaturgical problems. It is not clear what is the source of the courage and self-knowledge that make possible Homer's extraordinary confession of his anxieties about his manhood.(33) Wilma forces the issue, but Homer, who has been an inarticulate, shallow character up to this point, suddenly takes it over, with his statement and the display of his body. No doubt Sherwood and Wyler were quite content to have the scene "work," as it does so powerfully, on the emotional level, for that is all that effective drama requires. For our purposes, however, this is less the point than the extent to which the character that Russell assumed an intimate role in creating differs in significant ways from the man he himself became after losing his hands. If for no other reason than that the movie leaves an impression that Homer's impairment resulted in a psychological feeling of helplessness, practical dependence, and an embarrassment over his body, all of which in his own life Russell came quickly to reject, we need to inquire about the functions for Russell of creating and playing Homer.
Russell's rehabilitation was far from effortless, as he has made quite clear. Inevitably he was bitter about the defective munitions that had caused his accident, disgusted with his condition, and anxious about the future. Initial efforts to go out into the able-bodied, civilian world beyond the protective confines of the hospital were blighted by a mutually reinforcing cycle of unsolicited, random attention from strangers and a self-consciousness that frequently manifested itself in his own public anger, acute embarrassment, and retreat. These aspects of Russell's rehabilitation certainly did influence his conception and portrayal of Homer. But what stands out in his two autobiographies, Victory in My Hands (1949) and The Best Years of My Life (1981), and my oral history interview with him in 1990, is the speed and resilience with which he came to realize the need to put his disability behind him and lay down the foundations of a new life. In this, over many years, Russell consistently has represented himself as a very different man than the fictional character he plays on the screen, and he thus seems much more like the disability activists one encounters today. To some extent, the differences are illusory - that is, if we wish to see Russell as representing a completely open stance toward his disability and others' reactions to it. Unlike Homer, Russell made the choice early in his rehabilitation to keep from public view feelings, especially anger over the oppression of people with disabilities, he came to believe were a practical hindrance to his rehabilitation and to his usefulness as a model for other disabled veterans. (The purposefulness of this repression of any but "positive" feelings, however, suggests a conscious strategy of self-presentation, which is, in fact, what Homer, who is painfully inarticulate and defensive for much of the movie, lacks. Homer's anger serves no purpose but to delay his ultimate acceptance of Wilma's love.) Whatever inner turmoil Russell occasionally felt, it was so deeply hidden by the time he took up the role of Homer that Wyler came to think that he was actually too happy and well-adjusted, and needed to conjure up the bitterness and anger the director believed the role required. Wyler, who had strenuously objected to any effort to give Russell acting lessons in fear that he would not be himself in playing Homer, now seriously proposed to send him to live at a Veteran's Administration hospital for a few weeks to help him rediscover some negative emotions. Russell objected, and the idea was dropped.(34)
These differences and similarities may best be understood if three challenges Russell faced are examined: shame and embarrassment; planning for the future; and sexuality. Homer manifests shame and embarrassment over his condition in diverse ways. Russell did, too, but within six months of his accident he had come to understand the need for a different emotional stance. Two experiences were significant in this breakthrough. One was the realization that while the glove-covered artificial hands would allow him to pass for normal, they were functionally useless.(35) Reinforcing this rejection of a cosmetic quick-fix was his encounter not long after he began to experience doubts about the artificial hands with Charles McGonegal, a World War I veteran who had lost both of his hands in combat. A self-sufficient and successful California rancher, McGonegal was a walking advertisement for the prosthetic hook, and that is how the military used him. A training film, Meet McGonegal (1943), was made to show recent amputees all that McGonegal could do with his hooks, and how self-confidently and good-naturedly he used them. (When it was realized that the young World War II veterans could not completely identify with the affluent, middle aged family man, Diary of a Sargeant was made to take its place, but segments of the earlier film appear in the latter in order to illustrate its positive influence on the character Russell plays.)
McGonegal also visited Walter Reed to encourage the men. His messages to them can be summarized as: You define your limits by your attitude toward your self, and people will not be comfortable with you until you are comfortable with yourself Perhaps McGonegal's greatest practical contribution to the spiritual welfare of the hand and arm amputees was his effort to help them become comfortable in public, among strangers. He took them out to restaurants and night clubs in Washington, D.C., and taught them how to deal with a problem that proved psychologically incapacitating for many of them: the unwanted attentions they received from curious, often boorish, people, who stared at them, and who asked questions about how they lost their hands and how the hooks worked. Encourage a positive response, he said, by demonstrating how the hooks worked and by an affable, jesting response to inquiries. Opening a pack of cigarettes was one ploy to put people at ease, just as were smart quips, such as the one Russell would frequently come to use, "I can pick up anything but the check." This was nothing less than an impromptu public performance, and, to the extent that one often simply wished to be left alone to drink one's beer in peace, it might frequently involve repressing how one really felt about unwanted attention. But McGonegal's point was that, for better or worse, these men would continue to attract such attention. In effect, he told them, their lives were no longer completely their own (especially because they were also conceived as war heroes), and they might as well use the situation to their advantage, taking control of encounters with strangers to create good will.(36) In Russell's case these lessons accomplished still more. They were instruction in acting long before he could have anticipated starring in a Hollywood movie. Wyler understood this. He astutely responded to Russell's initial fears about being inadequate for the part by suggesting that Russell knew what it was he had to do, because he had already been playing Homer for two years.(37)
The success of this strategy of positive attitudes, avowal, and display was soon apparent to Russell. Shyness had always been a problem for him. It had held him back in his relations with Rita, a woman he had admired from a distance before the war. It had made his attempts at classroom instruction in demolitions excruciatingly uncomfortable.(38) The hooks certainly made him stand out, and would have been a severe, life-long trial for a shy man. But now for the first time in his life, Russell found himself enjoying encounters with strangers, because he was able to control their response to him, and because he felt himself gaining significantly in self-confidence.
This breakthrough came rapidly over the course of months. His first furlough home, also the first time he went among strangers without the company of other amputees, was difficult. He was embarrassed about standing out, and his self-consciousness made it difficult for him to do even simple tasks that he had already mastered. In the company of members of his family, who had already seen him at the hospital, he felt as if he were on display and hid his hooks in his pockets. He longed to go back to the hospital. But when he did return, his psychological breakthrough proceeded rapidly, as McGonegal and members of the hospital staff encouraged him, and as he subjected his behavior during his leave to intense self-scrutiny. By the time of his subsequent furloughs, he felt at ease sufficiently to wave his hooks at the family and friends who came to greet him at the airport when he first saw them in the crowd, and to embrace Rita enthusiastically when he saw her there.(39) Russell's experience with the first furlough helped him to capture Homer's emotions when he is first reunited with his family and Wilma on the lawn of his home. Homer hides the hooks in pockets, and will not embrace anyone, including Wilma. But, unlike Russell, Homer does not really develop much beyond this point until late in the movie when his problems with Wilma are suddenly resolved. He remains ill-at-ease, defensive and cold, and feels guilty for acting this way. The difference lies not only in characterization, but in chronological sequencing, too. Russell and the rehabilitation staff alike understood the need for the amputees to go out into the public and to be with loved ones in deliberately paced stages. Homer, however, is thrown into the company of his family and his girl, seemingly without preparation on anyone's part. This intensifies the dramatic tension, to be sure, but in the process it denies to Homer, Russell's ability to learn from his experience and to apply his insights to his rehabilitation.
The same successful self-scrutiny directly influenced Russell's decision to plan a career, and again establishes a significant difference between him and the character he portrays. Russell explains that he had never enjoyed the monotonous physical work he had done as a butcher. He wanted a less exacting job in the future. It struck him that if he could make strangers comfortable with the hooks, he could probably sell them anything, so he opted to go into advertising and public relations, which he imagined to be "85 per cent baloney" - i.e. more showmanship than substance. By the time he was contacted by Goldwyn and offered a movie contract, Russell had decided to get credentials in his chosen field, and was accepted for admission to the School of Business Administration at Boston University.(40) In contrast, the character Russell helped create seems incapable of planning for his future and quite content to live off his government check. The end of the movie may find him married to Wilma, but he has yet to face the question of what he will do with the rest of his life.
Homer's effort to avoid discussing the future of his relationship with Wilma is ultimately a product of sexual anxieties that strike at the core of his masculine self-image. He is sexually passive to the extent that he will not embrace Wilma, and it is Wilma who initiates the kiss they finally share toward the end of the bedroom scene. Her sexual directness in initiating the kiss, and then the maternal warmth she shows in tucking Homer into bed, regain for her the emotional initiative that she relinquished when Homer finally articulated his fears about his sexuality. Harold Russell did not experience these sexual anxieties nor this sexual passivity, then or later. Within a short time of his injury, he actually resumed an affair with a married woman named Harriet he had been involved with earlier in the war. He had broken off the relationship when he was transferred to North Carolina. After he was injured, he hardly considered resuming sexual relations with anyone in particular, though the subject was on his mind, more as a source of anxiety than an interest in finding a partner. But Harriet had gotten information from his mother about his whereabouts, came to visit him in the hospital, and chastised him for dropping her without explanation. She then left him her hotel key. They continued this liaison, which Russell naturally felt was beneficial for his morale, for a time while he was in the hospital. Thereafter, he says, he was never again to experience doubts about his sexuality.(41)
Russell did experience anxieties about a relationship with a woman, but the basis for this anxiety was not sexual. Rita, the woman he had known before the war but had been too shy to pursue, was the sister of a friend, and he had known her for years. During the war she married and had two children. It seemed that he had lost her forever. But her marriage failed, and she obtained a divorce while Russell was in rehabilitation at Walter Reed. She now pursued Russell, whom she found reluctant to see her and, once he did, to commit himself. The problem was not the sexual one that bedeviled Homer, for Russell had already resumed a sexual liaison. Instead, the situation with Rita caused him discomfort because it forced him to recall his previous failings with her and in doing so, the dead-end life that he felt he had been leading prior to entering the service, and that he worried the circumstances of his injury could force him to resume, if he did not struggle against them. Before the war, he had lacked personal and employment goals. He had disliked his job, but saw no alternatives for a man with only a high school diploma in the middle of the Depression. He had not been able to tell his feelings to the woman he loved, and he was still living with his widowed mother. Moreover, at the point Rita came back into his life he had not yet committed himself to a career, and had doubts about whether he could support her and the two children with his veteran's benefits. The psychological and practical benefits of the spiritual rehabilitation that McGonegal inspired resolved the problem, however, though not without some awkward and painful moments. By the time Russell signed his movie contract, he and Rita were engaged.(42)
We are naturally led to wonder whether emotions displaced from this real life drama assisted Russell in understanding Homer's emotional crisis and in rendering such a powerful performance in the role. Writing in the late 1940s, he gave this impression in Victory in My Hands, but since the situations were not the same I chose to pursue the matter in interviewing him. What I discovered was that while his own relationship with Rita was an influence on his understanding of Homer's situation, other, much less predictable influences, which he did not find it easy to address in Victory in My Hands and in other public contexts, were also at play in his conception of Homer. Victory in My Hands was written, Russell says, to encourage disabled veterans: it was an inspirational tale, conceived within the limitations of the conventional, uplifting disability narrative of self-help and struggle against the odds, at the end of which the character at the center emerges respected by his peers and confident in himself. Russell was strongly, though informally, encouraged, by cultural tradition and by the press, the military, and civilian politicians, to conceive of the meaning of his experience in this way. In framing his first volume of memoirs as an inspirational tale, it was necessary to leave out aspects of his experience that he felt could not be accommodated within these time-honored, but narrow narrative constraints. Thus, the story of the sexual liaison, which involved adultery and was acknowledged by both parties to have no point other than pleasure, was not told for over three decades. In the post-1960s cultural climate, he felt it could appear in his second memoir without causing offense.(43) The narrative of the relationship with Rita, however, fit perfectly into the inspirational frame, for it involved not only overcoming adversity, but doing so in ways that did not challenge conventional morality and, in providing a home for Rita's children, actually buoyed up the traditional nuclear family. Nor did the inspirational message allow much room for the expression of anger at the oppression disabled people encounter. Once Russell learned from McGonegal how to deal with unwanted public attention, the logic of this narrative frame was that he was no longer to be too bothered by offensive behavior; it was instead just another challenge to be mastered.
If we look more deeply into the motivations behind Russell's acting, we get a different picture. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the crucial bedroom scene, the intensely emotional climax of the Homer-Wilma scenario. As Russell matter-of-factly observes in his first memoir, the scene is premised on a falsehood, at least in so far as Russell's own life was concerned.(44) Russell was quite able to get the hooks on and off by himself, skills he was taught precisely so that he would not be as "dependent as a baby" at night or any other time. Because many in the contemporary audience actually felt that Homer's story was Russell's, and the Goldwyn studio did not discourage this conflation, the claim of artistic license is a problematic response to the interpretive, and indeed the ethical difficulties, with which this element in the plot confronts us. This is particularly true to the extent that the scene gives the public an impression that subverts the claim of men like Russell that they are capable and self-sufficient. The entire rehabilitative struggle of Russell and the other amputees he knew was done in the name of a personal independence. But Russell accepted this falsehood, because it advanced the melodrama,(45) which was itself based on a sexual passivity that he did not share with Homer and a relationship only vaguely similar to that he shared with Rita.
What then was the inspiration for Russell's extraordinary performance in the scene? The answer ultimately lies in emotions - anger and bitterness - which seem particularly inappropriate to the scene. For Russell, the inspiration for the scene lay not in the opportunity for recapitulation of his drama with Rita, but rather in appearing before the camera without his hooks, displaying his handless body. But it was not a simple matter for him to tell me this. When I asked him why he accepted the logic of the plot, even though it undermined the claims of disabled people to independence, he at first parried my question with a response I did not feel was convincing - "it was a great scene to play." - in light of the scene's intensity and pathos. Then he broke the impasse over the matter by answering me indirectly, with a symbolic anecdote. This proved difficult for me to decode. Why? Precisely because the anecdote served simultaneously, in ways I was slow to grasp, to express and to mask feelings of bitterness and anger that, in the act of self-recreation, he accustomed himself not to express, because they seemed to him little more than unmanly complaining, they were not the inspiring stuff to be expected from role models, and they did not help him to manage his encounters with strangers. Moreover, I had accepted as the measure of the whole man, the affable mode of public self-presentation that Russell has mastered, so I was not prepared for the strong, negative emotions the anecdote expressed.
Russell told me of a friend, a disabled veteran he had known at Walter Reed, who had lost both his legs, and who regularly went to a crowded public beach near Boston to swim. This required him to take off his artificial legs and crawl down to the water. The friend derived great satisfaction from this ritual. Indeed, he felt his satisfaction in the ritual was the mark of the completeness of his rehabilitation. The reason for his satisfaction was that he had come to understand that, as he told Russell, "|I had the bastards then.'" My immediate response to this anecdote was confusion, because as an able-bodied man who has never experienced the oppression of the disabled, it was difficult for me to understand the feelings of liberation, self-possession, and control over an encounter with others that are experienced by those who know that the reaction to their disabled bodies is the source of their oppression. Was "having" the bastards simply monopolizing their attention, I wondered as I pondered the remark? No, Russell explained to me, his friend was saying, in effect, "|The bastards, they had to look at me.'"(46) In other words, his friend had structured the situation in a way that made such awkward but, for a disabled person, obvious mechanisms of unwanted attention as staring from a safe distance and furtive glances from nearby irrelevant. He forced those among whom he crawled to be engaged with him directly and on his own terms, invading their space aggressively, even angrily, and establishing his domination over a situation (the beach, with its half-naked visitors) that is normally controlled by the most conventional aesthetic criteria for evaluating the body.(47)
In making the bedroom scene, therefore, Russell's thoughts were less on love and sexuality than on oppression. He used Sherwood's melodrama, and more generally the movies, our most conventionalized entertainment form (which, like a public beach, is a culturally symbolic location, usually consecrated to illusive images of beauty and desire), to make an extraordinary statement demanding acceptance on his own terms. Once having been forced to see the bedroom scene from Russell's own existential perspective, rather than that of the melodrama, I had to shed the perspective created by the captivating inspirational narrative frame, and reinterpret elements of the movie that I now realized I had not understood on first viewing. Guided by the movie's inspirational message, I had seen certain sequences not as having to do with anger and bitterness, but rather with "confusion" that Homer was destined to "overcome" as he surmounted his difficulties. Homer's target-shooting, as Russell plays it, now appears to me to suggest menace and aggression. The sequence in which Homer encounters the able-bodied, prying stranger, who insensitively expresses interest in his injury (and then tells him he lost his hands for nothing because, as the radical Right view of the war then had it, the United States fought on the wrong side), also now appears significantly different to me. The stranger's remarks eventuate in a fight. I had been prone to see Homer as the one attacked, the result, I believe, of an unthinking sympathy for someone I conceived to be weak and incapable of aggression, and completely worthy of my unreflective sympathy for his efforts to overcome a terrible difficulty. After watching the sequence again and reading the script, I found I was quite wrong. Homer is the aggressor, menacing the obnoxious stranger with his hooks and precipitating the man's defensive reaction.(48) Russell's acting now seems nowhere stronger to me than in these angry sequences that I was previously only able to assimilate into the movie by interpreting them from Homer's perspective, not Russell's, as I have come to understand him.
That it proved so difficult to penetrate the surface of The Best Years of Our Lives, is less a tribute to William Wyler's art than to the insidiousness of the culture of oppression that surrounds disability. Disability is a last frontier of human fear, casting up before us the wilderness of our vulnerability in the face of those chaotic forces that would invade and occupy or destroy us, and render us powerless and dependent.(49) Until we are able to address our fears more directly than our conventional cultural products enable us to, we will be hostage to them.
(1.) The story of Harold Russell's rehabilitation as well as of his life prior to and since his injury is told in his two popularly-oriented memoirs, both of which cover much of the same ground, but contain different details. The first volume emphasizes his spiritual rehabilitation; the second, his physical rehabilitation. The second is also much more irreverent and forthcoming about some sensitive personal matters, a point I discuss in this essay. See, Harold Russell, with Victor Rosen, Victory in My Hands (New York, 1949); and Harold Russell, with Dan Ferullo, The Best Years of My Life (Middlebury, 1981). 1 conducted an extensive oral history interview with Russell on June 27, 1990 at his home in Hyannis, Massachusetts (hereafter cited as HR, 6/27/1990), and a telephone interview on November 20, 1990 (hereafter, HR, 11/20/1990). The tapes of the former and notes of the latter are in the possession of the author. Harold Russell went on to become National Commander of AMVETS (1950-51, 1960), vice-president of the World Veterans Federation (1960-67), and chairman of the President's Committee on Employment of the Handicapped (1964-1989), while simultaneously operating a consulting firm which advised industry and commercial business on disability issues. (2.) A convenient description of the origins and conception of the project that became The Best Years of Our Lives is, Martin A. Jackson, "The Uncertain Peace: The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)," in American History/American Film: Interpreting The Hollywood Image, John E. O'Connor and Martin A. Jackson, editors (New York, 1979), pp. 147-66. But a fuller understanding can only be gained by consulting Russell, Victory in My Hands, and idem, The Best Years of My Life; Arthur Marx, Goldwyn: A Biography Of The Man Behind The Myth (New York, 1976); A. Scott Berg, Goldwyn: A Biography (New York, 1973); and Michael A. Anderegg, William Wyler (Boston, 1979). (3.) Russell, Victory in My Hands, pp. 221, 222-25; n.a., "New Picture," Time 48 (November 25, 1946): 103-04; Howard Rusk, "Rehabilitation - New Film on Broadway Called |Significant Portrayal of The Emotional and Physical Problems Facing Veterans,'" New York Times, November 24, 1946; n.a., "Film of the Week, The Best Years of Our Lives," Life 21 (December 16, 1946): 71; Richard Griffith, [review], Films in Review, (January, 1947): 4-5; "Harold Russell's |Oscar,'" [editorial], New York Times, March 15, 1947; Special Advertising Bulletin! [for The Best Years of Our Lives, 19461, Film Library, Museum of Modern Art. (hereafter cited as: FL/MOMA.) The studio accomplished mystifying Russell's relationship to the role he played largely by giving him as little publicity as possible before the movie's premiere and never doing anything to correct mistaken impressions. Goldwyn wanted the reviewers to believe they had discovered Russell and to identify closely with Russell. (4.) R. Gilden, et al., "Amputations, Body Image, and Perceptual Distortion: A Preliminary Study," U.S. Navy Medical Research Institute Report, n. 12 (1954), 587-600; Fred Davis, "Deviance Disavowal: The Management of Strained Interaction by The Visibly Handicapped," Social Problems, 9, n. 1 (1961): 120-32; Leonard Kriegel, "Uncle Tom and Tiny Tim: Some Reflections on The Cripple as Negro," American Scholar 38, n. 3 (1969): 412-30; Joan Ablon, Living With Difference: Families with Dwarf Children (New York, 1988), pp. 50-2,151; C. S. Goldin, "The Community of The Blind: Social Organization Advocacy, and Cultural Redefinition," Human Organization 43 (Summer, 1984): 121-31; and note 8, infra, for all titles by Gelya Frank and Marilynn Phillips.
(5). Erving Goffman, Stigma: Notes on The Management of Spoiled Identity (Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1963) is the principal text, but see, also, idem, "The Moral Career of The Mental Patient," Psychiatry: Journal for The Study of Interpersonal Processes 22 (May, 1959): 123-42. Of assistance to me in a critical understanding of Goffman have been, Alvin Gouldner, The Coming Crisis of Western Sociology (New York, 1970), pp. 378-90; and Richard Sennett, "Two on The Aisle," New York Review of Books, November 1, 1973, 29-32.
(6.) Paul Hunt, Stigma: The Experience of Disability (London, 1966); B. Lawrence, "Self-Concept Formation and Physical Handicap: Some Educational Implications of Integration," Disability, Handicap, and Society 6, n. 2 (1991): 139-46; Constantina Safilios-Rothschild, The Sociology and Social Psychology of Disability and Rehabilitation (New York, 1970); Robert F. Murphy, The Body Silent (New York, 1987) pp. 85-111.
(7.) Richard Scotch, From Goodwill to Civil Rights: Transforming Federal Disability Policy (Philadelphia, 1984); Gerben De Jong, The Movement for Independent Living: Origins, Ideology, and Implications for Disability Research (East Lansing, MI, 1979); Renee Anspach, "From Stigma to Identity Politics: Political Activism Among Physically Disabled and Former Mental Patients," Social Science and Medicine 13, n. 5 (1979): 765-73; Frank Bowe, Handicapping America (New York, 1978); Allan T. Sutherland, Disabled We Stand (Bloomington, 1985); Oliver Sacks, "The Revolution of The Deaf," New York Review of Books, June 2, 1988, 23-8; Michelle Fine and Adrienne Asch, eds. Women with Disabilities: Essays in Psychology, Culture and Politics (Philadelphia, 1988); Jane R. Mercer, Labeling The Mentally Retarded: Clinical and Social System Perspectives on Mental Retardation (Berkeley, 1973).
(8.) Gelya Frank, "Venus on Wheels: The Life History of A Congenital Amputee," Ph.D. diss., University of California, Los Angeles, 1981, and idem, "Life History Model of Adaptation to Disability: The Case of A |Congenital Amputee,'" Social Science and Medicine 19, n. 6 (1984): 639-45, "|Becoming The Other': Empathy and Biographical Interpretation," Biography 8, n. 3 (1985): 189-210; "Beyond Stigma: Visibility and Self-Empowerment of Persons with Congenital Limb Deficiencies," Journal of Social Issues 44, n. 1 (1988): 95-115. Marilynn Phillips, "Try Harder: The Experiences of Disability and The Dilemma of Normalization," Social Science Journal 22, n. 4 (1985): 45-57, and idem, "Damaged Goods: Oral Narratives of The Experience of Disability in American Culture," Social Science Medicine 30, n. 8 (1990): 849-57.
For the critique of Goffman on disability, see Fred Davis, "Deviance Disavowal: The Management of Strained Interaction by The Visibly Handicapped"; R. Kleck, "Physical Stigma and Task Interaction," Human Relations 22, n. 1 (1969): 53-9; Joan Ablon, "Stigmatized Health Conditions," Social Science Medicine 15B, n. 1 (1981): 5-9; Myron Eisenberg, "Disability as Stigma," in Disabled People as Second Class Citizens, Myron G. Eisenberg, C. Griggins, and R. J. Duval, eds. (New York, 1982). For a contrary view, see, Irving K. Zola, "Classics Revisited: Goffman's Stigma," Disability and Chronic Illness Newsletter 3 (July, 1983): 16-17.
(9.) Frank, "Venus on Wheels: The Life History of A Congenital Amputee," pp. 62-3 and idem, "Beyond Stigma: Visibility and Self-Empowerment of Persons with Congenital Limb Deficiencies," 95, 97-8, 102-03, 111-13, 106, 108; Phillips, "Damaged Goods: Oral Narratives of The Experience of Disability in American Culture," 852, 855. Also, see, Ablon, Living with Difference: Families with Dwarf Children, pp. 50-2, 141.
(10.) Phillips,"Try Harder:The Experiences of Disability and The Dilemma of Normalization," and idem, "Damaged Goods: Oral Narratives of The Experience of Disability in American Culture," 854-55; Frank, "Beyond Stigma: Visibility and Self-Empowerment of Persons with Congenital Limb Deficiencies," 108-14. Concerning contemporary attacks on telethons and on "supercrips" (athletes and other people with disabilities who perform feats of strength and endurance to inspire others and to test themselves, and are uncritically lauded in the popular press), see these theme issues of the principal radical organ of the Disability Rights Movement, "The Athletes," The Disability Rag, July/August, 1986; "And The Greatest of These is Charity," ibid. September/October, 1987; "The Revolt of The Easter Seal Kids," ibid., March/April, 1989; and "We Wish We Wouldn't See ...," ibid., November/December, 1990.
(11.) Ablon, Living with Difference: Families with Dwarf Children, pp. 50-2, 141; Frank, "Beyond Stigma: Visibility and Self-Empowerment of Persons with Congenital Limb Deficiencies," 102-12, 114; Phillips, "Damaged Goods: Oral Narratives of True Experience of Disability in American Culture," 852; Michell Fine and Adrienne Asch, "Disabled Women: Sexism without the Pedestal," Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare 8, no. 2 (1981): 233-48. For a broader, and less sanguine, conception of the formative experiences of disabled infants and children, see, David J. Thomas, The Experience of Handicap (London, 1982), pp. 96, 105, 107-08, 115-16, 119-36, 151.
(12.) Russell, Victory in My Hands, pp. 92-3,110,118-19;Russell, The Best Years of My Life, pp. 13-24; HR, 6/27/1990; Susan M. Hartman, "Prescriptions for Penelope: Literature on Women's Obligations to Returning World War II Veterans," Women's Studies 5, no. 2 (1978): 223-29; Donald R. B. Ross, Preparing for Ulysses: Politics and Veterans During World War II (New York, 1969); Robert Klein, Wounded Men, Broken Promises (New York, 1981), pp. 30, 46-9.
(13.) Paul Fussell, Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in The Second World War (New York, 1989), pp. 52-65, 79-114, 129-95, 228-51; Murphy, The Body Silent, pp. 26-9; Russell, Victory in My Hands, pp. 141, 154-55; Russell, The Best Years of My Life, pp. 16-18, 23-42. Recent historical research on the development of American emotional standards does not systematically or directly address the effects of military service on standards for emotional management among men of Russell's generation, let alone among men in the unique situation of Russell and other disabled veterans. Nonetheless, some suggestive possibilities for further inquiry do emerge out of such research. On the basis of a reading of prescriptive literature, social surveys, works of popular psychology, and fiction, two pioneering recent works posit a gradual decline of the acceptability of personal, public anger, especially male anger, by 1940, and the increasing effort to extend this control of anger in broader realms of life. See, Peter N. Stearns, "Men, Boys, and Anger in American Society, 1860-1914," in Manliness and Morality: Middle Class Masculinity in Britain and America, 1800-1940, J. A. Mangan and James Walvin, eds., (New York, 1987), pp. 75-91; and Carol Zisocwitz Stearns and Peter N. Stearns, Anger: The Struggle for Emotional Control in America's History (Chicago, 1986), pp. 95-96, 116-17, 122, 124, 190, 194-95, 199, 216. Wittingly or not, disabled veterans such as Russell may have been among the pioneers in the application of these prescriptions against anger in their own lives. They were especially vulnerable to such prescriptions, and were in a position to receive them from exactly the sort of experts (doctors, psychologists, counselors, etc.) then promulgating them, whom these men saw routinely during rehabilitation. Their vulnerability was a consequence, in the aftermath of their injuries, of the necessity of reconstructing so much of their personalities and modes of public self-presentation in order to return to the world with their impairments.
(14.) Russell attributes the inspirational tone of his 1949 memoir to the desire "to promote rehabilitation and tolerance." The less inspirational, more irreverent 1981 memoir, however, is said to be motivated by the desire "to tell the truth," which in this case consists of: a use of more vivid and colloquial language, a willingness to discuss sexuality, descriptions of the ways in which the men he lived with at Walter Reed Army Hospital subverted the hospital's rules, mild criticisms of the inadequate aspects of the rehabilitation process, and descriptions - in a humorous and self-mocking tone - of particular frustrations he experienced during rehabilitation. HR, 6/27/1990. Both books have in common, however, a reluctance to address directly or at length problems of oppression or acceptance, which are largely conceived of in terms of Russell's emerging attitude toward himself rather than of social prejudices.
(15.) Franklin Fearing, "Warriors Return: Normal and Neurotic," Hollywood Quarterly (October 1945): 91-109; Michael T. Isenberg, "The Great War Viewed From The Twenties: The Big Parade," in American History, American Film: Interpreting The Hollywood Image, O'Connor and Jackson, eds., pp. 17-37; Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises (New York, 1926); Erich Marie Remarque, The Road Back (Boston, 1931); D. H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley's Lover (New York, 1959); John Dos Passos, Three Soldiers (New York, 1921); Laurence Stallings, Plumes (New York, 1924). On the recognition of the problems of reintegrating demobilized veterans, among the significant World War II texts are, Willard Waller, The Veteran Comes Home (New York, 1944); Charles Bolte, The New Veteran (New York, 1945); John Mariano, The Veteran and His Marriage (New York, 1945); Alanson Edgerton, Readjustment or Revolution: A Guide to Economic, Educational, and Social Readjustment of Our War Veterans, Ex-war Workers, and Oncoming Youth (New York, 1946)
(16.) "U.S. at War - The Nation: The Way Home," Time 44 (August 7, 1944): 15-16; Marx, Goldwyn, p. 305; Berg, Goldwyn, pp. 392-93.
(17.) MacKinlay Kantor, Glory For Me (New York, 1945).
(18.) Marx, Goldwyn, pp. 305-07; Berg, Goldwyn, pp. 395-96; Clayton R. Koppes and Gregory D. Black, Hollywood Goes to War: How Politics, Profits, and Propaganda Shaped World War II Movies (New York, 1987), p. 162; Richard Griffith, Samuel Goldwyn: The Producer and His Films (New York, 1956), p. 38.
(19.) Madsen, William Wyler, pp. 257-59; Marx, Goldwyn, p. 308; Koppes and Black, Hollywood Goes to War, pp. 22-3, 33, 54-5, 192, 198; Walter J. Meserve, Robert E. Sherwood: Reluctant Moralist (New York, 1970).
(20.) Kantor, Glory For Me, p. 13.
(21.) Russell, Victory in My Hands, pp. 153-60; Marx, Goldwyn, pp. 309-11; Madsen, William Wyler, pp. 262-63; Anderegg, William Wyler, pp. 126-28.
(22.) Madsen, William Wyler, pp. 257-59, 266-68; Marx, Goldwyn, p. 307 (quote); Berg, Goldwyn, 405-06; The Best Years of Our Lives, Press Kit, FL/MOMA.
(23.) Joseph Goulden, The Best Years, 1945-50 (New York, 1976), p. 4.
(24.) Madsen, William Wyler, pp. 266-74; Koppes and Black, Hollywood Goes to War, pp. 54-5; Marx, Goldwyn, p. 308.
(25.) Anderegg, William Wyler, pp. 143-44, contains a survey of the movie's reputation, which has declined over time, as the recognition of its evasions has increased. Three reviewers, one generally positive and the other two negative, made the same point at the time of the premiere, however; see, Abraham Polonsky, "The Best Years of Our Lives: A Review," Hollywood Quarterly 2 (April, 1947): 257-60; James Agee, "What Hollywood Can Do," The Nation (December 7, 14, 1946); in Agee on Film, idem, editor (New York, 1958), pp. 229-33; Robert Warshow, The Immediate Experience (New York, 1970), pp. 156-57. The movie is analyzed incisively in the context of genre formulas in Peter Roffman and James Purdy, The Hollywood Social Problem Film: Madness, Despair, and Politics from the Depression to the Fifties (Bloomington, 1981), pp. 227-34.
(26.) Marx, Goldwyn, pp. 308, 311.
(27.) Thomas Pryor, "William Wyler and His Screen Philosophy," New York Times, November 17, 1946, sec. 2, 5; Hermine Rich Isaacs, "William Wyler: Director with A Passion and Craft," Theater Arts 31 (February, 1947): 22-3; William Wyler, "No Magic Wand," The Screen Writer (February, 1947), Reprinted in Hollywood Directors, 1941-1976, Richard Koszarski, ed. (New York, 1977), pp. 102-116; Berg, Goldwyn, pp. 410-12.
(28.) Kantor, Glory For Me, p. 268; Polonsky, "The Best Years of Our Lives: A Review;" James Agee, "What Hollywood Can Do;" Warshow, The Immediate Experience, pp. 156-57; John McCarten, "Goldwyn's Longest," The New Yorker 22 (November 23, 1946): pp. 70-1; Andrew Sarris, "The Best Years of Our Lives," Village Voice, July 15, 1965, p. 11; Michael Wood, America in The Movies (New York, 1975), pp. 38, 119; Adam Garbicz and Jacek Klinowski, Cinema, The Magic Vehicle: A Guide to Its Achievement, vol. 1, The Cinema Through 1949 (Metuchen, NJ, 1975), pp. 422-23.
(29.) Cf., Kantor, Glory For Me and The Best Years of Our Lives, April 9, 1946, [script, available from Script City, Hollywood, California] , the latter being as close to the movie as any script I have been able to locate.
(30.) HR, 6/27/1990; Russell, Victory in My Hands, pp. 187-88, 197.
(31.) HR, 6/27/1990; Hugh Gallagher, FDR's Splendid Deception (New York, 1985); Geoffrey C. Ward, A First-Class Temperament: The Emergence of Franklin Roosevelt (New York, 1989), pp. 18, 606-08, 630, 750.
(32.) The Best Years of Our Lives, April 19, 1946, p. 195.
(33.) This is the issue I take up in my essay, "Heroes and Misfits: Conflicting Representations of Disabled Veterans of World War II in The Best Years of Our Lives," presented at "Women, Work, and Family in World War II" Symposium, State University College at Brockport, Brockport, New York, April 11, 1992.
(34.) Russsell, Victory in My Hands, pp. 120-24, 136-43, 208. There seem to be ironies without end in Wyler's effort to put Russell in a VA. hospital to assist him in his acting, but it is not clear Russell was in a position to be anything but confused by it. After all, Wyler "frequently" guided him through various scenes during filming with the instructions, "If it feels right, do it!"; ibid., p. 189; and also, Anderegg, William Wyler, p. 136.
(35.) Russell, Victory in My Hands, pp. 41-3, 95-6, 99-100, 108-09; idem, The Best Years of My Life, pp. 11-18.
(36.) Russell, Victory in My Hands, pp. 105-06, 104-10, 141, 166-67; idem, The Best Years of My Life, pp. 16-17. There is a brief sketch of Charles McGonegal's life and work with veterans in Time 43 (February 14, 1944): p. 21.
(37.) Russell, The Best Years of My Life, p. 39. Russell recognized at the time that McGonegal manipulated his hooks in public, "as if it were some sort of theatrical performance;" Russell, Victory in My Hands, p. 112.
(38.) Russell, Victory in My Hands, p. 74.
(39.) Ibid., pp. 124-62; Harold Frizell, "Handless Veteran," Life 21 (December 16, 1946): p. 75.
(40.) Russell, Victory in My Hands, pp. 147-52 (quote, p. 149); HR, 6/27/1990.
(41.) Russell, The Best Years of My Life, pp. 21-2; HR, 6/27/1990.
(42.) Russell, Victory in My Hands, pp. 17-18, 21, 43-5, 47-8, 112-17, 135-36, 140-41, 199-200.
(43.) HR, 6/27/1990; Russell, The Best Years of My Life, pp. 21-2.
(44.) Russell, Victory in My Hands, p. 197.
(45.) Ibid.; and HR, 6/27/1990. As Russell replied to me, when I said that disability rights advocates may feel that the scene doesn't do their cause any benefit, "Well, it did the picture a lot of good!"
(46.) HR, 6/27/1990. I again pursued the meaning of the anecdote in HR, 11/20/1990.
(47.) In the contemporary analytical literature one finds strikingly similar parallels to this strategy of intentional, aggressive display in both Frank, "Beyond Stigma: Visibility and Self-Empowerment of Persons with Congenital Limb Deficiencies," 102-03, 106, 108, 113; and Phillips, "Damaged Goods: Oral Narratives of The Experience of Disability in American Culture," 855.
(48.) The Best Years of Our Lives, April 9, 1946 [script], p. 186.
(49.) An insight articulately developed from a number of perspectives by Murphy in The Body Silent, e.g., pp. 116-17, 131-32.
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|Publication:||Journal of Social History|
|Date:||Sep 22, 1993|
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