The Peripatetic Reviewer

by Edward Weeks
THE CAMERONS
by Robert Crichton
Knopf, $7.95
The Scots have always been hard on their own. The harshness of the Lairds in 1745 when they broke up the clans and drove out their tenants to make field room for their flocks of sheep was matched a century later by the harsh conditions imposed on those who worked in the Scottish coal mines.
This robust, romantic novel in the old tradition of storytelling is laid in the mining village of Pitmungo, and it begins on an April day at the turn of this century when Maggie Drum, who has saved up her silver as a schoolteacher, ups and leaves her classes on a mysterious errand, and heads north toward the seacoast. It has long been her ambition to marry a man who can make the money, if necessary in the pits, which she will save until they can better themselves. The man she finds is Gillon Cameron, a Highlander, with a precarious livelihood as a fisherman. Gillon, whose forebears were once proud to be Camerons, is tall and fair, strong in the arm from his life at sea and dreadfully shy. It takes persistence on Maggie’s part to woo him and bring him to her family in Pitmungo.
He thinks he has no heart for mining, but he finds as he approaches the town that he will have to fight the pit bully for the right to work, and, after an exhausting struggle in which his stamina prevails, discovers that he has won the respect of the village and the affection of Maggie’s parents. Gillon’s submergence in the pits and his acquisition of the skill which makes him the highest paid collier, his longing for the sea, his shyness as Maggie washes the pit grime from his white body at day’s end, and the desire for her which keeps him enslaved are well told.
The children come fast—Rob Roy, Andrew, Sam the strong one, James (Jemmie) short, dark, and tough, a miner in the cradle, Sarah, the oldest daughter, and the twins—all hostages to fortune, which seemingly will sentence Gillon to a lifetime in the pits. But Maggie with her frugality and resourcefulness has other ideas. She keeps the key of the kist, the strongbox in which they store their savings, and as the kids grow old enough to help, it is Maggie whose ingenuity directs their life and Gillon who inspires the loyalty of his little clan. The strongbox grows heavier, and all signs are propitious until Gillon is injured deep underground. Lord Fyffe, the mineowner, will pay no compensation, and Gillon’s dander, which has slumbered so long, is at last fired in protest.
As in any long-sustained romance, one must take some things on faith. In his loneliness, Gillon has recourse to the library, where the half-drunken librarian, Mr. Selkirk, feeds him first Shakespeare and then Marx. One wonders how Selkirk could purchase so much Scotch on a librarian’s pittance, and how Gillon’s sons with so little schooling could so swiftly acquire their eagerness for reading. But Gillon’s defiance when, cheered on by the village, he confronts the Laird is a moving scene, and the trial which ends in the family’s departure brings tears to the eyes.
TALLULAH
by Brendan Gill
Holt, Rinehart and Winston, $25.00
In this stylish, entertaining, wellwritten book, Brendan Gill has drawn what I take to be a breathing likeness of Tallulah Bankhead. Not as beautiful as Marilyn Monroe, more of a hoyden and less winning than Gertrude Lawrence, this fat, sassy Southern kid “with none of the performing skills of the prodigy, and indeed, with almost no schooling,” after she had slimmed down and found her “sub-tropical voice,” won the loyalty of a large and intelligent audience in New York, and then for eight happy years did the same thing in London. She also had her hangers-on, in London hordes of squealing girls in the theater alley, and in this country, as she aged, a cult of gigolos who encouraged her self-exploitation.
The Bankheads were politicians, and Tallulah, motherless from her infancy, was brought up at Sunset, her grandfather’s spacious home in Jasper, Alabama, a spoiled brat, gaining her way with tantrums, and jealous of her older sister’s beauty. Foul-mouthed and rebellious, she bounced from school to school, with very little acquired education, and her father. Will, a spasmodic alcoholic who cooled off to become Speaker of the House, was too busy in Washington to heed. But she was sharply intelligent, could learn a play in two days, and before she was twenty was projecting herself triumphantly in mediocre parts with that drawling “dahling” which was her trademark.
Tallulah had to wait for twenty years for her finest parts: Regina Giddens, the Southern schemer in The Little Foxes; the eternal tramp in Thornton Wilder’s The Skirt of Our Teeth; and the lead in Private Lives, a part she assumed when everyone else thought the play was worn out, and which ran for so long in its second coming that Tallulah said, “We have played this show everywhere except underwater.”
Mr. Gill has avoided the tedium of so many theatrical biographers with his skillful account of Tallulah offstage. Tallulah, caring nothing for privacy, was a compulsive drinker like her father, very liberal in her sexual enjoyment, fond of swimming in the nude and turning cartwheels in the same condition, and, when she had stashed away the first million, given to never-ending house parties for which she paid the bills. Although she had a hundred lovers, marriageable men were wary, and John Emery, who came for the weekend and stayed six weeks, after he had been properly married to her in Alabama and exposed to her regime, must have been meekly glad to escape. Why did she live this way? The author suggests a loneliness, an emptiness for which she never had an answer.
It is funny and sad to read the critics as they watched her fade. John Mason Brown wrote of her performance in Antony and Cleo-patra, “Tallulah Bankhead barged down the Nile last night as Cleopatra—and sank.” Even loyalists like Robert Benehley and Walter Kerr saw it coming. “The disagreeable fate of the self-exploiter,” says Mr. Gill with insight, “faced Tallulah from the moment she undertook to star in ‘The Big Show.’ ”
The three hundred photographs catch her in many poses, and will please the addicts.
FOR THOSE I LOVED
by Martin Gray
Little, Brown, $8.95
For the most part this is a horror story, treading bloodstained ground we have traversed before; probably it is good for the spirit to be reminded of the bestiality which Hitler unleashed. “Martin” is a boy of fourteen in the heart of his prosperous family in Warsaw. He becomes “Mietek,” one of the “deathJews” who survived the annihilation factory at Treblinka, and then “Mishka” when he joins the partisans and the Soviet Army. During the systematic destruction of the Polish Jews, he has learned to outwit fear and hunger. He witnessed the killing of his father, a well-to-do manufacturer and an officer in the Polish army. His account of Treblinka is harrowing in its detail, and there he escaped the gas chambers by loading the bodies into the graves, separating the still warm bodies of the children from their mothers, helping the “dentists” extract gold from the teeth, shoving and trampling the stiffs into the ground. What drove him and what must lead on the reader, too, was his will to live and his employment of any means to that end. Not only was he hardy, he was clever, as he made his escape from the lower camp to the upper, strapping himself to the underpart of an SS truck and escaping again in a freight car to the open country, where in the small villages he sounded a warning his fellow Jews would not believe and where he was eventually embraced by the partisans in the forest.
Revenge and the impulse to live are the motives. He joins the Red Army, serving with the NKVD as they root out the Nazis in hiding and the traitors in the occupied territory. And after tasting the bitter freedom in Berlin, after being decorated with the Order of the Red Star, he sets out, only nineteen, to join his grandmother in New York.
What follows is a slice of Horatio Alger. The boy who was so supple in finding food for his family in Warsaw is just as successful as a salesman, peddling without a license, making capital of his broken English in the hotels in Lakewood, putting together the fortune which will provide him with a charming wife and their four children with unbelievable happiness in their country place in the South of France.
Martin Gray’s story has been told with the aid of a collaborator, Max Gallo, and has been translated from the French. It comes to us, in a sense, at two removes from the author, and this may account for the feeling of incredulity which I find most noticeable in the closing pages. Martin’s dashing about on a motorcycle when he knows his family is in peril is a far cry from the cool operator in Warsaw and Treblinka.
WINSLOW HOMER
by John Wilmerding
Praeger, $30.00
“The most interesting part of my life is of no concern to the public,” wrote Winslow Homer to a proposing biographer. With this injunction in mind, Mr. Wilmerding has devoted himself to the events of Homer’s art instead of his life. We study the early lithographs and wood engravings which he did in Boston in the mid-nineteenth century; his sketches at the front in the Civil War, and the oil painting of Confederate prisoners which established his reputation; his Gloucester watercolors with their affinity to Tom Sawyer; and the magnificent seascapes: The Fog Warning, The Life Line, Undertow, and The Northeaster, the fruition of his three decades at Prout’s Neck on the Maine coast. Whether in Paris, the Bahamas, Quebec, or Long Branch, Homer was incorrigibly bold and American, and Mr. Wilmerding’s text deepens our appreciation by the skillful contrast of his work with that of fellow artists. The reproductions in color are of exceptional beauty.