But this week his cousin sent me most of a manuscript dated 1952 for a proposed television program about the first man to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, and I got an email from a grad student researching a WW II Marine named Peter Ortiz. Turns out there was a movie—“Operation Secret”—and, you got it; Alvin wrote the screen story….
Alvin came home from Iwo Jima to “sell the war.” The public was distressed that we’d lost 7,000 Marines taking a small bunch of rocks in the Pacific. Alvin, Indian flag raiser Ira Hayes, and a few others traveled the country explaining the lives saved, those of airmen flying to Japan on bombing sorties who now had a safe landing strip and fueling station to ease their work. Alvin and company fully expected to be back in the Pacific and part of the invasion of Japan when the Bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki changed the course of the war.
So he stayed home, wrote his first book, The Long and the Short and the Tall, a non-fiction account of Marines in battle, abandoned a novel, and went back to Hollywood to try his hand at screenwriting again (he had spent time there as a “junior screenwriter” in the 30s). Although he picked up a few film credits, there were no major successes, and veterans’ organizations and a gambling scam he uncovered while writing on the side for a Santa Monica weekly were more rewarding. Hollywood was skewed to the entertainment side and he wanted real stuff—he’d just been through a real war.
Time Magazine made a better offer in 1951, and the movie chapter of his life—and Betty’s; she was his biggest Hollywood find—came to an end. In the bibliography he prepared in 2001, Hollywood and the years 1945-51 get this:
“Red Clay,” “Something for the Birds,” Captive City,” part of “Beginning or the End,” and other movie treatments for MGM, Warner Brothers, United Artists.”
I don’t think “Red Clay” was produced—and think it was a disappointment for Alvin. “Something for the Birds” was California Condors and the oil companies. “Captive City” was based on the true story of Alvin and Betty dodging the mob after his gambling disclosures, and “Beginning or the End,” for which I can find no Josephy credit, was the story of General Groves and the Atom bomb. I am somewhat curious at the omission of “Operation Secret,” because this story of an American who spoke 10 languages, fought with the French Foreign Legion, the US Marines, and as a behind the lines OSS operative in France, was a Josephy natural.
“The First Man To Walk Across Brooklyn Bridge”—a TV treatment never produced—is a slower story, but it too grabs a big piece of history—the bridge when completed in 1883 was “hailed as the greatest wonder of the western hemisphere.” Alvin weaves a family story and New York ward politics into the piece—who knows why it didn’t get produced, or how many other treatments he tried out on Hollywood.
What I do know, and have said before, is that when Alvin discovered the Nez Perce Story—the deep history, broken treaties and dramatic War, the miracle of survival and confidence in the long future—he found his true subject matter and life work, the American Indian. His time as a Marine Corps journalist in the heat and heart of war, and the frustrating years at the edge in Hollywood—the dramas chased and the ones Hollywood left behind—honed and shaped the historian and activist he would become.