But the title and the movie say it all as far as Alvin and Hollywood are concerned. At least that is what I gather from recollected conversations and what he wrote about Hollywood in A Walk Toward Oregon. After the War, he had come to Hollywood thinking that there was room to write real movies about the war he and other writers had been through and the problems people were dealing with across the country. He was especially excited about a story he had picked up in the New York Times about black and white farmers working to reclaim depleted Georgia cotton land. There was initial enthusiasm for “Red Clay.” Alvin was sent to Georgia to do research and a co-writer and producer were assigned, but in the end, the story was deemed “not commercial enough” and abandoned. “Hollywood hokum,” he dubbed Hollywood movie moguls’ tastes.
Back to the birds! Alvin’s original story about the condors was called “Condors Don’t Pay Taxes,” because that was the argument used by the oil companies and their lobbyists who were trying to open condor nesting grounds to oil exploration. Alvin’s story detailed the work of a University of California scientist who found that the big birds tended one egg every two years and were very sensitive to human incursion. The movie skimmed the science and concentrated on the counterfeit admiral and the love story.
I know too that he was proud of his work as an advisor on “Little Big Man”—one of the first screen portrayals to honor the Indian point of view, he said—and that he enjoyed working on documentaries with Ken and Ric Burns and others. Knowing the power and pervasiveness of visual media, I think that Alvin might have been a documentarian in today’s world.
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