Any book about the blacklist has to have a sense of outrage, and “Inside Out,” a memoir by veteran TV and movie writer Walter Bernstein, has plenty simmering under the surface. Yet Bernstein, just one of many actors, directors, and writers who were effectively barred from working (at least under their real names) in the 1950s because of their involvement in the Communist party, never rides high on his own self-righteousness. He admits that his political ideals shaped his life, and if they got him into a heap of trouble during the McCarthy era, that was a price he was willing to pay. He writes with conviction and honesty about his own troubles and those of his friends, particularly Zero Mostel, who suffered more than his share of humiliation as a blacklisted performer. And he’s not above hurling a few zingers at the U.S. government and its lackeys. He sizes up the endless pairs of FBI guys who, in their dark suits and snap-brim hats, tailed him relentlessly: “The clothing made them look both oddly alike and mismatched, as though they were unrelated but from the same orphanage.”
But while “Inside Out” gives you a sense of Bernstein the idealistic youth and Bernstein the principled-but-regular guy, it falls short of cluing you in to Bernstein the man. He writes of being stationed in the army down South at the beginning of World War II, and mentions offhandedly that a woman he knew from New York City had come down to be with him. Before you know it, they’ve stumbled into marriage and conceived a child — yet Bernstein doesn’t even tell us the woman’s name, although another child (presumably also this woman’s offspring) mysteriously appears later in the story. It’s a small point, but a troubling one — a hint that Bernstein may be one of those guys who has great feeling for The People, but not so much for people. His tales of getting together with other blacklisted writers at a Manhattan restaurant for food, drink, and strategies for getting work, of how they pooled their meager resources, could almost bring a tear to the eye. Still, what do you make of a man who remembers the words to a freedom song he learned from Yugoslavian partisans in World War II (“Republic, we want you. You belong to us. We have won you with our blood”), but doesn’t bother to mention the name of the woman who bore his children?