Obituary: Alfred Palca

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
WELL-MADE and well-received. Go, Man, Go! (1954) featured Sidney Poitier in an early screen role and the famous basketball team the Harlem Globetrotters as themselves. Described by Bosley Crowther, film critic of the New York Times, as "a lively little independent picture that rates solid approval as a creditable sports romance", it was the story of the team's real-life discoverer, the basketball coach Abe Saperstein (Dane Clark) and his long fight to bring the "Trotters" to international fame.

Although the film's opening credits read "Original Screenplay by Arnold Becker, Produced by Anton J. Leader", it was actually written and produced by Alfred Palca. The previous year Palca had been accused of being a Communist, and, as he later put it, "The movie got out, but my career was phhhttt." The only way he could secure a release for Go, Man, Go! was to credit his brother-in-law (his assistant on the production) as producer, and his cousin (a paediatrician) as screenwriter.

Palca's all-too-short screen career began and ended with the Globetrotters; three years before making Go, Man, Go!, he had written and coproduced Harlem Globetrotters, in which Dorothy Dandridge and the team's player Billy Brown appeared, with Thomas Gomez playing Saperstein. It did well, but, feeling it could have been better, Palca wrote Go, Man, Go!, raising $175,000 from various investors, including his father-in-law. "I'm an old lefty," he told Bruce Weber in the New York Times. "And I thought I could do something to help the blacks."

Palca had begun in show business as a comedy writer, working in television and writing night-club material for comedians in Los Angeles and New York. He signed various petitions, joined many left-wing organisations, and identified with the socialist ideals professed by the Soviet Union. "I was naive," he told Weber. "I thought of it as a sharing society. And I'm embarrassed by it now."

It was while Palca was making Go, Man, Go! that two FBI men accused him of being a Communist, although he had never been a member of the Party. Throughout the filming, the agents returned, urging him to clear himself by turning informer. Finally, Palca asked them if they would be interested in investing in his film. He told Weber: "It was my way of saying `I'm not interested in your offer any more than you're interested in mine.' "

Speaking of his film writing, Palca said, "I was never that good. Others did it better than I, working with fronts." He supported his family over the next four decades by writing magazine articles, television shows and collaboration on The Couple, a non-fiction book about sex. He also wrote the libretto for a musical about Israel, but, before he could find a producer, along came Milk and Honey (1961), a Jerry Herman show with the same setting.

In 1971 he worked with Elaine May on the screenplay of the comedy A New Leaf. May, who also directed the film, had an altercation with Palca during its making, and his name was conspicuous by its absence on the credits. "I thought my career would become awakened with Elaine," he later said, "but it didn't."

On 29 September 1997 - 50 years after the House Committee on Un-American Activities began its unconstitutional purge of Communists and Communist sympathisers in the motion picture industry - the Writers Guild of America changed the credits on 21 films written by blacklisted members during the witch-hunt era. Go, Man, Go! was one of the 21.

"It should have been 40 years ago," said Palca. "And my life, obviously, would have been different."

Dick Vosburgh

Alfred Palca, writer, producer: born 1920; married (one son, one daughter); died New York 18 June 1998.

Comments