Postcards from Paris 1950: Remembering Howard Fast

Next Tuesday, November 11, marks the centennial of author Howard Fast’s (1914–2003) birth. A prolific writer of more than 80 works of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and screenplays, he is best known for Spartacus, a 1951 novel about the Roman gladiator who led a slave revolt. Fast is also remembered for his 1950 refusal to provide Congress with a list of possible Communist associates. As a result, he was sentenced to three months in federal prison where he wrote the draft of Spartacus. Because he had been blacklisted by American publishers, Fast self-published the novel to great success, selling almost 50,000 copies. To celebrate this milestone in literary history, Fast’s daughter, Rachel Fast Ben-Avi (pictured below), recalls those three months in 1950 when she, at the age of six, received postcards from a father who was “spending the summer in Paris.” [ For the centennial observance, Open Road Media, which publishes 63 of Fast’s novels as ebooks, has produced a new embeddable, two minute mini-documentary, which features commentary from Mimi Fast (Howard Fast’s widow), Jonathan Fast (son), and Erica Jong (former daughter-in-law.]

The conspirator, a friend who lived in Paris, chose the postcards, each with a different and attractive howaardfast1photo on the front, a good long time before Father even went to jail. There had been three years between the date of his sentencing and the date on which he was actually to appear in Washington to serve his sentence, so there was plenty of time to cook up a story.

The conspirator mailed the postcards in some sort of envelope to my parents, in New York City. Father, when I was out of the way, safely at school, or in bed and asleep, wrote his messages to me, one card at a time, addressed the postcards, his unique almost unintelligible handwriting there for me to recognize, and sent them back across the sea in another envelope to the conspirator, in Paris. The conspirator took the postcards from the envelope, arranged them, affixed air mail stamps, then timed the mailing of the “evidence” so that I would receive one postcard at a time, every week or so, for the three months Father was incarcerated, each card with a French stamp on it, each one postmarked: Paris.

Dearest Rachie,
Today, having just gotten to Paris, I went to this place, the Eiffel Tower, where I climbed hundreds of steps up to a bird’s eye view of the city. It was a warm day but clear, and I could see for miles. Paris is indeed beautiful. I miss you already.
Love and kisses, and two for Jonny,
Popaluchkie

Dearest Dinklehoffer,
Daddy is having the best time imaginable, though he misses you and Mommy and Jonathan terribly already. Went here, to the Jeu de Paume, today and saw the most wonderful Impressionist paintings. Ask Mommy to tell you all about Impressionism.
I love you more than words can say. Kiss your little brother for me,
Daddy

Dearest Darling Daughter,
The picture on this card is the Arc de Triomphe. It is grand and right in the middle of everything.
Someday, when you’re all grown up, you will come here and see it for yourself. Though I am busy here and have many friends, I miss you and Mommy and Jonny very much.
Love and a million kisses,
Your Daddy

Dear Beautiful Rachie,
Paris is famous for its pretty girls, but you and Mommy are prettier than all of them put together.
But this model’s blouse looks just like one of Mommy’s designs, doesn’t it? Oh, how I miss you all!
Your lonesome daddy

Dearest Face that Launched a Thousand Ships, (you know the rest),
Your daddy walked along the Seine today, all the way up to Notre Dame Cathedral, which was built in the 13th Century and has flying buttresses that don’t fly at all but stay put. What do you think of that?
Love and kisses,
Popaluchkie

Princess,
Your daddy had dinner with Pablo Picasso last night. What a fine time we had! Being a world famous writer is not such a bad thing. I told him all about what a beautiful and brilliant little angel I had at home. Guess who that is? He said he would like to paint a picture of you!
Love and kisses,
Your devoted daddy

Loveliest of all daughters,
Are you having fun in Belmar? Going to the beach every day? Careful of the sun! This French restaurant reminded me of food. Is Grandma making lots of potato pancakes and blintzes for you and Jonny and Mommy? I hope so. You take care of Jonny. You may be six and a big girl, but remember, he is only two!
Your devoted daddy

Dinklehoffer my Dinklehoffer,
I ran into Wormy-Old-Sly-Fellow yesterday, in this place, the beautiful Place de la Concorde. After escaping from the Central Park Zoo, he wrapped himself around Mrs. Moskowitz’s neck and hitched a ride on the Queen Mary, across the sea, to Paris. He was lying in the sun, happy as any old fox on the planet. Not enough space to write on these little cards,
Love and kisses, from Popaluchkie

Darling Dinklehoffer,
Here you see a Negro boy and a white girl rocking and rolling on The Quais de Paris. The French are much better about this sort of thing than we are in America. We will win equality for all, somehow, someday.
Love and big wet kisses,
Popaluchkie

Darling Rachie,
The Proud and the Free is ready to go. Here at The Louvre, looking at Michelangelo’s “Dying Slave” reminds me to tell you I am planning a book about a Roman slave named Spartacus. It ought to be my best yet. What a great museum this is!
Home soon!! I cannot wait to hug you and kiss you,
Your popaluchkie

Fast_ProudFreeThe jail sentence had been slapped on Pop by The House Un-American Activities Committee, for refusing to name names. Surely his finest moment. (Jon insists he knew that it was and loved every minute of it.)

The lie, that Daddy was in Paris for the summer — not in prison — was designed to shelter us. Me, really. Jonathan was so little, he only asked every now and then, “Where’s Daddy?”

When I found out the truth, I pitched a fit. The lie was a big one, huge, unforgivable. If I had known, I could have helped somehow. I was sure of it.—Rachel Fast Ben-Avi, Ph.D.
Clinical Psychologist/Psychoanalyst

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Wilda Williams About Wilda Williams

Wilda "Willy" Williams (wwilliams@mediasourceinc.com) is LJ's Fiction Editor. She specializes in popular fiction and edits the Mystery, Science Fiction, Christian Fiction, and Word on Street Lit columns.

Comments

  1. Gerald Sorin says:

    Readers may be interested to know that there is much more about Rachel Ben-Avi and her father Howard Fast in Gerald Sorin’s Howard Fast:Life and Literature in the Left Lane (2012).
    This biography of Fast won the 2013 National Jewish Book Award in Biography, and a Silver Medal from independent Publishers.