This is the second book Orrie Hitt did for Novel/Camerarts — the first was Easy Women! — and probably his most political of all, in terms of socialist idealism, labor relations, and the power of labor unions in mid-20sth Century America.
This is more a literary social novel than sleaze or men’s book, as packaged. Indeed, Novel allowed Hitt to go off on tangents that his other publishers, market-conscious, would not, although Hitt’s books do tend to touch on political and economic issues as farm and hard labor, the rich v. the poor, and insurance scams.
Sammy Layton is a “honest,” ethical union boss — he’s been through congressional and criminal investigations and has come out clean; he is fodder for editorials and politicians. He wields a lot of power and gets what he wants, claiming he is always looking after the common worker, with his notions of redistribution of wealth.
What is curiously fascinating is that some of what Hitt wrote in 1961 sounds like the rhetoric going on in today’s political climate:
The Mayor: “When you start destroying palaces of the rich, Mr. Layton, the next step will have to be taking away the houses of the poor. You want to redistribute the wealth. You want a socialistic, welfare state […] you’re trying to get something for your workers that they don’t deserve. No man deserves to be paid just because he’s alive. He has to produce. You’re asking for an increase in pay without an increase in production. Who are you to decide? Let the free market decide.” (pp. 36-7)
Ellen: “This is the beginning of a socialist state, I know. I’ve read about it, the division of wealth and the eventual poverty of the masses because the government becomes everything and nobody is anything.” (p. 107)
Ellen: “I know what’s pushing you and you haven’t even got enough sense to understand it. What you seek is the socialist state where everyone owns a share and that’s only a short jump from the kind of life none of us want […] This isn’t what we need here in a free country.” (p. 123)
What is at issue is a major national strike at the heart of capitalism, that Sammy wants to bleed those businessmen with millions so much that they will have no profit to show. Sammy does not believe in big profit, he wants the workers to all share the pie equally. The backlash is that more job sites and businesses will collapse, creating an economic disaster. Sammy has an agenda, wants to prove a point — he is Obama more than he is Jimmy Hoffa.
His weakness: women, and like all Hitt heroes, he has several lovers floating about:
Ellen, his live-in girlfriend whom he breaks up with early in the novel, and then tells him she’s pregnant with his child;
Sally, his executive secretary that he was having an affair with; she has called it quits but Sammy would still like to dip his wick now and then;
Anna, Sally’s sister, who comes to work for him and sets him up for a fall;
Norma, the young blonde daughter of a construction magnet, Charlie Adams, that he falls heavy for; but se has her agenda with Anna to bring about his downfall.
Sammy forces Charlie Adams into signing a labor contract that will ruin his empire. Norma wants to stop this, so uses her charms and body, promising him her body if she leaves her father alone. But she sets Sammy up for a bogus rape charge, and with Anna, they create a bogus bribery to Adams to make Sammy look crooked.
When he’s destroyed, Sammy sees the capitalist light, which is a bit corny on Hitt’s side:
The whole difference between capitalism and communism — or freedom and dictatorship, if you will — is the difference between owning what you produce and having the state own it. When you own it, when you are allowed to keep what you honestly worked for and made possible according to your talents, then you are free. And other people benefit from it.
But when everybody else — whether it’s your government or union or some hoodlum on the street — has the right to demand that you give up part of what you own, no matter if it’s a million dollars or a hundred, then you’re not free. Then, even if it’s fifty years off or five hundred, the same kind of thing has to result as happened to Russia or socialist England or Nazi Germany.
I never thought America could turn out like that, but suddenly I realized how close I’d come to it. I began to look around me and saw that other men were further along[…] And I realized in that moment what I had never taken the time or had the courage to see before: and that’s exactly what a free country is! a country where each man produces what he can, according to how good he is, and how ambitious he is. I realized that there’s only one alternative to that: pushing the weak men, the less capable men to the top, even though they don’t belong there. I saw that some men have to produce more than others, that nature made it that way, just as nature made the color of our hair different. (pp. 152-3)
In the end, the only good union left in the country, he feels, is the marriage union, producing babies…
On the Hitt Scale, I give this one an 8.2. An interesting book, a social and political diatribe disguised as a sleaze book, but it gets to be too much at times — you want that ol’ Orrie back with the blue collar worker jumbling dames and trying hard to make a buck.