Since my boyhood days in the wheat fields of Manhattan I have steadfastly held Hollywood in veneration.
I feigned interest in Lou Gehrig and Carl Hubbell and Hank Greenberg and the rest of their sweaty ilk to remain in good standing with the stickball crowd.
But I found my real idols at the local cinema...
...Tom Mix, Oliver Hardy, Rudy Vallee.
To me it was obvious that they--and they alone--were the genuine, true (and odorless) models of American manhood, to be enthroned and emulated.
Surreptitiously, I would slip down to the corner magazine stand to filch the latest copy of Movieland Heroes.
And even more surreptitiously, I would jam it between the jibbering, statistic-laden pages of the St. Louis Sporting News, baseball's answer to the Wall Street Journal.
I did this as a condescending gesture to my playmates, who naively thought that all the world's a diamond and all the men and women merely players.
But I knew different.
And that the world was a stage, not a diamond.
I knew because my filched fan magazines carefully illustrated that Hollywood, not Yankee Stadium, was the birthplace of such fine American traits as bravery, integrity and go-get-em.
But then, shortly following my adolescence, there came a mass confusion to my life.
Suddenly, people--more specifically authors--began saying nasty things about the film capital of the nation.
They wrote books like "The Last Tycoon" and "What Makes Sammy Run."
But I wasn't shaken from my faith. I still worshiped my heroes.
(I did, however, occasionally mumble to myself).
Patiently, I waited for them to spit their final, un-American venom. But they never did quite finish.
In fact, new spitters arrived on the scene.
En masse, they moved to Hollywood to sit in soft chairs and peck at typewriters and cash $1,000 studio checks every week.
Supposedly, they were writing new Great American Movies.
But actually, they were pecking out subversive, anti-Hollywood prose to be published in book form after the termination of their studio contracts.
And then a few years later, sold back to the movies.
Their disloyalty annoyed me but I figured that if they were making a buck (if that's what they wanted) by biting the golden hand that fed them, they had some excuse.
Besides, Hollywood had little difficulty surviving the insult.
But today, there's a more dangerous game being played around the film capital.
It's called Star Bite Hollywood.
And its rules, briefly, are (1) amass $1,000,000 or so by emoting for the simply pleased public (us) and then (2) when you've been built up to the point of financial security, look back on your career and hiss:
"They've ruined me."
Don't be too specific as to who or what ruined you.
Just say that your talents were ill-used and prostituted. Or, with a vague swish of the hand, "They're all a bunch of damn idiots."
According to my latest copy of Daily Variety (Hollywood's answer to the St. Louis Sporting News), a calypso singer by the name of Harry Belafonte is the latest to jump on the bandwagon.
His direct accusation:
"I was catapulted out of drama school into a series of compromises like (my first three) pictures."
Variety quotes Mr. Belafonte as denouncing his latest film effort, "Island in the Sun" as "a terrible picture based on a terrible best-selling book."
"I hate Hollywood and the cliches of American culture," he was quoted.
I have long considered Belafonte a very talented young man. And it came as a shock to learn that, by his own admission, his commercial success was nothing but a sinister plot of the movie barons.
Put me in the same embarrassing position and I think that I might be magnanimous enough to let bygones by bygones.
Maybe, some day, he will too.
Even though Hollywood has robbed him of his priceless poverty.
[Note: I have neglected to get into the complicated controversy surrounding the 1957 film "Island in the Sun"; so many stories, so little time to blog. The picture's interracial aspects, though muted, touched off quite an outcry and Joan Fontaine got a fair amount of hate mail. I'll have to rummage through my notes and see if I can find some of the stories. They are amazing.]