Members of the ambitious, brilliant, utopian (and later, largely anti-utopian) Partisan generation were in their teens and 20s in the Twenties (1924-33; not to be confused with the '20s), and in their 20s and 30s in the Thirties (1934-43).
I've decided to call those Americans born between 1904 and 1913 "Partisans" after Partisan Review, a journal founded in 1934 as a literary organ for the Communist Party's John Reed Club in New York by William Phillips (b. 1907) and Philip Rahv (b. 1908). In 1938, Partisan Review was relaunched by Rahv, Phillips, Dwight Macdonald (1906), F.W. Dupee (1904), and George L.K. Morris (1905), and it became the most influential literary-political journal of both the prewar anti-Stalinist Left, a.k.a. the New York Intellectuals, and the postwar era's chastened liberals and early neoconservatives.
Before I say anything else about the Partisans, here's a reminder.
BRAINIAC'S GUIDE TO AMERICA'S RECENT GENERATIONS
Lost Generation The New Kids
Lost Generation Hardboiled Generation
The Greatest Generation Partisans
The Greatest Generation The New Gods
The Silent Generation Postmodernist Generation
The Silent Generation Anti-Anti-Utopian Generation
1944-53: Baby Boomers
Baby Boomers OGX (Original Generation X)
Generation X PC Generation
Generations X/Y Net Generation
Please credit Brainiac/Joshua Glenn whenever you use this guide. Got a beef with my periodization, or different generational name suggestions? Leave a comment on this post or email me. Born between 1954 and 1993 and still unsure about whether you're a Boomer, Xer, Yer, or Millennial? Here's a handy guide.
The oldest Partisans came of age at the height of the Roaring Twenties, a period of economic prosperity; laissez faire capitalism had found its true home in America. Thanks to rapid urbanization, for the first time in American history, the population of cities surpassed the population of rural areas. Nothing seemed impossible: television, talking pictures, nonstop transatlantic flights, new land-speed records, frozen food, color cartoons, long-playing records. Prohibition gave rise to speakeasies, which gave rise to the Jazz Age. Younger Partisans, however, became adults just as the US stock market collapsed, and the Great Depression began. Communists forecast the Death of Capitalism, while Roosevelt's New Deal used government spending -- on programs including the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, the Civil Works Administration, the Public Works Administration, the Works Progress Administration, and the Civilian Conservation Corps -- to restore faith in American democracy at a time when many people believed that the only choice left was between communism and fascism. The Social Security Act of 1935 was the beginning of a permanent, expanding national program. Organized labor began unionizing the mass production industries, with great success. Meanwhile, young Americans enlisted to fight on the side of the socialists, communists, liberals, and anarchists in the Spanish Civil War. As Continental Europe succumbed to authoritarian and totalitarian regimes, European artists and intellectuals fled to America. Two years after Germany's invasion of Poland in 1939 touched off World War II, and just a few days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, America abandoned neutrality. By the end of the Thirties (1943), the US was ready for war.
Thanks to the Partisans, the Thirties and Forties were a kind of apex not only for American intellectual life, but for American pop culture. Most of Hollywood's golden-age directors (of noir, screwball comedies, and more), a number of whom were refugees from WWII Europe, are Partisans. So are everybody's favorite silver-screen apemen and wolfmen, private eyes and fast-talking dames, dancing scarecrows and yodeling cowboys, not to mention most of the actors who would portray villains on the 1960s "Batman" show. Plus: The early New Yorker's greatest writers and cartoonists.
Radical politics and an autonomous, experimental, American modernist art were only two of the many possibilities championed by members of this generation. Not only were they Abstract Expressionists and New York Intellectuals, the Partisans were pioneers of big band swing, the Dixieland revival, and the Delta blues;; as well as structuralist anthropology and literary theory. Within the Partisan cohort we find the inventors of the atom bomb, the Skinner box, LSD, Scientology, the instant photo, and the perfect popcorn. We also find the creators of such iconic pop culture characters as Daffy Duck, Tom & Jerry, Bugs Bunny, Flash Gordon, Conan the Barbarian, Shrek, and the Grinch.
Perhaps thanks to the apocalyptic Depression, the Partisans' imaginations weren't held hostage by the quotidian; they truly seemed to believe that another word was possible. Note that this cohort includes Golden Age and pre-Golden Age SF and sword & sorcery pioneers like Robert E. Howard, Robert A. Heinlein, Fritz Lieber, L. Sprague de Camp, L. Ron Hubbard, Fredric Brown, Jack Finney, Nelson S. Bond, Ross Rocklynne, Clifford D. Simak, and Alfred Bester. Plus C.L. Moore, one of the first women science fiction authors, and comic strip artist Alex Raymond, who created Flash Gordon. The influential science fiction journal editor John W. Campbell was a Partisan; so were influential SF and sword&sorcery writers born in other countries, or whom we don't usually associate with these genres. For example: A.E. van Vogt, A. Bertram Chandler, Eric Frank Russell, Ayn Rand ("Atlas Shrugged"), Samuel Beckett ("Endgame"), Hergé ("The Shooting Star"), Pierre Boulle ("Planet of the Apes"), Louis L'Amour ("The Haunted Mesa"), Mervyn Peake ("Gormenghast") and B.F. Skinner ("Walden Two"). Also, I consider Orwell (b. 1903) an honorary Partisan, not only because of his partisan attitude and collaboration with American radical intellectuals born in the 1904-13 generation, but because of "1984." Finally there's Joseph Campbell and Buster Crabbe, without whom no "Star Wars."
Meet the Partisans.
1904: James T. Farrell, S. J. Perelman, Joan Crawford, Jimmy Dorsey, Count Basie, Isamu Noguchi, Glenn Miller, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Russel Wright, Coleman Hawkins, Ray Bolger, Pretty Boy Floyd, Meyer Schapiro, B. F. Skinner, Joseph Campbell, Clifford D. Simak, Theodor Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss), Fats Waller, Peter Arno, F.W. Dupee, Johnny Weissmuller, George Stevens, Ralph Bellamy, Tricky Sam Nanton, Phil Harris, Robert Oppenheimer, Robert Montgomery, Isaac Bashevis Singer. Elsewhere: Cary Grant, Peter Lorre, Salvador Dali, Deng Xiaoping, John Gielgud, Edgar G. Ulmer, Greer Garson, Cecil Beaton, George Balanchine, Willem de Kooning, Ernst Mayr, Pablo Neruda.
1905: Lionel Trilling, Lillian Hellman, John O'Hara, Henry Fonda, Eddie Anderson, Bob Wills, Arthur Crudup, Ernie Bushmiller, Howard Hughes, Tommy Dorsey, Jack Teagarden, Robert Penn Warren, Eddie Condon, Diana Trilling, Agnes de Mille, Kenneth Rexroth, Friz Freleng, Barnett Newman, Lois Mailou Jones, Anna May Wong, Myrna Loy, Arthur Lake, Clara Bow, Joseph Cotten, Thelma Ritter. Elsewhere: Ayn Rand, Greta Garbo, Jean-Paul Sartre, Otto Preminger, Robert Donat, Ray Milland, Christian Dior, Maria von Trapp, Albert Speer, Elias Canetti, Anthony Powell, Eric Frank Russell.
1906: Dwight Macdonald, Harold Rosenberg, Anthony Mann, Clifford Odets, Carol Reed, Ed Gein, Grace Hopper, William Bendix, Janet Gaynor, Bugsy Siegel, Janet Gaynor, John Carradine, Josephine Baker, Estée Lauder, Fredric Brown, Louise Brooks, Wild Bill Davison, Nelson Goodman, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Eddie Albert, Lou Costello, Robert E. Howard, Lon Chaney, Jr., Satchel Paige, Ozzie Nelson, Victoria Spivey. Elsewhere: Hannah Arendt, Emmanuel Levinas, Aristotle Onassis, Billy Wilder, Roberto Rossellini, Samuel Beckett, Jacques Becker, Albert Hofmann, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Madeleine Carroll, Henny Youngman, Adolf Eichmann, Kurt Godel, T. H. White, John Betjeman, Imam Hassan al Banna, Luchino Visconti, Leonid Brezhnev.
1907: William Phillips, Barbara Stanwyck, Rachel Carson, Cab Calloway, Katharine Hepburn, John Wayne, James A. Michener, Rosalind Russell, Jessamyn West, Cesar Romero, Buster Crabbe, Robert A. Heinlein, Sunnyland Slim, Milton Caniff, William Shawn, Orville Redenbacher, Gene Autry, William Steig, Burgess Meredith, L. Sprague de Camp, Jimmie Foxx, Charles Alston, Don the Beachcomber. Elsewhere: W.H. Auden, Hergé, Frida Kahlo, Mircea Eliade, Jean Hippolyte, Baldur von Schirach, Laurence Olivier, René Char, Fay Wray, Maurice Blanchot, Run Run Shaw, Astrid Lindgren, Jacques Tati, Jacques Barzun, Peggy Ashcroft.
1908: Philip Rahv, Bette Davis, Richard Wright, Lyndon B. Johnson, Edward R. Murrow, Louis L'Amour, Theodore Roethke, Buddy Ebsen, Lee Krasner, Carole Lombard, Lionel Hampton, William Maxwell, Ethel Merman, C. Vann Woodward, Nelson S. Bond, Joseph Mitchell, Fred MacMurray, James Stewart, Abraham Maslow, Joseph McCarthy, Mel Blanc, Tex Avery, Milton Berle, Leon "Chu" Berry, Thurgood Marshall. Elsewhere: Arthur Adamov, Anna Magnani, Rex Harrison, Simone de Beauvoir, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, David Lean, Edward Teller, Daisy and Violet Hilton, Michael Redgrave, Ian Fleming, Henri Cartier-Bresson, John Kenneth Galbraith, Claude Lévi-Strauss.
1909: Clement Greenberg, Benny Goodman, James Agee, Lester Young, Nelson Algren, Wallace Stegner, Eudora Welty, Herschel Evans, Barry Goldwater, Bukka White, Gene Krupa, Ann Sothern, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Alex Raymond, Dean Rusk, Art Tatum, Hugh Beaumont, Wallace Stegner, John Fante, Edwin H. Land, Moon Mullican, Mother Maybelle Carter, Burl Ives, Leo Fender, Al Capp, Kay Thompson, Eve Arden, Vivian Vance. Elsewhere: Simone Weil, Isaiah Berlin, Malcolm Lowry, Albert R. Broccoli, Eugène Ionesco, Elia Kazan, Errol Flynn, Stanislaw Ulam, Carmen Miranda, James Mason, Jessica Tandy, Colonel Tom Parker, Michael Rennie, Francis Bacon, Victor Borge.
1910: Lionel Abel, Paul Bowles, Howlin' Wolf, Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker, Louis Prima, Shep Fields, Franz Kline, Wright Morris, Big Joe Turner, Fritz Lieber, Paul Sweezy, Russell Lynes, Dizzy Dean, Joan Bennett, John W. Campbell, Charles Olson, Spade Cooley, Dorothea Tanning, Gloria Stuart, Mae Clarke, Mary Wickes, Scatman Crothers, Artie Shaw, T-Bone Walker, E.G. Marshall, William Hanna, John H. Hammond. Elsewhere: Jean Genet, A.J. Ayer, Akira Kurosawa, Diana Mitford, Eero Saarinen, Django Reinhardt, David Niven, Jacques-Yves Cousteau, Mother Teresa.
1911: Robert Johnson, Tennessee Williams, Paul Goodman, Louise Bourgeois, Buck Clayton, Ronald Reagan, Babe Zaharias, Ginger Rogers, Elizabeth Bishop, Martin Denny, Gypsy Rose Lee, Hugh Marlowe, L. Ron Hubbard, Lucille Ball, Maureen O'Sullivan, Kenneth Patchen, Roy Rogers, John Sturges, Butterfly McQueen, C. L. Moore, Roy Eldridge, Lee Falk, Jack Finney, Jean Harlow, Phil Silvers, Joseph Barbera, Jack Ruby, Hubert H. Humphrey, Vincent Price, Spike Jones, Bernard Herrmann, Mitch Miller, LaVerne Andrews, Jane Wyatt, Romare Bearden, Ruth Hussey, Lee J. Cobb, Kenneth Patchen, Nicholas Ray, Robert Taylor. Elsewhere: Emil Cioran, Josef Mengele, Flann O'Brien, J.L. Austin, Czeslaw Milosz, Mervyn Peake, Hume Cronyn, Marshall McLuhan, William Golding, Nino Rota.
1912: Woody Guthrie, Mary McCarthy, Jackson Pollock, Milton Friedman, Gene Kelly, Samuel Fuller, John Cheever, Don Siegel, Julia Child, Studs Terkel, Doris Wishman, Charles Addams, Teddy Wilson, Chuck Jones, Lady Bird Johnson, Barbara Tuchman, John Cage, Lightnin' Hopkins, Pat Nixon, Bayard Rustin, Karl Malden, Archibald Cox, Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, Perry Como, Jay Silverheels, Art Linkletter, Minnie Pearl, Gordon Parks, Richard Brooks. Elsewhere: Michelangelo Antonioni, Northrop Frye, Kim Philby, Jacques Ellul, José Ferrer, Eva Braun, Pierre Boulle, Lawrence Durrell, Wernher von Braun, Sonja Henie, Kim Il-sung, A. E. van Vogt, Alan Turing, Pope John Paul I, Franz Jakubowski.
1913: Ralph Ellison, Muddy Waters, Delmore Schwartz, Rosa Parks, William Barrett, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Alan Ladd, Burt Lancaster, Frank Tashlin, Cordwainer Smith, Danny Kaye, Jimmy Hoffa, Bob Crosby, Jimmy Preston, Lloyd Bridges, Ross Rocklynne, Loretta Young, Jim Backus, William Casey, Richard Helms, Walt Kelly, Frankie Laine, Oleg Cassini, Tyrone Power, Woody Herman, William Reddington Hewlett, David Packard, Vince Lombardi, Dorothy Kilgallen, Red Skelton, W. Mark Felt (Deep Throat), Frances Farmer, Jesse Owens, John M. Mitchell, Mickey Cohen, Stanley Kramer, Robert Capa, Alfred Bester, John Garfield, Mary Martin, Victor Mature. Elsewhere: Albert Camus, Anthony Quayle, Max Kaminsky, Philip Guston, Mary Leakey, Paul Ricoeur, Robertson Davies, Menachem Begin, Peter Cushing, Trevor Howard, Vivien Leigh, Benjamin Britten, Hedy Lamarr, Stewart Granger, Lucien Goldmann.
Honorary Partisans (born in a cusp year, and Partisan-oriented): George Orwell, John Dillinger, John Wyndham, Mark Rothko, maybe T.W. Adorno (all 1903).
Note that William S. Burroughs and Donald A. Wollheim, who would push Golden Age SF -- by the likes of Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, and Philip José Farmer-- into strange new territories, and who decisively influenced the following (postmodern) generation of SF authors, were born immediately after the Partisan cohort, in 1914. Doesn't that seem to prove the usefulness of my periodization scheme?
UPDATE: Thanks for the shoutout, io9.
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Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.
Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.
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Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."
Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.
Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.