The very Hollywood tale of the producer and Black Panther
Ed here: I first became aware of Bert Schneider when he was sitting around his swimming pool in all his splendor (this was on one of the TV newsmagazines of that era), urging all working people in the U.S. to quit their jobs in protest of the Viet Nam war. Sure they had families to feed and mortgages to pay and a righteous distrust of Hwood radical chic but why wouldn't they take seriously the multi-millionaire's noble idea for them to join the ranks of the unemployed? What could be possibly be wrong with that?
To his credit Bert Schneider supported many, many worthy causes all by himself. He was a generous man. But his relationship with Huey Newton was another matter. I want to say here that the Chicago cops did in fact murder in cold blood six Black Panthers and got away with it. But as understandable as the Panthers seemed at first the more honest brokers among left wing reporters started filing stories about Huey Newton's deranged ego and murderous temper. Tom Wolfe was criticised by the left for his attack on Radical Chic (he coined the phrase in fact) but as Kate Coleman shows here, even Wolfe cut the Chicers a lot of slack.
Bert Schneider craved rebel cachet, Huey Newton his cash. The very Hollywood tale of the producer and Black Panther FROM SALON
BY KATE COLEMAN
More than three decades ago, as I was winding up a major investigation of the Black Panther Party (BPP) and its leader Huey Newton, I received a call from Abbie Hoffman, the antic anti-Vietnam War activist, then a fugitive from criminal charges for selling cocaine to a nark. Abbie and I had been friends and fellow street-fighting buddies on the Lower East Side in numerous demonstrations of the antiwar Yippies. His purpose, he said, was to talk me out of publishing that 1978 investigation in New Times. It would hurt the left and the struggle for black justice, he warned.
My story exposed Newton’s bizarre leadership (for a time he carried a swagger stick à la Idi Amin). Far worse was the extortion racket he presided over that shook down pimps, drug dealers, after-hours clubs and even a theater owner. Non-compliance left one club owner dead and undiscovered for days in the trunk of his car, which was parked at the San Francisco airport. The theater owner, Ed Bercovich, declined the tithe and refused to give jobs to Panther thugs. The theater burned down — it was arson. Murders of rivals were also carried out on orders from above for perceived disloyalty to the Panthers; vicious beatings of lower-rank Panther males were regular punishments, along with turning out Panther women as prostitutes in the Panther-owned bar and restaurant the Lamp Post. The Panthers always needed cash for themselves and their programs. Paranoia was rampant, with internal schisms fanned by the FBI and local red squads of the police but also anchored in the egos and fear of rivals.
Newton had a way of being tough on the streets, the mean streets of Oakland he grew up in, but he managed to conceal it from his respectable friends, black and white. He cultivated liberal politicians such as U.S. Rep. Ron Dellums and state Rep. Tom Bates; a host of celebrities, including Marlon Brando, Jane Fonda and Dennis Hopper; and opinion leaders such as Yale president Kingman Brewster, author Jessica Mitford and conductor Leonard Bernstein, all of whom became supporters of the Panthers.
At first, I was puzzled as to why Abbie would call me from the underground after a long silence — he was a fugitive, after all. Suddenly, in a flash, I knew: “Did Bert put you up to this?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he admitted sheepishly. Bert Schneider, I already knew, had underwritten Abbie’s fugitive existence, just as he had for Huey Newton. I turned Abbie — and Bert — down: The Panther investigation would run.
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