The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - CLANCY SI­GAL, 90 BY MATT SCHUDEL

Clancy Si­gal was a famed writer, com­mu­nist ag­i­ta­tor and Hol­ly­wood agent who led a life of ad­ven­ture.

He was a street-cor­ner com­mu­nist ag­i­ta­tor in the early 1940s, then a World War II sol­dier who stared down one of the chief architects of the Holo­caust at a Nazi war-crimes trial.

In Hol­ly­wood, he was Humphrey Bog­art’s agent be­fore be­ing black­listed dur­ing the McCarthy era. He was a promis­ing nov­el­ist in the 1960s, ex­per­i­mented with LSD in Lon­don and was the model for a char­ac­ter in one of the 20th cen­tury’s most cel­e­brated nov­els.

In his 90 ad­ven­tur­ous years, un­til his death July 16 in Los An­ge­les, Clancy Si­gal led a life over­flow­ing with ac­tion, fa­mous names, fir­ings, breakups and a vi­sion of Amer­ica — at once earnest and cyn­i­cal — born of many years as an ex­pa­tri­ate.

Among his sev­eral nov­els, one (“Go­ing Away”) was a fi­nal­ist for the Na­tional Book Award. Since its first U.S. pub­li­ca­tion in 1962, it has be­come a cult fa­vorite and has been com­pared fa­vor­ably to Jack Ker­ouac’s “On the Road” as a rest­less por­trait of 1950s Amer­ica.

“It was as if ‘On the Road’ had been writ­ten by some­body with brains,” critic John Leonard wrote in the New York Times about Mr. Si­gal. “His in­tel­li­gence is al­ways tick­ing. His ear is su­perb. His sym­pa­thies are pro­mis­cu­ous. His sin is en­thu­si­asm.”

There were count­less love af­fairs along the way, and Mr. Si­gal was briefly part of the Paris in­tel­lec­tual world of Jean-Paul Sartre and Si­mone de Beau­voir, the au­thor of the fem­i­nist man­i­festo “The Sec­ond Sex.” Mr. Si­gal hoped to se­duce de Beau­voir, but he failed in that amorous at­tempt and was hastily driven out of Paris, by some ac­counts, at the point of a gun.

He moved in 1957 to Lon­don, where he rented a room from writer Doris Less­ing, who 50 years later won the No­bel Prize for lit­er­a­ture. Dur­ing their four-year af­fair, each of them furtively read the other’s di­aries and note­books. Mr. Si­gal was clearly the ba­sis for the char­ac­ter of Saul Green, a hand­some “Amer­i­can lefty” who was the lover of Anna Wulf, the pro­tag­o­nist of Less­ing’s 1962 novel “The Golden Note­book.”

Mr. Si­gal spent 30 years in Eng­land, work­ing as a jour­nal­ist and BBC com­men­ta­tor be­fore re­turn­ing to the United States in the late 1980s. Re­ju­ve­nated in a city he once con­demned as a place of “too many free­ways, too much sun, too much ab­nor­mal­ity taken nor­mally,” he wrote screen­plays and pub­lished sev­eral books, in­clud­ing a mem­oir about the woman who oc­cu­pied his thoughts more than any other: his re­mark­able, cin­e­mat­i­cally col­or­ful free spirit of a mother.

His story be­gan in Chicago, where he was born Sept. 6, 1926, as Clarence Si­gal, named for a friend of his mother’s, the lawyer Clarence Dar­row, who was known for tak­ing on chal­leng­ing cases, in­clud­ing the Scopes “mon­key trial” the year be­fore Mr. Si­gal was born.

In his youth, a co-worker mis­pro­nounced Mr. Si­gal’s first name as Clancy, which he soon adopted. His name led many peo­ple to be­lieve that he was half-Ir­ish and half-Jewish. In fact, both par­ents were Jewish im­mi­grants from East­ern Europe, although they never mar­ried.

His mother, Jen­nie Persily, roamed the coun­try as a union or­ga­nizer. His fa­ther, Leo Si­gal, was also a union or­ga­nizer but was mar­ried to an­other woman, with whom he had a sep­a­rate fam­ily. The younger Mr. Si­gal saw lit­tle of his fa­ther af­ter the age of 13.

Mother and son trav­eled around the coun­try to­gether, as his mother tried to or­ga­nize work­ers. He was 5 the first time he spent a night in jail with his mother.

In a 2006 mem­oir about her, “A Woman of Un­cer­tain Char­ac­ter,” he re­called sit­ting in a South­ern po­lice sta­tion while his mother was be­ing in­ter­ro­gated: “Ma re­crosses her silk-stockinged legs, reaches into her purse, pulls out a Pall Mall, and takes her time light­ing it. Blows a per­fect smoke ring.”

The next morn­ing, they were told to leave town.

Mr. Si­gal was 15 when he joined the Com­mu­nist Party — a move his mother op­posed. He served in the Army dur­ing and im­me­di­ately af­ter World War II. In 1946, he went to the Nurem­berg war­crimes trial with the aim of as­sas­si­nat­ing Her­mann Göring, one of Adolf Hitler’s lead­ing deputies. Af­ter his gun was seized at the court­room door, Mr. Si­gal could only en­gage in a stare­down with Göring.

Af­ter the war, Mr. Si­gal stud­ied English at the University of Cal­i­for­nia at Los An­ge­les, where he was an edi­tor of the cam­pus news­pa­per. He oc­ca­sion­ally en­gaged in heated po­lit­i­cal de­bates with two other UCLA stu­dents, H.R. Halde­man and John Ehrlich­man, who be­came top White House aides to Richard M. Nixon and were im­pris­oned for their roles in the Water­gate scan­dal.

Mr. Si­gal grad­u­ated in 1950, then went to work at the stu­dio of Columbia Pic­tures, where he was fired by Columbia boss Harry Cohn for us­ing stu­dio equip­ment to make copies of rad­i­cal leaflets, which he dropped over Los An­ge­les from an air­plane. He then

joined the tal­ent agency of Sam Jaffe, where his clients in­cluded Bog­art, Bar­bara Stan­wyck and Don­ald O’Con­nor.

Two prospec­tive clients he turned down were a “hill­billy singer” named Elvis Pres­ley and a young “mum­bling” ac­tor, James Dean.

As Mr. Si­gal’s po­lit­i­cal sym­pa­thies be­came known, he left Hol­ly­wood and trav­eled around the coun­try by car, which be­came the sub­ject of “Go­ing Away,” which, “bet­ter than any other doc­u­ment I know,” Leonard wrote in the Times, “iden­ti­fied, em­bod­ied and re-cre­ated the post­war Amer­i­can rad­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence.”

While living in Eng­land, he pub­lished “Week­end in Din­lock,” a slightly fic­tion­al­ized ac­count of the culture of a York­shire coalmin­ing com­mu­nity, of­ten likened to Ge­orge Or­well’s “The Road to Wi­gan Pier.”

In the early 1960s, he de­vel­oped a friend­ship with the charis­matic LSD ex­po­nent R.D. Laing, whom he came to see as a ma­nip­u­la­tive cult leader. He drew a scathing por­trait of Laing in a 1976 novel, “Zone of the In­te­rior.”

On re­turn vis­its to the United States, Mr. Si­gal took part in civil rights or­ga­niz­ing in the South and the 1963 March on Wash­ing­ton.

In the late 1980s, he set­tled in Los An­ge­les, where he taught jour­nal­ism at the University of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia and other col­leges.

In 1992, he pub­lished a novel about an ex­pa­tri­ate Amer­i­can rad­i­cal in Eng­land, “The Se­cret De­fec­tor.” With his sec­ond wife, Jan­ice Tid­well, he was a screen­writer of “In Love and War,” a 1996 film star­ring San­dra Bul­lock and Chris O’Don­nell about Ernest Hem­ing­way’s ex­pe­ri­ences in World War I. He also helped write the screen­play of “Frida,” a 2002 biopic about Mex­i­can artist Frida Kahlo, star­ring Salma Hayek, Al­fred Molina and An­to­nio Ban­deras.

Mr. Si­gal’s first mar­riage, to Mar­garet Wal­ters, ended in di­vorce. Sur­vivors in­clude Tid­well, his wife of 24 years, who con­firmed Mr. Si­gal’s death from con­ges­tive heart fail­ure, and their son, Joseph Si­gal, both of Los An­ge­les.

In ad­di­tion to the mem­oir of his mother, Mr. Si­gal pub­lished a book about Hem­ing­way and, last year, a mem­oir about his years in Hol­ly­wood, “Black Sun­set.” He con­tin­ued to pub­lish es­says un­til sev­eral weeks ago.

Tid­well said Mr. Si­gal “talked in­ces­santly about his mother,” whom he de­scribed in his mem­oir as “a war­rior queen, a crazy bo­hemian.”

Like her son, she car­ried on mul­ti­ple love af­fairs and was volatile, pas­sion­ate and proudly rad­i­cal.

“It seemed as if all that anger, re­sent­ment, and pent-up fury she could never ar­tic­u­late, for fear of be­ing con­sumed by it,” Mr. Si­gal wrote, “shot straight into my veins.”


Chicago-born Clancy Si­gal, at left and above in the late 1950s or early 1960s, spent 30 years in Eng­land, where he had a four-year af­fair with writer Doris Less­ing and worked as a jour­nal­ist.


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