Leaving the Rockefellers with neither "a dime for the bank nor a penny to spend"

Chapter 55

Please don't read this story without reading my afterthoughts further down the page!



We all too often associate alcoholism with the underclass and the unemployed, but time and again I experienced alcoholism and pill abuse in the same ghastly proportions in the upper class. I began to realize that wherever the master-slave relationship is found neither master nor slave is really happy. Neither role permits either to become fully human and therefore serves to cripple and paralyze their minds and behavior.



Even when I got to stay with the Rockefellers, one of the most affluent families in the world, with a fortune equal to that of one million American families, I saw this pattern. I had seen a tear-dripping cover story in Life about the happy marriage between Jay Rockefeller and Senator Percy's daughter, Sharon.

But overseas the Rockefellers and their EXXON oil empire have a reputation for being one of the most exploitative and murderous families in the world, killing 51 strikers in Colorado including women and children in 1914, or overthrowing governments with CIA help, most notoriously the installation of the murdering, torturing Shah of Iran to avoid nationalization of their oil wells.


Picture from LIFE to come here


I was therefore quite surprised to find a big gap between their deeds and the warm, compassionate, and hospitable nature of Jay Rockefeller. The bottles immediately came out and I sat in the kitchen getting drunk with him. We got a call from his uncle, Nelson, who was just being installed as Vice President, spending $35,000 on a seven-foot mink-covered bed for his new suite in Washington.



Nevertheless, this family has also been exposed to the system's (or the underclass's) counter violence. Sharon's twin sister had been killed a few years before in a brutal axe murder. But that upper-class violence against the underclass is of far more alarming proportions, I was reminded the next morning after the hangover, when Rockefeller called me up to his office.



He had promised to look at the grant application I always carried in the hope that people would give me a little money for film. But I had completely forgotten a sentence in the application about "the Rockefeller clan's brutal slaughter of 41 prisoners in Attica."



Needless to say I got neither "a dime for the bank nor a penny to spend."
But when I wandered out the highway that morning I carried a new insight with me: the underclass syndrome of murder and alcoholism is but a mirror of the ruling class.



Two days later I stayed with this woman in a shack smack up against an EXXON refinery. I don't know whether her son coughed  all the time from her lack of money for heating oil or from the constant fumes from the plant. But I do know that EXXON through such pollution made $4 billion in profit and gave only 28 million to tax-deductible "charities." If any of that "trickles down" to the underclass it is nothing but paternal infernalism.

Important afterthoughts:

These were my harsh words in the original book - one reason I cannot today stand reading the book, which in its words was so much a product of its time. This I was again reminded of many years after when a beautiful white woman came up to me after my 10th showing of American Pictures in Stanford University. She asked to talk with me under four eyes and we walked over to a quiet corner, where she suddenly burst out: "I am in your book!"

My mind was racing fast, for who could she really be? There are so few pictures of whites in my book. Then she showed me this page in the book and explained that she was this little girl - sitting there in her mother's lap - who had now grown up to be 21 years old. And then Valerie continued:

"Last year when my roommate came home from your show and told me that you portrayed my father as an alcoholic (which he certainly is not) and even a murderer, I was very upset with you. But now when I have seen your show and have been deeply moved by it and its message, I can see what it is you want to say and that you are not out to personally attack my family. You are only using it as symbols to try to show the deeper social problems in our society. That effort I can only whole-heartedly support, so here is my card if you ever need any help."

Valerie in one of my more loving pictures of her father.

Then she gave me a big warm hug and left.
I was both in shock and deeply relieved. I had been deeply hurt the first year of my lecturing when an older woman in Denmark had walked out from my show in "protest against the way you portray the Rockefellers." For I had never been out to attack anybody personally and the whites in my show had all remained my lifelong friends - exactly because they could easily see that it was not about them as individuals.

And still I was not surprised to see Valerie's reaction. For by then I had toured for years in Ivy League universities and it was exactly the same reaction I had seen five times earlier from other children of the Rockefeller family - a family which obviously puts enormous emphasis on bringing its children up to take a strong involvement in social issues. This claim could of course easily be taken as merely the official empty words of pride and self prize in an affluent family trying to justify it's affluence. But since I know how difficult my show is to sit through for ALL Americans - being under attack for 5 hours - very few have like me had such a good chance to actually test the Rockefellers on the depth of their social commitment.

The photo in LIFE Magazine of a trapped black woman trying to get a glimpse of Jay's and Sharon's wedding - the story which - apart from Nelson Rockefeller's recent bloody attack on the Attica prisoners - had very much inspired the angry tone in my original story about Valerie's famous parents.

For security reasons most of them lived anonymously on campus - when they opened up to me - and I my conversation with them was confidential. So let me just here say that two of the Rockefeller sons - individually of each other - had long talks with me afterwards about how they could put money into American Pictures or help the people portrayed in it. Unfortunately I was too busy at the time to take them up on their words, but I learned here that their commitment to social causes was far stronger than their commitment to their family name which I had so vulgarly attacked. It helped reinforce the conclusions I had previously reached about many of the super-rich which you will see later in this book.