Feisty Jewish octogenarian writes tell-all memoir

When Norma Barzman wrote her first memoir, “The Red and the Blacklist,” in which she described what it was like to be part of the group that was blacklisted in Hollywood during the Red Scare of the 1940s and ’50s, she left certain things out.

But now, Barzman — who was part of a panel discussion on this era at last year’s San Francisco Jewish Film Festival and accepted a “Freedom of Expression” award — has nothing to hide. In writing “The End of Romance: A Memoir of Love, Sex, and the Mystery of the Violin,” she says in her introduction, “I am not going to let shame or anything else stop me.”

The memoir is about a trip Barzman took with Henry Myers, a famed screenwriter who wrote the Marlene Dietrich-James Stewart film “Destry Rides Again.” Barzman fell in love with him when she was 10 years old, and that love never abated, even though he was 27 years her senior, as well as her first cousin.

Barzman grew up in a Jewish family, and experienced anti-Semitism before she even made it to college. She recalled how Wellesley, the college she most wanted to attend, “lost” her file, even though she had already received letters indicating she would be accepted.

Her first memoir discusses her three-week vacation in France that turned into 30 years — because of the blacklist — and is more about the historical period, even though she writes a bit about her husband and their seven children.

But this book is about what she left out of that one.

In the earlier book, “There were very little of my personal feelings, and it was not about me personally,” she said. “But this second book is an attempt to get down to personal, intimate things, that’s what it’s about.”

Myers was 79, ill and depressed, when Barzman went to visit him in New York. It was the early 1970s, and Barzman was 52. She had heard that Myers was gravely ill, and put off visiting him until the last day of her visit. She could barely communicate with him, until she brought up the historical novel he once hoped to write. It was about the history of the violin in Cremona, Italy.

That got him talking. “His eyes opened, and in a few minutes, they twinkled,” she said. “Then color came back to his cheeks.”

He asked her to join him on a trip to Cremona. “And that’s how I got roped into going with him and researching his historical novel which he never wrote,” said Barzman. “But in the course of researching it, we stumbled upon the history of the

violin that no one really knew.”

This includes many details about how some of the world’s finest violins were made by Jewish families.

Before this trip, Barzman was living on the French Riviera with her husband, gardening and hanging out with the likes of Pablo Picasso, a neighbor and close friend, and having many parties. But this trip energized her, she said.

“This is a coming-of-age story of a 52-year-old woman who gets activated again because I came across this mystery that needs solving and because the local neo-fascists did not want me to find out what happened in the 1500s.”

Barzman admits in this book that she not only romanticized her relationship with her cousin, but with communism, too. “Yes I romanticized, yes, I thought we could make a difference and make the world better, but it wasn’t that easy,” she said. “I could say that this 10 or 12 days in Cremona actually changed my way of looking at life.

Norma Barzman will read from her book 7:30 p.m. Sunday, July 16 at Black Oak Books, 1491 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley; 1 p.m. Monday, July 17 at Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera and 7:30 p.m. Tuesday July 18 at Kepler’s, 1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park.

“The End of Romance: A Memoir of Love, Sex, and the Mystery of the Violin” by Norma Barzman (285 pages, Nation Books, $15.95).

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."