Douglas Fitzgerald Dowd has died at age 97 in Bologna, Italy. A scholar of Thorstein Veblen and expounder of a radical view of US economic history that strongly influenced Howard Zinn and Daniel Ellsberg, among others, he was also a serious political activist. After serving as a bomber pilot in the Pacific in World War II, he managed the 1948 presidential campaign of Progressive Party candidate Henry Wallace from Berkeley, CA, his home town, he later was a major organizer of anti-Vietnam War sitins and campus teach-ins and was vice presidential candidate with Eldridge Cleaver in 1968 on the Peace and Freedom ticket. His best known book was probably Blues for America (1997). He taught at Cornell, Berkeley, San Jose State, Johns Hopkins, and the University of Modena in Italy, where he was lecturing until well into his 90s. His New York Times obituary is here, which has many more details.
I have old and deep personal connections with Doug. When I was a kid living in Ithaca, NY in the 1950s, his son, Jeff, was my best friend, and I got to know Doug from that perspective. I came from a conservative family, but Doug spoke directly and openly about his views to me as if I was an adult. Hid kids, Jeff and Jenny, called their parents by theiri first names, Doug and Zirel, the only family where I saw such behavior. Doug made me aware of many of his views about the nature of the US and its society. I would move away to Madison, Wisconsin in 1963 to enter high school, but I would remain in contact with Doug off and on until quite recently. I regret that I did not visit him recently when I was in Florence for an extended period, with him living in Bologna, Italy, not far away, where he was living with his third wife, who owned a feminist book store. He was always honest and direct and forthright in his views and expressions.
It turns out that his son, Jeff, would become “The Dude,” the model for the character in the movie, “The Big Lebowsky.” He is a major behind the scenes figure in Hollywood as producer and director and organizer of film festivals and a variety of other things. If you google him, you can see him talk about political issues, and he talks about his dad and his economics views. During the early 1970s, Jeff was part of the Seattle Seven who were arrested for organizing an antiwar demonstration there that turned violent against the wishes of the organizers. Jeff would be convicted of contempt of court for denying in the course that he was the “leader” of that anarchist group. I feel sorry for him and his sister on the death of their dad, although he did manage to live until age 97, and was active and lively until very near the end.