Maya Angelou & My Friend Joe

Joe MorhaimJoe Morhaim was my best friend.  He died in 2006, at age 79, from complications of heart surgery.

Joe had such a bright, brilliant manner.  He was a wonderful writer, and for twenty-five years he lived and wrote screenplays in Paris.

He loved France.  Even after he returned to Los Angeles with his French wife Framboise, and lived out his last fifteen years there, he used to tell me that he dreamt every night of being back at the cafes in Paris.

Joe was Jewish, and having suffered discrimination himself, he would not tolerate discrimination of others.

I could describe many things that I feel in my heart about Joe; but I want to relate just two stories about Joe that reflect what kind of person he was.

Just before his 50th high school reunion in Los Angeles, Joe found out that a large number of his classmates would not be there.  They were a large group of Japanese-Americans who had been interned in prison camps during the second world war.  As a result, these men and women had been unable to graduate from high school, and had never received their diplomas.

Joe went to work.

He called the TV stations, he called the newspapers and radio stations.  He contacted the school authorities.  He found out where these Japanese-American classmates of his were then living.  By himself, he created a PR campaign that aroused everyone in his old community, that ended with these classmates of his receiving – belatedly – their high school diplomas at the reunion.  The media covered the event and it was all over the news programs in Los Angeles.

Most moved by his efforts were the Japanese-Americans who had been so unjustly imprisoned during their high school years.  It was the closure of some deeply held wounds.

Maya AngelouThe second story involved the famous writer, Maya Angelou.

Maya had been turned down when trying to rent an apartment in Los Angeles because of her race.  It was an obvious case of discrimination.

Again, Joe – who happened to know Maya – went to work.

He applied for the apartment himself, and was promptly accepted.  Later in the day, he accompanied Maya, with her belongings, to the apartment.  The landlord was furious.  He swore at Joe, calling him everything in the book.

Joe, though, did not back down.  He countered with a verbal assault on the landlord, accusing him of being a fascist bastard, and threatening to take him to court.  The landlord was furious, but had to back down, and Maya moved into her new apartment.

The story is documented in one of Maya Angelou’s books.

In countries all over the world, how many ruthless dictators and monsters would not have come to power and committed their atrocities, if people like Joe – with his fearlessness in standing up to injustice – had been around?


A New Myth for America BuddhismJames Hilgendorf is a filmmaker, speaker, poet, and the author of ten non-fiction books that are opening the way to a new vision of ourselves, a new dream of America, a new religion for the world.  This year and next, he is traveling to towns and cities all across America, meeting people and giving talks, under the banner of “Traveling to a New America“.

To arrange talks, contact the author.

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