Saturday, July 20, 2013

to Murray, Februrary 1949

St. Louis, Mo. 

Mr. & Mrs. Murray Morgan.

One day in December 1948 I sent you two One Dollar bills for your first book. As I never received it I wrote to your father and he said your book Dixie Raider was $4 but that he would see that you would return my two dollars. 

I had no idea that you would ask $4 for a book you wrote and I sure hope it Must Be Very Good but I would never pay $4.

So I am asking you to return my two dollars. 

Arthur August Thebus

In happier times: Murray and Arthur Thebus, 1920

Friday, July 19, 2013

Seward, Alaska, 14 June 1945

Rosita my love, 

This is my second day at the Seward office [ACS] and gradually I am being I am being initiated into the mysteries of the telegraph rates. With me the computation is not, as yet, an exact science but I manage to approximate the toll. The characters for whom the Morgan tolls are really quite wonderful. One old Alaskan came in today and misspelled seven words out of seven, including his own first name. I am assured that this only ties the local record. In fact it seems unlikely that the editor of the Seward Polaris could do better.
The paper is surpassing strange, in which it resembles the editor. Hunt, who puts it out, is an old time job printer from Medford, Oregon. More recently he worked in the back shop of a Fairbanks weekly. He is not very good on printing and his newspaper experience is negligible and absurd….

The paper only comes out twice a week—Wednesdays and Saturdays. I’m going to see Hunt and suggest that his time is very valuable and that he would be saving himself a great deal of money and bother if he would turn all the editorial direction of the paper over to me (for $200 a month) and put his time on getting ads and setting type. There are no floormen at all in this town, and he literally drags people in off the street to help him set heads, make ads, and make-up the paper on press days. I doubt very much that he will see the need for my superb services, however, as he fancies himself a crusader. Even if he does, there is still another problem. Because of his crusading, he has deeply offended the local Army officers and on them depends the final decision of whether I can work for the paper. If the business gets that far, I would present it to them as an assurance of better cooperation between the press and the military (don’t say it—my conscience hurts already) were I to take charge.

"I usually get a temporary enthusiasm after about ten thousand words of anything."

In the meantime I am back at my writing. I have started again on “Shadows Fall” [first published in 1949 as The Viewless Winds, based on the still-unsolved Laura Law murder case in Aberdeen in 1940; republished by OSU Press in 1990] and though I don’t particularly like the start I have I think I’ll just bull along until I get into it. I usually get a temporary enthusiasm after about ten thousand words of anything. Lord, Nunny, how I need the encouragement of selling something again. It has been a very long time. 

In doing “Shadows Fall” I’m going to set myself a bit more ambitious goal than before. I want to try telling it in the first person and show, in the development of the story, not only the impact of the crime on the community, its disruption of the social fabric, but also to underline the developing awareness of social problems of the young city editor as he follows the story. Besides which I intend to soup the thing up with enough gonadal doings so that Miss Windsor will have to drop down the scatological ladder and we move up into the upper income brackets.

The weather today is soft and beautiful, almost too warm. Everyone is roaming around in shirtsleeves as, they say, they have been for nearly two months. The last winter was quite mild, and even the bad ones are not too bad…. The mosquitoes are huge but, so far, infrequent.
Food prices are high, but there is a pretty good assortment. We cook our own at the quarters, on a nice electric range. Milk is 30 cents a quart, butter 65 a pound, lettuce 30 a head, oranges 60 a dozen, steak 60 to 80 a pound, pork 50 a pound, bread 20 a loaf. Those are the only prices I’ve seen so far. The boys say it costs about forty bucks a month to eat very, very well. 
Write me long and often about your plans, my little love. Everything looks better all the time from this end. 

You are adored,


Thursday, July 18, 2013

Umnak Island, 20 September 1944

My darling…

We had a nice letter from Lynn today. He is still in England and although now a major seems as disgusted with the military life as ever. He wants to get back to Steilacoom and the girl he has never seen. When he wrote, September 6, he still had two missions to go to complete his operational tour and said that nobody seemed interested in letting him take his final two flights and then head for home. Here are some of the better quotes:

I wish to hell you had never mentioned your stay in Mexico. [Murray and Rosa lived in the Tarascan town of Patzcuaro on a Pulitzer traveling scholarship in 1943.] The dream of a place like that stayed with me for a good six weeks. No help to my morale at all. I think I’ll head to a place like that after the war. But on the whole, I don’t have any too definite plans for after this show.

…I see where they had added an amendment to the GI Bill of Rights whereby a guy over 25 like me can grab a year of schooling at about $75 per month and that has certain attractions to me. I had a hell of a good time in school and that might be a good way to spend a year. It certainly would do me no harm and a year isn’t much. …

Unfortunately, I can’t give you much hot poop from here about the war. It seems strange but we probably know less about it than do the people at home. Some of our news is naturally a bit more authentic but all of the official stuff is a couple of days behind the newspapers and radio. We get over there occasionally, but it’s pretty difficult to see much from five miles up. Which is where I’d rather be, incidentally. Right now I’m snooping about to see how many silver stars I have to steal and wear to get over to Paris. A weekend there would not be hard to take. But the Mps seem to be travelling right behind the infantry so it’s probably out of bounds anyhow. A hell of a war.

…This looks like about it for tonight Murray. I hope you do better than I have done in answering this. But with those long nights setting in up there it should be easy for you. Though what you do in your off time during days beats me, too.  …

As I said, a very nice letter. And that news that the GI Bill has been amended to give an extra year of school to us ancients doesn’t sound bad. Maybe we will be able to make it to the University of Guadalajara yet. I will have to look into it. …

I’ve been meaning to mention the last Grafton column [Samuel Grafton was a columnist for the New York Post] that you sent me—the one about a semi-permanent armistice with Germany as a substitute for a peace. It seems to me that the idea is the perfect example of his “verbal” approach to problems. The reason that Germany was allowed to rearm after the last war was not that we called our settlement with her “peace” instead of “armistice.” It was that everyone was too tired to want to stop her. And after this war everyone will be tired again, too, whether the settlement is called peace or armistice.
Grafton says that if we call it an armistice, then the military commanders will be able to take action any time Germany makes a false move. After the last war when Germany made a false move (stopped paying reparations to France) the French military commanders were perfectly able to move. They did move. They occupied the Ruhr. And all they did was foul things up even worse than they were, and the coal the French got from the Ruhr was not equal in value to the pay of the poorly paid army of occupation.

Grafton wants to settle it all by calling the settlement by a different name. But the important thing is what sort of a peace is made, not what it is called. Further, the concentration of worry about what to do to keep Germany weak seems a bit out of place. Germany in this war has taken the sort of beating that bled France into a Maginot Line psychosis in the last war (pardon the mixed metaphor, Nunny, you don’t get bled into a psychosis.) Unlike the last war much of this one had been fought with German cities as targets. Germany has suffered terrific manpower losses and undoubtedly will suffer more in the next few weeks. She will have foreign armies all over her soil. If she thinks about another war after this one, it is going to be not in terms of conquest but in terms of defense. How to keep the Russians and the Poles and the Hungarians and all the rest of them away. The problem is not how the victorious Allies are to keep the losers weak but how they are to keep on good terms with each other. If they do not fall out—especially if Russia and America do not fall out—there won’t be another world war, not for a long long time. Germany could never get strong enough to take them both on at once. But if they fall out, then it is to the interest of one or the other to let Germany get a little stronger, just as Britain helped Germany get a little stronger last time in order to have a European power to counterbalance France. And then there could be a bigger blow up than this one. 

The problems are great. I doubt that there is enough unselfishness in the world to solve them. But under any circumstances, they are bigger than semantics.

Up here we have our own little problems. At least, Jack has. It looks like he is going to get the doublecross again on his furlough. If he gets another bad deal on it I’m really afraid for him. He was talking so irrationally about it that he might flip his lid and get shipped home in a jacket that laces u the back. 

Jack has been trying to get a furlough ever since coming in the army. He was all set for one in December 1941, but Pearl Harbor popped. He was supposed to get another before being shipped north but Fairbanks needed an operator in a hurry. After more than a year in Fairbanks he was ordered out to the islands and again there was too much of a hurry for him to be given his furlough. According to the ACS regulations he was supposed to be able to add his Fairbanks time to his time out here and get a furlough after about five months in isolation. The rule is right in the book. But the boy who was CO here then refused to go by the rule. He made up his own for the station and he said that the longest time in isolation was what counted. 

Now Jack has put in more than a year here. When he put in his application for the furlough it somehow got lost for a while and went in at the same time as Greenleaf’s. Greenleaf has been here a couple of weeks less than Jack. Now it looks as though Greenleaf will get out first and, replacements being as hard to get as they are, that may mean several extra weeks for Jack. So he has got it coming and going. Everytime he goes to get our, the rules are changed. 

Now Greenleaf is, next to Jack, my best friend up here. I hope he gets out as fast as he can. He has some business to attend to in Kodiak and is anxious to get there. He is, in fact, so anxious that he is willing to pay some of the guys here to fill his shift by overtime work until his relief arrives. But the thing that bothers me about the whole arrangement is that the guys who are getting the breaks on the deal are the ones who have sort of fouled things up from time to time. It is scarcely an incentive to get in there and pitch when Eagon gets a greenlight to get out of here when he is drunk half the time and goofing off the rest. Tim hasn’t done a real day’s work since I’ve been here, but he is going to get out. Greenleaf went on a tear the other day and cracked up a car and, for a time, had a possible court martial hanging over his head. But exceptions are to be made to the rule to get him out. And Martin, who is sarcastic and unpopular but who really pitches in there on the circuit, gets the go-by.

Bad deal.

Well, darling, enough of the gripe session. I suppose it comes in part from my typhoid shot fever and the start of a cold which I think I now have licked. But the whole thing rather irritated me.
I love you, my weird little watermelon,

from Manuel Valenzuela

[Note to Gorki--I see that you are a follower of this blog. If you happen to see this and would like to contact me, I have a number of letters from your parents I would be happy to send you.]

9 November 1949

Dear Murray and Rosa,

We hoped that by this time we were going to add another name to Murray and Rosa. We think we could if you had told us the name. Anyway we hope and are sure you three are fine and happy.
Manuel and Felicitas with Ricardo and Gorki, 1947

As I told you by the telephone we are with “one foot on the stirrup” (“un pie en el estrivo”) ready to go (as soon as we sell the house) to Mexico. All of us have been there. First I took Gorki and Ricardo to El Paso. My father was waiting there for them and they spended at Chihuahua two months July and August. Felicitas went to bring them and went all way to Patzcuaro to see her father and brother and sister. She was there only three days because the trip in all took her twenty days. Right after they came I went to see how things are and the chances to go there to live. 

I went to several places; San Luis Potosí, Aguascalientes, León, Lagos, Guadalajara, Mexico City, Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende.

I found things different as when we left in 1944 and for the better. There is a spirit to do and better things. Roads are being built everywhere. Now is possible to go to Guadalajara from San Luis Potosí, without the need to go to Mexico City and save about two driving days. There is a net of well-constructed roads among all those cities I went. The bus service is very good and surprise! with polite and careful drivers. There is a building fever and pity! Most of these places in process of being built are 14 to 16 stories high! I say pity because I do not think even for the sake of progress we need them. We can build keeping our architecture caracteristics adding modern convenience without making a cheap imitation of American cities. But any way if that is a sign of betterment for the country is all right even the needless sacrifice of the picturesque and the typical. 

The new politics is different too. When I was at Guanajuato a new governor took office. Dr. Aguilar y Maya. A very cultured person and the people around him as well. The uncultured and grafting politician is disappearing from all over Mexico. I didn’t realize what powerful arm the Mexican people had and despite scorn and despite irony they use against the politicians. They used this arm on the stage, movies, newspapers and everyday life and make out of the grafting politicians a despising thing with the result that now it a better and more prepared crop of politicians. It can be seen this in the new resurgence of the country on the many factories being built, new roads and the growth of cities, etc. There are many things to be made yet but what is been doing now shows there is willingness to advance and do something about it. 

Murray. I have the best copy of “Bridge to Russia.” The major general that was in charge of the landing at Attu read my copy and he wrote in two pages of the book about what he considered needed corrections on the landing. Do you want me to send the book? I think is very interesting. 

Not triplets, just Lane
Write to us soon. I feel that maybe there were triplets in the family and you are not recovered yet from the surprise and that’s why you haven’t told us. …

Salud y buena suerte


2 March 1958

Posada de la Presa, Guanajuato, Mexico

From Manuel Valenzuela

Querides amigos. Muchas gracias for your letters from Africa and Spain. Sorry we could not answer them, because we didn’t know your address. How I envy your trip! I bet was a wonderful one. How is Lane? By now she must be a little lady and a beautiful one.

Gorky brought very good memories of Seattle. He said you all were wonderful with him. He is now a small gentleman with girl friends and as good as ever. How the time pass! Remember when he was on the way in Patzcuaro and you accuse Felicitas of eating applies or something else for her bigness, because we wait and wait but no child? Looks was yesterday!

Carmen and Juan are expecting another child. Juan Fett [Son of painter Bill Fett] spent some days with us. He is much more gentle now. Big as Bill and with all his mannerisms. His exact picture. 

Mexico has changed and keeps on changing and seems for the best. You will notice more after being away. By the way, when are you coming? To tell you true, when we knew that you had been in Mexico and didn’t tell us we kind of resented it. Felicitas and I could have made a short trip to go and see you…

Bob Colodny is at Kansas.  
 Robert Colodny was a Spanish Civil War volunteer in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade along with Manuel. Despite severe injuries in Spain which left him partly paralyzed, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and served in the Aleutians, putting out the post newsletter Adakian along with Dashiell Hammett. He became a history professor at the University of Pittsburg.

The other day were here about four young fellows. They told me they were from the San Francisco City College. When I asked them if they knew a professor there named Robert Colodny and that he is my friend they were as excited as if I said that Einstein is my friend. Oh sure we know Dr. Colodny they told me. It seems they had him in great estimation. Bob’s book [The Struggle for Madrid, about the Spanish Civil War] is already out. I sent for it but I haven’t got it yet. He wrote and says they might come soon. I like that guy!

If somebody goes your way I am to send you an idol, authentic one, that I have been keeping for you. Here in the house all is more or less the same. I feel more older. As we say, the years start to feel their weight. 

Un abrazo para todos de todos nosotros,


[Manuel was the model for the character Angel in Murray's first novel, Day of the Dead, published under the pen name Cromwell Murray.]