Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Skid Road lives!

"Skid Road" was originally published in 1951 and has been in print ever since. Of its many editions, the one just out this month by the University of Washington Press is the best looking. It also has the best introduction, by Mary Ann Gwinn, and is available as an e-book.

Two other of Murray's Northwest histories, "Puget's Sound" and "Last Wilderness," will get new new looks and new printings from UW Press later in 2018.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Malcolm Cowley names "Last Wilderness"


Murray and Rosa met Malcolm Cowley when he was brought, amidst much furor over his past left-wing politics and putative dirty poetry, to be a visiting professor at the University of Washington for winter quarter of 1950. Cowley asked for a local guide, and Murray, who was teaching part-time at the College of Puget Sound (now UPS), literally moonlighting as a bridge tender in Tacoma, and working on Skid Road, took the job. 

Cowley liked Murray and liked the Northwest. In 1956, soon after taking a position at Stanford, he wrote to his friend Kenneth Burke that the people in Palo Alto "are nice but not so amusing as those in Seattle. They don't drink or talk so much and keep an eye on academic advancement, whereas the Seattle people had almost abandoned hope or fear." (Two years later, Ken Kesey showed up as a student, and Cowley no longer had to worry about being amused.)

Murray credited Cowley with showing him how to turn his journalistic skills to book-length history, and Cowley was eager to see more of his writing on Northwest topics. Within a week of the publication of "Skid Road," Cowley was encouraging him on another project, and providing its name.

November 7, 1951

Malcolm Cowley, circa 1950
Credit: (©CORBIS/Bettmann)
...The book on the Olympic Peninsula sounds like an awfully good one and you must get to work on it by all means. ... The problem is that a geographical book about the Olympic Peninsula would have a necessarily restricted audience. What had to be done is to find some approach or emphasis that makes the audience larger. ...

Maybe a title like "The Last Wilderness" would help. It is an old title but there is no book by that name now in print -- and it would give you an excuse for presenting the Olympic Peninsula as, in a way, representing other wildernesses that have disappeared -- this one may or may not have a happier fortune -- and your book could discuss the forces and people working to destroy it or save it ... 

Meanwhile what most impresses me about it is your enthusiasm and your knowledge of the subject. It should be an even richer book than SKID ROAD.
As ever,

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Watergate withdrawal -- 1974


Dear Howard and Judy—

Way back when I was at Time I used to spend my time folding planes out of Luce stationery and sailing them out of the 17th floor window. They'd disappear toward the East River, but nobody ever answered. You must feel like that when you write to us. I don't know which writers block makes me feel worse: book or letters to the Daniels. 

Nixon and Rebozo (Florida Archives)
You are much in our minds. Would have loved to have been with you during the Watergate denoument. Such a marvelous unveiling. Such a mixture of farce and triumph. Such an improbable new hero. Such quick anticlimax. But even with Ford to kick around, I suffer from Watergate withdrawal. For such a long time there was a geometric pattern of revelation, pause and more revelation that I began to entertain hopes that they'd eventually come up with Tricia as the triggerman for the Wallace shooting, or Lassie as Dick's enamorata. Now I have to settle for wishing the worst to Erlichmann and wondering if they'll get around to Bebe Rebozo. ...

Saturday, October 31, 2015

to Lane Morgan, 31 October 1972

Hi, Birthday Girl….

Rosa has been burning the midnight pugetpower as if a Nancy Bare special were to be on stage tomorrow, while I’ve been pondering the possibilities for a paternal type present for an anti-materialist of twenty-two. The result is a refurbished teeth from me, a poncho from Rosa, and we both hope they fit. 

It will be great if you can make it up for Thanksgiving. The beach last weekend was marvelous. Pete and Ellie were there; she was stringing morels and russellas on fishline leader to dry over the big stove, and Pete, whose handlebar has turned dark red in contrast to his pepper gray elsewhere, was saying of the blustery day, “this kind of day is what this place is all about.” Leslie was supposed to be about to tell her boyfriend that she wouldn’t go steady but they didn’t look like it walking the beach. Otto was in S.F. to see Johanna and the Wheelises and Fred Straus, and Phyllis stayed in Shelton, but Mary  had a beautiful specialist in lung diseases who is giving the Walker Ames lectures and admired Skid Road. Dorothy was bemoaning the fact that her biology teacher is an authority on the electricity of cells and specializes her lectures in that direction. Gene was contemplating the impending special session of the legislature with some equanimity: there’s nothing more they can take away from the U., he thinks: over-optimistically, I suspect.

We woke up Wednesday morning with the power off. Rosa said she’d been awake most of the night feeling something was odd but resisting the urge to wake me up to help her worry. When I looked out the window: snow.  Several inches of wet, heavy snow. It came with the leaves still on the trees and two of the three Chinese elms by the badminton area snapped off about half-way up, the poplars lost quite a few branches, the tulip tree and the flowering plum some more, and one of the three cottonwoods over by the old laundry tubs next to the paddock gate broke off. No damage to the house, but the yard looked like a stump ranch. I’ve been busy with the Swedish fiddle for the last couple days and most of the debris is cleared away now and we’re over the shock, but it rekindles awareness of impermanence. (I’ll think I’ll write a short story about a man who wants to build an absolutely secure house, and see what it gets me.) [Murray is referring to Allen Wheelis’s “The Illusionless Man and the Visionary Maid,” which is online at]

Otto and Phyllis and Lisa came by on Otto’s way home from the airport on Wednesday afternoon and we had a fine report. Otto quotes himself as turning to Fred, when they were all alone in a theater one afternoon watching Death in Venice and saying, “You know, Visconti didn’t read the book either.” I think I told you we saw Bergman’s The Touch while in Portland: it was godawful. We didn’t like the Rep’s first play either, “Ring Round the Moon,” but the UW students had a fine version of Albee’s “The American Dream,” and a broad by pleasant comedy by Chekov, “The Marriage Proposal.” Next Wednesday, “The Three Sisters” at the Showboat. 

School rocks along, taking time but not much mental effort. I’ve just graded the first set of book reports, 87 of them, mostly routine. There was one unusual one from a Fox Island Bircher (who likes me, I think) and who explained she finds in the class confirmation of her literal interpretation of the Bible. Education is a many-splendored thing.
We received a fine letter from Howard Daniel during the week. He retires in four weeks, and will stay in Geneva, and plans to write more art books. The Encyclopedia of Themes and Subjects in Painting is out and has been nicely reviewed…

Jim Faber (right) and Ivar Haglund, via historylink and Paul Dorpat

[Jim] Faber had his gall bladder out on Tuesday. We’re going to present him a plastic box in which to preserve it in case he ever runs out of gall and needs it. 
Rosa and I trimmed Balzac [their dog] on separate days and got somewhat carried away with the effort. He’s still shaggy but looks as if he’d stuck his head in a pencil sharpener.

The New Statesman’s current contact is: Write a letter from any prominent person declining an invitation to the Last Supper. I can’t wait for the answers. 

Seattle icons: Skid Road guy, Murray, the stolen Tlingit totem (actually a recreation, which was paid for this time), and Chief Seattle, taken by equally iconic Mary Randlett in Pioneer Square
The second printing of Skid Road is now on the stands. They’ve corrected the errors. It’s back up to 10th on the Seattle charts. Faber says all the young people in his office are enthusiasts: didn’t know Seattle had a sinful past, and look on Jim with new respect.

It’s Hallowe’en and the first of the little monsters have been here. I must go out and set the traps.

Have a good birthday, this year, every year,

Your doting father, 

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

to Lane Morgan, from Harstene Island, 1 August 1971(?)

Dear Mountain Woman -– 

You are missed. You are, indeed, almost the only one missing. Rags arrived a few days ago with Amy, who is tall, bespectacled, lean as Dana, and every whit as charming as ever. She swims vast distances daily at a Slo-Mo-V pace, and can barely wait for the time when some oldsters muster the energy to row or paddle across the Inlet, monitoring her swim. Maybe maƱana. 

The Wheelises (Wheelii?) got in yesterday afternoon, delighted that Monte recognized the island on crossing the bridge. Joan had shopped for them in advance, three carts full and they moved into well-stocked comfort. It was Phyllis’s turn for dinner. Rain—the first since we started south—but only in showers and we were able to stay on the porch. A great evening; we grumbled about the rumble of artillery practice at the Fort, admired the orange of the flares, hoped the brass saw an omen when the sky talked back with a brief burst of electronics, discussed the relative merits of Almaden and Rags’s latest favorite among $2.70 a gallon reds, admired Phyllis’s pilaf, and made it to bed by eleven on a soft, warm open-sleeping bag night, the birds calling out on the dark water.

Rosa is rebuilding the privy from the bottom up (its bottom). When she took up the floor there was nothing underneath. Apparently faith has kept us aloft these past few months. She is getting much advice but only occasional help as she redesigns the premier derriere depository of Point Wilson. But last time I was up she was humming. 

The N.W. Writers conference was held at PLU this weekend and I was on the panel dealing with Western Americana. (I felt a bit like the man who learned what prose was and felt surprise that he had been writing it all his life.) One of the other panelists was Donald Bower, the editor of American West, which is published out of Palo Alto. He got wildly enthusiastic about Bold Northwestermen and left with the first section (1/3 of book) including the pictures. …

The Joffrey comes to Seattle Tuesday. The word is out that I’m no longer on the air: no passes. So we won’t see as many performances as in the past. But we will probably go on opening night to see “Trinity,” Arpino’s rock response to “Astarte,” which even the English liked, tho in general the London critics were not enchanted. They felt the big works gimmicky, “Green Table” outdated (!)  and in the minor pieces noted the rather slapdash techniques of most of the company. But then, Clive Barnes this week gave the back of his hand to the Royal Ballet, hoping they’ll tend to their knitting and approach the class of the NY City Ballet by next year. Criticism, thy name is bitchery.

There is a seal swimming by just inside the Goldschmid boat, a squirrel is gnashing his teeth in the haze. They madrone rattles in a light wind. The swallows are doing acrobatics. The crows are discussing sandfleas. Rosa is hammering. Your other world is in proper order.