Wednesday, May 30, 2012

from Howard Lewis, 15 October 1944


Howard was a Columbia Journalism School classmate and lifelong friend of Murray and Rosa's. After earning a Bronze Star during the war in Europe, he became editor first of This Week magazine and then of the men's magazine Argosy. Later he directed the information office for the National Academy of Sciences and then edited the Science Writers News magazine. When I was a equine-obsessed child, he thrilled me by coming to me for information for a book he was writing about horses.

World’s End, USA

My Friend Murray,
You are due for one hell of a long letter if I can get this typewriter to hold together for that long. I owe you, not only for the letter of September 10, but also for the letter of August 11, which will remain one of the beautiful mysteries of my life. Some day, when I shall have developed the luscious style of Alexander Woollcott, I shall tell that story in limpid prose. Right now I have only two facts to go by: 1) The letter was never written by you (I have your signed letter of 10 September as evidence), and 2) the letter arrived here about two weeks after the September one. I suppose that an unwritten letter doesn’t follow the usual postal schedules; at least the Council on Psychical Research in London informs me that such letters can materialize at any time up to seven years, seven months and seven days after the date on the letterhead.
This book you are reading—“Thirty Years in the Golden North”—a sign of defeatism perhaps? After looking over the standards by which they plan to release men after the war, I have been scouting around for one on the Army as a Career, or a GI version of Live Alone and Like It. A fellow who works in the local PRO S/Sgt. Shea, and the light of my Muroc life, has it all planned out that the two of use will be caretakers of Muroc when everyone else goes back to their dependents. Since he outranks me, I have agreed to let him be commanding officer, so he has magnanimously appointed me as Executive Officer and Staff. They only thing that worries us about our post-War setup is the possibility of little cliques forming and boggling up the Administration of the Camp. I wonder if you could teach a jack rabbit to do KP.

You should have known that anyone who would put up a stiff defense of Thomas Wolfe would also write a seventeen-page letter about it. The Hell with him, I say, and anybody else who argues. I may have said this before, but I say it again. I don’t argue with anyone anymore about anything. I listen to anybody who has a point of view about anything. I listen for a while and if I agree, I say, “Yeah,” and go back to what I was doing. If I disagree, I just say “Bullshit,” and go back to what I was doing. And, on rare occasions, when some GI comes out with something that seems to be sound and yet unknown or unrecognized by me, I say, “Hmm,” and go back to my book. The last time I opened my yap was a few weeks ago when I walked into the Special Service Office and got trapped in an argument about Dewey. The antagonist was a paunchy civilian named Titus who works a USO circuit on the Field. He had it all figured out that the Republicans are responsible for the New Deal, which is nice if he likes it that way, but then he came through with one of the most astounding statements I have ever heard from the mouth of man. He was talking about how the country was split up into 48 separate states before the first World War and how the national government lacked any sort of unity. Then it came. “Do you know what united this nation for the first time?” he asked me. “No,” I answered, ready for anything. “Well,” he said, slamming his fat hand on the table, “The one organization that brought this country together for the first time in history was the American Legion!” I backed out the door. 

Any more stories you can pick up like the one about the character with the boil, just send it along. My main trouble is that situations I run into never seem to resolve themselves into stories. They just exist for the moment and run into the ground. I’m afraid I never got the knack of the story-teller. But, nevertheless, I think I’m going to try to write some fiction for the markets hat don’t seem to ask too much, of which “This Week” seems to stand out in my mind. One of the better agents who advertises in Writers Digest says that he’ll handle anyone who has sold more than $500 worth of stuff in the past year. With $250 already accounted for, I should like to see if I can sneak in under the wire. Name of August Lenniger. Ever hear of him? A ten-percenter. 

You asked me what Tom Bridges did on the Times. Apparently he’s a legman, as is Woody [Woodrow Wirsig, a Columbia School of Journalism who later edited Look Magazine; Much later, Wirsig wrote I Love You Too, a memoir of caring for his wife Jane, another CSJ classmate, during her years suffering from Alzheimer’s], covering human interest stories, interviewing people in the street, etc. Tom got a byline about a month ago when he put on a clown suit and did a matinee with one of the three-ring circuses that hit Los Angeles. He got tow pictures and a two-column spread on the split page, but I thought the story was pretty bad, pretty maudlin. He would run a couple of paragraphs on the backstage life of a clown, and then insert a four-word paragraph: “But laugh, clown, laugh.” Then more backstage atmosphere and conversation, and then four words again, like the refrain of a song. Mr. Ellard might have liked it, but I didn’t. [Two years later the Times sent Bridges, who weighed over 300 pounds, to eat a big messy lunch in front of Claude Baxter, a chef who was 83-days into a fast to raise money to feed starving people.] 
The LA Times has gone stark, raving mad about this election, by the way. Hopped-up editorial columns I’m used to, even though the Times has a rabidity which makes anything I’ve seen in the East (except for the “vermin press’) look like lacecollar journalism. But their front pages have gone nutty too. A story of a school kid getting beaten up in a schoolyard by some other kids for favoring Dewey goes right on the front page, good for six or eight inches of copy. A broken window in a Dewey Headquarters is good for a three column picture and a two column head on the split page. They seem to have given up any idea of running a newspaper until the election is over.  Since the only other paper sold on the post is the Examiner, which is horrible, I have subscribed to the LA News by mail. And according to Woody Wirsig, the News is running the ass off the Times in both ads and circulation. When you stop to figure that LA is predominantly Democratic, with its thousands of war-workers, the Times seems to be cutting its own throat, of which I am very much in favor. 

The argument about Thomas Wolfe reminds me of the character we have in the office now, whose sole claim to fame is a novelette published in Fantastic Adventures, or some such thing, and he is bothering me a great deal. I find that I am very sensitive to a certain kind of blind egoism, and that is something he has a lot of. It isn’t that he goes around bragging, but just that he has a great deal of opinion and very little judgment. He majored in English Literature in college and thinks Gone With the Wind is the finest novel written in the contemporary era. I wonder sometimes why I spend so much time, in letters to my friends, complaining about people who annoy me. Perhaps it’s like coming back from an irritating day at the old Civil Liberties Union and complaining to Helena. I imagine you did the same thing with Rosa. One seeks sympathy, the lonelier one is. Pretty soon I shall be crying in my beer. Damn stuff is weak enough now.
Send my best to Rosa,

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