Saturday, May 26, 2018

In the Still Watches of the Night

Color pencil sketch of bowlYou wake up in the middle of the night with an inspiration--an idea that may be gold, or may just seem good when you are semi-conscious. Usually we just forget them, but can pretend in the morning that they were genius.

In 1935, Maxfield Parrish sketched out, both textually and literally, one of these moments in a letter to his son Max, who was trying to earn a little extra money as a carver:
I awoke in the still watches of the night and thought a body might turn an honest penny at some arts and crafts show by buying one of those big maple wood bowls at a hardware store and carve the rim and color it, somewhat like the scheme of color of the pohengles. And he might put on some kind of savagely ornamented handles too. I simply mention it. No, it needn't look anything like the object portrayed below.
At the bottom of the page, Parrish sketched a beautiful bowl in color pencil. Parrish worked the carriage of his typewriter to frame it in the left margin--an artist at work.

This is just one example of some the of materials we had out for a class earlier this week that had been studying Van Gogh's lavishly illustrated letters. The highlight was Andrew Wyeth's blueberries.

To see the Parrish sketch, ask for ML-62, Box 6, Folder 8.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Sparring with Mailer

On November 23, 1952, Budd Schulberg wrote a review of Picture by Lillian Ross for the New York Times Book Review. Ross, who was a New Yorker writer at the time, had written five articles for on John Huston’s filming of The Red Badge of Courage which she turned into a novel—the subject of Schulberg’s review.

In his review Schulberg was critical of Ross’s attempt at impartiality to the subject matter- Hollywood and its movers and shakers. However, he conceded that the book presented “Hollywood’s more heroic attitudes as well as its more foolish and familiar ones.” Among the many book reviews Schulberg did during his lifetime, this one does not stand out in any particular way, except that it provoked a verbal sparring with another writer, Norman Mailer.

Mailer, in a letter to the editor of the New York Times Book Review rebuked Schulberg’s review of the book accusing him of being more “concerned with reviewing his attitude to Hollywood than Miss Ross’ book.” Mailer also felt that “Mr. Schulberg was doing his piece in such a way as to offend not a single important person in the Hollywood community.”
Three weeks later, Schulberg responded. Acknowledging a brief acquaintance with Mailer, he reminds him that in years past such a “calculated insult like your letter to the Times” might have led to a different response. However, Schulberg felt that “words seem to be the only weapons handy to the occasion” pointing out that Mailer was impugning his honor rather than his judgment and that he would normally “have classified your letter as the crack-pot kind I usually choose to ignore.” He continues that he was “struck by the callowness of your assumption that our differing opinions of Miss Ross’s book reflected your courageous honesty and my craven insincerity. This reeks of the black-and-white self-righteousness that makes clear thinking so difficult these days.” Schulberg than proceeds for another page and a half to defend and analyze his review while dissecting Mailer’s arguments. “I hasten to add, however, that I am not accusing you of having written it [the letter] in order to worm your way into the good graces of Miss Ross or The New Yorker.”

Norman Mailer did not lose any time responding to Schulberg as a week later he wrote another letter, this one directly to Schulberg in which he apologized for not having sent his initial letter directly to the latter, arguing that the reason for that was that he could not bear “a certain kind of book reviewing” and that it was more important to him “that the editor hear it for whatever my two cents are worth than the critic.” He continues to admonish Schulberg accusing him of doing something “which as an author rather than a critic is unforgiveable.”
Whether a book is good or terrible the labor put into it deserved the respect of treating the book as something in and of itself rather than as a tumbling board for the reviewer. I mean, look Budd, really and truly who gives a damn how many times you read the book, how you discussed it with your family… . The fact of the matter is that you spent, as I remember, what with chatting and synopsis, about three quarters of your review before you could get to judgement, and I don’t have to tell you that a writer reads his review for the judgement.
After a short treatise on “Impartiality and tact,” Mailer eventually gets to an apology.

Now for slandering you. All right, I did and there are nine chances in ten that I was wrong and hasty, and for those nine chances I owe an apology. But why in the devil must you feel that I must assume that you are pure and incorruptible. Who is?... Where I erred and where I do feel ashamed is imputing a vulgar conscious motive to you – I would have resented it just as much…. I feel I was wrong in writing the letter the way I did, and I think you were wrong in writing the kind of review you did. Let’s leave it this way.
We are currently re-processing some of Budd Schulberg’s correspondence. If you want to read the verbal sparring in its entirety ask for MS 978, Box 33, Folder 7.

Here is the original book review by Budd Schulberg, "What Makes Hollywood Run?"