Tuesday, 21 November 2017

A Day off in the Bridge Hotel by Ally May

Day off in the Bridge Hotel

A cold beer sitting by the window
in the mid afternoon
the leaded windows shake
as a bus goes
over the high level bridge into Gateshead

ALLY MAY

Monday, 20 November 2017

Charles Manson dead

Sadly, this means we're likely to find out  a slew of sordid stuff we don't want to hear about Dennis and Brian Wilson's involvement in his aborted music career (though Never Learn Not To Love remains a good song), not to mention his connections to actors and rock/pop stars. There's an interview with Neil Young somewhere where he talks about the way he knew Manson and how lots of other celebrities of the day went to see him, thinking he was THE LATEST BIG THING, but they all distanced themselves (not unnaturally) when the shit hit the fan - except Dennis and Terry Melcher, who were unable to.

Anyhow, here's The Great Man's satirical take from rather a few years back...



Saturday, 18 November 2017

Dead Poets Society #57

Image result for rimbaud

Venus Anadyomene by Arthur Rimbaud

As from a green zinc coffin, a woman’s
Head with brown hair heavily pomaded
Emerges slowly and stupidly from an old bathtub,
With bald patches rather badly hidden;

Then the fat gray neck, broad shoulder-blades
Sticking out; a short back which curves in and bulges;
Then the roundness of the buttocks seems to take off;
The fat under the skin appears in slabs:

The spine is a bit red; and the whole thing has a smell
Strangely horrible; you notice especially
Odd details you’d have to see with a magnifying glass…

The buttocks bear two engraved words: CLARA VENUS;
—And that whole body moves and extends its broad rump
Hideously beautiful with an ulcer on the anus.


Friday, 17 November 2017

Michael Powell and Martin Scorsese

Image result for michael powell and scorsese
Michael Powell

17 November 2017
Frank Black

I was lucky. My film tutor, the wonderful Charles Barr, introduced me to Powell and Pressburger through A Canterbury Tale (1944), a film so magical that it knocked a bunch of cynical 19 year-olds off our feet and it was all we could talk about for weeks. It left a indelible imprint and I sought out their other films, all of which I love, even if I did have to overcome the considerable barrier of Laurence Olivier's ham acting as a French-Canadian trapper in 49th Parallel (1941), where he is totally overshadowed by a beautifully understated performance from Niall McGinnis as a sympathetic German who opts to stay and help a local Hutterite farming community and is executed by his commander played by Eric Portman.

Although Powell continued to make films afterwards, it was his controversial psychological thriller, Peeping Tom (1960), made without his partner Emeric Pressburger, that turned opinion him - that and, perhaps, the fad amongst middle class critics for the social realist genre of British 'working class' cinema of the late 1950s - 1960s. Fortunately, like Powell, the film has been rehabilitated; it was voted number 78 in the list of 100 great British films of all time in a survey by the British Film Institute - though there are some fairly odd choices above it (Withnail and I, Life of Brian, Four Weddings and a Funeral, spring to mind). Of course, it's probably better not to examine such lists in too much detail: there are only two films by Hitchcock on it, after all!

Anyhow, here's a short radio documentary about Powell and his relationship with Martin Scorsese, who explains that he not only admired him but felt in debt to his work. Fighting to bring to bring Powell's work to the world's attention at a time when many people (audiences, critics and cinephiles alike) seemed to have forgotten him, he highlighted just how a significant a film-maker he was and helped re-establish his reputation.

During this period, Powell married Thelma Schoonmaker, Scorsese's editor, and she talks eloquently of the friendship between the two men.

I'm pleased to say, A Canterbury Tale features heavily.

It's on BBC iPlayer, which means you'll have to sign up for a free account!

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0076shd?p_f_added=urn%3Abbc%3Aradio%3Aprogramme%3Ab0076shd%3Atitle%3DMichael%2520and%2520Martin


Image result for michael powell and martin scorsese
Scorsese: my friendship with Michael Powell

He fell in love with The Red Shoes aged nine - now Martin Scorsese is bringing a glorious new print to Cannes. He talks about his debt to its director

Steve Rose
The Guardian
Thursday 14 May 2009

"Movie directors are desperate people. You're totally desperate every second of the day when you're involved in a film, through pre-production, production, post-production, and certainly when you're dealing with the press." Martin Scorsese isn't talking about his own career, but that of one of his heroes, the British director Michael Powell. And in particular, Scorsese is referring to the all-consuming creative passion Powell and Emeric Pressburger captured in their 1948 classic The Red Shoes. That swooning Technicolor tragedy was ostensibly set in the world of ballet, with Moira Shearer fatally torn between her personal and professional loyalties; equally, it is a portrait of artistic sacrifice and compromise in the film-makers' own industry. "Over the years, what's really stayed in my mind and my heart is the dedication those characters had, the nature of that power and the obsession to create," Scorsese says, before finding the right analogy in another Powell and Pressburger title: "It made it a matter of life and death, really."

Had he not been so entranced by The Red Shoes as a boy, Scorsese might never have become a movie director. Watching the film for the first time - aged nine, at the cinema with his father - was the start of a lifelong relationship with Powell's movies, one that ultimately led to a friendship with the man himself; now, nearly 20 years after Powell's death, it extends to a stewardship of his legacy. Tomorrow, Scorsese will take the stage in Cannes to introduce a new restored print of The Red Shoes - a culmination, of sorts, to Scorsese's ongoing mission to rehabilitate his hero. Scorsese was instrumental not just in initiating the physical restoration of Powell and Pressburger's deteriorating back catalogue, but in restoring Powell's career and reputation when they were at their lowest ebb. He even, inadvertently, found him a wife.

Scorsese considers Powell and Pressburger's run of films through the 1930s and 40s to be "the longest period of subversive film-making in a major studio, ever". But when Scorsese first met Powell, in 1975, that run had come to an abrupt halt. Peeping Tom, Powell's first effort as a solo director, had been released in 1960, and its combination of violence, voyeurism, nudity and general implication of the audience (not to mention the film industry, again) was too strong for the British censors and critics. So he must have been somewhat taken aback to discover that an eager young American director was trying to track him down, and that other young American film-makers were going back to his work.

"We'd been asking for years about Powell and Pressburger," says Scorsese. "There was hardly anything written about their films at that time. We wondered how the same man who made A Matter of Life and Death, The Red Shoes, Black Narcissus, and The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp could also have made Peeping Tom. We actually thought for a while Michael Powell was a pseudonym being used by other film-makers."

Scorsese came to Britain for the Edinburgh film festival with Taxi Driver, and a mutual contact arranged a meeting at a London restaurant. "He was very quiet and didn't quite know what to make of me," Scorsese recalls. "I had to explain to him that his work was a great source of inspiration for a whole new generation of film-makers - myself, Spielberg, Paul Schrader, Coppola, De Palma. We would talk about his films in Los Angeles often. They were a lifeblood to us, at a time when the films were not necessarily immediately available. He had no idea this was all happening."

It's easy to forget how obscure most movies were in the days before DVD, video on demand, or even VHS. Studio boss J Arthur Rank lost faith in the commercial potential of The Red Shoes on first seeing it, and sent only a single print to the US. So for two years it played continuously at a single movie theatre in New York, before eventually breaking out to become a huge success, picking up Oscars in 1949 for best art direction and music. Scorsese saw it that first time in colour; after that, the only way to see such movies was on television. "Even with commercial breaks, in black and white, and cut to about an hour and a half, it still had a powerful magic," he says. "The vibrancy of the movie and the sense of colour in the storytelling actually came through. Then, eventually, the prize was to track down a 16mm Technicolor print. I was able to do that a few times." The rest of the Powell/Pressburger back catalogue Scorsese would track down one film at a time. "We were in a process of discovery."

After Scorsese found him, Powell was taken to the US by Francis Ford Coppola and feted by his new Hollywood fans. They saw him as a kindred spirit: a fiercely independent film-maker who had fought for, and justified, the need for complete creative freedom. Coppola installed him as senior director-in-residence at his Zoetrope studios; he took teaching posts; retrospectives were held of his work; and the great and good of Hollywood queued up to meet him. Scorsese even had a cossack shirt made in the same style as that of Anton Walbrook's character in The Red Shoes, which he wore to the opening of Powell and Pressburger's 1980 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. To that event, Scorsese brought along his editor on Raging Bull, Thelma Schoonmaker. "Marty told me I had to go and see Colonel Blimp on the big screen," Schoonmaker later tells me. She introduced herself to Powell, they hit it off, and four years later they married.

Schoonmaker, who still edits all Scorsese's films, experienced first-hand both Scorsese's worship of Powell and his subsequent friendship with him. "One of the first things Marty said to me was, 'I've just discovered a new Powell and Pressburger masterpiece!' We were working at night on Raging Bull and he said, 'You have to come into the living room and look at this right now.' He had a videocassette of I Know Where I'm Going. For him to have taken an hour and a half out of our editing time is typical of the way he proselytises. Anyone he meets, or the actors he works with, he immediately starts bombarding with Powell and Pressburger movies."

Powell's influence is all over Scorsese's work. His trademark use of the colour red is a direct homage to Powell, for example - though Powell told him he overused the colour in Mean Streets. And Powell was practically a consultant on Raging Bull, giving Scorsese script advice and even guiding him towards releasing the film in black and white. (Again, Powell observed that Robert de Niro's boxing gloves were too red.) Meanwhile, Powell's Tales of Hoffman informed the movements of Raging Bull's fight scenes. "Marty was always asking Michael, 'How did you do that shot?' or 'Where did you get that idea?'" Schoonmaker says. "They shared a tremendous passion for the history of film - but he didn't always go along with Marty's taste in modern film-makers. For example, Michael didn't quite get Sam Fuller. Marty showed him Forty Guns, or started to show it to him, and Michael walked out halfway through. Marty was heartbroken."

The restoration of The Red Shoes came about when Schoonmaker tried to buy Scorsese a print of The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp for his 60th birthday. She was alarmed to discover the printing negative was worn out, and that there wasn't enough money to restore it. Much of the Powell and Pressburger legacy was, and still is, in a similar condition. So she and Scorsese set about raising the cash to fund the restoration. "It's been over two years now of checking test prints and determining how the picture should be restored," says Scorsese. "In restoration circles, very often three-strip Technicolor film can only reach a certain technical level. The colours start to become yellow and you get fringing - where the strips don't quite line up. But the techniques we used here are top of the line. So it looks better than new. It's exactly like what the film-makers wanted at the time, but they couldn't achieve it back then."

Other Powell/Pressburger movies are now in line for restoration, but Scorsese and Schoonmaker's rehabilitation mission does not stop there. For some years, between movie projects (they are currently completing Scorsese's latest, Shutter Island, with Leonardo DiCaprio), they have been working on a documentary about British cinema, in the vein of Scorsese's 1999 personal appreciation of Italian cinema, My Voyage in Italy. Powell and Pressburger will be in there of course; but also Hitchcock, Korda, Anthony Asquith and possibly others we've forgotten about ourselves. British cinema is sorely misunderstood, Scorsese feels, and it needs this documentary even more than Italian cinema did.

Perhaps that's something for next year's Cannes? "Well, I'm still working on my speech [for Friday]," says Scorsese. "I never know what to say. I'm trying to hone it down to my key emotional connection to the film. My favourite scene is the one near the beginning at the cocktail party. Where Lermontov [Anton Walbrook] asks Vicky [Moira Shearer], 'Why do you want to dance?' and she replies, 'Why do you want to live?' Despite all the other beautiful sequences in the film, that's the one that stays in my mind."

Here's an interview with Mark Kermode where Scorsese talks about Powell and Peeping Tom, a film dismissed by the Guardian and Observer critic C. A. Lajeune as 'beastly.'



Thursday, 16 November 2017

Last night's set lists


At The Habit, York: -

Ron Elderly: -
Autumn Leaves
Love Is The Drug


Da Elderly: -
A Place To Fall In Love (new song)
Out On The Weekend


The Elderly Brothers: -
Chains
I'll Get You
All My Loving
Crying In The Rain
Bye Bye Love


It was very quiet as the evening started and it looked like there might not be enough players to take us through to midnight. As is often the way, things livened up as the night wore on. A few players did a second song/set, including the duo pictured above - they gave a beautiful rendition of Gillian Welch's Look At Miss Ohio. I accompanied myself with an A-harp on both the new song and Neil's classic opener from Harvest. The Elderlys stuck to The Beatles and the Everlys for their set.

The after-show unplugged session was most enjoyable with a lovely crowd joining in and suggesting songs.

We even sang Happy Birthday to someone!

Monday, 13 November 2017

What Hedy did next...

Film tells how Hollywood star Hedy Lamarr helped to invent wifi
Hedy Lamarr starred in biblical blockbusters . Now a Susan Sarandon-produced film will tell how her scientific work pioneered modern communications

Vanessa Thorpe
The Observer
Sunday 12 November 2017 

It is an extraordinary story, ripe for the telling: a glamorous Hollywood leading lady is at the summit of the film industry, yet treated as a sexual trophy and repeatedly undervalued intellectually. But her scientific knowhow leads to a breakthrough in military technology and opens up the way for contemporary communications methods, such as Bluetooth and wifi.

The remarkable life of the Austrian-born Hedy Lamarr – considered the most beautiful woman in the world by her Hollywood peers in the 1940s and 50s – is now the subject of a documentary, co-produced by the actress Susan Sarandon, which receives its British premiere in London on Wednesday as part of the Jewish Film Festival.

Bombshell: the Hedy Lamarr Story follows the career of the young Hedwig Kiesler from her childhood in pre-war Vienna, on to her escape, disguised as a maid, from a rich first husband. Using news footage and interviews with Lamarr’s children from her six marriages, the first-time director Alexandra Dean traces Lamarr’s journey to London and later to Los Angeles, where she becomes a star after appearing with Charles Boyer in the film Algiers. But at the centre of the new documentary is her little-known life as a successful inventor.

The film tells Lamarr’s story largely through previously unheard tapes of an interview she gave to Forbes magazine in 1990, 10 years before her death in Florida. By then a recluse, she explains her interest in technology to the journalist. “Inventions are easy for me to do,” Lamarr says. “I suppose I just came from a different planet."
Image result for hedy lamarr
Lamarr is best remembered for her sultry role as the duplicitous Delilah in Cecil B DeMille’s 1949 biblical blockbuster, in which she appeared opposite Victor Mature as Samson.

But her acting started on stage in Austria, after she had attended a renowned Berlin acting school headed by the director Max Reinhardt. The daughter of a Viennese bank director with a love of technology, Lamarr grew up in an artistic Jewish quarter of the city. By the age of 19 she had won a film role that brought her life-long notoriety, appearing nude in an unprecedented simulated sex scene in the 1933 Czech film Ecstasy, a performance denounced by the pope.

Until now, Lamarr’s part in the development of what she called “frequency hopping”, a way to avoid the German jamming of radio signals, has remained an obscure bit of Hollywood trivia. However, as the Los Angeles film industry is shaken by accusations of in-built sexism in the wake of revelations about producer Harvey Weinstein’s sexual abuses, Sarandon and the German film actress Diane Kruger, a fan of Lamarr who appears in the documentary, believe her hidden scientific talent will finally be recognised.

Dean told Vanity Fair this year that Lamarr opens the tapes by saying: “I wanted to sell my story … because it’s so unbelievable. It was the opposite of what people think.” Lamarr also complains about Hollywood’s obsession with appearances, which she found dull: “The brains of people are more interesting than the looks, I think.”
Image result for hedy lamarr
Nevertheless, her roles repeatedly showcased her beauty and offered limited scope for acting. George Sanders, one of her co-stars, once said that Lamarr was “so beautiful that everybody would stop talking when she came into a room”.

Her interest in radio communications seems to have been rekindled by the introduction in America of remote control systems for playing music, and by her concern about the German jamming techniques that prevented the use of radio-controlled torpedoes.

She worked on her invention of an early form of “spread spectrum” telecommunications – in which a signal is transmitted on a much broader bandwidth than the original – together with her Hollywood neighbour, the avantgarde composer George Antheil, through the summer of 1940.

Their joint design employed a mechanism rather like the rolls used inside a pianola, or self-playing piano, to synchronise changes between 88 frequencies – the standard number of piano keys. The duo submitted a patent to the National Inventors Council on 10 June 1941, and it was granted a year later.

While the idea was not entirely new, with German engineers winning patents for related work in 1939 and 1940, the United States navy classified the patent as “top secret”. It took time, however, for the military to recognise how useful Lamarr and Antheil’s bulky invention might become.

After the war, in 1957, engineers at Sylvania Electronic Systems Division adopted it, and the navy began to use it to help transmit the underwater positions of enemy submarines revealed by sonar.

In 1998, more than 50 years after their invention, the pair were honoured with an Electronic Frontier Foundation award.

The actress, who once commented that her face was her “misfortune” and “a mask I cannot remove”, may now gain some posthumous recognition as an inventor, but her most lasting legacy is still likely to be the striking features of Disney’s Snow White, a cartoon character modelled on Lamarr.

LAMARR’S LIFE

Born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler, in Vienna, Austria, on 9 November 1913.

Family Married six times including to Friedrich Mandl, an arms dealer, but fled her loveless marriage to be a Hollywood actress.

Film career Big break was a lead role in Gustav Machaty’s Ecstasy, where she became the (probably) first Hollywood star to simulate a female orgasm on screen. The film sparked outrage and was attacked by Pope Pius XI. After leaving her husband she changed her name to Hedy Lamarr, and starred in the Hollywood film, Algiers. Other films included Boom Town, My Favourite Spy and Samson and Delilah, the highest grossing film of 1949.

Inventions In 1942 Lamarr and her business partner, composer George Antheil, awarded a patent for a “secret communication system” for radio-guided torpedoes. Later, it became a constituent of GPS, wifi and Bluetooth. She also developed ”bouillon” cubes to transform water into a Coke, and a “skin-tautening technique based on the principles of the accordion”.

Friday, 10 November 2017

Dead Poets Society #56

Image result for herbert read poet

The Happy Warrior by Herbert Read


His wild heart beats with painful sobs,
His strain'd hands clench an ice-cold rifle,
His aching jaws grip a hot parch'd tongue,
His wide eyes search unconsciously.

He cannot shriek.

Bloody saliva
Dribbles down his shapeless jacket.

I saw him stab
And stab again
A well-killed Boche.

This is the happy warrior,
This is he…




Thursday, 9 November 2017

Last night's set lists


At The Habit, York: -

Ron Elderly: -
Wild Horses
You Better Move On


Da Elderly: -
Wrecking Ball
Motion Pictures (for Carrie)


The Elderly Brothers: -
Love Hurts
The Night Has A Thousand Eyes
You Really Got A Hold On Me
Then I Kissed Her
When Will I Be Loved


It was a strange night at The Habit, starting very quietly and just getting better as time rolled on. It looked like there wouldn't be enough players initially, but they just kept on coming through the door and the night was soon filled. Ron played his favourites, The Rolling Stones, and I pulled out two Neil Young obscurities for the punters. Late on a young chap wowed the audience with a loop pedal-backed version of Eleanor Rigby - great guitar playing throughout. Our host (pictured) opened and closed the proceedings - his 3rd year in charge!

Monday, 6 November 2017

This is J.D. Salinger and no, he won't be returning your call...

Salinger’s Nightmare
An unemployed actor tracked down Salinger to get his permission to adapt The Catcher in the Rye.


Bill Barich
The Paris Review
13 April 2017

In 1953, J. D. Salinger fled Manhattan for rural Cornish, New Hampshire, hoping to protect his privacy and find the solitude he needed for his work. The Catcher in the Rye, which spent thirty weeks on the New York Times’ best-seller list, had generated immeasurable publicity and adulation for Salinger, who wanted none of it. Among his new suitors were such Hollywood bigwigs as Samuel Goldwyn and David O. Selznick, both vying for the screen rights to Catcher. They failed to secure Salinger’s approval, as did many others, in turn—but that didn’t stop Bill Mahan, an unemployed former child star and devoted fan from Los Angeles, from giving it a shot. In the early sixties, he resolved to claim the film rights himself, even if it meant disturbing Salinger at home.

Mahan’s account of his unlikely adventure can be found in his papers at the University of Wyoming’s American Heritage Center. On December 1, 1961, he wrote to Salinger by registered mail to share his vision for turning Catcher into an independent feature, with the author retaining “artistic control.” At the age of thirty-one, Mahan had no credits as a producer or a director, and very little money, so he proposed to shoot the film “art-house” style, without changing a word of dialogue. Given the shoestring budget, Salinger would, of course, have to grant him the rights for free. In hopes of sealing the deal, Mahan wrote that he would arrive in Cornish on December 13, whether he’d heard from Salinger or not.

Salinger had fielded more than his fair share of oddball requests over the years, and he knew how to ignore them—but Mahan’s pluck must’ve convinced the author that he really would show up. On December 7, he fired off a telegram that spelled out, in no uncertain terms, his utter disinterest in the proposal. He urged Mahan to stay home.

The message fell on deaf ears. Overjoyed to receive any response at all, Mahan seized on the telegram as a positive sign and decided to go ahead with the plan, believing he could “sell anything to anybody.” He’d learned to rely on his charm—and he had vast stores of confidence, having risen to fame as a child star. From 1936 to 1940, he’d featured in eighteen pictures as Bobby Jones, the youngest member of the Jones family. It was a lucrative comedy franchise, and the public loved little Bobby; a studio press book described the one-hour comedies as “energetic hokum … tolerably amusing in an entirely inconsequential way.” Now, decades later, Mahan had resolved to take that “energetic hokum” of his on the road: he was heading east.
Young Bill Mahan in The Jones Family at The County Fair

The trip to New Hampshire proved exhausting. Traveling on the cheap, Mahan boarded a small, piston-driven plane in Burbank that stopped twelve times en route to New York, where he made his way to the Saint Regis Hotel. His sister Colleen, a secretary to David O. Selznick, was staying there with her boss and some other staffers. Selznick was out for the evening, so Mahan took a shower, ordered a chicken sandwich, and helped himself to a drink from the well-stocked bar, careful to choose an off-brand vodka rather than the premium Smirnoff. But he wasn’t cautious enough. Selznick returned early—“a big man,” as Mahan describes him, “expensively dressed, with a heavy shock of pure white hair”—and gently chastised him for drinking the imported Russian vodka instead of the much cheaper domestic stuff.

When Colleen told her boss that Bill was headed to see J. D. Salinger, Selznick was incredulous. “Salinger!” he exclaimed. “I can’t even get near him.”

“I got a telegram from him just the other day,” Mahan said, dipping into his pocket to show it off.

“Let me know how you make out,” said Selznick before heading off to bed.

From Idlewild Airport, Mahan flew to Manchester, New Hampshire, then rented a car and drove the hundred or so miles to Cornish. He wasn’t impressed: the place lacked any amenities and didn’t strike him as a “real town,” just a hamlet. Most residents, Salinger included, conducted their business affairs on the other side of the Connecticut River in Windsor, Vermont. In his early days in Cornish, before he became more withdrawn, Salinger was known to be reasonably sociable. He liked to hang out with a group of Windsor High students, inviting them to his place to watch movies and listen to records, but when he agreed to be interviewed for the school paper, the subsequent uproar and attention convinced him to cut off all contact.

Mahan checked into a Windsor hotel and pumped the locals at a corner bar for directions to Salinger’s house. He had no trouble finding it: a roomy, wood-frame place he recognized from the photos that had accompanied a recent spread in Life magazine. The house had a gambrel roof, a Jeep in the yard, and a superb view of Mount Ascutney. The gate was wired shut, but Mahan opened it and knocked on the front door. No one answered. He suspected Salinger might be working in a smaller cinder-block house nearby, also pictured in Life, and started for it only to change his mind. Interrupting a writer who was concentrating might be unwise. He returned to his hotel to clean up and rest.

On his second run to the house, he spotted the Jeep crossing the bridge to Windsor and followed it. Sure enough, Salinger was at the wheel. He parked by the Windsor News general store and walked in. Mahan jotted in his journal, “About six feet one, maybe even two. Very slender. Gaunt bony face … He was wearing regular businessman’s hat and a light colored raincoat. Light brown I think. He is very heavy bearded.” He took up a position outside the store, ready to intercept Salinger when he left.

Mahan recorded the ensuing conversation in minute detail. It bears a fair resemblance to a one-act play bound for the theater of the absurd. Both men were so “deadly serious” that they were unable to find the humor in a situation whereby Salinger steadfastly refused to see the man he was in fact seeing at that very moment. Mahan’s strategy, such as it was, appeared to be based on the same boyish charm that had won him favor as little Bobby Jones. He greeted Salinger by saying, “Hi! I came anyway.”

“Who are you?” Salinger asked, no doubt startled. “What do you want? Who are you?”

“I’m Bill Mahan.”

One can only imagine Salinger’s despair on hearing those words. “Oh, you didn’t,” he said. “Why did you come?”

“Well, I thought if I came to see you personally,” Mahan explained, “you might at least listen to what I have to say.”

“Well, I won’t,” Salinger insisted. “I just don’t see why you came here. What are you going to do?” He was so uncomfortable he looked to Mahan “like someone on the brink of a seizure. He speaks with a heavy New England accent and when he gets excited (which is most of the time) the voice goes up and is as squealy as hell.” Salinger continued, “I don’t understand you people. You wrote to me and I even went to the trouble of sending you a telegram saying no.”

“I know. I remember it. In fact I can quote it verbatim,” said Mahan, probably hoping to score a point.

“I remember it, too. Why didn’t you contact my agent? … You’re all so selfish.” Salinger paused to correct himself. “I can’t say that though. I certainly understand selfishness.”

After a few more volleys, Mahan grasped the error of his ways and admitted he shouldn’t have come. “I’m terribly embarrassed about the whole thing now,” he apologized.

“There’s no point in being embarrassed. We’re both grown men. It’s just that I don’t want to see anyone. What are you going to do?” Salinger repeated, obviously concerned about the welfare of his uninvited guest and what to do about it.

“I don’t really know.”

“Where’s your wife?”

“She’s home.”

“My God, she must think you’re a nut or something.”

“No,” Mahan assured him. “I gambled that I might have a chance at the book. It’s really pretty great, you know.”

Salinger refused to discuss it. “I’m just terribly irritated by the fact that you came after I said no.”

“I’m terribly sorry, too. I didn’t realize that it would upset you like this.”

With rising frustration, Salinger delivered a long lament: “People won’t seem to let me alone. They hang around the house and peek in the windows and upset my wife. They throw beer cans on the lawn. They even bother my children. Reporters follow me on the road … I just feel terribly about this whole thing—that long trip and everything.” He asked again: “What are you going to do now?”

“You don’t have to feel responsible for me,” Mahan suggested.

“But I do feel responsible.” This was a telling moment. In writing a novel that had touched and even altered the lives of so many people, Salinger was forced to consider to what extent he might be responsible for its effect on them. What drew so many pilgrims to his doorstep? (Almost twenty years later, Mark David Chapman would invoke Catcher as his “statement” after assassinating John Lennon.) His rigorous discipline clashed with a desire to be decent, to treat Mahan kindly. There was a monstrous element to his selfishness and isolation, and he appears to have known it. “You made this long trip,” he reiterated, in the grip of an obsession, “and I can’t see you.”

“Right here,” Mahan noted perceptively, “he looked like a really sad little boy with a terrible problem that he could neither solve nor run away from.”

The conversation ground to a halt. As a parting shot, Mahan put yet another request to Salinger. Would he read a story his mother had published in Good Housekeeping ten years ago? To his great credit, Salinger didn’t lose his temper or laugh out loud. Instead he voiced a weary resignation.

“I can’t. I really can’t,” he all but sighed. “It would just lay around and probably get lost. I’m sure it’s valuable to you.” Walking toward the store, he turned back and said, “Please don’t leave it in my car.”

Mahan checked out of his hotel, but he couldn’t tear himself away from Cornish. Despite Salinger’s firm denial, he seemed not at all displeased with the results of his trip; he lingered in its aftermath. Musing over a cup of coffee at Windsor News, he felt he should write a farewell letter to Salinger and deliver it himself. So he did: trudging through the snow with his flashlight to the wired gate.

Through a kitchen window, he could see Salinger fixing dinner, whistling and looking happy. As Mahan looked on, a big white Samoyed bounded out of nowhere, pinning him to the ground and exploring his ear with its tongue. The dog was friendly but disinclined to budge, so Mahan was forced to cry for help.

“Mr. Salinger!” he shouted. “Oh-ooh, Mr. Salinger!”

Salinger came to the rescue. He can’t have been delighted. “My God, it’s you again! What do you want?” He accepted the letter and pulled Mahan to his feet. They proceeded to the porch.

“Since you delivered it in person, I may as well read it,” Salinger said, leaving Mahan to wait outside, still unable to give him the boot, and retreating into the house. On his return, he made no mention of the letter. Instead he spoke with Zen-like economy, saying only four words, “Seven inches expected tonight,” as a light snow began to fall.

They shook hands, and Salinger waved goodbye. Six hours later, Mahan was at the Saint Regis again, regaling David O. Selznick with the tale of his adventure in Cornish. Selznick, impressed with his chutzpah, offered him a job in South America selling a block of twenty-one movies he owned.

But Mahan wasn’t done with Salinger just yet. In May of 1963, Mike Connolly of The Hollywood Reporter ran an item in his column:

J. D. Salinger descended from his ivory tower and slipped his Catcher in the Rye screen rights to producer Bill Mahan, having previously spurned such top moviemakers as Elia Kazan and David O. Selznick. Salinger will be technical advisor. On camera, as narrator, he’ll be portrayed by Kier Dullea.

Whether Mahan was involved in placing the item, an old Hollywood ploy, isn’t known, but he was quick to write Salinger and deny it. “I had nothing to do with it,” he swore, “and I am terribly sorry that misinformation got into print.” The trip to Cornish had turned out to be good luck, he confided, leading to his success with Selznick and his new position as the director Henry Koster’s assistant on the feature film, Take Her, She’s Mine. He closed with a paragraph that must’ve had Salinger pulling out his hair by the roots.

The more I think about it, at the end of this job I believe I’ll come and see you again, and maybe this time you will at least give me the chance to tell you what I would like to do with your book.

Salinger wrote back two days later. Why did he bother to keep the connection alive? It would’ve been easy enough to say nothing. But maybe Mahan’s charm had worked, and Salinger now saw the humor and absurdity of the situation. Certainly the tone of his letter is bemused, even if its message is firm. There would be no movies based on his work, and no further visits from Mahan.

Afterward, Bill Mahan had a checkered career in and around Los Angeles. In 1963, he served as a producer on Strange Lovers, a B-movie about gay men that carried the tagline “a deep penetration into the world of unnatural love.” He also became a successful syndicated newspaper columnist, covering movies, TV, and entertainment. For convincing the actor Jeff Hunter to play the lead in No Man Is an Island, he earned ten thousand dollars and twenty weeks of work on the film. He wrote an autobiography about being a child star, The Boy Who Looked Like Shirley Temple, and, with his sister Colleen, a novel, The Moviola Man.

Fiction was on Mahan’s mind on April 3, 1984, when he composed one last letter to Salinger. His mood was melancholy. He’d gone through a divorce and he was still out there hustling. He addressed Salinger as “Jerry,” spoke of trying to imitate him as a writer, and enclosed a copy of a novel, presumably The Moviola Man. “You’ll enjoy it and you’ll relate,” he asserted. “You are responsible for it.” Responsible—that word again. “It should kind of make you proud because it is a good novel—my new one is even better.” Mahan was ever the optimist: “Not yet sold but it will be.” And he added, “Just wanted you to know that you are (as you were, many years ago worried about) responsible for me—only in a different way.”

This time Salinger chose not to reply.

Digital reproductions of select material from the Bill Mahan Papers (Collection Number 10045) are unrestricted, open to the public, and available online at the American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming. The quotes, letters, and observations attributed to Mahan in this essay, along with the verbatim record of his conversation with Salinger, can be found in Box 3, Folder 4 (J. D.Salinger 1961–70), except for Mahan’s last letter to Salinger from Box 3, Folder 1 (Personal Correspondence 1962–1984).

Bill Barich’s books include Big Dreams, A Pint of Plain, and the racetrack classic Laughing in the Hills.

https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2017/04/13/salingers-nightmare/