Tag Archives: Hemingway

The death of my old friend Lauren Bacall set me thinking of her first movie, To Have and Have not.


The death of my old friend Lauren Bacall set me thinking of her first movie, To Have and Have not. She was 19 and Humphrey Bogart was 45. The became lovers and they married. The difference in their ages was hardly mentioned. That was in 1944 and they were happily married until Bogart died in 1957.

To Have and Have Not has one of those great movie lines. It comes when Bacall is leaving a room and turns to Bogart. “If you want me, whistle. You know how to whistle, dontcha, Steve, just put your lips together and blow.”

This line doesn’t come from Ernest Bogart Hemingway’s novel. In fact nothing in the film except the title comes from Hemingway.

The film script was written by Hemingway’s great rival, William Faulkner. I wonder if he abandoned Hemingway’s tale in order to annoy the great bearded bully. Perhaps he was simply following orders from the studio. But why should they buy a book only for its title?

(A few years later a very good movie, starring John Garfield, was made, under another title, of Hemingway’s book. It starred Patricia Neal, being extremely sexy singing “Please don’t talk about me when I’m gone.”)

I think of this because someone has been talking about making cinema out of my first crime novel, Death Dyed Blonde. I’ve got three others featuring the same ‘tec in the same town. I was told I would have a “franchise”.

This pleased me because my latest murder mystery, Murder in Arcady, could not be made into a movie. It is a farce but it is written with what critics call “a poetic sensibility” – that don’t film.

The dialogue ain’t bad but the best of the book is the storyteller being poetic; in a funny way, and using long and unusual words to amuse.

This is the very opposite of what reviews in the Guardian, the Spectator, and The Times Literary Supplement liked about me, which was the “unfussy, flattened style. Classic American crime fiction”.

At a great age, sitting in a corner of my bedroom in my 17th Century West Country cottage, in a tweed jacket and club tie, and with a fountain pen, I have been writing what pleases me. The lady who does my typing for me says it also pleases her.

After scribbling away for two or three hours (I don’t want to overdo it) I have been going out to sit in my garden in the shade thinking of sex: a silly business, also disgusting, which I have now at last reached an age and condition when I can put it behind me.

I have attempted in my latest book to make fun of romance. I do however get sex one favourable mention when a leading female character says, “I am not a slut but I thank the gods I am foul.”

Where is that from?

I can’t remember.

Why don’t I look it up?

I can’t be bothered.

Shakespeare is dragged into Murder in Arcady giving me the filthiest line in the book: the eye that weeps most when most pleased.

I go now into my garden. I wish someone would write a farce as good as Murder in Arcady to amuse me seated under the shade of the pear tree.


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It is getting near 35 years since John O’Hara, the drunken American writer, staggered up to the Big Bartender in the sky

ad1It is getting near 35 years since John O’Hara, the drunken American  writer, staggered up to the Big Bartender in the sky, and yet he is still able to spark tremendous hate mail; more than anyone else ever it seems.

I came upon this curious literary scandal when I bought three O’Hara books published by Vintage Classics and looked O’Hara up on the memory machine.

The books were his first two novels, Appointment in Samarra (1934) and Butterfield 8 (1935) and a book of Selected Stories from 1933 to 1947.

It seems the critics didn’t like his politics. He was not a fashionable leftwing liberal. He backed Goldwater in the 1964 presidential election. This was like having a good word for old blue eyes himself, Adolph Hitler. O’Hara also thought Martin Luther King shouldn’t get the Nobel Peace Prize. Maybe O’Hara, born an Irish Catholic, remembered that Martin Luther King was not going to vote for Jack Kennedy because he was a Catholic.

Or maybe O’Hara, who was writing a weekly column for Newsday, thought he would write something that would stir them up.

His first Newsday column opened with “Let’s get off to a really bad start.”

In the early 1950s he also wrote a weekly book column called “Sweet and Sour” for the Trenton (New Jersey) Times Advertiser and a bi-weekly column called “Appointment with O’Hara” for Collier’s Magazine. They were, one critic said, “garrulous and outspoken.” O’Hara’s biographer Sheldon Grebstein said O’Hara was “Simultaneously embarrassing  and infuriating in his vaingloriousness, vindictiveness, and general bellicosity.”

Grebstein probably never had to come up with the goods writing columns. You’ve got to keep them awake and not turning to the sports page.

Also: what novels and short stories have these critics written? Nothing that I’d want to read.

“A minor writer and a well-known lout” said Michiko Kakutani (Who he?) of the New York Times.

Writing in the Atlantic Monthly in March 2000, Benjamin and Christina Schwarz claimed: “So widespread is the literary world’s scorn for John O’Hara that the inclusion of Appointment in Samarra on the Modern Library’s list of the 100 best English language novels of the 20th Century was used to ridicule the entire project.”

O’Hara’s short stories don’t seem to be so subject to attack by the morons. He had 200 of them published in the New Yorker, more than any other writer. John Updike, another short story champion of the New Yorker,  said O’Hara was as good as Chekhov.

E.L.Doctorow said O’Hara took over the classic short story form developed by James Joyce (Dubliners) and perfected by Ernest Hemingway (In Our Time). In these stories there is some sort of revelation, what Joyce called an epiphany. The start of the action is also close in time to the denouement.

That’s the mark of the great short story writer; nowadays the wannabes have regressed in time to the rambling yarns of the 19th Century.

His enemies also make fun of the way O’Hara was bitter about not going to Yale. What happened was his father died and there was no money. O’Hara had to go to work. He became a journalist, first on a small-town paper in his native Pennsylvania and then for the New York Herald Tribune. In 1928 he broke into the New Yorker. Then his first novel made him rich and famous and this continued through fourteen further novels.

One of them was Pal Joey which was turned into a hit musical with Gene Kelly and later into a movie with Rita Hayworth and Frank Sinatra.

O’Hara should have forgotten Yale. He couldn’t, it was an obsession. All his life he kept going on about it. It coloured his writing, but it made him the best writer about Ivy League characters. One critic said “he was F.Scott Fitzgerald.”

Ernest Hemingway said, “Someone should take up a collection to send John O’Hara to Yale.”

This is my blog so what has this got to do with me?

Well, I didn’t got to Yale although three of my friends did. I also didn’t go to Harvard although two of my friends did, or to Princeton although four of my friends did. Some are dead and the others are all dead drunk.

I worked on a newspaper and went to night school. The hero of my crime novels, Death Dyed Blonde and Murder In A Cold Climate, is like me, a guy with a two dollar education. The Prologue to Murder In A Cold Climate is intended to be like one of the short stories by Joyce, Hemingway and O’Hara that I’ve been talking about.

Unless you get the wrong idea I should perhaps mention that in a sober moment I applied to Harvard. Turned down, I returned to the bar-room and my collection of scarab-cartouches of the Ptolemaic dynasties. They were dulcet years although I recall a bleak time when Bone, my father’s man, who had a cruel mouth something like Bronzino’s portrait of Cosimo de Medici when it wasn’t like Vasari’s medallion portrait of Lorenzo de Medici in the Vecchio Palazzi in Florence, came up from the wine cellar with a bottle of 1878 port and we had to cut the bottle open because the old fool forgot to have it re-corked in 1918.

Murder In A Cold Climate contains no tragedies like these. It is writing from the hip. I keep my monocle in my waistcoat pocket while dictating it to my factotum.

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Speaking frankly as a doddering old fool leaning  on two sticks, plus shawl, I am still twelve years old in my head. At least I’ve returned to adventure stories.

John Buchan of Thirty-nine Steps fame wrote many more. I was glued to one and had read fifty or so pages about the kidnapping of a wealthy newspaper owner in a university students’ rag when I was suddenly struck, jaw-droppingly so, by a single word. Like most of these words it was a four-letter one.

What had happened to the newspaper magnet Thomas Craw was “rape”.

The novel was published in 1930 and obviously the years have twisted the meaning of rape.

A glance down the pages of the Oxford Concise Dictionary let me know that Buchan was correct. One meaning of rape is “carrying off by force”. (Also any of the six ancient divisions of Sussex.)

Another meaning still in common use which sometimes causes misunderstandings is when a countryman says, “The fields are full of rape.” This is a reference to what we call Brassica napus, also called Colza; rape to its plant pals: food for sheep, also producing oil used for a lubricant and in foodstuffs.

When it’s in flower rape’s a startling yellow that hurts the eyes.

Anyway, Buchan’s rape is gone from everyday use. But you’ll find it in Buchan’s story Castle Gay. Ah, yes, and there we have another word that’s Gone West.

It’s a shame because gay was such a jolly festive word.

Its new meaning has created much difficulty for new readers of old books.

For Whom The Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway’s novel about the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) has a long tribute to the bravest fighters in the war. They are, Hemingway says, “the gay, always the gay”.

Old Ernie didn’t mean what the innocent young reader would think he did.

Or maybe he did. I have my sources and it is queer to learn that  that famous trip young and handsome Hemingway made to Spain the first time to see the running of the bulls in Pamplona that he used in his first novel, The Sun Also Rises, was paid for by an old gent who went with him. Just the two together. No skirt at all, especially not the English hottie he features in the book.

No old gents ever asked me to Spain. Did they ever ask you? And if they did, what would you think?

Also, we learn that Hemingway and his second wife used to have their hair cut in the same way and wear the same clothes. I don’t think dresses, but shirts and slacks. This features in a novel published after Papa Hemingway’s death, The Garden of Eden.

This has come a long way from “rape” and “gay”. There are other expressions that have lost their original innocent meanings. I refer of course to “making love”.

Originally when a man made love to a women it meant he flirted with her, telling her how lovely she was.

The first time I got a shock from this was watching a Fred and Ginger film on TV. After that wonderful scene where they dance singing “Isn’t it a lovely day to get caught in the rain, you were on your way now you’re glad to remain . . .” Ginger goes back to her hotel.

“Did he make love to you?” her friend asks.

“Yes,” she says.

How amazing, the first time contemporary viewer would say.

Ginger was wearing jodhpurs.  How’d she get them off? Also the dozens of late Victorian and Edwardian ladies who wore all those long dresses and yards of underwear. (I’ve always wondered how Anna Karenina went about it. But never mind.)

That’s about it for the lesson for today, kiddies.

Before Uncle Two-Sticks Stan dodders off I must plug my novel, Murder In A Cold Climate, which features snow. But “snow” is another story.

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October 11, 2013 · 6:35 am