Vol. 12, No. 2 Spring, 2003
In this issue:
13th Annual James Jones Literary Society Symposium
The tentative title of the symposium is "The James Jones Collection at the Harry Ransom Center: New Research Opportunities." The symposium will celebrate the completion of the processing of the Jones papers, which will make them more accessible to scholars, and open up new avenues of research.
Librarians from the Ransom Humanities Center will speak regarding their experiences in processing this large and diverse collection, as well as the opportunities it presents for increasing our understanding of Jones's life and work. They also will exhibit highlights of the collection, showing some of their favorite "finds."
The keynote speaker will be Morris Dickstein from the City University of New York, latest recipient of the Society's George Hendrick Research Award.
There will also be a reception to support the Jones Society, and also to help maintain the Jones papers.
Activities on Friday, October 10, 2003 will include an afternoon JJLS Board Meeting at the Ransom Humanities Center and a Board Dinner, featuring entertainment by one of Austin's many great musical acts.
The Symposium itself will take place on Saturday, October 11, 2003. The morning will begin with the Society's Business and Membership Meetings. Then there will be a formal unveiling of the Jones collection by librarians from the Ransom Humanities Center, with opportunity to view some of the wealth of archival material from the collection.
The morning will also include a presentation of the Hendrick Award to Dr. Morris Dickstein, who will speak on the subject of his Jones research.
After lunch, members of the JJLS Board will have a panel discussion regarding new research opportunities presented by the Texas Jones collection in such areas as War/Peace Studies, Gender Studies, the History of Publishing and Readership, Midwestern Studies, and Novel to Film.
The Symposium proper will conclude with a reception at the Ransom Humanities Center, featuring Terrence Malick, director of the 1999 film adaptation of Jones's novel The Thin Red Line.
The Society's George Hendrick Award will be presented at the fall symposium to Dr. Morris Dickstein, Distinguished Professor of English at the City University of New York, for Leopards in the Temple: the Transformation of American Fiction, 1945-1970, published in 2002 by Harvard University Press. In addition to accepting the award, which for the first time will include a cash prize of $1000 thanks to recent board approval, Dickstein will discuss highlights of his scholarly study, which places Jones's work in the context of its time while showing its relevance to our own time.
Dickstein devotes his opening chapter to the war novel and singles out for early attention as well as special praise Jones's contribution to the genre. Calling From Here to Eternity "still the best of all the novels about the Second World War," Dickstein argues that its epic canvas captures American society in transition. Like other influential writers of the post-war period, Jones produced fiction that — according to Dickstein — critiqued the nation's complacency and laid the groundwork for the next generation of author-rebels.
For Dickstein, who came of age in the 1950s and 1960s, Leopards in the Temple represents the culmination of a career-long interest in this transformative era of American history. The volume has received glowing reviews. The New York Times noted its central irony: "the more prosperous and peaceful the nation, the more existentially anxious its writers." The New Yorker found Dickstein "alive to the pleasures that even flawed works provide." London's Times Literary Supplement called his style "lively and persuasive," as well as refreshingly jargon-free.
The Hendricks Award was created by the Society in 1996 to honor Dr. George Hendrick, Professor Emeritus of English at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign and founding president of the Society. It is presented to outstanding scholarly publications that enriches our understanding of Jones's life and work. Dickstein was recommended for the 2002 award by the selection committee, consisting of board members Judy Everson (chair), Cullom Davis, and Mike Lennon. The first recipient was Dr. Steven Carter, who won in 1997 for James Jones: An American Literary Orientalist Master.
December 6-7, 2003
The Virginia Theatre in Champaign, Illinois, in cooperation with the JJLS, is planning to host a festival of films based on the life and works of James Jones. Possible films include From Here to Eternity (1953), Some Came Running (1958), The Thin Red Line (1964 and1998), and the 1984 PBS documentary "James Jones: Reveille to Taps." The historic Virginia Theatre is also host to Roger Ebert's Overlooked Film Festival.
The late Wesley Gillaspie (1914-2002) was my barber for many years. When I was in his chair, Wes often gave graphic details about his life in the army: he had been a member of the 7th Armored Division, 138th Battalion Assault Gun Platoon, during World War II and participated in the invasion of Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge.
I would also talk about my writing projects, and when I described my work editing the letters of James Jones, he wanted to read some of Jones's wartime letters. I passed on Xerox copies of some of those letters, and Wes told me when he returned them that many of his experiences and psychological reactions were similar to the ones Jones wrote about, even though Wes served in Europe, not in the Pacific.
Wes went on to say that he had spent part of his early life in Robinson and once was a dental patient of the writer's father, Ramon Jones. As a young teen-ager, Wes had a toothache and sat in Dr. Jones's chair to receive a filling. Once the painful procedure was over, he asked Dr. Jones how often he should brush his teeth in order to avoid future cavities.
"As often as you wipe your ass" was the response.
A Soldier Returns
The article was originally published in Viet Nam War Generation Journal and appears by kind permission of its co-editor, David Willson.
Dr. Tony Williams is a Professor of English at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale and a Board Member of the James Jones Literary Society.
On its initial publication, James Jones's Viet Journal suffered adverse criticism due to the author's refusal to adhere to contemporary journalistic treatments concerning the Vietnam War. Wishing to tell the truth about his experiences during 1973, Jones offended many sensibilities. While several of the military and diplomatic people he met in his investigation congratulated him on Viet Journal, stateside reaction was not positive.1 Only one of the four articles Jones wrote for the New York Times Magazine appeared there. The rest featured in Harper's and Oui. Jones believed that the magazine's editor Mike Frankel felt that he was not sufficiently critical of the conflict.2 In a June 27, 1973 letter to the New York Times Magazine, Edward S. Herrman (author of Atrocities in Vietnam: Myth and Realities) accused Jones of lacking critical analysis and knowledge of the Tet Offensive.3 As a result, the Jones family suffered several ugly instances of hate mail and criticism.4
Although recent scholarship on the Tet Offensive confirms Jones's observations, the significance of Viet Journal lies less in its claims for objective reporting but more in its indirect associations with dominant motifs in Vietnam literary discourse. Viet Journal belongs to what Gordon Taylor recognized as one of the many "American Personal Narratives of the War in Vietnam." Taylor defines these new narratives as being "bound together to a degree by their mixtures of documentary with imaginative purpose, their fusions of private with public concern, their efforts to recombine the resources of several genres rather than settle into established prose patterns."5 In aiming towards investigating inward and outwards events, the better versions attempt to acquire a form faithful to the simultaneity of introspective and documentary concern."6
The role of authorship is fundamental to this process. While Viet Journal generically belongs to New Journalism investigations of the conflict, it is also the work of a World War II writer attempting to come to terms, both personally and fictionally, with its challenging implications. Although Jones visited Vietnam as a reporter, his work represents a soldier's "return," to a different wartime situation some thirty years after the conflict depicted in From Here to Eternity and The Thin Red Line. This experience stimulated his return to the unfinished part of this trilogy, Whistle.7 In Viet Journal, Jones refuses to follow any particular line whether "hawk" or "dove." He attempts a sympathetic, intuitive exploration of the locations and people he met, blending disparate styles of journalism and fiction, distinguishing himself from the too overtly subjective use of "New Journalism" by Herr, O'Brien, and others.8
However, although he aimed at objectivity and honesty, Jones recognizes his personal fascination with a new historical situation. Recognizing his failing physical condition, the Vietnam assignment was his "Last Adventure" — a challenge that had dangers as well as literary stimulation.
The situation Jones encountered was not the demoralized post-Tet debacle of most contemporary representations. As Jones commented in a contemporary magazine article, "You must remember I didn't get to talk to a draftee army in Vietnam, only the officers and professionals." He met the type of career soldier he was familiar with from his own experience. The author reported what he personally saw, a situation entirely different from the immediate Tet aftermath. However, Jones was neither "hawk" nor "dove." He detested taking sides arbitrarily. He wished to analyze the complexities and causes of each particular situation. In his September 11, 1973 letter to General Frederick C. Weyland, Jones stated his philosophy: "I suppose when you work as hard as I have for as many years as I have, you begin to get cut off a little bit from what is going on, or at least if not what is happening, then how it is happening down there under the surface." He looked on his Vietnam experience as a personal and professional form of enlightenment. It was to be a journey both into a new territory and a return to the springs of subjective experience.
Jones had his own special views on the situation. Although refusing to involve himself in certain trendy aspects of the anti-war movement, he never favored large-scale military involvement in Vietnam, especially one dependent on a large draftee army who had no choice in their destiny (Viet Journal, page 2). He also denied the conflict's supposedly unique nature, noting parallels with his own experience. Unlike World War II, the modern army exhibited none of the favoritism, nepotism, or discrimination he encountered. Jones resented the inference that his generation were a "happier, more charming breed of all-American boy than the Vietnam army." He notes, "there was a lot of animosity toward officers then…the so-called fraggings in Vietnam were nothing new…A lot of soldiers got shot in the back 'accidentally' in World War II." Cynical about both sides, Jones wished to emerge as an honest observer of the conflict and its aftermath.9
In both correspondence and fictional work, Jones often attacks dangerous ideological abstractions threatening to pervert the basic reality of any situation, whether political or personal. He attempted to "tell the truth," no matter how disquieting this was to fashionable thought. This ideal characterized his fictional and factual work. Accompanying a letter from Pamela Bird of the American Embassy in Saigon, is a leaflet Jones preserved reviewing C. B. Cox's Joseph Conrad: The Modern Inquisitor — "The aim of Conrad's fiction is to destroy in the reader his bondage to illusion and give him a glimpse of the truth however dark and disquieting that truth may be."10
This technique also motivates his great novel Some Came Running, which subtly attacks deceptive illusionary veils affecting post-war Midwest American society. But while interrogating these dangerous illusions and abstractions, the writer may face contamination and suffer the fates of fictional characters such as Dave Hirsh and 'Bama in Some Came Running and the various male adventurers in Go To the Widow Maker. To his credit, Jones recognizes the dangerous entrapment of the combat situation even as a journalist. The "Last Adventure" may seduce even the author as "reporter desiring objectivity." He may find himself facing the dangerous primeval masculinity of a "thin red line" as do the characters in many of his novels. Viet Journal contains its own combat zone. Unlike Tim O'Brien and Michael Herr, Jones directly confronts his own personal reasons for "being there." Instead of hiding behind deceptive literary and subjective veils, he reveals himself highly implicated within the war situation. Whether soldier or reporter, the participant faces the challenge of indulging in primeval regression or surviving by analyzing what war really entails.
In the opening pages, Jones presents his fascination with a Last Adventure. He queries America's role as the "new fascists" (p.5), and he acknowledges the hold of the illusionary "Manifest Destiny" idea of the City on the Hill: "We were still a nation of Puritans — still hungering after that same Plymouth purity that had never existed, except in some half-baked theory"(5)11 But he also recognizes the presence of another powerful force: "Something else a lot more powerful than politics was working on me, that sense of encroaching age and a last adventure, telling me to go."(5)
Although Vietnam is no Pearl Harbor or Guadalcanal, its new challenge stimulates old fears within the author's mind. Like Conrad (whom he cites frequently), he embarks upon a journey into a different subjective and physical landscape.
Wishing to question contemporary assumptions of America as a "military industrial dictatorship" with an Army of "sadistic redneck killers"(5), Jones combated his era's own form of political correctness. He fought abstractions both abroad and in his home territory, championing a Paris American Center open to all — "No one is outlawed because he is over thirty and does nor have long hair. It is even right to wear a suit."12 In his 1975 detective novel A Touch of Danger, Jones depicts the dangers affecting those who adopt the fashionable hippy lifestyle, whether young or middle-aged. The important factor was being true to oneself. Hence Jones reports what he see personally. Had he been present during the debilitating Tet situation he would undoubtedly have reported what he saw directly and honestly. However, his observations relate to a particular time and occasion in Vietnam. Throughout Viet Journal, Jones interrogates familiar stereotypes common both to contemporary reports as well as later fictional and cinematic representations. Contrary to post-Tet imagery, the military personnel he encounters are Army professionals with the same love-hate attraction for the military as Robert E. Lee Prewitt and Milt Warden of From Here to Eternity. They all express a desire to return in five years and see how the country develops. He meets South Vietnamese officers, neither brutal nor corrupt, fulfilling the best qualities of the Special Forces, a "tight, elite group of professionals." (58)
Although critical of his government's action in committing a large army of conscripts to Vietnam, Jones never romanticizes the enemy as some anti-war groups did. Conscious of war's brutalizing nature, he describes the North Vietnamese as dangerous enemies. He explicitly reports the brutal nature of the Hue massacres often denied by his contemporaries. Revealing these facts within journalistic narration, Jones stressed known experience against dogmatic interpretations employed by both sides. Personal encounter with unpleasant facts was important to him, a feature he notes in those he interviewed. If American nurse Hilary entered Vietnam as a "passionate doctrinaire liberal, her recent experiences opened her eyes to the brutality of the war itself in which neither side was sinner or victim."(69-70) Jones also critiqued contemporary interpretations of the Hue massacres as a unique event in Vietnamese history. Hue had a historical reputation as a "city of blood and terror. Tet had not been all that different from past histories."(90) The Vietnamese were as capable of falling into their own brand of blinkered dogmatism:
But Hue wanted it all one way. Vainly it wanted the grand reputation for beauty and culture without any of the bloody ugly stigmas. Wanted the distinction of exquisite sensitivity and to bury all the rest and pretend it had never existed. And I was beginning to suspect the Viet people wanted to have it the same way.(90)This denial mechanism, shared by many of Jones's fictional characters, appears in Frances Fitzgerald's Fire in the Lake. Jones believed her acceptance of North Vietnamese ideas of decent assassination revealed damning assumptions reminiscent of Puritanism's omnipresent control of the American social unconscious. "The whole thing smacks of a schoolteacher's dissertation on the moral superiority of marital sex over unmarried sex."(190) With Hue in mind, Jones also castigates the tendency to separate the Vietnamese situation into the binary good-and-evil categories of "American western-film morality"(93), a process still active today.
While many representations contrasted inefficient American reliance on technology with North Vietnamese emphasis on primitive guerrilla warfare, Jones found at least one instance where the enemy relied too much on the supposed technological advantage of Russian tanks. They, too, could make the same mistakes as their enemies, strategically and economically. "It was dumbfounding, astounding, near unbelievable to sit there and see spread out before us so much wealth — so much money — in rusting and wrecked machinery."(100)
Flying over My Lai in a helicopter, Jones and his companions can only stare down with "irresistible horrified awe"(148) at a site whose associations will enter American history "as a term synonymous with bloody massacre done by Americans." The spectators find no comfortable official language to mediate the horrendous nature of the event. While General Truong says, "Very sad. That is not the way to win the people," his American counterpart General Hiestand can only repeat "Green troops. Green troops."
This brief episode presents My Lai as an equivalent to Joseph Conrad's "the horror." Jones literary predecessors and influences are never far away from Viet Journal. He is conscious of the literary devices within his own works and engages in a dialogue with his predecessors and himself in a manner akin to Harold Bloom's Anxiety of Influence and Andre Malraux's Voices of Silence.13 For Dennis Turner, these authors take "the prior text to function as the generating instance of the subsequent work which comes into being though the negation of its antecedents."14 Jones, However, interrogates the implications of what he sees without falling into the easy path of literary repetition or dangerous subjective immersion.
Viet Journal contains one reference to Graham Greene's The Quiet American (27), several to Joseph Conrad (136, 199, 201), one to Bernard Fall (129) and many more to motifs within Jones's own fiction. These latter features analyze his reasons for going to Vietnam. Many journalists had already been to Vietnam. Some accepted the official version of events. Others (Michael Herr, Tim Page, Sean Flynn) engaged in their own version of an American adventure. The author is in a Joseph Conrad environment but one he wishes to explore critically, not narcissistically, even if the criticism questions his own personal stake in a Last Adventure.
Although visiting Vietnam as a journalist,
Jones recognizes his seduction by primeval masculine desires for
violence personified by an apelike figure who haunts him periodically
during his odyssey. From the beginning of his journey he implicitly
recognizes his taste for danger and what may await him. Like those
warriors in Rudyard Kipling's "Song of the Dane Women" cited at the
beginning of his 1967 novel, he, too, may "go with the old grey
"And yet that fear was oddly seductive. It was a strange thing, fear. It wasn't always so unpleasant. It could be as exciting as sex."
—Jones, Viet Journal
Although "it was highly unlikely, it was entirely within the realm of possibility that I could get myself killed."(21) Travelling to Orly Airport he spies "a grinning, chittering face at the back window of the speeding cab, peering in and signaling me." (22)
Derived from his interest in Robert Ardrey's work, this Kubrick-like "Dawn of Man" image presents a challenge whose significance Jones recognizes.15 It is relevant not only to masculine aggressive instincts but also to combat's primeval nature attracting the protagonist to his doom. As Jones admits, "If I had not been such a coward, I might have turned the cab around right then and gone back home." (22)
Like the war films Jones reviewed for The Saturday Evening Post, he immediately demolishes any phony heroic instincts of his own.16 Instead he emphasizes the irrational nature of fascination with combat, either as a soldier or journalist. While never solving the enigma of his ape's presence, Jones sees it as a literary device (220) representing his Conradian "heart of darkness" and Poesque William Wilson other self. "The wraith that seemed a night part of me kept moving back form the next corner, then back form the next. I could never quite catch him face to face." (23) After his dangerous but exhilarating experiences of being in the combat zone and flying on a helicopter to Dak Pek, Jones momentarily sees his "chittering toothsome apelike friend from Orly" (45) later outside his Saigon hotel. Recognizing him as "unreadable" (220) and irreducible to any standard interpretations such as fear or death, Jones suggests the figure "could pass as a caricature, a cartoon of all humanity" (221), laughing at both author and human race with clown-like demeanor.
The figure challenges the author to recognize the repressed motivations for his "return" to the combat zone. Excitement (84), fear (139-140), "morbid fascination" with unpleasant locations such as a leprosarium (23), "guilt-panic" (139), despair at humanity's regressive cruelty (140), and the seductiveness of a fear mixing sex and death are all intertwined.
These aspects also occur in Jones's novels when he investigates the masculine psyche's violent nature. Using the simian creature as a metaphor for humanity's backwardness, Jones simultaneously depicts his own entrapment in situations he condemns fictionally. Despite fear, he "wanted to go" on adventures. (217) He is trapped as if by a dangerous narcotic drug. Even though he recognizes feeling "personally raped" (218) when "bestial men" handgrenade a Saigon Buddhist temple, fear and a desire for excitement captivate him:
And yet that fear was oddly seductive. It was a strange thing, fear. It wasn't always so unpleasant. It could be as exciting as sex. And in the same way, fear could be terribly exciting. So exciting, you could get hooked on it like a drug. And want to do it again. Like sex. (218)In his otherwise dogmatically moralistic, but revealing work of autobiographical fiction, Go To the Widow Maker (1967), Jones condemns masculinity's immature, adolescent aggressiveness as destructive of human society. He also recognizes these features in "both sides" (102) during the conflict. Flying over Quang Tri, the Pork Chop Hill of Vietnam, Jones recognizes the "sinister implications of a colonel's comments about both sides seeing to "outdo each other." — "Somebody has said that Vietnam is the biggest fifth grade in the world." (101) Involved in three dangerous low-level flights, "only one of them necessary" (103), Jones understands his complicity in the overall picture. "What a weird race we were. There was some of the fifth-grader in all of us." (104)17
Although Viet Journal represents a soldier's return to the battlefield, it is intertextually related to the author's fiction. To Jones's credit he challenges his subjective involvement in the narrative. His merging of fact and fiction represents less an evasive escape if a complex historical problem. It is more the realization of difficulties involved in perceiving the nature of a conflict influences also by human aggression. While his fictional works submerge authorial personality within the literary narrative, Viet Journal sees the author engaged in his own personal conflict inescapably related to the historical situation he now observes.
Thus, while positioned as an epilogue in Viet Journal, Jones's return to the Hawaiian scenes that inspired From Here to Eternity confirms that, like the character in Thomas Wolfe's novel, he can never go home again.18 Returning to the airport at the end of his journey, Jones realizes his old youthful persona has gone forever. "I had come back hoping to meet a certain twenty-year-old boy, walking along Kalakaua Avenue in a 'gook' shirt, perhaps, but I had not seen him." (257) Instead, what will haunt Jones is the image of his apelike little friend, symbolizing a dangerous universal "conspiratorial physiological alliance between fear and the sense of sex" absent from his pre-combat Hawaii days. As he says concerning that time, "And I had never seen my apelike little friend." (219)
In the final months, two publishers requested Jones to review two seminal works of Vietnam literature: Philip Caputo's A Rumor of War19 and Ron Kovic's Born on the Fourth of July.20 Unfortunately, Jones never lived to write these reviews or to receive a requested visit from a new combat writer named Larry Heinemann. However, we still have Viet Journal, which deserves recognition for raising issues of subjectivity and objectivity still relevant to Vietnam studies today.
Although the author probably never read any Vietnam New Journalist narratives, his work has several parallels to that developing genre. Viet Journal represents an author's perspective on a situation existing at a particular time. It is not intended to be read as an authoritative study of the conflict's entire complexity. However, it is also a journey into the author's deeper self, merging fact and fiction into an intertextual fabric written from the perspective of a former soldier fully aware of both the attractions and dangers of combat. Recognizing this means that the soldier can never go home again, even to the location of his first novel. Wherever he goes, the apelike primeval self, the "old grey Widow-Maker," always lurks in the shadows.
1. See Brigadier-General Michael D. Healy to James Jones, 6/4/1973; Jones to General Frederick C. Weyland, 9/11/1973, and Pamela Bird to Jones, 6/14/1974. See especially this last letter, where American Embassy employee Bird credits Jones on his work: "I have just enjoyed your Viet Journal and put it down with a mixture of annoyance that it had ended so soon and pleasure that you had told the truth with almost complete objectivity. Certainly with absolute frankness. Your feeling for the Press -- at least so far as Vietnam is concerned -- coincides with mine. It takes courage to say exactly what one feels though, and I'd like to be a fly on the wall when you next meet Lazar and Stewart." Jones wished to report the siutation as accurately as he it no matter how many feelings he offended -- an attitude present in both novels and personal correspondence. All correspondence quoted and cited in these notes is from the James Jones Papers, Harry Ransom Humanities Center, University of Texas at Austin.
8. See Taylor, who describes the worst examples of Vietnam-influenced "personal narratives" as degenerating into "personal atmospherics, narrative means without ends, into which the ostensible subject is diffued and trivialized." (298)
10. Pamela Bird to Jones, 6/14/1974. In this letter, sent from Da Nang, Bird enclosed a 6/11/1974 clipping from the Saigon Times telling of North Vietnamese army victories near the Laotian border and their seizure of Dak Pek, a location Jones had visited.
11. Here Jones intuitively discerns those cultural-historical tendencies which many note as unconsciously motivating American involvement in Vietnam. See Loren Baritz, Backfire: A History of How American Culture Led Us into Vietnam and Made Us Fight the Way We Did (New York: Ballantine Books, 1985) and Richard Slotkin's monumental trilogy Regeneration Through Violence: The Mythology of the American Frontier, 1600-1860 (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1973); The Fatal Environment: The Myth of the Frontier in the Age of Industrialization, 1800-1890 (New York: Atheneum, 1985); and The Gunfighter Nation: The Myth of the Frontier in Twentieth Century America (New York: Atheneum, 1992).
17. See also Carter's comments on Jones's visit to Kontum. "Even though he is unwilling to delineate the meaning of the Simian figure too closely, he does make a connection between this ridiculous apelike creature and man's incessant pusuit of danger." (133)
Those who have been unable to get through all 850 pages of James Jones's bestselling novel, From Here To Eternity (1951), should be grateful to Daniel Taradash, who has died aged 90, for adapting the book as a screenplay for the more digestible 118-minute film. Directed by Fred Zinnemann in 1953, it won eight Oscars, including one for Taradash for best screenplay.
Initially, Jones, the author of the army novel set on the eve of Pearl Harbor, wrote a sprawling screenplay, but the storyline was too complex and the language, violence and sex too explicit for the time. Harry Cohn, the head of Columbia Pictures, who owned the rights, finally accepted Taradash's version, with certain changes.
For example, the brutality of Fatso (Ernest Borgnine) against Maggio (Frank Sinatra) was to be seen as atypical of army behavior, and the captain (Philip Ober), who mistreats Prewitt (Montgomery Clift), is reprimanded rather than promoted. However, Taradash's script still dealt with prostitution, adultery, military injustice, corruption, alcohol abuse and murder.
Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Taradash served in the U.S. Signal Corps during the second world war, after taking a law degree at Harvard University. He then passed the New York state bar examinations, but never practiced law, choosing instead to become a writer.
His first screenplay, co-written with three other people and based on the Clifford Odets play, was Golden Boy (1939), about a violinist who becomes a boxer out of financial necessity. Another socially conscious film which he co-wrote was Knock On Any Door (1949), revolving around a slum kid (John Derek) whose philosophy is "Live fast, die young, leave a good-looking corpse."
From then on, Taradash was the sole writer on all but two of his films, Hawaii (1966) and Castle Keep (1969).
His best period was the 1950s, during which he wrote Fritz Lang's Rancho Notorious (1952), a licentious revenge western starring Marlene Dietrich. Picnic (1955), directed by Joshua Logan, was arguably superior to the William Inge play on which it was based, as was Richard Quine's Bell Book and Candle (1959), adapted from the John Van Druten play, both starring the icy beauty of Kim Novak.
In 1956, Taradash, who was devoted to civil liberties and had writer friends who were blacklisted in the McCarthy era, directed (for the only time) and wrote Storm Center. Knowing that the film — about a librarian (Bette Davis) who refuses to take a book about communism off her shelves — would lose money, he agreed to offer his services free. The rather glib and schematic movie explored important issues of freedom and censorship, and touched a raw nerve in the rightwing US press.
Taradash's last screenplay was The Other Side Of Midnight (1977), for which he bravely attempted to make the Sidney Sheldon novel less trashy. Most of his later years were spent with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, as a vice president, president, and member of the board of governors.
He is survived by his wife of 58 years, two daughters and a son.
Vol. 12, No. 2,
Editorial Advisory Board
The James Jones Society Newsletter is published quarterly to keep members and interested parties apprised of activities, projects and up-coming events of the Society; to promote public interest and academic research in the works of James Jones; and to celebrate his memory and legacy.
Thomas J. Wood
Writers guidelines available upon request and online.