A Cult? A Times Writer Thinks So

 The following was submitted by Society member Charles McElwee.


Stephen J. Pytak

Of the Republican Herald [1 January 2015]
POTTSVILLE, Pa. -- notable work of fiction about the lives and gossip of mid-20th century aristocrats in “Gibbsville” turns 60 this year.

“Ten North Frederick,” a book by John O’Hara, is set in his fictionalized version of Pottsville, specifically North George Street, which is part of the “John O’Hara Walking Tour” in the city.

While times have changed, O’Hara’s books will always find an audience, Leslie Kraft, the literacy coach for Pottsville Area School District, said Tuesday.

“Well-written, character-driven works of fiction don’t often lose their relevancy. When the tension is derived from universal human truths — jealousy, ambition, passion and betrayal — the reader will relate the characters’ inner struggles to his or her own, regardless of the change in time period. Additionally, the book serves as a local color museum for those from the Pottsville area, allowing residents to access the area’s past in a way that makes it tangible and fresh,” Kraft said.

Recently, Kevin Keating, a retired Pottsville Area English teacher, examined a copy of the book from the collection at Pottsville Free Public Library.

“First printing, 1955. That’s kind of neat. When I was in college, I used to have a paperback version. I find it fascinating that I had a hard time finding anything on O’Hara in the Pottsville library before 1970. At that time, he was like a disowned son,” Keating said.

But over time, the community acknowledged and celebrated O’Hara’s books. The library and the Schuylkill County Historical Society have collections of his works and artifacts representing his life. And in October 2002, a life-like bronze statue of O’Hara by sculptor James J. Ponter, Pitman, New Jersey, was placed at 115 S. Centre St.

Initially published by Random House, New York, the book won the National Book Award in 1956. A film adaptation starring Gary Cooper as “Joseph B. ‘Joe’ Chapin” came out in 1958. And while there isn’t a monument to “Ten North Frederick” in the city, the book stands out from O’Hara’s “Gibbsville” books for a few reasons, according to local O’Hara readers and critics who talked about the book recently.

It’s a story about “the ‘best’ people who live in the ‘best’ old section of Gibbsville, Pennsylvania,” according to the cover jacket on the first edition.

In the book, they were the Chapin family, and the book includes stories about three generations of the fictitious aristocratic clan, focusing primarily on the one in the middle, led by Joseph B., a lawyer and bank director, and Edith S., who move to 10 N. Frederick in 1909. The book begins just after his death in 1945. Filled with characters who enjoy gossip, the book includes tales of the couple’s children and the husband’s mistress.
O’Hara named the family after “Chapin Boone,” according to Jack Mansell, 85, of Pottsville, who is fascinated with O’Hara history.

“He’d drop things in his books to acknowledge different people. O’Hara had a boyhood friend who had an uncle named Chapin Boone. The Boone family was originally from Saint Clair,” Mansell said Tuesday.

Last year, Keating and Nathan Halenar, an English teacher at Pottsville Area, taught an O’Hara class at Pottsville Area, “Studies of John O’Hara.” This year, Halenar continued the class.

“Like many of his other works, ‘Ten North Frederick’ represents O’Hara’s feelings that came about as part of his upbringing, his experiences growing up here which led him to become overwhelmingly obsessed with social status and the way that impacts life and direction,” Helenar said Tuesday.

“This story is about not only social structure but family and I think that’s one of the things which makes O’Hara relevant today, and I try to stress this to my students. He remains relevant because when we read his works, we see ourselves,” Helenar said.

O’Hara’s North Frederick is North George Street in Pottsville, Pamela C. MacArthur said in her book “John O’Hara’s Anthracite Region,” published in 2000 as part of the “Images of America” series.

“I always found it funny he set the story here,” Keating said Dec. 26, standing near the section of North George, where the stately home in the book would have been.
“In reality, there is no 10 N. George St.,” according to Regina Gargano, executive director of the Schuylkill County Visitors Bureau, Pottsville.

The properties in that area are 400-402 E. Norwegian St., owned by Barry L. Fox, Fredericksburg, and 12 N. George St., owned by Nicholas P. Carusella, according to the online Schuylkill Parcel Locator.

Just across the street from where the house in the book would have been, there is a sign recognizing North Frederick Street as part of the city’s “John O’Hara Walking Tour.” It’s affixed to the pole with the tags for North George and East Norwegian streets.
Gargano didn’t know O’Hara’s motivations for creating the house in “Ten North Frederick.”

“We can only guess the things he was thinking, but I think he created a fictitious address because you can’t exactly tie a family to it. So if the house didn’t exist, the people at the time that he wrote it couldn’t feel he was writing about them. People were very self-conscious here about his writing,” Gargano said.

“This is not your traditional Gibbsville street. So that’s what makes ‘Ten North Frederick’ a little odd, if you go by the actual address,” Keating said.

O’Hara usually enjoyed writing stories which took place on the city’s west side, in places like “Lantenango Street,” which in reality is Mahantongo Street. But O’Hara’s North Frederick is on the east side, Keating said.

“The east side of town has always been considered the other side of the tracks. I hope I don’t offend people by saying that. All the haves were on the west side of town,” Keating said.

He wasn’t sure if wealthy families ever lived on North George Street in the late 19th century and the early 20th.

But Gargano believes there were.

“North George is where the wealthy lived before they started moving to Mahantongo, Oak Road and Howard. That’s where the oldest of the wealthy families lived, on North George, aka North Frederick,” Gargano said Monday.

North George includes a hill.

As Keating walked along the street, he said he always imagined the house in the book being higher up that hill.

“I think O’Hara was always fascinated with the idea of the wealthy overlooking, literally and figuratively, the middle class. So they built their homes on hills so they could overlook Gibbsville,” Keating said.

“And I think the homes on this street, as you go up the hill, they become more majestic. And that’s where I always pictured 10 N. Frederick being. But if it was near the corner of North George and East Norwegian, as the book suggests, it would stand out,” Keating said.
The book describes the fictitious 10 N. Frederick in detail:

• “The Chapin house was the only one on Frederick Street that had a stoop of three chaste brownstone steps. The other houses of equal age and proportion had marble stoops, originally chaste but soiled by time and traffic. The front door was a massive fixture, four inches in thickness, with a brass plate the size of a playing card, in which had been cut the name Benjamin Chapin. The patina from years of polish and rubbing left the name barely distinguishable.”
Benjamin Chapin was the father of Joseph B.

• “Above the door was a fan light into which was etched the number 10. The outer side of the light had not been washed – ‘hopeless,’ was Edith’s word for the task of keeping it clean – but the inside was comparatively free of dust.”

• “On each side of the entrance, on the western elevation, was a pair of windows, plate glass, separate but twins. The window sills were high enough above the street level to make it impossible for the nosy to peer in.”

The house included a bay window, a butler’s pantry near the dining room, a dumbwaiter and a small library which was called the “back sitting room.” The house was big enough to accommodate a dinner party of more than 60. In back was a two-story garage which had been a stable, according to the book.

O’Hara was born in Pottsville in January 1905. His novels include “Appointment in Samarra” and “Butterfield 8.” He also penned screenplays, plays and short story collections. He died in April 1970 in Princeton, New Jersey, and was interred in Princeton Cemetery.

Copies of a pamphlet outlining the “John O’Hara Walking Tour of Pottsville, Pennsylvania” are available at the Schuylkill County Visitors Bureau, based at Union Station, Pottsville.
Gargano offered a guided tour April 26, during the eighth annual Block of Art. This was a new event, and she said she’s planning to do it again this year during the ninth annual Block of Art, but the date and time have not been set.

“I like all of O’Hara’s work. I always have. He’s a social novelist and he was a keen observer of society, hierarchy and class structure, which had more importance in his day than it does today, I think. Back then, people placed a higher importance on it. He was great at dialect and capturing the voices of all the different classes here in society here in the coal region, and John O’Hara’s coal region is from Schuylkill County to Scranton. And I think his work is very, very human,” Gargano said.


'Erotic Visions'

From The Paris Review
Every year around the holidays, I try to fill in one of the gaps in my knowledge of the canon. When you’re revisiting classics, I’ve found, it’s always good to seek out the ones that people hated when they were first published—so I took up O’Hara’s Appointment in Samarra, which Sinclair Lewis called “nothing but infantilism—the erotic visions of a hobbledehoy behind the barn.” And what visions they are! Sex and class are O’Hara’s great subjects, and in Appointment—wherein a rich, high-society guy ruins himself for no good reason, really, except that the straitjacket of Depression-era life demands it—he treats them with a candor that most novelists still can’t muster eighty years later. He’s known, rightly, for his dialogue, but there’s a kind of O’Hara sentence, precise but faintly ostentatious, that sounds utterly American to me. “The festive board now groaned under the Baked Alaska,” for instance. Or: “Frank Gorman, Georgetown, and Dwight Ross, Yale, had fought, cried, and kissed after an argument about what the team Gorman had not made would have done to the team Ross was substitute halfback on.” —Dan Piepenbring

AGM Delayed

Due to scheduling conflicts we are delaying the January Society meeting.  Current thinking is to hold an event closer to O'Hara's death date in April.

If you are considering attending, please share weekend dates in the spring that work best for you, along with suggestions for a location (Philadelphia, New York, and Princeton have been our most frequent meeting spots) and any agenda items, topics or conversation starters that you think we should cover.

January AGM Update

The January meeting of the John O’Hara Society is tentatively scheduled for Saturday, 1/17, in Philadelphia, PA. More details to follow.  If you plan to attend, please let us know if your preference is to hold the meeting at lunch or dinner time.

John O'Hara: Strange Characters

By William Vollman
The Baffler

Books Discussed
John O’Hara, Appointment in Samarra (New York: Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition, 2013; first published 1934).
John O’Hara, BUtterfield 8 (New York: Penguin Classics, 2013; first published 1935).
John O’Hara, Ten North Frederick (New York: Penguin Classics, 2014; first published 1955).
John O’Hara, The New York Stories (New York: Penguin Classics, 2013; first published 1932–1966).

John O’Hara’s themes are alcoholism, infidelity, rape, perversion, child molestation, the yearning for power and financial security (many who knew the author believed this to be his own basic preoccupation), the instability of love and passion, the effects of economic substructures on the superstructures of private life (in method, if certainly not in ideology, he resembles a Marxist), boardroom and statehouse politics, and the secret corruptions of families.

Armistice Day - Port Johnson, Pennsylvania - November 11, 1918

   The hour of eleven had been designated by the chief burgess as a suitable, appropriate time for a gathering of borough officials, prominent business men, the clergy, representatives of patriotic organizations, and war casualties already home. The chosen place was around the new flagpole in front of the borough hall, where there was a large signboard on which was painted a list, as nearly as complete as could be, of the names of the Port Johnson men and women in the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps, and the two men who had gone to serve with the American Red Cross and the Y.M.C.A. There was no way to announce the ceremony in such a short time as there would have been twenty years later when Port Johnson had its own radio station, but the Port Johnson Silver Cornet Band had been notified and its music would attract citizens.
   At ten-thirty the members of the band, most of them in uniform but a few wearing only jacket and cap above their work pants, took their places at one side of the flagpole and began playing a medley of recent and old tunes: "Where Do We Go From Here, Boys?"; "The Old Grey Mare"; "Over There"; "Keep the Home Fires Burning"; "K-K-K-Katy"; "The Battle Hymn of the Republic"; "Tenting Tonight"; "Oui, Oui, Marie": "Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning"; "The Rose of No Man's Land"; and a reprise of "Over There," after which the short concert was temporary halted to make way for oratory.
   It was, as Chief Brophy had said, a good-natured crowd. It was, in fact, unique for Port Johnson as all the other crowds in all the other towns of the nation were unique: it was happy and gay, universally friendly, but unlike any of the usual celebrating crowds - New Year's Eve, firemen's conventions, alumni reunions, family picnics - it was always ready to change from gayety to an unforced solemnity . . . on that morning in 1918 the citizens joined together in victory and release, united by joy and grateful enough to be willing to listen to words of prayer and earnest consideration of sterner ideals. They dropped their heads when told to do so, they were respectful to the other fellow's preacher, they applauded the names of Wilson and Pershing and Foch . . . and laughed with scorn but without the recent loathing at the mentions of Kaiser Bill.
   With the playing of "America" the formal ceremonies were concluded and the band then broke into a brisk "Old Grey Mare" and marched away . . .

From the Terrace (1958)

Submitted by Robert G. Saliba

O'Hara UnFriends Gill

LOA Befriends Pal Joey
Exeter, England
The Library of America has just published John O'Hara's libretto for Pal Joey in a two-volume collection called American Musicals, edited by Laurence Maslon.
I'm delighted, having waited for it for more than fifty years. I was afraid Wilie O'Hara Dalaney, O'Hara's daughter, was going to give the rights to the Richard Greenberg rewrite; but it's the real thing, all right. It also marks O'Hara's first appearance in LOA.

Incidentally, I read John Updike's New Yorker review of The Art of Burning Bridges. A terrific corrective of O'Hara's taciturn image, as well as of his feud with Brendan Gill. Apparently the break with the magazine had little to do with Gill's A Rage to Live review; O'Hara asked to be paid for stories the magazine rejected.
Mr. New Yorker
[WritersClearinghouse News Service]
Brendan Gill was ten years younger than O'Hara, but his level of production -- sheer wattage in words contributed to The New Yorker -- probably exceeded John O'Hara's output. Gill wrote fiction, drama, film, and architecture reviews, comment, and profiles. Short of Harold Ross and William Shawn, Gill was 'Mr. New Yorker.' That distinction wasn't lost on O'Hara; it was probably enough to put him on O'Hara's very long enemies list.

Putting O'Hara's enmity over the top was Gill's negative of review in The New Yorker of O'Hara's blockbusterA Rage to Live. Their relationship was already testy. Gill wore his Irish gently. O'Hara did not. Gill's Yale education and Scull & Bones membership came to him naturally. O'Hara was always striving for Ivy-covered totems and Establishment acceptance.

From the short story "The Locomobile." (1963)

Shortly after getting out of the army in 1919, George Denison gave - gave - his mother's Locomobile limousine to Arthur Gow, who had been the lady's chauffeur. The car was a beauty, purer in line than the Pierce-Arrows and Packards that were generally chosen by women like Mrs. Denison. It was painted Brewster green, and it was the only one of its kind in the county. It had less than 15,000 miles on the odometer, six new Pennsylvania Vacuum cups to replace the original tires, and it would have fetched five thousand dollars in a trade-in if George Denison had wanted to bargain. But his mother had neglected to mention Arthur Gow in her will - she had never got around to it in the years since the will had been drawn up - and George Denison wanted to do something for Arthur.

Posted by Robert Saliba

Grace Tate's First Appearance

July 4, 1917.  The Old Caldwell Place. Fort Penn, Pennsylvania.

   The woman beside him on the steps was in a blue-and-white muslin Red Cross canteen uniform. She was slightly taller than the fashion of the day and would have been still taller if she had not been wearing "sensible" heels. At first she seemed to be achieving chic without departing from strict uniform, and with no jewelry but a plain gold wedding band and a Tiffany-setting engagement ring, but on her wrist was a man's watch chain, wrapped twice around and with a small collegiate charm dangling from it, and under the band of her nurse cap her widow's peak was showing, and it directed attention down to her black-brown eyes. She was thirty-four years old . . .

From A Rage to Live (1949).