John O'Hara: Strange Characters

O'HARA'S NOVELS RE-EXAMINED
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
By JAMES MacDONALD
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
By RICHARD CARREÑO
[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).

Sidney Tate

July 4, 1917 - The Caldwell Farm, Fort Penn, Pa:

At the crouching sound of the wheels on the gravel, the double screen-door was opened and a man and a woman waited for the Governor and his lady.

   The man was almost completely bald, darkly tanned and with large, strong teeth. He was slender, sparsely built, and he appeared to be shorter than he was. He was wearing a Norfolk jacket, white flannels, white buckskins (now grass-stained), a soft white shirt with a gold safety-pin in the collar and a striped necktie. A white linen handkerchief was tucked in the panel of his jacket, and as the car came to a stop he knocked his pipe empty and from habit rubbed the warm bowl on the side of his nose before dropping the pipe in his pocket. He was forty, a friendly, unsuspicious man, accustomed to being liked. He had a long history of regular meals, none ever missed except by choice, and of good digestion and fifteen thousand baths.

From A Rage to Live (1949).

Posted by Robert Saliba

Another July 4th

   It rained lightly on the morning of Wednesday, July 4, 1917, and the Festival Committee met to decide whether to postpone the Festival until the following Saturday. It was argued that Saturday was a better day than Wednesday, even if Wednesday did happen to be the Fourth. It was also argued by some of the Fort Penn businessmen that if the Festival was postponed until Saturday the merchants would be losing two and a half days that week: Wednesday, the Fourth; the regular Thursday half holiday which the Merchants Association had decreed upon themselves; and now Saturday.

   "The question is," said one committee member, "are we running this thing for the merchants or for the Red Cross? . . . "

  From A Rage to Live (1949)

Summer Meeting Update

The John O'Hara Society Summer meeting is scheduled for Sunday, June 22 in Philadelphia, PA.

Pals will meet for lunch, business and conversation between 12:30 PM and 1:00 at the Irish Pub, 2007 Walnut Street.  The meeting will officially begin at 1:00.

For those who are local or staying in town through the evening, we will also have an "after event," beginning at 7:00 PM.  Pals will meet at the Barnes & Noble cafe at 19th and Walnut, on the 2nd floor.  From there we will head to another venue for drinks, food and conversation, probably the Pen and Pencil Club. 

If you are planning to attend the lunch, please RSVP to Robert Knott at knottrg [at] hotmail [dot] com or Richard Carreno at writersclearinghouse [at] yahoo [dot] com.

Those planning to attend the after event can text Richard at 215 908 4375 the day of to confirm their plans or with any questions.


O'Hara and Capote


  • Strange Bedfellows
    By Charles McGrath
    The New York Times | May 16, 2014

    It would be hard to think of two writers less alike — stylistically and, for that matter, personally — than Truman Capote and John O’Hara, yet they shared many pre­occupations. Both were fascinated by society high and low, by how people climbed or toppled from one rank to the other, and by how sex and money underpinned the entire system. “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” Capote’s charming 1958 novella about a self-invented cafe society girl and the admiring writer who lives upstairs, is set during World War II. Most of the stories assembled in the recent Penguin anthology of O’Hara’s New York stories were written in either the ’30s or the ’60s, but some are set decades earlier. And yet in the newly released audio recordings of the two books, maybe even more than on the page, the versions of New York that are evoked seem virtually interchangeable: It’s a city of people on the make or else clinging to their former reputations, where everyone drinks too much, and where you can easily wake up in bed next to someone you barely remember meeting.
     
    Listening to Capote and O’Hara back to back, in fact, you have to concentrate to keep the characters in one recording from wandering into your recollections of the other, and from picturing Capote’s Holly Golightly, for example — who once had a future in the movies and now pays the rent by accepting financial favors from men — showing up at “21” on the arm of one of O’Hara’s fast-talking Hollywood producers. And that young couple who make a living from hosting creepy sex parties — it may take a moment to recall that they turn up not at one of Golightly’s parties but in the deeply strange O’Hara story “A Phase of Life.”
     
    O’Hara is now somewhat neglected and under­appreciated, and the print version of the New York anthology, edited by Steven Goldleaf, with a foreword by E. L. Doctorow, is part of a welcome Penguin effort to reissue his work in paperback. (I wrote the introduction to the new edition of O’Hara’s first novel, “Appointment in Samarra.”) But even readers familiar with O’Hara may be surprised by how many of these stories involve not his Park Avenue types but people in show business: agents, producers, writers, actors, many of them alcoholic has-beens. This is a world O’Hara knew well from his early days as a press agent, and like much of his best work, the stories have the tang of genuine observation and ­reporting.