Monday, March 21, 2011

Thurber Tonight: Part 2 of "Gentleman from Indiana" -- plus some of Thurber's obit for John McNulty


Moonlight on the Wabash: At 21, on a periodic return visit from Columbus, Ohio, where he was living, to his beloved native Indiana, Charley Thurber wrote to his Columbus sweetheart: "I feel as sure that you and I will be married as I do that we will some time end our existence here." Well, he was right about one of his predictions.

by Ken

As I've been noting, publication of "Gentleman from Indiana" (of which we read the first part last night) in The New Yorker of June 9, 1951, as part of the "Photo Album" series of "recollections" of people who were part of Thurber's and his family's history (gathered in book form the following year as The Thurber Album), provoked an uproar back home in Columbus, principally from the author's younger brother, Robert. (Robert was two years younger than James. Their older brother, William, was a year and a bit older than James.)

Actually, there must have been earlier indications, because the Thurber Letters book includes a letter from Robert to James from 1950, during the period when the research for the "Photo Album" pieces was being done, in which he expresses concern over the way their father was going to be portrayed. (I can only speculate as to what this was based on. Conversation? Letters? An actual early draft?) Robert lived with and took care of their mother until her death in 1955 (Charles Thurber had died in 1939), and apparently brought her around to his view. 

Thurber explained the situation in a June 12 letter to his old friends the Whites, E. B. and Katharine, written when he was back home in West Cornwall, Connecticut, after time in New York City.
We got to New York last Friday to run into all kinds of problems and illnesses. . . .

I called my family in Columbus on Saturday and my brother Robert answered the phone and began to bawl hell out of me for the piece on my father. He was so nasty that I hung up on him. It turned out that a letter from him was at the Algonquin desk and we got it and read it. It is a savage and relentless attack on almost everything I said and he seems to have persuaded my mother to react to it in the same way, except not violently. He says the piece should have been called "Hoosier Halfwit," claims I must have had a deep resentment of my father, and categorically denounces almost every paragraph. He said the piece should not have "seen the light of day." "I thought you would refer to his wonderful penmanship," is one sentence. Gus [Lobrano, The New Yorker's fiction editor at the time] and I are worried about what they will think of the piece on my mother and Gus has sent a proof together with a letter of praise. I wrote Robert a sharp letter after waiting two days and another note quoting six or eight people who liked it. Joel Sayre has finished the cover story about me for TIME and inserted a sentence saying I had written a fine, affectionate piece about my father. I will put in a paragraph for the book, just to please the family, but it is a rather shocking situation.

As we'll see In the click-through, Thurber wrote to his family that he would "fix up the piece for the book."


TOMORROW in THURBER TONIGHT: Part 1 of "Lavender with a Difference" -- the Thurber Album remembrance of Mary Fisher ("Mame") Thurber

Check out the series to date


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