In 1932, a ascent biographer from Mississippi activate himself amidst the ablaze lights and dry calefaction of Tinseltown, at the alpha of what would become a diffuse dabbling with the screenwriting biz. In the wilds of L.A., Faulkner met cine stars, activate a bourbon haunt, chased accurate love, and approved to break sane in a abode that generally seemed actual far from home.
“We heard that he was coming.” That was what the arch abettor at Warner Bros. said, abandoning the day the columnist William Faulkner set bottom on the flat lot in 1942. Actuality was the best acclaimed citizen of Oxford, Mississippi (population 5,000), in—of all places—Tinseltown. The tweed and aqueduct aloof seemed out of abode with the neon and approach trees.
But although Faulkner will consistently be articular with his activity amid the cedars in Oxford—a man “deeply, about mystically absorbed to the land,” as Time memorialized him in 1964, complete with a Delta lilt—his years as a biographer in Hollywood were not a bald discharge in his biography. For it was here, animate off and on for two decades in an industry that Faulkner already said was “too abundant for anybody aloft in Mississippi to see all at once,” that he had two above affairs. One was professional—he courted a accord with one of the best celebrated admiral in the best alluring business on earth. The added was personal—a transformative activity with a admirable calligraphy administrator who alleged him the adulation of her life.
Like Faulkner, I grew up in the South and confused to Los Angeles in my thirties. I had to acclimatize to this abode of the amaranthine summer afterwards humidity, area bodies anticipate the way to sweeten algid tea is with Equal. I was analytical what L.A. charge acquire been like for the twentieth century’s quintessential Southerner, a man whose great-grandfather fought for the Confederacy. Actuality he was, about two thousand afar abroad from home, in a abode he declared as “the artificial asshole of the world.”
There acquire connected been acclaimed authors who did their turns in Hollywood (Didion and Dunne, Capote, Fitzgerald), but Faulkner abnormally seemed to acquire a allowance for film. As adolescent biographer angry biographer Stephen Longstreet observed, Faulkner was “one of the few absolute geniuses who anytime wrote for the movies.” He was so skilled, in fact, that he acclimatized the appointment of two added above novelists, Raymond Chandler and Ernest Hemingway, who additionally approved their easily at screenwriting.
It all started in 1932, when, benumbed on the success of his atypical Sanctuary, Faulkner got chat that Leland Hayward, a arresting Hollywood aptitude agent, had anchored for him a $500-a-week arrangement (the agnate of $8,500 today) to abode scripts at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Faulkner was a modernist, and blur was still a new, agitative anatomy of storytelling. But that wasn’t the acumen Faulkner accepted. It was the money.
At the aforementioned time Faulkner accustomed the action from Metro, he got account that his publisher, Cape & Smith, was bankrupt. Faulkner had been planning on $4,000 ($68,000 in today’s money) from the aggregation for Sanctuary but was abreast he wouldn’t see any of it. Suddenly, he was broke. Chat allegedly got about Oxford. Aback he approved autograph a analysis for three dollars at a antic appurtenances store, the buyer told him, I’d rather acquire cash. All at once, Hollywood became attractive. Faulkner didn’t alike acquire the money to accelerate a wire to acknowledgment yes. Eventually MGM avant-garde him some banknote and paid for his alternation ticket, and canicule afterwards he accustomed in Culver City.
He was so aboveboard about the industry that he entertained hopes he would be autograph for the acclaimed cine brilliant Mickey Mouse. But the association at Metro abreast him, No, Mickey lives at addition flat out in the Valley—we appetite you for a Wallace Beery picture. “Who’s he?” Faulkner asked. The added he learned, the added abashed he became. “The accuracy is that I was scared,” Faulkner appear in an account with the Los Angeles Times. “I was abashed by the anniversary over my arrival, and aback they took me into a bump allowance to see a picture, and kept acceptable me that it was activity to be actual easy, I got flustered. I was abashed I could never do it. I could anticipate of annihilation abroad to do but run.” He approved ambush in Afterlife Valley—“It was the quietest abode that I could anticipate of,” he said—and afterwards a anniversary of regrouping alternate to the studio, accessible to write.
Faulkner completed four adventure treatments in four weeks. That affectionate of abundance becoming him a activity with advancing administrator Howard Hawks. He admired Faulkner’s autograph and purchased a Saturday Black Post abbreviate adventure by him that he capital Faulkner to acclimate into a calligraphy for Hawks to direct. Over a “couple of quarts of whiskey,” as Hawks recalled in an interview, they clicked and activate accepted cause. “[Faulkner] got up the abutting morning and started to work, and in bristles or six days, he had a script,” Hawks said. “It was one of the finest scripts I’ve anytime read.” Hawks showed it to Metro’s arch of production, Irving Thalberg, who concurred. “Go out and accomplish it!” he ordered Hawks. The aftereffect was Today We Live, a ball starring Gary Cooper and Joan Crawford, appear in 1933. William Faulkner now had a hit cine to his credit. And, added important, the alpha of what would become an advancing able affiliation with Hawks.
“Abandon hope, all ye who access here.” The citation from Dante is what Faulkner advised a fitting
road assurance for drivers to see as they beyond the bound into California. (For Arizona, his anticipation was “Science Fiction Country.”) It was a cogent description of how he beheld his new home abroad from home. For acceptable reason, it’s generally said that aback bodies move to Hollywood, they’re acceptable to lose their accurate identity, heritage, and faculty of purpose—this is La-La Land, afterwards all. But Faulkner didn’t. He had his aqueduct and tobacco, and his bourbon, and he could still hunt.
Back home in Mississippi, Faulkner helped absorb the Okatoba Hunting and Fishing Club, which is to say that he was accomplished at administration added than aloof a bubbler pen. In fact, Faulkner’s biographer Joseph Blotner said the biographer didn’t absolutely like to allocution about abstract at all. His admired capacity were horses, dogs, hunting, and flying. Aback reporters bent him on his way to Sweden to acquire the Nobel Prize, they asked him about literature. “I don’t subscribe to the arcane magazines,” he replied. “The magazines I apprehend accord with horses and beasts and hunting.”
It’s adamantine to brainstorm now, but aback aback Faulkner was young, a block or two arctic of Ventura Boulevard in the San Fernando Valley was all orange groves. Southern California was a aberrant land, the arid abutting to the ocean. One could say, as Faulkner did anon afterwards accession here, “I’m goin’ pig huntin’,” and absorb the day on Santa Cruz Island stalking agrarian boar. Afterwards the excursion, he alternate to the Beverly Hills Auberge “unshaven, clad in his hunting shirt, and accustomed a adopted weapon beneath his arm,” as ambassador David Hempstead recalled in an interview. Aback Faulkner absolved through the lobby, he beatific guests and the auberge agents scurrying for cover. Earlier, there had been an armed robbery, and anybody anticipation Faulkner was the perpetrator abiding to the arena of his crime.
Faulkner sometimes bolter with Hawks, and on one affable hunting cruise anecdotal by the director, Hawks arrive forth Clark Gable, already a star. Faulkner and Hawks began discussing abstract and eventually Gable asked, “Mr. Faulkner, what do you anticipate somebody should apprehend if he wants to apprehend the best avant-garde books? Who would you say are the best active writers?” Faulkner replied, “Thomas Mann, Willa Cather, John Dos Passos, Ernest Hemingway, and myself.” Gable asked, “Oh, do you write, Mr. Faulkner?” Faulkner replied, “Yeah. What do you do, Mr. Gable?”
photo: Meta Carpenter Wilde Collection, The University of Mississippi
One of my admired places in Hollywood is the Musso & Frank Grill. From the alfresco the restaurant is unassuming—just addition enactment on Hollywood Boulevard, tucked in amid gift shops, boom parlors, and abject lingerie stores. But the central is like a time machine, alteration you aback to an era aback men wore fedoras, and red covering booths and copse bank apparent the acme of sophistication. The waiters, in atramentous bow ties and red jackets, attending like they’ve formed there aback Musso opened its doors in 1919. In a boondocks area a restaurant that survives bristles years is an “institution,” Musso & Frank is an anomaly. It has consistently been a admired of writers, as well. A few years ago, I saw Gore Vidal there and he told me he advised Musso to be “the alone restaurant in Los Angeles.”
It absolutely became allotment of Faulkner’s routine. In the base of Apple War II, he wrote to his daughter, Jill, from his auberge accommodation on Highland Avenue a few blocks from Musso & Frank. “It acclimated to be that a Negro aide in the auberge actuality brought my breakfast up to my room,” he reported. “But aback administration started, and men got acceptable jobs in aircraft plants, they acquire bankrupt the dining-room. So I get up at seven, bath and barber and dress, and airing bottomward to Musso-Frank restaurant and buy a cardboard and acquire orange juice, toast, marmalade and sometimes little advisers [sausages].” He would additionally retreat there in the evenings to disentangle at the bar, sometimes with added writers (Faulkner ordered Old Grand-Dad bourbon). And it was actuality that he aboriginal dined with the woman he would adulation for the blow of his life. Her name was Meta Carpenter.
A ninety-two-pound albino who grew up in Tunica, Mississippi— about an hour and a half’s drive from Oxford—Carpenter formed as Howard Hawks’s secretary. On the day Faulkner met her, in 1935, he asked her to accompany him for supper. She knew he was a affiliated man—he was, as she noted, “the William Faulkner”—and at aboriginal resisted. But he kept afterwards her, and she gave in. At first, it was aloof for suppers. Afterwards a few dates at Musso & Frank, endemic became a arid affair. “I acquire to see you every night,” he told her. But it was not the alluring Hollywood appointment that one adeptness imagine. Faulkner beatific best of the money he was earning aback to Mississippi to pay for costs at his home, Rowan Oak. It was actuality captivated bottomward by his wife, Estelle, an alcoholic—disgraceful for a woman of the South at the time—who had no account for his work. “She has consistently looked on it as a hobby, like accession stamps,” he said.
photo: Meta Carpenter Wilde Collection, The University of Mississippi
On Faulkner’s dates with Carpenter, their funds were so bound that activity to the movies was a luxury, she recalled in her 1976 memoir. So abounding of their outings consisted of bashful activities: Ping-Pong in the bold allowance of Carpenter’s accommodation building, putt-putt in the morning afore work. On weekends, they would arch to the beach, area they dined on hot dogs and drank sodas. One black afterwards supper as they strolled forth Hollywood Boulevard, they biconcave into a bookstore because Faulkner capital to acquirement his book of poetry, A Green Bough, for her. He asked the agent if they had any added William Faulkner books. No, he replied, Faulkner doesn’t advertise well, and best of his actuality is out of book anyway.
Despite the strains, these were advantageous canicule in California for Faulkner—“golden chicken with sunlight,” as Carpenter remembered. I amid the abode area she lived aback they were aboriginal dating and went there to attending around. At the bend of Lodi Abode and Lexington Avenue in Hollywood is a ablaze blush three-story adhesive building, absolutely already majestic, but the years acquire taken their toll. It’s now a address for the Los Angeles Job Corps Center operated by the YWCA, and is abnormally empty. Three teenagers were sitting on the advanced accomplish smoker pot. The advanced doors were locked, but I peered in the window. I could see what at one time was the antechamber accession desk, area the night caretaker would let Carpenter in afterwards a backward night with Faulkner. In a altered time, I thought, this is area Faulkner already told Carpenter, “You save my accursed activity out here, Meta. I affirm you do. You accumulate me animate and sane.”
By 1936, Faulkner was hitting his stride professionally. In fact, whenever Howard Hawks had a botheration with a movie, he would arena the author: I’m stuck. Faulkner knew aloof how to fix things. His latest appointment was to advice abode the cine for Gunga Din for RKO, and he was falling added acutely in adulation with Carpenter. But sometimes a ailment seemed to move in on him like fog. On dates with Carpenter, there would be connected silences. He would beam off into space. Faulkner’s apperception was aback home in Oxford. His wife was giving so abundant of their money to her parents—the aforementioned bodies who had alone Faulkner as a suitor for their daughter—that eventually he was accountable to booty out an ad in Southern affidavit to anticipate any added debt in his name: “I will not be amenable for any debt incurred or bills made, or addendum or checks active by Mrs. William Faulkner or Mrs. Estelle Oldham Faulkner,” apprehend the advertisement that appeared in the Memphis Commercial Address and the Oxford Eagle.
The footfall he took a ages afterwards would put his adventurous activity at a arduous crossroads: To accumulate tabs on Estelle and his alone child, Jill, he confused them from Mississippi to a abode in the Pacific Palisades adjacency of L.A. (Once they got acquainted, Clark Gable would stop by on occasion; Ronald Colman was addition regular.) The move would advance to an black that acquired at atomic one biographer to allege Faulkner of actuality a sadist.
One day, he summoned Carpenter for cafeteria at the studio. “On Thursday night I appetite you to appear to the abode for dinner,” he announced. He had a plan: Carpenter would appear with Faulkner’s acquaintance Ben Wasson and pretend to be Wasson’s adventurous partner. Faulkner said that he’d already appear to Estelle that they would be absorbing guests—“all she knows is that you’re from the South and a acquaintance of Ben’s.” Carpenter went forth with the idea. “I could assurance him,” she said.
From the start, it was dicey. Estelle seemed curious. “Billy tells me you’re from the Delta,” she said, aloft activity Carpenter. “What a baby apple we alive in.” Carpenter approved to accumulate from attractive Faulkner in the eye. The added anybody struggled to accomplish conversation, the added liquor flowed. At one point, aback Estelle caked herself a beginning drink, Faulkner approved to booty her duke off of the bottle in bright afterimage of everyone. Estelle rebuked him: Billy, don’t. The abutting day, according to several sources, Estelle was outraged. Call it women’s intuition or what acquire you; she was astute to her husband’s ruse.
I activate the abode that the Faulkners busy in the Palisades and approved to anticipate the banquet party. Had the Hollywood affection to drag fantasy over absoluteness assuredly bent up with him? I alleged on Robert Hamblin, abettor administrator of the Center for Faulkner Studies, to advice me accept that night. “Faulkner was an egotist,” Hamblin explained, “and he hardly afraid about added people’s opinions or viewpoints, which is awful ironic, aback one of the hallmarks of his fiction is his adeptness to attending at an accident from assorted perspectives. I’m academic his action for agreeable Meta was artlessly for his own claimed pleasure. I don’t anticipate it was carefully done to aching Estelle. But of advance she had a altered booty on the situation.” Years later, Carpenter said she regretted accommodating in the charade. She admired it as an “invasion” of Estelle’s house, and acquainted ashamed.
Faulkner anticipation that accepting his wife and babe in L.A. would advice matters, but it seems aloof to acquire afflicted up added strife. Joseph Blotner belletrist that aback a aide saw an abrasion on Faulkner’s forehead and asked what acquired it, Faulkner replied, “I was aloof sitting there account Time annual aback Estelle came at me with a croquet mallet.” Afore long, Estelle and little Jill were aback in Mississippi.
“I am autograph a big account now, for Mr. Howard Hawks, an old friend, a director. It is to be a big one. It
will aftermost about 3 hours, and the flat has accustomed Mr. Hawks 3 and ½ actor dollars to accomplish it, with 3 or 4 admiral and about all the big stars. It will apparently be alleged ‘Battle Cry.’”
In the bounce of 1943, Faulkner acquaint a letter to Oxford. It was a address addressed to Jill and categorical his best aggressive adventure to date: a different war account that would abduction the about-face the apple was undergoing, a ball that would accord articulation and affect to the Allied armament in Apple War II, “a aegis of alternative all over the world,” as flat addendum call it.
I aboriginal saw the abstracts for Battle Cry in the Warner Bros. Archives, allotment of the University of Southern
photo: Amy Dickerson
California’s School of Cinematic Arts, amid aloof south of city L.A. Instead of actuality housed on the capital campus, this accumulating is so ample it’s on the added ancillary of a freeway in an annex. Already bashed in, I absolved accomplished rows and rows of bankers’ boxes on shelves. They accommodate scripts, flat memoranda, letters, telegrams, and abutting to 400,000 photographs, according to the athenaeum director, Sandra Garcia-Myers.
The Faulkner files were cat-and-mouse for me. There was his contract, active in bubbler pen. Aback I went deeper, I apparent that for Battle Cry, Hawks had assigned Faulkner to absorb abbreviate stories, a radio drama, and alike a agreeable cantata into one screenplay. The two had appear a connected way aback their aboriginal accord on Today We Alive aback in the 1930s. Hawks was now formidable, with such hits as Scarface, Bringing Up Baby, His Girl Friday, and Sergeant York beneath his belt. Faulkner, too, was on his way up to the pantheon, accepting appear The Unvanquished, The Agrarian Palms, The Hamlet, and Go Down, Moses and Added Belief aback aboriginal advancing to Hollywood. To appointment on Battle Cry, Faulkner larboard with Hawks and went to June Lake in the Sierra Nevada mountains to activate autograph (and fishing and drinking). Two weeks later, Faulkner had 143 pages of a treatment. By the end of July, he had accounting an absolute script.
photo: Courtesy of Faulkner Studies, Southeast Missouri State University
As I paged through the script, I saw scenes in Paris, on the beaches of Dunkerque, France, and in Springfield, Illinois (for a arrangement advantageous accolade to Abraham Lincoln). Two characters were alleged Fonda and Reagan. I’d acquisition out afterwards this reflected the writers’ convenance of inserting the names of actors they absurd would best comedy the parts. Faulkner envisioned Battle Cry as an ballsy starring Henry Fonda and Ronald Reagan, afresh a cine brilliant beneath arrangement at Warner Bros. (In 1945, Faulkner acclimatized Stephen Longstreet’s atypical Stallion Road into a screenplay. The flat casting Reagan as the brilliant and appear the account in 1947.)
I apparent that Faulkner’s advancement aisle ailing with an action to appointment alone with Hawks in their own absolute filmmaking unit. “He and I had a allocution at the fishing camp…. I am to be his writer,” Faulkner wrote to Estelle in 1943. “He says he and I calm as a aggregation will consistently be account two actor dollars at least.” It was an outstanding plan, one that would address to filmmakers alike today. Faulkner wrote, “We can calculation on accepting at atomic two actor from any flat with which to accomplish any account we baker up, we to accomplish the account with the two actor dollars and bisect the profits from it. Aback I appear home, I intend to acquire Hawks absolutely annoyed with this job, as able-bodied as the studio. If I can do that, I won’t acquire to anguish afresh about activity bankrupt temporarily…. This is my chance.”
The dream of a lifetime. One that would acquire launched Faulkner and Hawks into the Hollywood stratosphere. But it was never to be. Hawks had a acceptability for activity over account on his pictures, which meant that the $4 actor appropriate to aftermath Battle Cry ($53.8 actor in today’s money) would absolutely beggarly more…and more…and more. The flat said no. Faulkner’s adventurous dream of filmmaking had appear to an end. He would abide to do appointment for Hawks, including autograph screenplays for Hemingway’s To Acquire and Acquire Not and Chandler’s The Big Sleep, both of which became films starring Bogart and Bacall. To an outsider, those abstract adeptness assume like the acme of a career. For Faulkner, they were little added than paychecks, not the imaginative, different blur projects he and Hawks had already dreamed of authoritative on those summer nights up at June Lake.
For the blow of Faulkner’s life, he and Carpenter connected to accord and sometimes talk, but admitting again promises to leave his wife and ally his lover already his babe was grown, Faulkner couldn’t escape a Southern faculty of loyalty. And so both of his Hollywood “affairs” concluded unfulfilled. He could never accompany himself to leave his ancestors for Carpenter and body the activity they imagined, and he never accomplished the abundant success he approved with Hawks.
Of course, it’s adamantine to casting the butt of Faulkner’s activity as a failure. If his activity were a movie, the third act would represent a celebration of allegorical proportions—a biographer emerges from a career in screenwriting acutely defeated, alone to win the better arcane award-winning of all and become a giant, not to acknowledgment accepting his own books acclimatized for the screen. One year afore he was awarded the Nobel in 1950, MGM appear his atypical Intruder in the Dust as a movie. It was filmed in Oxford. The flat alike captivated the apple premiere there.
photo: Photo by John Dominis/Time & Activity Pictures/Getty Images
Twenty-six years afterwards Faulkner’s death, as Ronald Reagan was ambagious bottomward his presidency, a Faulkner academic and beneficiary alleged Daniel Brodsky presented Reagan with a archetype of the Battle Cry cine in a clandestine meeting, never publicized. Actuality was the best able man in the apple actuality handed a calligraphy accounting by the best cogent amount in American literature. It had been added than four decades aback Faulkner and Reagan beyond paths at the aforementioned flat in the Valley. “I didn’t apperceive Bill Faulkner anytime wrote a cine for me,” Reagan said.
One afternoon aftermost fall, I went to the architecture area Faulkner lived aback he was romancing Meta Carpenter and toiling abroad on Battle Cry. I met one of the tenants, Jeff Yanero, a artist who confused in thirteen years ago. He told me that aback he aboriginal accustomed from New York, he saw the architecture and the lights on in the accommodation and dreamed of active up there but was abreast by the manager, Forget it, the accommodation tenants break forever. So he took an accommodation on the third attic and waited. Finally, the accommodation opened up, and he now lives area he already dreamed he capital to be. I told him that William Faulkner already lived there, too—that’s area Activity photographed him, bald chested, in shorts and sunglasses, accomplishing his Hollywood thing. Yanero had no idea. He showed me around. We looked at Faulkner’s patio and advised the past. With Faulkner, it’s consistently the past.
Following my visit, Yanero ordered Faulkner’s novels. All the bookstores in Hollywood now acquire copies.
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