Van Doren introduces Wouk, who talks about his book "Marjorie Morningstar" and refutes the claim that he is a "conformer."
For more on Wouk and this broadcast please see: http://www.wnyc.org/blogs/neh-preservation-project/2013/jan/25/herman-wouk/
Van Doren introduces Weeks, editor of the Atlantic Monthly, who talks about his book "The Open Heart."
Van Doren introduces Gunther, who talks about his book "Inside Africa."
Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection
WNYC archives id: 43378
Municipal archives id: LT6928
This is a machine-generated transcript. Text is unformatted and may contain errors.
As Herman Wouk the. Third novel has rolled up evidences of success it sold over three million copies in America and more than two million in Britain it won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in one thousand nine hundred fifty one and it has been translated into seventeen languages a play based on it became a court martial Broadway theater for two seasons. And now a movie of it is still going strong a company even manufactured Queen ball number Queen modeled on the new bearings that the skipper of the cane rode in his hand whenever his nerves got jumpy that the little likelihood that Mr world could do it again but apparently he had his new novel Marjorie Morningstar is like its predecessor book of the Month Club choice and so show the publishers of its success that they printed the first printing of a hundred thousand copies not thinking it much of a gamble that judgment seems already to have been justified they now have in print two hundred thousand copies two reviewers were reminded of Vanity Fair and reading Marjorie morning star factory come to Manhattan. In his latest novel Mr Wilkes has attained a new stature and commands a new respect I have great pleasure today introducing to you Cameron will the the. Thank you Van Dorn. First I must say that I was most touched by the passage from John Gotti John compass book which I Miss Van Doren read about his wife everything that John Johnson says about Mrs Gunther I should have said about Mrs woke. Mrs Wells So misfortune is that she has not married a gentleman like with the Gunther. I have always regarded what she does as part of her job. I think you have heard it said about me and I think Miss Van Doren hinted at in her introduction that Herman Wouk is a conformist or that he advocates conformism I'm not sure I know what about me but to me at least the picture that's conjured up is very clear and not too pleasant I picture a man with a sort of charcoal gray intellect. Possibly with a touch of paint here and there not heaven forbid a politician I know a dashing correct Brooks Brothers paint Well now if I'm going to be identified as the man with the gray flannel head. It must be under protest George M. Cohen said long ago that he was a wise man of the theater of the entertainment world I don't care what they say about me as long as they spell my name right I have become accustomed to the fact that my name will never be pronounced the right I will respond to the sound walk in the night although my name is well I will however. Take up your time here today to test the bit against the grey flannel picture the picture of Herman will the conformist and if I talk a little too much about myself and my work please consider that I do so in self-defense of course the whole thing couldn't be more puzzling to me far from being a come form is that is always seemed to me that I am a maverick indeed almost a freak Miss Van Doren alluded to my personal life there are hundreds and hundreds of Jewish people in the literary field so far as I know I am the only one who lives an Orthodox Jewish life it was a long time before people knew what to make of all that they thought I was crazy. They wondered what my angle was and has finally gotten around that I mean it and that it's a harmless eccentricities of a man who writes good books anyway the point I'm trying to make is that I am the exception to the non-conformists of the not wearing not gray flannel but some kind of oriental Kemo know as I walk through the day my first novel Aurora Dawn was a jazzy story of the radio world written in the style in an imitation of the style of Henry Fielding the eighteenth century novelist now if that is conforming I plead guilty but the fact is that I have never seen a more baffle set of reviews than Aurora Don received critics didn't know whether I was kidding on not what I was up to after nine years I feel it is safe to say that I was kidding but. Again conforming to what I submit to you most earnestly that I did not make my debut in the conforming way I did not write a pseudo Faulkner pseudo Hemingway pseudo sign back novel it was a slight novel but it was my own and the note it struck was exceedingly strange and it's far from a contemporary form as you could well get my first novel my first accepted generally accepted novels of the Caine Mutiny I submit again was a study in non-conforming it was a war novel I dealt with the profane vulgar obscene people who fought the war and won it and I have never been accused of a lack of realism in the came to me but there was no obscenity on the printed page in the can use me now in leaving that out I submit to you I broke a convention in war novels that had become almost as rigid as the sonnets form of. Course I wasn't making anything up Tolstoy and war and peace Defoe and Memoirs of a cavalier thief and crane in The Red Badge of Courage had quite successfully described the profane and dirty life of war without these expressions those which are not necessary to convey the reality and indeed often get in the way but again I was not conforming and in what the change said in suggesting that there was something to be said for our armed forces instead of stating that war was horrible and futile and all military people were horrible monsters period I submit I was breaking a pattern as well as solid as chalk old gray and Brooks Brothers of pink. Marjorie Morningstar is a picture of a girl in love a modern girl in love I started with the premise that despite the smart chatter of a small coterie of girls love life was very much in one thousand nine hundred thirty and forty and fifty what it always has been that her virginity was precious to her that her first experience was a catastrophe or a revelation but at any rate a key turn in her life you're well aware I am sure that in many a novel you pick up a girl has her first sex experience on page fifteen goes over very lightly they should have another one on page twenty maybe another one on twenty one possibly a page of description and then one on twenty three Time magazine said that Marjorie was possibly the longest to do over a girl's virginity. Since Richardson's Clarissa. And so it is and I stand by it but the point I'm trying to make is that it was strange to attempt and to execute a book on that theme had I been wrong had the chatter of the coterie been correct had chastity become old fashioned and virginity a trivial physical detail Marjorie Morningstar would have fallen dead and I would have been a ridiculous fag but I saw Truly and I wrote what I saw risking ridicule and failure writing a book I submit whatever its merits or holds which does not conform to the general run. Of the climate of the day technically I submit to watch every morning star is a non-conformist the book it is a very serious book I have tried hard to tell the truth about a small corner of life as I have seen it but though it is a serious book it is from start to finish by intention if not in execution and entertainment I have started on page one to seize your interest and my care has been to hold it and keep you up late with the book and not to let you go to finish it if it didn't work I'm sorry but that's what I tried to do and I am not ashamed of this that is the classic conception of the novel the novel always was and entertainment until something happened I don't know what about the turn of the century I think at that time critics started to write novels at any. In any case a distinction sprang up a totally false distinction in my opinion between the serious novel and the entertaining novel they were supposed to be mutually exclusive and entertaining novel could not be serious and a serious novel should not be entertaining it is true that in writing a serious novel which technically is an entertainment I have gone back to a classic form that is to say to the main line as I understand it of the English novel but that is not conforming not in one nine hundred fifty five not anymore than it would be to put on a coat of chain mail to ride in the New York subway by the way might not be a bad idea. Faulkner and Hemingway are marvelous entertainers but it is almost enough to life to say self Shakespeare. I was an entertainer. And what type for a Nies for being an entertainer you remember Milton's line sweetest Shakespear nature's child warbling his native would know while what Milton was saying was in his polite way oh yes Shakespeare wrote the bestsellers but he couldn't write something like paradise lot. And he was quite right to say Spirit had much too keen a note for the box office Dickens was an entertainer and was and is patronized to this day as an entertainer not long ago in a glossy publication I read a statement by a critic who writes novels that the dickens could not be included in a discussion of the novel because he was not really a novelist I think I know the English language but I'm not sure I know what that sentence means of course you can write and say such things you can say Dwight Eisenhower is not really a president or a Babe Ruth was not really a baseball player I think you're perfectly safe as long as you put those things in that negative way but if you continue in that vein and say but on the other hand I am the Polian Bonaparte. You are apt to get locked up I'm not sure there's more sense in the one than in the other in mentioning these great names I trust you understand I am not suggesting that I should be mentioned with them I would I had an intuition of a fragment of their powers I am trying to delineate the tradition in which I work and I am trying to indicate too that in attempting to work in that tradition as I can I am being as far from a conformity to our contemporary standards as I know how to be but I am not doing it perverts really not that conform I am doing it because it is the truth in my profession as I understand it. Now with this word ladies and gentlemen I conclude I have it is true struck was given to strike a positive note in my work it is not because I like the charcoal gray or because I mean to conform or because I want to be popular but this is the truth as I see it in the twenty's in the era of Mencken that great writer who dominated critical thinking for a generation in that era America was busting at the seams with the brash was self assertive and had a false optimism about life and about its future it was crude and vulgar in many of its at specked it was fundamentally unreal in these attitudes as that crash proved the artists of that our men can sink or Lois in that's hacking in breaking the eyeballs and making fun of this self-assurance of Americans were speaking the truth the pendulum has swung too far in one direction and the artist I saw that and spoke it and spoke negatively sleezy asked the says there is a time to throw stones and the time to gather them is a time to tear down a time to build it is not one hundred twenty anymore it is not one nine hundred twenty five and we are not in an era of brash self-assertion we are in an era of terrible doubt of terrible self searching of fear of the future the pendulum has swung the other way America is worried in its deepest roots it is challenge throughout the world by a dynamic and vigorous system diametrically opposed to it we still have faults I do not think I blink the faults of my country I described Captain Queeg. But I strike the note I do because I think the pendulum has swung too far the other way I believe in our country I love it and instinctively without trying to be a patriotic when I sit down to tell stories I find myself telling good things about the United States and I am not ashamed to back so that I have made my pitch as we used to say when I was a radio write and all I ask of you is that if the subject comes up you spread the word a bit and say as follows Herman Wouk a conformist Now wait a minute Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I don't want to leave any impression that I was in any way calling him a can. I was only saying that he had that didn't fit the fashion of literature today. Our second speaker today. Is the editor of The Atlantic Monthly. You all know the Atlantic Monthly but not all of you perhaps know it. Though you had ample opportunity to see him or hear him order we have to say. Has been in some way related to books magazines and writers ever since his first job some thirty years ago as a manuscript reader and book salesman live right. Where he stepped into the shoes of young Richard Simon who was leaving to start a new thread with his friends back. And editorial position on the Atlantic Monthly fall short place and three years later he was made editor in chief of The Atlantic Monthly Press publishing division. During the ten years he held that position he edited and published some two hundred new titles including such books Goodbye Mr Chips runs along the Mohawk Mutiny on the ballot. Truslow Adams' epic of America. And Dr. Life history the list is very long I could go on as my brother a product of his main work as editor and publisher and by products Incidentally I can take up a great deal of one's. Radio program books and thousands of miles of travel in a few of his association with The Atlantic has been a continuous one for thirty years in the first ten years under his editorship he was made at one hundred thirty eight the secularization of the magazine increased from one hundred to two hundred thousand. Its original editorial formula had been to inoculate the few who influence the many while keeping out a mean view on its ninetieth birthday he had its cover and general format redesign to be more in line with current taste and change the nature of its content in recognition of the changing demands of his time. Less literature just for literature sake and greater emphasis on the issues of the day. In the open heart Mr Weeks speaks to us in reminiscent mood recalling first appropriately his growing up in New Jersey in the early one thousand nine hundred Barry ride the Natural History Museum dancing class and school boat racing picnics Christmas and the problem which exists in almost every family the problem of stretching a twenty five cent weekly allowance to cover up presents for the whole family. All the experiences and other words of a happy boy told with an engaging simplicity then come to things he learned the books and men in his years of editing and searching for manuscripts and new writers reflections on Kipling and Mark Twain on factory in America walks and talks in London with that if you guys about the docks him tell me. A moving appreciation of a great Boston publisher Alfred map and. Until his death was head of little brown a firm with which for a number of years the line to press has been an ally. They were off to be found in Texas and. I was bicycling. As the book close to the bits I slipped in on fishing and camping on our boards that green hide and shuttling back. And. Find as it should be the rights of a beloved small dong the family Beacon Street and home these random pieces can be classified but together. They form an altogether didn't like book The charming recollections of a man who seems always to move life with an open heart with. Van Doren. On. His and Jeff ever since John Gunther put this little tribute to the wives in. We've all been wondering what to say next. I should say very simply that in my case when I had submitted part of my manuscript to my most severe critic she said are they going to be any footnotes and I said I haven't expected to. She said if there are I should like to write them. All of us who live by books and by friends I've long been grateful to I read of and Dorothy for the curiosity and the encouragement and the faith in books which she Kindles every year here and I've been invited in times past and always has been as an attendant one of the pet lions from the Atlantic. I guess you can keep a Fred Allen or I just a mill and of course I brought along with me on each trip my bull whip and the revolver just in case the line got too worked up but these incidents of my trade are always hidden beneath the table and I don't think you are of unduly along now to day I am in the cage I reader has the whip and I must attempt to roar but to make a cat you never hear is that I must say I take performance from the first out of our cage still I think a great deal of pleasure in that sincerity candor with which he has addressed you I admire him for a number of things some of which are reader has so well expressed I underscore what he says about the necessity of entertainment people still a long ways read to be entertained I remember speaking to my spec last May when we were looking over off short stories for the summer and romance trading that of the six short stories that we had so far selected Florida didn't death by drowning and I thought that. We had almost enough of salt water for the time being. I also salute Mr Welles for the skill and assurance with which he has turned from writing about the war to writing about peace he is the first of the major novelists electric chair of the time to have come out of the war I think with a capacious many people successful not about domestic American and that is a very hard thing to do which is difficult achievement. And now about my other far ranging lion fresh from Africa John Gunther What an incredible appetite John you have to live the details on those elusive things to come what an enormous assimilator you are a Tony monarch of all he surveys let me just give you this tip we should know that Soviet Russia is really in earnest about disarmament when they permit John Gunther to write his inside Russia. And lived to tell the tale. As this is been Dorn's told you I've been a thing for over thirty years it doesn't feel that long but it is now and it is his job is primarily making up his mind except this project that we have this revise now I'm for that's hopeless I want to get out that I made up my mind an average of thirty three times every day every working day and at that rate I must have made up my mind two hundred seven thousand nine hundred forty eight times since I first became a member of the Atlantic. This is a lot of attrition believe me. There is also a lot of a lot of that what stands out all the little things that there are things the perverse and provoking and amusing things which now seem so part of my life I remember the the argument the running argument I had with my father in law at the time that I was proposing to my present wife on two years I called him to his best to discourage me from going into printing this is back in one thousand nine hundred four don't think you're going in the publishing you used to say with all the loudness of a man who was there. No one is ever going to read books in the future they're too busy dancing and motoring and going to movies missing the radio button and some of them if you're going to publishing you land in a blind alley and get into something safe like banking or real estate this is in the twenty's and this went under five years over the prostrate bodies of the women at the dinner table I remember my father warning me about Boston I wish you wouldn't go up there you said oh sure I know all about the prestige but York will always pay you more and I hear this subject never keep any of these young men for more than three years and then you're out of the whole but I went on my first day when I arrived at eight Arlington Street I was given a back office with one window the window gave onto a fire escape and on the fire escape sat a boss and such and what just laid an egg. In the center of this room was a log mahogany table and on the table were three tins bread boxes labeled this is true today yesterday the abyss of time the third was called the at this time they were all stuffed with manuscripts when I arrived and it was my duty to unstuff them and there I've been reading of assents I remember in one hundred thirty eight when I became the editor in chief but this on my father in law no longer were shouting after me Time magazines that a photographer up to take some pictures of me took one of me at my desk and took another standing by the fireplace on the porch crates of office that are James Russell over the bed. And then he looked down that it's quite a long room there is the room to the other end where there stands a great wormy medieval cabinet locked with a large giant key. What do you keep in there asked the photographer I'm blessed if I know I said Come on let's look and see so we went up to it none did sixty and inside was a pair of very old rubbers. Left by those are the Mr said to call the editor before Mr said Dick this parent who is that old didn't go over there on the on the stand said the photographer and he pointed to a bust of Charles Elliot north that is totally in the north and I said the beautiful a teacher at home what did you ever do where have I said I don't know what I do know you had a sister Miss Grace Norton and when someone once asked her at the end of the Boston Symphony if she had joined the music that afternoon she replied I called on so that I really won't know until I've seen Charles. The windows in the office I'm describing look out upon the public god it's very in the winter I can watch the children in their mufflers and with the cap sliding and some snow there day before yesterday morning I saw a back day spinster feeding those tensions in this autumn she held a lot paper bag full of bread crumbs and in this hand she had a jaw open a peanut butter and she was dipping the crumbs into the pheno. These windows I have three of them is a scout on the garden taught the common. My point of reflection here in winter after winter I have watched one of the wealthiest men in Boston watering his dog. He's a banker and as he walks along with this small dog he stooped to pick up the small branches which are falling from the trees he's collecting faggots for his fireplace because why pay for firewood when you can get it for you in the pub because. I don't want you to think that I have become a proper Bostonian after my new joys the beginning. They don't think so and I am not but in my office other mementos and a certain inheritance from the eight done rable editors gentleman who came ahead of me a man like William Deane holes and Thomas Bailey Aldrich and Walter Hines page and let's pray and every day look over my shoulder I can still hear blistery saying to me as he did when I became the editor here comes the next victim and then he says you know there are only really two rules for editing pay on acceptance the check will never look any bigger than then and second they remember how vulnerable we all are to our digestions never attempt difficult decisions when your feeling jaundiced. Each of my predecessors has his own individual way attempted to live up to the policy of the Atlantic on which we were founded one hundred years ago to concentrate the efforts of the best writers on literature and politics under the light of the highest moral lovely Victorian. And so I have been doing it this desk with these windows at this window I sat with Mary standoffs on the first day and from the sand hills of Nebraska so taught she was full of my grain and telling me about that strange father of her old hula about which she'd written as. Through this window I have seen this two beloved little figure of Steven Vincent Bennett coming across the public to. Talk to me about his short story up to the cold of beer all that lovely one of your all around the town here said Agnes and you can keep looking out the window with me when she was just returned from the three and a half years in the job prison camp no thing and I was because of malnutrition unable to write except for an hour a day on stuffing the teddy bear George's teddy bear into which he put the notes for that book and that surrounds the city telling me about his father and running shorts and Monica from it was a good window as a boy Manhattan New York was always the most glamorous spot in my world and today even now that I am a hybrid it still is I come down once a fortnight expecting to be captivated and sometimes hoping to do a little captivating of my own I remember the house and going to village in the hours that I had with Agnes to mill in the studio as we worked over that spirited light for his autobiography of hers dance for the price I think of the last of the sometimes angry hours of Guthrie McClintic at his office or its needn't landing while he acted and add lived an improvised me in Kit's I think of the friends the visits let's get on my part of the growing affection that I've had Fred Allen as he's been writing his autobiography of them die life and death of American for the bill I think of the talk I'm going to have this afternoon with bills. From home a new manuscript and the cost of such experiences Naturally you cannot expect me to write. Yes there are times Mr Walker told us when it is well to be reminded of the simple Verity against this world of dreadful suspicion One cannot live without occasional such reminder and it's that that I've attempted to do in this book of mine the open heart it's a book which places its accent on living a book written in appreciation of persons and places I've lived and it. Is always literature a silent partner and few of us find time to write books until our time is nearly done I suppose this book should make me feel old but actually it makes me feel young almost as young as when I wrote and the. Thankless eleven. You can see what a perfect title the open heart is for Mr week's book. Our last speaker today is John Donne stuff John Gunther's inside Europe appeared in one thousand and thirty six it was not only the first of a series of books that in a unique fashion managed to bring large sections of the world to our Even if knowledge. But it also publishing precedents it was found so valuable as a guide to current affairs that it was kept up to date as the European situation changed Mr Gunther revised and added new material and the publisher reset and reprinted the book. Seven different editions of it here the last published just after World War two It contains seventy five thousand more words than the first other parts of the world were later covered in much the same comprehensive way. Asia Latin America and the United States now Mr Gunter has completed the fifth inside book Inside Africa it comes at a time when the great continent it deals with is in process of change as serious in its potential results as it was in Europe in one thousand and thirty six and it richly fulfills Mr Gunther's hope that it will contain all the intelligent reader wants to know about Africa Mr Gunter has long been fascinated by Africa and since one thousand nine hundred twenty six had visited it four times and flown across it twice then in one thousand and fifty two and three he and Mrs Gunn in months of travel covered the entire immense and explosive land from north to south and east to west the veriest to sticks of the project power appalling Africa is four times as big as the United States it has two hundred million inhabitants only five million of them white it contains forty four countries the gun the seller nearly all of these certainly all of the more important when they visited one hundred and five different towns and cities and took fifty four different trips by. During one period of twenty five days Mr gun to says they slept in sixteen different places and in one stretch of five weeks hiding exactly ONE me alone breakfasts excluding. All together they traveled more than forty thousand miles they talked with Pygmies Giants King slaves with whites and blacks with prime ministers which doctors and sometimes with peasants and passion off altogether they took notes on over fifteen hundred conversations they travelled from capital to capital by plane and went into the surrounding bush and hinterland by automobile. Payroll by any means of transportation available in the mouth country they saw a kid who used to take the oath of loyalty to the queen. The next week six of the natives who had stood guard at the ceremony were murdered and a little later the British official who had superintended the proceedings was ambushed and killed by a mile mile on the same road they had travelled with me. This is a book packed with information and rich an extraordinary detail an incident in entertaining anecdotes and in vividly described personalities it is written on the grand scale you can see it is impossible briefly to give you any adequate conception of it. But let me tell you of my experience with it it looks formidable bottom line certainly it is heavy to hold. But I've been reading it with the nation during the past week and with such a saw passion that once to my surprise I found the hands of the talk standing at two am and at another time near a three it is fresh vivid and racy the work of a superb reporter with a genius for assimilating and presenting great masses of facts. It is also as on paper testifies based on truth and foundation a monumental undertaking brilliantly accomplished I introduce to you it's often done. I read old dear valued friend. Fellow guests fellow conformists fellow non-conformists. Ladies I don't know if I see any and Jeff. I feel it a great disadvantage following two speakers so exciting eloquent and urbane as Mr Slocum Mr Weeks Moreover I feel that I have to take you quite a long way away from Morningstar pockets and back by A in order to talk about Africa but I have to talk about Africa however because I haven't got anything else to talk about. Mrs Van Doren said that it was a very big continent. She said it was almost four times the size of the United States that figure impressed me when I heard it what impressed me even more was the discovery that there were several African countries four or five times the size of Texas if anything can be four or five times the size of Texas Mrs Van Doren mentioned that there were one hundred and ninety eight million people these people are. All that different stages of development not only is a very large continent but an extremely complex continent it's an extremely difficult difficult continent to generalize about because it's so varied within itself. I thought I might begin by mentioning one or two of the things that my wife and I were most impressed by most struck by During our long trip which wasn't really quite as formidable as Mrs nor and made it seem it was really a great fun stimulating and exciting from first to last one factor about contemporary Africa that did certainly strike and impress us was the. Complex city the mixed optimists the continent is in a ferment and in a turmoil. Moving from yesterday to today with great philosophy a dark continent becoming light or partly light overnight and crammed with the most startling contrasts and juxtapositions I remember after we had been on route for five months suddenly reflecting upon the odd fact that we haven't once seen a truly naked savage and there didn't seem to be much point in being in Africa without at least having had a glimpse of a naked savage we were approaching the Congo and I wrote a very careful letter to the governor of the Congo and tactful I hope saying that I knew full well that the Congo was far too advanced and sophisticated and westernized a state to have any naked savages left but if by chance there were a few who still lying around we'd like to see them. And the governor at once practice off in a private airplane and we went into really remote bush and there we did indeed see naked savages. They put on a dance for us in fact I wish I could give you somehow a picture of the incredible primitiveness of the surroundings. Over her dirt floor a few blades of grass the naked savages performing. Pot surrounded which obviously missionaries had been boiled only the day before. And at one corner of this little pleasure a stack of old boxes where between dances the drummers were refreshing themselves by drinking coca cola. On another occasion still speaking in terms of the unexpected contrasts of modern Africa. We were in Nigeria and saw at close range our first witch doctor and. He was as I recall my memory may not perhaps be entirely accurate my wife will correct me later. He was a most menacing and formidable creature he had scarlet beads across his face no doubt there were a python skin streaming from his head dress we went to his stall and there were for sale ob