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Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

Regrets that her mother did not smoke

Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

Roll your eyes at Samuel Beckett

John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion

Metaphors with eyes

Life of Mary MacLane

Circle what it is you want

Not really talking about women, just Diane

Felicity's disguise

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Entries in alfred hitchcock (5)


In Which We Look Up From The Apartment Below

The Nitty Gritty


Rear Window
dir. Alfred Hitchcock
112 minutes

Whatever happens, I think the release of Rear Window will tend to create a united front in film criticism. Even the Anglo-Saxon critics themselves, who had shied away from some of Hitchcock's films for a while, regarded Rear Window with seriousness and sympathy. Indeed, right from its opening, Rear Window does present an immediate focus of interest that puts it on a higher plane than the majority of Hitchcock's earlier works, enough to warrant its entry into the category of serious films, beyond the mere entertainment thriller.

In fact, in this review, I do not want to concentrate on an element that is all too clear already: the culpability of the central character, a voyeur in the worst sense of the word. Rather I want to engage in drawing out certain elements that are less obvious, but even more interesting, which enrich the work with very specific resonances and make it possible to brush aside the objections and the criticisms that ensued after a superficial viewing of Rear Window at the last Venice Biennale.

In its first few minutes Rear Window presents us with an assembly of rabbit hutches, each of them completely separate and observed from another closed, incommunicable, rabbit hutch. From there it is obviously just a step, made with no difficulty, to the conclusion that the behaviour of the rabbits is, or should be, the object of attention, since in fact there is nothing to contradict this interpretation of the elements before us. We merely have to acknowledge that the study of this behavior is carried out by a rabbit essentially no different from the others. Which leads to the notion of a perpetual shift between the real behavior of the rabbits and the interpretation that the observer-rabbit gives of it, ultimately the only one communicated to us, since any break or choice in the continuity of this behavior, a continuity multiplied by the number of hutches observed, is imposed on us.

While the observer-rabbit is himself observed with a total objectivity, for example that of a camera which restricts itself to the observer's hutch, we are obliged to acknowledge that all the other hutches and all the rabbits in them are the sum of a multiple distortion produced from the hutch and by the rabbit which is objectively, or directly, presented.

So in Rear Window the other side of the courtyard must be regarded as a multiple projection of James Stewart's amorous fixation.

The constitutive elements of this multiple projection are in fact a range of possible emotional relationships between two people of the opposite sex, from the absence of an emotional relationship, via the respective solitude of two people who are close neighbours, to a hate which ultimately turns to murder, by way of the sexual hunger of the first few days of love.

Once this is posited, another, essential element should be added: what might be called the position of the author, which, combined with the artistic factors imposed by the very nature of the enterprise, is developed through the characters directly presented and openly avowed by the strength of the evidence and the testimony of three biblical quotations, as Christian.

With these premises duly established, I leave to the reader the conclusion of that syllogism which definitively fixes the moral climate of the work, to pass on to what would properly be called its meaning.

The window which overlooks the courtyard consists of three sections, as stressed in the credit sequence. This trinity demands scrutiny. The work is in fact composed of three elements, three themes one could say, which are synchronized and in the end unified.

The first is a romantic plot, which by turns opposes and reunites James Stewart and Grace Kelly. Both are in search of an area of mutual understanding, for though each is in love with the other, their respective egos, only minimally divergent, constitute an obstacle.

The second theme is on the plane of the thriller. It is located on the other side of the courtyard, and consequently is of a rather complex, semi-obsessional character. Moreover it is very skillfully combined with a theme of indiscretion which runs through the whole work and confers on it a part of its unity. What is more, this thriller element presents all the stock characters of Hitchcock's earlier works, taken to their most extreme limits, since in the end one no longer knows whether the crime may not have been made a reality simply by Stewart's willing it.

The last theme reaches a complexity that cannot be defined in a single word: it is presented as a kind of realist painting of the courtyard, although 'realist' is a term that in the circumstances is a particularly bad choice, since the painting depicts beings which are, a priori, mental entities and projections. The aim is to illuminate, validate and affirm the fundamental conception of the work, its postulate: the egocentric structure of the world as it exists, a structure which the interlinking of themes seeks to represent faithfully. Thus the individual is the split atom, the couple is the molecule, the building is the body composed of X number of molecules, and itself split from the rest of the world.

The two external characters have the double role of intelligent confidants, one totally lucid, the other totally mechanized, and of witnesses themselves incriminated. Thus generalizing the exposé. Risking a musical comparison to illuminate the relationship between the themes, one might say that all three are composed with the same notes, but elaborated in a different order, and in different tonalities, each vying with the other and functioning in counterpoint. What is more, there is nothing presumptuous in such a comparison, since, within the rhythm of the work, it would be easy to determine four different constituent forms definable in musical jargon.

As one would expect in a work as structured as this one, there is in Rear Window a moment which crystallizes the themes into a single lesson, an enormous, perfect harmony: the death of the little dog. This sequence, the only one treated peripherally to the position of the narrator as articulated above (the only one where the camera goes into the courtyard without the presence of the hero), though grounded in an incident that in itself is relatively undramatic, is of a tragic and overwhelming intensity.

I can well understand how such vehemence and such gravity could seem rather inappropriate in the circumstances; a dog is only a dog and the death of a dog would seem an event whose tragic import bears no relation to the words spoken by the animal's owner. And these words themselves — 'You don't know the meaning of the word "neighbour"' — which encapsulate the film's moral significance, seem all too clumsy and too naive to justify such a solemn style. But the displacement itself is destroyed, for the tone leaves no room for doubt and gives things and feelings their real intensity and their invective: in reality this is the massacre of an innocent, and a mother who bemoans her child.

From then on the implications of this scene become vertiginous: responsibilities press upon one another at every imaginable level, to condemn a monstrously egocentric world, whose every element on every scale is immured in an ungodly solitude.

On the dramatic level, the scene presents the dual interest of a thriller plot development, aggravating suspicion, and an illustration of a theme dear to its author - the materialization of a criminal act that is indirectly willed (in this particular case, this death confirms Stewart's hopes).

From this point of view the confrontation scene between the murderer and the 'voyeur' is extremely interesting. The communication sought by the former — 'What do you want from me?' — whether blackmail or confession, involves the latter, who refuses from a recognition of its baseness, and in some way authenticates his responsibility. Stewart's refusal in this way illuminates the profound reason for the loneliness of the world, which is established as the absence of communication between human beings, in a word, the absence of love.

Other works of Hitchcock, like Rebecca, Under Capricorn or Notorious, have demonstrated the corollary of the problem: to know what the power of love can be. What is more, this aspect is not absent from Rear Window, where the embodiment of the Grace Kelly character draws her precious ambiguity from the opposition between her 'possible' and her 'being'. The possible is in fact the perceptible irradiation of her beauty and her charm, powerful enough to transform the oppressive and lonely atmosphere of the invalid's room into a flower garden with, in an unforgettable shot, James Stewart's head in repose.

Simultaneously, with her appearance on the scene comes the inexpressible poetry which is the love of two human beings: more than justified by the knowing coquetry of the author in the work's construction, this poetry brings into the stifling atmosphere of Rear Window, which is the atmosphere of the sewers themselves, a fleeting vision of our lost earthly paradise.

Since I don't want to go through the evidence yet again, I shall just leave it up to the spectator to appreciate the technical perfection of this film and the extraordinary quality of its colour.

Rear Window affords me the satisfaction of greeting the piteous blindness of the skeptics with a gentle and compassionate hilarity.

April 1955


In Which We Have To Consider Why Shorty Always Wanna Be A Thug

East End Boys And West End Girls


"Men infantilize women and women tear each other down" - Tina Fey, 30 Rock

"I think you're overthinking this" - common response to my post on Boys' Clubs

Not all groups of men are Boys' Clubs. Boys' Clubs are groups of men that are misogynist and function in misogynist ways. Misogyny is hatred of women. Anything that depicts women as lesser (and strangely, sometimes as greater). Active misogyny involves denigrating women as a group through speech and practice, sexual harassment of all kinds, and contempt/overidealization of "Women" as an idea.

Passive misogyny (emosogyny) is underestimating and/or stereotyping women based on deeply ingrained cultural stereotypes and ignorance, and then getting defensive when you are called out because you do not consider yourself sexist and you do not like being wrong. The refusal to accept that you might ever be wrong is a big part of "Masculinity." It is called sticking to your guns, and it is what got us George W. Bush. 

Janeane Garofalo in the film in the Sopranos episode "D-Girl" where Chris goes to LA

Not all men are misogynists. Not all women are feminists. Men can be the biggest feminists (Alex Carnevale) and women can be the worst misogynists. The culture hates women (Hall Pass) because plenty of men do hate women. They hate women because they don't understand them. They don't understand women because they think they are different. "Good" women are untouchable and "Bad" women are disposable. They often hate women because they are fixated on the idea of women rejecting them sexually, and they project this perceived rejection onto every woman they meet. They think women and men are separate categories of human being. Separate is never equal. Misogynists run most of Hollywood. No lie. I'm not making this shit up. I wish I were! 

One of the best running jokes on The Sopranos was that every time Christopher Moltisanti went to Hollywood he would be horrified by how much worse it was than the Mafia. For some reason, he thought it would be different in a different Boys' Club (lol Chris, so did we). Hollywood, Wall Street, the music business. It's all pretty fucked.

Christopher was always the most sympathetic member of the crew, because he was aware of how sensitive he actually was (although he was constantly trying to repress this awareness). He attempted to channel this sensitivity into writing screenplays, which infuriated Tony because expressing your feelings is a betrayal of Omertà.

Because of the culture he grew up in Christopher never considered that he didn't actually have to join the Mafia at all. He believed he had no choice. He found it hard to kill somebody for the first time in the first season because everybody finds it hard to kill somebody the first time. It only becomes easier through repetition, and even then it never gets completely easy to murder other people, unless you are a sociopath.

Most people are not sociopaths, but "Masculinity" involves aspiring to be one. But most men are not gangsters. Not all men are capable of murder (and sometimes women are). Everyone has violent impulses, which is why women who have Postpartum often describe intense negative fantasies about hurting or killing their newborn babies.

"Excuse me, I'm a vice president! You fucking asshole!" - future Joan Holloway D-Girl 

It is not a tremendous reach to imagine that the kind of corrosive misogyny that dominates the Hollywood studio and agency Boys' Club atmospheres would reproduce itself in other extremely male-dominated corporate climates, particularly ones that run testosterone heavy. I respect aggression on the court, but not off the court (I respect Ron Artest much more than Kobe Bryant). Women are taught and told to suppress their anger and drive. Men are taught to rely too much on it. Intelligent women learn to channel that anger and drive (to do the black swan). Intelligent men learn to channel their anger into their work and leave it out of their relationship with/to women. 

Men who buy "Masculinity" believe there's a connection between channeling anger into your work and channeling it into the rest of your life. They don't understand compartmentalization. Jack Nicholson got trapped in being "Jack Nicholson" all the time and is having serious regrets at age 73. Robert DeNiro is by all accounts a very mild-mannered guy who channels his libido into his acting, into "Robert DeNiro."  

Kanye West is dealing with this on the public stage. All artists do, but now so does everyone who "exists" on the internet. You create/project the idealized image you want to see onscreen. Other people believe in this image, and you may start to believe that you are the same person offscreen. But make no mistake, it is different onscreen. Men who want to be Don Draper are buying the big lie that there is a Don Draper (that there is a James Bond). There is no Don Draper. There is only Dick Whitman. 

We all turn into Kirk Douglas at the Oscars eventually. That's the way love goes. :(

Let's use The Oscars as a microcosm of other rooms: The Kodak Theater auditorium was filled with a predominately white audience. White privilege is invisible, as is whiteness. White people tend to look at the room without immediately noticing that it is predominately white. They do not notice that it is white because a predominately white room seems "normal." Minorities appeared onscreen a few times, extremely briefly. An auditorium that accurately reflected the racial makeup of Los Angeles, the city where the Oscars take place, would be at least half Hispanic and also much more Asian and Black. That would seem "weird" in the context of the Oscars auditorium as we are used to it looking as of now, but it seems way fucking weirder that the room is still so incredibly white in 2011 particularly given the actual racial diversity of LA.

On November 16, 1972 Alfred Hitchcock was invited to a luncheon honoring Spanish filmmaker Luis Buñuel at director George Cukor’s house. From left, standing: Robert Mulligan, William Wyler, Cukor, Robert Wise, unknown, and Louis Malle. Seated: Billy Wilder, George Stevens, Buñuel, Hitchcock and Rouben Mamoulian.

The Best Director category was all men. Last year when Kathryn Bigelow was nominated and won, the other four nominees were still men. If there were two women nominated for Best Director, it would seem unusual. If there were three women and two men nominated, it would seem more unusual still. If there were five women nominated for Best Director, I don't know, the world would tip off its axis and spin into outer space.

Auteur Theory: all film directors must be Caucasian boy geniuses with father issues

That five white male directors is still automatically accepted as "normal" by both men and women is an example of how cultural stereotypes lead us to believe that unfair things must actually be fair, simply by virtue of tradition and continued existence. 

one of these guys has a serious drug problem but all five have a serious hair problem

"What if white men are just the best directors?" (- a troll) I am not saying those five guys are not all great directors, because I think they all are. I'm just saying the idea that five heterosexual white men in any room with a closed door, is suspicious in 2011. You can extend it to any field, to any room, to any socially exclusive club or profession. The Supreme Court. The Friars Club. The New York Times Book Review.

and you girls get the big important job of copying things on the new xerox machine!

"What if straight white men just happen to be the best directors/ surgeons/ judges/ chefs/ CEOs/ programmers/ musicians/ comedians/ DJs/ authors?" Sure there will always be some who are supernaturally talented, but always? All the time? Girl PLEASE. Most straight white men would not like to think too much about their privilege, because they would not like to think that they didn't deserve anything they have achieved, and they bring up their own weaknesses as proof. That is privilege denying. Unfortunately they are still in charge of a lot of shit that the rest of us want to do.

the world loves a tall handsome white guy but it also hates absolutely anything else

Straight white men have a special status in our culture that no other group has. And everyone else belongs to one of those other groups, and you're damn right we're aware of the privileges straight white men automatically receive in our society. The best straight white guys: Kurt Cobain, John Lennon, James Franco, use this privilege as a platform to ask why we are listening to them more than we listen to anyone else. 

Chris & Ade, a rare accurate depiction of the friendship between two people in love

Privilege is the absence of equality. The mainstream misogynist culture attacked Yoko Ono because John Lennon dared to suggest that she was an artist on the same level as himself, equally as important as he was in the world. That her ideas were just as if not more valuable than his. That his consciousness and practice were being expanded through collaborating with her, similar to (and building on) the way it had been expanded through his songwriting and friendship with Paul McCartney. Mainstream culture privileges bromance over romance because it privileges men over women. 

from the video for Bad Girl, part of David Fincher's indomitable Madonna trilogy

In the "Men Can Be Feminists" department, the films that were nominated this year were unusually feminist except perhaps Incpetion. Christopher Nolan cannot write women but also can't write human beings realistically. We can't discount Nolan entirely because of Ellen Page. In the "Hollywood Is Still Super Misogynist" department, despite making an incredibly high grossing film (Twilight) Catherine Hardwicke was not allowed a look at The Fighter script. She was told a man needed to direct it.

Black Swan was an aggressively feminist mainstream artwork (much like MIA's MAYA). "Women" and "Mainstream" are seen as incompatible by the misogynists that run Hollywood because the culture of "Women" is not mainstream, it is always secondary to the mainstream culture which is geared towards "Men." Television seems slightly more accepting of women than film because TV is the woman to film's man. The internet is accepting of women because the internet is a great space for queering media. 

Judd Apatow, after getting over his defensive anger at being accused of sexism, did the best thing possible by hiring Kristen Wiig to write Bridesmaids and producing a TV show with Lena Dunham. The next Woody Allen will not look anything like Woody Allen. She will probably look like Lena Dunham or Mindy Kaling or Liz Meriwether.

Black Swan got denigrated most often as Camp because Camp, like Women and Ballet movies, is not something to be taken as seriously as men and Westerns. That's why it's great that the Coen Brothers made True Grit a feminist Western, as if to demonstrate that the concepts of Feminist and Western are no more incompatible than the ideas of Feminism and Men. Raising Arizona is a feminist Western about fatherhood. 

The idea that any two ideas must be incompatible is the whole problem. That any dichotomy must be "vs." rather than "and." Binary oppositions are straw men. They are rarely actually in opposition. "I am large, I contain multitudes." Men AND Women. Good AND Bad. Virgin AND Whore. Loud AND Quiet. Peace AND Violence. Logic AND Feeling. Serious AND Funny. Eastern AND Western. High AND Low. New York AND Los Angeles. 

Molly Lambert is the Vice President of This Recording. Get your own goddamn coffee. She last wrote in these pages about Taylor Swift and Ernest Hemingway. You can find How To Be A Woman In Any Boys Club here and Speak Now here. She tumbls here and twitters here.

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"My Drive Thru" - N.E.R.D. ft. Santigold & Julian Casablancas (mp3)

"Under Cover of Darkness" - The Strokes (mp3)

"You're So Right" - The Strokes (mp3)


In Which John Steinbeck Spends His Life Trying To Be Less Lonesome

Alone In His Wrongness

Time interval is a strange and contradictory manner in the mind. It would be reasonable to suppose that a routine time or an eventless time would seem interminable. It should be so, but it is not. It is the dull eventless times that have no duration whatever. A time splashed with interest, wounded with tragedy, crevassed with joy that’s the time that seems long in the memory. And this is right when you think about it. Eventlessness has no posts to drape duration on. From nothing to nothing is no time at all.

In both his private correspondence and his fiction writing, the prose of John Steinbeck was clear in its minute details but murkier once you stood back to appraise the whole. As the following letters to his friends and agents Mavis McIntosh and Elizabeth Otis prove, John was an exacting and demanding artist who struggled with the impositions that fame placed on his life. These letters take us up to the publication of his novel Cannery Row; his masterpieces The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men had already made him a number of friends and enemies. Above all, they had turned him into what he most resented: a literary phenomenon. The tumult destroyed his first marriage to his wife Carol, and threatened to do the same with his second wife Gwyn in the excerpts that follow.

To Mavis McIntosh
Montrose, January 1933

Dear Miss McIntosh,

We live in the hills back of Los Angeles now and there are few people around. One of our neighbors loaned me three hundred detective magazines, and I have read a large part of them out of pure boredom. They are so utterly lousy that I wonder whether you have tried to peddle that thing I dashed off to any of them. It might mean a few dollars. Could be very much cut to fit, you know. Will you think about it? It would be better than letting it lie around, don't you think?

I think that, when this is sent off (this new novel) I shall do some more short stories. I always think I will and they invariably grow into novels, but I'll try anyway. There are some fine little things that happened in a big sugar mill where I was assistant chief chemist and majordomo of about sixty Mexicans and Yuakis taken from the jails of northern Mexico. There was the Gutierrez family that spent its accumulated money for a Ford and started from Mexico never thinking they might need gasoline. There was the ex-corporal of Mexican cavalry, whose wife had been stolen by a captain and who was training his baby to be a general so he could get even better women. There was the Lazarus who drank factory acid and sat down to die. The lime in his mouth neutralized the acid but he could never go back to his old life because he had been spiritually dead for a moment. His will to live never came back.

There was the Indian who, after a terrific struggle to learn to tell time by a clock, invented a clock of his own that he could understand. There is the saga of the Carriaga family. Son hanged himself for the love of a chippy and was cut down and married the girl. His father aged sixty-five fell in love with the fourteen-year-old girl and tried the same thing, but a door with a spring lock fell shut and he didn't get cut down. There is Ida Laguna who fell violently in love with the image of St. Joseph and stole it from the church and slept with it and they both went to hell. These are a few as they really happened. I could make some little stories of them I think.

I notice that a number of reviewers (what lice they are) complain that I deal particularly in the subnormal and the psychopathic. If said critics would inspect their neighbors within one block, they would find that I deal with the normal and the ordinary.

The manuscript called "Dissonant Symphony" I wish you would withdraw. I looked at it not long ago and I don't want it out. I may rewrite it sometime, but I certainly do not want that mess published under any circumstances, revised or not.


John Steinbeck

An old friend's backbiting was the genesis of this spirited rebuke.

To George Albee
Los Gatos, 1938

Dear George,

The reason for your suspicion is well founded. This has been a difficult and unpleasant time. There has been nothing good about it. In this time my friends have rallied around, all except you. Every time there has been a possibility of putting a bad construction on anything I have done, you have put such a construction.

Some kind friend has told me about it every time you have stabbed me in the back and that whether I wanted to know it or not. I didn't want to know it really. If such things had been reported as coming from more than one person it would be easy to discount the whole thing but there has been only one source. Now I know that such things grow out of an unhappiness in you and for a long time I was able to reason so and to keep on terms of some kind of amicability. But gradually I found I didn't trust you at all, and when I knew that then I couldn't be around you any more. It became obvious that anything I said or did in your presence or wrote to you would be warped viciously and repeated and then the repetition was repeated to me and the thing was just too damned painful. I tried to sidestep, just to fade out of your picture. But that doesn't work, either.

I'd like to be friends with you, George, but I can't if I have to wear a mail shirt the whole time. I wish to God your unhappiness could find some other outlet. But I can't consider you a friend when out of every contact there comes some intentionally wounding thing. This has been the most difficult time in my life.

I've needed help and trust and the benefit of the doubt, because I've tried to beat the system which destroys every writer, and from you have come only wounds and kicks in the face. And that is the reason and I think you always knew it was the reason.


And now if you want to quarrel, it will at least be an honest quarrel and not boudoir pin pricking.

After the stage version of Of Mice and Men received the Critics' Circle award, Steinbeck sent a telegram to the group.

Los Gatos, April 1938




After Steinbeck submitted The Grapes of Wrath, his editor Pascal Covici wrote to say they loved the book. "It seemed like a kind of sacrilege to suggest revisions in so grand a book," the Romanian Jew wrote, but "we felt we would not be good publishers if we failed to point out to you any weaknesses or faults that struck us. One of these is the ending.

"Your idea is to end the book on a great symbolic note, that life must go on and will go on with a greater love and sympathy and understanding for our fellowmen. Nobody could fail to be moved by the incident of Rose of Sharon giving her breast to the starving man, yet, taken as the finale of such a book with all its vastness and surge, it struck us on reflection as being all too abrupt. It seems to us that the last few pages need building up. The incident needs leading up to, so that the meeting with the starving man is not so much an accident or a chance encounter, but more an integral part of the saga."

In a postscript, Covici added, "Marshall has just called my attention to the fact that de maupassant in one of his short stories 'Mid-Summer Idyll' has a woman give her breast to a starving man in a railway train. Is it important?"

Steinbeck wrote back with the following volley:

To Pascal Covici
Los Gatos, January 16, 1939

Dear Pat:

I have your letter today. And I am sorry but I cannot change that ending. It is casual   there is no fruity climax, it is not more important than any other part of the book   if there is a symbol, it is a survival symbol not a love symbol, it must be an accident, it must be a stranger, and it must be quick. To build this stranger into the structure of the book would be to warp the whole meaning of the book. The fact that the Joads don't know him, don't care about him, have no ties to him that is the emphasis. The giving of the breast has no more sentiment than the giving of a piece of bread.

I'm sorry if that doesn't get over. It will maybe. I've been on this design and balance for a long time and I think I know how I want it. And if I'm wrong, I'm alone in my wrongness. As for the Maupassant story, I've never read it but I can't see that it makes much difference. There are no new stories and I wouldn't like them if there were. The incident of the earth mother feeding by the breast is older than literature. You know that I have never been touchy about changes, but I have too many thousands of hours on this book, every incident has been too carefully chosen and its weight judged and fitted. The balance is there. One other thing I am not writing a satisfying story. I've done my damnedest to rip a reader's nerves to rags, I don't want him satisfied.

And still one more thing I tried to write this book the way lives are being lived not the way books are written.

This letter sounds angry. I don't mean it to be. I know that books lead to a strong deep climax. This one doesn't except by implication and the reader must bring the implication to it. If he doesn't, it wasn't a book for him to read. Throughout I've tried to make the reader participate in the actuality, what he takes from it will be scaled entirely on his own depth or hollowness. There are five layers in this book, a reader will find as many as he can and he won't find more than he has in himself.

I seem to be getting well slowly. The pain is going away. Nerves still pretty tattered but rest will stop that before too long. I fret pretty much at having to stay in bed. Guess I was pretty close to a collapse when I finally went to bed. I feel the result of it now.

Love to you all,


Steinbeck's attitude towards his notoriety was particularly troubled because he was an incredibly sensitive person. Any misrepresentation of his work drew out his ire, and he struggled to tune out the noise.

To Elizabeth Otis
Los Gatos, June 22, 1939

Dear Elizabeth:

This whole thing is getting me down and I don't know what to do about it. The telephone never stops ringing, telegrams all the time, fifty to seventy-five letters a day all wanting something. People who won't take no for an answer sending books to be signed. I don't know what to do. Would you mind phoning Viking and telling them not to forward any more letters but to send them to your office? I'll willingly pay for the work to be done but even to handle part of the letters now would take a full time secretary and I will not get one if it is the last thing I do. Something has to be worked out or I am finished writing. I went south to work and I came back to find Carol just about hysterical. She had just been pushed beyond endurance. There is one possibility and that is that I go out of the country. I thought this thing would die down but it is only getting worse day by day.

I hope to be home for about five weeks now but I doubt it. I brought Solow and Milestone home with me and we are working on a final script of Mice and it sounds very good to me.

About the Digest thing, I really would be happier if it weren't done. I don't like digests. If I could have written it shorter I would have, and even a chunk wouldn't be good particularly since Pat refused to give material to anybody else but Saturday Review of Literature and thereby made a hell of a lot of people mad at me.

I saw Johnson in Hollywood and he is going well and apparently they intend to make the picture straight, at least so far, and they sent a producer into the field with Tom Collins and he got sick at what he saw and they offered Tom a job as technical assistant which is swell because he'll howl his head off if they get out of hand.

See you all soon, I hope.



His paranoia intensified in later years. He wrote to a friend: "Let me tell you a story. When The Grapes of Wrath got loose, a lot of people were pretty mad at me. The undersheriff of Santa Clara County was a friend of mine and he told me as follows 'Don't you go into any hotel room alone. Keep records of every minute and when you are off the ranch travel with one or two friends but particularly, don't stay in a hotel and a dame will come in, tear off her clothes, scratch her face and scream and you try to talk yourself out of that one. They won't touch your book but there's easier ways."

To Carlton A. Sheffield
Los Gatos, November 13, 1939

Dear Dook:

It's pretty early in the morning. I got up to milk the cow.

I'm finishing off a complete revolution. It's amazing how every one piled in to regiment me, to make a symbol of me, to regulate my life and work. I've just tossed the whole thing overboard. I never let anyone interfere before and I can't see why I should now. This ultimate freedom receded. I'm keeping more of it than I need or even want, like a reservoir. The two most important, I suppose at least they seem so to me are freedom from respectability and most important freedom from the necessity of being consistent. Lack of those two can really tie you down. Of course all this publicity has been bad if I tried to move about but here on the ranch it has no emphasis. People up here the few we see don't read much and don't remember what they read, and my projected work is not likely to create any hysteria.

It's funny, Dook. I know what in a vague way this work is about. I mean I know its tone and texture and to an extent its field and I find that I have no education. I have to go back to school in a way. I'm completely without mathematics and I have to learn something about abstract mathematics. I have some biology but must have much more and the twins biophysics and bio-chemistry are closed to me. So I have to go back and start over. I bought half the stock in Ed's lab which gives me equipment, a teacher, a library to work in.

I'm going on about myself but in a sense it's more than me it's you and everyone else. The world is sick now. There are things in the tide pools easier to understand than Stalinist, Hitlerite, Democrat, capitalist confusion and voodoo. So I'm going to those things which are relatively more lasting to find a new basic picture. I have too a conviction that the new world is growing under the old, the way a new finger nail grows under a bruised one. I think all the economists and sociologists will be surprised one day to find that they did not foresee or understand it. Just as the politicos of Rome could not have foreseen that the socio-political-ethical world for two thousand years would grow out of the metaphysical gropings of a few quiet poets. I think the same thing is happening now. Communist, Fascist, Democrat may find that the real origin of the future lies on the microscope plates of obscure young men, who, puzzled with order and disorder in quantum and neutron, build gradually a picture which will seep down until it is the fibre of the future.

The point of all this is that I must make a new start. I've worked the novel I know it as far as I can take it. I never did think much of it a clumsy vehicle at best. And I don't know the form of the new but I know there is a new which will be adequate and shaped by the new thinking. Anyway, there is a picture of my confusion. How is yours?

There is so much confusion now emotional hysteria which passes for thought and blind faith which passes for analysis.

I suspect you are ready for a change. How would you escape the general picture? We're catching the waves of nerves from Europe and making a few of our own.

Write when you can.


After finalizing his divorce from his wife Carol, Steinbeck married Gwyndolyn Conger. Eventually they had two children together, Thom in 1944 and John in 1946. He wrote to her often during the forties, especially during his time as a war correspondent for the New York Herald Tribune.

July 6 1943

Darling, you want to know what I want of you. Many things of course but chiefly these. I want you to keep this thing we have inviolate and waiting the person who is neither I nor you but us. It's a hard thing this separation but it is one of the millions of separations at home and many more millions here. It is one hunger in a great starvation but because it is ours it overshadows all the rest, if we let it. But keep waiting and don't let it be hurt by anything because it is the one really precious thing we have. Later we may have others but so far it is a single unit and you have the keeping of it for a little while. You say I am busy, as though that wiped out my end, but it doesn't. You can be just as homesick and lost when you are busy. I love you beyond words, beyond containing. Remember that always when the distance seems so great and the time so long. It will not be so long, my dear.

July 12 1943

My darling.

I wish I could go with this letter. To see you and to hold you would be so good. I know it will seem a very short time when it is over but now it seems interminable like an illness. I have small magic that I practice. When I go to bed, I build up what you look like and how you speak and some times I can almost feel you curling around my back and your breath on my neck. And sometimes it is so real that I am shocked it isn't so. It is raining today and coming onto the time when it will rain nearly all the time. And this morning which is Monday it fills me with gloom. I'm writing the gloom out on you and am loving it. This letter seems much closer than the others.

I love you very deeply and completely that goes through everything and in everything. Every day I hope I will hear from you at night I haven't. Maybe today. Some of the mail must come through. Perhaps they have held it up, needing the space. I don't know.

Good bye my darling wife. Keep writing.

I love you.

August 19 1943

I wonder what this being apart has done for us. To you, for instance, has it made you think our thing was good or do you suspect it? It has made me think it is exceptionally good and desirable. You said in one letter that you would probably have changed your whole way of life. I hope not so radically that we cannot get back to the good thing it seemed to me. The good nights with the fire going. This winter I must have the little fairy stove connected so that when we go to bed the coals can be glowing. I wonder whether you found a maid at all. I think you will agree with me from now on that we need one. I hate to wash dishes and always will. And I don't like to sleep and all stuff like that. But we will try to get someone who comes in for the day rather than an in-sleeper, that is of course as long as we have an apartment.

Goodbye my darling. I would give something very large to be able to hear from you, but I don't know any way to accomplish it.

Keep good and patient for just a little while now.

To Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation
January 10, 1944

Dear Sirs:

I have just seen the film Lifeboat, directed by Alfred Hitchcock and billed as written by me. While in many ways the film is excellent there are one or two complaints I would like to make. While it is certainly true that I wrote a script for Lifeboat, it is not true that in that script as in the film there were any slurs against organized labor nor was there a stock comedy Negro. On the contrary there was an intelligent and thoughtful seaman who knew realistically what he was about. And instead of the usual colored travesty of the half comic and half pathetic Negro there was a Negro of dignity, purpose and personality. Since this film occurs over my name, it is painful to me that these strange sly obliquities should be ascribed to me.

John Steinbeck

A telegram from Steinbeck in Mexico City from the next month:



In another letter, he wrote "It does not seem right that knowing the effect of the picture on many people, the studio still lets it go. as for Hitchcock, I think his reasons are very simple. I. He has been doing stories of international spies and master minds for so long that it has become a habit. And second, he is one of those incredible English middle class snobs who really and truly despise working people. As you know, there were other things that bothered me technical things. I know that one man can't row a boat of that size and in my story, no one touched an oar except to steer."

with thom and gwyn

To Bo Beskow
New York
August 16, 1948

Dear Bo:

After over four years of bitter unhappiness, Gwyn has decided that she wants a divorce, so that is that. It is an old story of female frustration. She wants something I can't give her so she must go on looking. And maybe she will never find out that no one can give it to her. But that is her business now. She has cut me off completely. She feels much relieved that she has done it and may even be a good friend to me. She will take the children, at least for the time being. And I will go back to Monterey to try to get rested and to get the smell of my own country again. She did one kind thing. She killed my love of her with little cruelties so there is not much shock in all of this. And I will come back. I'm pretty sure I have some material left. But I have to rest like an old dog fox panting beside a stream. I have great sadness but no anger. In Pacific Grove I have the little cottage my father built and I will live and work in it for a while. Maybe I'll come to see you next winter and we'll "sing sad stories of the death of kings" with herring.

This is the first of a two part series featuring the letters of John Steinbeck. You can purchase the letters of John Steinbeck here.

"Must Fight Current" - Deerhoof (mp3)

"Secret Mobilization" - Deerhoof (mp3)

"Hey I Can" - Deerhoof (mp3)

Daughter of migrant Tennessee coal miner, 1936 by Dorothea Lange