Monday, February 18, 2013
A Literary Conversation
To be completely fair, this insecurity didn’t keep Faulkner from owning an ante-bellum mansion, his own airplane, owning numbers of show-jumping horses, or ordering top-of-the-line suits on account from Phil A. Halle in Memphis. But I guess we all have our own baseline.
In the 1930s and 1940s, Faulkner was able to make enough money to keep body and soul together by taking screenwriting jobs in Hollywood. Faulkner hated the work, hated the long separations from his family, and hated being away from his native Mississippi that was the source of inspiration for his work. While in California however, he would often go hunting or on field trips to the countryside to break the tedium of being trapped in Los Angeles.
In 1932, on one of his screenwriting stints, he was working on scripts with the famed director Howard Hawks. One weekend he went on a brief trip with Hawks and one of Hawks’ friends who had a .410 over-and-under shotgun that Faulkner admired so much he wanted one like it. The friend was movie idol Clark Gable.
In Hawks’ car they drove one fall night into the Imperial Valley for some dove-hunting the next day. Hawks began to talk about books. Instead of freezing, as he usually did when people began to talk literature, Faulkner entered into the conversation. Though intelligent, Gable was not literary, and he remained silent. Finally, he ventured a question.
“Mr. Faulkner,” he said, “what do you think somebody should read if he wants to read the best modern books? Who would you say are the best living writers?”
After a moment Faulkner answered. “Ernest Hemingway, Willa Cather, Thomas Mann, John Dos Passos, and William Faulkner.”
Gable took a moment to absorb that information. “Oh,” he said, recovering, “do you write?”
“Yes, Mr. Gable," Faulkner replied. “What do you do?”
From Faulkner: A Biography, William Blotner