A national newsmagazine not very long ago in its weekly cover story limned Thornton Wilder as an amiable, eccentric itinerant schoolmaster who wrote occasional novels and plays, which won prizes and enjoyed enormous but somewhat unaccountable success.
Wilder himself has said, “I’m almost sixty and look it. I’m the kind of man whom timid old ladies stop on the street to ask about the nearest subway station: newsvendors in university towns call me ‘professor,’ and hotel clerks, ‘doctor’.”
Many of those who have viewed him in the classroom, on the speaker’s rostrum, on shipboard, or at gatherings, have been reminded of Theodore Roosevelt who was at the top of his form when Wilder was an adolescent, and whom Wilder resembles in his driving energy, his enthusiasms, and his unbounded gregariousness.
Recreating the world of the Lost Generation in interwar Paris
Gertrude Stein. James Joyce. Ernest Hemingway. Aimé Césaire. Simone de Beauvoir. Jacques Lacan. Walter Benjamin.
All these writers were members of the Shakespeare and Company lending library.
In 1919, an American named Sylvia Beach opened Shakespeare and Company, an English-language bookshop and lending library in Paris.
Almost immediately, it became the home away from home for a community of expatriate writers and artists now known as the Lost Generation. In 1922, she published James Joyce’s Ulysses under the Shakespeare and Company imprint, a feat that made her—and her bookshop and lending library—famous around the world. In the 1930s, she catered increasingly to French intellectuals, supplying English-language books and magazines from the recently rediscovered Moby-Dick to the latest issues of The New Yorker.
In 1941, she preemptively closed Shakespeare and Company after refusing to sell her last copy of Joyce’s Finnegans Wake to a Nazi officer.
In April 2019, thousands of Hollywood writers fired their agents en masse. The move convulsed the entertainment industry. It looked like an impossible David and Goliath scenario: The Writers Guild of America had declared war on the immensely powerful talent agencies, several of which had mutated into full-blown media conglomerates over the years, backed by private-equity money.
The WGA argued that these agencies—in producing their own projects and creating package deals that combined writers, actors, and directors—no longer had the best interests of their clients as their first priority. The packages, they believed, were riddled with conflicts of interest and weren’t necessarily the best deal for writers.
“This has the potential to be a really, really big bang,” one veteran TV writer told me in March that year.
Nearly two years later, the bitter struggle concluded with a plot twist: The writers have triumphed. One by one, the agencies signed on to WGA’s terms, agreeing to phase out the widespread practice of packaging. William Morris Endeavor (WME), the last agency holdout, finally came to an agreement earlier this month.
Editor’s Note: Sometimes, it’s true.. the pen is mightier than the sword!
“Last fall, as part of the annual Bouchercon celebration of mysteries and their authors, one panel was devoted to discussing a writer who’s been dead for three decades and a character who last appeared in a book when Reagan was in the White House. One of the panelists, Ace Atkins (The Sinners) showed up in a T-shirt that proclaimed: “BASTARD CHILD OF TRAVIS MCGEE.” Immediately the other panelists all clamored for identical shirts. I was one of them.”
Editor’s Note: I have read, years ago, all of his Travis McGee books; I have one around now, in the garage collection.