27 August 2008

I Received a Letter in the Mail Today Written 57 Years Ago


Those of you who pay any attention to the "currently reading" list at the right of the blog might know that I am a huge fan of the works of the late Myles Connolly. Connolly, a Catholic, was an author and screenwriter who wrote mostly in the first half of the last century. He is largely overlooked today, but is responsible for some magnificent novels and movies.

I was introduced to his books by a friend who sent me a couple to read. Best work of charity he ever did.

Connolly's best known work, one of the few still currently in print, is Mr. Blue.

My favorite book, though, is the sublime Dan England and the Noonday Devil, first published in 1951. I posted an excerpt from it to the blog last year. I recently ordered it used via Amazon's "new & used" link, and was pleased enough to receive it today. It was a 1951 edition, hardcover, in good condition. I paid $4.00 for it.

But I was greatly surprised to open the book and see an inscription handwritten and signed by Connolly himself, dated October 1951! It was addressed to "Miriam", and after the message was signed, "--with my affection as always, Myles Connolly, Oct. 1951".

Pretty cool. I am thinking it might be worth more than $4.00-- at least for those fans of Myles Connolly, a group that my friend says could fit in a phone booth. Fine by me.

Below is from a brief bio on Connolly at the Loyola Classics site:

Myles Connolly was born in 1897 in Roxbury, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston. He attended the Boston Latin School and then Boston College, where he edited the college literary magazine, the Stylus.

Connolly graduated from Boston College in 1918 and spent the next few years, after a brief stint in the navy, working as a newspaper reporter for the Boston Post. In 1924, he became the editor of Columbia,the magazine of the Knights of Columbus, the Catholic men’s organization. Four years later, Connolly published his first novel, Mr. Blue.

A year later, Joseph Kennedy, patriarch of the Boston political clan, persuaded Connolly to get involved in the movie business. Kennedy had purchased a studio called Film Booking Offices of America in 1926, and in 1928, with the advent of sound, he merged the company with others. And so was born RKO, one of the dominant studios of the 1930s and 1940s. Connolly spent the rest of his career in Hollywood working as a producer and a screenwriter, often uncredited in the latter capacity.

Connolly’s credits for RKO and other studios during his decades of screenwriting include Till the Clouds Roll By (1946), a biopic of the composer Jerome Kern; State of the Union (1948), a Spencer Tracy/Katharine Hepburn comedy about a political couple; and Music for Millions (1944), featuring child star Margaret O’Brien, for which Connolly received an Academy Award nomination.

Perhaps one of Connolly’s most important collaborations was with the director Frank Capra, remembered primarily for his comedies touched with compassion for the “common man.” Connolly is often credited, even by Capra himself, with encouraging the director to take his work beyond the frothy conventions of the day and inject a level of moral awareness into his work. Their collaboration, with Connolly working either as a story editor or simply as an uncredited adviser, began with the Oscar-winning It Happened One Night (1934), starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert, and continued through many other films.

Aside from films, Connolly wrote several works of fiction: The Bump on Brannigan’s Head (1950), Dan England and the Noonday Devil (1951), The Reason for Ann (1953), and Three Who Ventured (1958).

Connolly and his wife, Agnes Bevington, to whom Mr. Blue is dedicated, raised five children.

Connolly died in 1964 after undergoing open-heart surgery. One of his daughters, Ann, told the writer Roy Peter Clark,

"In today’s vernacular, my father believed very strongly that you could be a very strong Catholic without being a wimp. People used to love to gravitate to him. He was a wonderful raconteur. He loved to eat and drink and be merry. He was extremely generous with his money to people who were down-and-out. I could remember on Christmas Day how people would be around our Christmas dinner table. There’d be the cop on the beat because my dad would run into him, or some alcoholic. He had very strong principles for himself and for our family. He never pretended to be perfect, but he would say he’d keep trying."

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a cool find. I'm only familiar with Connolly's work as a screenwriter, though I'd hardly hold up the dreadful "Till the Clouds Roll By" as a prime example of his work. (He was also the writer of the equally dreadful Red Scare-inspired "My Son John," made in 1952.) "State of the Union" still stands up as probably his best work, and would actually make for timely viewing during this political season.

Latinmassgirl said...

Timman, This great Catholic writer whom you admire, was editor of the Knights of Columbus magazine, and most likely a Knight as well. Then he was inspired to write his first novel, Mr. Blue.

The Knights must be an organization worth joining!
Should I tell The Godfather to give you a form? :)

thetimman said...

I think his novels hold up better, and are less a captive of their time.

Connolly also was a collaborator of Capra's on It's a Wonderful Life and It Happened One Night, both classics.

Dan England is a fantastic book.