This Day In Writing History
On November 6th, 1921, the famous writer James Jones was born. He was born in Robinson, Illinois. In 1939, at the age of eighteen, Jones enlisted in the U.S. Army and was stationed in Oahu, Hawaii, at Schofield Barracks. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (which he witnessed) that led his country into World War 2, Jones was stationed on Guadalcanal island, where he was wounded in action.
After the war, Jones wrote an autobiographical novel called They Shall Inherit The Laughter, but getting it published proved unsuccessful. It was rejected several times as being too shrill and lacking perspective. So, Jones abandoned it and began writing would what would become his first published novel, an 850+ page epic novel based on his experiences in the Army before and during the war.
From Here To Eternity (1951) was considered a landmark novel for its expose of the dark side of life as a soldier in the U.S. military. The book chronicles the Army's violent subculture of company boxing, its hazing rituals, and the profane language and sexual exploits of its soldiers. It was quite a shocker, offending both the Army and conservative readers. Nevertheless, it became a best seller. Critics savaged the novel over its frequently misspelled words and numerous punctuation errors, not realizing that the mistakes were deliberate and part of a writing style conceived by the author for this particular book, which won the 1952 National Book Award and has been named one of the 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century by the Modern Library.
The novel opens in the summer of 1941, at Schofield Barracks, Oahu, months before the Pearl Harbor attack. It follows several soldiers in G Company. First Sergeant Milt Warden begins a passionate affair with Karen Holmes, the neglected wife of Captain Dana "Dynamite" Holmes. Meanwhile, in the conflict at the heart of the novel, Private Robert E. Lee "Prew" Prewitt, an infantryman from Kentucky, refuses to fight on the G Company team, although he's the best boxer. That's because in his last fight, he ended up blinding his opponent.
Prew's refusal to fight angers his superiors, (Warden and Holmes) who put him through the "Treatment" in order to break his will. The Treatment is a daily hazing ritual of brutal physical and psychological torture. Ironically, Prew grew up dirt poor and joined the military not out of patriotism, but because it was the only way out of poverty. He had planned to become a career soldier. He understands well the motive behind the "Treatment" and won't allow it to break his will. Prew has a love interest - Lorene, a prostitute who helps him when he gets into trouble.
Trouble comes in the form of Old Ike, a sergeant with whom Prew gets into a scuffle. He's sentenced to the stockade, where he must break rocks with a sledgehammer. He must also endure solitary confinement in the "hole" and physical abuse at the hands of the sadistic guards. When one of the guards beats another inmate to death, Prew vows revenge, which leads to his downfall. The man who once lived for the Army is destroyed by it.
In 1953, From Here To Eternity was adapted as a highly acclaimed feature film, directed by Fred Zinnemann. Due to the novel's length and wealth of objectionable elements (Hollywood's stifling Production Code was still in effect) many wondered if it could be adapted for the screen. It took over a year to write a suitable screenplay that remained (mostly) faithful to the novel, while at the same time, taming the objectionable elements. Finally, screenwriter Daniel Taradash completed the task.
Taradash decided that most of the novel's brutality would be better communicated through suggestion. Instead of sending Prewitt (Montgomery Clift) to the military stockade, run by the sadistic Sgt. "Fatso" Judson, (Ernest Borgnine) the screenplay sends his friend, Maggio (Frank Sinatra) instead. This left Prewitt alive for a heroic and happy ending, where he kills Judson to avenge Maggio's death. Since producer Buddy Adler needed the permission of the Army to do location shooting at the actual Schofield Barracks, he and Taradash agreed to make two major changes: instead of being promoted as he was in the novel, Captain Holmes, (Philip Ober) who ordered Prewitt to get the Treatment, is cashiered and condemned by his outraged superiors. A long standing animosity is used to explain Judson's torture of Maggio; in the novel, torture is standard procedure.
Taradash's screenplay had already cleaned up the soldiers' language, so only one more element needed to be changed for PCA (Production Code Administration) head censor Joe Breen to pass the film: the New Congress Club brothel was changed into a social club for soldiers, a sort of primitive USO instead of a house of prostitution. In the movie, when one of the girls explains to Prewitt that the "privileges" of Club members are "dancing, snack bar, soft drink bar, and gentlemanly relaxation with the opposite gender so long as they are gentlemen, and no liquor is permitted. Get it?" Prewitt slyly replies "I get it," making it appear that a lot more is going on.
As for the adulterous affair between Warden (Burt Lancaster) and Karen Holmes, (Deborah Kerr) Breen's only victory in censoring it was getting Taradash to push back the start of their sexual relationship so that they appear to have become involved out of love for each other rather than lust. Breen still demanded that they be punished for their affair, but punishment only comes in the form of a single line of condemnation spoken by Karen when she and Warden end their affair, which seems to have been justified by the buildup of Captain Holmes' negative characteristics, including his own unfaithfulness. Ironically, the famous love scene featuring Karen and Warden wrapped in each other's arms and kissing passionately on the beach amidst the pounding surf, (which was seen in the film's trailer and print advertising) caused the most moral outrage.
James Jones followed From Here To Eternity with Some Came Running (1957), the story of an Army veteran with literary aspirations and personal problems. Former soldier Dave Hirsh is a cynical alcoholic who finds himself back in his hometown of Parkman, Illinois, after being put on a bus in Chicago while in a drunken state. Also on the bus is Ginny Moorehead, a woman of seemingly loose morals and poor education who is being stalked by her hoodlum ex-boyfriend. Dave doesn't think much of Ginny at first, but eventually, he will see past her flaws and fall in love with her. He will also be reunited with his embittered older brother, Frank. Frank married well and inherited a successful jewelry business from his wife's father. To Frank, social status is his and his wife's highest priority. He sees his brother as a threat to that, so he tries to make him respectable. Instead, Dave strikes up a friendship with Bama Dillert, a gambler.
In 1958, Some Came Running was adapted as a feature film by director Vincente Minnelli. Featuring Frank Sinatra as Dave Hirsh, Shirley MacLaine as Ginny Moorehead, and Dean Martin as Bama Dillert, the film is rightfully considered a masterpiece. It received five Academy Award nominations.
In 1962, James Jones published The Thin Red Line, the second book in a trilogy of military novels that began with From Here To Eternity. Praised by critics who compared it to Stephen Crane's classic novel The Red Badge Of Courage, The Thin Red Line is a fictional account of the Battle of Mount Austen on Guadalcanal during World War 2. The story focuses on a number of characters and their different, individual reactions to combat, effectively capturing the horrors of the Pacific campaign.
The author presents a chillingly realistic, non-judgmental depiction of battle, where ordinary people experience murder, terror, dread, helplessness, frustration, cruelty, emptiness, and other such elements of war, including war crimes committed by American soldiers against Japanese soldiers. For example, Japanese corpses are disinterred for fun or to have their gold teeth removed, and Japanese prisoners of war are summarily executed. The author places no moral judgment on these acts. They are shown as the natural reactions of American soldiers to their environment. The novel was adapted as a film first in 1964, then remade in 1998.
With money earned from the success of From Here To Eternity, James Jones helped fund and form the Handy Writers' Colony in Marshall Illinois, which was conceived as a Utopian commune where aspiring writers could concentrate on their writing. Organized by Jones' then girlfriend Lowney Handy (who was still married at the time), the colony dissolved after a few years due to Handy's erratic behavior and Jones' focus on his own novels. He married his wife, Gloria Mosolino, and relocated to Paris.
James Jones continued to write novels. His last book, Whistle, was the third novel in his military trilogy. He was dying of a heart condition while he wrote it. Jones died of congestive heart failure on May 9th, 1977, at the age of 55. He had died before completing the last three chapters of Whistle, but left extensive notes and recorded conversations, enabling his friend, writer Willie Morris (best known for his autobiography My Dog Skip) to complete the novel.
Whistle is about four wounded American soldiers in the South Pacific who are taken by hospital ship to a veteran's hospital in the fictional town of Luxor, Tennessee. Before he began writing it, Jones said that he expected that the novel would say "Just about everything I have ever had to say, or will ever have to say, on the human condition of war and what it means to us, as against what we claim it means to us."
Quote Of The Day
"There are so many young guys, you know - young Americans, and yes, young men everywhere - a whole generation of people younger than me who have grown up feeling inadequate as men because they haven't been able to fight in a war and find out whether they are brave or not. Because it is in an effort to prove this bravery that we fight - in wars or in bars - whereas if a man were truly brave, he wouldn't have to be always proving it to himself. So therefore, I am forced to consider bravery suspect, ridiculous, and dangerous. Because if there are enough young men like that who feel strongly enough about it, they can almost bring on a war, even when none of them want it, and are in fact struggling against having one. And as far as modern war is concerned, I am a pacifist. Hell, it isn't even war anymore, as far as that goes. It's an industry, a big business complex." - James Jones
Today's video features the original theatrical trailer for the acclaimed 1953 feature film adaptation of From Here To Eternity. Enjoy!