Literary Daybook, Feb. 5

Real and imaginary events of interest to readers.

By the Salon Books Editors
Published February 5, 2002 8:00PM (EST)

Today in fiction

On Feb. 5, Will Scott secretly meets his father and is nearly captured by the forces of Richard Crawford, Baron Culter.
-- "The Game of Kings" (1961)
by Dorothy Dunnett

From "The Book of Fictional Days"
Know when something that did not really happen
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Today in Literary History

On this day in 1959, Carson McCullers hosted a small dinner party so that Baroness Karen Blixen-Finecke (Isak Dinesen) could meet Marilyn Monroe. Blixen was an internationally famous grand dame of literature; she had come to the U.S. to give the keynote address at the American Academy of Arts and Letters annual dinner, to be filmed in a series on "greatest living writers" and to lecture or story-tell at as many places as her health would allow. As one biographer puts it, she was "exhibited, scrutinized, spotlit, and passed from hand to hand like some extraordinary and precious relic recovered from a tomb and on loan to America for the first and last time." Blixen told her hosts that on her trip she most wanted to meet e. e. cummings, McCullers (they both attended the Academy dinner), Hemingway (he was not in the country) and Monroe. McCullers was 42, bisexual, debilitated by a series of strokes and fraught with mental problems; Monroe was 33, not bisexual, fresh from the success of "Some Like It Hot," in a black sheath dress that showed most of her "lovely bosoms" and fraught with mental problems; Blixen was 74, decades past her "Out of Africa" years, increasingly crippled by the syphilis contracted during them, reduced to about 80 pounds by her anorexic diet (oysters, grapes and champagne) and so driven by her own demons that she would stay up chain-smoking, taking amphetamines and telling her famous stories until there were no listeners, or she had talked herself into a trance. By all accounts, the three women hit it off wonderfully -- though Arthur Miller says the legend of them dancing together on McCullers marble dinner table is, understandably, an exaggeration. McCullers thought it the best party she ever gave; Blixen thought Monroe "almost incredibly pretty," full of "unbounded vitality" and "unbelievable innocence": "I have met the same in a lion cub that my native servants in Africa brought me. I would not keep her."

-- Steve King

To find out more about "Today in Literary History," e-mail Steve King.

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