Literary Daybook, May 7

Real and imaginary events of interest to readers.

Published May 7, 2002 7:00PM (EDT)

Today in fiction

On May 7, Daphne Manners dies in childbirth.
-- "Towers of Silence" (1971)
by Paul Scott

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 1932, William Faulkner reluctantly arrived in Hollywood to begin working for MGM, a relationship that would last on and off for 20 years. Faulkner was 34 years old at the time, and had already published four of his Yoknapatawpha County novels (including "The Sound and the Fury" and "As I Lay Dying"). Though far from a popular success, he was regarded by his peers as one of America's most talented young writers. He had lived most of his life in Oxford, Miss., had recently married and recently bought Rowan Oak, his faded antebellum mansion. He was not a social man, nor a team worker. These arguments against the MGM offer of a six-week contract at $500 a week were overmatched by a bank account so overdrawn that the clerk in the local sporting-goods store had just refused to honor Faulkner's $3 check. ("That signature will be worth more than three dollars," said Faulkner. "Don't let that Faulkner boy charge anything," said the owner to his staff later.)

As told by biographer Joseph Blotner, Faulkner's first days in Hollywood were portentous. He arrived on a Saturday, not long before quitting time. His boss, Sam Marx, noticed that he had been drinking, and that he had a bleeding cut on his head. Faulkner said he had been hit by a cab while changing trains -- in New Orleans -- but that he was fine and wanted to get right to work:

"We're going to put you on a Wallace Beery picture," Marx told him.

"Who's he?" asked Faulkner. "I've got an idea for Mickey Mouse."

After explaining that Mickey Mouse films were made at Disney Studios, Marx had his office boy take Faulkner to the screening room to see Beery as a prizefighter in "The Champ," as the new film, "Flesh," was to have him as a wrestler. Faulkner did not want to watch, preferring to talk to the boy:

"Do you own a dog?" he asked the boy, who said no.

Faulkner said, "Every boy should have a dog. He should be ashamed not to own a dog, and so should everybody else who didn't own a dog."

Faulkner soon walked out, saying that he knew how the story was going to end. When alerted, Marx initiated a search, but Faulkner had disappeared. When he showed up again, nine days later, he explained that he had been wandering in Death Valley, but that now he really was ready to work.

Many aspects of the Faulkner-Hollywood story show up in the 1991 movie "Barton Fink."

-- Steve King

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

By the Salon Books Editors

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