Monday, February 22, 2016

Looking Sideways

A couple of weeks back I wrote a piece on John D MacDonald’s 1959 mainstream, hardcover novel Please Write for Details and mentioned the publicity campaign conducted for the book by the publisher Simon and Schuster. This week I’m posting an example of that effort, a feature in a syndicated column that appeared throughout the country (this particular version was transcribed from the March 16, 1959 edition of the Pampa [Texas] Daily News.) The “Looking Sideways” column was written by Whitney Bolton, a longtime newspaperman who had done work in Hollywood in the 1930’s and 1940’s as both a screenwriter (42nd Street, If I Had a Million) and head of publicity for Warner Brothers.

The interview took place at The Playbill restaurant, a then-new establishment located on 44th Street west of Broadway, and, although it is not mentioned, I’m sure there was drinking involved. The lady Bolton mentions as being “in tow” with MacDonald, one Temple Texas, was a then-thirty-five year old actress/singer of modest fame who had appeared in a movie or two and was doing television work at the time. How she hooked up with MacDonald is anybody’s guess.

Looking Sideways
by Whitney Bolton

New York - You can sit down here and there with 8,207 actors in succession, all as glossy as pigeons, and after all the yakking ended and you total the gain it comes out to about this: it was pleasant. You can sit down with one sensible book writer, just one, and the total gain comes out to a large plus. In a crescendo of candor, this means that actors are amusing for the moment, but authors are a steadily diverting class of human beings who lace large dollops of provocative thinking in with their idle chat.

On March 18, unless Simon B. Schuster can't read calendars, John D MacDonald of a variety of places including Sarasota, Florida, and Cuernavaca, Mexico, will be able to sit back and look upon his new novel, Please Write For Details, with relish. Up to now, it has been work. The book is receiving critical nip-ups from coast to coast; the movies, like a school of shad, are nibbling at the bait and one sagacious Broadway producer thinks highly of it in terms of a future musical comedy. Short of winning the Pulitzer Prize, which it hasn't, John's book has brought him just about all the rewards at hand.

We sat in The Playbill the other afternoon and John had the good taste to have Temple Texas in tow. Maybe she had him in tow, I'm not sure. But the three of us were still there when the dinner crowd began glowering because we were sprawled across a desirable table doing nothing more pertinent than talking. John's book is about a fugitive and slightly demented little art colony of Americans in Cuernavaca, and automatically this made it a Grade A item to me. I love Mexico on any terms and hate art colonies on all terms, so his wise, witty and often touching dissection in print reached me on all counts. But like any good author worth respect and time, John wasn't there to talk about Please Write For Details. He was there just to talk because it pleases him to do so, and he talks with scourging frankness and comic malevolence. When he elected a moment of the silences, Temple was supplying words and soothing tones and it was an afternoon worth remembering.

John had but recently been delivered whole from the clutches of a radio interviewer (female) and was still a little pale about the gills.

"She said: 'Now, tell me, should a girl marry for love or money, Mr. MacDonald?'" he revealed, "and all I said was: 'What kind of girl? How old is she, is this her first marriage, what was her economic background, where does she live and what are her future economic and romantic chances?' She almost fell over. She finally said, 'Well, this girl is about 22, this is her first marriage, she is reasonably attractive and is not the victim of abject poverty,' and I said: 'In that case, she'd be a sucker to marry for anything but love. Later, maybe when she's 30 and has experienced the lovely hurly-burly of young wedded bliss, she can turn practical and chuck her boy Romeo for an older and better-heeled guy.' You'd have thought I put a bomb under Lincoln's Memorial. She was furious at me."

Later, talking about a woman we both know, he idly said: "She's the kind of hostess who still makes fudge for a cocktail party," and in our discussion of an actress of resounding beauty but never great stature in theater and the allied arts, he said: "She's the enlisted man's Ginger Rogers." This, probably, will give you the impression that Mr. MacDonald does not have to tussle with and sweat out a new turn of phrase. You'd be right to suspect that. Nor does he entertain rigidly fixed ethics about lancing human beings who sorely need lancing. This put us on common ground and for an hour we coursed a mighty terrain from loud-mouthed tourists to living-room boors, sometimes generally speaking, and sometimes specifically speaking, with names intact. Temple, a beautifully skilled girl with a lance, often rode side-saddle with us on these excursions.

What kind of book does a man like this create? A good book, sound in wind and logic, strong in human estimations, a book of wit and charming invention, one in which acid and compassion, one about equally divided. I think you could read it with satisfaction. And, having read this one, you won't have too long to wait. John is no one-book author. His publishers have five more awaiting print. Books pour from him like waters from a gladed spring.

He is an alert, civilized and totally winning gent and I'm glad to have talked with him. Now, I can go back to yakking with actors with stouter heart.


  1. That is a great article about JDM. Was he married at the time, and if so, did Dorothy care about him hanging out with actresses? His thoughts about situations can be seen in all his books. It sounds like the writer was blown away with JDM. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Yes, MacDonald was married, and who knows what Dorothy thought... Perhaps Temple was added by the publisher as window dressing for JDM's first publicity tour.

  2. The answer to speculation of "window dressing" might be found in your link to the Temple Texas page. In July 59, Walter Winchell, reporting the death of her mother, described Temple as a "showgirl-turned-publicist."
    John Roby Morsberger