writer

Photo of the Day

Lobotomy Victim Rose and Brother Tennessee Williams

Rose Williams, was the sister of playwright Tennessee Williams and the model for his heroine in “The Glass Menagerie.” In the late 1930s, Rose underwent a prefrontal lobotomy to cure a worsening case of schizophrenia. The operation failed, and she was institutionalized for the rest of her life. Profoundly affected by the tragedy, the writer considered her his muse and inspiration.

Throughout the history of medicine there have been few surgical practices more barbaric, cruel, and yet sometimes surprisingly helpful than the lobotomy. Lobotomy patients range from children of politicians and English lords to singers who were on their way to stardom before finding themselves waylaid by mental illness. The personality, memory, and IQ of lobotomy patients before and after surgery varies wildly, and doctors were not able to fully understand what was happening and why. Stories about lobotomy patients are at times emotionally draining, but a few of them also reveal an unexpected beacon of light.

When you think about the worst things that happened to lobotomy patients, it’s hard to decide which nightmare scenario is worse. When it comes to reading true stories about people that received a lobotomy, it’s a bit like playing a twisted game of “would you rather?”

Read more »

Photo of the Day

Gertrude Bell, third from left, was flanked by Winston Churchill and T.E. Lawrence on a visit to the Pyramids in 1921. Credit The Gertrude Bell Archive, Newcastle University.

‘Queen of the Desert’

Gertrude Bell Scaled the Alps, Mapped Arabia, and Midwifed the Modern Middle East

In a picture taken to mark the Cairo Conference of 1921, Gertrude Bell – characteristically elegant in a fur stole and floppy hat, despite being on camel back – sits right at the heart of the action. To one side is Winston Churchill, on her other TE Lawrence.

Bell was his equal in every sense: the first woman to achieve a first (in modern history) from Oxford, an archaeologist, linguist, Arabist, adventurer and, possibly, spy. In her day, she was arguably the most powerful woman in the British Empire – central to the decisions that created the modern Middle East and reverberate still on the nightly news.

Yet while Lawrence is still celebrated, she has largely been forgotten.

Newspaper articles of the time show she was known all over the world. The minutes of the Cairo Conference record her presence at every key discussion but not one of the men mentions her in their memoirs. It’s as if she never existed

How to chart the life of an Englishwoman — an explorer, spy, Mountaineer, translator, and archaeologist — who’s been all but written out of colonial Middle Eastern history? Luckily Gertrude Bell was a prolific letter writer” and “early photography enthusiast and— she left behind some 1,600 letters and over 7,000 photographs. It was an interest in archaeology that helped propel Bell’s many trips into the desert, beginning in 1900 to Palmyra. She nurtured the ambition of being the first to discover and document a site. Early in her travels, she recognised the importance of photographic documentation, along with notes, drawings, rubbings and casts. Bell was a complex, fascinating woman who was pivotal in the tangled history of the modern state of Iraq.

Read more »

Photo of the Day

Hunter rode the British made motorcycle BSA A65 Lightning while researching Hell’s Angels. When he lived in Big Sur in the early 1960s, he rode his Lightning so much he was known as “The Wild One of Big Sur”.

“Some May Never Live, but the Crazy Never Die”

Hunter S. Thompson

He was a gun-loving, hard-drinking ‘outlaw journalist’ with a taste for illegal substances.

Hunter S. Thompson reached the peak of his literary career in the mid-Seventies after his books, Hell’s Angels and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas were published to great success.

His writing broke from conventional reporting and straddled both fiction and non-fiction, a unique approach which turned him into a counter-culture icon and won him legions of fans. His trademark reporting style became what’s now called gonzo journalism, in which he made himself a central character in his own stories. And a character he was: his stories often centred on his panache for excessive consumption while surveying America’s political and cultural landscape in a way that no one had before.

Asked to list what they require before commencing a day’s work, most would probably list things like coffee, toast and perhaps a cigarette or two, but not Hunter S. Thompson, who needed a kaleidoscopic bevvy of cocaine, Chartreuse and hot tubs in order to get his creative juices flowing.

His daily routine was charted by E. Jean Carroll in the first chapter of her 1994 book HUNTER: The Strange and Savage Life of Hunter S. Thompson, and remains an object of fascination, awe and horror to this day.

Thompson, who committed suicide at 67, was of course known for his heavy drinking and drug habit and they were both ingrained in his writing. He once said of them:  “I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me.” In spite of his well-deserved reputation for substance abuse, Thompson was an assiduous worker with a writing career that spanned six decades and included 16 books and a litany of short stories and articles.

Read more »

Photo of the Day

Margaux Hemingway

Margaux Hemingway seemed to have it all, yet a drug overdose led the actress to an untimely death.

She was six feet tall in her bare feet—five foot twelve, she’d say—with such a remarkable face and such a radiant presence and such an alluring name that when she walked into a room, conversation left it. If she shook your hand, you might think your wrist was going to snap. If she knew you well enough she might call you “boopsie” and haul you off on a hike, or a trip to India; of course, with her long legs came great lungs, and you didn’t hike with her, you gasped for breath behind her. When she laughed, it came out big and childlike and innocent. Her looks were so distinctive that when she went to a club and left her purse at home, she could reassure an exasperated companion, “But I don’t need any I.D. I have my eyebrows.”

She started right at the top with the first million-dollar contract ever awarded a model. She wasn’t even out of high school. She asked for none of it. She was just a wide-eyed bronco-riding speed-skiing adventure-loving kid from Idaho who was spotted by Errol Wetson, an entrepreneur who became her first husband, who knew someone who knew people. “No one,” her father said, “could take a bad picture of her.”

Read more »

Photo of the Day

According to author A.E. Hotchner, Ernest Hemingway considered his first wife Hadley — seen here — to be the love of his life. 03 September 1921 Horton’s Bay, Michigan
Wedding of Hadley Richardson and Ernest Hemingway. L-R: Carol Hemingway, Ursula Hemingway, Hadley Richardson Hemingway, Ernest Hemingway, Grace Hall Hemingway, Leicester Hemingway, Dr C. E. Hemingway. Photograph in the Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John Fitzgerald Kennedy Library, Boston.

Ernest Hemingway

 Ernest Hemingway, American Nobel Prize-winning author, was one of the most celebrated and influential literary stylists of the twentieth century. His critical reputation rests solidly upon a small body of exceptional writing, set apart by its style, emotional content, and dramatic intensity of vision.

He was born into the hands of his physician father. He was the second of six children of Dr Clarence Hemingway and Grace Hemingway (the daughter of English immigrants). His father’s interests in history and literature, as well as his outdoorsy hobbies (fishing and hunting), became a lifestyle for Ernest. His mother was a domineering type who wanted a daughter, not a son, and dressed Ernest as a girl and called him Ernestine.

Hemingway’s early years were spent largely in fighting the feminine influence of his mother while feeding off the influence of his father. He spent the summers with his family in the woods of northern Michigan, where he often accompanied his father on professional calls.

His mother also had a habit of abusing his quiet father, who suffered from diabetes. The discovery of his father’s apparent lack of courage, later depicted in the short story “The Doctor and the Doctor’s Wife,” and his suicide several years later left the boy with an emotional scar.

Ernest later described the community in his hometown as one having “wide lawns and narrow minds.”

Read more »

Photo of the Day

Agatha Christie in her uniform during her period as a nurse in WW1.

The Real Gone Girl

Her life, like her novels, were like an adventure.Yet Agatha Christie, the Queen of crime novel, incorporated many of her personal occurrences and dreams in her work…

Once upon a time in the middle of a bitterly cold winter, a young Gypsy man was out walking near Guildford, southwest of London, when he found an abandoned car down an embankment and reported it to the police. It was early in the morning, a Saturday, in December of 1926. When the police arrived, they were able to identify the owner of the car from an expired driver’s license left inside, indicating that it was the famous writer of detective fiction, Mrs. Agatha Christie.

Also left in the car were a fur coat and various personal belongings, which suggested that the driver may have left poorly protected against the cold.  The police paid a call to the Christie house near Sunningdale, Berkshire, to inquire as to her whereabouts and were told by her staff that she had driven off after l0 p.m. the night before with no word on where she was going.

Agatha Christie was not “rediscovered” until 11 days later. What happened in the interim? How could one of the country’s most famous writers simply disappear and no one know what happened to her? There was intense speculation about her motives throughout the rest of December and into 1927. Then a wall of silence descended for half a century. In her autobiography of 1977, published one year after her death, Christie skates past it as if it never happened.

Read more »

Photo of the Day

Dennis and Joan Wheatley 1930's.

Dennis and Joan Wheatley 1930’s.

Dennis Wheatley : Churchill’s Storyteller

Few people are aware that Dennis Wheatley spent the Second World War as a member of Winston Churchill’s Joint Planning Staff, dedicating his talents to the formation of ideas and plausible scenarios to assist the war effort.

Before Ian Fleming there was Dennis Wheatley. A best-selling spy novelist at the outset of World War II, Wheatley became a master of deception for Great Britain, turning pulp fiction fantasies into real-life espionage. This is the amazing true story of one man who applied the plots of his own novels to the battlefield—and changed the course of history.

Dennis Wheatley was born in London in January 1897, the son and grandson of Mayfair wine merchants. From 1908 – 1912 he was a cadet on HMS Worcester, then spent a year in Germany learning about wine making.  In September 1914, at the age of seventeen, he received his commission and later fought at Cambrai, St. Quentin and Passchendaele.

Gassed, he was subsequently invalided from the army and entered the family wine business, and following the death of his father in 1926, became its sole owner. During this period he began to write short stories, a number of which were later published or expanded into full-length novels.  Following the failure of his first marriage, in 1931 he married Joan Younger.

Wheatley’s business was badly affected by the slump of the early thirties and by 1932 he was forced to sell up and came close to bankruptcy.  As a diversion from his financial worries and with the encouragement of his wife, Wheatley set about writing a full-length murder mystery that he called ‘Three Inquisitive People’. His agent’s reader considered the book to be weak, commenting:

“This story shows considerable promise but does not conform to the accepted formula for murder stories. We do not see enough of the murderer, and the construction is poor in that the heroine is not brought in early enough and plays no essential part, and that after the point at which the book should normally be concluded there is a long epilogue tacked on which is unduly loaded with bathos.”

However, this book introduced the characters of the Duc de Richleau and his friends who were to become Wheatley’s most popular inventions.  Whilst ‘Three Inquisitive People’ was in the hands of his agent he set about writing a second book featuring the same characters, ‘The Forbidden Territory’, which was immediately snapped up by Hutchinson. This adventure story won immediate acclaim from both the press and public alike. It was reprinted seven times in as many weeks, was translated into many languages and the film rights were bought by Alfred Hitchcock.

This book was followed by a string of thrillers that, throughout the 1930s, propelled Wheatley into the category of best selling author.  As an avid reader himself, and fanatical collector of modern first editions, he was familiar with the work of authors such as H. Rider Haggard, Conan Doyle, William Hope Hodgson, John Buchan and his particular favourite Alexandre Dumas, and was influenced in varying degrees by each.  His work in the thirties seemed to be perfectly in tune with the spirit of the age, enforcing the virtues of imperialism in which he totally believed, and countering the rising threat of communism.

In 1939 he became the editor of the ‘Personality Pages’ of the Sunday Graphic and a volunteer speaker on behalf of the war effort. In the early days of the war, despite his best efforts, Wheatley was unable to find suitable war-work and so continued to write his novels, being one of the first writers to use the real life events of the day as the backdrop to his stories.

Then in May 1940, following a chance conversation between his wife and her passenger while she was a driver for MI5, Wheatley was commissioned to write a series of papers on various strategic aspects of the War. These ‘War Papers’ were read by the King and the highest levels of the General Staff, and as a result in December 1941 he was re-commissioned, becoming the only civilian to be directly recruited onto the Joint Planning Staff. With the final rank of Wing Commander, for the rest of the War, Wheatley worked in Churchill’s basement fortress as one of the country’s small handful of ‘Deception Planners’ who were charged with developing ways to deceive the enemy of the Allies real strategic intentions. Their top-secret operations, which included the plans to deceive the enemy about the true site of the Normandy landings, were highly successful and saved countless lives.

Read more »

Photo Of The Day

J. M. Barrie, the boys' foster father.

J. M. Barrie, the boys’ foster father.

The Lost Ones

The Real Boys of Neverland

Few works of literature have idealized childhood so profoundly as Peter Pan. But the Llewelyn Davies brothers who inspired J.M. Barrie to create the world of Neverland would grow up to become “Lost Boys” of a more tragic sort, beset by misfortune and unhappiness.

J.M. Barrie, the creator of Peter Pan, was born on the 9th of May, 1860, in the family home at Kirriemuir, Angus, Scotland. His father, David, was a weaver. His mother, Margaret Ogilvy, was later the subject of one of her son’s books.

When Barrie was six, his brother David died very unexpectedly. The shock of the loss so affected Barrie’s mother that, for the remainder of her life, she never got over his death.

Sometimes Jamie would wear his brother’s clothes and, on entering his mother’s darkened bedroom, would pretend to be the lost son. Later, when Barrie became a writer, the theme of death, and the concept of ghosts, would populate his stories.

In the summer of 1901, the four small Llewelyn Davies brothers—George, John, Peter and Michael—hadn’t any idea of what they were getting themselves into. Darting around Black Lake, in the Surrey region of England, they were playing at castaways, taking turns at walking the plank, substituting wooden dowels for swords. Their idyll was not just a theory. The country around them was still one in which children as young as nine worked in factories, but the Llewelyn boys were protected by their reverie.

Read more »

Photo Of The Day

Giacomo Casanova “Worthy or not, my life is my subject, and my subject is my life.”

Giacomo Casanova.  “Worthy or not, my life is my subject, and my subject is my life.”

The Legendary Lover Casanova

Lotharios are not always what they seem

A little after midnight, armed with a hunting knife and a vengeful mood, the opera singer’s son sneaked into a cemetery and dug up a freshly buried body, hacking off an arm for a prank. It was all part of Giacomo Casanova’s plan to get payback for a trick an enemy had played on him earlier that day: A bridge he’d walked over was purposely weakened so that he’d fall, landing “up to the chin in stinking mud.”

Casanova later hid under the bed of his victim, ready to frighten him with the “ghost” of a corpse — a far cry from the polished lothario, Iliad translator and escapee from Doge’s Palace we think of today. But the famed womanizer, in fact, led a troubled life and was plagued by countless sexually transmitted diseases, probably including gonorrhea and syphilis. He was tainted by scandals at every job he took and had police records of public controversies, fights and blasphemies against churches.

Casanova gained consent from and sought pleasure for his partners, which has not exactly been the standard throughout history. Casanova made love to an enormous amount of women during his life, at least by the preinflationary standards of the day.

Casanova’s womanizing certainly was not all innocent fun; he was accused of rape and battery, had numerous bouts with sexually transmitted diseases and most scandalously, may have fathered his own grandson with Leonilda. Casanova also had a penchant for deflowering virgins in such a way that he convinced them of his undying devotion before deserting them, which must have led to broken hearts across Europe. Casanova wounded a Polish Count in a duel he fought over an affair and the man was not afraid to turn his anger on a young woman that did not respond to his advances. Although Casanova claimed that he had to find his women both physically and mentally stimulating, he was not above having sex with the lowest of street prostitutes or even complete strangers.

Read more »

Photo Of The Day

Timothy_Dexter_House,_Newburyport,_MA

Lord Timothy Dexter

Shows Up At His Own Funeral

Lord Timothy Dexter, The American businessman was an eccentric character who came to notoriety after writing a book complaining about everyone in his life, titled, A Pickle for the Knowing Ones or Plain Truth in a Homespun Dress, famed for its complete lack of punctuation. He faked his own death and snuck in to watch his funeral, but foiled his own plan when he began screaming at his wife because she didn’t appear as devastated by his death as he had expected.

He was a famed 18th century entrepreneur — one who made a series of apparently harebrained transactions, and somehow emerged handsomely rewarded each time. He was a poor, uneducated leather craftsman who, by fortuitously (and stupidly) speculating on the Continental dollar, became one of the richest men in Boston, and who then unsuccessfully lobbied for entry into elite social circles for decades. He was, in his own words, a “Classic Progressive ‘Libperel’” — and despite his atrocious spelling, he was also a published author and self-proclaimed philosopher.

Lord Timothy Dexter was many things, but he was not a Lord: this was a title he bestowed upon himself, with great personal satisfaction.

Most importantly, Lord Dexter was one of America’s first famed eccentrics — yet, in the annals of history, he has been largely forgotten. This is a tragedy. Though he constantly yearned to be accepted, Lord Dexter refused to compromise his strange ways; in doing so, he paved the way for all aspiring American weirdos.

Read more »