THURBER, JAMES

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THURBER, JAMES - Uncommon and long ALS: “People suspect anything you praise, because they suspect it isn’t you talking”
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THURBER, JAMES - Uncommon and long ALS: “People suspect anything you praise, because they suspect it isn’t you talking”

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THURBER, JAMES. (1894-1961). American humorist and cartoonist; author of the classic short story, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Lengthy ALS. (“J. Thurber”). 6½pp. 4to. N.p., N.d. (November 5, 1942). To “H.M,” American comedian HENRY MORGAN (1915-1994), known for his appearances on radio and television during the 1940s and 1950s.

 

“When you raised the price of my book to $200 a copy, I wired Seabach [sic] to raise you to twenty-five hundred as week. You know what this means. It means inflation. And you might just as well start revising some of the old jokes along inflationary lines. I’ll start it off: A Third Avenue Irishman wandered into a restaurant, sat down, and picked up a menu. ‘25 hundred dollars for a plate of corned beef,’ he cried. ‘Why, they aint a guy in this room can lift 25 hundred dollars worth of corned beef.’ Inflation is going to ruin a lot of the old stories. The book is ‘pretty good’ and why did you change it? I hadn’t complained. People suspect anything you praise, because they suspect it isn’t you talking, but Ed Fitzgerald. Bye now… Hope you can read this. I can’t.”

 

After several governmental positions, including one at the American embassy in Paris, Thurber began his career as a journalist. From the “city of light” he worked for the Chicago Tribune before moving to New York as an employee of the Evening Post. In 1927, Thurber joined the The New Yorker, writing short stories and drawing witty cartoons. Two years later his first book, Is Sex Necessary?, co-written with New Yorker colleague E.B. White and including his humorous drawings, was published. It was followed by The Thurber Carnival and My Life and Hard Times. Despite his failing eyesight, obliquely mentioned in our letter’s postscript, and evident in its appearance, Thurber continued to write through the 1950s. Often considered Mark Twain’s successor, Thurber influenced such writers at Joseph Heller and Kurt Vonnegut. Our letter is likely discussing Morgan’s mention of Thurber’s book My World – and Welcome to It, published in 1942. The work later served as the basis for NBC’s 1969 sitcom, My World and Welcome To It, in which Morgan appeared.

 

Morgan started as a page at a New York City radio station, soon appearing in radio dramas and open-format programming where he honed his particular brand of satire. On numerous occasions he found himself at odds with studio executives after poking fun at sponsors with his ad-libbed remarks, but he counted among his fans humorists Robert Benchley, Jack Benny, Fred Allen, and Thurber. His television credits include The Henry Morgan Show, Henry Morgan and Company, the game show I’ve Got a Secret, What’s My Line?, and That Was the Week That Was. Morgan also narrated the audiobook of The World of James Thurber.

 

Despite their mutual admiration, Thurber’s published correspondence contains several scathing observations of Morgan including a 1949 letter to H.W. Ross: “Morgan is not a humorist, because he hates people. He hates his sponsors, his audience, and his friends. He wishes everybody were dead, but not in heaven with the angels. I don’t think he has mellowed at all. I think he is clucking to the turkey, while he holds an axe behind his back,” (The Thurber Letters: The Wit, Wisdom and Surprising Life of James Thurber, ed. Kinney and Thurber). Later, he writes of Morgan less critically while still giving him a backhanded compliment: “I am really not equipped to criticize Henry Morgan because I have heard his program only three times in the last year… I am naturally somewhat envious of Henry Morgan since I gave away a million dollars’ worth of bitterness, insult, and savagery, often to my girlfriends, before I found out I could sell it… If you pass this on to Henry Morgan, I want him to know that I did not say Ogden Nash is funnier than he is. I simply said he is a sounder social critic,” (ibid.).

 

Our letter mentions Jules Seebach (?-?) program chief for WOR and Ed Fitzgerald (1892?-1982) who, with his wife Pegeen, aired on the popular WOR show “The Fitzgeralds” from 1940 to 1984. “Their commentary, punctuated by the purring of their many cats, concerned the doings of friends and acquaintances and oddities in the news, and included occasional comments designed to shock bluenoses. The couple occasionally bickered on the air, but with wit and affection, in an effort to project the reality of their long marriage… Their only script was commercials, which they themselves styled, and they delivered them unobtrusively and at random,” (“Pegeen Fitzgerald, 78, Radio Host Of Family-Style Talk Show, Dies,” The New York Times, Flint). Thurber’s comment is likely a reference to the casual way the Fitzgeralds promoted their commercial sponsors.  

 

Written in pencil in a very large script on canary yellow paper. An unidentified hand has penciled in the date “November 5? 1942.” Folded and in very fine condition. Uncommon in handwritten letters of this length.

 

Item #19450

$850


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