Lot 126: Lengthy John Steinbeck Autograph Letter: "And I think that is all I have to say"
Presidential Letters, Free Franks & Speeches: Washington to Bush + Important Autographs in History, Science & the Arts
26 October 2016
New York, NY, USALive Auction
Description: “And I think that is all I have to say. I didn’t really have anything to say to begin with. If I had, this would be much shorter” ********** STEINBECK, JOHN. (1902-1968). American author of The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men; winner of the 1962 Nobel Prize for Literature. ALS. (“J.S.”). In pencil. 4¼ pp. Folio (yellow, legal size). Sag Harbor, June 21, 1965. To HOWARD GOSSAGE (1917-1969), advertising executive known as the “Socrates of San Francisco.” ********** “I have your recent letter for which thank you. I like the letters M.M. for the Rover 2000. There are overtones of M[arilyn]. Monroe among other things. However, if this is used and LLL to designate the 3 litre, don’t you run into an arithmetical difficulty. The smaller car being 2000 while the larger one is only 150. But maybe no one would ever discover Roman numerals and Rover LLL is pretty nice looking. I talked to J[immy] McWilliams on the phone. She proposes to lend me a 2000 in Ireland, right hand drive, which makes sense, and then I could buy one for import with overseas deductions in price. She is interested in the dog thing and asked to come out and photograph our use of the Bull Terrier and also Angel B. D. which, of course is fine with me. On our car, he wears a small halo on his head which glitters and waves about and is very cute when kids on the street don’t try to tear it off. Also, she can see how the casting should be made so it fits. I had to build it up to fit ridge and curve. Now here is an amusing thing. In all this talk about the 2000, I have never driven one, only heard about them and read about them. Early on I went to your South Hampton man and said I would like to drive one and he agreed but that was the end of that. Quite privately and not be spread, your Mr. Grattan is not pushing Rovers very much except Land Rovers for beach buggies. I think with my Red rascal, I have helped him sell some of those and he has sold quite a few. But of course he doesn’t know of my efforts. Actually, he is handling too many other kinds of cars. I will ask him again to let me drive a 2000. Hell! I might not even like it. A certain man in this town, a bad man and an unconverted hustler and poseur (nameless), whom I hate, has a wife who pretends to be English country except that her country English has a way of slipping into cockney – she also speaks French, serves fray [sic.] du bois and sometimes chopped raw beef which she refers to as Steak Tartaire. Lord! There are traps for the unwary poseur. Any way her husband bought her a 2000. It has been in the shop quite a lot, I suspect because Mr. Grattan’s mechanics leave something to be desired, or maybe she just can’t drive. But she is spreading the word that the 2000 is just a no good car. Amazing how fast such things get around. Such as in a Sag Harbor bar – “Sure I like the Land Rover like yours, but that 2000 is no good. Mrs. _____ has one and it’s in the shop the whole time. She’s disgusted with it.” Maybe I ought to buy hers, if she is disgusted enough. I have thought recently how Ford discovered folk lore for advertising and then forgot it again. The Ford joke sold more cars than any other. The M.M. is a set up for this kind of repeated story. It’s the unimpressive boy who turns out to be a Karate expert, it’s the cripple who is Steinmetz, the ugly duckling who wins the beauty contest. This is perhaps the most treasured story we have, the poultice for the inept and the clumsy – classic. Here was Blue Shawn MacAberdeen driving a Maserati and leading the mile [sic] miglia and he couldn’t pass a beat up old Rover with bucket seats and dragging a desert water bag. Had a baby’s crib tied on the turtle back. When they crossed the finish line, reporters swarmed on Hubert Titmouse XIth, unemployed baronet. When asked how he won the race, Hubert said, “What race? Hell I was just trying to stay out of his way. Couple of times he damn near ran me down.” End story. True story, from Negrin, my friend, neurosurgeon to the N.Y. police dept. was staying with me out here. He got an emergency call from N.Y. Cop with a bullet in his brain. So he started going like a bat out of hell. Riverhead, a motorcycle cut in ahead and Juan thanked God for the escort and poured on the gas. By the time he got to the Triboro bridge he had an escort of six and was doing over a hundred. At the toll booth he got out to thank the cops for the escort. “Escort hell” the cop said. “This is a pinch. We’ve been trying to stop you since Riverhead. You damn near killed us.” And Juan had thought all the flashers were trying to clear traffic for him and they did. But he got a ticket and a warning. I liked your soothing words to my honor. Hell, I don’t think I have that kind of honor. But I have found that you have to pay for everything in some kind of currency. If you get value received, I don’t care. I do like the idea of not owning a car, though, if there is any way to do that. Jimmy didn’t mention that except for Ireland. You might make me an honorary salesman and land me a demonstrator but you would have to know that I have never been able to sell anything in my life. Another true story. Years ago I was making the film The Forgotten Village in Mexico. Low budget and a poverty operation. Mexican censors make their fortune by bribery in letting you get your film out. By negotiations we found that 10,000 pesos at the border would do the job. Our treasurer was Rosa Kline, a not bright but earnest girl. At the border she paid the mordido and then she said brightly, “Now, please give me a receipt.” The official looked stunned. “Receipt?” he said, “¿Why, Senora?” Rosa replied, “Oh! Yes. I must keep my records straight.” The commandant studied the matter and then delivered himself of this brilliant approach. “Senora.” He said, “In sensitive areas, we cannot give receipts because, you see, we, too, must keep our records straight.” I have always admired his evaluation. And I think that is all I have to say. I didn’t really have anything to say to begin with. If I had, this would be much shorter. Saturday we celebrate Midsummer night – a little late – summer pole decorated, bonfire, akavit [sic.], singing and dancing in old norsk. Druidie in essence. We plan to burn some captives in a withy basket. And that is all. I am working like hell, and pretty good, I still think. Criticism comes later, but right now it’s good.” ********** Gossage, “The Socrates of San Francisco,” was a groundbreaking advertising executive who co-founded the Freeman, Mander and Gossage agency, which counted among his clients, Land Rover, the Sierra Club, Qantas Airways, and Petrofina Oil Co. The firehouse, which was home to his agency, was a hub of intellectualism and regular visitors included futurist Buckminster Fuller as well as authors Tom Wolfe and John Steinbeck. ********** Steinbeck was fascinated with cars and inventors, and Samuel Hamilton, one of the central characters in his seminal work East of Eden, is an inventor and farmer. The book also includes a lengthy passage about “patent fever.” Steinbeck himself “was a tinkerer, lover of all things mechanical like cars and weapons. ‘Give me a box of odds and ends of metal and wood and I can build dam [sic] near anything,’ he wrote in 1951 (Benson 674). Inventions for his house fell into that category. ‘Someone once said of me that if I bought the Washington Monument, I would start covering it with leather’ (‘Letters to Alicia,’ 11 Dec. 1965). He carved wood and planned to do an article on the artisans of Florence. Steinbeck was ever drawn to men who knew machines, like [The Grapes of Wrath character] Al Joad, who is ‘one with his engine’ and keeps the ‘ancient overloaded Hudson’ running; or Gay, ‘the little mechanic of god, the St. Francis of all things that turn and twist and explode,’ who repairs the Model T in Cannery Row. The ‘Hansen Sea Cow,’ demonic engine in Sea of Cortez, is a major character. Grace notes throughout his journalism make reference to Steinbeck’s cars, usually bestowing the inanimate with very human quirks. A rented Land Rover is ‘a heavy, ugly, high standing truck-like creature with four-wheel traction and a will toward immortality’ (Daily Mail, 7 Jan. 1666:6),” (John Steinbeck: America and Americans and Selected Nonfiction, ed. Shillinglaw and Benson). ********** Steinbeck’s deep interest in finding the appropriate automobile for his specific use culminated with his 1960 tour across America with his poodle, Charley. The journey with his beloved dog was chronicled in his final book, Travels with Charley: In Search of America. For the ambitious road trip he put a customized camper shell on his truck and dubbed it Rocinante (after Don Quixote’s horse). “Steinbeck’s best-known canine companion was Charley… [but] Steinbeck also had a white Bull Terrier, [named Angel] whom he loved passionately,” mentioned in our letter, (Bull Terriers, Alexander). In previous letters to Gossage, Steinbeck proposed that Land Rover name the 2000 model the British Bull Terrier and suggested the addition of a bull terrier hood ornament, modeled after one he had custom-made based on Angel and which is described in our letter. ********** In our missive, Steinbeck expounds on the merits of Land Rover’s new model, citing American actress and sex symbol Marilyn Monroe (1926-1962; “MM” is the Latin numbering for 2000) and Prussian-American electrical engineer Charles Steinmetz (1865-1923) recognized for his success in applying advanced mathematical methods to practical problems and who suffered from dwarfism. ********** American auto manufacturer Henry Ford (1863-1947) changed the face of industrial production with the implementation of the assembly line and other innovations. One of his skills as a businessman was his knack for publicity. His folksy statements, such a “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black” and “a man who stops advertising to save money is like a man who stops a clock to save time,” were often repeated by the press and raised his personal and business profile. ********** The Mille Miglia was an Italian road race that took place from 1927 to 1957. Spanish exile and New York neurosurgeon Juan Negrin (1914-2001) was a friend of Steinbeck. ********** Steinbeck was involved with the filming of two movies in Mexico: the controversial 1941 documentary, The Forgotten Village, for which he wrote the screenplay and helped select the location of Pátzcuaro, Michoacán, and Viva Zapata!, a 1952 film starring Marlon Brando and directed by Elia Kazan for which Steinbeck wrote the screenplay. ********** Steinbeck also mentions Gertrude “Jimmy” McWilliams (?-?), the wife and partner of Land Rover’s North American President J. Bruce McWilliams, notable for introducing in 1966 a Land Rover powered by an American V8 engine. “Together with his wife and working partner ‘Jimmy’ (Gertrude), he earned a reputation for trying new ideas, sprucing up slow-selling merchandise and challenging stodgy home office executives to think outside the box,” (“Passing of a Pioneer,” Hemmings Sports & Exotic Cars, Cook). ********** It was at his home in Sag Harbor, Long Island that Steinbeck, away from the distractions of Manhattan, spent much of his summer months writing The Winter of our Discontent and Travels with Charley. ********** A spirited letter filled with colorful anecdotes written in Steinbeck’s energetic style. In very fine condition and accompanied by the original envelope.