By Sam Lowell
Jack Callahan, the king of the Eastern Massachusetts Toyota dealers with his showroom down in Hingham and known in the industry as Mister Toyota as a result, had spent a fair amount of his life pining away to go to Paris. Well, maybe not pining away since rugged hefty former schoolboy star running backs of his era, the early 1960s, maybe now too, did not pine away for stuff, at least not publicly but with an internal inflamed desire to go across the great ocean for that purpose. He had had that desire ever since he was a kid down at Myles Standish Elementary School in Carver and in the fifth grade his teacher, Miss Winot (now called Ms.by her request) regaled the class with photographs of a trip she had taken to that locale the summer before. Jack had gotten wrapped up in the Nortre Dame, Seine, Bastille, Eiffel Tower, Louvre scenes and had never really forgotten how thrilled he was by the idea of going where the poets, writers and the artists hung out, although then he probably could not have named a specific member of any one of those professions but Miss Winot had gone on and on about the romance of such grand figures and he was hooked.
Life is funny sometimes though and with one thing and another Jack and his high school sweetheart, Chrissie McNamara, known these days far and wide as Mrs. Toyota (not Ms. reflecting an old-fashioned marriage sensibility), married after his college football career was over with a shattered knee injury junior year, never got to Paris until his late forties. First was that business with college football which seriously tied up his time on the gridiron and not much farther. Then marriage and later raising those four girls who came in quick succession that he adored and doted on. Along the way too having to hustle like crazy to earn dough for that growing family when that professional football career that he aimed at got shattered along with that knee, and truth be told, he had no other marketable skills except a gift of gab having spent his youth tied up with football heroics so he landed in the car selling business, a tough racket starting out. All in all he did not have time or money or energy to go to Paris on a spree back then. As part of his business interests he had gone to London, Berlin, Madrid but something always happened that he couldn’t squeeze time for Paris until the girls came of age and the car business kind of ran itself.
So in his late forties Jack saw no reason for not going, along with Chrissie to the “city of lights.” The specific impetus came from reading F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Last Tycoon although that book has little to do with Paris. Here’s how Jack’s mind works, or worked in the build-up to Paris adventure. He had seen the film version of The Last Tycoon starring Robert DeNiro which got him interested in reading the book that the film was based on. Since that book had been unfinished at the time of Fitzgerald’s death in 1941 he wanted to see how the book and film differed. Reading that book got him thinking that Fitzgerald had been an ex-patriate in Paris after World War I during the Jazz Age when a lot of cultural types were fed up with the American Babbitry. Of course reading Fitzgerald led to his friend and contemporary, fellow writer, and fellow Paris ex-patriate Ernest Hemingway. At that time Hemingway’s posthumous A Moveable Feast, a memoir of sorts about Paris in the 1920s, was hot off the presses and after reading that book Jack was determined that he and Chrissie were heading to Paris that very year once the September new car year had settled down.
Before they left for Paris that October Jack had met up with his old friend Josh Breslin who was a journalist and who had been to Paris a number of times, a couple of times for extended periods when he was on writing assignments. Jack was not as interested in Josh’s low-down on the high spots of Paris as in discussing the Fitzgerald and Hemingway books and their Paris. Jack and Josh had met out in San Francisco in the summer of 1968 when Jack had gone out there with a couple of his corner boys (that’s what he, they called themselves then after a whole flare-up over sullen, sulky alienated teenage boys restlessly hanging around corner variety stores, bowling alleys, pizza parlors, pool halls and the like by the authorities after films like The Wild One and Rebel Without A Cause came out and every self-respecting corner boy put on that pose). Jack and his corner boys, Frank Jackman and Bart Webber, had gotten involved with a travelling caravan, a converted yellow brick road school bus that a guy named Captain Crunch (real name Saul Stein) had rigged up to go up and down the Coast and look, well, look for whatever they were looking for (thosck to say out of hand, a talent he had developed for anybody who had a contrary literary opinion, saying that even if publication of unfinished materials only thrilled an author’s aficionados that in itself was worth the effort. Moreover anything of Fitzgerald’s was worth putting in the public prints just to show the youngsters what it was like when men and women wrote clear prose for keeps (same with Hemingway). They ended the night half-drunk but with their usual “agree to disagree” that had transcended any periodic disagreements.
A few days later, no, more like a couple of weeks later, after Jack and Chrissie had flown to Paris Josh, with a little time on his hands since he was between assignments, decided to read some Fitzgerald, and read some Hemingway including the two books Jack and he had discussed that night at the High Hat. Something had struck him about Jack’s comments that “stuck in his craw,” as his late father, a man born and raised in the rural South, used to say when he was confused about something, that maybe Jack was onto something about keeping an author’s unfinished works off the public stage. As usual with such readings he decided to write short reviews of both books, actually drafts of reviews of both books since he was not sure whether any of the literary magazines who might be interested in the topic would buy and publish them. As it turned out those drafts remained as such, remained in Josh’s unpublished pile since the “mags” were no longer interested in any disputes over posthumously published books and were head over heels gathering up a storm around “deconstructing” an author’s works.
However he did sent a copy of each in turn to Jack for his inspection with cover letters telling Jack that for once he might be right about a literary dispute. Jack, after he got back from Paris and read the piece about Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast which Josh had written after The Last Tycoon, had laughed a smart –ass laugh:
“A while back I wrote a short review of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s last work, the unfinished The Last Tycoon, which was published posthumously in 1941 where I commented that the publisher had done something of a disservice to the great writer’s name by publishing something that was not completed and that would not, on the internal evidence, add to his place in the American literary pantheon (he had already made it either under “the old dead white men” version or the modern, more inclusive pantheon on the strength of The Great Gatsby alone).
“I stated in the review that at most the publication would over the long haul be grist for academic studies and not the general reading public and so it has proved except for the brief flare-up around the initial publication and the much later film version of the book. I also mentioned in that review a comparison with the book under review, Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, also published posthumously in 1964 which had been completed and could with the normal editing make sense to publish.
“I noted that, moreover, the subject matter of Hemingway’s efforts, his take on the post-World War I American (and others) ex-patriate scene in Paris among the “lost generation” during the decade of the 1920s provided plenty of useful information about those times for the general reader as well as some interesting tidbits and leads for the academic reader. I think that is the key different in the publishing history of the two works.
“Hemingway, a “veteran” of World War I (had volunteered for the ambulance corps and had been grievously injured in Italy), newly and apparently happily married to his first wife, Hadley, felt alienated from the American scene back home, felt alienated from his journalistic career undertaken to make a living, and joined the exile to Paris to see what it was all about, and maybe write some things, who knows maybe the great American novel (he had the ego for such a project, no question). Hemingway became something of the prototypal creative artist living in “splendid squalor” in the crowded quarters of literary Paris with its cafes and cabarets. So much of the book, maybe too much, is spent on his travels around Paris and France, his various skiing expeditions, and endless descriptions of the foods and wines, cheaply bought, that he and his comrades ate.
“But that is filler. What grabbed this reader were the descriptions of his writing and reading work habits which were pretty regular despite the wine, women, and song aspects that he tells us about. And of that great bookstore/lending library, Shakespeare and Company, run by Sylvia Beach which must have been something to have been part of back then. Of course this little book is a goldmine of information about “being present at the creation” of the modernist artistic movement which blossomed in Paris in the 1920s when he name drops meeting almost every important cultural figure who passed through that town. Joyce, Ford Maddox Ford, Picasso, Ezra Pound and on and on met usually at the home of fellow exile, Gertrude Stein, who is even today underestimated as a gifted writer. And to put paid to this book plenty of gossipy stuff including a ton of information about his hot and cold relationship with that F. Scott Fitzgerald who name I invoked at the start of this review. Thanks for publishing this enjoyable, readable, informative book.”
As for Jack, Chrissie, and Paris they had a great time especially in Montmartre, the writers, poets, and painters quarter of Hemingway's time.