Sunday, 18 April 2010
More on Helene Hanff
Stuff and Nonsense by Amy Cockram is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.
I'm having a bit of an Helene Hanff obsession, and have googled her today to find out what else she has written that I have not yet read. I am quite excited to find that there is an omnibus in the stacks of our local library that contains a couple of books that I have not read yet (it also includes "Apple of my Eye," and I am hoping that this will be the revised edition).
Today I also finished re-reading "Underfoot in Show Business." This, like Helene's book on New York, is a lively, entertaining read. When Helene first moved to New York, it was as an aspiring playwright with a promising future. However, in accordance with Flanagan's Law ("No matter what happens to you, it's unexpected) her playwriting career was a bit of a bust. However, she does find what seemed to be an enduring friendship with an also aspiring actress called Maxine, and edges her way into a writing career.
In writing about "Apple of my Eye," I wrote that her easy, natural writing style was probably quite hard to cultivate. This book demonstrates how hard working she was as a writer, and how dedicated she was to getting it right (she undertakes to learn Greek and Latin in the belief that she would only be able to select the precisely right English word by understanding the Greek or Latin root of the word). That said, some of the most entertaining elements of the book come when she spectacularly gets it wrong (such as writing a television script about Rhodope for a television show - The Hallmark Hall of Fame - with a highly moral sponsor, only to find on the morning of transmission that the source of her inspiration had misrepresented Rhodope as an innocent slave girl when she had actually been an infamous prostitute).
I think it is quite entertaining to note something that Helene herself pointed out.
When she first moved to New York from Philadelphia, it was under the auspices of winning a fellowship from the Bureau on New Plays. They had offered $1500 to a couple of deserving new playwrights each year.
The year Helene won, the Theatre Guild decided that it was not in the playwrights' best interests to award them money, but then leave them to go their own way in the hard world of show business. They decided that in addition to the money from the Bureau of New Plays, they would also offer some training - so the year Helene won a fellowship, they were also treated to seminars from eminent theatre professionals. They were also given the chance to sit in on the preparations for a selection of Theatre Guild productions.
Of the twelve lucky hopefuls given this training (including Helene), a couple went on to become screen and television writers, but none of them became playwrights. The Theatre Guild productions they were privileged to have an insight into, all flopped.
The year previously, the two hopefuls who were awarded the money but received no training, and were left to their own devices, were Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams.