Faulkner in Hollywood

May 7: On this day in 1932,thirty-four-year-old William Faulkner began his off-and-on career as ascreenwriter, reluctantly (and just barely) reporting for work in Hollywood.Faulkner had already published four of his Yoknapatawpha County novels,including The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying, but he was far frompopular success or financial security. Also, he had recently married, andrecently bought Rowan Oak, his rundown antebellum mansion in hometown Oxford,Mississippi. MGM’s offer of a six-week contract at $500 a week must have lookedattractive, given that Faulkner’s bank account was so overdrawn that the clerkin the local sporting-goods store had just refused to honor his three dollarcheck.

Astold by biographer Joseph Blotner, Faulkner’s first days on the job were notpromising. He arrived in Hollywood on a Saturday, not long before quittingtime. His boss, Sam Marx, noticed that he had been drinking, and that he had ableeding cut on his head. Faulkner said he had been hit by a cab while changingtrains, but that he was fine and wanted to get right to work:

“We’regoing to put you on a Wallace Beery picture,” Marx told him.

“Who’she?” asked Faulkner. “I’ve got an idea for Mickey Mouse.”

Afterexplaining that Mickey Mouse films were made at Disney Studios, Marx had hisoffice boy take Faulkner to the screening room to see Beery as a prizefighterin The Champ, as the new film, Flesh, was to feature Beery as awrestler. Faulkner did not want to watch, preferring to talk to the office boyabout dogs; soon he walked out, saying that he knew how the story was going toend. When alerted, Marx initiated a search, but Faulkner couldn’t be found.When he showed up again, nine days later, he explained that he had beenwandering in Death Valley, but that now he really was ready to work.

Byautumn Faulkner was back home again, working on his own writing, “eatingwatermelon on the back porch and watching it rain.” His letters containmany good-riddance asides, though one wonders if a squabble over his contractwould have MGM “coming down here and taking a tithe of my pigs andchickens and cotton.”

Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.