Howard Hawks: The Grey Fox of Hollywood

Howard Hawks: The Grey Fox of Hollywood

by Todd McCarthy

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Overview

Howard Hawks is the first major biography of one of Hollywood's greatest directors, a filmmaker of incomparable versatility whose body of work includes the landmark gangster film Scarface, screwball comedies like Bringing Up Baby and His Girl Friday, the Bogart-Bacall classics To Have and Have Not and The Big Sleep, the musical Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and aviation classics and Westerns like The Dawn Patrol and Rio Bravo. Sometime partner of the eccentric Howard Hughes, drinking buddy of William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway, an inveterate gambler and a notorious liar, Hawks was the most modern of the great masters and one of the first directors to declare his independence from the major studios. He played Svengali to Lauren Bacall, Montgomery Clift, and others, but Hawks's greatest creation may have been himself. As The Atlantic Monthly noted, "Todd McCarthy . . . has gone further than anyone else in sorting out the truths and lies of the life, the skills and the insight and the self-deceptions of the work." "A fluent biography of the great director, a frequently rotten guy but one whose artistic independence and standards of film morality never failed." — The New York Times Book Review; "Hawks's life, until now rather an enigma, has been put into focus and made one with his art in Todd McCarthy's wise and funny Howard Hawks." — The Wall Street Journal; "Excellent . . . a respectful, exhaustive, and appropriately smartass look at Hollywood's most versatile director." — Newsweek.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780802137401
Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Publication date: 10/28/2000
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 768
Sales rank: 794,381
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x (d)

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CHAPTER 1

Origins

Settle your father and your brother in the best of the land; let them dwell in the land of Goshen.

— Genesis 47:6

The big news in Goshen, Indiana, on Decoration Day, May 30, 1896, was the melee at August Fausch's saloon. Things got so out of hand that at 8:30 that Saturday night Marshal Rigney shot and killed the chief perpetrator, Richard Van Tassel, commonly known as Dick Simmons, a hulking man who was considered "prone to drink." The tempers that night at Fausch's merely matched the weather, however, as a heavy storm was ripping through central and northern Indiana, the wake of a major cyclone that had hit St. Louis, killing more than four hundred people.

In a quieter part of town, in a stately, handsome house on the corner of Fifth and Jefferson, there was big news of a happier, more intimate nature: a first child was born to Frank W. Hawks, the thirty-one-year-old scion of Goshen's most prominent and successful family, and his wife, the former Helen Howard, the twenty-four-year-old daughter of one of Wisconsin's leading industrialists. Given his mother's surname and his father's middle name, Howard Winchester Hawks represented the joining of two affluent, business-minded, British-blooded Midwestern families of similar traditions, each of which had made its fortune in local industry in the second half of the nineteenth century.

If you did business in Goshen in 1896, you had to do business with the Hawkses; they had basically made the town, and they virtually owned it. The mainstay of the local economy, the exceedingly profitable Goshen Milling Company, had been incorporated, and was controlled, by four Hawks men, including Frank's father, Eleazer, who had owned an earlier incarnation of the firm, C. & E. Hawks, with his brother Cephas. If you wanted to buy or rent a house, you had to go to the real estate office of Hawks Bros. & Co., downtown at Lincoln and Main. If you then wished to furnish your home, you headed up to Jefferson to see Edwin Hawks at the Hawks Furniture Company. If you needed some financing, you could make an appointment with City National Bank Vice President Frank E. C. Hawks, who might also be able to help you out with your heating problems, as he doubled as president of the Hawks Coal Company. If you developed indigestion or a headache from worrying about how you were going to afford your new home, Dwight Hawks, the town's leading pharmacist over at Hawks & Egbert, might be able to assist you. Anything you might need to fix the place up could be found at the magnificent Hawks, Messick & Company hardware store, and you could supply it with all the latest items from Chicago and New York at Joel P. and William H. Hawks's well-stocked dry goods and notions store on Lincoln. And if you didn't know how much postage it would take to send that box of Hawks buckwheat to Mom back in Michigan, you could have a word with Ida Hawks, the assistant postmaster at the main post office over on Pike.

Having been in the area for precisely sixty years before Howard was born, the Hawkses were among the founding families of the Elkhart County area, and they played the critical imaginative and economic role in putting Goshen on the map. But the family had been in North America for more than 260 years before the birth of its most famous member.

Early in 1630, ten years after the Pilgrims landed in Plymouth, the brothers John and Adam Hawks were among a Massachusetts Bay Company expedition of six hundred settlers to the New World. After landing on June 12 at Salem, they eventually settled on the Shawmut Peninsula, where Boston soon grew. Like many of the new colonists, the Hawks brothers had arranged to pay for their voyage through an indentured work agreement. After four years of labor in the Boston settlement of Dorchester, the Hawks brothers were declared free men at the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony on September 3, 1634.

Adam disappeared from history at this point, but John moved on to the Colony of Connecticut, to the settlement of Windsor. He married Elizabeth Brown, a niece of Nathaniel Ward, with whom he had several children, including the sons Eliezer and Gershom. As adults the two brothers were caught in the thick of the first war between the English colonists and the native Indians. Eliezer Hawks was one of the few whites to escape unscathed from one major battle, at the Falls, in 1676.

Shortly thereafter, Eliezer moved about twelve miles north of Hadley to the new settlement of Deerfield, where he married Judith Smead. The couple's son, named after his father, was born on December 26, 1693, and grew up to marry, in 1714, Abigail Wells. Eliezer Jr. moved down the road to Wapping and began a family that grew to at least four sons. In 1743, he bought five hundred acres of land at Charlemont, about sixteen miles north-west of Wapping on both sides of the Deerfield River. In the early 1750s, his first three sons, Gershom, Joshua, and Seth, built separate homes in this densely forested section of the Berkshire Mountains, which lay directly on the Mohawk Trail and was the scene of considerable skirmishing with Indians as well as with the French. To protect their new homes, the brothers built a stockade, which was dubbed "Hawks Fort." Looming above Charlemont, immediately west of the modern Berkshire East Ski Area, is Hawks Mountain.

Taking over his father's farm at Wapping was a younger son, Paul, who had served in the French wars and was married to Lois Wait. Their large family included the sons Eleazer, Joseph, and Cephas. After the Phelps and Gorham purchase opened up land in western New York, these three sons were among the many New Englanders who decided to move west in the 1790s, settling in Ontario County, midway between Syracuse and Rochester.

Moving away from the farming that the family had traditionally practiced, Cephas partnered with two other settlers in building a gristmill in about 1799. Ten years later, he constructed a large woolen factory at White Springs, near Geneva, and made a great deal of money very quickly. However, prices plunged and the economy bottomed out after the War of 1812, wiping out his profits.

In the meantime, Cephas Hawks had married Chloe Chase and started what was to become a family of eleven children. Remarkably, the first six kids — Frank, Albert, Dwight, Cephas Jr., Eleazer, and Joel — were all boys, while the next five — Eliza, Calista, Sarah, Mary, and Harriet, who died as a child — were all girls. With prospects in the area unlikely to improve, Cephas moved the family in the early 1820s to the growing village of Ypsilanti, Michigan, fifteen miles east of Ann Arbor. Trying a new field, Cephas opened a distillery there in 1826 with four other men. Over time, he also became quite successful in the cattle business, accumulating enough capital to consider other enterprises. In 1835, he and his son Cephas Jr. undertook a prospecting tour of neighboring areas and bought two hundred acres of land near Middlebury, Indiana, just south of the Michigan line, about 125 miles southwest of Ypsilanti.

The state of Indiana had been created just nineteen years before, in 1816. As of 1822, the southern half of the state had been settled and carved up into counties, but the northern third was still owned by Indians; the peaceful mound-building Pottawattomi tribe occupied what became Elkhart County. By coercive treaty, the Indians were forced to give up their land in 1828, at which time it was opened up to homesteaders. The first settlers in what became Goshen put down stakes that year, Elkhart and St. Joseph counties were established in 1830, and the first industry at what became Waterford, on the Elkhart River about fifteen miles south of the Michigan line, as well as on the Goshen-Logansport Road, came into being three years later.

Cephas and Cephas Jr. had been so impressed by the potential they saw in Indiana that they promptly moved the entire family to burgeoning Waterford in early 1836. Cephas found 99.4 acres of land, including a grist-mill and ample water power created by a dam the previous owner had put up across the Elkhart River. After a series of transactions, in March 1836 the land ended up in the hands of Cephas, Cephas Jr., and a friend from Ypsilanti named David Ballentine, and in 1838 they officially founded the town of Waterford.

The gristmill Cephas bought was the first frame mill in the county and quickly became known for making the finest flour in the region. So successful was C. Hawks & Sons that in 1847 Cephas, Cephas Jr., and the latter's younger brother Eleazer built a much larger mill on the same site along the river. This mill had a vastly increased capacity over the old one, able to process fifty barrels of flour per day.

Well before he had spent a decade in the area, Cephas Hawks, with the help of his sons, had turned Waterford into quite a thriving little manufacturing center. The family owned a sawmill, a woolen mill, a brewery, and the town's main store, which had such a varied and plentiful stock of merchandise that citizens of much larger towns, such as South Bend and Elkhart, came to Waterford to trade. Cephas Hawks also ran a tannery and an ashery in the bargain, and, in the judgment of an official record of Elkhart County, "the family whose interests most completely identified them with the early history of Waterford was that founded here in the thirties by Cephas Hawks Sr."

No matter how industrious the Hawks men were, however, or how superior was their mill, Waterford was fighting a losing battle with Goshen for economic and political dominance in the area. Established as the seat of Elkhart County, the four-by-five-block town of Goshen had just been poking along until 1852, when the first railroad line, the Lake Shore & Michigan, came through. This spelled Waterford's doom just as it signaled Goshen's future. Three years later Cephas Jr. and Eleazer opened a hardware store, and the Hawks family began shifting its base to the bigger town.

Well before this, it had become clear that of all of Cephas's ten surviving offspring, these two boys were the ones best suited to carry on their father's smart business ways and ambitious thinking. The fourth-born son, Cephas Jr. always worked closely with his father and in all ways was the natural heir apparent to the family businesses. He married a Vermont native, Dalinda B. Bliss, in 1841, and over the next twelve years they had six children: Calista C., Frank E. C., Eveline, who died as a child, Mary E., Edwin W., and Harriet, who also died very young.

Cephas Sr.'s next son, Eleazer, also followed easily into the family business ventures. Eleazer, however, experienced repeated tragedy in his domestic life. His first wife, Margaret Thomas, after at least eight years of marriage, died suddenly at the age of thirty on March 16, 1857. Three years later, Eleazer wed a woman known only as Eliza Ann, but within a year she too was dead, at thirty-five. The circumstances of both women's deaths are nowhere recorded. Then, on October 1, 1863, Eleazer tried a third time, marrying thirty-one-year-old Jennie L. Goff. Little more than one year later, on October 16, 1864, at the advanced age of forty-five (for then, at least), Eleazer became a father for the first time when Jennie gave birth to Franklin Winchester Hawks, who was to become Howard Hawks's father. In 1868, a daughter, Grace L., was born, while a subsequent daughter died in infancy.

In 1844 Cephas Sr.'s sixth and final son, Joel P., at age twenty-two, married Sarah J. Brown of New York State; her father, Ebenezer Brown, became sheriff of Elkhart County. They had a son, Dwight, in 1851, but the following year, in hopes of striking it rich in the Gold Rush, Joel left for California and was gone for three years. Like most other prospecting hopefuls, Joel failed to make his fortune, but the agreeable climate did improve his health. In short order, Joel and Sarah had five more children — Joel P. Jr., Alice and Minnie, both of whom died in childhood, and Emma and Mabel.

While Joel was away, his mother, Cephas Sr.'s prim, charitable, God-fearing wife, died, on Christmas Day 1853, three days short of her seventy-third birthday. By the time Joel returned home in 1855, his father was eighty-one, still energetic and involved in business, but comfortable and proud to see his sons so capably following in his footsteps; ten years before, he had signed official ownership and control of the mill over to Cephas Jr. and Eleazer. Cephas Sr. essentially represented the prototypical success story of his generation, having been born before the birth of the nation, pushing westward several times before settling upon his chosen place, building that into a thriving mercantile community, then leaving behind many descendants to further what he had made into a respected name. He died on May 18, 1859, at eighty-five, having decidedly made his mark in the world.

The year their father died, Cephas Jr. and Eleazer constructed the biggest building yet seen in Goshen, a three-story commercial structure into which they moved the hardware store and gradually installed many of the major Hawks concerns, including the dry goods operation in 1865, the grocery store soon thereafter, the real estate office, the Hawks Coal Company, and the Hawks Electric Company.

Looking ahead in the mid-1860s to how he could further enhance the economic outlook for the little Midwestern empire his father had founded, Cephas Jr. realized that improved transportation in and out of Goshen could considerably expand his pool of potential customers. Opening Goshen up to year-round boat transport seemed the best bet, and to do this meant building a hydraulic canal. He encountered a surprising amount of opposition from other local businessmen, but he promoted the idea tirelessly until he not only won approval but secured a contract from the city to build it himself.

So it came as little surprise when, after the canal was completed, Cephas and Eleazer announced that they would move their milling operations from Waterford to Goshen. More than ever, due to the increased capacity and improved transportation, the Hawks mill thrived: the facility was greatly enlarged, the latest equipment was continually replacing the old, and the company cranked its capacity up to five hundred barrels of flour every twenty-four hours, making it one of the biggest operations of its type in the country. As one local historian put it, "No other concern in Goshen contributes more to the prosperity of Goshen than does the Goshen Milling Co."

By this time, the other dominant family industry was the Hawks Furniture Company. Established in 1873 by Cephas, Eleazer, Joel, and partner Daniel Fravel, the operation started small, with eight employees, making inexpensive, unfinished bedstands and tables. But it grew quickly into the second most important business in Goshen, turning out ornate chamber suites of mahogany, bird's-eye maple, and quartered oak that went out to customers worldwide.

As the century was drawing to a close, the Hawkses so completely dominated Goshen life and business that writers of the city's history could barely contain themselves paying them homage. The Manual of Goshen proclaimed that the Hawks brothers' talent for business was so great that "one almost believes they have a perpetual royalty on doing things at precisely the right time, which largely accounts for their bags of golden sheckels. ... The historian, like sensible people generally, will join in the refrain, 'Pass up more Hawkses if you would supplant poverty by plenty.'" * * * The year 1891 was a year of wrenching personal loss for the Hawks family. On May 19, Grace, the only surviving daughter of Eleazer and Jennie, who had lost a later daughter in infancy, died suddenly at the age of twenty-three. Exactly a week later, on May 26, Eleazer passed away, at seventy-two. This double loss left Jennie devastated and, with time, increasingly irrational and difficult; it also left Frank Winchester Hawks a very wealthy twenty-six-year-old. Although involved in the family businesses since graduating from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, Frank had not yet shown either the zeal or the traditional Hawks industriousness to integrate himself into the inner circle of management. With Cephas now seventy-eight, and as involved with his voracious reading as he was with business, control of the Hawks industries was falling into the hands of Cephas's eldest son, Frank E. C. Hawks, who was now forty-three.

With his father dead and living with his grieving, inconsolable, unreasonable mother at the large frame house on Fifth and Jefferson, young Frank Winchester Hawks was at sixes and sevens throughout 1891, faithfully tending to his mother as best he could but increasingly looking for a place for himself in the Hawks's well-built, well-to-do, insular universe. Destined to become the first Hawks to leave Goshen, he would meet the woman who would give him a way out the following year.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Howard Hawks"
by .
Copyright © 1997 Todd McCarthy.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
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Table of Contents

Introduction: The Engineer as Poet,
1 Origins,
2 Boy of Privilege,
3 Rich Kid in Hollywood,
4 Showtime,
5 The Sound Barrier,
6 A New Dawn,
7 The Criminal Code,
8 Tough Guys: Hughes, Hecht, Hays, and Scarface,
9 Back to Warners: The Crowd Roars,
10 Tiger Shark,
11 Sidetracked at MGM: Faulkner, Thalberg, and Today We Live,
12 Viva Villa!,
13 Screwball: Twentieth Century,
14 Barbary Coast,
15 Flying High: Ceiling Zero,
16 The Road to Glory,
17 Include Me Out: Come and Get It,
18 Big Spender: RKO, Gunga Din, and Bringing Up Baby,
19 Only Angels,
20 His Girl Friday,
21 Slim, Hemingway, and An Outlaw,
22 Sergeant York,
23 Catching Fire,
24 Air Force,
25 The Bel-Air Front,
26 Not in the Script: To Have and Have Not and The Big Sleep,
27 The Urge to Independence: Red River,
28 Slim Walks, Money Talks,
29 Skirting Trouble: I Was a Male War Bride,
30 An Old Boss, A New Mate,
31 The Fox at Fox: Monkey Business and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,
32 In the Land of the Pharaohs,
33 Sojourn in Europe,
34 Bravo,
35 Fun in the Bush: Hatari!,
36 A Fishy Story: Man's Favorite Sport?,
37 Fast Cars and Young Women,
38 The Last Roundup,
39 From Sand to Dust,
40 Posterity,
Filmography,
Acknowledgments,
Notes,
Bibliography,
Index,

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