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Posts Tagged ‘Williamsburg’

The Golden West: An Interview with Daniel Fuchs

July 16, 2014 | by

love-me-or-leave-me-day-cagney

Doris Day and James Cagney in Love Me or Leave Me, for which Daniel Fuchs wrote the screenplay.

In early 1989, I telephoned Daniel Fuchs (1909–93), then in his eightieth year, in Los Angeles to ask about the possibility of interviewing him for The Paris Review. The novelist and screenwriter—heralded for his Williamsburg Trilogy of the 1930s (Summer in Williamsburg, Homage to Blenholt, and Low Company) and Love Me or Leave Me, for which he won an Academy Award—was cordial and open, but stipulated that he preferred to have the questions sent to him; he would mail back his answers. I sent the questions, twenty-seven of them, to Fuchs that February, and at first there appeared to be clear sailing—the writer said he would soon have something.

At the same time, Fuchs expressed a concern about the handling of the copyright when the interview was printed, and over the next several weeks it became increasingly difficult to allay or understand his fears. Although I’d assured him the rights would revert immediately to him upon publication, he remained concerned, asking for a signed warranty from George Plimpton. When this wasn’t quickly sent—owing to office delays rather than any disinclination—the writer grew vehement, and then abusive. Reluctantly I let go of the idea of seeing through an interview with Fuchs, whose work remains too much of a secret to this day.

A year or so after Fuch’s death in 1995, having been informed that the writer’s papers were in Special Collections at the Mugar Memorial Library at Boston University, I phoned Dr. Howard Gotlieb, the Special Collections librarian, to ask if, by any chance, there was an interview circa 1989 among the papers. Indeed there was. Fuchs had constructed an interview that, while based on my questions, departs from them in unexpected and telling ways. It amounts to a late work by the distinguished, if unexpectedly irascible, “magician,” as John Updike once pronounced him.

You have been identified by Irving Howe, Alfred Kazin, and others as one of three Jewish novelists of the 1930s whose work has survived a half century now, the other two being Henry Roth and Nathanael West. Would you comment on the literary climate of the thirties?

Survived, rediscovered—a peculiar occurrence. A man sits in a room writing novels. Nothing happens. The books don’t sell—four hundred apiece, the last one a few more. There are scattered reviews. Then thirty years later, suddenly, the books are brought out, again and again, acclaimed. A small-sized mystery. Of course, I’m talking only of my own books. Call It Sleep and Nathanael West’s work attracted attention from the start and were well known all along.

Did you read Call It Sleep when it came out?

With pleasure and pangs of jealousy.

Nathaniel West went to Hollywood and wrote B movies and worked on his last novel, The Day of the Locust, which in its final sentence seems to indicate that the protagonist has succumbed to the furies around him in Hollywood and gone mad. Henry Roth moved to rural Maine and hasn’t, as of now, published another novel. You gave up a literary career for several decades to write movies. Is there a common thread in all this?

No, I don’t think so. West kept working on his own material up to the end, while he was doing the pictures at Republic. Roth had his own reasons. I liked it in Hollywood and stayed on. I found the life most agreeable. Mordecai Richler went out of his way, in a book review, to say I bragged about the money I made in Hollywood. Actually, I never made a great deal of money in the movies. Sixty thousand dollars a year was about the best I could do, if Richler doesn’t mind my saying so. In fact, I went nearly broke, had to sell my house, and then an amazing thing happened, another one of those mysteries. A benefactor, a character out of a Molnár play—I can’t say his name, he once asked me never to bother him or intrude—stepped forward. He’s been watching out for us over the past number of years and we’re quite comfortable. I guess I mention all this to get a rise out of Richler. Hollywood strikes a nerve in some people. Read More »

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314 Bedford

March 12, 2012 | by

“Love amid apocalyptic urban debris, love amid pimps and drug pushers, love on staircases scattered with used needles … can barely pay the rent.” This was not an atypical note to find myself jotting down in my early twenties, part of a scribbled, half-legible foray into a novel I would never write. I wrote this in 2002, three years into my very first no-lease, single-occupant New York apartment and one year before I would eventually leave it, fleeing on grounds of emotional distress for a nondescript studio in Gramercy across from the Thirteenth Precinct (note my subconscious need for police protection). The cloying repetition of the word love suggests a rather flagrant tendency toward romanticizing crime and poverty, the ellipses symptomatic of someone too undisciplined to develop a thought. The only real character of this imaginary novel is the building. At least it was for me during the years that I called 314 Bedford Avenue, between South First and South Second streets on the grimy, sun-bleached south side of Williamsburg, my home.

To pass by the six-floor tenement now is not to see the building I lived in a decade ago. DuMont Burger has replaced the Puerto Rican dry cleaners in the street-level store front, where I never recall a single person entering or exiting with pressed shirts or anything approximating a claim ticket. Green metal café tables have taken the place of the wheelchair-bound homeless man with no legs who lived and slept seated for nine months of the year outside the entryway, his single mode of communication being “don’t touch me!” whenever anyone asked if he needed help. The building’s facade, still the color of a sick tongue, seems to have been water blasted, and the fire escape has been skinned and painted. As New Yorkers, we all live in a peculiar state of location upgrade, a kind of reverse Manderlay, where places we had once known have outpaced our own internal soft-focus (as an exercise, I recommend replacing the word nature with real estate developers in the opening page of Rebecca). Memory must do the decay work of time, and it is here at 314 that I remember the black, rusted iron gates of the front door, the hallway swabbed in yellow plaster, the chipped linoleum floor tiles attempting a marble mosaic, the five flights up to my apartment where, even drunk at 2 A.M., I had to be careful not to step on syringes, used condoms, sleeping prostitutes, and take-out ketchup packets. Read More »

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Dan Walsh

July 5, 2011 | by


Photograph by Bronwen Roberts.

Dan Walsh’s elevator is like the inside of a lunch box, a room coated with a loud, almost orangey mustard. The artist moved to his Williamsburg loft before Kent Avenue became, as Walsh calls it, “like Miami Beach,” when he could only see the skyline, the bridge, and the Domino Sugar refinery. And even though the view has changed, Walsh has stayed put. In our interview, Walsh tells me that he’s interested in exploring a space where the perceptual meets the symbolic, where meaning is created outside of historical codification. He is known for his large-scale geometric paintings that play on repetition, grids, and blocks. Lately, he has been creating artist books, which explore repetition, progression, and layering on a more intimate scale.

Space is important to me—you could say the minimalists organized the space and what is in-between. Historically, minimalism rejected “pictorial space.” I am using the formats of minimalism, but not following the goals. As matter a fact, I always regarded the space in a painting as the soul of a painting. I’m working to find a space I can interact with on a day-to-day basis, something neutral and malleable: one of the goals of minimalism was to experience qualities of materials, forms, colors and remove psychological space. I have always tried to put myself in the best “place” (be it living space or painting space) to think clearly—to make the next decision.

Photograph by Bronwen Roberts.

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Good-Bye to All That: Deitchland

September 24, 2010 | by

When Jeffrey Deitch opened his gallery in Soho in 1995, his program had promise. He exhibited the great Japanese artist of sound and light Mariko Mori, Chen Zhen’s installation of street latrines from Beijing (a tribute by the late artist to the old ladies tasked to clean them), and the African-American performance artist Jocelyn Taylor, who took over the windows of a whole Soho block to create an ironic red-light district—the highpoint in a career that would dissipate thereafter. Read More »

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