May 13, 1976
I just wrote Joe Flaherty a note, and he’ll probably call you.
But, at the last minute (and this is surely that), I couldn’t
check out without sending you a last note.
I’ve been reading Baudelaire’s Last Poems (1859-63), and
stopped after Le Voyage and Anywhere Out Of The World.
They mean different things to different people (especially the
author), but I saw some of myself in them. I sure as hell wish
I’d written at least one or two things as good....
Before checking out, I merely wanted to say a personal fare
well and wish you all the best. If there’s some way you can
sneak the big novel over to the ’other side,’ give it a try. It
would be something fine to carry off into eternity.
So long, old man. Keep giving them hell.
Good luck and God bless,
P.S. One final thought. If you wouldn’t mind, when you
have a chance, I’d appreciate your dropping my father a note.
I worry, as would any son, how he’s going to take this. I had a
good life, a good shot at things, and I leave with almost no re
grets. It wasn’t anything to do with my parents, God knows.
They were always loving and kind to me. I just had some bad
luck, that’s all, and chose this way of departure rather than
lingering and getting worse by the day. It might help him
through what will undoubtedly be a bad time. . . .
He wrote other letters that day to Wes Joyce, proprietor of the Lion’s Head where he drank, and to Joe Flaherty the writer who lived in the same house as himself. The letters were all postmarked at three in the afternoon. That evening he went to the Lion’s Head, drank quietly, said little, and studied the faces of Joyce and Flaherty who were also at the bar and would receive his letters in the morning. Then he went home and took an overdose of pills and died in his tidy apartment, dead before he was 44. A number of us went to his funeral. Being asked to speak, I read aloud from his letter. I confess I had read the letter twice before I realized what it said, and so I tried to explain that Crowther lived, more than any friend I knew, by an idea of style. When style is a way of life rather than a literary act, it has only the modern fundament on which to base itself—grace under pressure. It is probable that Frank had more pressure in the last two years of his life than anyone I know, and he was not necessarily prepared for it; his early career had been an easy and attractive one. He had four years in the Marine Corps with two of them at the American Embassy in Paris, followed by a good campus career at the University of North Carolina, and then a stretch of nine years in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations and with Roger Stevens on the White House staff when the National Endowment for the Arts was being forced. He was that rarest of career men, a literary functionary on the national level, and it gave him a certain blandness. He was, in the years I first knew him—we would run into one another at Plimpton’s parties—a well-built, pleasant-featured slightly round-faced acquaintance, with a half-agreeable, half-promiscuous heartiness, and a great knowledge-ability of the activities of everyone in the literary world. I doubt if he missed reading a single issue of any magazine relevant to those times and those people. He was up on every bit of gossip. It was easy not to take him seriously, and I remember my surprise at dis-covering in 1971 when he came to visit in Provincetown, that Crowther was more of a literary man than I had realized, and had the passionate love of good writing you expect to find in people who have high literary ambitions but know agonies in trying to set it down.