Gallico photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1937
|Born||July 26, 1897|
New York City, New York, U.S.
|Died||July 15, 1976 (aged 78)|
|Occupation||Novelist, short story and sports writer|
|Alva Thoits Taylor (5 September 1921 - 1934) (divorced)|
Elaine St. Johns (12 April 1935 - 1936) (divorced)
Pauline Gariboldi (1939 - 1939) (divorced)
Virginia von Falz-Fein (19 July 1963 - 15 July 1976) (his death)
Paul William Gallico (July 26, 1897 – July 15, 1976) was an American novelist, short story and sports writer. Many of his works were adapted for motion pictures. He is perhaps best remembered for The Snow Goose, his only real critical success, and for the novel The Poseidon Adventure, primarily through the 1972 film adaptation.
Gallico was born in New York City. His father was the Italian concert pianist, composer and music teacher Paolo Gallico (Trieste, May 13, 1868 - New York, July 6, 1950), and his mother, Hortense Erlich, came from Austria; they had emigrated to New York in 1895. Gallico graduated from Columbia University in 1919 and first achieved notice in the 1920s as a sportswriter, sports columnist, and sports editor of the New York Daily News.
Gallico's career was launched by an interview with boxer Jack Dempsey in which he asked Dempsey to spar with him. Gallico described how it felt to be knocked out by the heavyweight champion. He followed up with accounts of catching Dizzy Dean's fastball and golfing with Bobby Jones. He became one of the highest-paid sportswriters in America. He founded the Golden Gloves amateur boxing competition. His book, Lou Gehrig: Pride of the Yankees (1941) was adapted into the sports movie The Pride of the Yankees (1942), starring Gary Cooper and Teresa Wright.
In the late 1930s, he abandoned sports writing for fiction, first writing an essay about this decision entitled "Farewell to Sport" (published in an anthology of his sports writing, also titled Farewell to Sport (1938)), and became a successful writer of short stories for magazines, many appearing in the then-premier fiction outlet, The Saturday Evening Post. His novella The Snow Goose, and other works, are expanded versions of his magazine stories.
Gallico once confessed to New York Magazine, "I'm a rotten novelist. I'm not even literary. I just like to tell stories and all my books tell stories.... If I had lived 2,000 years ago I'd be going around to caves, and I'd say, 'Can I come in? I'm hungry. I'd like some supper. In exchange, I'll tell you a story. Once upon a time there were two apes.' And I'd tell them a story about two cavemen."
In 1939, Gallico published The Adventures of Hiram Holliday, known for its later television adaptation with Wally Cox in the starring role and Ainslie Pryor as the supporting actor. It depicts the comic adventures of a modern American knight-errant visiting Europe on the verge of World War II and waging a single-handed, quixotic struggle against the Nazis in various countries. Gallico's Austrian background is evident in the book's strong Habsburg Monarchist theme. (The protagonist saves an Austrian Princess, wins her love and takes charge of her young son - who, the book hints, is fated to become the new Habsburg Emperor once the Nazis are driven out of Austria.)
The Snow Goose was published in 1941 in The Saturday Evening Post and won the O. Henry Award for short stories in 1941. Critic Robert van Gelder called it "perhaps the most sentimental story that ever has achieved the dignity of a Borzoi (prestige imprint of publisher Knopf) imprint. It is a timeless legend that makes use of every timeless appeal that could be crowded into it." A public library puts it on a list of "tearjerkers." Gallico made no apologies, saying that in the contest between sentiment and "slime," "sentiment remains so far out in front, as it always has and always will among ordinary humans that the calamity-howlers and porn merchants have to increase the decibels of their lamentations, the hideousness of their violence and the mountainous piles of their filth to keep in the race at all."
On December 25, 1949, Gallico's short story "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" was dramatized as Attraction 66 of the NBC radio series, Radio City Playhouse. It tells the humorous tale of a New York newspaper reporter and a photographer sent on a Christmas Eve wild goose chase by their publisher's wife for two goats harnessed to a little red wagon, which she intends to give her nephews for Christmas. During a night-long search fueled by a few drinks along the way, the reporter and photographer run across the evening's most dramatic news stories, which they must supposedly ignore in favor of the chore set out by their publisher's wife. The radio dramatization remains very popular with Old Time Radio fans and is featured each year on the Sirius XM Radio Classics channel.
His short story, "The Man Who Hated People" was reworked into his book Love of Seven Dolls, which was adapted into the Oscar-winning motion picture Lili (1953), and later staged as the musical Carnival! (1961). The film Lili is a poignant, whimsical fairy tale, the story of an orphaned waif, a naïve young woman whose fate is thrown in with that of a traveling carnival and its performers, a lothario magician and an embittered puppeteer. The versions, while differing, share a core theme surrounding the girl and the puppeteer. The puppeteer, communicating with Lili through his puppets as a surrogate voice, develops a vehicle whereby each of them can freely express their inner pain and anguished emotions.
His novel Mrs. 'Arris Goes to Paris (1958) was a bestseller, and became the first of four books about the lovable charwoman, "Mrs. 'Arris." Negotiations for film rights began as early as 1960, when he was resident in Salcombe, on the south Devon coast. It was eventually produced as a TV movie with Angela Lansbury in 1992.
During his time in Salcombe, Gallico serialised an account of the sinking of the MV Princess Victoria, the ferry which plied between Larne and Stranraer, an event which caused the death of every woman and child on board. It was his habit, at this time, to wander in his garden dictating to his assistant, Mel Menzies, who would then type up the manuscript in the evening, ready for inclusion in the newspaper.
The Silent Miaow (1964) purports to be a guide written by a cat, "translated from the feline", on how to obtain, captivate, and dominate a human family. Illustrated with photographs by Suzanne Szasz, it is considered a classic by cat lovers. Other Gallico cat books include Jennie (1950) (American title The Abandoned), Thomasina, the Cat Who Thought She Was God (1957), filmed in 1964 by the Walt Disney Studios as The Three Lives of Thomasina (which was very popular in the former USSR in the early 1990s, inspiring the Russian remake Bezumnaya Lori), and Honorable Cat (1972), a book of poetry and essays about cats.
Gallico's 1969 book The Poseidon Adventure, about a group of passengers attempting to escape from a capsized ocean liner, attracted little attention at the time. The New York Times gave it a one-paragraph review, noting that "Mr. Gallico collects a Grand Hotel [a reference to the 1930 Vicki Baum novel] full of shipboard dossiers. These interlocking histories may be damp with sentimentality as well as brine—but the author's skill as a storyteller invests them with enough suspense to last the desperate journey." In contrast, Irwin Allen's motion picture adaptation of Gallico's book was instantly recognized as a great movie of its kind. In his article "What makes 'Poseidon' Fun?", reviewer Vincent Canby coined the term "ark movie" for the genre including Airport, The High and the Mighty, A Night to Remember, and Titanic (the 1953 movie). He wrote that "'The Poseidon Adventure' puts the Ark Movie back where God intended it to be, in the water. Not flying around in the air on one engine or with a hole in its side." The movie was enormously successful, part of a decade of disaster films, and remains a cult classic.
In his New York Times obituary, Molly Ivins said that "to say that Mr. Gallico was prolific hardly begins to describe his output." He wrote 41 books and numerous short stories, twenty theatrical movies, twelve TV movies, and had a TV series based on his Hiram Holliday short stories.
On resigning from the Daily News to become a full-time fiction writer, Gallico moved from New York to the village of Salcombe in South Devonshire, England. Later he lived in many parts of the world, including England, Mexico, Liechtenstein and Monaco. He spent the last part of his life in Antibes, France where he died and was buried.
In 1955 Gallico took an automobile tour of the United States, traveling some 10,000 miles, sponsored by Reader's Digest. He wrote that "it had been almost twenty years since I had traveled extensively through my own country and the changes brought about by two decades would thus stand out." Several stories resulted.
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Gallico was a self-described "storyteller". Many of his stories are told in the apparently artless style of a folk tale or legend. Like other "storyteller" writers, the charm and power of his writing lie in the cumulative effect of plainly told detail. An outline or quotation from a particular story may sound banal, but taken in its entirety, a Gallico novel can be captivating.
For example, consider Molly Ivins' summary of The Snow Goose:
Andrea Park, in a review of Love of Seven Dolls, notes that Gallico's work has power only as a whole. "It is difficult to describe and impossible to pinpoint the tenuous, even nebulous word magic that successfully carries a reader into the world of fantasy and make-believe. It is perhaps delineated as a quality, a kind of fragile atmosphere that, once established, cannot be broken. Mr. Gallico creates this atmosphere when he writes the sequences with Mouche and the puppets."
Inexperienced writers are often advised to show rather than to describe. One of the mysteries of Gallico's style is its effectiveness despite his constant violation of this rule. When he wants us to know that a Peyrot is cynical, he says "Wholly cynical, he had no regard or respect for man, woman, child, or God." When he wants us to know that Mouche is innocent, he tells us of her "innocence and primitive mind." When he wants us to know that Rhayader has a warm heart in his crippled body, he says "His body was warped, but his heart was filled with love for wild and hunted things." Many of Gallico's stories are told as a string of assertions and generalities, illuminated only by touches of the particular and specific.
Gallico sometimes sets the scene by describing his stories as legends. Within the text of The Snow Goose he says that "this story... has been garnered from many sources and from many people. Some of it comes in the form of fragments from men who looked upon strange and violent scenes." Later he writes "Now the story becomes fragmentary, and one of these fragments is in the words of the men on leave who told it in the public room of the Crown and Arrow, an East Chapel pub." Given this presentation, it is hardly surprising that it has been taken to be a retelling of an actual legend; Gallico writes that "the person and character of the painter are wholly fictional as is the story itself, although I am told that in some quarters the snow goose appearing over Dunkirk has been accepted as legend and I have been compelled to reply to many correspondents that it was sheer invention."
Martin Levin wrote that "Mr. Gallico has long had a way with the quasi-human—puppets (Love of Seven Dolls), cows (Ludmila,) geese (The Snow Goose)" as well as no fewer than five books about cats.
Often, Gallico's point of view implies that a nonhuman character in some way really possesses a human spirit. In The Love of Seven Dolls, the puppeteer's relation to his puppets suggests at least a resemblance to dissociative identity disorder or "multiple personality" disorder, a disorder which was well known to the lay public in the 1950s. Gallico notes that the puppeteer's "primitive" Senegalese assistant "looked upon the puppets 'as living, breathing creatures.'" But it remains ambiguous whether the relation between the puppeteer and his puppets is natural or supernatural. This ambiguity is hinted at in the close of the movie adaptation, Lili. Although the puppeteer Paul's hands are engaged in embracing Lili, the four puppets peek around the puppet stage proscenium to smile and applaud in approval, apparently under their own power.
The Danny Kaye vehicle, Knock on Wood (1954), turns on a similar theme of a ventriloquist who can express his true self only through his dummy. This film possesses a psychological undertone; Kaye's character's love interest is a psychiatrist. (The pop-psychiatric point of view was prevalent during the late 1940s and 1950s, the same period that produced the psychoanalytic musical Lady in the Dark and the book The Three Faces of Eve.)
In 2000 J. K. Rowling declared that Gallico's 1968 Manxmouse was one of her favorite childhood books. In fact the boggarts appearing in Rowling's Harry Potter books closely resemble Manxmouse's "clutterbumph" which takes the form of whatever the viewer fears the most. Manxmouse was illustrated by Anne and Janet Grahame-Johnstone who also illustrated The Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith. The Japanese animation studio Nippon Animation adapted this tale into a feature-length anime film in 1979, directed by Hiroshi Saito. The anime, titled Tondemo Nezumi Daikatsuyaku: Manxmouse (Manxmouse's Great Activity) in Japanese, was dubbed into English in the 1980s, broadcast on Nickelodeon, and released on video by Celebrity Home Entertainment.
A television series, The Adventures of Hiram Holliday (starring Wally Cox) was adapted from a series of Gallico's stories about a newspaper proofreader who had many adventures dealing with Nazis and spies in Europe on the eve of World War II.
In Fredric Brown's science-fiction novel What Mad Universe a magazine editor from our own world is accidentally sent to a parallel Earth significantly different from ours; in this parallel world, the editor reads a biography written of a dashing space hero, a figure central to the novel's narrative, which is supposedly written by Paul Gallico.
In 1975, the British progressive rock band Camel released an album of work based on Gallico's The Snow Goose. Although the author was initially opposed to the album's release, legal action was evaded on the condition that the band used the words Music Inspired by The Snow Goose on the album's cover.