THE JAMES JONES LITERARY SOCIETY NEWSLETTER
Vol. 9, No. 4 Summer 2000
Editorial Advisory Board
The James Jones Society newsletter is published quarterly
to keep members and interested parties apprised of activities,
projects and upcoming events of the Society; to promote public
interest and academic research in the works of James Jones;
and to celebrate his memory and legacy.
Submissions of essays, features, anecdotes, photographs,
etc., that pertain to author James Jones may be sent to the
co-editors for publication consideration. Every attempt will
be made to return material, if requested upon submission.
Material may be edited for length, clarity and accuracy.
Send submissions to 2609 N. High Cross Rd., Urbana, IL 61802
or email@example.com .
Writers guidelines available upon request and online.
The James Jones Literary Society
Online information about the James Jones First Novel Fellowship
Robinson Recognizes Jones
As Native Son With Highway Signs
More than 40 years after he left east central Illinois never
to return, James Jones' hometown of Robinson, Illinois, welcomed him
back permanently with signs at the city limits telling the world he was
a native son. The dedication ceremony for the signs was to be held at
the city limit on the Trimble Spur (State Route 1A) on Wednesday, May
17, but was moved to the City Council chambers due to rain. There,
Society board members helped unveil the nearly three foot high by six
foot long sign, the largest approved by the State of Illinois.
Robinson Mayor Wally Dean said recognization of Jones in
Robinson was "long overdue."
"Our community has failed to recognize James Jones," Dean
said, "and I want to start to reverse that trend."
Kaylie Jones, the author's daughter, was unable to attend the
ceremony but sent the following statement:
"I am terribly sorry to be unable to join you on this
momentous occasion, but previous obligations are keeping me away from
"It is truly a great day for American Literature when one of
its master writers is recognized by his hometown. James Jones was first
and foremost an American: he loved his country, particularly the
Midwest, and his home of Robinson.
"But it is the job of every great novelist to be honest and
truthful in his portrayal of places and characters he loves, even if
such a portrayal includes the darker and less positive sides of life.
And I can tell you from personal experience that even while James Jones
lived the expatriate life abroad, he never lost sight of his roots, his
origins-nor did he ever lose his Midwesterner's accent and
down-to-earth dignity-and he remained to the end a staunch defender of
"He had planned for years to bring the family back to Robinson
for a visit, but he ran out of time. Perhaps he felt that he might not
have been completely welcome and thus resisted his desire to show his
children his hometown.
"Now, 23 years after his death, he is being welcomed home in
honor. I thank you all for being her today, and making this possible."
1999 Symposium Speakers Series
Editor's Note: The following text is lyricist and
screenwriter Betty Comden's edited remarks from the June 1999 James
Jones Literary Society Symposium at the Southampton Campus of Long
Island University. This is the third in a series of the distinguished
speakers' edited comments to be published:
My husband and I were great friends with Jim and Gloria Jones,
starting from their wedding day when they arrived at the Oloffson Hotel
(in Port-au-Prince, Haiti), and the owner of the hotel said, 'Guess who
got married here today? James Jones.' And then we met this couple, and
it was four-way love at first sight and we remained friends.
I just wanted to digress a tiny bit to say something about
Kaylie Jones, who is a professor at school here who is a novelist in
her own right, and a very successful one. The thing is that-this has
nothing to do with James Jones' teaching his daughter, but I met Kaylie
when she was 2-years-old. Her mother Gloria, had gone in a car, they
were living in Jamaica at the time, and Gloria was driving the car and
the little 2-year-old cherub Kaylie was sitting next to her. The car
was surrounded by a bunch of Rastafari and natives who wore long
dreadlocks and were pretty scary, and they started rocking the car and
hurling implications at it and her. And calling her everything under
the sun. Among the things they kept saying was, "Fuck you, white lady,"
and they pushed the car, and Gloria somehow had the courage to step on
the gas and pull away.
The next day she came to the airport to meet Steve and me, and
Kaylie was with her. As I came toward the car and Gloria introduced us,
this golden-haired cherub looked up and said, "Fuck you, white lady."
That word and other words like it became a kind of contension between
Jim and me.
I always admired his writing. I thought he was a brilliant
writer, but we used to argue about how many four-letter words could you
use in a sentence. And I always used to say that I thought a reasonable
amount was enough to make a point, but that Jim used too many. Well,
this became an argument over the years. He thought I was rather prissy,
sort of school-teacherish. There is a character in Go to the
Widowmaker, who is a school teacher and kind of prissy, and there
may be something of me in that, I don't know. We never settled that
argument, but he used to tease me. I did think he had a beautiful
writing style and it would have been clearer and stronger with a little
less use of those words.
In any case though, Jim used to always show me his work. He
would show me paragraphs, sometimes chapters of things that he had just
written and always seemed to value my opinion, which of course, made me
very happy. It was a great friendship and lasted and lasted.
We met at the Oloffson and then we remained friends. And when
we came to New York, we got them an apartment, and then Jim admired my
husband's clothes. Jim had about two workshirts, a pair of jeans, maybe
a jean jacket, and Steve had this splendid wardrobe. The first thing he
wanted Steve to do was to get him a wardrobe. So in New York, he took
him to a man named Woody Sills, who outfitted him. And then Jim was
quite a dandy after that. He loved clothes. He had this marvelous
taste. He was a very fancy, wonderful dresser.
So, we remained friends and we visited each other wherever.
They moved to Paris, which broke our hearts, but we stayed in touch. We
visited them there and then they had a house in Jamaica for a year. The
time we went to visit them-and we visited them several times
there-that's when Jim was writing Go to the Widowmaker. He was
in Jamaica. He was skin-diving, and when Steve and I arrived, he
insisted that Steve take some lessons in skin-diving. I think two
lessons in a pool were considered enough experience to go down into the
depths. Gloria and I were out on the boat with two guys and we watched
them put on their gear and go backwards up over the side of the boat,
possibly never to be seen again. It was terrifying, terrifying.
I remember Jim came up once a little bit later when they were
both down there and he wanted the underwater camera. So, he went down
with the camera, and then later when they scrambled up and Steve said,
"You disappeared for a while," and Jim said, "Well, I went up to get
the camera. There was a shark near you, and I wanted to take a
But I remember in spite of the arguments about Jim and the
writing-there was one thing: In Go to the Widowmaker there's a
beautiful chapter about skin-diving, about what it's like to go down to
the bottom of the ocean and to be that close to something so primordial
and beautiful and inexplicable and this kind of the euphoric feeling. I
was reading this long paragraph-it was a page or two of describing the
man going down to the bottom of the ocean-and I was thinking this is
really poetic, really beautiful writing and is extraordinary, and I
must tell Jim how much I love it and admire it. Then the thing
continues, and I was just adrift at the beauty of it, and he said, "And
then he got to the bottom of the ocean and sat on the ocean floor and
masturbated." So, you know, that's fine. OK, but it's not the picture I
wanted to see of the man at the bottom of the ocean floor.
I think a lot of people had the impression that Jim was
pugilistic and war-like and tough. And he was. And he was tough-talking
and heavy-drinking, and he did fight a lot. But that wasn't all he was.
He had a very poetic nature and a deeply sympathetic and empathetic
one. I remember one night, Steve and I, and Adolph Green, my partner,
and his wife, we took the Joneses to Brooklyn to see Judy Garland, who
was trying to make one of her numerous comebacks. She had done that and
then she had slipped again and so she was in a big night club way out
in Brooklyn and we went there and we were friends of hers. We sat down
and she came out and started to sing and stopped. And she couldn't go
on. She just broke down and left the stage, and it was just frightening
and sad. So we went back with Jim and Gloria, and Jim was so upset
about Judy and what had happened to her, he ran out to the car and he
got a copy of The Pistol. He had a copy of his manuscript in
the car and he wanted to do something for her. He brought that back in
and he signed it and gave it to Judy, and she was thrilled to have it
and it kind of helped her evening, helped to get through and helped her
feel more like a person again. Jim was so sympathetic, he couldn't bear
to see her suffering.
Then I remember being with Gloria in Texas at the Harry Ransom
Library in Austin where they had put up a whole-they have all of Jim's
papers and they had an exhibition of his things with a big table set
up, and Gloria's novel, that Budd mentioned, was there-a copy of her
novel-and pictures, of course, from From Here to Eternity and
all of Jim's books and this copy of The Pistol. Because when
Judy Garland died, her papers were put up for auction. I guess some
woman bought it, bought a lot of stuff, and had, among Judy's things,
Jim's copy of The Pistol. So when the time came, she gave it to
the University of Texas and it was such a full-circle moment, standing
there and seeing Gloria pick up this copy and remembering all the times
we had spent together. [That copy of The Pistol is in the
University of Illinois Library.]
You know he was all the tough things that everybody says, but
the hero of From Here to Eternity is not pugilistic; in fact,
he was a fighter who wouldn't fight because he killed someone in the
ring, and he was a poet. He was a musician. He was an artist. He was
not the typical soldier or the brutal character. I think Jim hated
brutality and hated all those terrible things about the Army. At the
same time, I think he loved the idea of this society of men and the
kind of friendships that could come out of that situation, but the
brutality end of it he hated. And Pruitt, of course, was an artist and
I think with his sensitivity, very much like Jim.
When I went to see Jim in the hospital-he was dying-he said to
me, "Get me some poetry." I said, "Sure." I had a rented house out
here, so I ran home, picked up a book-it was an anthology of American
poetry-and I ran back to the hospital with it and he looked up and
said, "No, I want Yeats, I want Yeats." He said, "This isn't poetry."
He didn't like the whole book I brought him. He was indeed an enormous
admirer of Yeats. And he used to read it aloud in the evenings
sometimes; we'd hear him read. And he was deeply moved by the poetry.
There were so many things that seemed contradictory, are
contradictory about him. Apparently Jim was a very small and rather
weak, sickly child with bad eyes-and nothing to do with a macho kind of
personality-and he was deeply affected I think by it. Then his father
committed suicide when he was a youngster; he shot himself. And all
those things shaped him in ways, you just looked at the outside. You
just looked at the kind of public persona, you didn't see any of these
things, but as all his friends who have talked to you already, knew, he
had this very, very sensitive poetic inside.
I'm just very happy I knew him. He was also a lyricist. He
wrote the lyrics to Re-enlistment Blues. That was a big hit. A
big hit song. He was not that crazy about the theater. He and Bill
Styron-I think Bill got to like the theater a lot because he wrote
plays. But before that when they came to New York and Who's Afraid
of Virginia Wolfe? had just opened, it was the hottest ticket in
town. I mean, you couldn't get near it. So they said could I get them
tickets for it, and I did. It wasn't easy. I got them four seats and I
said, "Well, after the show, come over to the house and we'll have
About 9 o'clock, I had curlers in my hair and cream or
whatever, and I went to the door and there they were. They had left
after the first act. I was stunned. So they didn't like it, and I had a
feeling in discussions I had with them-I thought that they felt that
playwriting was not writing. I mean, it wasn't writing as they knew it.
I don't think they respected it quite the same way, but then as I say,
Bill did write some plays, and they were good. So he changed.
And I think if Jim could hear me standing up here burbling on,
he'd look at me and say, "Fuck you, white lady."
10th Annual James Jones
Literary Society Symposium
October 28, 2000
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Make your hotel reservations in the Urbana-Champaign area
now, and plan to attend what is sure to be another fascinating
Here is the proposed schedule (subject to change):
8:30-9 a.m. - Registration & Refreshments, Rare Book Room
of the UI Library
9-10 a.m. - Society Board Meeting
10-11 a.m. - James Jones & The Illinois Connection
11 a.m.-noon - The Colony in Marshall, Ill.
Noon-1 p.m. - Lunch on your own
1-2 p.m. - James Jones' War Writings: An Overview
2-3 p.m. - James Jones & Two Wars: World War II and
Vietnam, featuring keynote speaker Gerald Linderman, history professor
emeritus, University of Michigan
3:30-4:30 p.m. - The Music of World War II, featuring WWII
veterans of Medicare 7, 8 or 9 Dixieland Jazz Band
4:30 p.m. - Visit to Jones Exhibit in the Rare Book Room of
the UI Library
The UI Library and Kaylie Jones will conduct a special
Writers' Workshop on Friday, Oct. 27. For more information, call
Barbara Jones at 217/333-3777.
Jones' Boyhood Home Awaits Its Fate
The boyhood home of James Jones still stands on East Walnut
Street, just east of the Robinson (Ill.) Square, a silent reminder that
one of America's great writers lived there as a boy and a young man.
Now empty, the house awaits its fate with one side eyeing an
encroaching parking lot already creeping down the block and the entire
house awaiting further demise and eventual destruction for the parking
lot or a modern-day makeover to save the house for a home rather than a
living historical site. All activity has stopped dead, waiting for
somebody to decide what to do with the house.
It was purchased by Jack Morris, grandson of the founder of
the Heath Candy Company in Robinson and a James Jones Literary Society
board member, with the intent that something be done to preserve the
home and maintain some of the Jones memorabilia. When that idea wasn't
picked up, Morris sold the house to Larry Waldrop, who started doing
necessary structural work to save the house. That apparently done, the
idea hasn't gone any farther.
From what I can gather, there wasn't and isn't widespread
local interest in preserving the home for one reason or another, most
of which has nothing to do with the fact that James Jones will be
remembered for his realistic portrayal of men at war, particularly in
World War II, for hundreds of years.
Robinson-near-Wabash may not become the tourist attraction for
Jones and his work as Stratford-Upon-Avon became for William
Shakespeare and his work, but the Jones boyhood home could be an asset
to the community and the Society.
As president of the Society and co-editor of its newsletter, I
regularly see inquiries from around the world about Jones' work or his
life. Sometimes somebody will ask about his home, if there's anything
there to see. Sadly, I tell them the house is there, barely, but at
least it's not a parking lot yet.
How long that will be true is anybody's guess. Still, I hear
about signed copies of first editions, letters and other things that
might be available were the house to be preserved as a museum or a
historical site. I received a letter not long ago from a man who said
his father still had several items that Jones had given him when he
left Marshall in the late 1950s. Undoubtedly, there are other things
that could be traced to Jones or could be used to decorate the house in
period style and preserved for posterity.
I've always hoped that the Society would end up with the house
and use it as a local office where Jones memorabilia and material would
be available to scholars and tourists and for tours when the annual
symposia are held in Robinson. But the Society is not able to
financially acquire the house, finish the restoration process that has
been started, decorate it and fill it with antique furniture and then
There are other options, I'm sure. I do think something needs
to be done to save the house and maintain it as a museum of sorts.
Maybe that could be done with grant money, contributions or other
sources. However and whatever, it can and should be done for the
community and for posterity.
I know there are people who want to see the house saved and
would like to see some parts of a native son's life available for
public use and display. The window of opportunity for that possibility
is closing. I hate to see it slammed shut forever.
--Ray Elliott, President
Letters to The Society
Robinson Native 'Discovers' Work Of Jones
As a native of Robinson, I have always been aware of James
Jones' work. I am somewhat ashamed to admit, however, that it was not
until last year that I began to read his books.
I have just started From Here to Eternity, and have
been amazed I waited so long to begin reading. I plan on contacting the
JJLS to become a member and will also include my wife and newborn
I have been appalled by the lack of promotion on the part of
Robinson officials of the heritage that is in town, and was excited to
read in the newsletter that long-overdue signs are being erected.
Also, do you have the street address for his boyhood home on
Walnut Street in Robinson? My mother and other family members still
live there, and I would like to see the house the next time I'm home.
-- Darrell Hampsten
Maryville (Ill.) Voice
Editor's note: The dedication for the city limits signs
noting Robinson is the hometown of James Jones was held this past May
15. The sign has been put up on the Trimble Spur (State Route 1A) where
the dedication ceremony was planned. Robinson Mayor Wally Dean said
signs at the other city limits will be up by the end of summer. The
Jones house is at 202 E. Walnut St. and is currently empty. It's the
first house on the north (left) side of the street as you go east on
Walnut from the south side of the Robinson Square. You can't miss it.
Jones' Short Stories
Merit Attention, Too
For nearly 35 years, I had a copy of Ice Cream Headaches
& Other Stories but wouldn't you know it, when I finally wanted
to settle in and re-read it a couple months ago, it seems to have
It has long been one of my favorite books of short stories,
and I've wondered why Jones' short story work hasn't been given more
attention by those who follow him so closely.
-- Jeff Kaley, Duncan, Okla.
Editor's note: Good question. James Jones' war fiction
reaps the most attention, but he has some very good short stories among
his collected work that warrant attention. Regarding copies of Ice
Cream Headaches and Other Stories, Society board member Dwight Connelly
is a book dealer and is usually able to find books at reasonable
prices. As an example, we wanted a copy of Viet Journal to review for
the upcoming Oct. 28 symposium at the University of Illinois. Connelly
had some and sent back the following message when we quiered him about
a copy: "If you just want a reading copy, I have the paperback version
for $12., plus postage. I also have a 2nd edition hardback for $20, or
a first edition hardback signed for $200. This is one of the more
difficult Jones books to locate." Connelly can be contacted at
firstname.lastname@example.org and has Jones work available at Society symposia
Options Still Exist
For Saving Jones'
RE: Ray Elliott's column on the James Jones House in the
Robinson Daily News, a version of which appears in this newsletter.
Since the Society is, I believe, a 501 (c) 3, if Larry Waldrop
is the current owner, could he use a tax deduction? It is easier to get
donations for bricks-and-mortar-type monuments than less tangible
things. Has the Society tried to obtain bequests or memorials from
members who may want to contribute for this worthy cause in their
wills? The Society may wish to consider hiring a professional
fund-raiser to do a capital campaign.
-- Kim Cox
San Diego, Calif.
P.S. Not a parking lot YET! (Love it.)
Editor's note: The house sits silently in abeyance,
waiting to be rescued from the wrecking ball and oblivion.
Book On Mailer
Past JJLS president and current Board member J. Michael Lennon
has just published with another Society member, his wife Donna Pedro
Lennon, a bio-bibliography titled, Norman Mailer: Works and Days,
a 280-page annotated and cross-referenced compilation of 1,110
utterances by Mailer in English.
The volume, some 15 years in the making, also includes a life
chronology, 81 photographs of Mailer, his family and friends, and his
books, a secondary bibliography (also annotated) and several
appendices. It is fully indexed. Norman Mailer has written a preface
for the volume, which is published by Sligo Press (67 S. Pioneer,
Shavertown, PA 18708; Phone: 570-696-5449).
Works and Days includes nine citations that reference
James Jones and a 1952 photograph of Mailer and Jones.
One citation refers to Jones' role in convincing Mailer of the
merits and justice of karma during Mailer's 1953 visit to The Colony in
Marshall, Ill. The exchange is reported in Laura Adams' 1975 interview
with Mailer which appeared in Partisan Review (Summer 1975).
Mailer says: "At any rate, Jones went on about it [karma] and
I said, 'You believe in that?' Because I was an atheist and a socialist
in those days. He said, 'Oh, sure. That's the only thing that makes
sense.' I thought about it over and over and in the last three or four
years I began to think, 'Yes, that does make sense. Jones was right.'"
For more information on the volume, e-mail: