Saturday, November 05, 2011

Jim Tully, a father of hard-boiled

Brian Lindenmuth recommended Jim Tully, and when Brian speaks, I listen.

Tully, who lived from 1886 to 1947, was  a "vagabond, pugilist, and American writer" who achieved commercial success and critical favor in the 1920s and '30s with a series of novels and hard-boiled memoirs. 

He was not a crime writer, but Harvey Pekar's foreword to Tully's Circus Parade (1927) says Tully's legacy is perhaps "most clearly seen in detective stories beginning about 1930. His work often had a rough quality, but it is genuine, not affected, like Ernest Hemingway's."

Circus Parade's first sentence is suitably Hammettian in its matter-of-factness and brevity ("It was my second hobo journey through Mississippi") and the ending of its third story/vignette is wryly humorous ("Cameron's loss was several thousand dollars. Finnerty had gained eighty cents"), a bit like Hammett's story "Slippery Fingers."

So if you like Hammett (and I know that you do), you just might like Jim Tully.

Thanks, Brian.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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44 Comments:

Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

I've tried Tully before. His milieu is excellent and his matter of fact style very good. It was a clever move to get Harvey Pekar to write the forward and thus attempt to defuse the bomb of Tully's casual anti semitism. Tully's "I dont know who cheated in the game but I was playing with a Jew" stuff is tiresome.

November 06, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

'if you Hammett' is a nice expression

I have a couple of friends who would probably not speak to me for days if I even showed them the cover of that book, never mind the contents.

November 06, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, I noticed the anti-Semitism, but I want to wait until I've read the whole book before deciding what to make of it. Twice in the first chapter, the narrator loses at craps, and the climax of both incidents is the news that the Jewish storekeeper had played. Tully knew his audience would figure out what he was implying.

Killer, clowns, Jews...all part of life on the road.

November 06, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"'if you Hammett' is a nice expression."

Seana, your gentle sarcasm is the ideal cure for typographical errors. The omission has been fixed. Thanks.

November 06, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, the cover might have a bit much of the Joker look, the Joker of the Batman movies, not of the comics. I can't blame the publishers for trying.

Why would your friends not speak to you for days? Do they love circuses that much?

November 06, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

No, they fear clowns that much. Coulrophobia. One friend doesn't even like to hear the word.

I actually liked the expression "if you Hammett", although I don't know exactly what it would mean.

It's funny that Paul D. Brazill has a link to an interview he just did in Italian over at his place, and though I could only follow it to a certain degree, I liked that when the interviewr asked him "Chandler o Hammett?", he responded "Chamett".

November 06, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter, Seana

Well it is pretty easy to cheat at craps if you're half decent at slight of hand.

Speaking of noirs and circuses have you ever seen Nightmare Alley with Tyrone Power? Its a really nasty little movie with a fantastic performance by pretty boy Power.

November 06, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I haven't seen it, but yeah, Tyrone Power is not the first name that comes to mind when one thinks of noir. The title "Nightmare Alley" sounds like something from the makers of "Halloween."

The introduction to this edition of Circus Parade includes some interesting remarks about the place the circus -- specifically, running away to join it -- held in the American imagination at the time. That made the romantic circus life a subject ripe for debunking, which Tully appears to have done, without necessarily intending to do so.

In re movies, does anyone remember a movie called Carny from about 1980, starring Gary Busey and Robbie Robertson (yep, the guy form the Band)?

November 06, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

I haven't seen either movie, but have heard of both. They probably aren't really my kind of thing.

It's funny, but when I was a little kid I had a book from my grandfather about circuses that was all paintings and I was quite fascinated by it.

So I wasn't afraid of clowns, but I never found them all that funny either.

November 06, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I may have mentioned that I once performed as a clown in Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus. I was working in Marlboro, the circus came to Worcester, so I went clown for a day and wrote about it. The front-page photos were of me getting made up.

November 06, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

That's pretty cool, Peter. And rather unexpected.

November 06, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yeah, I suppose my comedy is more verbal than physical.

My bit was as part of the clowns' entrance, a parade around the arena and into the stands before the show started. I remember that one kid was pretty taken by the faces I made at him. And I did a bit of improvising, diving head-first through a hoop at the end, instead of just walking through it.

November 06, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

Better and better.

November 06, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Unfortunately, that all happened before the days of online archives, so I cannot easily post visual evidence. I do remember that the interviews were the first I had had to conduct while being made up.

November 06, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

The first?

November 06, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

And the only, to date.

November 06, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, I remember Carny fondly for a scene in which Gary Busey's character, upon meeting twin sisters, says, "Y'all are sin twisters?"

That's the sort of wordplay I'd have been proud to come up with.

November 06, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

You aren't telling me something I don't know.

I bet you were pretty good at the hoop jumping though.

November 06, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

It was fun. The whole experience was a bit underwhelming; I really am not a performer by temperament. But I just felt a surge of inspiration toward the end, a wave of relief, a feeling that that hoop had been put there just for me to leap through it. And who was I to fight my destiny?

November 06, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

You might be more of a performer by temperament than you know.

November 06, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Wait a minute. Any hoop-jumping I may have done was combined to literal hoops. I'm proudly poor at jumping through the metaphorical kind.

Isaac Babel has a character tell another: "Imagine that instead of stammering in public and raising hell at your desk, you stammered at your desk and raised hell in public." That character is me when it comes to performing.

November 06, 2011  
Blogger Kelly Robinson said...

You had me at "hard-boiled." Somebody new to try.

November 06, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Hard-boiled but not crime -- an interesting combination especially since, as noted, its publication coincides roughly with the flowering of American hard-boiled crime writing. Tully and Dashiell Hammett began their writing careers around the same time, for example, maybe even the same year.

November 06, 2011  
Blogger Brian Lindenmuth said...

Charles Willeford wrote an essay on Tully called "Jim Tully: Holistic Barbarian"

Which can be found here: http://web.archive.org/web/20070809130003/www.dennismcmillan.com/copy_of_jimtully/willefor.htm

November 06, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Naturally I haven't read the essay yet, but anything that includes "holistic barbarian" in its title is worth a look. But what else would one expect from an author who called one of his novels "The Shark-Infested Custard"?

November 06, 2011  
Blogger Paul D. Brazill said...

Nightmare Alley is a great film. That Tyrone was a good looking lad but not at the end of that film...when I lived in London I once heard a late night radio show about clown porn and how the clown union wanted to get it banned.

November 07, 2011  
Blogger Thomas Pluck said...

Been meaning to read Tully's "Beggars of Life" for some time.

November 07, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"That Tyrone was a good looking lad but not at the end of that film."

Now, that's an effective promotional line.

Apparently Circus Parade upset some circus people to the point where a circus association protested when it heard a film version ot th ebook was being contemplated.

I would like to see the wording of any legislation that banned clown porn. What do clown unions do when they want stage a crippling strike? Beat the crap out of anybody who laughs?

November 07, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thomas,I also have a copy of Tully's "Shanty Irish." It and my copy of "Circus Parade" are recent editions published by Kent State University Press.

November 07, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Paul

I reckon Nightmare Alley is the one Power will be remembered for 100 years from now. Its one of the great unheralded noirs.

November 07, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I just have to figure out a new way to get old movies now that my local video stores have closed. I suspect it is no coincidence that soon after the closings, Netflix was caught in a mini-scandal about price increases.

November 07, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

This film is currently available on DVD at the Richmond Branch of the Philadelphia Free Library. You may place a hold on it and pick it up there or perhaps they offer the service of sending it to the branch of your choice as our Los Angeles Public Library does...?

November 07, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

It does offer such a service. I am too set in my ways to think of al ibrary as a source of movies, but I will look for it right now. Thanks.

November 07, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Done!

November 07, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

I added it to my Netflix list, and pushed it near the top, though it's going to have to wait awhile.

I didn't have to leave Netflix in outrage, because for the lowest tier membership, nothing really changed. Actually, I just checked it, and the tax actually went down by five cents...

November 07, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I've just placed the movie on hold at the library.

I happen to have edited a story about the NetFlix situation, in which the company cancelled plans to spin off a separate at company to handle the streaming-movies end of tis business. It did not, however, cancel plans to break the former monthly charge that covered both services into two charges that, combined, totalled more than the previous single charge.

November 07, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

I just have to figure out a new way to get old movies now that my local video stores have closed.

As much as I love our local public library branch (trivia question: anybody outside California know why ours is named "John C. Fremont"?) and its helpful librarians, there's no doubt access to "free" DVDs at the public library is part of the reason behind the demise of the video/DVD rental store, including our beloved Rocket Video. (What a black, bleak day it was in L.A. when they closed last month!) Not all the blame can be placed on those evil capitalists at Netflix, amazon, etc.

I always get a little depressed and wistful when I see the number of public library patrons checking out DVDs only vs. those checking out books or a combo of books and DVDs.

And I'm such an old-fashioned librarian, I have to ask if it's really the public library's task to have half a dozen of the complete sets of all seasons of Sex and the City--or name your trash of choice--scattered among the county's various branches.

I wonder if I'd have been one of those turn-of-the-last-century librarians who fought against the presence of popular fiction in the public library?!

Glad you snagged that Nightmare Alley DVD, Peter. That there wasn't a rush on it after discussion at DBB!

Oh, and speaking of public libraries and Philadelphia, I indexed an abstract of the article Preserving Philadelphia’s Carnegie Branch Libraries today. I'm a big fan of Carnegie public libraries.

November 07, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I don't know why yours is named for Fremont, other than his associations with California. I, too, wonder whether public libraries ought stock all that shite.

November 07, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

I should have been more clear. I was just wondering if anybody who hadn't had 4th grade social studies in California would even know who J.C. Fremont was "nowadays." Or Lotta Crabtree??

November 07, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Blogger again eating posts, so here's the second try:

I remember the Fremont name from Henry Cowell Redwood State Forest in Santa Cruz. One of the plaques mentioned him, and a tree might even be named for him.

Charlotte Mignon Crabtree? Never heard of her. Cool name, though.

November 07, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

When I was a little girl, back when (as Ed McBain would say) dinosaurs roamed the earth... And before books full of fictional, plucky, spunky heroines unlikely ever to have existed but calculatedly devised to "empower" young female readers became the norm in book publishing, we had the wonderful series "Childhood of Famous Americans." Still in print, but p.c.'ized and with tacky sketches for illustrations instead of the beautiful silhouette illustrations of the originals, these were fictionalized (but based on facts) accounts of, well, the childhoods of famous American men and women. Lotta Crabtree, Susan B. Anthony, Molly Pitcher, Abigail Adams, Dorothea Dix, and Jane Addams were among my favorites. COFA's (as collectors refer to them) with the original orange cloth boards and well-preserved dust jackets are much prized.

November 08, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yet again Blogger is destroying comments. This time I tried to tell you that I have removed
"empower" from at least one recent news story at work. We have raised up a generation that thinks that word means something.

November 08, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

See, that's payback for you.

November 08, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Payback because I make fun of a word? If Blogger stops eating comments, and I can remedy these connection problems I've been having at home, I'll feel better, maybe even relaxed or relieved. But I sure as hell won't feel empowered.

Empowerment is what happens to a mild-mannered newspaper reporter or scientist when he happens to venture near a radioactive explosion and develops superhuman agility or X-ray vision, puts on a brightly colored Spandex costume, and decides to fight crime better than the police can. And that's all it ought to mean.

November 08, 2011  

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