Sometimes Systems Fail

Do you ever wonder how a writer gets to be famous? I do. When I read a so called best seller I wonder why it became popular? Most times it is obvious even to me that it is popular because it was a damned good, and well told story. Today, I completed a reading of James Patterson’s first book The Thomas Berryman Number. The library has several shelves of Patterson stories, and most I agree are good. The Thomas Berryman Number is not one of them, it is average at best.

To test an author’s credibility I will read his first work. Years ago, I was hooked on author James Michener. The first of his works I read was Poland. It was a great history of the country dating back to the time God created planet Earth. I learned, by reading thirteen of his works, that all of his novels began the same way, the first three chapters deal with creation, and evolution. The history and detail in his historical tomes take an average of a thousand pages of regular print. They are not books you can read in a weekend. I still remember reading Poland. It was a Memorial Day weekend, and once I got into the story I couldn’t put it down. After three days of non-stop reading I was half way finished at 500 pages. I put the book down down on an end table, and there is stayed for twelve months. After a year had passed without touching the book, I decided it was time to return it to the owner, but I had to finish it first. After another marathon reading session I finally finished

Then one day, I looked at Michener’s book list to see what I was missing. I never read his first stories. I ordered his very first one from the library and immediately immersed myself into Tales of the South Pacific published in 1947. Surprise, surprise, I knew the story from beginning to end. Rogers and Hammerstein used this book to produce the musical play titled South Pacific. The play followed the original exactly, and played on Broadway for 1,954 performances, and then was followed up with a movie.. The only exception was the book went into far more detail about the war in the South Pacific. I still rate this book at five stars, and it was a lot shorter than a thousand pages.

I used this same principal to decide if Patterson’s first work would turn me on as much as Michener’s did. Patterson’s first work disappointed me, yet he has written dozens of mystery stories which are all hits. I guess I’ll have to revise my system.

Another Piece of WWII

The Thursday night showing at the Stardust theater in Sun City West was “Heaven Knows Mr. Allison,”  starring Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr. Filmed in 1957 the story is about a marine who drifts ashore on an island in the Pacific during WWII. He finds it occupied by a nun. The two get to know each other for several weeks before Japanese occupy the island. For some strange reason they leave just as suddenly as they came A few days later they return. The marine kills a soldier in the Japanese camp when the soldier finds him.. The Japanese then begin burning the island to find the enemy.  The marine hides in a cave, but they find him. He is given a choice to come out or a hand grenade. An explosion occurs. It is not a grenade but a bomb. The USA began bombing the island and saved the day.

Peg and I agree that this is the best film we have seen at the Stardust theater. After looking it up, I learned that Ms Kerr received a nomination for best actress and the writers for best adaptation of a movie from another medium.

For some reason fate has made this winter a review of  history for me. It began with “The Court Martial of Billy Mitchell,” followed by a story about a Mitchell B-26, a wonderful book called “Flyboys”, a live performance of “South Pacific” at the Palm theater in Mesa, and now “Heaven Knows Mr. Allison.”

Enchanting Racism

Cover of "The Rodgers & Hammerstein Colle...

Cover via Amazon

A week ago, I was cleaning my office and found a bare DVD disk of the movie ‘South Pacific.’ The backside was all scratched up. Should I find a jacket for it, or toss it? In order to make a good decision, I watched the movie.

WOW! What a fantastic story. I had forgotten the plot, but recalled of it from a reading of James Michener‘s book ‘Tales of the South Pacific.’ I love James Michener books. The first one I read was ‘Poland.’ A Polish friend loaned it to me. My wife Barbara was Polish and I wanted to learn all about her heritage. As are most of Michener’s books, this one was over a thousand pages. I was riveted to the narrative for three days, finishing five hundred pages before getting tired. I set the book down on the end table to keep it handy. The book lie there for a solid year before I picked it up again on a summer weekend that was too hot and humid to go outside.  I read the remaining five hundred pages.

I fell in love with Michener’s style and the historical perspective he gave to his writing. The jacket cover on Poland mentioned him as a Pulitzer Prize winning author. I searched for the book that got him the prize, it was ‘Tales of the South Pacific.’ This story was one of his earliest. Contrary to later works, his early books were only three hundred pages. When I finished ‘Tales of the South Pacific,’ I had a clear understanding of the conditions our service people lived through in the Pacific during WWII.

Not all sailors were involved on carriers and cruisers fighting the Japanese. A large number were stationed on remote islands that were thousands of miles from home. They served as maintenance, supply, and hospital stations for those who engaged in battle. Needless to say, when there was no ship to service, these men and women let their own creativity fend the boredom of remote island living. Michener’s narrative of their exploits are both hilarious, and sad, but always factual and entertaining.

The movie, ‘South Pacific,’ is Michener’s story. Rogers and Hammerstein adapted the characters and derived the plot directly from ‘Tales of the South Pacific.’ I was amazed at how closely they followed Michener’s work. He included a racial theme in the story, and it was probably one of the first times we got a dose of reality on the racism that existed in our country during the nineteen fifties, and how the distance from home allowed some service people to break barriers.

Roger’s and Hammerstein wrote it as a musical play, and staged it on Broadway where it stayed for many years, finally  making it into the movie.  It became one of the best-loved films of all time. If you watch this movie, and don’t leave it humming, or singing Some Enchanted Evening, you are not alive.

I found a jacket for the DVD and placed in the library with all of  my classics.