I'm still working my way through these selected letters of O'Hara, and today I read a few things to amuse/inform/whatever. First, the information (dessert, remember, only after you eat your vegetables). The letters I read today--mostly from the 1930s--begin to deal more and more with professional/business items, and as O'Hara became more confident in himself and in his work, he began to affect the cocky (even boorish) tone that later defined him. For example, in 1938, he wrote to Harold Ross, editor of the New Yorker, about a piece he was submitting: "Why the hell don't you just buy this piece and never bother me any more?" (130). He was becoming increasingly defensive about his work, increasingly cantankerous.
And some of you remember the story I used to use in class now and then--"Do You Like It Here?"--a story about a boarding school kid (a new kid) whom the Headmaster accuses of stealing another boy's watch. (By the way, I first read this story in the early 1960s at Hiram College in a creative writing class taught by my favorite professor, Dr. Abe C. Ravitz, who used it as an example of how to use dialogue to reveal character.) Anyway, on 3 April 1939, O'Hara wrote to William Maxwell, fiction editor at the New Yorker, about the tale: "I have one here for you that I think everybody ought to like. It is about a boy that came to a new school and stole a watch. At least we think he stole the watch. Maybe that isn't what the author intended. The author is very vague" (145). This last sentence is a dig at Harold Ross, who didn't like O'Hara's indefinite endings to his stories. The story eventually ran on 18 February 1939.
And in another letter, after some Ross criticism, he threatened to write no more "Pal Joey" pieces--the ones that he eventually collected for a book, the ones that he eventually revised for the Broadway hit Pal Joey (music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Lorenz Hart). "If you don't like it [the newest piece]," he wrote to Maxwell in May 1939, "the series ends--and maybe if you do like it" (148).
There are touches of O'Hara's heart here, too. Of his recently deceased mentor Heywood Broun he wrote: "He was kind, courteous and square. Generous, considerate and big. ... He honored me, by God, by letting me sit with him, work for him, drink to him" (157).
And in a funny, ironic letter to the expectant wife of his fellow writer Budd Schulberg, he wrote some advice about child-rearing: "I am against teething," he declared. About pets for kids? "A pterodactyl around children is likely to become irritable, doubtless because of the difference in their ages." And about sex education: "It's better with your shoes off" (160).