About Harper Lee… Saturday, Jul 11 2015 

…a final word. Her “new” novel titled “Go Set a Watchman” is out, and it’s a good title because we need one set to protect the old and out-of-it from financial predators. The book, a manuscript rejected for publication more than half a century ago, depicts Atticus Finch as a racist SOB. Does anyone seriously think that Harper Lee, of sound mind, would have agreed to publish a book that destroys an icon that made “Mockingbird” great and established her worldwide reputation?

Soundbite to remember (with apologies to P.T. Barnum)

There’s a bloodsucker born every minute.

To Exploit a Mockingbird Saturday, Feb 7 2015 

“She can’t see and can’t hear and will sign anything put before her by anyone in whom she has confidence.”
Alice Lee, Harper Lee’s sister, on Harper’s condition in an assisted living home

 

For more than half a century publishers and editors pleaded with Harper Lee to write a second novel after the worldwide success of To Kill a Mockingbird. For more than half a century, she refused.

Meanwhile, known to Harper, her publisher and her editor, a manuscript existed of a rough draft of a novel titled Go Set a Watchman, which neither Lee nor her publisher and editor considered worthy of putting into print – despite the clamor for another Harper Lee book.

Now, fifty-five years later – Harper’s sister Alice, who guided her business interests over the years, having died last fall – a publisher, a lawyer and an agent have “newly discovered” her old manuscript and persuaded the author to put it into print.

Harper Lee, at age 88, with her legacy secure as author of a great American novel, doesn’t need or want the money. Others obviously do.

It’s times like these that I think of the last scene of the movie Harvey, the story of Elwood P. Dowd (played by Jimmy Stewart), who imagines and talks to a huge rabbit no one else can see. A team of doctors recommends a medical procedure that would cure the condition, but as a taxi driver (played by Fred Gwynne) notes, that would simply turn Elwood into a normal human being – and, as the driver says, “You know what bastards they are.”

That we do, though sometimes we forget – until a story like Harper Lee’s “newly discovered” novel comes along.

 

Sound bite to remember (especially by Seattle Seahawks’ coaches) . . .

“When you pass, three things can happen – and two of ’em are bad.”
–Texas Longhorn coach Darrell Royal (circa 1965)

Sweet Home Alabama Sunday, Aug 3 2014 

There’s a new book out on Harper Lee that tells us why the author of “To Kill a Mockingbird” never wrote another novel and what she thinks of the late Truman Capote, who served as the model for Dill, a character in “Mockingbird.”

Though just two weeks into print, “The Mockingbird Next Door: Life With Harper Lee” has already stirred a controversy. The author, Marja Mills, says she wrote it with Lee’s full approval, even moving to Monroeville, Alabama, for a year to get close to her subject. Lee, whose friends call her Nelle, says the book is unauthorized, inaccurate and an invasion of her privacy.

Due respect to Lee, I tend to believe Mills. A little personal background: Though a contemporary of Lee at the University of Alabama, I didn’t get to know her well until three decades later when, at an Alabama gathering in New York City, we drew aside to compare notes on our shared experience of having been law students who also wrote for the school paper and humor magazine.

Three decades living in Manhattan (though she spent half her time back in Monroeville with her older sister Alice) hadn’t changed the essential Nelle Lee. As a student in the late 1940s, she was ahead of her time as a female liberationist, going about campus in blue jeans and driving a pickup truck — true to her small-town roots but still, make no mistake, very much a woman (though not of the Southern belle variety).

Our conversation at that reception in the mid-1970s ranged from politics (she was a Democratic populist) to sports (and a Crimson Tide fan). Somehow, though I wasn’t the one who brought up the subject, talk turned to the veracity of her erstwhile childhood friend Truman Capote. In “The Mockingbird Next Door,” Marja Mills quotes Lee as calling Capote a lying, mean-streaked “psychopath” who “thought the rules that applied to everybody else didn’t apply to him.”

Give or take a few feisty expletives, that was pretty much the way Lee described Capote to me forty years ago. What had aroused her ire, both personal and professional, was the persistent rumor spread by Capote that he had a hand in writing “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Not only was that a (expletive deleted) lie, said Lee, but in fact Capote owed her a literary debt for having helped on his best-selling docu-novel “In Cold Blood.”

That said, our conversation turned nostalgic, to mutual friends we’d had on campus and what they were up to. No, I didn’t raise the question of why she hadn’t written another book after “Mockingbird.”  It would have been a sure conversation-stopper, since she must have been asked that a thousand times by everyone from her agent to the checkout cashier at her neighborhood supermarket.

In “The Mockingbird Next Door,” Mills quotes Lee’s sister Alice (now a remarkable 103 years old) saying that Nelle, for all her feistiness, simply felt she could never match what she’d done in ‘To Kill A Mockingbird.”

That I believe. Half a century after publication of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” it remains one of the most widely read and admired works of 20th-century American fiction, not only in this country but throughout the world. Could a second novel by Harper Lee have met the standard she set for herself? She didn’t think so, and while other notable writers simply took the money and ran – Norman Mailer, and yes, Truman Capote come to mind – Harper Lee, for all the millions offered her simply for trying, wouldn’t succumb to the lure of tinsel celebrity.

Now 88 years old, the author of “To Kill a Mockingbird” suffered a stroke a few years back, but she still remains feisty — and devoted to her alma mater.

The football season approaches. There is, you should know, a road that runs through the Alabama campus called Paul Bryant Drive, a tribute to the nonpareil Bear. But those who think of Alabama as only a football factory should know there is also a road called Harper Lee Drive, a tribute to the nonpareil Mockingbird.

Roll Tide.

Sound Bite to Remember

Never criticize a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes. By that time, you’ll be a mile away and he won’t have any shoes to chase you in.

— Wimp Sanderson, Alabama basketball coach (circa 1990)