Friday, October 13, 2017


I've migrated all my old blog entries over to my website at Come read these old blog entries along with many new ones there.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Living in the house of comic book hero

ⓒ 1943 The Parents Magazine Press

I like to think about those who were here before us. It’s easy to forget there have been generations of others who moved through the same spaces and places through which we move today. Because I work at the Newseum, which is built on the same site as Washington, D.C.’s National Hotel, I get to spend my days in the same area where Andrew Jackson, James K. Polk, and Abraham Lincoln all spent time. It was also where Henry Clay lived when he was in Washington and where actor John Wilkes Booth planned the assassination of Lincoln.
If that isn’t cool enough, I spend my evenings and weekends in the former home of the late John and Barbara Hasey. John F. Hasey had a fascinating career as a salesman for Cartier in Paris, World War II hero, senior official with the CIA and writer. 

Backyard by John F. Hasey

And, as you can still see from my backyard even 12 years after his death, he was also a gifted gardener.

Hasey, who was born in Brockton, Mass., and attended Columbia University, moved to France in 1923 to enroll at the Sorbonne. To make money to pay for school, he answered a classified ad and got a job with Cartier who was looking for a salesman who could speak English. Hasey worked for Cartier in Paris, Cannes, Deauville and Monte Carlo, and he became very successful at selling high-end jewelry to the rich and famous.

John Hasey's 1944 autobiography

According to his 1944 autobiography, “Yankee Fighter,” his clients included one royal couple that was making a lot of news at the time:
"The Windsor’s fell within my jurisdiction because, although it had not been actually agreed, it had been understood that I would have first claim on the sale of jewelry to English or American clients or prospective clients. I don’t know directors were startled when they heard that I wanted to walk where angels feared to tread, or whether they considered that I was an American from Bridgewater and that the Duchess was an American from Baltimore, and that I had already had some success with Americans. At any rate, whatever influenced them, I was given the opportunity. In the end, I think I got to know them as well, if not better, that any salesman in the shop…As soon as they were settled in the Hotel Meurice, the Duchess sent over some of her pieces of jewelry to be cleaned. I looked them over and found engraved on the backs “Wallis from David.” A few of them surprised me they were dated so far back…on the inside of a sapphire-and-diamond ring was engraved in what looked like Edward’s hand: "W—really forever—D."   
In 1938, the Soviet Union invaded Finland and started what came to be known as the Winter War. Hasey recruited other Americans in Paris at the time to raise money for two ambulances and he headed to the front to help support the cause. During a battle, his forearm was shattered.

John F. Hasey after his initial war injury

While his wounds were healing, World War II began and, once he was ready for battle, Hasey joined the French Foreign Legion. In the 1941 Battle for Syria, Hasey was 24 and serving as a sub-lieutenant when his right jaw and larynx were shot away by enemy machine gun fire. He was publicly honored by Charles de Gaulle as the first American to shed his blood for Free France and one of only four Americans (including Dwight D. Eisenhower) decorated with France's highest World War II honor, Companion of the Order of the Liberation. 

As journalist Alex Chadwick reported in a segment for NPR in 2005—which includes a recording of an earlier 1990 interview with Hasey—his second injury didn’t keep him from contributing to the war effort:
By the time he'd recuperated back in the States, the US was in the war, but the military thought Jack was too disabled to enlist. He returned to London, worked as a go-between for de Gaulle and the American commander, Dwight Eisenhower. He went to Paris ahead of the Allied troops, driving into the city on one side as the Germans were fleeing from the other. Everyone else got to Paris a couple of days later. Listen to the segment

Cover of comic book about John F. Hasey
ⓒ 1943 The Parents Magazine Press

In 1943, a children’s comic book, “Yank with the Fighting French,” was produced as part of a series about real heroes.

Barbara and John Hasey

After the war, Eisenhower recruited Hasey to work for the CIA, and his first job was to help de Gaulle write his memoirs (and keep an eye on the French leader). In 1953, Hasey married Barbara Trood who was attending school in London and together they made their home in Arlington, Va. Hasey retired from the CIA in 1974 and spent time with his children and grandchildren here at the house in which my family and I now live.

Interestingly for me, as I wrote this, I discovered another connection between Hasey and myself. Much of the planning for the American’s ambulance service during the Winter War in 1930 was done at Harry’s New York Bar in Paris. In my just-released biography of Odd McIntyre, “An Odd Book,” I wrote about McIntyre’s love of Harry’s Bar and how he spent time there with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and others.

That means Hasey sat in a bar where McIntyre once sat, while I wrote about a book about McIntyre while sitting in the study where Hasey once sat.

Further proof that sometimes we’re more connected to those who came before us than we even realize.

For more blog entries, visit my Blog Home Page or to check out the genealogy research about my specific family lines, go to my Haywood County Line Genealogy Website.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

It's Time to Start Writing That Book You've Been Thinking About

I’ve spoken with many talented people in the last few months who have a book they want to write, but don’t exactly know where to start once the writing part is done. Most think they need a “publishing deal” to get their work in front of readers, but we all know publishing deals are few and far between these days.

My first book, “The Forgotten Adventures of Richard Halliburton: From Tennessee to Timbuktu,” was published through traditional channels with The History Press, but they, along with a couple book agents, passed on my idea of a book about Odd McIntyre. Even without a publisher, I felt it was a story that people would find interesting. After doing a year or so of research on Odd, I felt like I had what I needed — a good story that had not been told and a lot of good information to tell it.
I began exploring self-publishing and discovered a whole world of writers who are passionate about writing but who skip the publishers and take their books directly to consumers.

Just like the significant changes in the music, movie and news industries brought about by technology in the last few years, the world of publishing is being dramatically impacted by the fact that those who are willing to learn a few new skills can take a book directly to the marketplace with very financial little investment or risk.

My book, “An Odd Book: How the First Modern Pop Culture Reporter Conquered New York,” will be published (by me) on April 1.
In the last few months I’ve spent hundreds of hours listening to podcasts, downloading “how to” books and reading about self-publishing online. I’m sharing some of what I’ve discovered, hoping that it may be helpful to some of my friends and associates who are interested in self-publishing their own books.

The business of self-publishing is quickly evolving and the different directions you can take and resources that are available are almost endless, so these are just the tools I’ve found helpful, and those I think would be most applicable to the most people, regardless of the type of book.
The first thing I would recommend is to join the Alliance of Independent Authors. In addition to some helpful guides and discounts, its members-only message board on Facebook has been incredibly valuable. Questions about writing, publishing, distribution and marketing are answered almost immediately by other members, many who have been self-publishing for a decade or more. 

The weekly podcasts that I’ve found most helpful are The Creative Penn Podcast by Joanna Penn (I’ve also downloaded some of her other tools), The Publishing Profits Podcast Show by Tom Corson-Knowles and The Sell More Books Show by Jim Kukral and Bryan Cohen. I listened to these three podcasts every week for months, and also listened to some of their recent archived shows. I didn’t go too far back because this industry is changing quickly. There is a monthly podcast called the ALLi Author Advice Centre by Orna Ross that is also very helpful and features a lot of the self-publishing superstars sharing advice and case studies.

This is a minor detail but one I found interesting so I am sharing. While it’s not “required,” you will want your own ISBN number for the work you create. That little number uniquely identifies your book, and facilitates the sale of your book to bookstores (physical and digital) and libraries. In the United States, you can only buy those from Bowker. For some reason, one ISBN is $125 while 10 ISBNs are only $295. I love a deal so I bought 10. Now I’m obligated to produce more books so my ISBN numbers don’t go to waste.

Of course, I’m assuming you’re starting with a great book that’s been professionally edited and has a well-designed cover. Should you need resources for those services, there’s a really interesting company called fiverr. Fiverr is primarily used by freelancers who offer services like website design, copywriting, editing, graphic design, marketing and more. People who use the freelancers then rate and comment on the service they received. It’s also a great place to find a “virtual assistant” who can do work for you a few hours a week or for an extended period of time. Most authors advocate getting a few people in your “production team” that you go back to for each book.

I wanted to sharpen my web design and production skills so I spent a weekend designing a site on, only to discover a site built using and hosted on a server was much better for me for a variety of reasons, so I spent another weekend doing it all over again, hosting on Bluehost.

The sales of a self-published book is directly tied to the number of people who hear about it, so building an email list is important. I used MailChimp and found it to be pretty intuitive (sign up for my enewsletter here).

There are many different ways you can go about getting your book in the hands of readers. After much thought and research, I decided to use CreateSpace to sell my book on Amazon and to print copies for selling at signings and events, IngramSpark to sell to libraries and book stores, Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) for those who want to download the e-book to their Kindle, and Smashwords for those buyers who want to download it via e-book retailers such as Barnes & Noble, Apple iBooks, Kobo, Tolino and others. Each of these requires the book to be uploaded in a specific format, so you have to start the process knowing there is going to be the need for flexibility, patience and time.

The retail price of my printed book will be $18.99 and the price of the e-book will likely be around $7.99, but it has no photos. The printed book has 135 photos, many of which have never been printed before so I hope more people purchase that.

I wrote “An Odd Book” in Microsoft Word, and then uploaded it to InDesign, which offered more flexibility in design, layout and photo manipulation. Because I had not used InDesign before, I spent quite a bit of time watching Youtube videos from Joel Friedlander and Sean Foushee, among others, until I got the hang of it (I still have a long way to go). I also discovered Vellum. It is a miracle application. Once the book was completely finished in InDesign and ready to upload as a print-ready PDF file, I needed to create a different version for the e-book. Chapter by chapter, I rebuilt the book (minus the photos) using Vellum. It only took a couple of hours. Vellum then automatically stripped out all the InDesign formatting and created files that work with all the e-book distributors who use different formats. Just to see if it would really work, in one weekend, 

I created an entire book using Vellum (Odd Words, 1920-1922: An Enhanced Compilation of Early Columns by Odd McIntyre) and had it available for Kindle on Amazon. I had around 400 (free) downloads the first couple of days. I can’t recommend Vellum enough.

You do want to have a launch event of some kind. Mine will be in Odd’s hometown of Gallipolis, Ohio on Saturday, April 22, 2017 at 4:30 p.m. at the Ariel Opera House. That evening, The Ohio Valley Symphony will perform Meredith Willson’s O.O. McIntyre Suite. If you are in Ohio, come check it out. It should be a lot of fun.

As I mentioned before, all this takes a lot of time, but you don’t have to spend a lot of money. The key is to focus on the things you do well or want to learn, but have a little money planned for the things that are not in your wheelhouse. With a modest investment, you can hire professionals to do the things you don’t want or need to jump into.

While the differences between self-publishing and using a traditional publisher are many, one thing remains the same. You need a well-written book that looks like a book that’s well written.

I’ll post a few months from now about what I’ve learned from the actual publishing and launch of my book, but I hope those of you with a story or two crawling around in your head feel inspired to get started on your own book.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Announcing my New Biography of Odd McIntyre, Coming April 1, 2017

Researching Odd McIntyre at The Esther Allen Greer Museum
at the University of Rio Grande near McIntyre's hometown
of Gallipolis, Ohio.

I haven't blogged much this year because all my time has been spent working on a biography about Odd McIntyre. I was really happy today to finally launch the web site,, and all the social media accounts that will support the launch of the book. You can now find some great content about the book and all the things Odd wrote about on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. If you happen to be a Facebook user, please be sure to LIKE my "An Odd Book" Facebook page.

It's really been a fun experience researching and writing about Odd and Maybelle McIntyre, and I know it will be even more fun sharing their story with everyone when the book comes out on April 1, 2017.

Odd and Maybelle McIntyre

McIntyre’s life is a fascinating story of how one man found fame and fortune against incredible odds. It’s a story of camaraderie and friendship between some of the most popular writers, musicians, artists and entertainers of the early decades of the twentieth century. It’s a love story about a married couple who struggled to get to the top, and then experienced humiliating failure, but survived.

It’s a story of having the best of everything money can buy, while simultaneously suffering from an undiagnosed illness that resulted in severe physical and mental disabilities. But more than anything, Odd’s story is about the power of the written word to “entertain people a little each day” as he put it. Thanks to the thousands of articles and columns he wrote during his lifetime, he also left behind a unique view of popular culture during one of the most exciting times of change and innovation in American history.

Odd McIntyre
Odd wrote more, made more money, and had more readers than anyone else in his time. When the world was hungry for newspapers and magazines, and radio and movies were in their infancy, he carefully managed his public persona to become a media superstar.

He worked in a period of great innovation in communication, politics, art, and entertainment, as the world was shifting from the Gilded Age to the Progressive Era. New technologies and methods of communication were being quickly adopted around the world, as were new ideas regarding journalism and the role of media in American politics and society. Odd was at the epicenter of communication during the birth of this new modern age.

When differences between traditional values and new urban points of view created a culture war, he was one of the few writers who could bridge both worlds with ease. Later, when the country experienced the disastrous economic depression of the thirties, Odd was there to encourage, to entertain, and to remind readers of the hope that existed all around them, in both the big cities and the small towns.

Historic marker in front of the home of Odd's grandmother
in which he was raised in Gallipolis, Ohio.

Odd was also there during many of the historic moments of that era. He was there with his pad and pencil on a cold, rainy New York day as Titanic survivors stepped onto the pier and began sharing their stories of what happened when the “unsinkable” ship struck an iceberg. He was one of the first reporters to interview the Wright brothers when they were a couple of unknown bicycle mechanics trying to build a flying machine. Odd was there to observe and share the stories of the men and women responsible for creating the music that exploded out of Tin Pan Ally and spread across the world.

Odd and Maybelle and friends at one of the many parties they attended
in the 1920sAt this New Year’s Eve party Maybelle, bottom row
center, was photographed between George Gershwin and Rube
Goldberg (reclining). Groucho Marx is on the bottom row, far right of
the photograph. Odd is on the back row, third from right,
while his friends Ray Long and Roy Howard
can be seen fifth and sixth from the left. Courtesy College

As Florenz Ziegfeld’s press agent, he was backstage absorbing—and then sharing—every detail as Broadway theater shifted from vaudeville to something completely new and exciting. He was the first to write a feature on the stars of Amos 'n' Andy, the radio program that became a national sensation. As a close friend of Rudolph Valentino, Charlie Chaplin and other actors, Odd had a literal front-row seat as moving pictures became nickelodeons, nickelodeons became silent films, and silent films became talkies.

Odd and Maybelle McIntyre with their bulldog and chauffeur.

He spent hours in Parisian bars with a group of writers who came to be known as the “Lost Generation.” He was there as Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, T. S. Eliot, and F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote their earliest groundbreaking work.

And through it all, he never stopped thinking of himself as a newspaperman. Working side-by-side with early muckrakers like Ida Tarbell, Lincoln Steffens, and Upton Sinclair, he experienced first-hand the changes that could take place in society when journalists worked to uncover and report the truth in the face of powerful opposition.

His newspaper column, “New York Day by Day,” and his thousands of stories in magazines like Cosmopolitan, Life, McCall’s, and the Saturday Evening Post were filled with pop-culture references, celebrity insights, opinions about modern society, and humorous observations that were somehow relatable for millions of readers who would never actually get to see New York, Paris or Hollywood for themselves. Even today, Odd’s descriptions of the people he met, places he traveled, and things he experienced invoke vivid scenes from the years when modern entertainment, media, and business were being born.

Despite the extroverted “man-about-town” image he projected to the world, as he grew older, Odd was plagued by a variety of social anxiety disorders and severe depression, likely caused by pernicious anemia. Eventually, he retreated to a life in the shadows, venturing out only at night in his chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce.

Odd’s career was a joint venture. His wife, Maybelle, provided the initial motivation and inspiration for his success. She pushed him forward when he was ready to give up, and she later managed his career and negotiated for him some of the most lucrative contracts in the syndication business. Especially toward the end, he could only write if she was in the room, and he would sometimes have a panic attack if she left their building even for a short time.

Odd and Maybelle McIntyre
In assessing the popularity of Odd’s column, a writer for The New York Times captured the essence of his relationship with readers when he wrote, “His quality of breathless wonder was coupled with an extraordinary ability to make the name of an actress, a crooner or a newspaper rewrite man shimmer in the eyes of the public, who sat on an aisle seat of what for him and them was the greatest show on earth.”

The life of Oscar Odd McIntyre is a story of tenacity; of pushing forward despite great obstacles, even when it looks like there’s no possible way you’ll find success. It’s a story of what can happen when someone is at the right place, at the right time, with the right talent, and has the good sense to take advantage of it. It’s a story of a man who, when no one would give him a chance, created his own way to do what he loved. In the process, he produced an incredible body of work that brings to life one of the most fascinating periods in modern communication and American pop culture.

For more blog entries, visit my Blog Home Page or to check out the genealogy research about my specific family lines, go to my Haywood County Line Genealogy Website.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Ancestry DNA Results

I finally got my Ancestry DNA results. I haven't been doing much ancestry research or blogging this year because I've been using my spare time to write a book, but I thought a blog entry would be the best way to share the results (more about the book will be coming soon). did a nice job with the design of the dashboard, and you can quickly see the answer to the question I know most people are asking when they spit in the tube and mail it off, "From where did my ancestors come?"

As it turns out, the fact that my youngest daughter was born on St. Patrick's Day is even more meaningful because I discovered 42% of my "ethnicity" is Irish. That's not a surprise as all the family lines I can trace back farthest come from Ireland, Scotland or the UK. That list includes the Castellaws, the Joyners, the Cobbs, the Dougans, the Marburys, the Yelvertons and the Pattersons.

If you are curious, you can check out the full ethnicity results here.

While the ethnicity was fun to see, as a longtime user, I was more interested in seeing what connections I would be able to make with other users. Of course, the hope is that they may be able to provide more details on an ancestor or make a connection that I've not been able to make.

Remarkably, was able to find 184 "ancestry hints" and 692 cousins.

When you select one of the "cousins," you can find out how you're connected and then check out their family tree, as long as it isn't private. So the user above, "J.J." and I are second cousins, once removed. Our mutual ancestor is Tom and Nancy Johnson Castellaw. I can now send J.J. a message or check and see if he or she has added details to his or her family tree that I've not yet discovered.

Three of the individuals I matched with are previously unknown second cousins. Six are third cousins while the rest are fourth cousins or greater.

Above is another example. R.F. and I are fifth cousins, connected through my fourth great-grandfather, Etheldred Yelverton. A few years ago, I spent many hours researching Etheldred and this family line so, at some point, I can share that research with R.F. and perhaps he or she will have even more information.

Although I don't have the time right now to dig into this, once I do, I have no doubt these results will help me fill in some "ancestry blanks." If you would like to try Ancestry DNA for yourself, use this link to save 10% (and, full disclosure, you'll be getting me a $10 Amazon gift card).

For more blog entries, visit my Blog Home Page or to check out the genealogy research about my specific family lines, go to my Haywood County Line Genealogy Website. 

Monday, October 12, 2015

Search for Video of West Tennessee Reveals a Story of Racism and Murder, Part 2 of 2

Part 2 of 2 / Part one can be found here.

Click to Enlarge

Jesse Hill Ford

While his successful novels, short stories and the critical and commercial success of “The Liberation of Lord Byron Jones” resulted in Jesse Hill Ford being heralded as “the next great Southern writer,” the film based on his novel was a big disappointment.


Click to Enlarge

Scene from "The Liberation of L.B. Jones"

To make matters worse, many in his community of Humboldt in West Tennessee had not read the book, so the movie was their first chance to see what Ford was telling the world about them. Many of his black and white neighbors were embarrassed by what they saw and many felt betrayed by this young author who had become one of their own.

The Ford family began experiencing harassment and threats that only intensified in the days leading up to the shooting that would change the course of Ford’s life.

However, the movie wasn’t the only race-related issue the Ford family was dealing with at the time.

One of his sons was captain of the Humboldt High School football team. He and the other white athletes were allowed to keep their starting positions at the recently-integrated high school. After skipping a football practice as a form of protest, every black player had been thrown off the team. If you’re familiar with small towns and their passion for high school football, you can imagine the tensions that were taking place in the community among both black and white parents and students and others for whom the sport had great importance.

The situation must have reached a boiling point for Ford when, during the school’s homecoming parade, the car in which his son was riding had rocks thrown at it and his desk at school was vandalized.

Ford’s anxiety and paranoia were only made worse by his use of a drug prescribed by a “doctor” back in Los Angeles. While working with Stirling Silliphant on the script for “L.B. Jones,” Ford met Max Jacobson, the physician nicknamed “Miracle Max” and “Dr. Feelgood.” His celebrity patients had included John F. Kennedy, Truman Capote, Mickey Mantle, Marilyn Monroe and many others. 

Jacobson began injecting Ford with B-12 shots that also contained methamphetamine sulphate. The shots were later mailed to Ford, who continued to inject them after he returned home to Humboldt. (1)

Photo/Jesse Hill Ford Documentary

Click to Enlarge

Canterfield, the Ford home in Humboldt
from documentary about Jesse Hill Ford

It was in this environment, on the evening of Nov. 16, 1970, that Ford noticed a car parked in the grass, near the driveway of Canterfield, the large home he had built in Humboldt. Possibly also feeling the psychosis and paranoia that are side effects of methamphetamine use, he felt certain his son, not yet home, was about to be ambushed. 

Ford would later testify he fired his .30-06 rifle in an attempt to scare the driver into stopping while his wife called the sheriff. As the car began to pull away, Ford fired a second “warning” shot. Moments later, the driver, 21-year-old black soldier, George Doaks, lay slumped dead against the steering wheel as a young woman holding the hand of a small child, jumped from the car and ran for her life.

Doaks was the married son of a popular Humboldt minister who, it was later alleged during the trial, had parked for a romantic encounter with the young woman who was not his wife. Ironically, she was a cousin of Dorothy Claybrook, the unfaithful wife of the undertaker on which Ford had based his best-selling novel. The young child who had also been in the car was a 4-year-old the young woman was baby-sitting.

Ford went on trial for first-degree murder, which was later changed to second-degree murder.

Ford and his wife welcomed the media before and during the trial and participated in many interviews, especially with print reporters with whom Ford felt a natural affinity. When you read the articles, you can't help but wonder what they were thinking. He later wrote in his journal, “The bar was open. Liquor and food was dished out lavishly, and the drinking and the talking drifted on sometimes into the early hours of the next day.”(2)

The trial did not disappoint those looking for sensational drama as it pitted the famous author known for writing about the mistreatment of black people in the south against the popular black family of the man he killed.

The fact that there was only one black person on the jury that eventually found Ford not guilty, offered an additional layer of irony. Many would point out that it appeared Ford had benefited greatly from the same unjust system about which he had written.

Photo/Jesse Hill Ford Documentary

Click to Enlarge

Vintage footage of George Doaks' sister commenting after the trial
from documentary about Jesse Hill Ford

After the trial, Doaks’ sister stated in a broadcast news report, “If my brother had of killed him (Ford), it would be quite different. He would have been gone a long time ago.” (3)

Ford held a press conference at Canterfield where he summed up his feelings about the killing. “A tragedy has occurred out here and we’re all changed by it,” he said. “It is something I will never forget and it’s affected my life from here on out and I’m very sorry for it.” (4)

In a post-trial interview with a great deal of foreshadowing, Sally Ford said, “This week has been just like one of Jesse’s books, but it turned out much better because Jesse doesn’t believe in happy endings.” (5)

Although he was found not guilty, a happy ending was not in Ford’s future. Much damage had been done to his career by the shooting and subsequent trial. Even more damage was to come from the long-form journalism that was published after the verdict.

Photo/Life magazine

Click to Enlarge

Article about Ford in Life magazine by Marshall Frady, Oct. 29, 1971

One story in particular, written by Marshall Frady for the Oct. 29, 1971 issue of Life magazine was particularly enlightening. Frady, born in Augusta, Georgia and the son of a Southern Baptist minister, was well known for his work as a writer in the civil rights movement. In 1968, he had published a controversial biography of George Wallace and he would go on to write biographies of Billy Graham, Jesse Jackson and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Bill Morris, staff writer for The Millions, an online magazine offering coverage on books, arts, and culture, wrote that Frady’s article is one of his favorite pieces of journalism and he re-reads it every year. “Digging it out,” he wrote, “is always worth the effort. (6)

The Life magazine article, as well as others, presented a harsh view of Ford who handled the anxiety and stress around the trial in a way that could be only be interpreted as arrogant and extremely insensitive to the Doaks family and the seriousness of their loss. Reading the article, one comes away with the understanding that Ford was wrestling with some very serious internal demons and the community in which he lived was filled with the ugliness of racism, fear and hatred.

Frady wrote:
“Ford had written with an acute understanding of how literally white southern society had cursed itself with the brutalizing legacy left by its old crime of slavery. But now, it was as if he had decided that he must invest himself totally into that society, into all those old demons and dark charms of violence at work in the South and in his own nature, with which he had always been only tentatively in communion.”(7)
Ford’s literary career was essentially over. He was financially ruined and, shortly before the trial, his wife discovered that while in Los Angeles, he had been unfaithful. Two years after Ford walked out of the Humboldt courthouse a free man, he was back to watch the same judge from the murder trial grant his wife a divorce.

At the University of Memphis, where he was a writer in residence, members of the English department circulated a petition for his dismissal and he was no longer booked for lectures and public appearances. (8)
Click to Enlarge

The Raider by Jesse Hill Ford

Ford released another novel set in West Tennessee, The Raider, on which he had been working throughout the trial. A historical novel, it was “a sprawling epic of West Tennessee before and during the Civil War.” It was only moderately successful and would be his last published novel. Of course, I have now ordered one to add to my growing stack of books I plan to read when I get a chance. Although, I seem to have more books in the stack than chances to read.

Ford moved to Nashville where he remarried. Although he seemed to enjoy life to some degree, friends believe he continued to struggle with unresolved feelings about the shooting.

He occasionally wrote as a guest columnist for USA TODAY in 1989 and 1990 where “he emerged as a crotchety, outspoken conservative who defended Oliver L. North, railed against the American Civil Liberties Union and said flag burners should have their heads broken.”(9)

In the spring of 1996, Ford underwent open-heart surgery at age 66. After weeks of struggling with severe depression, he locked himself in his study with a .22-caliber pistol and took his own life. 

Ford had been working on an autobiography that was found in his office after his death. When writing about his departure from Humboldt after his trial and divorce, he provided a little insight into his feeling about the town he came to love but which figured so significantly in his downfall:
“Goodbye to Humboldt, the city with the ungainly name and the beautiful soul…Goodbye to the springtides and strawberry season, to the parades and the bands…Goodbye to our secret society parties and dances…Goodbye to Kentucky Lake, where my children learned to hunt, to camp, to fish…Goodbye to the preachers and the bootleggers, the cops and the politicians, the harmless town loony who thought he was a night watchman, and was in many ways a night watchman…Goodbye to the hot, sultry summers of that cotton climate, and to the fertilizer plant just south of town chuffing its red smoke…Goodbye to the storms sweeping up from the gulf, to the tornados, to livid sunsets streaked with long and lovely wisps of oxford-gray cloud; and to the sounds of geese in autumn…Goodbye to so much rich material for stories…” (10)
For more blog entries, visit my Blog Home Page or to check out the genealogy research about my specific family lines, go to my Haywood County Line Genealogy Website.

(1) John Taylor, “The Liberation of Jesse Hill Ford,” Esquire, February, 1997, 74.
(2) Ibid, 75.
(3) Moling, Troy. writer. “Jesse Hill Ford” YouTube. Online video clip, (accessed Oct. 11, 2015)
(4) Ibid
(5) Robert McG. Thomas Jr., “Jesse Hill Ford, 66, a Novelist Who Wrote of Race Relations,” New York Times, June 5, 1996.
(6) Morris, Bill. "A Year in Reading: Bill Morris." The Millions. 18 Dec. 2014. Web.
(7) Marshall Frady, “The Continuing Trial of Jesse Hill Ford,” Life, October 29, 1971, 74.
(8) Taylor, “The Liberation of Jesse Hill Ford,” 77.
(9) Thomas, “Jesse Hill Ford”
(10) Taylor, “The Liberation of Jesse Hill Ford,” 79.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Search for Video of West Tennessee Reveals a Story of Racism and Murder, Part 1 of 2

After reading a few weeks ago that the Brownsville, Tennessee train depot was used as one of the locations for filming the movie "The Liberation of L.B. Jones," I was anxious to see if it included other locations as well.

Having never heard of the movie, the book on which it was based or the author, I discovered so much I wanted to share, I’m breaking this blog entry into two parts.

Although I was really only looking for interesting shots that would show what the West Tennessee area looked like, what I actually discovered is a story of racial injustice that took place both both in literature and in real life.

Watch the Video

As I hoped, the film does offer a really good look at the train station and some of the region as it appeared in 1969 when the movie was filmed. Those familiar with the area will notice the town square scenes were filmed in Trenton, Tennessee. I pulled out a few of the clips and uploaded them to YouTube so you can check them out for yourself.

Be sure to turn up your volume so you hear the funky score which was done by film composer Elmer Bernstein.

The film was based on “The Liberation of Lord Byron Jones,” a novel by Southern author Jesse Hill Ford (1928 – 1996).

Click to Enlarge

I finally finished the book this morning. If, like me, you aren’t a fan of the “n” word, racism, bullies, brutality and cruelty, you’ll have a difficult time getting through the book.

As one reviewer put it, the book features, “an astute study of the social stratification and power imbalance in a southern town in the early sixties.”(1)

Ford grew up in Nashville and attended college at Vanderbilt and The University of Florida, studying under the fugitive writers Andrew Lytle and Donald Davidson.

While he was a student at Vanderbilt, Ford began working for the Nashville Tennessean and became friends with another reporter, John Seigenthaler, who I actually had the pleasure of meeting. Before his death in 2014, he was a passionate supporter of the Newseum and a tireless champion of the First Amendment. In an interview for a 1997 article for Esquire, Seigenthaler said, “Jesse was a very intense young man who took himself more seriously than most people do in a newsroom. He was very conscious even then of what he wanted to be.” (2)

After a stint in the Navy during the Korean War and a short career in PR, at the age of twenty-eight, Ford decided to focus on writing a novel. He and his wife, Sally, moved to her hometown of Humboldt so he could write full time.

Click to Enlarge

"The Conversion of Buster Drumwright"

He sold a short story to Atlantic Monthly and wrote a play, "The Conversion of Buster Drumwright," which aired on CBS in 1960. With a title inspired by Indian mounds located near Humboldt, his first novel, Mountains of Gilead, was published in 1961.

Photo/Jesse Hill Ford Documentary

Click to Enlarge

Jesse Hill Ford

His writer’s imagination was then inspired when he began hearing about the 1955 murder of James Claybrook, a successful black undertaker from Humboldt. The undertaker was found shot twice in the chest and propped up against a tree on a deserted country road, right outside town. Ford’s maid speculated with others in the community that the undertaker’s pregnant wife, Dorothy, had been having an affair with a white policeman, which led to his murder.

The novel Ford wrote based on those actual events was set in fictional Summerton, Tennessee, and was about a wealthy black undertaker who insists on divorcing his much-younger wife, because she was having an affair with a white policeman. The divorce would expose the (then illegal) biracial affair in court, and the undertaker’s refusal to back down leads to his brutal murder by the policeman.

Photo/Jesse Hill Ford Documentary

Click to Enlarge

Jesse Hill Ford

Racially charged at a time when the hard-won civil rights laws of the 1960s were being tested and integration was just beginning, the novel was a cultural, critical and commercial success for Ford. It was nominated for the National Book Award in 1966 and selected for the Book of the Month Club, exposing it to thousands of readers around the nation. Ford was also awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for fiction writing.

As the New York Times wrote, “Mr. Ford seemed destined to take his place among the pantheon of Southern writers.”(3) He was compared elsewhere to William Faulkner and Flannery O’Conner.
“This is a novel which no American can disown but which only a Southerner could have written. The Liberation of Lord Byron Jones is a realistic narrative of racial crisis, set in a small Southern town that far transcends its local setting. Perhaps only once a decade does a work of fiction so completely enter and embody current conflict…he gives life and breath to the men and women the headlines and television reports of the civil rights revolution have failed to make us understand.”
"The Liberation of Lord Byron James" book jacket
Click to Enlarge

Stirling Silliphant

Stirling Silliphant, the Oscar-winning screenwriter for "In the Heat of the Night," bought the movie rights and Ford began working with him on the script in Los Angeles. With fame and fortune came a lifestyle filled with temptations that Ford apparently found difficult to resist.

Click to Enlarge

William Wyler and Audrey Hepburn
on the set of "The Children's Hour" in 1961

The movie, "The Liberation of L.B. Jones" was directed by legend William Wyler. It starred Roscoe Lee Browne, Barbara Hershey, Lola Falana and the six million dollar man himself, Lee Majors.

This would be the last project for Wyler, whose body of work included "Ben-Hur," "The Best Years of Our Lives," "Roman Holiday," "How to Steal a Million," "The Children's Hour" and "Funny Girl."

William Wyler: The Authorized Biography by Axel Madsen, gives a little insight into the filming in West Tennessee:
“In February of 1969, Wyler went to Tennessee to scout locations and to meet Ford in his hometown of Humboldt, eighty miles northeast of Memphis…Tennessee was another world, flat cotton country with acreage set aside for raising strawberries or feeding Black Angus and Hereford cattle.

Driving up to Humboldt, he first saw the quarry ponds where they cut rocks for buildings, then the swamp where cypresses rose from dark stained waters. South of town, were the Indian mounds known as the Mountains of Gilead, which had been the title of Ford’s first novel. On the city limits were the cemeteries—one for white folks and one for blacks.

Spending over $200,000 in Humboldt and the environs, the company filmed in half a dozen small towns—Humboldt, Trenton, Gibson and Brownsville, and all eighty-odd members of the cast and crew stayed at the Holiday Inn.” (4)
Unlike the novel, the film was neither a financial nor critical success. What worked in a novel, didn't translate well to the movie theater.

Click to Enlarge

"The Liberation of L.B. Jones" movie poster, 1970

"I'm sure that Wyler and his screenwriters, Stirling Silliphant (who adapted "In the Heat of the Night") and Jesse Ford Hill, were out to make a suspense movie that would also work as contemporary social commentary. In the interests of melodrama, they have simplified the characters from Hill's novel to such a degree that they seem more stereotyped than may have been absolutely necessary—a problem that is aggravated by some of the casting." The New York Times 
"This story of a glossed-over Negro’s murder by a Dixie policeman is, unfortunately, not much more than an interracial sexploitation film." Variety 
"The cast gives some strong performances, ultimately the film is an empty affair. The questions of racism and southern prejudice had been well handled by other films long before this. Had it been made 10 years earlier it would have been a landmark, but in 1970 it was no longer fresh material." TV Guide 

The negative publicity and tone of the film brought even more notoriety to Humboldt, angering both whites and blacks in the community. By this time, the Ford family was living at Canterfield, a large home in Humboldt built by Ford. They began receiving death threats, obscene phone calls and other forms of harassment including garbage dumped on their massive lawn.

When the Humboldt black and white high schools were integrated by court order in 1970, the white players maintained their starting positions, which of course, angered much of the black community. Ford’s son, Charlie, was a starting running back and was shocked one morning at school to find “Kill Charlie Ford” carved into his desk.

Always a bit paranoid, Ford’s anxiety continued to increase with each threat.

Photo/Jesse Hill Ford Documentary

Click to Enlarge

Ford’s life would soon take a turn that would be considered too ironic if it were written in a novel. The writer, who made his fame and fortune writing about crimes against black people, would soon end up murdering a black man himself.

Part two

(1) Christa Buschendorf, Astrid Franke and Johannes Voelz, eds., Civilizing and Decivilizing Processes (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2011), 230.
(2) John Taylor, “The Liberation of Jesse Hill Ford,” Esquire, February, 1997, 74.
(3) Robert McG. Thomas Jr., “Jesse Hill Ford, 66, a Novelist Who Wrote of Race Relations,” New York Times, June 5, 1996.
(4) Axel Madsen, William Wyler: The Authorized Biography (Open Road Distribution, 2015), 100 - 112. 

For more blog entries, visit my Blog Home Page or to check out the genealogy research about my specific family lines, go to my Haywood County Line Genealogy Website.