Quentin Reynolds ’24
In 1945 the New Yorker called Quentin Reynolds a “hard-bitten, two-fisted old newspaper man.” One of the most famous World War II correspondents, Reynolds reported on the era from beginning to end as an associate editor at Collier’s magazine. In his 1963 autobiography, By Quentin Reynolds, he described the war as “short on glamour and long on tragedy.” He covered Hitler’s rise to power and reported from Europe, the Pacific, Russia, North Africa, and the Middle East.
When Reynolds arrived in Germany in 1933, few Americans viewed Hitler as a threat. Reynolds, however, quickly recognized Hitler’s power when he heard him speak to German farmers: “They didn’t laugh; they all wept and kneeled,” the correspondent said after the war. “And then they applauded him for a good fifteen minutes. He had that certain animal magnetism—like an evangelist.”
During the German blitz on London, Reynolds and Edward R. Murrow were the only American correspondents in the city. Reynolds was also in France just before it fell to the Germans. At the time, American correspondents were being kept away from the front lines, but the resourceful Reynolds figured out a way to get in. He presented a French official with a telegram he threatened to send: dear uncle franklin, am having difficulty getting accredited to french army. time is important...please give my love to aunt eleanor.
The French, believing that Reynolds was President Roosevelt’s nephew, soon allowed him to reach the front. He was one of the last correspondents to leave France after the German occupation.
Reynolds averaged twenty articles a year for Collier’s and also published twenty-five books, including The Wounded Don’t Cry, London Diary, Dress Rehearsal, and Courtroom, a biography of lawyer Samuel S. Leibowitz. But after the war Reynolds was best known for his libel suit against Hearst columnist Westbrook Pegler, who called him “yellow” and an “absentee war correspondent.” He won $175,001, at the time the largest libel judgment ever. The trial was later made into a Broadway play, A Case of Libel.
In 1953, Reynolds was the victim of a major literary hoax when he published The Man Who Wouldn’t Talk, the supposedly true story of a Canadian war hero who claimed to have been captured and tortured by German soldiers. When the hoax was exposed, Random House, Reynolds’s publisher came up with an ingenious way of saving face—and profits. The company simply reclassified the book as a novel.
S.J. Perelman ’25
Few Marx Brothers fanatics realize that the zany antics of Horse Feathers and Monkey Business trace their roots back to the Brown Jug, the on-again, off-again student humor magazine. It was at the Brown Jug that Sidney Joseph Perelman, the magazine’s cartoonist and, eventually, editor-in-chief, honed the comedic skills he would later use to write the screenplays for these two classic movies.
Indeed, drawing cartoons—the hobby he’d learned while scribbling on cardboard signs in his father’s Providence dry goods store—was his first love. But the razor-edged writings of H.L. Mencken inspired him to become more of a humorist, especially after he graduated and accepted a job with the then-popular humor magazine Judge. It was the start of a career that would earn Perelman a 1956 Academy Award for his screenplay of Around the World in 80 Days.
A self-described crank, Perelman wrote countless New Yorker magazine pieces with titles like “Beat Me,” “Post-Impressionist Daddy,” and “Methinks He Doth Protein Too Much.” He also authored several Broadway plays, including The Beauty Part and One Touch of Venus. In 1970 the newly widowed Perelman left the turmoil of Vietnam-era America to live out his life in England. He died in 1979.
Gayl Jones ‘75 A.D.
Novelist Gayl Jones has been hailed as a major African American writer by such literary luminaries as John Updike, Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, and Maya Angelou. The author of four novels, a collection of short stories, and several volumes of poetry, Jones in 1998 published The Healing, a novel that was a finalist for the National Book Award.
Jones’s work draws its power from an unabashed exploration of the racial and sexual abuse of African- American women. Her first novel, Corregidora, chronicled the history of a black family in Kentucky. The novel’s narrator, Ursa Corregidora, is urged by female relatives to continue the family legacy through childbearing, but when she loses her uterus after a savage beating from her husband, she must find a new way to salvage a sense of self.
Novelist John Updike said that Corregidora persuasively “fuses black history, or the mythic consciousness that must do for black history, with the emotional nuances of contemporary black life.”
Jones’ second novel, Eva’s Man, is the story of Eva Canada, who narrates it from a hospital for the criminally insane, where she’s been placed for the murder and mutilation of her abusive lover.
The intensity of Jones’ fictions is mirrored in her enigmatic and often volatile life. Born in 1949 in Speigle Heights, a turbulent neighborhood in Lexington, Kentucky, Jones attended Connecticut College before coming to Brown’s Graduate Program in Creative Writing. At Brown, Jones caught the attention of Professor Michael Harper, who was instrumental in getting Jones’s work read by Toni Morrison, who was then an editor at Random House.
With the publication of Corregidora in 1975 and a Random House contract in hand, Jones was hired as an assistant professor of English at the University of Michigan. She remained at Michigan until 1983, publishing works of fiction and poetry, and gaining tenure in 1982.
While she was at Michigan, Jones met and married Bob Higgins, a reportedly volatile and sometimes violent man. After Higgins was arrested for felonious assault in Ann Arbor, the couple fled to Europe, where they lived in self-imposed exile for several years.
Jones and Higgins returned to Lexington in 1991, after Jones’s mother became ill. There, another conflict with police and publicity surrounding the publication of The Healing led to the discovery of the Ann Arbor warrant against Higgins. After an armed standoff with police, Higgins killed himself, and Jones was committed to a psychiatric hospital. She now lives in seclusion in Lexington and reportedly continues to write.
Nathanael West ’24
Novelist Nathanael West may be one of Brown’s greatest modern writers, but he’s lucky he got into the University.
West made it through the Van Wickle Gates following his expulsion from Tufts, which he’d entered just a few months before; he fooled Brown administrators by presenting the transcript of another student with the same given name, Nathan Weinstein. Not only was the University fooled, it awarded West fifty-seven credits.
Critics have suggested that West’s uneasiness over his identity played a role in his acerbic Hollywood novels of the 1930s, most notably Day of the Locust and Miss Lonelyhearts. At Brown—where one of his closest friends was S.J. Perelman—West was a young dandy who, despite his popularity on campus, was barred from the fraternity system because he was Jewish.
After Brown, West worked as a hotel manager known for letting struggling writers move in for free. He eventually migrated to Hollywood, writing B movies while observing the way of life he would later savage in The Day of the Locust. West’s novels were mostly ignored during his lifetime. He died in a 1940 automobile crash along with his wife of only seven months.
Alfred Uhry ’58
These days, playwright alfred uhry is a well-known figure on the theater scene. The author of Driving Miss Daisy, which was made into a hit movie in 1989, Uhry is the only playwright ever to win the theater’s “triple crown”—the Oscar (for Driving Miss Daisy), the Tony (for The Last Night of Ballyhoo and Parade), and the Pulitzer Prize (also for Driving Miss Daisy).
But such success didn’t come easily. After graduating from Brown, where he wrote the book and lyrics for student musicals and where he met his wife, Joanna Kellogg ’59, Uhry headed for New York. His first well-known work was a musical, The Robber Bridegroom, which was based on a Eudora Welty story. Although the musical was a success (it was nominated for a Tony award), afterwards Uhry hit a bad patch with a string of projects that never quite got off the ground. For several years Uhry taught English and drama at Calhoun High School in New York City. In 1988 he worked on the script for the film Mystic Pizza, and Uhry was thinking about giving up theater completely when he came up with the idea for a play loosely based on a story about his grandmother. The idea resulted in Driving Miss Daisy and new success as a playwright.
The story follows the growth of a friendship between Daisy, a seventy-two-year-old Jewish woman, now too old to drive a car, and Hoke, the black driver hired by her son. The play, set in Urhy’s native Atlanta, spans a period of twenty-five years in the characters’ lives—years that were also a time of intense racial tension in that city.
Uhry’s most recent projects include Good Friday, a film based on the murder of Kitty Genovese, and a new play, Mortara. He is also working on a film for 20th Century Fox based on the diaries of Anne Frank.