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Discovering Steinbeck

By Glenn Loney, July 16, 2001

Glenn Loney
Caricature of Glenn Loney
by Sam Norkin.
John Steinbeck in the Bregenz Opera Workshop
Who Will Publish Loney/Steinbeck Photos?
"Steinbeck Country" PhotoBook Proposal
Steinbeck-Loney Parallels

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How to contact Glenn Loney: Please email invitations and personal correspondences to Mr. Loney via Editor, New York Theatre Wire. Do not send faxes regarding such matters to The Everett Collection, which is only responsible for making Loney's INFOTOGRAPHY photo-images available for commercial and editorial uses.

How to purchase rights to photos by Glenn Loney: For editorial and commercial uses of the Glenn Loney INFOTOGRAPHY/ArtsArchive of international photo-images, contact THE EVERETT COLLECTION, 104 West 27th Street, NYC 10010. Phone: 212-255-8610/FAX: 212-255-8612.

For a selection of Glenn Loney's previous columns, click here.

Of Mice and Men & La Bohème—

Behind the Scenes & the Librettos:
Bregenz Opera Workshop Seminars

PICTURE-POSTCARD PARIS--Puccini's "La Bohème" on the Bregenz Festival's great lake-stage. Photo: ©Karl Forster/Bregenz Festival/2001.
Every summer season, the Bregenz Festival programs a series of Opera Workshop Seminars dealing with the two major operas being presented.

These sessions involve not only discussions of the backgrounds of the operas: their sources, librettos, scores, and production histories, but also meetings with the casts, directors, conductors, and designers.

Because the operas-on-the-lake have two-year runs, the second season of seminars usually delves even deeper into those works. But the indoor Festspielhaus stagings are on view only one season, in July and August. So the Overviews and discussions need to be fairly comprehensive in the short time available.

Dr. Alfred Wopmann—the Artistic Director of the Bregenz Festival—conceived the idea of relating all, or most, of the festival programming to a Central Theme. This also adds special contemporary relevance to the seminars.

The thematic linkages among the productions programmed is a prime example of what has come to be known as the Bregenzer Dramaturgie.

Operas and dramas are chosen—and splendidly staged—not only for their Artistic Merits and Entertainment Values, but also for their Deeper Meanings.

Of course Bregenz productions should be musically and theatrically of the highest quality. But—beyond and above those goals—the operas selected should also be about important Human Issues: powerfully showing interesting people dealing with difficult situations, implacable enemies, hostile societies, daunting challenges, and even Dreaming Impossible Dreams.

For instance, when George Gershwin's Porgy & Bess and Bohuslav Martinu's The Greek Passion were playing the same summer, the theme was Outsiders. For both groups of people central to the operas—disenfranchised American Southern Blacks and a displaced Greek community, routed by the Turks—were certainly Outsiders in the societies in which they were living—or trying to survive.

Actually, "Outsiders" would also have been a good thematic link this season for Puccini's La Bohème and Carlisle Floyd's Of Mice and Men. Henri Murger's struggling young artists in their Parisian garret were also Outsiders. As indeed also were not only John Steinbeck's George and Lennie, but the other "drifter" ranch-hands as well.

Both operas examine the fates of men and women who are obsessed by what could be called—as in Man of La Mancha—"The Impossible Dream."

This is the Dream of Fame for Murger/Puccini's young artists. The dim-witted Dream of Hollywood Stardom for Curley's Wife, in Of Mice and Men. And the Dream of Home, George and Lennie's hopeless hope to own their own little farm "and live off the fat of the land."

Dr. Wopmann has spoken of the aspirations of the central characters in the Steinbeck/Floyd Music-Drama as instances of The American Dream. American literature, drama, and cinema are rich with tales of people destroyed by their desperate American Dreams of Fame, Success, Riches, or even just a Better Life.

But Bohème's clueless young artists aren't Americans, so the Bregenz Theme had to be broader. Dr. Wopmann has noted that the problems of would-be young artists in London today—or in Berlin, New York, or any other great capital—are similar. Perhaps even more complicated with the growth of technology.

So their dreams—as with those of Lennie, George, and Curley's Wife—are, in a larger sense, Dreams in the Time of Capitalism. Dreaming of Making a Successful Career as a painter or a poet is perhaps as futile as Making It in Pictures or Making a Go of It on a Few Acres.

So these were some of the thematic ideas to be explored and examined in the Workshop Seminars.

Those who enroll in the Opera Workshops are by no means all theatre/opera professionals, opera fanatics, or "Canary-Fanciers."

In this past summer's workshop, there were a number of very highly educated and intelligent professionals who came from the worlds of law, commerce, and industry. As well as teachers, students, journalists, and even critics.

Not only were they able to discover much about the processes of creating the operas—after all, composer Carlisle Floyd was on hand to answer questions! But they could also find out how the two operas had been prepared for production. Including discussions with the designers and back-stage tours to see just how everything worked in performance!

After which we were also able to attend the Dress Rehearsals—or the General—Proben—of both opera productions!

In the instance of Henri Murger's novel, Scènes de la Vie Bohème, experts pointed out that Puccini was not the only composer to try his hand with this diffuse material. His one-time friend and colleague, Ruggiero Leoncavallo, also composed an opera based on this material at this time.

This competition was the occasion for a definitive break between the two composers. We learned that Puccini began referring to his new enemy as a kind of Double-Beast, for his name means Lion-Horse!

Giacomo Puccini was an enemy the unfortunate Leoncavallo did not need. You have heard of his Cavalieria, but probably never of his Bohème?

It has been recorded, and the excerpts played for the workshop were so interesting that it's unfortunate that both these operas could not be offered at the same time at Bregenz. But—although Bohème will be again on the Bodensee Lake stage next summer—the indoor opera will be yet another forgotten work by Bohuslav Martinu: Julietta.

On the day set aside for Overviews of the Steinbeck/Floyd Of Mice and Men, we found ourselves also Over-programmed.

My very knowledgeable colleague, Prof. Dr. Klaus Martens—formerly a Yale professor and now at the University of the Saarland—had been scheduled to present a two-part discussion of the novel/play/opera in context of America in the Era of the Great Depression and American Literature of the period, on which he is an expert.

And I had volunteered the previous summer—as soon as I heard of the choice of the Steinbeck-based opera—to talk about Steinbeck, Salinas, the Long Valley, and the California he knew so well in that period.

I even offered to make a special foray out West to photograph sites associated both with Steinbeck and his fictions. Which I did—with handsome results…

But as the hands of the clock moved relentlessly forward, it was not possible for Dr. Martens to share all he had prepared. And, as we were nearing 6 pm, I worried that I'd not be able to show all my fascinating slides.

When the seminar-organizer greeted me on my arrival in Bregenz—and later when I was introduced—my contribution was described as an Intervention.

In German, it means the same thing as in English. So I was disappointed to feel that I'd forced an intrusion into a well-thought-out seminar program—which really did not need an American academic from Steinbeck Country.

Who needs Americans to talk about their country and culture? They are probably too close to it to judge it—or even understand it.

Probably only the Distance made possible by the intervening—that word again!—Atlantic Ocean can give cultural commentators the Detachment that is really necessary to such Discussions.

Sandwiched in at the close of the day—with dinner and opera looming—I had to forget about orally presenting the background paper I'd prepared.

Fortunately, it had been Xeroxed, so copies were distributed to everyone. Some actually read it and later commented on their interest in Steinbeck. And even in seeing Salinas!

In the event, it wasn't possible for me to show more than half the slides I'd made. As I was just hitting my stride—in German, which usually scares me if I am on-camera or in front of an audience—Dr. Peter Dusek, of Austrian Radio/TV, asked me to conclude.

He wanted to project some old film-clips he had found in the ORF Archives of James Dean & Julie Harris in East of Eden. As well as some black & white footage of Grapes of Wrath, with Henry Fonda.

I was a bit disappointed, for I wasn't sure of the relevance of East of Eden to Of Mice and Men. And the remainder of my slides were even more interesting than what I was able to share.

But I did suggest to the ORF-TV team covering the Bregenz Festival that a special Steinbeck Centenary Documentary—filmed on the actual sites—could be a winner in the coming year. All kinds of special events and tours are planned at the National Steinbeck Center.

I very much hope they will make this documentary. It would surely be of interest to TV viewers all over Europe—where Steinbeck is much more honored than in his own country.

But if they decide they cannot afford to fly off to California's Long Valley to capture the beauties of Steinbeck Country, then I hope some TV-team from Paris, Munich, or London will do the honors.

AMERICAN DREAMING--Lennie & George imagine the little farm they hope for in Carlisle Floyd's opera,"Of Mice and Men," based on John Steinbeck's novel. Photo: ©Karl Forster/Bregenz Festival/2001.

Who Will Publish My Steinbeck Panorama PhotoBook?

In the meantime, however, I am eager to share my Steinbeck Images in book-form for the Centenary. But I have not had a literary-agent in 20 years. The last one could not sell a proposed book on Hal Prince—HAL PRINCE, KING OF BROADWAY—so that was the end of that.

And I have never had a photography-agent—or a gallery—to represent me. Although my by-now 150-volume INFOTOGRAPHY Archive of slides of international subjects is serviced by The Everett Collection [FAX: 212-255-8612] .

I will be 73 years old this Christmas Eve. I believe it is about time for my Warholian 15-Minutes of Fame. So how about a Grandpa Moses artist-photographer?

Almost 20 years ago, in fact, I was offered a one-man show of my photos at the CUNY Graduate Center. As a "New York State Artist," no less!

But—as I had never thought of myself as an "artist," much less as a "writer"—I delayed, hoping I'd find an agent, a gallery, and a publisher for my photos. No luck. And then there was no more state-funding for my promised show.

If & when my entire Archive goes into the Photo Collection of the Research Libraries of the New York Public Library—this is still pending the appointment of a new Curator for the collection—I may still have my CUNY show.

But on 34th Street—instead of on 42nd Street—for we have moved from our wonderful Midtown Walk-Through Mall to the defunct B. Altman's, across from the Empire State Building. I am a CUNY Grad Center Professor Emeritus, so there is a connection—however tenuous.

Right now, however, I am searching for American or European publishers who have enough vision to publish a Steinbeck Centenary PhotoBook.

Here is my proposal—in hopes that someone reading this may bring it to the attention of a potential publisher:

PhotoBook Proposal:

By Glenn Loney/INFOTOGRAPHY 2001


STEINBECK ONSITE IN SALINAS--Author's Photo & Signature in Post-Modernist National Steinbeck Center.
Photo: ©Glenn Loney/INFOTOGRAPHY/2001.

Centenary Scenes of His Works & Life:
The Long Valley/Salinas/Monterey

·The Year 2002 marks the 100th Anniversary of beloved California author JOHN STEINBECK, born and raised in Salinas and the Long Valley, central scenes for many of his novels.

·There is, as yet, no photobook-tribute to Steinbeck Country: To the Man, His Roots, His Inspiration, His Natural Environment.

·The forthcoming Steinbeck Centenary seems an ideal time to publish just such a book.

·The handsome new Steinbeck Museum in the National Steinbeck Center, in Salinas, has, in fact, none of its own Steinbeck books to offer. There is no guide-book or catalogue at present.

·So a photobook of Steinbeck Countrywould be doubly welcome next year, not only for the Steinbeck Center, but also for the thousands of visitors who come from all over the world to explore Steinbeck's roots and his novels.

·The Steinbeck Center now sells more copies of his novels per year than Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com combined. Many of these are sold to European visitors.

·In fact, many of the visitors to the Steinbeck Center are from Europe, where his popularity remains undiminished. He was, after all, a Nobel Prize Laureate!

·Films based on Steinbeck's novels—or with screenplays by him, like Alfred Hitchcock's Lifeboat—continue in popularity in European film-classic cinemas and festivals.

·In current times of a contracting economy worldwide, Steinbeck's classic Great Depression Trilogy, Grapes of Wrath, In Dubious Battle, and Of Mice and Men have taken on renewed resonance for older readers. And they are being newly discovered by younger readers.

·During the Steinbeck Centenary, The National Steinbeck Center has planned a full program of events. These will include tours to some sites ordinarily closed to the public, such as The Red Pony Ranch.

·This past summer, Carlisle Floyd's opera, Of Mice and Men, based on the novel, was given an amazingly powerful revival at the Bregenz Festival, on Lake Constance. The opera is virtually unknown in Europe and was a tremendous success.

·It is a co-production with the Houston Grand Opera and will soon be seen there. But Placido Domingo—now Artistic Director of the Los Angeles and Washington DC Operas—was also on hand for the premiere, indicating he is considering bringing this production to DC and LA as well!

·So there is more mileage with such a book for some opera audiences as well.

·Because my mother's family settled in Salinas in the 1880s and all knew John Steinbeck, I was invited to "present a paper" for the Bregenz Festival Opera Workshop.

·I illustrated this with slides I made this June in Salinas, Monterey, Carmel, Pacific Grove, Asilomar, The Pinnacles, Corral de Tierra—scene of Pastures of Heaven, Soledad—location of Of Mice and Men, Watsonville—East of Eden lettuce-ranches, Castroville—The Artichoke Center of the World, Gilroy—The Garlic Capital of the World, Stanford University—where Steinbeck studied literature, and San Francisco, where he got his first taste of Big City Life.

·These photos were very well received by the cultivated European opera-lovers participating in the Opera Workshop. Many asked if I planned to publish them in a book for the Centenary.

·So that is what I would like to propose: A Steinbeck Photo Panorama of Scenes from His Life & Works. With my photos made initially for the Bregenz Festival.

·It could be rapidly produced, paper-bound, in time for the January opening of the Steinbeck Centenary Year.

·I envision full-page photos—no margins—with brief texts on the left facing-pages. This could be very compelling if it is limited to a brief quote—relating to the photo—taken from one of Steinbeck's novels or non-fiction. And, of course, a very brief caption indicating the site and nature of the actual photo, if it is not immediately apparent.

·I am customarily represented by The Everett Collection, but this is a non-exclusive arrangement. So I am the sole owner/proprietor of these photos I propose for publication.

·My immense INFOTOGRAPHY PHOTO-ARCHIVE of thousands of color-slides made over fifty years in many parts of the world is promised for deposit in the Photography Collection of the New York Public Library on 42nd Street.

·NYC Contact: Dr. Glenn Loney, 3 East 71st St, NYC 10021. PH: 212-879-5386.

·Salinas Contact: Ms. AMANDA HOLDER, Marketing, National Steinbeck Center, One Main Street, Salinas, CA 93901. PH: 831-775-4725/FX: 831-796-3828.

And here is the paper I prepared—but did not read—for the Bregenz Opera Workshop:

FAVORITE SON MONUMENT--City of Salinas' Post-Modernist National Steinbeck Center. Photo: ©Glenn Loney/INFOTOGRAPHY/2001.

Loney's Steinbeck Centenary Salute!


Of Mice and Men
Of George and Lennie—
Of Steinbeck and Loney—

©Glenn Loney/2001

Rootless Men On The Road:

Even well before the disastrous Wall Street Stock Market Crash of 1929, there were thousands of rootless, homeless men "on the road." They moved from place to place, usually looking for short-term work, something to eat, and a place to sleep.

With no families to care for—no wives nor children—they had no social obligations to tie them down to a permanent job or location. When they tired of one locale or kind of work, they could easily move on, often carrying their few possessions in a blanket-bundle, slung over their shoulders.

There were also many others—especially in the Western United States—regularly on the road. But these people were migrant agricultural workers. They usually traveled as families, or in groups, following the crop-cycles from place to place, from harvest to harvest, but largely in the great valleys of California.

With the sudden collapse of the national economy in 1930, many more thousands of single men took to the "open road," as well. Or they "rode the rails" in empty railroad freight-cars—or on top or under the cars, trying to evade rail-police and local sheriffs.

Between train-hopping, these "Hoboes" would congregate in rough, improvised camps, warming themselves around fires in old steel oil-drums. Information was exchanged about tough rail-lines, unfriendly towns, and places where one might find part-time work.

In big cities and small towns alike, these camps were often called "Hoovervilles," after President Herbert Hoover, whose historical misfortune it was to have no economic solutions to this nationwide Depression.

Across the Atlantic at the same time, Adolf Hitler offered Germany some rather drastic solutions to equally daunting social problems.

Cluelessly running for re-election in 1932, Hoover promised America "Two chickens in every pot; two cars in every garage." It was a promise no one could turn into reality.

Unlike Hitler, however, Hoover's successor—President Franklin D. Roosevelt—didn't have to seize power. He was elected to the Presidency four times! And he had some democratic solutions which really worked.

As there weren't so many cars or trucks on the highways and byways then, those who chose to hike the open road had a harder time of it. To "hitch a ride" was a piece of luck.

More often, these "Knights of the Road" hiked endless miles along the highways, begging a meal here and there, and "bedding-down" for the night in a culvert or beneath a tree.

But the Stock Market Crash wasn't the only disaster that took away men's jobs, shops, homes, farms, and hopes, forcing them to take to the road.

Gone With the Winds:

NOT THE ADAMS FAMILY!--Detail of Steinbeck Family Victorian Home in Salinas/California. Photo: ©Glenn Loney/INFOTOGRAPHY/2001.
Nature herself added to the loss and chaos. In the "Heartland of America"—the so-called "Breadbasket of the Nation"—long droughts on over-cultivated fields, abetted by severe winds, began to blow away the top-soil from thousands and thousands of farms.

In such states as Nebraska, Missouri, Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas, the once fertile farmlands were now referred to as "The Dust Bowl."

Those farming families—who had not already been foreclosed and evicted by local banks—had to abandon lands they could no longer farm.

There was no place for them in the over-settled East, so they had to move westward towards the setting sun and the shores of the Pacific. Beyond which there was no landfall, no hope for them.

Those who desperately sought to survive by going "Out West"—like John Steinbeck's brave Joad Family—found little welcome. They were variously disparaged as "Okies" & "Arkies," even if they weren't originally from either Oklahoma or Arkansas.

Between 1935 and 1938, nearly half a million of these dispossessed people flooded into California—which really had no place for them to settle and not much need of them as a work-force.

They inflated the potential pool of unskilled Migrant Workers—which encouraged both small farmers and organized "Agribusinesses" in the Far West to offer them the most minimal of wages and working-conditions.

Large-scale commercial farming & ranching had become Big Business in California shortly after the Gold Rush of 1849, so exploitation of migrant workers—often Asian, Filipino, or Mexican—was already well-established in the West, unlike the rest of the United States.

STEINBECK ON SCREEN--Movie-Poster for "Of Mice and Men." Photo: ©Glenn Loney/INFOTOGRAPHY/2001.

Steinbeck's Great Depression Trilogy:

John Steinbeck's earlier fictions had already earned him the reputation of being a Romantic, a Mythologist, a Local-Color Writer, and even a Realist. Critics obviously felt a need to pigeon-hole—to classify—the man and such works as Cup of Gold, To a God Unknown, The Pastures of Heaven, and Tortilla Flat.

With the sequential publication of In Dubious Battle [1936], Of Mice and Men [1937], and The Grapes of Wrath [1939], however, some leading critics hailed him as much more than a mere Realist. He seemed to them to be a Social Activist, a Reformer.

Although Steinbeck—always searching for likely stories or interesting characters—had certainly done his research among migrant farm-workers and union-organizers, he actually took no sides in any of this major trilogy of novels.

He did write a series of newspaper articles in 1936—republished as The Harvest Gypsies—on the problems of migrant workers and the dispossessed, This experience gave him background and details for The Grapes of Wrath.

In his journalism about the plight of the homeless and landless newly arrived in the "Golden State," he suggested some solutions, among them government camps such as that in which the Joads took refuge.

But he didn't "take sides" with either the land-owners or the union-agitators in his three novels. His sympathies were clearly with those thousands of hopeless people caught between these polar opposites.

At that time, however, Social Activists on the Left thought Steinbeck was on their side, but they wanted him to make more forceful statements in his novels.

On the other hand, however, both small farmers and big ranchers—notably the Associated Farmers—regarded Steinbeck as at least a "trouble-maker," or, at worst, a downright Communist.

The farmers didn't have to actually read Steinbeck's novels—most of them probably had not read the books—to know that they were dangerous incitements to workers to demand unions, better pay, and decent working-conditions.

On both ranches and farms—big versus small acreages still make this distinction—in the Salinas Valley, Steinbeck was "bad news." Not only did he seem to encourage labor-problems for the growers, but he also mocked "decent local citizens" in The Long Valley and celebrated the easy-going layabouts of Tortilla Flat. For some, he seemed to have "no moral compass."

What most of Steinbeck's readers and critics did not understand was that he did not regard himself as a Realist—for there was always an undertone of the mysteries of Nature, which he got from his mother's Irish heritage.

Nor was he a "Muckraker," or an "Activist." Instead, Steinbeck was dedicated to a Non-Teleological view of Man and the World. He had no interest in "judging" his characters or their situations by any known Moral Systems.

Steinbeck and The American Dream:

RANCH-HANDS GEORGE & LENNIE--Mural detail of buddies in Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men." Photo: ©Glenn Loney/INFOTOGRAPHY/2001

Steinbeck, in his writing-logs, indicated that he hoped some readers would look beneath the surfaces of his fictions and come to understand his acceptance of the Human Condition as it is. He did believe, however, that what one man could not achieve on his own, he might be able to realize if acting in concert with a like-minded group, which Steinbeck called a "Phalanx."

This idea is illustrated—but rapidly aborted, because of Lennie—in Of Mice and Men. George and Lennie's dream of a little piece of land on which they could raise enough food to support themselves—without having to answer to anyone else—for a moment seems a possibility, when Candy offers to put up the money to secure the property.

Although Lennie often asks George for reassurance—that once they have their own little farm, they will "live off the fat of the lan'"—this is not a dream of a European Schlarafflenland, flowing with milk & honey, with sausages growing on trees.

It is a fairly modest American Dream, one eagerly taken up by immigrants—especially those trapped in cities & factories—in both the 19th & 20th centuries. To own one's own home—and some ground to grow food on—may be a "Peasant" longing, but it is still very deeply entrenched in the human psyche.

Even in the 1930s, even in California, small farmers suffered severely under the Great Depression. This made them even more hostile to Okies & Arkies who would work for next to nothing.

Today it is almost impossible to survive on a small "Family Farm," but it was difficult then as well. [It took my father 20 years to pay off the $5,000 mortgage on our farm!]

George's dream is only that: a dream. But it keeps him and Lennie going. Nevertheless, small acreages like that are exactly what Steinbeck proposed for homeless California migrants in his newspaper articles.

STEINBECK SMILES--Mural detail of celebrated Salinas author. Photo: ©Glenn Loney/INFOTOGRAPHY/2001.

Lonesome Men on a Lonesome Road:

Long before migrant families of farm-workers became commonplace—encouraged by the growth of large-scale ranching & farming in the West—single men had been on America's roads and byways.

Some were by nature adventurers who didn't want to be tied down to a factory-job or follow the rigid routine of city life. Far more were men from large rural families, whose farm would usually pass on to the eldest son. If they didn't want to work for their older brother, they "hit the road."

Eugene O'Neill reverses this in his tragedy, Desire Under the Elms, in which a younger son buys out the farm-inheritance prospects of his older brothers—who depart for the West.

In American seacoast towns, many single men with no local prospects often went to sea as common sailors. These men, by their many, many thousands, were thus largely homeless, faceless, forgotten.

Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, of course, is not about farm-labor problems or the westward migration of countless Okies & Arkies, as are the other two novels of this Rural California Trilogy. But it does show what life was like for single migrant workers on a typical ranch.

It is, however, more importantly about the deep, almost inexplicable, friendship between George and Lennie. There is even an element of the Grotesque—as admired in fiction by Victor Hugo—in the very character of Lennie, as well as in George's peculiar dedication to looking after him.

George and Lennie as Buddies?

Seldom does one read—either in American histories or fictions—of pairs of men on the road. Hollywood has made the "Buddy-Movie" a belated piece of American Folklore. But in fact there are not so many actual examples on record.

Gangs of bank & train-robbers like that of Jesse James were something else entirely. Even Butch Cassidy & the Sun-Dance Kid aren't exactly "Knights of the Road."

Steinbeck's pairing of the protective George and the dependent Lennie does, however, have a fictional counterpart in Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn.

Huck protects the fugitive slave, Jim, on their picaresque raft-ride, even though he's going against all the laws & customs of his time & place.

Steinbeck—as most American writers of his time and earlier—wouldn't have dreamt of speculating on anything deeper in the affections of George and Lennie than that of strong mutual bonding.

George, after all, had promised Lennie's Aunt Clara that he'd look after him. He had an obligation. Also Lennie becomes the only "family" he knows.

But today, even Huck & Jim have become suspect, thanks to Freudian readings of such fictions: "Come back to the raft, Huck Honey!"

These suggestions of sexual attraction usually come from cosmopolitan critics with no knowledge of a time—especially in rural America—when even close family-members did not demonstrate even the most modest affection. Anything which might have been considered abnormal was repressed or concealed.

In any case, strong male friendships and the loyalty they inspired were much admired in the America of Steinbeck's time. And especially during World War II!

There was no conception that such bondings should ever have a sexual expression. Most men would have been appalled at such an idea. Or afraid to suggest it…

Steinbeck's bunkhouse hired-men can work off any sexual passions for a couple of dollars at the local whore-house. That was something that Steinbeck did himself before marriage.

His own very strong male-bonding with "Doc" Ed Ricketts was obviously a marriage of minds, with Steinbeck much in admiration of Doc's success with the women.

One of the reasons that single American men—especially in the 19th century—left home might very well have been that they were not prepared to marry, settle-down, and produce children. The conventional family life was not for them.

Leaving homes and families behind—effectively disappearing, which was fairly easy a century ago—they could deal with their own demons alone.

Of notable American authors of the 19th century, only Walt Whitman dealt with male friendships which were obviously more than "just buddies" on the road. But even his exuberant celebrations of his working-class male friendships were not blatantly sexual.

This was a taboo subject until fairly recently. Even those daring novels of the 1950s which centered on this theme had to "end badly" for sexual transgressors and "perverts."

Considering what Lennie could do to a puppy—not to mention Curley's hand, and then his wife—George would certainly have avoided hugging Lennie in an excess of good-feeling.

Shooting Lennie in the head—before the local search-party could get to him—although it may seem brutal and a betrayal of trust, was the greatest act of love George could show for Lennie.

At that time in California, growers deputized and armed their own ranch guards. And some small farmers and small-town locals could always be counted on for vigilante outrages. Floggings of migrant "trouble-makers" and burnings of camps and bunk-houses were common.

After all, not only California, but the entire West, had a long tradition of lynching horse-thieves, rapists, and other miscreants. Without benefit of trial.

This was not—as in the Southern United States—predominantly racist. White men who transgressed were as liable to be lynched as blacks.

But Lennie would have put up quite a fight before they strung him up!

These Hands for Hire!

JODY & HIS RED PONY--Detail of Mural depicting characters in John Steinbeck's novels. Photo: ©Glenn Loney/INFOTOGRAPHY/2001.
Currently, in Central Europe, many jobless people from former Warsaw Pact nations continue moving to the West in search, not only of work, but also of better lives for themselves and their families.

It might be tempting to equate this gradual—but massive—westward migration since the Fall of the Berlin Wall with that of the "Okies & Arkies" migrating to California during the Great Depression.

But the social conditions and the people involved are not comparable. Some former West Germans still refer disparagingly to the new immigrants from the East as "Ossies." They complain that the newcomers are only looking for welfare and that they aren't good workers.

But the Joads—and others Steinbeck came to know in the camps—weren't lazy or conniving. They were proud people who had lost everything. California seemed their only hope.

But California was not like West Germany. Not in the 1930s, and not now either.

Neither the State of California, nor its many small farming communities, were under any legal obligation to feed, house, or employ these unwanted and unwelcome immigrants. As they had no homes, they were not legal residents, and thus had no right to schooling or free medical care.

Only during short harvesting seasons were large numbers of migrants tolerated. When there were twice as many potential workers as were actually needed, the hourly wages or piece-work could be forced even lower.

But, as soon as the harvest was over, local authorities and landowners wanted these migrants gone. Sometimes sheriffs, or even local toughs, would drive them over the county-line, to let the next county deal with them.

In Steinbeck's six-part newspaper survey, The Harvest Gypsies, he predicted that these white Middle Western migrants would soon replace foreign workers, such as the Japanese and the Mexicans.

White men like those he'd met in the camps, he insisted, would not long tolerate exploitation and humiliation by growers or local citizens. They would organize, and, if they were not settled on small farms and permitted to follow the crops, they could become a danger to the State of California and its farming communities.

That suggestion recalls Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels' formulation about the "Specter Stalking Europe."

In the event, however, Steinbeck's prediction proved wrong. Only a few years later—with the outbreak of World War II—the masses of white migrants were rapidly absorbed into massive new war-related industries in California.

"Okies & Arkies" virtually disappeared, replaced by a civilian army of men and women with new-found pride, challenging work, and handsome paychecks.

The native Japanese workforce also disappeared, but in a different, much more tragic way. All Japanese—and even Americans of Japanese descent—were interned in "Relocation Camps" for the duration of the war.

Both California's Agribusinesses and its small-farmers were now only too glad to welcome back the Mexican peons they had previously exploited and deported.

In a way, it could be said that Adolf Hitler saved California's white migrant workers from starvation and poverty. And they didn't even know they were Aryans!

Hitler's launching a European war on two fronts—plus the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor—brought the United States into the now worldwide conflict with a vengeance.

America's rush to become battle-ready generated countless thousands of new jobs—and fat payrolls for the eager workers. World War II left Europe in ruins, but it saved America from the Great Depression.

Who knows: after Lennie's death, maybe George joined the U. S. Army at Ford Ord? Or he could have gone to work on the Boeing assembly-line…

MIGRANTS ON ROUTE 66--The Joad Family of "Grapes of Wrath" in mural of Steinbeck novels. Photo: ©Glenn Loney/INFOTOGRAPHY/2001.

Of Hired Men Remembered:

To offer some period background about hired-hands and migrant farm-workers in the 1930s and 1940s, I'll cite my own memories of this time. My father had a small farm in the California foothills of the Sierra Nevadas. My mother's family had grown up in Steinbeck's Salinas—where we often visited.

We had a "small-family-farm" with vegetables, fruit, and dairy-cows. As soon as one hired-man would pack up and take off down the highway—or be fired—another man would come up the road to ask for a hand-out or even a job.

Among frequent itinerants were some single and fiercely-bearded men from The House of David. Like Orthodox Jews, they pledged never to cut their hair. They also had a basketball team which toured. But times were bad during the Great Depression, so many left their sect's various homes to support themselves.

Bearded or not, drifter or not, for a hot meal, anyone hoping to be fed would also be expected to chop some firewood. Paint the shed. Or hoe the corn and the tomato-vines.

If he decided to stay on, my father would pay him a dollar a day and room & board. He'd have to sleep in the cow-barn, in the hay. Earlier in the century, he would not have been paid more than a dollar a week. If that…

Cows, however, have to be milked every day, twice a day. And we started milking at 4:30 to be ready for the milk-truck at 6 am. That meant the hired-man's only time-off was on Sunday, between milkings.

He could hitch-hike seven miles uphill into town—Grass Valley, California. Where he could see the Lola Montez House, if he were interested in Bavarian History.

In addition to doing farm-chores at home, when I became 12, I had to work—when not in school—on a neighbor's farm. I was paid 50 cents per day, plus lunch & dinner. I slept at home, but had to give my mother the money I made "to pay for my keep."

One of our hired-men, Roy—an "Arkie" from Arkansas—saved up his dollars to buy mail-order from Montgomery-Ward a cowboy outfit. It came complete with "ten-gallon" Stetson hat, fake-leather chaps, and ornately decorated cowboy boots.

The only problem was that he really had no place to wear his Western finery. We were farmers, not ranchers. But my father let him ride one of our plow-horses in full gear after work.

One month every year, Harvey Zearfoss appeared. He cut our winter firewood. He stayed in an unheated chicken-shack. He amazed me by eating peas out of a tin-can on the blade of his pocket-knife.

His sexual interests seemed to be satisfied by reading gruesome pulp-magazines dealing with recent violent murders, most often of semi-nude young women. With photos "Posed by Professional Models."

Harvey was replaced during World War II, by a migrant family from Louisiana. They followed the crops from the South, to the Midwest, to the Far West. Like Steinbeck's Joads, they traveled in a rickety old truck. They brought along tins of "Loozanie Sorghum 'Lasses" to sell.

The Paterfamilias brought all three of his wives along to work, plus some four children. He was divorced from the first two—or so he said—but they remained part of the family. All three of the women were first-class wood-cutters, but the eldest, Jessie, was amazing at slaughtering hogs & sheep!

The son, JT, or John-Thomas, was my age and went to our one-room school for the two months they'd work for my father. But I was not permitted to play with him or his sisters, who lived in a makeshift tent by their truck.

We all worked so hard there was never any time to play anyway…

Steinbeck and the "Other" Salinas

During the Great Depression, John Steinbeck was disparaged by many in Salinas for his seeming sympathy for migrant workers. This was viewed as "rabble-rousing," making it harder for local growers to realize a profit from their sugar-beets, lettuce, cabbage, and artichokes. They wanted a large, cheap, tractable work-force only at certain crucial periods of the year. The rest of the time, they wanted the migrants to disappear.

Although Steinbeck worked hard at a variety of jobs—to have free time for writing—he was, however, also censured for not having a regular full-time job, depending partly on small subsidies from his father.

Writing was not regarded as "real work." Until he began to have material & critical success with his writings, Steinbeck's literary aspirations were dismissed locally.

Another sore point was the belief that he used real people in his fictions. Some in my mother's family were sure that sheriff in Sweet Thursday was Cousin Carl.

As with many notable authors, Steinbeck did collect real stories, unusual details, and curious characters—which he then transmuted into fiction. But not completely disguised enough for some local critics.

He certainly used real locations. Site-tours are already being organized for his 2002 Centenary! Steinbeck fans will be able to visit the Red Pony Ranch and the Pastures of Heaven, locally known as Corral de Tierra.

When I taught in Europe in the 1950s, my Uncle Bob & Aunt Katherine would come over to visit from Salinas—where he owned the water-company. Cultivated Europeans, meeting Bob, would immediately ask if he knew John Steinbeck.

"I gave Steinbeck a bloody nose in the sixth-grade!" was his standard reply. Aunt Kath would say: "I just want to sink through the floor when he says that."

My mother was no great Steinbeck fan either. But I gave her a copy of East of Eden when it was published. She was astonished to find her first-grade chum, Narcissa Paioda, mentioned on the first page. After that, she began to enjoy this coming-of-age novel.

When the film of East of Eden—with James Dean & Julie Harris—opened, I was in the US Army at Ford Ord, between Monterey and Salinas. I invited my Cousin Ruth—who owned a large lettuce-ranch in Watsonville—to come over and see the movie.

She hated it. As we left the theatre, I asked her what was wrong with it?

"We were the first to ship lettuce East in iced box-cars! Not the Trasks!"

Nor did she like the portrayal of Caleb Trask's Uncle Will Hamilton, who loaned him the money he needed to show his father what he could achieve.

"Will Hamilton never had any money! He worked in the shoe-store!"

Will Hamilton was Steinbeck's maternal uncle. He is buried alongside Steinbeck and other relatives in the Hamilton Family plot in the Salinas Odd Fellows Cemetery.

So much for Art Imitating Life…

Steinbeck-Loney Parallels:

Although I have never written a novel—and have no intention of so doing—in reviewing Steinbeck's early days, I discovered some interesting coincidences between us—even though there is a 26-year gap between our ages. For the record—for what it may be worth:

·Steinbeck's first Literary Agent, Elizabeth Otis, was also my first agent.

·Both Steinbeck and I attended Stanford University. He never graduated but took the courses he found most useful.

·At Stanford, we both experienced the powerful personality of Professor Marjorie Bailey of the Department of English. She was brilliant and acerbic, not fond of men.

·In 1936, Steinbeck wrote a series of articles on the desperate condition of poverty-stricken migrant farm-workers who had recently emigrated to California from the Midwest. In 1948, I worked on a series about the desperate working and living-conditions of migrant workers in the Central Valley for the Daily Californian, at UC/Berkeley. This was over a decade later, but I realized nothing much had changed—except that more of the workers were Mexicans or of other nationalities.

·In his teens, Steinbeck was rod & chainman on a county surveyor's team, as was I. We both got poison-oak.

·We both went to functions at the YWCA's Asilomar Campgrounds.

·We both summered in Pacific Grove, but the Steinbecks had a house which still stands.

·At Lake Tahoe, Steinbeck cared for a summer-home in winter. I looked after our family's small cabin in summer.

·Steinbeck worked in the lab at the Spreckels Sugar Refinery. I worked in a milk-processing plant for a time.

·As a boy, Steinbeck—like other Salinas youngsters—helped harvest the crops. In my teens, I earned high-school & college money by picking pears and later by packing them in boxes for shipment the Eastern United States.

This was wartime, so we were paid only 10 cents for each large wooden crate of packed pears. One had to learn how to wrap the pears in special printed papers very swiftly. "Piecework," as this is called, is really a Killer.

But our local teens were working alongside the regular migrant "Fruit Tramps," who followed the crop-harvests around the West. They resented competing with the children of the growers.

We never fraternized with them as a result, but we were even officially discouraged from making any attempt to get to know them or ask about their lives. Another novel waiting to be written?


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Copyright © Glenn Loney 2001. No re-publication or broadcast use without proper credit of authorship. Suggested credit line: "Glenn Loney, New York Theatre Wire." Reproduction rights please contact: jslaff@nytheatre-wire.com.

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