In a welcome respite from the daily horrors, The Jillster (Professor Jill Lepore) goes on a literary search mission to Vermont and uncovers the backstory of J. D. Salinger's short story, “For Esmé—With Love and Squalor.” It is the story of a novelist, his fictional characters, a film/TV director, and a journey of many miles. If this is a (fair & balanced) welcome escape, so be it.
[x New Yorker]
The Film J. D. Salinger Nearly Made
By The Jillster (Jill Lepore)
TagCrowd cloud of the following piece of writing
In the woods, someone had built a labyrinth, a maze edged with stones. It began where a spoked handwheel, rusted red, had been pressed into the dirt as if it were a sundial, a clock, stopped. The path was overgrown with ferns. It twisted and turned and snaked around in a coil until it ended at a murky well fed from a spring where a person, quiet of heart, is meant to meditate. That person is not me. Nearby, a stone Buddha the size of a small girl watched from the crooked stump of a fallen birch.
I saw the place one summer, an eighteenth-century farmhouse in Vermont on a hillside that was once a farm but had become a forest. Ruins were everywhere. The overgrown labyrinth; stone walls; the foundations of barns; a pine shack, collapsed; abandoned roads; a junk yard at the bottom of a ravine, a little village of bathtubs and glass bottles and old stoves and washbasins; dumped cars, a Plymouth of indiscernible vintage, a Volkswagen Karmann Ghia, its hood and trunk popped open, like an upturned deerstalker cap. Grapevines climbed up the mopey branches of a willow. Wasps had lain siege to the barn. There was a wooden rocking horse in the shed, a faded Victorian settee in the attic, and, crammed in between the rafters, resting on plaster made of lime and horsehair, there were corncob husks that had been fashioned into Colonial dolls, folded and tied into the shape of skirted girls.
Usually, I need to know who lived in an old place or else the curiosity bores through my bones. I pore over deeds. I dig up gardens. I once found, beneath the floorboards of a three-story Queen Anne, an issue of “The Golden Library of Choice Reading for Boys and Girls,” from 1886. I figured out the name of the little girl who must have owned it, and when I found her gravestone I read her a story. Everyone has a labyrinth. History is mine.
I discovered that the man who built the farmhouse, in 1779, felled trees and hewed timbers in a wilderness where an alarming number of settlers quite entirely lost their minds. One filled his house with thousands of books, declared it a college, and then tried to beat his brains out with an axe; a surgeon saved him by drilling a hole in his skull, but the poor man later cut his throat with a razor and lay down to die between two hemlock logs. Another man left town, cut his throat in a field, regretted it, and tried to stuff grass into the wound but was unable to stanch it.
More recently, there was Henry. He lived in the farmhouse, very happily, until his death, in 2003, when he was nearly eighty. “Henry used to have a big vegetable garden over there,” neighbors told me, pointing to a cleared field. The woodstove in the barn? That was Henry’s. The labyrinth? Built by Henry’s wife. Henry had been a miller. Henry once had a cow. Henry made cheese. People called him Henry the Cheeseman. Henry read stories to schoolchildren; he did all the voices. He wrote and performed in a one-man play about Thoreau. Henry wasn’t his real name; he may have taken it from Thoreau. Henry, when he was younger, and in Hollywood, was named Peter Tewksbury. He directed Elvis, Fred MacMurray, Danny Thomas. And, when he was Peter Tewksbury, Henry the Cheeseman persuaded J. D. Salinger to make a movie of “For Esmé—With Love and Squalor.”
I walked back to the labyrinth. “Esmé” is a story read in the middle of the twentieth century by girls of unquiet heart sometime after reading “Ramona the Pest” and “Harriet the Spy” but before reading “Emma” and whichever one of the Judy Blume books is the one that has sex in it. (“For Esmé,” my best friend wrote, inscribing for me a copy of “The Phantom Tollbooth.”) I eyed the Buddha. I’d have to find Esmé and dig her up. I got out my spade and my axe.
J. D. Salinger’s eight-thousand-word story, “For Esmé—With Love and Squalor,” appeared in The New Yorker on April 8, 1950. It’s one of his best stories, and one of his shortest; at the last minute, he cut six pages. Not much happens in it except that a terribly lonely man writes a story for a terribly clever girl. Salinger is sometimes compared to Lewis Carroll; Esmé was his Alice. The New Yorker rejected a lot of his stories but loved “For Esmé,” and Salinger got more letters about it than he received for anything else he’d ever written. “The Esmé story was just the shot in the arm I needed,” he told his editor, the boost that made it possible for him to finish the book he was trying to write; The Catcher in the Rye (1951), Salinger’s only novel, was published a year later. There was talk of a movie. Billy Wilder wanted to make it, but Salinger refused. He told Elia Kazan, “I fear Holden wouldn’t like it.” (“If there’s one thing I hate, it’s the movies,” Caulfield says on page 2.) Salinger didn’t hate the movies, but he regretted having sold an earlier story, “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut,” to Samuel Goldwyn, who padded it into a daffy romance called “My Foolish Heart.” “My contempt for Hollywood is immeasurable,” Salinger wrote. Also, he didn’t think The Catcher in the Rye would necessarily make a good movie. “There are readymade ‘scenes,’ ” he explained to one rights-inquirer, but “the weight of the book is in the narrator’s voice.” To another, he sent a testy telegram: “im afraid the answer is emphatically no repeat emphatically.”
For a long time, Salinger had the same policy for “Esmé.” A month after the story appeared, “an English film maggot,” as Salinger called him, said he wanted to make a movie out of it; Salinger wasn’t interested. In 1953, “Esmé” was reprinted in Salinger’s Nine Stories, a collection whose UK edition was titled For Esmé—With Love and Squalor: And Other Stories. The following year, the BBC tried to acquire the rights to adapt “Esmé” for a radio drama series hosted by Laurence Olivier. Salinger said no. In 1958, Salinger’s UK publisher sold paperback rights to the story collection to a publishing house that issued a cheap pocketbook whose flashy cover pictured Esmé as a dishy blonde, with the tagline “Explosive and Absorbing—A Painful and Pitiable Gallery of Men, Women, Adolescents, and Children.” Salinger never spoke to the publisher again.
“Some of my best friends are children,” Salinger wrote in 1955. “In fact, all of my best friends are children.” There were two kinds in his work: earlier versions of himself, and girls. Some Salinger stories, Norman Mailer once said, “seem to have been written for high-school girls,” which was untrue but seems to have been the worst insult Mailer could think of. Salinger was among a crowd of postwar writers whom Leslie Fiedler called Teenage Impersonators, along with Mailer, Jack Kerouac, and William Burroughs. One reason that Salinger’s writing can seem juvenile is that it contains no adult sexuality, which is not the case with Mailer, Kerouac, and Burroughs. Sex would have ruined Salinger’s girls, narratively speaking, since their purpose is to serve as moral housekeepers, the cleaners of men’s souls. As Fiedler pointed out, “The series which begins with ‘Esmé’ goes on through ‘A Perfect Day for Bananafish,’ where the girl-savior appears too late to save Seymour, oldest of the Glass family; and reaches an appropriate climax in Catcher in the Rye, where the savior is the little sister.” When I was a little sister, girls who were readers had, as a rule, two choices: stories about boys or stories about unsullied girls. (So many little Nells, so few Elizabeth Bennetts.) Salinger knocked my kneesocks off, at least until Lolita (1955) ruined him for me, which wasn’t Salinger’s fault. But these things happen.
The Teenage Impersonator impersonated only boys. Salinger is Holden, but Salinger is not Esmé. Salinger wasn’t worried that Esmé wouldn’t like a film about her; he was worried that he wouldn’t. In any event, it’s hard to imagine “For Esmé—With Love and Squalor” as a film, because it’s mainly narration, with only three ready-made scenes; four, tops. The story is brief. In April, 1944, an unnamed sergeant, an American soldier stationed in Devon before the invasion of Normandy, wanders into a church where a children’s choir is rehearsing. Esmé is a singer in the choir. “She was about thirteen, with straight ash-blond hair of ear-lobe length.” After the rehearsal, the sergeant goes to a nearby tearoom, where Esmé turns up. “She was with a very small boy, unmistakably her brother, whose cap she removed by lifting it off his head with two fingers, as if it were a laboratory specimen.” She joins the sergeant at his table:
I remarked that it was certainly a terrible day out.
“Yes; quite,” said my guest, in the clear, unmistakable voice of a small-talk detester.
Esmé’s father has been killed in North Africa. She wears his watch on her wrist. She asks the sergeant what he did before the war. He tells her that he’s a short-story writer:
She nodded politely. “Published?” she asked.
It was a familiar but always touchy question, and one that I didn’t answer just one, two, three. I started to explain how most editors in America were a bunch—
“My father wrote beautifully,” Esmé interrupted. “I’m saving a number of his letters for posterity.”
They agree to correspond, and she asks him to write a story for her. “ ‘Make it extremely squalid and moving,’ she suggested. ‘Are you at all acquainted with squalor?’ ” The second half of the story, the squalid part, takes place six weeks after V-E Day, in a house in Germany, the onetime home of a Nazi official. The sergeant, having witnessed untold horrors, is unkempt, sleepless, half-mad. At his writing table, he fingers a copy of Joseph Goebbels’s 1941 book, Die Zeit Ohne Beispiel. (Time Without Precedent). A package arrives from Devon, containing a letter from Esmé, with a note from her little brother, who is learning to spell—“hello hello hello hello hello hello hello hello hello hello love and kisses”—and, wrapped in tissue, her father’s watch, its crystal smashed, time stopped. He writes to Esmé, “You take a really sleepy man, Esmé, and he always stands a chance of again becoming a man with all his fac—with all his f-a-c-u-l-t-i-e-s intact.”
Then, in 1962, Salinger got a letter from Peter Tewksbury, he of the cheese, an Emmy Award-winning television director, best known for “Father Knows Best” and “My Three Sons.” Salinger had a 16-mm. projector at his house. He borrowed reels from the Dartmouth library; he loved to watch old movies, like “The Lady Vanishes.” But the only TV show that Salinger watched in 1962, according to Tewksbury, was his new series, “It’s a Man’s World.” Tewksbury wanted to adapt “Esmé.” Salinger agreed.
J. D. Salinger was born in New York in 1919, Peter Tewksbury in Cleveland in 1923. They both attended prep school; after high school, Salinger went to NYU, Tewksbury to Dartmouth. Then began the war. A generation of young men knew death before they knew sex, love as salvation. Salinger was drafted in 1942, Tewksbury in 1943, the same year as my father, who, like Salinger and Tewksbury, came back broken. After the war, there were girls, to help fix them. Salinger and Tewksbury got married. Salinger wrote stories; Tewksbury directed plays. Tewksbury turned to television in 1954, when he directed an episode of “Life with Father.” In the nineteen-fifties, while Salinger wrote about the Glass family, who had appeared, as children, on a quiz show called “It’s a Wise Child,” Tewksbury directed a hundred and thirty-four episodes of “Father Knows Best.” He won an Emmy in 1959. He and his wife had three sons and a daughter. In 1960, he produced and directed “My Three Sons.” No director is more intimately responsible for television’s vision of American family life during the Cold War.
In May, 1961, Newton Minow, the chairman of the FCC, dared an audience of American broadcasters to watch a full day of their own programming, which he described as “a vast wasteland . . . a procession of game shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons.” Tewksbury was stirred. Having earned a great deal of money and acclaim for NBC, he got free rein to develop a new series with the working title “The Young Men,” an hour-long drama about four boys—two teen-agers and two college students—living on their own in a houseboat on a river in the Midwest. (The college scenes were shot at Marietta College, in Ohio.) He wanted nothing phony: no infallible fathers, no staginess, no hammy dialogue, no fake kids. “We want to do young people as they really are,” Tewksbury said. “Kids solving problems without family authority.” From Universal City, he sent out a casting call to talent agents: “Since we are not looking for established, so-called ‘stars’ or ‘name actors,’ we intend to explore not only all of your clients, but to find and talk to every possible actor we can whether or not he has an agent and whether he lives in this area or Chicago or Slapout Holler, Arkansas.”
Tewksbury travelled across the country by bus. He found Randy Boone, a folksinger, working in a coffee shop in North Carolina, and cast him as Vern, a modern-day Huck Finn. Glenn Corbett, who’d done a few small parts in movies, played Wes, who was working his way through college while raising his younger brother, Howie, played by thirteen-year-old Michael Burns. For the role of Tom-Tom, a college student from a wealthy family in Chicago, Tewksbury cast Ted Bessel, a stage actor who’d been training in New York with Sanford Meisner, who, in 1961, made a recording of Gene Wilder and Mary Mercier performing a dramatic reading of “Esmé.” Tewksbury wrote Bessel a letter, in the voice of Tom-Tom, signed it “Caulfield,” and added a postscript: “If you think you would like to play the role of the man who wrote the enclosed letter, call me.”
To Tewksbury’s dismay, NBC changed the show’s title to “It’s a Man’s World.” The first episode aired in September, 1962. Kennedy was in the White House, Salinger was America’s favorite author, Bob Dylan had just released his first album. The network’s publicity department was hard-pressed to describe what Tewksbury was up to. “The series features offbeat, super-realistic drama,” a brochure ventured. One TV critic told readers that he’d been unable to get NBC to show him the pilot: “No one at the network or the agency level would green-light a preview.”
“It’s a Man’s World” is an amazingly strange and interesting television show. On the set, Tewksbury was a fanatic: wiry, dishevelled, intense, and a little terrifying. “Peter Tewksbury is a mid-century modern artifact,” Michael Burns told me. He was a director of the old school. He refused to call the actors by their real names, even off set. “He always called me ‘Howie,’ even thirty years later when we lived in Vermont,” Burns said. When he needed tears, he drove actors to tears; when he needed fear, he raged at them. Tewksbury had a lot at stake in the experiment, and a sense of calling; his actors rallied behind him, passionately. “This is not a show,” Corbett said. “It’s a cause.”
Much of the dialogue was improvised. Plot is minimal. Here’s Nora, Tom-Tom’s girlfriend, a bohemian artist played by Ann Schuyler, twenty-five, entering a middle-class living room: “Beethoven on the bed, Beiderbecke in the bathroom, Brubeck on the bread box. Let me out!” (“Schuyler” was a stage name; the actress had once been Tewksbury’s children’s babysitter.) In one episode, Vern, lonely and restless, borrows Wes’s Jeep to drive to the city of Exeter to get a tattoo. He brings Howie along, leaving word of where they’ve gone. Neither of them realizes that “driving over to Exeter” is a euphemism for losing your virginity. (There are prostitutes in the city.) Wes and Tom-Tom and their girlfriends, in a panic, follow Vern and Howie to Exeter, hoping to rescue the boys from a too-early experience of “female companionship.” The story ends with Vern deciding to use the money he was going to spend on a tattoo to call his parents from a pay phone. Later, he bounds onto the houseboat, where the other three boys are asleep in their bunks like so many Lost Boys of Neverland. He wakes them up to tell them the news from home, a monologue that runs to eight uninterrupted pages in the script, with bits like this: “Grandma Hodges has been right sick. She was visiting over at Uncle Benny’s and she was climbing over this stile and she fell down and tore something loose in her side. They had to take her to the hospital in Raleigh but she didn’t want to go. She said she was afraid she’d die down there and she didn’t want to go with a bunch of strangers around her. So momma went down and stayed with her. And now she’s on the mend. My Uncle Luther and his wife Aunt Honey were staying with my folks this weekend. My Daddy kind of let on that he’d be glad when they left.” (The script was written by Earl Hamner, who went on to create “The Waltons,” recalling his John-Boy childhood.) “The Beverly Hillbillies” débuted the same month as “It’s a Man’s World”; where it had mockery, “It’s a Man’s World” had tenderness.
Early praise was lavish. The Washington Post’s TV column ran with the headline “NEW SERIES AIMING AT SALINGER'S TYPES.” Critics gushed: “A disarming lack of pretension.” “Bowled me over with its charm and its decency.” “A revolutionary program idea starring nobody . . . almost documentary in form . . . an unprecedented television experiment.”
The ratings, though, were terrible, and in November NBC announced that the show would be cancelled. Tewksbury was devastated. He’d left his wife and children for Schuyler, who was fifteen years younger than he was. Tewksbury read stories aloud every night. “He’d do all the voices,” one of his kids told me. One night, he was reading “Esmé” to Schuyler at the kitchen table. She later explained that Tewksbury put the book down on the table and said, “My God, this would make such an extraordinary film.” So he sent a package to Salinger, containing two 16-mm. reels, episodes of “It’s a Man’s World,” and a letter noting his debt—“This series would never have occurred had I not been so influenced by your work”—and inquiring about the film and television rights to “Esmé.” Salinger didn’t reply.
Meanwhile, Tewksbury was waging a campaign to save “It’s a Man’s World.” He called the network’s decision a slap in the face of Newton Minow. He put together a press release, amassing evidence of the show’s popularity with high-school and college students. He wrote to hundreds of newspaper editors, called critics, and took out classified ads. He insisted that the ratings were meaningless. Bessel and Boone drove across the country in Wes’s Jeep, stopping at college campuses and at rallies, where protesters carried signs that read, “No Cancellation Without Representation.” Bessel said, “Look, it’s everything everybody’s been yelling about, Minow and the rest. We’re the first film show that put improvisations on the air.” Tens of thousands of fans wrote letters of protest to NBC.
Some critics said good riddance. “Even the trailers for ‘Man’s World’ are confusing,” one wrote, and “the show itself ends up being what, for the want of a nastier word, we’ll call heart-warming.” But many threw their support behind Tewksbury. NBC’s chairman, Robert Sarnoff, was forced to defend the decision. He insisted that ratings were the only way for a network to make scheduling decisions, and that the alternative—government regulation of the entertainment industry—amounted to a violation of freedom of speech. Tewksbury fought on. Congress opened an investigation into the ratings system.
The last episode of “It’s a Man’s World” aired on January 28, 1963. One stormy night, Tewksbury and Schuyler flew to Manchester, New Hampshire, and rented a car. They drove to Windsor and stopped at the general store, where they got Salinger’s address (according to accounts given by Schuyler, in interviews recorded a few years before her death, in 2014). They knocked on the door. Salinger answered.
“I’m Peter Tewksbury, and I want to make a film of Esmé.”
“You’re the one who made ‘Man’s World’?”
Tewksbury said yes.
Salinger took Tewksbury and Schuyler into the kitchen. They talked about “It’s a Man’s World,” and then about “Esmé.”
“You could practically lift it off the pages just the way it’s written,” Tewksbury said. “So filmic.”
“What do you think about Esmé?” Salinger asked.
“She’s right on the edge between the innocent wise child and the woman,” Tewksbury said. “And the whole story rests on that moment. It is like an in-breath the moment before it’s an out-breath, or a minor chord that builds up to that peak moment before it becomes a major.”
Salinger agreed to allow Tewksbury to make the film on one condition: Salinger would cast Esmé. Tewksbury went home and began working on the script. He broke the story into scenes and made some changes to their sequence. He sent a draft to Salinger. Three days later, Salinger returned it, having undone every change to the original story. Tewksbury revised the first two scenes, making slight changes to the dialogue, and sent Salinger another draft. Back it came, with every alteration reverted.
In March, Congress convened hearings as part of its investigation into the ratings industry. Tewksbury was the first person to testify. He was questioned by a congressional staffer named Rex Sparger:
Mr. Sparger. Comparing the amount of promotion done by the network in relation to “My Three Sons,” what percentage of that promotion for “It’s a Man’s World”—how would you relate these two?
Mr. Tewksbury. Well, just as a guess, without being able to be that specific, really, on that question, I would say that maybe “It’s a Man’s World” got 5 or 10 percent of what we got on “My Three Sons.”
Mr. Sparger. What is the effect, in your opinion, from your experience of promotion of a show?
Mr. Tewksbury. Well, I think that is an excellent way to buy a good rating. In fact, I think it has been pretty true all throughout that if you want to get a good rating, you will hire yourself a bunch of publicity men, and, by golly, there is your rating for you.
Tewksbury charged that ratings could be bought; entertainers complained that Nielsen was destroying television (Johnny Carson testified: “You have to project your career on a set of numbers”); Congress was concerned that ratings were inaccurate. The hearings lasted for months. It later turned out that Sparger was writing an exposé called "How to Rig TV Ratings for Fun and Profit"; Nielsen sued, asking for $1.5 million in damages.
Tewksbury left Washington. He’d been hired to direct an M-G-M film, “Sunday in New York,” starring Jane Fonda. But he kept working on the “Esmé” script. After more back-and-forth, he acceded to Salinger’s demands. He told Schuyler, “We’ll just film this exactly as he wrote it, because if we don’t, we won’t be doing this film.”
Salinger admired Tewksbury, and not just for “It’s a Man’s World.” “Tewksbury is a young director on the way up, and all that,” Salinger wrote, “but he’s also quite a thoughtful guy, in a nice sense.” Salinger had another reason for working with Tewksbury, though. There was a girl.
She was the daughter of a New Yorker writer, Peter De Vries. Salinger and De Vries had been friends since the nineteen-forties and had grown close in the nineteen-fifties, when they both lived in Westport, Connecticut. Salinger rented a house down the road from De Vries’s, and spent a lot of time there while he was writing both The Catcher in the Rye and “For Esmé.” De Vries and his wife had four children, two boys and two girls. They adored Salinger. In 1959, one of the children, Emily, aged ten, was diagnosed with leukemia. Her parents took her to Sloan Kettering for treatment. De Vries wrote to Salinger, “We are now asked to consider a universe to which beautiful children and villainous single cells that destroy them are of equal significance—or indifference.” The treatments were brutal. De Vries wrote to James Thurber, “When Emily had no longer any spine left she supported herself on her sternum.”
In an autobiographical novel, The Blood of the Lamb (1961), De Vries wrote of sitting in children’s wards with children as wasted as scarecrows, of watching mothers making wigs for their daughters out of dolls’ hair, of X-rays and methotrexate, and of his prayers: “I ask, my Lord, permission to despair.”
When Emily fell ill, De Vries’s other daughter, Jan, was the age of Esmé. She was something like Esmé: solemn and bookish. She got interested in acting. “How we revel in her enchantment with her newfound theatrical world,” De Vries wrote to Salinger. “She is lovely. Oh, how can everything be so utterly wonderful at the same time that it is so unutterably awful?” Emily died in 1960. Salinger began writing to Jan De Vries, and she began visiting him in New Hampshire. When he came to New York, they spent time together. He told her that she’d be perfect for the part of Esmé.
In July, 1962, The New Yorker published a story about Emily, written by De Vries’s wife, Katinka Loeser. It ends with a mother in a chair by her daughter’s empty hospital bed, her hands in her lap: “And she sat there and waited for the little girl to come back.” Jan De Vries wrote to Salinger. She was about to start college, at Boston University. She wanted to be an actress. He wrote back in September. He gave her advice. Salinger met with Tewksbury in January. Jan De Vries dropped out of college. “Production discussions with Peter Tewksbury,” Salinger wrote to her that spring: “A very nice guy, and most forbearing. A good understanding of things, or so I feel.” Some time later, after they’d settled on the script, he arranged for Tewksbury to meet her. By now, Jan De Vries was eighteen. Tewksbury called Salinger, and told him, “I really wish I didn’t have to say this but I do: she’s too old. So there will be no film.” In July, 1964, Salinger wrote Jan a rambling, three-page letter of explanation—a tangle of regret, apology, and misdirection. “A long talk on the phone with Peter Tewksbury,” he began. “What he mainly said to me was that at this point in your life you would have to act your way through the part of Esmé, and he felt certain in his own mind that there was something not really suitable about that. He really meant, I think, that you’ve grown up into a full-fledged ingénue.” She was distraught.
On June 19, 1965, The New Yorker published a very long Salinger story, “Hapworth 16, 1924,” which took the form of a letter from summer camp written by the young Seymour Glass. After that, Salinger refused to publish another word. He turned away reporters. He was an avid letter writer; sometimes he wrote to young women. Some of those letters found their way into archives; others remain in private hands; some have been sold. In 1986, Salinger sued Random House and blocked the publication of a biography by arguing that it violated the copyright he held in his unpublished letters. Jan De Vries died in 1997, at the age of fifty-two. She never had an acting career. Through Salinger, she’d become passionate about holistic medicine and New Age spiritualism. She was a psychic; she wrote a book about shamanism. She’d kept his letters. At her death, Salinger sent her family a letter of condolence but, instead of the original, he sent a photocopy, so that no one could sell it.
Salinger died in 2010. His unpublished stories, rumored to run to many volumes, are allegedly stored in a bunker where he did most of his writing. The script of “For Esmé—With Love and Squalor” could be there, too. Tewksbury wondered, not long before his own death, whether his two reels of “It’s a Man’s World” might be in that bunker.
After the Esmé project, Tewksbury made more television shows, and a few more films. Toward the end of the nineteen-sixties, he threw his Emmy out the window of a car and left Hollywood. He and Schuyler moved to a farm in Vermont, then to California, then to Canada, then back to Vermont. They had two children. They bought a cow. Schuyler became a Tai Chi master. She laid those stones and made that labyrinth, out in the woods. Tewksbury learned to make cheese by driving from dairy to dairy, talking to farmers. He got a job at the Brattleboro Food Co-op as a dishwasher. He worked his way up to the cheese counter. “I know the cheeses and I know the people,” he wrote, in his only book, The Cheeses of Vermont (2001). In 2001, a reporter from the Times found him after calling every Tewksbury in the phone book. Tewksbury agreed to meet him at the co-op. He came out from behind the cheese counter with his hat on and sat down. He gave the reporter fifteen minutes, the length of his break. He did not mention J. D. Salinger.
I left the labyrinth and went back to the barn. I laid my spade on the floor. I hung up my axe. I wondered who owned that Karmann Ghia. I crammed a jackknife into my pocket and went back to the woods. I figured I might be able to pry open the glove compartment. ###
[Jill Lepore is the David Woods Kemper '41 Professor of American History at Harvard University as well as the chair of the History and Literature Program. She also is a staff writer at The New Yorker. Her latest books are The Story of America: Essays on Origins (2012), Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin (2013). and The Secret History of Wonder Woman (2014). Lepore earned her BA (English) from Tufts University, an MA (American culture) from the University of Michigan, and a PhD (American studies) from Yale University.]
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