Saturday, October 18, 2008

Richard Jessup

As I've mentioned before the careers of writers well known and not interest me. As I read The Cincinatti Kid by Richard Jessup last night I thought of what a fairly long and spotty career his was.

We first see Jessup in the early `50s when Gold Medal was promoting him as their own angry young man. The books were thick and dealt with social themes such as race and juveVile delinquency. I haven't read them in years but I remember liking them. And somewhere in here he wrote radio and live Tv including the science fiction series Tom Corbett. Two of his long Gold Medals became movies.

His next incarnation, after the angry young man phase ended, comes in the middle to late period of that decade. Jessup, under at least two pen-names, writes crime novels and westerns. After the James Bond boom he creates a spy series that people seem to love or despise.

Then came the massive hit. The popularity of the movie version of The Cincinatti Kid made Jessup a star. Reading it last night I found it to be even richer than the movie. A small tight masterpiece.

But then...

Jessup wasn't a one-hit wonder because he wrote three or four moderately successful novels after Kid. His publishers were careful to disassociate him from his genre work. I recall seeing an edition of Kid that gave the impression this was a first novel.

But he never came close to achieving another huge seller or one as culturally important as Kid. So what if he took The Hustler as his template and used poker instead of pool? Kid was indeibly Jessup just as Hustler was indeliby Walter Tevis.

It's difficult to learn what he did exactly after the success of Kid. There were the books I mentioned but as an old paperback original writer he seemed to have a lot of time on his hands. I checked IMDB and his Hollywood career seems to have been limited mostly to a few minor movies television and even there he didn't get many credits..

In the early eighties he wrote two door-stopper size suspense novels both of which I liked but neither of which seemed to do very well, at least in comparison to Kid.

I think what we're looking at here is the career of a working writer who got awfully lucky with the best book of his life. We should all have such luck,

But most of his books gave me so much pleasure--he was a hell of a good western writer; and his Gold Medal Wolfcop is a fine hardboiled novel--I wish he was remembered for more than just Kid. He brought a precise, evocative style to all his books and at least once a novel he fried your brain. I'm thinking here of Wyoming Jones when Jones is caught with a young Indian woman who is betrothed to the Chief. Jones is tied to a post and prepared for being burned at the stake if the young woman doesn't prove to still be a virgin. An old Indian woman is to examine her. Chandler always said that you needed to work inside the formula, give it touches that only you could bring. Jssup did that frequetly.

He died way too young of lung cancer. It made me remember all those dramatic author photographs of him with a cigarette between his fingers.


Anonymous said...

Just found your post trying to find out something about Richard Jessup, as i have been recomending him to younger readers. "Kid" stands the test of time, but my favorite one is "Sailor", one of the best novels I have read about a seagoing career, which Jessup had and one I had earlier in my life. My understanding is he was in the Merchant Marine in the second world war, but set his book much earlier.

Bill Hewes

Anonymous said...

Hi - I don't know if you check this for comments but thought I would send one anyway.

I was going through my parents things as they have passed away and have found the novels by Dick Jessup as we knew him. My parents were great friends of his and my mother his typist. My parents are small characters in the novel Foxway. We have most of his books - some printed in chinese - and signed. We have the typed copies from the typewriter days.

He was a great man and lived in Wilton Connecticut and then moved to Florida with his family.
Tory Hartmayer-Prizio

Anonymous said...

It's sad to see that Jessup's not as well memorialized as he ought to be. I picked up a copy of "Threat" - his last book? - when it was new & wore it to a nub. Finally located another copy - 25 years later it's still one of the best thrillers I've ever read. You're more than 90% through the book before you finally figure what on EARTH this character is up to! I wonder if you could stretch a movie plot for that long, but it sure would make a great one. Thanks for blogging Mr. Jessup.

Port Angeles, WA

Unknown said...

Me da muchisimo gusto poder leer grandes comentarios sobre Richard Jessup (mi abuelo), tuve la oportunidad de estar con el antes de Oct, 1982.
He leido mucho de sus libros y como bien dicen, es fuerte y pesado en varios de sus libros. Pero como todo, vas perfeccionando hasta llegar al final.
Como bien dicen "The Cincinnati Kid" rompio todos los esquemas y por lo que se, fue nominado al Oscar de aquel año. El actor Steve McQueen, es todo un estrella y su prime fue en esas epocas 1960's.
Y por último, su última novela "Threat" o "Amenaza" es el mejor Thriller/Drama... y aun no entiendo como no ha sido de interes por los cinematógrafos. "Someone said to me, leave the best for the last...". R.J.
Un saludo y mucho gusto por sus comentarios y articulos.
Jamie Noriega Jessup
Mexico City, MX

Theron said...

I am compliing a list of American writers who shipped out, especially during WWII. Can anyone point me to a source listing the names of the ships on which he sailed and when?