Sunday, March 13, 2011

Paris Review interviews James M. Cain

Ed here: If you know much about James M. Cain, who I think was a better writer than either Hammett or Chandler, you know that he had a fascinating career before, at age forty, he wrote Postman. David Zinsser at the Paris Review did the definitive Cain interview and here is a link to it. Fascinating takes on the people Cain worked with--not flattering at all of H.L. Mencken, mixed feelings about Harold Ross of The New Yorker, nothing but praise for Walter Lippmann. Thanks to Terry Butler for the link.


Oh yes, I can remember the beginning of The Postman. It was based on the Snyder-Gray case, which was in the papers about then. You ever hear of it? Well, Grey and this woman Snyder killed her husband for the insurance money. Walter Lippmann went to that trial one day and she brushed by him, what was her name? Lee Snyder.* Walter said it seemed very odd to be inhaling the perfume or being brushed by the dress of a woman he knew was going to be electrocuted. So the Snyder-Grey case provided the basis. The big influence in how I wrote The Postman Always Rings Twice was this strange guy, Vincent Lawrence, who had more effect on my writing than anyone else. He had a device which he thought was so important—the “love rack” he called it. I have never yet, as I sit here, figured out how this goddamn rack was spelled . . . whether it was wrack, or rack, or what dictionary connection could be found between the word and his concept. What he meant by the “love rack” was the poetic situation whereby the audience felt the love between the characters. He called this the “one, the two and the three.” Someone, I think it was Phil Goodman, the producer and another great influence, once reminded him that this one, two, and three was nothing more than Aristotle's beginning, middle, and end. “Okay, Goody,” Lawrence said, “who the hell was Aristotle, and who did he lick?” I always thought that was the perfect Philistinism.

for the rest go here:


Mike Dennis said...

What a great interview! Thanks for posting the link, Ed. Cain was without question one of the greatest authors ever, and this incisive interview sheds some light on his influences, his process, and his writing.

Ron Scheer said...

Thoroughly loved this. Laughed out loud...Especially liked his formula for believable talk by ordinary people - not to mimic the way people actually talk, but to let characters speak in a way that doesn't draw attention to itself, to make it easy for the reader...Small as a whorehouse beer needs to be revived as well, if someone hasn't already.

Fred Blosser said...

I saw Cain speak in 1973 in a guest appearance at the Beltsville Public Library in Maryland. Dammit, I wish I'd taken a tape recorder with me. There were maybe two dozen people in the audience. I remember him saying how much he liked ALICE IN WONDERLAND. I took an old issue of MANHUNT containing "Cigarette Girl," and he graciously autographed it for me.

BUTTERFLY was eventually made into a Matt Cimber movie with Stacy Keach, Pia Zadora, Orson Welles, Lois Nettleton, James Franciscus, and Ed McMahon, with the book's West Virginia setting changed to Nevada. Probably best remembered today, if at all, for Pia's nude scenes.

Evan Lewis said...

Thanks for this, Ed. He's one of the greats.

Charlieopera said...

I agree about Cain being the best of the three. Great interview.

And which is it, wrack and rack?