Currently viewing the tag: "50th Anniversary"

On Sept. 23, 1960, John Steinbeck and his faithful French-born poodle Charley left Sag Harbor, N.Y., and began the road trip that would become “Travels With Charley in Search of America,” one of the best-selling nonfiction books of 1962.9780143107002L

As I discovered in 2010, Steinbeck’s beloved, iconic road book, which turned 50 on July 27, is not a work of nonfiction. It is a highly fictionalized and dishonest account of his actual trip, who he traveled with and what he really thought about the America he found.

On Sept. 25 Penguin Group will release a 50th anniversary edition of the book, which it describes on its web site as:

“At age fifty-eight, John Steinbeck and his poodle, Charley, embarked on a journey across America. This chronicle of their trip meanders from small towns to growing cities to glorious wilderness oases. Still evocative and awe-inspiring after fifty years, Travels with Charley in Search of America provides an intimate look at one of America’s most beloved writers in the later years of his life—a self-portrait of a man who never wrote an explicit autobiography. Written during a time of upheaval and racial tension in the South—which Steinbeck witnessed firsthand—Travels with Charley is a stunning evocation of America on the eve of a tumultuous decade.”

Considering the true nature of Steinbeck’s trip, that’s a disingenuous and overly generous description of a multi-flawed book that never deserved its nonfiction designation and has been outed as a 50-year-old literary fraud.

In an email a few weeks ago I asked if the Penguin Group had “an official response to my discovery that ‘Charley,’ though marketed and reviewed and taught as a nonfiction account of Steinbeck’s 1960 trip, is heavily fictionalized?”

The company’s PR department in New York declined to comment.

Penguin, which for obvious reasons is not interested in helping me find more smoking guns, also told me that the company does not have Vikings’ old “Travels With Charley” files “on site” and that they are probably with Steinbeck’s estate. Perhaps future scholars will want to study them.

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You can read about how I stumbled upon the truth about Steinbeck’s last major work in “Sorry, Charley” in the Post-Gazette or the April 2011 issue of Reason magazine. At Reason.com you also can read “Whitewashing John Steinbeck,” which for the first time publicly revealed a highly X-rated paragraph of filthy language that was cut from the original manuscript of “Charley” in 1962.

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Meanwhile, if you can read Dutch, you can order Geert Mak’s new book “Traveling Without John in Search of America.” Mak, a well-known journalist and author in the Netherlands, did what I did and carefully repeated Steinbeck’s trip in the fall of 2010.

Mak did a lot of the same research I did and his nearly 600-page book includes much of what I discovered about Steinbeck’s real trip and how Steinbeck’s original manuscript was edited to hide the fact that he traveled in luxury and did not travel alone.

Here, translated by Google’s clever but imperfect computers, is how the book is described on Mak’s web site:

Travelling without John

Looking for America

On September 23, 1960 left the legendary writer John Steinbeck and his poodle Charley for an expedition across the American continent. He wanted his country and his countrymen again know. Exactly fifty years later, on the hour, was Geert Mak again for the old house of Steinbeck. It was the beginning of a renewed inspection tour in the footsteps of Charley and John, but now with the eyes of 2010. What is the past half century in American cities and towns changed? Where is Main Street USA go?

Which dreams chased the Americans over the centuries their ideals? What is it ended? What remains of that “city on the hill”, the Promised Land which was once the world looked? And above all, what we have together, America and Europe in the 21st century?

Geert Mak avoided, like John Steinbeck, the beaten path. He drove thousands of miles through the potato fields of Maine and the infinity of the Midwest, sat day after day at the table with farmers, laborers, fishermen and schoolmasters, met with shiny suburbs and boarded-up village shops, searched, again and again, to the stories of this country which nobody ever gets finished.

John Steinbeck’s beloved, iconic, best-selling road book “Travels With Charley in Search of America” turned 50 on July 27.

For half a century, we were told and taught that it was a work of nonfiction. It wasn’t.

“Travels With Charley” (1962) is not the true and honest account of the cross-country trip Steinbeck made in the fall of 1960. You can read about how I stumbled upon the truth about his last major work in “Sorry, Charley” in the Post-Gazette or the April 2011 issue of Reason magazine. At Reason.com you can read “Whitewashing John Steinbeck,” which for the first time publicly reveals a highly X-rated paragraph of filthy language that was cut from the original manuscript of “Charley” in 1962.

“Travels With Charley in Search of America” will celebrate its 50th birthday on July 27th.

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John Steinbeck’s classic/iconic/beloved travel book  was an instant best-seller and the newspaper and magazine critics of the day generally were kind to it in the late summer of 1962.

Most of them raved blindly. They all accepted it as the true account of Steinbeck’s road trip around the USA and none of them seemed to notice the book’s lineup of cardboard characters.

Time magazine broke from the slobbering mainstream pack, however, ripping Steinbeck in a two-paragraph review:

Here’s what Time wrote in August 1962:

“TRAVELS WITH CHARLEY, by John Steinbeck (246 pp.; Viking; $4.95). Put a famous author behind the wheel of a three-quarter-ton truck called Rocinante (after Don Quixote’s horse), equip him with everything from trenching tools to subzero underwear, send along a pedigreed French poodle named Charley with prostatitis, follow the man and dog on a three-month, 10,000-mile trip through 34 states, and what have you got? One of the dullest travelogues ever to acquire the respectability of a hard cover.

“Vagabond Steinbeck’s motive for making the long, lonely journey is admirable: “To try to rediscover this monster land” after years of easy living in Manhattan and a country place in Sag Harbor. L.I. He meets some interesting people: migrant Canucks picking potatoes in Maine, an itinerant Shakespearean actor in North Dakota, his own literary ghost back home in California’s Monterey Peninsula. But when the trip is done, Steinbeck’s attempt at rediscovery reveals nothing more remarkable than a sure gift for the obvious observation.”

The reading public in 1962 didn’t buy Time’s review. Steinbeck’s last major work stayed on best-seller lists for over a year and has been popular ever since.

Time’s quick hatchet job seemed unnecessarily harsh when I first read it. But given what I/we know now about how Steinbeck actually traveled and how little time he spent alone or spent studying the state of the changing country, it looks sharper than ever.

For half a century, Steinbeck’s last major work masqueraded as a nonfiction book. But as I innocently/accidentally learned in the fall of 2010 by hanging around in university libraries and driving down thousands of miles of two-lane highways, “Travels With Charley” is more fiction and fibs than fact.

I didn’t set out to ruin anyone’s reading fun by fact-checking Steinbeck’s book, and apparently I haven’t.   My discovery of Steinbeck’s literary fraudulence, for all the mainstream media attention it got in the spring of 2011, hasn’t put much of a dent in “Travels With Charley’s” reputation as a true account of Steinbeck’s trip.

If the Google alerts I get are representative of “TWC” readers, most people still think they are reading an honest, factual account of a great writer’s famous road trip.

Most new readers love the book as much as those unquestioning critics of 1962. And when they find out “TWC” is mostly made up, they react pretty much the same way the Steinbeck scholars did when they learned after 50 years that the book was more fiction than nonfiction.  They say “So what?”

 

 

“Travels With Charley in Search of America” turns 50 this summer.

That means for half a century the young and the gullible have been misled into thinking “TWC” is the true account of his 11-week trip from Sag Harbor to California and back in 1960.

“TWC” isn’t true or honest, as I discovered by accident in 2010.

Everyone should take at least one coast-to-coast road tour of America  in their life, alone or with a dog or another human. But everyone should also know that the romantic journey  Steinbeck depicted in “TWC” was nothing like his real trip. Or one they’re likely to have.

The publisher of “Travels With Charley,” Viking Press, did a clever/devious  job of marketing Steinbeck’s last major work as a nonfiction book when it came out in July of 1962. It jumped to the nonfiction best-seller lists at the New York Times and Time magazine and stayed there for over a year.

The famous illustrations by Don Freeman on the dust jacket and inside covers created the impression that Steinbeck and Charley spent three months on the American road, roughing it and camping out almost like hobos as they carefully documented the soul of a changing nation and its people.Travels_with_Charley

Though Steinbeck himself makes it clear in the book that he stayed at a posh hotel in Chicago (for four days) and at a fancy ranch in Texas over Thanksgiving, the book’s reviewers in 1962  bought into the romantic on-the-road story line.

In those innocent days, no one questioned the “authenticity” of the cast of wooden characters Steinbeck said he met or the book’s nonfiction designation.

But how often did Steinbeck actually camp out or sleep in Rocinante during his circumnavigation of America? Not very often.

The book itself is little help. We know Steinbeck made up several of the big campout scenes — on the farm in New Hampshire (when he reportedly stayed overnight at an exclusive inn) and two nights under the stars in North Dakota (which, unless the week of Oct. 9, 1960, had nine days, was an impossible feat).

I don’t pretend to have seen every shred & shard of Steinbeck’s massive archives.

But based on the “Charley” book, his road letters, Jackson Benson’s biography and several newspaper articles, I’d say Steinbeck probably slept in Rocinante a maximum of three or four nights between Oct. 5, when he met his wife Elaine in Chicago, and early December, when he returned to New York City.

In those last 60 or so days of his trip, Steinbeck slept at the Ambassador East in Chicago four nights, at Adlai Stevenson’s house near Chicago one night and at motels in North Dakota, Montana and Seattle (probably four nights).

He and Elaine stayed at motels and resorts for almost a week as they traveled down the Pacific Coast from Seattle to San Francisco, where they stayed at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco for four days.bu_francis

They then drove south to the Monterey Peninsula where they visited one of Steinbeck’s sisters and stayed until the middle of November at Steinbeck’s modest family cottage in Pacific Grove.

After Elaine flew on to Texas, John drove in Rocinante from Monterey to Amarillo. For the first four days on the road, until Flagstaff, his old friend Toby Street traveled with him — so it’s unlikely Steinbeck cuddled up in the camper with Toby on any of those nights.

When Steinbeck reached Texas, he stayed in a downtown motel in Amarillo for three or four days, spent at least several days at a nearby cattle ranch for millionaires over the Thanksgiving holiday and then visited some of Elaine’s relatives in Austin.

After Elaine flew home to New York, Steinbeck drove to New Orleans for a quick peek at the daily circus of bigotry outside a recently integrated elementary school, then headed home as fast as he could.

The last reliable date and location I have found for Steinbeck on his trip was Dec.  3, when he mailed post-cards to his agent and his editor from Pelahatchie, Ms.

While he may have grabbed some sleep in Rocinante on his sprint home, Steinbeck — road bleary and dispirited and out of gas — certainly didn’t do any leisurely camping or last-minute research into the American soul.ca_232_copy

Steinbeck was on the road for about 75 days in the fall of 1960 — from Sept. 23 to about Dec. 5 or 6.

As far as I can tell, on nearly 65 of those nights he slept in hotels, motels, resorts, a cottage, a ranch or with friends or relatives. Twice he slept in his camper on the grounds of Eleanor Brace’s house on Deer Isle, Maine; three of four times he slept in his camper at truck stops or “trailer courts.”

The number of times he slept in his camper in the middle of nowhere, as depicted in the book’s illustrations? Once or twice. He told his wife he parked by a bridge overnight in the interior of Maine. And, though there is no corroboration, he says he slept in a canyon in New Mexico by the Continental Divide and near a lake between Buffalo and Chicago.

It’s testimony to Steinbeck’s great writing skill — and the gullibility of the age — that he was able to create a classic “nonfiction” road book around such a pedestrian, comfortable journey. It’s testimony to the laziness and credulity of scholars that Steinbeck and Viking Press (now part of the Penguin Group) have gotten away with their literary deceit for 52 years.

“Charley” & America in Pictures

By Bill Steigerwald

In the fall of 2010, I retraced the road trip John Steinbeck made for his bestseller “Travels With Charley.” Along with posting blogs to “Travels Without Charley” at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, I took nearly 2,000 pictures of America and Americans.

I took snapshots of people I met, places I went or things I thought were interesting, pretty, funny or stupid. I photographed many places Steinbeck mentions in “Travels With Charley” as well as hotels and homes he stayed at while on his 1960 journey.

Some of my photos are pretty good, some are blurry or kind of crazy. Many were taken through my car windows at 70 mph.

Collectively they help me tell the true story of “Travels With Charley” and provide a hint of the beautiful country and good people I saw on my high-speed dash down the Steinbeck Highway.

Here are some photos from Bangor to Deer Isle, Maine, which is about 50 miles south of Bangor on the Atlantic coast.

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On the road from Bangor to Deer Isle: Maine culture in one picture.DSC_1931_copy

The bridge to Deer Isle, where Steinbeck stayed two nights on the

property of a beautiful house by the sea owned by Eleanor Brace.

The only bridge from the mainland to Deer Isle.

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Duke, who used to take care of Eleanor Brace’s property on Deer Isle, where
Steinbeck stayed two nights, gave me directions to the house.

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two nights, then drove north to the top of Maine.

 

 

 

 

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Small towns in Maine haven’t changed much since 1960 …
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Neither have many of the crossroads.
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Steinbeck didn’t sleep in a Bangor motel as he says in
“Charley,” but I spent my first night at a Walmart there.

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The Spalding Inn is in the White Mountains near Lancaster, N.H., where Steinbeck said he camped on a farm but didn’t.

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Steinbeck ate dinner at the exclusive Spalding Inn — after he was given a
coat and tie to meet the dress code.

“Charley” & America in Pictures

By Bill Steigerwald

In the fall of 2010, I retraced the road trip John Steinbeck made for his bestseller “Travels With Charley.” Along with posting blogs to “Travels Without Charley” at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, I took nearly 2,000 pictures of America and Americans.

I took snapshots of people I met, places I went or things I thought were interesting, pretty, funny or stupid. I photographed many places Steinbeck mentions in “Travels With Charley” as well as hotels and homes he stayed at while on his 1960 journey.

Some of my photos are pretty good, some are blurry or kind of crazy. Many were taken through my car windows at 70 mph.

Collectively they help me tell the true story of “Travels With Charley” and provide a hint of the beautiful country and good people I saw on my high-speed dash down the Steinbeck Highway.

Here are some photos from Lancaster, N.H., on a Saturday in September, 2010.

 

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Lancaster, N.H., where Steinbeck stopped twice,

going east to Maine and west to Chicago.DSC_1950_copy_copy

A farmer’s market in Lancaster, N.H., on Sept. 25, 2010.

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