Friday, May 25, 2012

GI John

While Flannery O'Connor was in school at Georgia State College for Women, the Second World War was raging overseas.  Partly because of the presence of the all-female institution, soldiers were a familiar sight on the streets of Milledgeville.  The citizens of this community welcomed them with open arms, especially Flannery's aunts, the Cline sisters.  Whenever any man in uniform would show up at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, he would be invited to the Cline mansion after mass for a family dinner.  One Sunday, a handsome Marine Sergeant named John Sullivan was handed a note by Flannery's Aunt Katie Cline inviting him to be her guest at the Greene Street home for a midday dinner.  Sullivan readily accepted, and it was during this visit that he met Flannery, then in her first year at GSCW.  The two hit it off at once, in part due to their common backgrounds.  Sullivan, an Ohio boy, came from a large Roman Catholic family.  According to Brad Gooch, the two of them "were able to trade funny stories and share suppressed giggles, as he [Sullivan] became a regular visitor, a 'fixture' welcomed by all the aunts and uncles." (Brad Gooch, Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor, p. 100)  Despite their similarities, Flannery and Sullivan were different in some ways.  He was debonair, outgoing, and confident.  She, who was not used to the company of young men, was awkward and painfully shy.  Yet, there was something about Flannery's off-beat humor that attracted the Marine.  The two of them went on long walks and occasionally went to see a movie.  Sullivan even escorted her to a college dance, though he discovered quickly that Flannery had two left feet.  Many years later, Sullivan said that theirs had been "a close comradeship," not a romance.  Nevertheless, as Gooch asserts, "the two played at romance enough to tease a hopeful mother.  Once, as they sat together on the couch in the parlor, Regina called liltingly over the stairwell, 'Mary Flannery wouldn't you and John like to polish the silver?'  After an exchange of amused glances her daughter wickedly answered with a flat, 'No.'"  (Brad Gooch, Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor, p. 100).  Though none of O'Connor's surviving classmates or relatives remembers him, I am inclined to believe that Sullivan was Flannery's first crush.  After he left for training camp in the Pacific war zone, he and Flannery exchanged letters until the time he entered St. Gregory's Seminary in Cincinnati just after the war to study for the priesthood.  The root of Flannery's infatuation with John Sullivan may have been the similarity he bore to her recently deceased father.  Like Ed O'Connor, Sullivan was handsome, occasionally in uniform, and was "both confidant and supporter." (Brad Gooch, Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor, p. 101).  As we observe Memorial Day on Monday, let us pause to remember the thousands of young men, like John Sullivan, who served our country with valor. 
- Mark

Friday, May 18, 2012

Art Imitating Art

For those of you who were unable to be with us Tuesday night for William Walsh's presentation on the making of the movie Wise Blood you missed a real treat.  The program lasted an hour and could have easily gone on twice that long given the interest of the small but enthusiastic audience.  Mr. Walsh has dedicated the last several years of his life to finding out all he can about the making of this John Huston classic.  During that period Mr. Walsh has walked and driven down the streets of Macon (where most of the movie was shot) as well as every other Georgia back road that had any connection to the movie. There is not one locale in Wise Blood that Mr. Walsh has not visited. In addition to providing a lot of inside baseball information on the making of the movie, Mr. Walsh shared pictures that were taken during the filming.  He was kind enough to have a number of these mounted on foam boards and gave them away free of charge to anyone in the audience who wanted one.  In an essay in the 2011 edition of the Flannery O'Connor Review, Mr. Walsh says "Wise Blood (the movie) and Wise Blood (the novel) were never meant to mirror each other - they were designed separately and individually, art influencing art." (Flannery O'Connor Review, vol. 9, 2011, p. 96) And, boy, did they ever do that!  In fact, the story of the making of the movie could be a Flannery O'Connor story by itself.  How many other movies can you name where two of the actors (who were children at the time) went on to become career criminals (one of whom is still in prison serving a life term for homicide)?  Or how many other movies can you name that a professional prostitute was cast in the role of a fictional street walker?  Yes, the story of the making of the movie, Wise Blood, is as twisted and riveting as any of Flannery's stories.  For those interested in learning more about it, I heartily encourage you to read William Walsh's essay in the Flannery O'Connor Review.
- Mark

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Genial Joe

On Monday afternoon, an hour before the book-signing reception for At Home with Flannery O'Connor, we had what was certainly the biggest storm here in months. It was raining so hard you couldn't see across the driveway.  By 4:00 things lightened up a bit, and we ended up having a pretty decent turnout for the event.  In addition to the editors, there were others on hand, too, who played a part in the book's creation.  One of these was photographer Joe McTyre.  As I was working in the gift shop, Mr. McTyre came up and shared some of his memories of coming out to Andalusia fifty years ago to photograph Flannery for a feature story in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Sunday magazine.  Before continuing, I should mention that this was Mr. McTyre's first visit to the farm since that day in 1962, and I think it's fairly safe to say that he was dazzled by the experience.  While other guests mixed and mingled, Mr. McTyre was walking around enveloped in memories half a century old.  From the gift shop where I was busy selling books, I looked out onto the front yard and saw him, camera around his neck, looking around for the best place to take a picture of the house.  When he came back inside, he and his wife, Judy, stopped by again and chatted with me. He said that the day he came out here to take pictures of the famous author stands out in his memory so clearly.  He spent the whole day at Andalusia taking pictures of Flannery who, he said, was most congenial.  It was only after he and the reporter who accompanied him left that he learned that O'Connor had very little tolerance for news folks and, as a rule, shunned the publicity.  The pictures that Joe McTyre took that day are some of the most familiar to fans of Flannery O'Connor.  There is the famous photo of her standing on the front porch steps that adorns the dust jacket on The Habit of Being.  But Mr. McTyre told me his favorite one of all was the picture he took of Flannery sitting on the living room sofa with her self-portrait.  He said he didn't even pose her for the shot.  He just asked her to sit there and quickly snapped off what turned out to be such a self-revelatory photo.  After Flannery died in 1964, Mr. McTyre sent her mother all the proofs he had taken that day.  Needless to say, Mrs. O'Connor was grateful for his thoughtfulness and generosity. By his own admission, Mr. McTyre will always remember his visit to Andalusia in 1962. I will not soon forget his return visit in 2012.
- Mark                                            

Friday, May 4, 2012

Book Signing at Andalusia

On Monday afternoon we will be hosting a special reception at Andalusia to celebrate the publication of At Home with Flannery O'Connor: An Oral History.  This event runs from 4:00-5:30 and is free and open to the public.  Refreshments will be provided.  Craig Amason and Bruce Gentry, the editors of this handsome volume, will be on hand to sign books along with several of the folks who knew Flannery O'Connor whose reminiscences make up this book.  One of these is Mary Barbara Tate.  Mrs. Tate is a former professor of English at Georgia College, but like a lot of interviewees in the book, Mary Barbara knew Flannery primarily as friend and neighbor, and not so much the icon of American literature.  This comes through in her recollection of seeing Flannery out and about with her mother in downtown Milledgeville: "One of my favorite memories of her is seeing her parked in a car downtown in front of the movie house on a hot summer day, with all the windows rolled down, while her mother did shopping up and down the street, and every passerby stopped to speak to Flannery.  In that day, everybody knew everybody, and she enjoyed chatting with the passers-by.  I saw her often, too, in the restaurant where she ate almost daily, noontime and often in the evening as well, and I even knew which table she would be sitting at, and where she would bring her out-of-town visitors to dine on the delicious food at the Sanford House."  (At Home with Flannery O'Connor: An Oral History, p. 24)  There are many other delightful nuggets in the interview with Mary Barbara Tate, and if this snippet has whetted your appetite for more, please call (478) 454-4029 to place your order.  Signed copies are also available.  Better yet, if you're in the area, come on out to our book signing party Monday.
- Mark