IT was late in the winter, maybe just approaching spring, for I remember I had my heavy coat on, standing on Fifth Avenue at 48th, looking up at Scribner’s publishing house. I was to have lunch with the famous editor, the friend of Fitzgerald and Hemingway. Not nervous at all, just expectant and rather wary, I entered the building. I asked the elevator man for Mr. Perkins’ office, then a girl showed me where the office was. At the door a tall sandy-haired, or sandy-complexioned man, with a thin proud face, smiling faintly, put out his hand to me. Since he had his hat on I thought we were going right out. But he asked me to take off my coat. Should I too leave my hat on? I wondered. Max Perkins didn’t seem to be the alert and lively businessman I had imagined. Yet there was something about him that was familiar; it was as if I had met him at university, and he seemed to fumble around for words, withdraw into himself a little, his eyes not on mine, saying one thing,, then words belonging to another thought suddenly coming at me from another angle. Often he would be looking out the window, leaving me alone and waiting. It struck me, watching him; that maybe he wore his hat in the office and maybe went hatless outside. Wary as I was, I knew immediately I could trust him. While apparently fumbling around rather awkwardly with his words he was getting some kind of a sharp impression of me. All right, there I was, let him go ahead.
Then he said, looking puzzled and exasperated, “We heard from your friend Ezra Pound.” He heaped it all right on me. Pound had written a violently abusive letter when giving them permission to use my story. The fact that they had published Hemingway and now were interested in me, Pound wrote, didn’t excuse them for the years they had spent publishing worthless junk. The letter had been full of abuse. Pound had berated them for all the sins of the whole New York publishing world. Inwardly I groaned. Why the hell would Ezra Pound bother doing it? Why should he want to insult them when he knows they’re now interested in me? There was Perkins, looking puzzled and aggrieved, and I thought he was holding Pound’s abuse against me. I tried to laugh. I tried to explain that Ezra Pound had such a hatred of standard smooth mediocrity and such indignation against publishers for refusing to recognize authentic writers, he was simply taking out his anger on Scribner’s, because they at least had proven they were aware of authentic work. Maybe Pound had decided there was no use berating other publishers; they wouldn’t even know what he was talking about. Besides, he himself had been ignored for years in New York. No man in the world, though, was a better judge of good writing. But how could I know he would write such a letter?
No, no, no, he wasn’t holding it against me, Perkins said, getting his coat. He was merely trying to understand Ezra Pound. As we went out my confidence was shaken, for Perkins had made it dear that I had an abusive champion whose temperament was past his understanding. We went around the corner to Cheerio’s, the restaurant where Perkins always ate.
Even in the restaurant, checking our coats, it seemed to me that Perkins was reluctant to give his hat to the girl. And this strange man, whom I had immediately liked, wouldn’t give me a chance to talk about writing. While we were eating he kept asking me idle little questions about myself, my background, the university, my girl. In his random, entirely inoffensive fashion he was like a skilled insurance investigator. Sometimes I wanted to shriek, “What about my works? Never mind my school, my legal training, my view of a gentleman.” Suddenly he mentioned the success they had had with The Sun Also Rises; it had looked for a month as if the book wouldn’t catch on; the sale had started in a Wall Street bookstore. It gave me a chance to tell him Hemingway had been my only reader and booster. I assumed, I said, that Hemingway had told him about me. No, he said in surprise. He wasn’t aware that I knew Hemingway. It had been Scott Fitzgerald who had talked most enthusiastically to him about my work, and I’m sure then my eyes went blank with astonishment. Fitzgerald, not Hemingway! Yes, Fitzgerald had been in New York, he said, at the time when he, Perkins, had read my story in the American Caravan. Fitzgerald, quickly taking up my case, had gone back to his hotel, got a copy of one of the Paris magazines which had a story of mine in it and brought it back to Perkins. Fitzgerald had been enthusiastic, excited about the story. Fitzgerald? I couldn’t believe it.
Though we then talked about my novel Strange Fugitive, which Scribner’s had, we finished lunch without Perkins having revealed at all whether he had any plans for me. Never had I felt so at loose ends as when we left the restaurant, then turned the corner on Fifth. We had been talking about Princeton men. Scribner’s seemed to like Princeton men. Then, almost as if it had slipped his mind, Perkins said Scribner’s would publish my novel, and then in the following season they would also like to do a book of short stories. The trouble was the thing had been so underplayed that the news, offered so quickly and quietly there on the street in the sunlight, made me feel obliged as a gentleman to underplay my satisfaction. Anyone watching would have believed that two men coming up the street were talking about something as trivial as the weather. We went back into Scribner’s, had a little talk about Scribner contracts, and we shook hands. For the first time I noticed a gentle warm approval in his smile.
Only when I had got outside did I feel that something of vast and mysterious significance had happened. I said to myself, “I have a publisher! Two books of mine are coming out!” And it seemed to me that a lot of people should be gathering around me on the sunlit street. Turning, I looked up Fifth Avenue, watching the way the tall buildings sloping up in the sunlight went reaching into the blue sky. It was the most beautiful street in the world. Slowly, I walked down the street, slowly, vaguely, yet my whole body felt light. To this day whenever I am on Fifth Avenue I feel good. But somebody had to hear the news, someone very close to me. I couldn’t’ reach Loretto. I went into a telegraph office and wired my mother and father: SCRIBNER’S TOOK TWO BOOKS. Back on Fifth again, looking around, I thought of those lines of Balzac’s Rastignac: “Oh, to be famous and loved.” Well, I was sure of my girl, sure I would soon be famous.
Then I remember thinking suddenly of Scott Fitzgerald going into Scribner’s with my story. Of all people—Fitzgerald! Fitzgerald who had been in my mind so vividly some months ago! The talks I had about him with Loretto! The discussions of his work I had with Hemingway in the beginning. The whole world suddenly seemed to contract, become so small I had only to think of someone and he was suddenly in my life. Whom I was to meet, what was to happen to me, seemed beyond my control. As for Fitzgerald’s own work, the characters of his early novels seemed to be out of my time. But with The Great Gatsby he had become another kind of an artist, in beautiful control of his material and all his effects, wonderfully suggestive, too, bringing the people in his story close to my own life. I wanted to meet him, seemed to know instinctively I would feel happy and close to him. Turning suddenly, I walked up the Avenue in the sunlight as far as the park, then I crossed over to the little square and the fountain by the Plaza. No one was sitting on the benches. It was too cold. The park looked bleak in the sunlight. Looking at the Plaza I could think of Fitzgerald. Entering by the side door, I walked slowly through the marble halls, past the desk and out through the 57th Street entrance. To this day whenever I pass the Plaza, Scott comes into my head. Years later, well, just last year, waiting in there for my publisher, Jack Geoghegan, who had got caught in crosstown traffic, I found myself thinking of Scott again.
That night, on the way home on the train, I remembered that Perkins had said Fitzgerald was in Paris. Soon I, too, would be there. It was a settled matter now. However, the obligation to my parents made it necessary for me to finish law school, but then—with a little luck—well, we would see what happened when my books came out. Nor did I have long to wait In a few months Scribner’s Magazine had appeared with two of my stories in the one issue, a big green band around the magazine heralding a new fiction star. The New Yorker wrote, asking for a story. When my novel Strange Fugitive appeared, it got considerable attention. I waited anxiously to hear from Hemingway. Finally the letter came I was having some luck and he was glad, he wrote, and then he explained why he himself hadn’t gone to Scribner’s with my stories. He had seen that I was going good, turning out many stories, all good, and he knew that quick publication could upset a writer. The main thing was to have nothing happen to upset a writer when the stories were all coming out right for him. Brooding over his letter, I saw there was wisdom in his point of view. No man had more wisdom about handling his talent. Later, I heard he had said I had become a professional writer too young. I smiled to myself.
When I went again to New York at the time Strange Fugitive came out, the business manager at Scribner’s, Whitney Darrow, who took me out to dinner, told me with enthusiasm that in their promotion of my novel they had tied me up with Hemingway. A success with The Sun Also Rises? All right, tie me in with that success, you understand? Oh, they certainly did! And the mill run of reviewers picked up the cue.
Later, when I left Scribner’s for good, Max Perkins told me earnestly there was one thing he wanted me to know: it had never been his idea to associate me and my work with Hemingway. From the beginning he had seen that I had entirely different perceptions.
But at the time of my launching I was bewildered and hurt. I could see I might be ruined. For some years Hemingway had been my only writer friend and reader. Now suddenly the reviewers were hitting me on the head in Hemingway’s name. Nor could I expect Hemingway to send up smoke signals explaining that three years ago he had read as many of my stories as I had of his. Yet I knew it couldn’t embarrass me, meeting Ernest as meet him now I surely would.
But in a letter to a mutual friend, he made one critical comment that puzzled me about a story of mine—a story about a prizefighter—that had appeared in Scribner’s Magazine. And he told this friend that when Morley wrote stories about the things he knew, there was no one any better, but he should stick to the things he knew something about. What was bothering Ernest? I wondered. Did he think that in writing about a fighter I had made an unworthy excursion into his own imaginary world? Was it because I had forgotten to tell him I had done a lot of boxing and went to all the fights? Well, what did it matter? The main thing was I would soon see him…
Having graduated from law school I married Loretto. The night before our marriage, the April night before we left for Paris, I went boxing with my best man, Joe Mahon, a college friend, a heavyweight, now a lawyer, who had won the international intercollegiate heavyweight championship at West Point. I was no match for him if he put on any real pressure, but we had been boxing two or three times a week, and as he said, I was very fast with my hands. That night, sparring, circling around he big fellow, I noticed a grim smile on his face. He kept jabbing at my eyes. It tickled his sense of humour to think of me showing up at my wedding with a black eye. Just before we quit, he, in his eagerness and frustration, swung so hard to my head that when he missed, for the first time in all our boxing he fell flat on his face, and I danced around laughing.
Published as That Summer In Paris: Memories of Tangled Friendships with Ernest Hemingway and Scott Fitzgerald by Morley Callaghan (New York: Coward-Mccann, 1963).