The following series of three articles on James Jones, "When the Devil Came to Marshall," concerns the novelists' relationship with Marshall, Illinois. Written by retired modern language professor Dan Reedy, formerly chairperson at the University of Kentucky, for publication in the Marshall Advocate, the articles included some photographs supplied at the courtesy of Special Collections and Kenny Snedeker, the donor of the photographs. The articles are so well written, informative, and entertaining that permission was requested both from the newspaper publishers, Gary and Melody Strohm, and the series author to reproduce the series in an HTML document. Therefore, these individuals retain sole control of the content of the material produced below. Interested readers may contact the Special Collections Department for contact information.
Special Collections is grateful to the author and the publishers for permission to reproduce the sries. Care has been taken to use the newspaper's punctuation style except in one or two places when it proved unfeasible. Therefore, the text which follows is ostensibly the same as it appeared in its original newspaper publication.
In the early 1880's, young Booth Tarkington traveled by train from his family's home in Indianapolis to spend summers in the Marshall household of his uncle Lyman Booth. Lyman was a successful dry goods merchant whose family lived in the house occupied today by the Pearce Funeral Home. At the time, Tarkington was eleven or twelve years of age, so there was scant indication that he would become Indiana's leading novelist, playwright, and the recipient of two Pulitzer Prizes.
His favorite playmate during those summers was his cousin Fenton Booth who later was a lawyer and served for many years as Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals. Tarkington's memories of carefree summers in Marshall, a place that he called the Loveliest village of the plain, were later incorporated into his first novel, Gentleman From Indiana (1899), and the adventures of Penrod and Sam (1916).
In an autobiographical piece (As I Seem to Me) published in the Saturday Evening Post (1941), Tarkington recalled that Marshall meant unhampered life and open country to me, a city boy . . . it was a boy's sheer heaven. The little town of Marshall, he opined, was an emeraldine jewel of a midland county seat in the earliest 1880s. His descriptions of the Court House square and Main Street capture the town's peace and tranquility during that long interlude between the Civil War and WW I: [the] old brick courthouse in the shady green square; stamping and switching farmers' teams hitched all day to the courthouse fence; monosyllabic loafers draped elsewhere upon this fence, whittling a little between reveries; stores sleeping in the sun all round the square; and Main Street stirless dust, except when a dust whirlwind flipped up from it to dance a moment in the sunshine [p. 67].
He goes on to observe, All the boys in Marshall went barefoot throughout the summer; meadows, woods, creeks, and old covered bridges were within a hop, skip and jump from anywhere; nobody hurried and everybody seemed to know everybody else amusedly and without severity [p. 67]. Much as Mark Twain recalled Hannibal, Missouri, so too did Tarkington remember Marshall as a place of tranquility, an eden in the Midwest, a sheer heaven. The village that he visited in the early1880s grew in population and modernity, but it did not change substantially in character until the middle of the twentieth century when young men and women returned home after WW II.
As Marshall entered the second half of the twentieth century, the world around it was experiencing dramatic changes once again. The summer of 1950 began as a rather uneventful time. Harry S. Truman, a mid-westerner, was President, and the country was enjoying a measure of economic prosperity. Once crops were planted, people gathered at the courthouse square on Friday nights for the band concert and farm families crowded Main Street on Saturdays to socialize and buy the week's staples.
On June 25, however, events half a world away shattered the town's serenity when North Korean military forces poured across the 38thParallel. This time the county's sons and daughters would not be engaged in a battle against fascism but against the spread of communism.
On the local scene that summer, not many people were aware of activities underway at the Sol Handy homestead on the west side of town. Lowney Turner Handy had convinced her husband Harry (Hap) to provide finances to establish a writers' colony in a cow pasture behind the home where his mother Loudell still resided.
For the better part of the next decade, the placid life of small-town-Marshall would be disrupted by a windstorm of rumors and an influx of outsiders: would-be-novelists, newspaper and magazine reporters, photographers, movie stars, and assorted seekers of good fortune.
Both Harry Handy and Lowney Turner were reared in Clark County, but they had spent most of their married life in Robinson where Hap, an engineer, had risen to the post of superintendent of the Ohio Oil Company's refinery. Handy family ancestors from New York were pioneer settlers in Clark County, having arrived in York Township on the eve of statehood.
The Turners came to Illinois from Kentucky around 1910, living first in Dennison and later in Marshall after Lowney's father, Jim, was elected County Sheriff. Lowney's roots were in Appalachian Kentucky; she was born at White Hall, the mansion of abolitionist Cassius Marcellus Clay, where her father was a caretaker after Clay's death.
According to comments by people who knew her, Lowney Turner had always been something of a rebel who was sympathetic to down-and-outers or young people in trouble. She was known for helping unmarried mothers, juvenile delinquents, and alcoholics.
A middle-aged, childless housewife, Lowney showed little regard for what her contemporaries might think of her eccentricities or unorthodox conduct and when provoked, her vocabulary could match that of any drill sergeant.
She aspired to be a novelist, but she was also interested in the occult and Eastern religions. Works by famous writersFaulkner, Dos Passos, Hemingway, Steinbeck, Wolfe and othersl ined bookshelves in her Robinson home even though educationally she had not progressed beyond high school.
At the request of a friend in early November of 1943, Lowney agreed to meet with an AWOL soldier, a Robinson native and aspiring writer; the twenty-two year-old was James Ramon Jones, the future author of From Here To Eternity.
The Jones Family had long been prominent in Robinson, but family fortunes had suffered during the depression. When James graduated from high school in 1939, instead of entering college, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps. Later he transferred to the infantry and was stationed at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii when the Japanese bombed and strafed the base on December 7, 1941.
His mother had died earlier that year of diabetes and congestive heart failure. His alcoholic father committed suicide in early 1942. And in January of 1943, Jones was wounded in the Battle of Guadalcanal.
By the time James Jones went AWOL from a Memphis hospital in 1943, he was suffering from chronic psychological stress, drinking heavily, and obsessed with writing a novel about his military experiences.
After several meetings with the young would-be novelist at her home, Lowney convinced Harry that Jones was worth rehabilitating and together they decided to take him into their household while he finished his novel. In the meantime, Jones agreed to report to Camp Campbell in Kentucky and resolve his absent-without-leave status.
Although other AWOL incidents followed, Jones was honorably discharged in July of 1944 on medical grounds. Shortly thereafter he returned to Robinson and moved into the Handy home. Harry agreed to provide financial support for the young writer, and Lowney assumed the role of mentor, manuscript editor, confidante, teacher, critic, and personal companion.
Two years later, Jones submitted his manuscript of They Shall Inherit the Laughter to the editor of Scribner's who rejected it. The publisher was interested, however, in the sketch of another novel Jones was planningFrom Here to Eternity. In February of 1950 the manuscript of Eternity was completed and in the hands of the New York publisher.
In addition to Jim Jones, Lowney had already been working with other aspiring young writers. Now, with her protégé's successful completion of his first novel, she believed it was time to expand her teaching successes into a writers' colony. Harry supplied basic financial support for the project, and Jones agreed to provide additional funding, as well, once he began to receive royalties.
A firm decision was made by the three to establish the colony in Marshall. A cabin was moved onto land behind the Handy family home and remodeled, and a second cabin was added later. Lowney occupied one and Harry the other. Jim Jones lived in one of two trailers that were part of the colony's facilities. During the first summer of operation, several aspiring student-writers occupied the other trailer and a tent that was erected on the grounds.
From the beginning, Lowney's rules prevailed at her writing school. Students arose at 5:30 to spend their mornings typing or copying texts by writers approved by Lowney. If far enough advanced, they might be permitted to write on their own. Otherwise it was forbidden. Nor were they allowed to discuss their creative ideas with anyone except Lowney. Afternoons were spent clearing the grounds or working on construction projects.
Visitors were generally discouraged and no one could leave the colony without Lowney's permission. Except for members of Lowney's family and Hap's mother, women were not encouraged as visitors, and none were among the early groups of students.
Reputedly, students were permitted a trip each month to visit houses along Second and Cherry Streets in Terre Haute (at their own expense). No liquor was allowed on colony grounds, but once a week students were permitted to walk downtown to Tom's Café for supper or to have a drink at one of the local bars on Main Street.
It wasn't long before Marshall was rife with rumors about the colony. One story recounted that the Handys were driving down Route 1 when they picked up a hitchhiker alongside the highway. After learning that he was an army veteran who aspired to be a novelist, they took him home and grubstaked him until he finished his novel.
Folks around Marshall had trouble conceiving a writers' colony as a legitimate enterprise. Many believed that the Handys had actually started a nudist colony on the outskirts of town. Others whispered that it was a group of homosexuals, because the students living there were all young males.
The truth was that the residents, living in tents and trailers without benefit of air conditioning during the hot summer, dressed in as little clothing as possible. And in an era when Senator Joe McCarthy was pursuing communists in government, a few politically wary citizens wondered if the colony was a communist cell.
People also traded gossip about sightings of Jim Jones around town. He could frequently be spotted swaggering down Main Street, dressed in tight jeans, boots, a battered cowboy hat, and a bowie knife on his belt. I remember seeing him once in front of the Dulaney Bank dressed in shorts, shirtless, a fringed leather vest, huaraches on his feet, turquoise and silver bracelets on both arms, and twin holsters with pearl-handled pistols on his hips.
Proper ladies outfitted in print dresses, straw bonnets, and white gloves stared at him in unabashed amazement, and men loafing in front of the drugstore stopped talking in mid-conversation as he passed by. A few people secretly admired Jones' audacity; many found him to be an object of curiosity and amusement. But some thought for certain that the devil had come to Marshall and taken up residence on the west side of town.
On February 26, 1951, Scribner's released the first edition of Jim Jones' novel From Here to Eternity in New York. If people in Marshall had been highly imaginative in their speculations about the Handy Writers' Colony when it was first established, nothing compared to local reaction when they were confronted with the reality of Jones' first novel.
His accounts of military experiences during WW II were raw and unpolished, and they conveyed a level of realism that shocked most readers. Many good folks in Marshall were embarrassed that publicity identified the novel's author as living in their community and they were horrified that such a scandalous book was somehow connected with their town, or that it might be construed as representative of their community.
Literary critics and public commentaries across the U.S. also expressed reservations about the overt sexual content of the novel and language that reproduced the dialogue of military life with four-letter words not often heard in public, let alone read in print. On its editorial page, Life magazine referred to the book as From Here to Obscenity.
Despite all the negative comments, it sold 500,000 hardcover copies in the U.S. and some 5 million in paperback. What produced the greatest consternation in readers (and in those who didn't read the novel, but heard second-hand from those who did) was the repeated use of the 'F- word' in every conceivable part of speech. Even Jones' publisher had been concerned about how often the word occurred in the original version and Jones had to edit the manuscript significantly. Excremental terms and vulgar references to body parts were also the target of reduced usage.
Marshall's social environment in 1951 was not so puritanical that most people were unaware of the 'F-word'. In fact, any male who frequented the Corner Poolroom had heard it used on occasion in anger or frustration when a crucial shot was missed or the cue ball hurtled into the left-hand corner pocket.
Today's public, exposed to the language of adult television programming and R-rated movies, probably has trouble imagining why anyone would have been scandalized.
One summer when I was working as a short-order cook at the Colonial Kitchen, not far from the Writers' Colony, Jim Jones came into the restaurant late one afternoon with Lowney and a couple of other individuals and took a seat at the counter. As I approached to take their order, he leaned forward and commanded in a loud voice, Give me a piece of that 'f*#*!*g' cake over there, pointing in the direction of the white cake with coconut icing at the end of the counter. Now, I confess that I had heard the 'F-word' before, but never would I have imagined its use as an adjective to describe a triple-layer cake.
When sizeable royalties from Eternity started to flow into his bank account in mid-1951, Jones financed the construction of barracks buildings for resident writers, a central meeting place with dining area and book repository, laundry room, showers, toilet facilities, and finally a swimming pool.
Work crews from Johnny Snedeker's construction company were often the best source of information about what was going on behind the scenes at the Handy Colony. It was not uncommon that drivers vied to make deliveries of sand, gravel, brick or building materials in hopes of witnessing the clandestine behavior that just about everyone believed must be taking place.
In addition to a Chrysler convertible, Jim also purchased a Harley-Davidson motorcycle on which he frequently roared through town dressed in a Hell's Angels outfit of black leather jacket with silver studs, a black cap, and dark glasses.
Life magazine, which had strongly criticized Eternity earlier, sent reporter A. B. C. Whipple to interview Lowney and Jim for an article entitled James Jones and His Angel (May 7, 1951). The nine-page spread emphasized Lowney's iron discipline as mentor, teacher, and tutor of Jones, as well as of other aspiring young writers, but it did not mention their personal relationship.
Jones' prestige and celebrity as a novelist were enhanced further when he received the National Book Award for From Here to Eternity in January of 1952. In New York for the award ceremonies, he was introduced to Norman Mailer, the author of the famous war novel, The Naked and The Dead (1948). Mailer later visited Jones at the Writers' Colony in Marshall.
In mid-1952, a tragic event interrupted life at the Handy Writers' Colony, prompting a scandal of significant dimensions in Marshall. At Lowney's invitation, Jones' sister Mary Ann had taken up residence in one of the trailers. After leaving Robinson, Mary Ann lived in Los Angeles for a while where she hoped to become an actress. Problems with drugs and a failed marriage led her to Marshall and her brother Jim.
She was at work on her own autobiographical novel, The Third Time You Killed Me, in June of 1952, when word quickly spread around town that a woman had died at the colony under mysterious circumstances. The dead woman was Mary Ann Jones. Initial reports in local papers stated that she had died as the result of a fall from an upper bunk in a trailer.
Because her death was considered suspicious, there was an official investigation into the circumstances and an inquest was held to discover the cause. It was finally determined that Mary Ann had died from a seizure brought on by a brain tumor, a medical condition that was under treatment.
Shortly after Eternity's publication, Columbia Pictures acquired the movie rights of the novel. Jim and Lowney traveled together to California where Jim began work on the film script, but he quickly discovered that script writing was not to his liking. He returned to Marshall and the daily grind of writing his next novel, Some Came Running. Once Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, Frank Sinatra, Deborah Kerr and Donna Reed were selected for starring roles, Jones returned to L.A. in 1953 as a consultant during the filming of From Here to Eternity. Jones and Clift had met earlier that year in Arizona when Clift consulted with the author about the role of Prewitt that he was to play. Later, Clift visited Jones in Marshall after the filming was completed. In Hollywood the two of them, together with Frank Sinatra, were regular drinking buddies.
When the movie was released in August of 1953, it was an immediate success, receiving eight Oscars for best picture, best director, supporting actors Frank Sinatra and Donna Reed, and four other categories.
The big news around Marshall in the fall of 1953 was that Jim Jones was spending thousands of dollars on the construction of an elaborate bachelor house just outside the colony gate. People were intrigued by second-hand descriptions of the huge two-story living room and its stone fireplace, of a room solely for storing wine, of built-in closets and drawers for clothing and personal belongings, and of a huge bathroom that featured a bidet and a glass-enclosed shower with the figure of a naked female etched on one of the panels. The bidet was the object that garnered protracted local gossip. There was speculation about what purpose it served and how it functioned. Needless-to-say, bidets were not common bathroom fixtures in south-central Illinois a half century ago. (Photo courtesy of Kenny Snedeker and Indiana State University Library) [To be continued.]
After the publication of From Here to Eternity in 1951 and the release of the movie in 1953, publicity about the Handy Writers' Colony in national newspapers and magazines produced a constant flow of correspondence to Lowney Handy from would-be writers seeking to join the colony.
One of Lowney's first students was Don Sackrider, a Robinson native who was associated with the colony for some five years. After leaving the colony, he became a successful commercial pilot, and he was subsequently among the founders of the James Jones Literary Society. Many others joined the colony, but departed when they could not adapt to Lowney's rules or meet her expectations.
Testimony from a number of her students credits Lowney with instilling personal and professional discipline, exhibiting sound judgment as an editor, and demonstrating generosity and parental concern for her young disciples. But others were less generous in their praise, finding her to be emotionally volatile, erratic in her judgment, opinionated, domineering, and capable of destroying as well as encouraging artistic egos.
During the mid-1950s, ten to fifteen would-be writers were in residence each summer at the Handy Colony. Estimates suggest that approximately one hundred aspiring novelists joined the colony during its ten years of operation. A few stayed as long as four or five years while others were gone in a matter of days, either of their own volition or because Lowney ran them off.
After Eternity's publication in 1951, it was five years before another colonist's first novel appeared in print. Writing under the penname Gerald Tesch, Jerry Tschappat's Never the Same Again (Putnam's) came out in 1956. Although reviewed favorably, the novel was not successful commercially.
The following year, colonist Tom Chamales' Never So Few was well received by critics and the reading public. The film version, produced by Warner Studios, featured Frank Sinatra, Gina Lollobrigida, Peter Lawford, and Steve McQueen in a WW II adventure set in Burma.
Many of us at Marshall High were excited when our fellow student, Edwin Sonny Daly, started work at age sixteen on a novel under Lowney's tutelage. Although Sonny didn't live on the colony grounds, he met frequently with Lowney and was subject to the rigors of her writing methods.
Lowney and the Handy Writers' Colony were once again in the limelight when Scribner's published Daly's novel, Some Must Watch, in early 1957. As a twenty-year-old junior at Yale University, his achievement made him Yale's youngest published novelist ever.
Kenny Snedeker, another Marshall native and classmate of Daly, resided at the colony after graduating from high school in 1954. For the better part of a year, he tried his hand at writing under Lowney's supervision until he enlisted in the military.
In the late 1950s, Lee Butcher, another local student, also spent two or three years, off and on, working with Lowney to become a writer, before he too moved away from Marshall to pursue other interests.
After years of disciplined composition each day, Jim Jones finally completed the twenty-three-hundred-pages of Some Came Running in December of 1956. Life even sent a photographer to Marshall to take a picture of the manuscript. The following month, Jones went to New York to discuss his text with Scribner's.
At a party he met author Budd Schulberg who had written the screenplay of On The Waterfront. They quickly became friends and it was Schulberg who introduced Jones to actress Gloria Mosolino. After a whirlwind courtship, Jones and Mosolino were married in Haiti in February of 1957, despite efforts by Lowney to dissuade Jim from marrying.
When the Jones arrived in Marshall a few months later, the town was already abuzz with excitement over the news that James Jones had married a Marilyn Monroe stand-in from the film The Seven-Year Itch.
Townspeople were unaware of the drama that erupted behind the scenes after Jones and his wife took up residence in his home at the colony. Having been involved in an intimate relationship with Jones since they first met in 1943, Lowney had no intention of pretending otherwise or of acting like a dutiful mother-in-law to Jim's bride. According to several sources, Lowney's anger and resentment boiled over during the July 4th holidays and a violent confrontation ensued between her and Gloria that ended only when Jones himself managed to pull them apart. The next day Jim Jones and his wife left Marshall and the Handy Writers' Colony, never to return.
Jim and Gloria settled in New York until Some Came Running was published in 1958, but the novel was not well received by critics. In more than 1,200 pages, Jones wrote about small-town morality and spiritual decline in Parkman, Illinois. His model was probably his hometown of Robinson, but descriptions of Parkman and other references would suggest to a careful reader that Marshall is also blended into his work. Disappointed at the response to Some Came Running, Jim and Gloria moved to Paris, France, in April of 1958, and maintained their residence there until 1974.
With Jones' departure, Lowney no longer had a percentage of Jim's royalty income to support her efforts. Nonetheless, she continued to work with prospective writers in residence at the colony and by correspondence until her death.
Ex-marine Jere Peacock published Valhalla (1961) and To Drill and Die (1964). Two young black novelists, Charles Wright (The Messenger, 1963) and William Duhart (The Deadly Pay-Off, 1958), spent intermittent periods of time at the colony and were successful at publishing some of their works. Jon Shirota, a Japanese-American born in Hawaii, was Lowney's last student in residence. Shirota corresponded with Lowney from California for almost four years before moving to Marshall in April of 1963, shortly after Harry Handy's death. Under Lowney's supervision, Shirota worked intensely to complete his manuscript of Lucky Come Hawaii that year. It appeared in 1965 and he went on to publish other novels and to become a successful playwright.
When Lowney Turner Handy died on June 27, 1964, the Handy Writers' Colony ceased to exist. She was the person who had conceptualized it, and she was the willful force behind most of its successes. From our viewpoint, Lowney was probably born forty years too soon. In today's society Lowney's radical ideas, flagrant lifestyle, and unfettered ambitions would not cast her as a rebel.
What seems impossible to believe is that a middle-aged housewife was able to realize her dream of a school for writers, becoming the teacher and mentor of a number of successful authors, interacting effectively with some of the nation's largest publishing houses and achieving national recognition for herself and the Handy Writers' Colony. One can conjecture that had Lowney not recognized Jim Jones' potential as a writer in 1943, and had she not become his editor, mentor, and companion, From Here to Eternity might never have been written, or it might not have enjoyed the success that it had.
After Jim and Gloria Jones drove out of Marshall in early July of 1957, he apparently never contacted Lowney again. Following his relocation in France, he continued to write successfully, publishing one of his most accomplished works, The Thin Red Line (1964), along with several other novels, volumes of short stories, essays, and works of non-fiction.
His autobiographical novel, Go to the Widow-Maker (1967), was reputedly a fictionalized account of his relationship with Lowney and of events that led to his departure from Marshall.
Jones returned from France to the U.S. with his family in 1974. He spent a year as writer in residence at Florida International University and then settled on Long Island in New York to continue writing. He died there on May 9, 1977, while at work on the novel Whistle that was to be the last of his war trilogy.
When Jim Jones arrived in Marshall with Lowney and Harry Handy in 1950, he was not the devil riding around town on a motorcycle. He was a young man whose experiences during WW II changed his life profoundly. From Here to Eternity was his account of the reality of military life and warpeople he knew, places where he lived, historic incidents that occurred, and events he experienced or witnessedset down in language that shocked readers by its authenticity.
As well, the novel reflects changes in middle-class morality and social mores that were occurring in the post-war years. In some respects the publication of Jones' novel marks symbolically the beginnings of what sociologists would later refer to as the sexual revolution.
Today most of the Colony's physical facilities have disappeared, but Jim Jones' bachelor residence (now a family home) still occupies its place of honor near the original entrance to the colony grounds. When the Handy Writers' Colony came to an end, some people in Marshall probably breathed a sigh of relief. For them, a scandalous episode in the town's history was over and it was best to forget that it ever occurred.
For Jones, however, the Writers' Colony and the town were his place of refuge as a writer during seven formative years. People may be surprised that his assessment of Marshall as the heartland of America was not unlike that of his predecessor Booth Tarkington.
In a 1957 article entitled Marshall, Illinois, written for Ford Times, Jones remarked that the town was the only place he knew of where a person could write a check in pencil and it would be cashed. It tells a lot, he said, about the people, and friendship, and trust and ease in getting along with one another.
Daniel R. Reedy