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Mar. 30, 1981 S.F. EXAMINER E3 An author's middle-aged Ye-a wakening' By Mickey Friedman "Spofforth Is what my mother wanted me to Book scene Mickey Friedman wn wanted to wxite abut experience 01 waiang up alter years of diddling my head with says Walter Tevis. Tevis has been sober for four years. Dunne his years as an -Tjmmm i to him was in a tough Appalachian school where the kids beat me up every that he felt he had come from outer space.
It was this feeling he drew on for The Man Who Fell to "It was taking the old science fiction notion of the visitor from another planet and trying to write about feelings of isolation and alienation." Although he has used science fiction frameworks and motifs in two of his books, Tevis does not feel wedded to the genre: "I discovered the Oz books at the Jefferson School library in San Francisco when I was about 5, and those books were the beginning of my being drawn to fantasy and myth. Science fiction is such a broad banner. When you say you write science fiction, people think you're writing The Giant Slime Attacks San Actually, science fiction is a way of looking at the world today. But after a while, you want to get away from fantasy and use the real world again." His return to "hard-edged stuff" will come in a novel Tevis is planning about an alcoholic "It will be called Wit's I want to show the character never drunk or drinking." A volume of his "speculative fiction" short stories, "Far From Home," has recently been published. Keeping up his professorial interests, he hopes to teach Shakespeare at New York University this falL Like his two earlier novels, "Mockingbird" will be translated to the screen.
It has been bought by PBS, and Tevis worked on the television adaptation. "It's really strange to see movies made out of your works," he says. "You see things they were about in ways you hadn't realized before. The strangest thing is, sometimes when I reread one of my books I find the characters in my mind don't look like the ones I originally invented, but like the characters in the movie version." be," Tevis says. "Intelligent, handsome, controlling and without balls." Tevis was born in San Francisco and lived here until he was 11 in a "feelingless, uptight, middle-class home My father was -an alcoholic, too, but he wouldn't admit it, and my mother wouldn't acknowledge the problem.
I went to the movies compulsively, and learned something about the life of feelings from that distorted mirror." The life of feelings Is what the characters in "Mockingbird" discover when they leave their drugged state, and it is what Tevis recaptured when he stopped drinking and began to "notice that grass was green and that food was good." It was a long battle, which included a divorce after he sobered up: "It was a relatively painless divorce. Then I needed a complete change. I got a small advance from a publisher and moved to New York." He lived very simply while writing "Mockingbird," then moved to a penthouse when his book sold to paperback. He now lives with an artists' representative named Eleanora Walker, to whom "Mockingbird" is dedicated. The message of his life transformation is that people should not be afraid to change, Tevis says: "I tried to kill myself about 10 years ago.
A few years later, I was planning it again. Somehow, it occurred to me that people are doing this all over just because they're afraid to quit their Jobs, or divorce their wives. Change is more difficult than death for a lot of people. That's silly, if you think about it The thing is to go ahead and change. Then if it doesnt work, you can always kill yourself later." As "Mockingbird" drew on Tevis' awakening, so was his earlier novel.
The Man Who Fell to Earth," based on disguised' events in his life. When Tevis was 9 years Father figure 4. I i alcoholic, he was a professor of English at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, drinking at night so nobody would know. He had written two novels, both of which were made into successful movies: The Hustler" and "The Man Who Fell to Earth." He was despairing and suicidaj. Today, Walter Tevis lives in New York, and is making up for lost time.
He sold the paperback rights to his most recent novel, a story of the far future called "Mockingbird," to Bantam Books for six figures. The Bantam edition has Just appeared. What the 53-year-old author has done, he says, is "realize, in middle age, that life is worth living." "Mockingbird" is about that realization, Tevis says, but 'the personal emotional content has been transmuted into science fiction in the vein of "1984" or "Brave New World." The world Tevis conjures up is one in which the population has declined drastically, television and drugs have lulled people into an overriding "me generation" mentality, originality and initiative are almost unheard-ofand nobody knows how to read. In this unpromising environment, a man and a woman, Paul and Mary Lou, both insufficiently programmed by their upbringing, meet They learn to read. They form a relationship, which is against the societal "Quick sex is best" and its emphasis on privacy and self-fulfillment above all.
"Mockingbird" is their story, and that of a robot named Spofforth whose only wish is to die but who is programmed not to kill himself. Walter Tevis: 'If It doesn't work, you can always kill yourself later' old, he was diagnosed as having St Vitus dance and a rheumatic heart, and he was placed in a convalescent home at Stanford. He was heavily drugged given phenobar-bitol three times a day "and I loved it That may be one reason I became a drunk." While he was in the hospital, his family abandoned him, moving to Kentucky and leaving him alone. Tevis is still emotionally moved when he talks about it "I was left alone here for about a year before I went to join them. San Francisco became my lost paradise." Kentucky was an environment so strange Alistair Cooke stands in the corner of the bar at the Press Club, besieged.
People want to talk to him. to have him sign his books, to have their pictures taken with him. Flashbulbs flash. A woman who has just been photographed with him says, "My cheeks are red. I cant think straight" Cooke was the first "celebrity author" I ever interviewed.
A photo of me talking with him during that interview (taken, I feel compelled to add, without my knowledge) hangs on the wall of my mother's bedroom. The biggest audience ever for a Press Club luncheon has turned out for Cooke. They love him. '1 refuse to use the word he says. "I know a fellow named Mannheim, and his wife has made him change it to Personheim." "That's my boy," says the man sitting next to me.
Cooke has been the object of this kind of adulation a thousand times. Ruddy-faced, blue-eyed, white-haired, he looks just like he does on "Masterpiece Theater." Such is his aura of serene wisdom that when I first met him, I was surprised to learn that he smokes cigarettes, really disliked "Poldark," and is an excellent mimic with a talent for accents surprised, in other words, that he was human. With the retirement of Walter Cronkite, we needs a new father figure. Cooke is the obvious choica He symbolizes Culture. He is more erudite than we are, but shares his knowledge with us and makes it easy.
Plus, he has that wonderful British accent, which has always said "superiori The most famous native son of Jamestown, N.Y. By Margaria Fichtner Knight News Service FEW YEARS AGO, the citizens of Jamestown, N.Y, held a straw ballot to choose the town's most famous native son or daughter. Lucille Ball came in second. The winner by the fragile margin of one vote was a genial, notoriously absent-minded 1 A ornithologist named Roger Tory Peterson. Back in his high school days, when the word went around he was chasing luna moths through the cemetery with a net, the folks in Jamestown called him Bugs.
Today, at 72, Peterson may be the best-known bird expert since the hallowed John James Audubon. As artist writer, scientist and editor, he is credited with more than 80 books, including his classic "A Field Guide to the Birds" (Houghton Mifflin, $9.95 in softcoveri. First published in 1934, it has sold 1. more than 3 million copies and is considered by many experts to be nothing less than the bird-watcher's bible i When the guide's long-awaited, heavily revised new edition was published last year, it was greeted with hosannas and dung for three months to The New York Times best- seller list in both paperback and hard-cover categories. The softcover version has held its position on the Times' trade paperback list for 15 weeks.
Better than that it was No. 1 in blue-collar Cleveland. In addition, original Peterson bird paintings are auctioned for as much as $25,000. In almost half a century, studying birds has earned this gentle naturalist a 5-inch entry in Who's Who, Holland's Order of the Golden Ark, a ty to me. (Cooke seems slightly irritable about the fact that people continue to consider him British, even though he has been an American citizen since 1941.
But the truth is, he seems British.) Nobody would want Dan Rather for a father. Cooke has it all: Looks, trustworthiness (Has he ever steered you wrong about what happens on "Upstairs, a benign aura, erudition. He's even a good writer. In the words of the introduction he was given at the Press Club, "A 20th Century Renaissance Man." Here we are, Dad. The cover is appropriately derivative of the Book of Kells.
The title perhaps shouldn't be titillating in these free and open times, but one can't help being a little intrigued by "Irish Erotic Art." And the author. Seamus O'Gallagher McGuire Cork, Ph.DM sounds like just the man to treat the subject with the gravity it deserves. The jacket copy promises 'Scheduled to be included (as this rich treasury goes to press) is the famous 'Passion of St. Bridget' as well as such little-known or previously undiscovered masterpieces as The Peat Gatherer's 'Molly's 'Behind the Lace Curtains' and The Bombed Those who are looking for the cheap thrills of the socalled art so recently excerpted in Playboy, such as first It Turned Orange and Now It's Begorra' or 'Hennessey's Lament or The Furred Frond' are sure to be disappointed. And they should be, the perverts." Those with either scholarly or salacious interests will no doubt be anxious to lay hands on this book, which is published by St Martin's Press and costs $655.
But before you settle down to a session of entertainment be warned- In keeping with the Irish erotic tradition, the book's pages are blank. ik-Did you know that when you tell someone, "Eat your heart out" you're quoting Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Or that "to pull the wool over someone's eyes" comes from the days when gentlemen wore fancy wigs that robbers pushed over their faces? Or that "the hair of the dog that bit you" used to be a real remedy for a dog's bite? I didn't either, until I saw Tenderfeet and Ladyfingers: A Visceral Approach to Words and their Origins," by Susan Kelz Sperling. When I was a child I made up my own derivations for words, and the subject has fascinated me since. Tenderfeet and Ladyfingers" concentrates on expressions that have to do with the human body: a walleyed stare, girding your loins, elbow grease, paying through the nose. It's a wonderful browsing book.
My favorite derivation so far is "Dunderhead," an expression I use frequently. Sperling writes: This supposedly nonsensical term for a stupid, spiritless person is actually most meaningful and fitting. Whisky distilleries in Scotland were the source of the word "dunder," the name given to the overflow of liquors being fermented. The leftover sediment and froth contain little of the spirits that stay within the vat and give the finished product its potency. By easy transference, a person with a head full of dunder could be said to be just as vapid." Roger Tory Peterson: 'Birds are alive They are a built-in early warning system for all of us' Peterson acquired years ago from a scientist at the Boston Museum.
After two divorces, Peterson five years ago married Virginia Marie Westervelt a chemist who once helped the Coast Guard devise infrared methods for identif ying oil spills. She also drew the range maps in the back of the new edition of her husband's book. On a minute-toininute basis, it is she who makes sure his white hair is combed, keeps track of their itinerary 'Roger's been to the Antarctic 15 times. I've been occasionally finishes his sentences and calls him Hon. Between them, they have four children.
His younger son, Lee, is a naturalist and author of "A Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants." One of her daughters, Mimi Westervelt is with the VS. Fish and Wildlife Service and is working on a study of American attitudes toward wild animals. Once, tagging along anonymously on a birdwalk, Roger Tory Peterson began to argue with a woman over the identity of a bird. "Wait here," she finally said in exasperation. "HI go look it up in my Petey." And once, the legend goes, Peterson wandered off from a preoccupied with birds and butterflies.
His mother, Henrietta Bader Peterson, was more indulgent and dusted around the 800 pipevine swallowtail caterpillars young Roger raised in her living room one summer. As a young man, Peterson drifted. He earned $8 a week painting designs on furniture. He studied art at Manhattan's Art Students League and painting with Ashcan-school artist John Sloan. He joined the Bronx County Bird Club and looked for birds in garbage heaps.
He taught art and natural history at the Rivers School in Brookline, where one of his pupils was Elliot Richardson. When Peterson first published his field guide in 1934, the nation was mired in the Depression. Still, it sold out within a week. Americans couldnt afford to take a trip to see Aunt Elizabeth in Colorado, but they could drive out to the woods and look for birds. The word bird itself even took on new meanings.
To go binhng meant to go looking for birds. One who did this with some amount of dedication was called a birder. Today, there may be as many as 20 million birders in the United States. Membership in the National Audubon Society has swelled from 32,000 in 1960 to 425,000. Peterson lives comfortably in an eight-room house on 70 acres of woodland near Old Lyme, Conn, and the Connecticut River.
His studio, with its picture windows overlooking a frog pond, is equipped with fireproof vaults containing the more than 200 stuffed birds and skins fistful of gold medals from conservation societies and a new nickname: King Penguin. 1 "What good are birds? What good are we?" muses Peterson. "Birds are alive. That's enough. They are one of the most vibrant expressions of life.
They are attractive. They are good indicators of their (and our) environment They are nature's litmus paper. They are a built-in early warning system for all of us. And they are survivors. They go back 140 million years, whereas homo sapiens has been around only 3 or 4 (million)." There are about 9,000 species of birds.
Peterson has spotted 4000 of them and hopes to sight another 500 before time runs out In such robust health that he jogs regularly and earlier this winter spent two months cruising around the Antarctic, a part of the world his wife calls "the razor's edge," Peterson lately has noticed an annoying blurring in one eye when he focuses his camera. "It would bother me terribly not to be able to see the birds anymore," he says. "My pleasure is photography. My hard work is painting." Painting is, in fart, such agony for Peterson there were those who despaired that the new edition of his field guide might never be published at all Determined to redo all the drawings, Peterson let the work drag on and on. Five years passed.
Then 10. "It was an albatross," he says. The two other major bird books on the market The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds" and Dell's "Birds of North America" are cooperative efforts involving, in each case, two or three writers, photographers or artists. Peterson does it all himself field work, descriptions and illustrations. He is now at work on a Western edition of the guide, due out in 1983.
He has found only one mistake in his new edition. He painted the lesser golden plover a brown-and-white prairie dweller that goes queedle or with a tiny extra toe on the back of its claw. It is a small mistake, bothersome to no one save Peterson or another lesser golden plover. Genesis says God created the fowl of the air on the fifth day of creation. Suppose he had not bothered.
Says Peterson, "I cant imagine such a thing, because a landscape, and particularly a seascape, would be very oppressive to me without birds I simply couldnt live in a world without birds." He never could. Peterson's father, a Swedish cabinetmaker named Charles Gustav Peterson, could not understand why his only son had to be so confoundedly dinner party in his honor. Friends found him sitting on some rocks not far away, listening to sea gulls crying in the dark. Tve heard that story," he says. "I don't remember it Perhaps it happened.
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