Telling the Truth in America

Jim Tully – American Writer, Irish Rover, Hollywood Brawler, by Paul J. Bauer and Mark Dawidziak (Foreword by Ken Burns)

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It’s often said, by apologists for the American status quo, that anyone can rise from anywhere to a life fulfilled. The thing is, though, that the scrapping, failure after failure, to discover who you are and what you’re about in a society that doesn’t give a damn if you live and die takes its toll. Such is the story of Jim Tully.
Tully was the Irish grandson of a salesman, the son of a ditch digger, who was left to an orphanage when hardly out of the crib. He lived there until twelve or so and ran away to a life on the road, digging ditches himself, working in a chain factory, a reporter for journalism rags, finally making of himself a fine if largely unrecognized novelist.
This is where I know Tully from – his life as a novelist and a biographer of Hollywood luminaries. That is, I knew of him. Sadly, I never read his work, captivated by the brighter lights of Steinbeck and Hemingway – but I shall. And this is the story of Tully the writer, recognized for his semi-autobiographical novels, castigated for his unflinching look at the American underclass that he knew so well.
It’s a fact of life that such writers tell the truth, because they have to, partly because it’s what they know, partly because there’s within them a mixture of anger, righteousness, and a compulsion to describe the American dream in its totality – it’s failures, its spent lives, juxtaposed on the occasional successes that make this dream so alluring.

Bauer and Dawidziak have crafted a fine book, which includes a section of rare photos, of this gifted man who rose from the dregs of society to that of a fine writer. It’s worth a read to better understand America without blinders on and to pay respect to this man, perhaps as perfect an example of an American original as you’ll find anywhere.

My rating: 16 of 20 stars

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