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