With his client, Academy Chicago Publishers Ltd., Franklin Dennis on Sept. 23 was granted permission by a judge in Chicago to publish a group of what they called “uncollected” stories by Cheever--that is, stories that might have been published in magazines or anthologies with other authors, but had never been published in a single Cheever volume; or stories by Cheever that had never before been published.
Dennis, who first proposed the volume and was scheduled to be its editor, and Jordan Miller, the vice president of Academy Chicago, call the decision a vindication because their contract with Cheever’s widow, Mary, was validated by the court. But Martin Garbus, Mary Cheever’s lawyer, also claimed victory because the verdict states Academy Chicago cannot publish all 68 of the stories it had wanted to include in the volume, but must content itself with perhaps 10 to 15 of the author’s short stories, to be selected by Mary Cheever.
Now, said Garbus, “she will have the right to choose which stories will go in and what kind of book it will be.”
Dennis traced the case to 1986, when he and a fellow fan of Cheever’s mused about “how wonderful it would be” if someone would assemble a collection of previously uncollected Cheever stories. By June of 1987, Dennis was approaching Cheever’s son Ben to discuss the possibility of just such a project. Eventually a contract between Mary Cheever and Academy Chicago was signed, with Dennis named as editor.
The research steamed along, Dennis said, “we were finding stories left and right.” On Dec. 12, 1987, he presented to Mary Cheever “two big blue binders” containing copies of the stories and a proposed table of contents. Dennis told her that he was having trouble locating some of the stories and wondered if she could help.
“Well, by God, she could,” he remembered. “She went running upstairs and pulled out the library.” Dennis recalled Mrs. Cheever unearthing one story from 1937, for example, “Behind a Cloud in the West.”
Dennis left the copies with her. In January, Ben Cheever and his literary agent contacted Dennis, took him for a drink at the Algonquin and “lowered the boom.” This project, they informed him, was “entirely too big” for Academy Chicago. Besides, they indicated, Mary Cheever was concerned that her husband had considered his early work inferior.
A week later Dennis hired a lawyer. “It went downhill from there,” he said.
“To me, as the editor, it’s vindication,” Dennis said of the court decision. “It’s on the public record that these stories will not damage John Cheever’s reputation. My feeling is that they will eventually add to the understanding of the amazing evolution of his talent.”
“My Dear Virginia,” T. S. Eliot wrote to the redoubtable Ms. Woolf in a letter dated 5-13-27, “If you are back in London, as I hear from George Rylands, and if and when it’s convenient, I think you might invite me to tea. If so, I shall bring you a new gramophone record.”
Displayed in glass frames, this and other samples of the Nobel laureate’s correspondence were the subjects of scrutiny and admiration last Monday at a party here commemorating Eliot’s 100th birthday. With literary stars such as Diana Trilling and Mary McCarthy in attendance, the gathering at the New York Public Library’s Berg Collection, where the original manuscript for “The Waste Land” is housed, also marked the publication of Harcourt Brace Jovanovich’s “The Letters of T. S. Eliot: Volume I, 1898-1922.” The book is edited by Eliot’s widow, the former Valerie Fletcher. Now in her 70s and living in London, Valerie Eliot, the poet-playwright’s one-time secretary, was married to Eliot from 1957 until his death in 1965.
Welcoming his guests with a champagne toast, HBJ’s Peter Jovanovich remembered that as a child of about 7, he had had the opportunity to meet Eliot.
“My parents had dutifully explained who he was,” Jovanovich said. “It was like a god was coming to the house.”
Young Peter was so intimidated that when he shook hands with Eliot, he refused to meet the great man’s eyes.
“My only memory is from the waist down,” he said. He dimly remembers Eliot’s watch chain, but never gazed at his face.
“If I missed the chance to see Eliot then, we all have a chance now through the letters,” Jovanovich said.
The celebration here was part of a worldwide series of readings, performances and special events that mark the centenary of Eliot’s birth. In London Monday night, major literary figures gathered for a party at Lloyd’s Bank, where Eliot was once employed. In St. Louis, his birthplace, a three-day symposium honoring Eliot featured, among other observations, a tenor singing “You Came a Long Way From St. Louis.”
Literary events in Paris and Japan will be devoted to Eliot, and BBC Radio, in England, plans to air performances of Eliot’s plays. A traveling exhibition of the British Council on Eliot will begin in India. “We want to confess ourselves in writing to a few friends, and we do not always want to feel that no one but those friends will ever read what we have written,” Eliot wrote in November, 1933, in a letter transcribed by his brother.
He needn’t have worried.
NEW AND NOTED: If you thought Bill Cosby, whose most recent book mused on the incursion of gray pubic hair, had no more to say, think again. Doubleday will publish Volume III of Quotations From Chairman Bill (actually the first two books are “Fatherhood,” history’s fastest-selling hardcover, and “Time Flies”) in June, 1989. The new book will be called “Love and Marriage.”
In December, Doubleday will come out with another book by another big-time best seller when it publishes “A Different Kind of Christmas.” This novella about a white college student in 1855 who becomes a member of the Underground Railroad is written by Alex Haley, author of the whopper best seller “Roots.”
AWARDS: In recognition of their affirmation of the “moral principles of Western civilization,” novelist Walker Percy and sociologist Edward Shils have each been awarded $15,000 prizes from the Rockford, Ill.-based Ingersoll Foundation. Percy, 72, won the American Book Award for “The Moviegoer” in 1961 and the Los Angeles Times Book Award twice, for “The Second Coming” and “Lost in the Cosmos.”
Also, Viking Penguin has created a new literary award, the Malcolm Cowley Prize, in honor of the 90-year-old editor and critic who has been Viking’s literary adviser since 1948. Cowley has sponsored and encouraged such writers as Jack Kerouac, Hart Crane, Erskine Caldwell, William Faulkner and Ken Kesey. The award will be conferred by the editors of Viking Penguin on an unpublished work of fiction or nonfiction by a new or emerging writer, and will carry a cash prize of $25,000.