(The library from different angles)
RAFAEL SABATINI...a meticulous writer. I appreciate him more today than when I first read him. His Edwardian or even Victorian floridness can be a bit daunting when you're twelve. It goes down a lot better when you're older. His sense of period and history is quite nice, even if his plots and heroes are sometimes a bit genteel and quaint.
(Howard's Conan; art by Ken Kelly)
P.C. WREN...wrote BEAU GESTE, among many others. Master of the convuluted plot and a dry sense of British understated humour.
BULLFINCH'S MYTHOLOGY...myths and legends every writer should know.
RAYMOND CHANDLER...taking the detective novel to literature.
DASHIELL HAMMETT...taking the detective novel to literature. On the surface, less poetic than Chandler, but actually very poetic in his own lean, terse way.
S.S. VAN DINE...the locked room puzzles of amateur sleuth Philo Vance. Very good early ones. The last half dozen fall off somewhat. I'm reminded of the Ogden Nash rhyme about Vance's often pompous superiority: "Philo Vance/needs a kick in the pance."
THE PICTORIAL HISTORY OF THE TALKIES...by Daniel Blum. I discovered this book around 10 or 11 and was fascinated by the stills of all these movies in it. Movies I wanted to see and set out to see.
THE PICTORIAL HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN STAGE...by Daniel Blum. Ditto to above.
MY WICKED, WICKED WAYS...Errol Flynn's autobiography, told with lots of panache and truth-stretching embroidery.
GOODNIGHT, SWEET PRINCE...Gene Fowler's great intimate, affectionate biography of his friend, John Barrymore. (at right.)
CHARLES DICKENS...GREAT EXPECTATIONS was one of the best, most fun assignments in High School I ever had. Believe it or not, one of the first pieces of drama I wrote was a musical of this novel.
ROD MCKUEN...okay, okay, let it all out. Snicker, if you will. But in the late sixties, McKuen was something of a phenomenon...a poet who actually made money...making a big hit not only with his books, but with recorded albums of poetry. Norm Yonce, who introduced me to Goldman, introduced his creative writing class to McKuen with a series of spoken word albums called The Earth, The Sea, The Sky. McKuen poetry backed by music from the Anita Kerr Singers. He also did less embellished poetry albums that were actually better. I remember IN SEARCH OF EROS fondly. In those long-haired hippie days of peace, free love, and indulgent, navel-gazing sensitivity, they were the kind of albums you listened to in the dark, drinking cheap, screw-top wine (often fruit-flavoured) and wallowing in the angst of tortured love...or used as ambience while you tried to get laid.
THE HIGHWAYMAN...by Alfred Noyes. "The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees/The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas/The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor/And the Highwayman came riding-/Riding-Riding-/The Highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door." Unabashed romanticism!
BIG BAND MUSIC...When I was twelve or so, like every kid in America, I thought I could convert my parents to popular music, so I played for my dad a top forty hit by Brook Benton called SHADRACH. My dad listened, smiled and said, "That's not bad. But let me play something for you." He pulled out a 78rpm of Larry Clinton and his Orchestra playing SHADRACH...infintiely cooler than Brook's version (and I still love Brook and his version).
I've been hooked ever since. I raided that 78 record cabinet. From these records, I also discovered Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, the wry lyrics of Lorenz Hart, Gershwin's Rhapsody In Blue, show tunes, movie tunes, Artie Shaw, Glenn Miller, Skinnay Ennis, Ray Eberle, etc. And I wore the grooves off his Louis Jordan album.
A RADIO SHOW...out of Cincinnati, that every night played a Broadway show album. Here I heard for the first time MAN OF LA MANCHA, ALL AMERICAN (book by Mel Brooks), HAZEL FLAGG, BAKER STREET, and tons of other now-obscure musicals most of you probably never heard of.
MOON RIVER...This was a radio show that played from eleven o'clock to midnight on WLW in Cincy every night, where poetry was read to organ music. It always started out the same way..."Moon River/A lazy stream of dreams/Where vain desires forget themselves/In the loveliness of sleep/Moon River/Enchanted white ribbon/Twined in the hair of night/Where nothing is but sleep/Dream on...Sleep on.../Care will not seek for thee/Float on...Drift on.../Moon River to the sea. Many's the night I fell asleep listening to this show on my little transitor radio with its ear-plug stuck in my ear.
SHAKESPEARE...Encountered him in high school. Really discovered the joy of him onstage, performing him.
JOHN WEBSTER...The Jacobeans' sense of tragedy and Grand Guignol appealled to my darker sensibilities. Film Noir owes a lot to John Webster and his pals. WHITE DEVIL & DUCHESS OF MALFI both great, the latter I was in (at left)...and it has one of my favourite lines of all times..."We are merely the stars' tennis balls, struck and banded which way please them." I was delighted when I discovered that Stephen Fry has a book entitled THE STARS' TENNIS BALLS.
THE GREEKS...simple, direct, but poetic with inexorable, inevitable climaxes.
CYRANO DE BERGERAC...this play is almost indestructible. Regardless of whether I'm reading it or watching any production of it, I am left in puddles at the end.
A. MERRITT...a strange, lush poetic prose grafted to a rich imagination. Another of those authors who stays with me. It's almost like he writes in some sort of fevre dream.
RICHARD III...a biography by Paul Murray Kendall. History came alive!
PETER SHAFFER...everything he writes. ROYAL HUNT OF THE SUN, AMADEUS, EQUUS. THE GIFT OF THE GORGON, may be the best play I've read in the last twenty years.
TOM STOPPARD...Have loved him since ROSENCRANTZ & GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD. Again, everything he writes.
LETTERS FROM AN ACTOR...William Redfield's letters to a friend while he was rehearsing and performing in the famous Burton/Gielgud HAMLET of the sixties. Great theatre stories!
1776...the musical. Back in college on a rainy afternoon, I remember sitting with Julieanne and Edd Little (now Edmund August) in Clay Nixon's apartment as he played us the original cast album. It was a glorious revelation. Years later, when I was on the Writers Guild Board, during a meeting with the Screen Actors Guild Board, I got to go up to William Daniels, then SAG president and who had played John Adams in that production of 1776, and tell him about that afternoon and how much it meant to me. As I've gotten older, I try to take advantage of such opportunities much more than I used to. I think people appreciate knowing that they have affected your life positively. And so many performers or writers never know how many lives they touch.
And, of course, my influences continue. Some late in life influences -- my pal HARLAN ELLISON, who I first discovered as an essayist and just plain raconteur before I encountered his brilliant fiction. TERRY PRATCHETT's wacky, wonderful, exquisite-fall-out-of-bed-laughing-out-loud Discworld novels. FREDRIC BROWN...terrific short story writer and novelist, who can lead you right down to the end of the story and surprise you with something you never saw coming but is always so perfectly logical, if not inevitable. HENRY TREECE...his historical novels about Greece and Celtic Britain are bleakly powerful dying falls. Even his children's novels are unrelenting, uncompromising, and mature. Wonderful poetic writer...
I'm sure there are others who I have overlooked...
So what writers or books changed your life, altered your perception of the world or yourself, inspired your creative muse? Tell us all about it.