Nathaniel Rich of The Daily Beast is taking on a prodigious task... and when he sobers up, I'll wager he drops what I've publicly termed his "ridiculous conceit" of limiting his list of the "20th Century In Novels" to those published in years ending in "2."
That's when the project will become truly meaningful.
But to help Nate Rich come to this conclusion, I've posted on TDB my own nomination for the decade of the '50s --ALAS BABYLON, by Pat Frank-- to compete with what will no doubt be the more 'sophisticated' nominations (i.e., perhaps inevitably, Kerouac's ON THE ROAD) for the decade.
If you've not read Alas Babylon, you should; it's a story of post-nuclear apocalyptic redemption --individually, of the main character(s); socially, in the microcosm of the small Florida town in which it is set-- that reflects the fears and (oddly) the yearnings of those times for a cleansing of the ongoing international strife and the empty materialism of the era.
Perhaps for those reasons, it remains a must-read more than a half-century after publication-- a story still valid and compelling in today's world.
But perhaps of even greater interest to the readership here at Redroom is the mini-biography of the author himself, reprinted below from the Florida Times-Union on the 50th anniversary of AB's publication. Pat Frank might have fit quite well into our various late-night Master's Class gatherings, doncha think?
--Earl "At Last, Babylon?" Merkel
Pat Frank’s ‘Alas, Babylon,’ 50 years later
He wrote ‘Alas, Babylon’ 50 years ago, during a life that took him from Jacksonville to ‘all the continents and all the oceans.’
Posted: June 15, 2009
By Matt Soergel
He loved to tell a tale — party yarns of his globe-trotting exploits, a made-up children’s story that went on every night for years, a best-selling novel about a world in radioactive flames.
He loved to booze — epic drinking bouts that went on for weeks, until his money ran out and he had another story to write.
And he loved women, who loved him right back, he was so damned charming. One quick story: His brother remembers going to his Atlantic Beach house one day and finding several naked or just-about naked women, hanging about the place. No big deal, apparently.
In his 57 years, Pat Frank went from Jacksonville Journal cub reporter to international war correspondent, from novelist to government official. He saw Mussolini dead, hanging from his feet in Milan. He traveled with John F. Kennedy on his 1960 presidential campaign. He wrote a Hollywood script for Rock Hudson.
It’s his novel “Alas, Babylon,” though, that is Frank’s lasting legacy — a harrowing, human story published 50 years ago, in 1959. The novel, set in a small Florida town after a nuclear attack on the United States, was an instant hit. It’s been reprinted many times; it’s found on high school reading lists; and it’s invariably put high on lists of the best post-apocalyptic fiction.
And it lives on, a half-century later, on YouTube, where high school students have posted numerous video adaptations of “Alas, Babylon” (wrote one admirer: “I just finished that book. It kicked butt.”)
Five years after “Alas, Babylon” was published, Pat Frank would be dead, his body shutting down after decades of drinking. The years of adventuring and boozing and writing finally caught up with him, here in Jacksonville, his hometown.
It wasn’t a long life, but it was a full one. As he wrote in a memoir: “I have seen all the continents and all the oceans.”
“He was bigger than life,” says his daughter, Perry Frank, “bigger than the problems he had.”
Pat Frank’s younger half-brother, Billy Barwald, turns 91 next month. He says Pat could not be counted upon when he was drinking, which was often. When he was sober? He was witty, irreverent, brilliant.
He saw his brother’s rise to the top, saw him dazzle readers and admirers. He saw his self-destructive spiral, and he drove him to the hospital where he died, bloated and wasted.
“I guess he ran through a couple of million dollars in his lifetime,” Barwald says. “And when he died, everything he owned could be put in a bushel basket.”
The teleprinter chattered again. “PK TO CIRCUIT. BIG EXPLOSION IN DIRECTION OF JX. WE CAN SEE MUSHROOM CLOUD.” PK meant Palatka, a small town on the St. Johns south of Jacksonville. Florence rose ... “I’m very sorry, Mr. Quisenberry,” she said, “but I can’t send this. Jacksonville doesn’t seem to be there any more.” — from Pat Frank’s “Alas Babylon” (1959)
When the census-taker came by to see Pat Frank in 1950, he told her his profession: “beachcomber.” She, “a literal-minded lady,” apparently believed him. Probably because when she found him in Atlantic Beach, he was wearing only torn khaki shorts and a three-day beard, his typewriter had corroded in the salt air and he was sitting cross-legged on the floor working on his fishing tackle.
Atlantic Beach was his refuge. Frank had spent summers there as a boy, and as a man he often found himself back in the sunny beach town, “a sleepy backwater unruffled by the tourist stream racing down Route A1A.”
In his 1953 memoir, “The Long Way Round,” he wrote about belonging to “the Atlantic Beach Navy,” a drinking group in which “everyone is an admiral and your only duty is to have fun.” He wrote about water-skiing in the low-tide sloughs, pulled along the beach by car. He wrote of drinking moonshine whiskey while catching sharks, using a live chicken as bait, attached by a line to the axle of his rusty Model-T. When they got a bite, they cranked the car, put it into low and yanked the shark out of the ocean.
And he told how his journalism career blossomed profitably at age 16 as he tried to make enough money to take dancing “the most beautiful creature I have ever seen in my life.” She too was 16, “with tawny hair and eyes that changed shade with the moods of the sea and a body molded to slip easily into the sea, where she played most of the day, to the awe and astonishment of the tourists from Georgia and Alabama.”
More on his budding journalism careers follows, in a bit. But first, briefly, the women.
“I don’t care how ratty he looked, how crummy he looked, women loved him,” says his sister, Dolly Grunthal, 83, who still lives in Atlantic Beach. Frank was a good-looking man when he was younger, she says, but there was more than that: He could talk on any subject, and he was always ready for a party. “He charmed them,” she says.
His brother puts it a little more bluntly. “Wherever he was, there was alcohol and women, in large quantities.”
You can love many times in a lifetime, and for many reasons, and no love diminishes a man — Pat Frank, “The Long Way Round” (1953)
Pat Frank was born in Chicago in 1908, named after his father, Harry Hart Frank, though he always went by Pat. His father died of influenza when Pat was young, and so the boy moved to Florida with his mother, Doris, a member of the Cohen family that had started the department store firm. She later married Mont Barwald of Jacksonville, and the family moved to St. Johns Avenue and Cherry Street in Riverside.
The family also had a beach house between Sixth and Seventh streets in Atlantic Beach, where they went in the summer. In the mid-1920s, the enterprising teen became Atlantic Beach correspondent for the old Jacksonville Journal, a job, he notes, “about as far down the scale of reporting as one can get.”
How much he got paid depended on how much he wrote. That led to frustration because he soon found he had “written about everything that had happened in Atlantic Beach since the first Spaniard put his foot there.”
Remember: He had to have money to take out that tawny-haired 16-year-old.
He clearly needed to write more.
So, under the guise of journalism, he ventured into fiction, inventing a new rich family that had come to summer in Atlantic Beach. They and their children were, he told the Journal’s readers, busy with all sorts of parties and comings and goings — all which Pat wrote about in great, embroidered detail.
It was all made up, all a crock. And he was, inevitably, caught. After a stern talking-to, he somehow managed to keep his job, which he returned to, somewhat chastened and smarter.
By 21, after a couple of years at the University of Florida, he’d gone from the Jacksonville Journal to the big time on New York papers. From there, he went to the Washington Times-Herald, where he became “the paper’s crime and disaster expert, in attendance at every throat-slitting, husband-poisoning, and ‘I-killed him-because-I-loved-him’ episode on the Atlantic seaboard, plus kidnappings, floods, the World Series, and the opening days in Congress and at Pimlico.”
Then came World War II. Frank was hired by what became the Office of Strategic Services, which would evolve into the CIA. He represented the United States in Australia and Turkey, then quit to become a war correspondent in Europe. After the fighting, he covered the Iron Curtain lowering over Eastern Europe, witnessing the bravery and the folly and the horror of war, the ineptitude of bureaucracy. On the other side of the world, mushroom clouds grew over Japan.
All that would inspire his next career: novelist.
There is no lonelier stretch of beach on the Atlantic than the twenty miles between Ponte Vedra and St. Augustine, in northern Florida ... — the opening line of Pat Frank’s “Forbidden Area” (1956)
Frank’s first novel, “Mr. Adam,” was published in 1946 and sold 2 million copies. It was an irreverent satire about the one fertile man left in America after a nuclear disaster. He proves to be a wanted man, both by women and the authorities.
Frank returned to the nuclear threat in “Forbidden Area” (1956), in which Soviet saboteurs landed on the same North Florida beach where Nazi spies came ashore in World War II. The book’s a cliffhanger in which the world comes to the brink of nuclear war.
That war came, of course, in “Alas, Babylon,” with millions upon millions dead and the survivors left “to face the thousand-year night.”
In 1962, in time for the Cuban Missile Crisis, Frank revisited that world in a short (and now rare) non-fiction book called “How to Survive the H Bomb and Why.” (His one foolproof way to survive? Move to Tasmania.)
Frank wrote eight books in all, and numerous articles for magazines such as Collier’s and Playboy.
He did much of his writing in Florida, often in Atlantic Beach or at his parents’ house on Loretto Road in Mandarin, where years before they had moved their old Riverside house.
His brother, Billy Barwald, lives on what remains of that property, where he and his son Mike run Flying Dragon Citrus Nursery.
Billy says Pat would run out of money and come home to write. Billy would pick him up at the airport. He’d be in terrible shape. They’d take him home to Loretto Road. He’d dry out, then start writing — a book, a magazine article, even a film script.
Billy remembers that his brother was dead broke one day, then flourishing a $25,000 check the next, courtesy of honchos in Hollywood. (It might have been for a proposal for “Man’s Favorite Sport?,” which became a Rock Hudson-Paula Prentiss sex comedy directed by Howard Hawks).
Pat wanted Billy to drive him to the Buick dealership for a new car. Why not? He had the cash.
Billy, all these years later, gives a little laugh, half admiring, half reproachful.
“It just came that easily to him,” Billy says.
I could also visualize doctors, chemists, bacteriologists, and physicists … working frantically to discover new and better methods to depopulate the earth … This makes no sense to me. If I were a psychiatrist, I’d diagnose mankind as suffering with a combination of paranoia and schizophrenia, caused by the trauma of wars, a sense of guilt, and acute fear. What is needed is a long period of peace and rest — Pat Frank, “The Long Way Round”
Frank had two children from an early marriage: Perry, 68, who lives in Washington, D.C., and Patrick, 64, who lives in South Carolina. Both are writers, and both say they’re approached several times a year by people who want to make a movie of “Alas, Babylon.” It’s never happened, although CBS’ “Playhouse 90” did a live adaptation after it was published, with Dana Andrews, Kim Hunter, Rita Moreno, Barbara Rush and Burt Reynolds in an early, small role.
Most or all of “Alas, Babylon” was written in Mount Dora in Central Florida. Frank lived there with his last wife, Dodie, who’s remembered as a strong-willed, remarkably beautiful woman who, for years, was able to keep Frank sober and on track.
“He was, for some period, quite normal,” says Billy.
Around the time Pat and Dodie divorced, after the success of “Alas, Babylon,” Frank relapsed into alcoholism. A staunch Democrat, he worked on John Kennedy’s election campaign, and he went to Washington to work in the civil defense department — still living under that nuclear shadow.
In the fall of 1964, he came home one last time. He looked terrible, Billy says, and was soon in the hospital. He died on Oct. 12. The cause of death was listed as inflammation of the pancreas.
Perry Frank says she knows her father was an alcoholic, but that’s not how she pictures him. She sees him as the dad who loved hurricanes, who taught her to fish, who night after night for years made up “The Kaya Kaya and Feeta Feeta Adventure,” a saga of two children on an island.
She and her brother visited him frequently at the beach, where he seemed happiest. And that’s how Patrick Frank pictures his father: “I see him at his beach house, with his big map of the world, his big library, his typewriter, the ocean off to the left. I think his creativity kind of blossomed — that’s the image that comes to mind — in Atlantic Beach.”
-- 30 --
Article originally posted at Jacksonville.com: http://jacksonville.com/lifestyles/2009-06-15/story/pat_frank%E2%80%99s_%E2%80%98alas_babylon_%E2%80%99_50_years_later#ixzz1hvRxmvM2