Saturday, September 19, 2015

J.D. Salinger and Lamont Buchanan

J.D. Salinger was one of the most famous recluses of the twentieth century. Born on January 1, 1919, in New York City, Salinger attended public schools in Manhattan, then the McBurney School, also in Manhattan, and Valley Forge Military Academy in Wayne, Pennsylvania. He graduated from Valley Forge in 1936 and attended New York University in 1936-1937, Ursinus College in the fall semester of 1938, and Columbia University beginning in 1939.

Salinger's career as a published author began in March-April 1940 with "The Young Folks," a vignette in Story magazine. The editor of Story was Whit Burnett (1900-1972), who became a mentor to and correspondent of the young writer. Salinger went on, of course, to write The Catcher in the Rye (1951), Nine Stories (1953), Franny and Zooey (1961), and finally Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction (1963). By the early 1960s, he had begun living like a recluse, claiming, "It is my rather subversive opinion that a writer's feelings of anonymity-obscurity are the second most valuable property on loan to him during his working years." (Quoted in Time, Aug. 4, 1961.) His last published story was "Hapworth 16, 1924" in The New Yorker, June 19, 1965. After that, Salinger retreated into Greta Garbo-like seclusion and died in his New Hampshire home on January 27, 2010, at age ninety-one. Curiously, he was involved, though briefly, in Dianetics.

Charles Lamont Buchanan was younger than J.D. Salinger by two months and six days. Born on March 7, 1919, in New York City, Buchanan eventually dropped the "Charles" and became simply Lamont Buchanan, probably to set himself apart from his father. In the late 1930s he was living in New Canaan, Connecticut. He may have graduated from New Canaan High School at about the same time as his future wife, Jean Milligan, but I haven't found any evidence of that. The high school itself doesn't have yearbooks or records from that long ago. I also haven't found anything showing that Lamont Buchanan attended college, but somehow or other he landed a job as associate editor at Weird Tales in September 1942. He was then twenty-three years old. 

Lamont Buchanan remained with Weird Tales until September 1949. He published a number of books on history, sports, politics, and transportation between 1947 and 1956. From that year forward, though, he seems to have become a recluse. If he is still living, Mr. Buchanan is likely at home in his apartment in New York City. His wife, Jean Milligan, died on December 6, 2004, in New York City. The Buchanans may have a daughter, but like everything else in their lives, the facts are lost in secrecy and obscurity.

I didn't find anything to show that Lamont Buchanan attended college until I did find something to show that he attended college. Today (Sept. 16, 2015), I found out that he attended Columbia University. And that he knew J.D. Salinger. And that he is supposed by at least one person to have been a model for Holden Caulfield. And I find all of that to be incredible, not as in unbelievable but as in incredible that only now is this showing up anywhere in the universe. One of the most well-known and intensely studied American authors of the twentieth century, and only now are we hearing about all of this. (Well, in 2012 anyway.) I wonder if it's even true or if it's all just a hoax.

The information comes from an article called "Top Tips for Writers from J.D. Salinger--Advice from Beyond the Grave" by Noel Young, dated January 26, 2012, and posted on the website The Drum. The article tells of how Shirley Ardman, an eighteen-year-old journalism student at Columbia University, who may have been going by the name Louise Brown or Louise Baker at the time, landed an interview with Salinger in 1940. Salinger had only recently entered the fraternity of published authors with his story "The Young Folks." Shirley's assignment was to interview someone from that fraternity. One of her classmates knew Salinger and provided an introduction. The classmate was named Lamont Buchanan.

Shirley met Salinger in a hotel bar where he drank Ballantine's and she had a cocktail. They talked about writing, magazines, and fiction in general. From their talk, Shirley Ardman composed a 1,200-word piece that went unpublished until 2012 and the aforementioned article in The Drum. The piece, called "A Case of Youth," begins as follows:
"People are stupid," Mr. Salinger observed, glancing vacantly at the other occupants of the bar. "Certainly they’re stupid," he repeated, "or they wouldn’t read all the tripe that’s ground out for the pulp and slick magazines. Why, the hacks that write those stories are no better than the people who read them."
There are some things to take away from that paragraph. First is the sophomoric arrogance. Second is the implication that Salinger read pulp magazines. Third is that he doesn't seem to have made much of a distinction between things written for pulps vs. for slicks. Fourth is that the author sounded a little like his future youthful protagonist, Holden Caulfield. And fifth is that he also sounded a little like Lamont Buchanan, who wrote, as Allison V. Harding, the following:
Abernathy wondered if those around him were as miserable as he was, or if their misery was an unrecognized, locked-up something deep inside. For this underground tomb [a subway station] was a place for reflection, although conversely, in its bustle and noisome urgency, humans could take holiday from their consciences, and pushing, wriggling, hurrying off and on these mechanized moles that bore them to and from their tasks, forget, and in the forgetting be complacent. (From "Take the Z-Train" in 100 Wild Little Weird Tales [1994], p. 488)
That's not arrogance exactly, but it also doesn't display a very high opinion of humanity. One difference is that Salinger seems to have placed himself above humanity, while Buchanan's protagonist recognized himself as one among them.

The article by Noel Young tells about Shirley Ardman's meeting with J.D. Salinger and a little about herself. Fans of Weird Tales will be especially interested to read the following words:
A classmate of Shirley's, Lamont Buchanan, who knew Salinger, offered to introduce them, and so the meeting was arranged.
Later, Shirley was to suggest that Lamont was at least in part the model for Holden Caulfield, the central figure in The Catcher in the Rye.
and these:
Shirley, who now suffers from Alzheimer’s, remembered little of the actual interview but she scorned our use of the name "J.D. Salinger." "We called him Jerry," she insisted.
She seemed to remember Lamont Buchanan much better, correcting my [Mr. Young's] Scottish way of pronouncing his first name.
If Lamont Buchanan was the model for Holden Caulfield, this is the first I have heard of it. It may be the first that anybody has heard of it. That's one of the things I find so incredible.

Shirley Baker Ardman died on March 12, 2014, presumably in Swampscott, Massachusetts, at age ninety-two. Born in Weston, West Virginia, she was returned to her native state for burial. Whatever she may have remembered about Lamont Buchanan is now forgotten in her passing. That leaves us to make whatever we can of her account.

So was the Lamont Buchanan she knew the same Lamont Buchanan who worked for Weird Tales? There is good reason to believe that he was, for he was of the right age, in the right place, and engaged in the right field of endeavor. If Mr. Buchanan attended Columbia University until graduating at about age twenty-two (a supposition), and if he was himself connected or connected through friends to the world of magazine publishing in New York, then there can be little wonder how he arrived at Weird Tales in 1942. A biography of Harry Aveline Perkins (1919-?), Lamont Buchanan's predecessor, might be illuminating at this point. Did the two young men know each other before 1942? Did Perkins also attend Columbia? And did Perkins know J.D. Salinger or Shirley Ardman?

The questions continue: Did Lamont Buchanan really know J.D. Salinger? Were they friends? If so, for how long? When I first wrote about Allison V. Harding, I noted a similarity in her writing to that of John Collier (1901-1980), who wrote for the slick magazines of the 1940s, just as Salinger did. (Both contributed to The New Yorker and Esquire.) I wonder now if Lamont Buchanan, if he was Allison V. Harding, had aspirations to writing for the slicks, or at the very least, if he emulated the writing style he saw there. Was he trying to be like John Collier or J.D. Salinger or even Ray Bradbury, who wrote for Weird Tales and other pulps before moving on to slick magazines? But now I'll take the wondering a little further into the realm of the unbelievable if not the impossible: I have supposed that Allison V. Harding was a man based on her stories. Once I made that supposition, the easiest conclusion was that Allison V. Harding was Lamont Buchanan. But what if Allison V. Harding was J.D. Salinger slumming among the pulps with the help of his friend Lamont Buchanan?

     "And at the end, the best of all--the merry-go-round, on the horses that went up and down, up and down, round and round, with the strange, strange wonderful music of the calliope--he would travel miles on his green and yellow horse even as Mother stood outside the world of his racetrack and gestured and seemed to stamp her foot, wanting him to stop and making motioning noises.
* * *
     "It was then--sometime during his umpteenth ride on the bucking green and yellow merry-go-round horse--then so that his seven-year-old mind knew well the whistling sounds of the calliope organ, then that something had come out of another world, it seemed--a thing of crashing noise and blinding light; a thing prefaced only by a little wetness and Mother's anger as she stood, no longer controlling him, already completely outside of his world, under a hastily raised umbrella, stamping her foot and calling to him.
     "Henry was caught up then in that instant by his friend, who took him in this time of greatest joy bursting like the nod of a flower. . . ."
--From "Take the Z-Train" by Allison V. Harding
Weird Tales (Mar. 1950)

     "Then the carrousel started, and I watched her go around and around. There were only about five or six other kids on the ride, and the song the carrousel was playing was 'Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.' It was playing it very jazzy and funny. All the kids kept trying to grab for the gold ring, and so was old Phoebe, and I was sort of afraid she'd fall off the goddam horse, but I didn't say anything or do anything. The thing with kids is, if they want to grab the gold ring, you have to let them do it, and not say anything. If they fall off they fall off, but it's bad if you say anything to them.
* * *
     "Boy, it began to rain like a bastard. In buckets, I swear to God. All the parents and mothers and everybody went over and stood right under the roof of the carrousel, so they wouldn't get soaked to the skin or anything, but I stuck around on the bench for quite a while. I got pretty soaking wet, especially my neck and my pants. My hunting hat really gave me quite a lot of protection, in a way; but I got soaked anyway. I didn't care, though. I felt so damn happy all of a sudden, the way old Phoebe kept going around and around. I was damn near bawling, I felt so damn happy, if you want to know the truth. I don't know why. It was just that she looked so damn nice, the way she kept going around and around, in her blue coat and all. God, I wish you could've been there."
--From The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
(1951)

Copyright 2015 Terence E. Hanley

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