Literary and Old Hollywood

Ten Literary One-Hit Wonders: Bestselling Only Children


 When Harper Lee’s second novel, Go Set a Watchman debuted recently, it disqualified Lee – for the first time in decades – from inclusion in a short but fascinating list, that of writers who were one-hit wonders. Here are some of the authors who remain, who published one bestseller, usually to critical acclaim, then for whatever reason did not write again.

MARGARET MITCHELL:    Gone With the Wind

 When Atlanta society reporter Margaret Mitchell was confined to bed with a broken leg, she got so sick of reading stories that she decided to write one of her own. Gone with the Wind, published in 1936, was a wild bestseller and over seventy years later this Civil War page-turner still sells hundreds of thousands of copies a year and has sold more copies than any other book besides the Bible. It also won a Pulitzer Prize and inspired the iconic movie.

Ironically, there have been several dozen books written about this novel while Mitchell herself wrote only the one. She loathed the celebrity that came with international success. “If I had known being an author was like this I’d have thought several times before I let [the publisher] [read more]

Three Strangers: Old Hollywood Trailer featuring Peter Lorre

Peter Lorre is my favorite actor, and this is a trailer to one of his lesser known pictures The Three Strangers from 1947. His co-stars are Sydney Greenstreet at his scenery-chewing best, and the magnificent Geraldine Fitzgerald. It is classic Warner Brothers of that era. [read more]

The Death of Ross Lockridge, Jr.: Fear and Loathing in Raintree County

Seldom has a book been published to more frenzied anticipation than Raintree County, a story of a man remembering his life, one touched by a troubled marriage, insanity, and the Civil War. Told through flashbacks, utilizing a kind of personal mythology, philosophy, poetry, and incandescent prose, it has been an unofficial contender for the Great American Novel ever since. (It is also remembered for the movie version starring Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift.) When it hit the stands in January 1948, it had already outsold its first printing, garnered stellar reviews, and won a prize from MGM for $150,000 (over a million in today’s money). Eight weeks later it was declared a number one bestseller. The day after, its author, thirty-three year old Ross Lockridge, Jr., killed himself.

Born in Bloomington, Indiana, in 1914, Lockridge grew up with a strong belief in his own destiny. In high school he was good looking, charismatic, and driven. He studied the classics in France for two years before graduating from the University of Indiana with the highest grade point average the school had ever seen.

He was about to join the university’s English department when his life changed after a badly misjudged show of bravado. [read more]

The Death of Zelda Fitzgerald

There has been a lot written about Zelda Fitzgerald in an effort to give her back her identity, and rightly so. She was the original wild child, in her words an “extravagant,” whose reckless inhibition made her a superstar. Even today, over a hundred years after her birth, her name, image, and legacy are so iconic that it is easy to forget how incredibly short was her reign, and how long was her downfall that left her wholly forgotten by the time of her death.

“Nothing could have survived our life.”   Zelda

She was beautiful, witty, and a world class exhibitionist married to one of the great writers ever, F. Scott Fitzgerald, who based a substantial amount of his work on his observations of her. Their marriage was intense and toxic, and while he had a hand in her catastrophic decline, there can be little doubt that there was something in her that would have gone wrong even if he had never shown up. It would have just been a different kind of wrong.

“She probably thought terribly dangerous secret thoughts.”   Sara Murphy

The teenage belle had an air of both well-bred gentility and a total of lack of concern for [read more]

Vintage Gossip: Margaret Mitchell, One-Hit Wonder Publishes Gone With the Wind This Week in 1936

This week, in 1936, the novel Gone With the Wind was published. Love it or hate it, the book boasts an impressive 1,383,000 copies sold in its first year and over 30 million copies since, more than any other book besides the Bible. It won its author, Margaret Mitchell, a Pulitzer Prize in 1937, and made her very, very wealthy. Also very miserable. When she wailed that she regretted ever having published, she meant it and she never wrote again, not so much as a grocery list.

She was a Georgia belle of the old school, an ardent flirt adhering to an inflexible set of manners that would have made Ellen O’Hara proud. It was only when Mitchell’s abusive first husband refused to work that she, to the dismay of her neighbors, walked into the offices of the Atlanta Constitution and demanded a job. She covered the city’s society page for years until she became bedridden with a rheumatic ankle. Out of boredom she began a novel that she would work on for the next ten years.

Its contents were a secret to everyone, even her second husband, but rumors got out and when a publisher came to Atlanta looking for [read more]