Jim Tully takes Hollywood, once again (Photos) (archived post)

October 10, 2012

In the 1920s and 1930s, Jim Tully was a celebrity.

He was a writer. And his writings — a singular brand of rough and tumble fiction and non-fiction — were both popular and critically acclaimed. In his day, Tully’s books appeared on bestseller lists, were adapted for the stage, made into movies, and got reviewed and discussed in major publications across the country. One of his most controversial books was even banned, and a large part of its first edition destroyed. The essayist and editor H.L. Mencken wrote, “If Tully were a Russian, read in translation, all the Professors would be hymning him.”

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Despite his celebrity, few today have heard of Tully. In the years following WWII, his reputation waned — but not because he was considered out-of-date. If anything, Tully was years ahead of his time. Some consider Tully a precursor to the “hard-boiled” school. In the 1920s, Tully wasn’t writing about the glitz and glamor of the Jazz Age like F. Scott Fitzgerald. Rather, his sinuous and sometimes muscular prose concerned petty criminals, addicts, hobos and other misfits of society. Charles Willeford, one of the leading hard-boiled crime fiction writers of the post WWII era, has praised Tully and written of his influence.

 Besides having made a big name for himself as a writer, Tully was also a larger than life character in and around Hollywood. Tully wrote about film world celebrities (including Charlie Chaplin, for whom he had once worked) for various publications, such as Photoplay and Vanity Fair, in ways that the studios and the stars did not always find agreeable. For these pieces, Tully became known as the most-hated writer in Hollywood. It was a title he relished. Tully also penned one of the earliest Hollywood novels, Jarnegan (1926).

In a recent article, film historian Leonard Maltin calls Tully a “celebrated—but now curiously forgotten—author” and a ” a genuine American original, a man of many facets and flaws, but a fascinating character at every turn.”

Hollywood’s forgotten literary bad boy is being honored in Los Angeles during the month of October.

The Los Angeles Visionaries Association, UCLA Special Collections and The American Cinematheque are celebrating the life, writings and films of Jim Tully (1886-1947) with a series of events under the heading of “Tullyfest.”

Tullyfest begins on Wednesday, October 10 with a screening of the 1933 film Laughter in Hell at the American Cinematheque at the Egyptian Theatre. The film will be introduced by Tully’s biographers Mark Dawidziak and Paul Bauer. Based on the 1932 Tully novel, this hard-boiled, pre-code film stars Pat O’Brien as a wife-killing railroad worker who busts out of prison and takes up with Gloria Stuart. At the time of its release, the film gained notoriety for its no-holds-barred depiction of prison brutality and lynching. It is rarely screened today, and was for many years thought to be a lost film.

For the second Tullyfest event, which takes place on Thursday October 11, the UCLA Library Special Collections will host a lecture by Bauer and Dawidziak entitled “Rediscovering Jim Tully: Golden Age Hollywood’s Hard-Boiled Writer” in the Charles E. Young Research Library Conference Center. Bauer and Dawidziak are authors of the biography, Jim Tully: American Writer, Irish Rover, Hollywood Brawler (Kent State University Press, 2011). The lecture will be followed by a reception in Library Special Collections for the opening of the accompanying exhibit, “The Life and Times of Jim Tully — From Drifter to Celebrated Author,” curated by Lilace Hatayama. The exhibit runs through December.

The third Tullyfest event, on Sunday, October 14, is a free two-hour walking tour that will focus on the locations important to Tully’s career in the motion picture industry. The tour will be lead by Dawidziak and Bauer. Sites on the tour include the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, Grauman’s Chinese Theater, The Musso & Frank Grill, Mark Twain Hotel and the former Chaplin Studios.

The fourth and final Tullyfest event, on Monday, October 15 is the LAVA Salon at Musso & Frank honoring “Jim Tully: A Hobo in Hollywood.” In the confines of a famous Hollywood landmark, Tully biographers Dawidziak and Bauer will seek to answer the fundamental question: “Why isn’t Jim Tully still a household name?”

To answer this question, Dawidziak and Bauer look to the Hollywood of 1912, a sleepy little suburb that Tully found and watched grow up around him as he built his incongruous twin careers as motion picture publicist and independent writer. From his insights into and deep ambivalence toward his longtime employer, Charlie Chaplin, to anecdotes of friendships with W. C. Fields, Jack Dempsey, Damon Runyon, Lon Chaney, Frank Capra, and Erich von Stroheim, Tully exhibited a lust for life which was only surpassed by his devotion to his craft. By 1930, Tully was a major American author who had launched a parallel career as a successful journalist. Both his novels and journalistic exposés shook the country and his peer group in Hollywood.

 

This article originally posted at http://www.examiner.com/article/beggars-of-life-author-celebrated-hollywood

 

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