Charles Jackson (1903 – 1968) wrote The Lost Weekend (1944), a novel that chronicled a struggling writer’s five-day drinking binge. It earned Jackson lasting recognition and income and it was translated into 24 languages. Paramount Pictures paid Jackson for the rights to adapt his novel into a film version directed by Billy Wilder and starring Ray Milland and Jane Wyman. The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won four: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay. It also shared the Grand Prix at the first Cannes Film Festival, making it one of only two films (1955’s Marty was the other) to win both the Academy Award for Best Picture and the highest award at Cannes. It remains a powerful and remarkably prescient film.
The Pride Pioneer part comes from Jackson’s second novel, The Fall Of Valor (1946), which is set in 1943 and chronicles a male professor’s obsession with a young, handsome Marine. It deserves a place in any list of the Great Gay Novels of All Time and reading in our own era is an exercise in almost unbearably bittersweet nostalgia.
The protagonist is English professor John Grandin, who at 44-years-old, finds himself with a couple of stalemates, one in his marriage, another within himself. The crux of the matter is his own latent homosexuality, and the story follows his recognition of the problem; what he does about it, and what it does to others. On vacation with his wife in Nantucket, they meet a stunningly handsome Marine named Cliff, a genuine war hero, who is naïve and pathetically anxious to please, and badly wants to rub Grandin’s back with suntan oil.
Jackson captures the national man-worship craze of the 1940s with heartbreaking clarity. It was an era of quickening sexual awareness when all sorts of unlikely people must have felt gay stirrings, but, ultimately, a time that had to, was forced to, allow itself only the briefest peek at the possibilities of love between two men.
Jackson was the most honest gay writer of the decade. Even with the severe limitations set for him by the taste and sensibility and the dictates of the publishing world of the 1940s, he makes three powerful statements that were revolutionary for the era: Nobody consciously chooses to be a homosexual; You can’t equate being gay with self-indulgence; There are few sexual absolutes, even in the Marine Corps.
Fall Of Valor is out of print, but I found that Amazon has dozens of used copies for sale, including a first edition for $5.
Jackson’s first published work was a short story called Palm Sunday (1939), a story of two adult brothers who recalled being abused by an older male church musician when they were in their early teens. Since much of Jackson’s writing was autobiographical, many of his stories and novels dealt with alcoholism and repressed gayness. He writes in a style that we now call “noir” and takes on the subjects of ”outing”, gay-bashing, molestation, thrill killers, addiction, repressed gayness and media sensationalism. His work seems more relevant today than when it first appeared 70 years ago.
An early battle with tuberculosis cost him a lung and served as the catalyst for his use of booze and pills. After several attempts at sobriety, followed by the inevitable relapses, Jackson became estranged from his wife in 1965 and rented an apartment in New York City that he shared with his male lover. Jackson later committed suicide by an overdose of sleeping pills in his room at the Chelsea Hotel in New York City on September 1968.
Little footnote: Jackson and his younger brother, known as “Boom,” both developed TB. Jackson’s first boyfriend, a middle-aged WASP aristocrat named Bronson Winthrop, paid for them to take them to be cured in Switzerland. The contrasting paths that the brothers took through life is rather amazing. Boom spent the 1930s in Europe, making friends everywhere, including the pioneering gay photographer George Platt Lynes. When he returned to America, he settled in the small town in New Jersey with his male life-partner, a doctor; and their relationship seems to have been quite open. Boom ran an antiques store, continuing to charm and befriend everyone he met, and lived what seems to have been a full and happy life, while his brother paid a high price for his sexual repression.