Rare Steinbeck Letters Come Up for Bid
RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
But the most intriguing letters may well be those that document a little-known episode in his life - his work with television. The letters are valued at between $100,000 and $200,000. Catherine Williamson is the director of fine books and manuscripts at Bonhams auction house.
CATHERINE WILLIAMSON: The letters from 1948 and 1949 are written to a man named Henry S. White, and he was a television producer. And he and Steinbeck and a couple of other people very early on established a production company called World Video. Steinbeck was, surprisingly, really interested in the new medium of television. He thought it had an awful lot of possibility.
MONTAGNE: But their enthusiasm - over a reasonably short period of time - waned, as the letters show.
WILLIAMSON: I have a couple of letters here where he pitches show ideas, and I don't think he's serious. I think he's just being cynical, but you'll be kind of shocked and astonished how familiar these show ideas are. He's actually 60 years ahead of his time.
MONTAGNE: Oh, hopefully not something like "American Idol" or reality TV or - or what?
WILLIAMSON: Exactly. You hit it on the nose.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
WILLIAMSON: (Reading) "What would you think of a lousy little stage, hook and all, and a ratchet club audience of real or simulated illiterates making the choice and the comments? And have real amateurs, some of them very bad. With a tough emcee, it could be wonderful - a mug's amateur night. And instead of promising the contestants the world on a platter, make the trick just staying onstage at all. It could be very sad and very funny."
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
MONTAGNE: So this letter was 1948-ish?
WILLIAMSON: '48, '49 is also undated.
MONTAGNE: Oh, wow. You know, one thing that makes him more disenchanted with television production is his political associations.
WILLIAMSON: (Reading) "I think I had a certain value to World Video in its formation and in attracting to the company a certain kind of people who were needed. But now, I want you quite unemotionally to consider my record - and don't get excited. I was denounced on the floor of Congress as a communist and a liar. My books were publicly burned in a dozen towns in California.
WILLIAMSON: What do you think my name does for the whole company?"
MONTAGNE: Catherine Williamson is the director of Fine Books and Manuscripts at Bonhams auction house, which today will be auctioning off dozens of never- before-published letters from John Steinbeck. Thank you very much for joining us.
WILLIAMSON: You're welcome.
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