Dear Mel, What Do You Know Of Author, Paul Gallico

Posted at 21:44pm on 14th April 2012

On this night, the one-hundredth anniversary of the sinking of Titanic, comes a reminder of the sinking of another ship, the MV Victoria

Hi Ms. Menzies,

I performed a Google search on author, Paul Gallico and your name came up, and I noticed you used to work for him.  I've been conducting research on Paul Gallico and am very interested in learning more about his past relationships, but have been unable to find anything of sufficient detail.  He does not mention anything in his writings more than the fact that he has had failed marriages and the only other items I was able to find were an online interview of his son Robert where he mentions that his parents were not around much and were separated when he was a young boy, and two brief online blurb that Paul was sued for divorce by Alva Taylor and Elaine St. Johns (reason Cruelty).  I'm curious as to why so many of his marriages failed?  Did he cheat? Drink? Associate with the wrong crowd? Was he a poor father? Are there specific instances that ruined his marriages?  And how did he come to meet all of his wives?

Any guidance would be extremely helpful, I'm intrigued to learn anything you may know.  Thank you so much.

Best,

Joe Lewis
Los Angeles, CA

 
Dear Mr Lewis,
 
Many thanks for your e-mail asking about my connection with author, Paul Gallico.  I worked for him during the time he lived in the picturesque small town of Salcombe, Devon, in the South West of England.  His home was very beautiful, with stunning views over North Sands (where my mother lives, to this day) and South Sands, towards Bolt Head; and the garden was terraced to take advantage of the south-westerly aspect. 

SINKING OF THE MV PRINCESS VICTORIA: A TRUE STORY

During my time as Paul Gallico's Personal Assistant, he was working on writing up the serialisation of the sinking of the Princess Victoria.  It was a harrowing tale, a true story, reminiscent of a miniature Titanic, in which every woman and child on board perished.  As a young and impressionable girl, myself, it had a profound effect on me at the time.  Though there were many, I now recall only two individual stories: that of a young nun who was almost prevented by illness from taking the voyage back to her Convent in Ireland, and who, because she did travel, subsequently drowned; and that of a young family who at the last moment took the decision not to travel because the baby had screamed throughout the previous night, with colic, and who, therefore, survived. 

MRS 'ARRIS WENT TO PARIS: A NOVEL

A prolific writer, Paul Gallico said of himself, "I'm a rotten novelist.  I just like to tell stories and all my books tell stories..." He was, also, a great reader. In addition to my other duties, I was employed to catalogue Mr Gallico's extensive library, and to field phone calls from his agent who was negotiating film rights for his bestselling novel Mrs 'Arris Goes To Paris.  Sitting in his book-lined library, speaking into a large black telephone to people from Hollywood, I thought I was the bees-knees.  In the event, however, it was to be many years before the film hit the small screen in the nineties, with Angela Lansbury in the lead role. 

WRITING HIS BOOKS

When the weather was fine, Mr Gallico liked to stroll in the grounds of his home, and I would follow behind with my shorthand notebook, while he dictated to me.  I would then type up my dictation on a huge Imperial typewriter when I returned to my parents' home in the evening.  My abiding memory is of the sweet scent of mimosa, from the tree which dominated one corner of the garden, mingling with the ever-present fragrance of Mr Gallico's pipe tobacco. 

THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE

When Mr Gallico fell ill, with phlebitis, dictation moved to his bedroom, where I perched on a chair while he lay in agony in his four-poster bed.  Soon afterwards, he departed for Antibes, where I was to have joined him, had I not met the man who was later to become my husband and terminated my employment.  There, having written The Poseidon Adventure, among other works, he died in 1976.
 
I have no recollection of Mr Gallico having been a heavy drinker, nor of his having been unkind. On the contrary, he introduced me to my first experience of game pie, often treated me to tasty titbits left over from dinner parties, and was always both courteous and charming in introducing me to his friends. All I can think is that the demands made upon any author - closeting oneself away to complete the writing process - may have taken its toll on his relationships. 

LUDMILLA: STORY TELLING AT ITS BEST

I'm afraid I know little of Mr Gallico's earlier life or his wives.  During my employment, he was visited frequently by a Baroness who, I believe, was alleged to have been his mistress.  Whether or not that was the case, I don't know.  I do know, however, that her husband and young daughter, Ludmilla - for whom the book of the same name had previously been written -were also visitors, and that the Baroness was very kind to me.  She gave me a fawn cashmere sweater (an undreamed of luxury in those days) and a black leather and suede designer handbag - both probably cast-offs, but treasured by me for many years. 

BOOKS SIGNED BY THE AUTHOR

My understanding is that Paul Gallico, an American citizen, was a conscientious objector and was, consequently, vilified by his native Americans.  In my view, America's loss was Britain's gain.  To this day, I have signed copies of his books, Thomasina and Flowers for Mrs 'Arris, plus a glowing testimonial of my work for him.  And, as an author, myself - inspired by my time with Paul Gallico - I can certainly identify with his description of the writing process, made in 1946: "It is only when you open your veins and bleed onto the page a little that you establish contact with your reader."  RIP Paul Gallico.

Your Comments:

Liz McGoldrick
27th January 2013
at 11:11am
Dear Ms Menzies,

I am currently reading Mrs Harris goes to Paris having first read it in my 20's. I love the story and am totally hooked by Mr Gallico's writing. I have not read the other Mrs Harris books but have them waiting.

The reason I am writing to you is that I had no idea that Mr Gallico lived in Salcombe. We have a house there (on Devon Rd) and I am so surprised that I have never seen or heard anything relating to the fact that he lived and worked there - not even in the local bookshop. I am interested to know where he lived and wonder if you would mind telling me. My 16 year old daugther is so excited !

Thanks for your help.

Liz McGoldrick

Dear Sir/Madam - I am a writer with National Geographic magazine. We would like to do an interview with Miss Menzies for publication this Christmas (2014). If you can help me contact her, I would be most greateful.

thanks!


Simon Worrall
23rd September 2014
at 9:01am
Dear Simon,
I did reply to you directly by email. Don't know if you received it? Mel

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