Gordon Merrick and the Great Gay American Novel is the first biography of Gordon Merrick, the most commercially successful writer of gay novels in the twentieth century. This book shows how Merrick’s novels were largely based on his own life and time as a Princeton theater star, a Broadway actor, a New York reporter, an OSS spy, and the friend of countless artists and celebrities as an expatriate in France, Greece, and Sri Lanka. He lived much of his life as an openly gay man with his longtime partner, Charles Hulse. His 1970 novel, The Lord Won’t Mind, broke new ground by showing that an affirming, explicitly gay novel could be a bestseller. His subsequent gay novels were both a cultural phenomenon and a lightning rod for literary critics. This book also examines the complex, often conflicting responses to Merrick’s novels by gay readers and critics, and it thus recovers the early post-Stonewall debates over the definition of “gay literature.” By reconstructing Merrick’s life and critical fortunes, this book expands our understanding of what it means to be a gay man in the twentieth century.
Joseph M. Ortiz is associate professor of English at the University of Texas at El Paso.
List of Figures
Introduction: Autobiography of a Gay Reader
Chapter One: An American Dynasty
Chapter Two: Et Ego In Arcadia: Princeton
Chapter Three: The Great White Way
Chapter Four: The Spy
Chapter Five: The Postwar Novelist
Chapter Six: Connecting with Forster
Chapter Seven: The Protest Novelist
Chapter Eight: The Dancer from San Francisco
Chapter Nine: The Island of Dreams
Chapter Ten: The Great Gay American Novel
Chapter Eleven: Getting It Published
Chapter Twelve: The Irene Rockwood Phenomenon
Chapter Thirteen: Going Greek, or Making a Gay Mythology
Chapter Fourteen: A Return to the Stage
Chapter Fifteen: Adventures in the East
Chapter Sixteen: Rewriting the Past
Chapter Seventeen: Merrick vs. Kramer
Chapter Eighteen: Imperfect Freedom
Afterword: Gay Literary Canons
About the Author
Joseph Ortiz’s book about Gordon Merrick is a meticulously researched and beautifully written biography. Merrick was a Broadway actor who spent time in OSS during World War II before becoming one of America’s earliest and most successful gay novelists. This is not only a rich portrait of an important and previously neglected cultural figure: it is also a terrific social history spanning fifty years of the 20th Century. Anyone curious about the gay culture that flourished in the decades before Stonewall will have a wonderful time reading this book.
Only a major biography could unravel the myth and the reality of Gordon Merrick, actor, journalist, WW II spy, novelist, and finally bestselling gay author living on an exotic island. Joseph Ortiz reveals the man and the talent that captivated loyal readers for decades.