Phil Jackson’s old news is Updike’s too

James Warren, in a June 30, 2017 column for the Poynter website, noted that Phil Jackson (pictured), the “fabled pro basketball coach got canned as chief executive of the New York Knicks. It’s open season on him right now, with nary a positive word being written about him.

“It reminds me, however, of a 1992 Chicago Tribune piece that I helped broker: a meeting between Jackson, then coach of the Chicago Bulls, and John Updike. The late Tribune writer Paul Galloway did a knockout job, including catching the fact that Jackson knew one Updike book better than Updike, along with Jackson having some distinct views about what were then big changes at The New Yorker.

If that Updike-Jackson interview sounds familiar, it was reprinted in Conversations with John Updike (Univ. Press of Mississippi, 1994), ed. by James Plath.

How Rabbit, Run film was lost and found

Updike fans know that James Caan starred in a film version of Rabbit, Run that premiered in Reading and was so unwarmly received that the studio decided against a wider release. And Updike fans know that the film is rarely shown.

But who knew it was lost? And now found?

In “TCM Unearths the 1970 movie version of John Updike’s Rabbit, Run,” freelance journalist Shaw Conner cites a 2007 Reading Eagle story you may have missed. That article reported that “Rabbit, Run may have been lost forever if it wasn’t for Ray Dennis Steckler. Steckler, who made a name for himself in the ’70s for adult films such as Sexual Satanic Awareness and Red Heat (he also made the rather fabulously titled 1964 cheapie The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies), bought a 16mm print of the film for $1000 after seeing an ad for it in a magazine. Originally from Reading himself, Steckler wanted a little piece of home. He later gave the print to the organizer of a film festival in Berks County (a county in Pennsylvania that includes Reading).That print ended up at the Historical Society of Berks County.

Read the rest of the article.

John Updike letters sought

schiff-130x150The John Updike Letters Project

For those who may have missed the announcement, The John H. Updike Literary Trust has named John Updike Society vice president James Schiff as editor of a volume of John Updike’s letters.

Schiff, who edits The John Updike Review, expects to complete the project in 2020 and has begun collecting letters from institutional libraries, in addition to requesting them from private owners and recipients.

If you have letters, notes, or postcards from John Updike—a single one, or many—Schiff would appreciate receiving photocopies or digital scans. All materials and inquiries will be handled with care and discretion.

Contact:  James Schiff, 2 Forest Hill Dr., Cincinnati, OH  45208; (513) 284-6012;


Updike on the cover of a sex manual?

In a category that can only be termed “random news,” John Updike and Radiohead’s Thom Yorke are both featured on the cover of an Iranian sex manual titled Marital and Sexual Problems in Men. Though the story is recent, based on a Tehran tweeter, the book itself was spotted three years ago by journalist Sobhan Hassanvand. Updike would no doubt be amused, not only by the cover but by what passes for “news” on the Internet. Updike’s pose seems to be from a promo shot from his collection of short stories, Trust Me. Here’s the story link.


Ipswich saves a part of its most celebrated tree

ElmMembers who attended the Second Biennial John Updike Conference and took the walking tour of Ipswich led by Michael Updike got to see the town’s most famous tree . . . before it had to be cut down.

Now, a part of that tree lives on at the Ipswich Library as a table.

“The table was crafted from the town’s storied American Elm tree which stood on the corner of County and East streets until it succumbed to Dutch Elm disease and was felled in 2012,” Amanda Ostuni writes in “Ipswich Library turns a beloved tree into a unique piece of furniture.”

“The tree was more than 250 years old and was referenced in the writings of John Updike. When it was felled, the Ipswich Shade Tree and Beautification Committee decided to distribute the wood among local artisans, woodworkers, furniture makers and builders to use to craft special items.”

The Friends of Ipswich Library commissioned craftsman Fred Rossi of Manchester to create a table out of the wood.

“‘It’s a round 36-inch diameter table that sits in front of the fireplace [in the Rogers reading room] and they wanted to preserve the history of the tree,’ said Rossi. ‘So I came up with a design that would be round, invoking a section of the tree, but made it in 16 sections that radiated out.'”

See also:  “True to the tree: Library to unveil Ipswich Elm Table.”

John Updike: In Memory Flickr group started


Michelle Kinsey Bruns has started a Flickr group page devoted to “John Updike: In Memory” for the purpose of discussion and photo-sharing.

She writes, “I noticed that many John Updike fans are posting photos of their Updike book collections today—the day after the great author’s death. There are some wonderful tributes out there on Flickr (I find the photos of overseas editions of Updike’s books especially fascinating!), but there was no group in which to collect them all. So I created one. Please contribute your Updike-related photos here, for the enjoyment of all of us who loved his work.”

Her first post is titled “In Reading, Pa., Memories and Monuments…”


Michael Updike: Moran’s haul wasn’t trash

We received the following note and accompanying materials from Michael Updike, who notes that the bags that Paul Moran famously hauled away from his father’s Beverly Farms curbside contained much more than trash, and offers an important donation if Moran will donate his part to The John Updike Childhood House:

Dear John Updike Society,
As you know my father, as a young aspiring cartoonist, sent off fan letters asking established cartoonist for original artwork. I have enclosed a letter to Harold Gray of The Blondie strip that has miraculously survived.
The most famous successes to these letters were original works by Saul Stienberg and James Thurber. These were in the exhibit of JHU items at the Boston conference and mentioned in Due Consideration P.612 . Another bit of booty was this original Mickey Finn strip by Lank Leonard. It is signed in cartoon capitals “-TO JOHN UPDIKE-WITH ALL THE BEST FROM Lank Leonard”. It has been kicking around our house ever since I remember. At some point (circa mid seventies) the last three panels went missing. The tape had long given way. I assumed they were lost for good to the far corners of the house or thrown out. Recently, to my great surprise, the lost panels showed up on The Other John Updike Archive. I can only assume that my father took them during the divorce and they went to the trash shortly before or after his demise. My siblings and I would love to see the two parts of this comic reunited after forty years of separation. We would happily donate our half of the work to the John Updike House if the other owner would donate as well.
Thanks very Much



January 2, 1948

Mr. Harold Gray
c/o New York News Syndicate
220 East 42nd Street
New York 17, New York

Dear Mr. Gray:

I don’t suppose that I am being original when I admit that ORPHAN ANNIE is, and has been for a long time, my favorite comic strip. There are many millions like me. The appeal of your comic strip is an American phenomenon that has affected the public for many years, and will, I hope, continue to do so for many more.

I admire the magnificent plotting of Annie’s adventures. They are just as adventure strips should be–fast moving, slightly macabre (witness Mr. Am), occasionally humorous, and above all, they show a great deal of the viciousness of human nature. I am very fond of the gossip-in-the-street scenes you frequently use. Contrary to comic-strip tradition, the people are not pleasantly benign, but gossiping, sadistic, and stupid, which is just as it really is.

Your villains are completely black and Annie and crew are practically perfect, which is as it should be. To me there is nothing more annoying in a strip than to be in the dark as to who is the hero and who the villain. I like the methods in which you polish off your evil-doers. One of my happiest moments was spent in gloating over some hideous child (I forget his name) who had been annoying Annie toppled into the wet cement of a dam being constructed. I hate your villains to the point where I could rip them from the paper. No other strip arouses me so. For instance, I thought Mumbles was cute.

Your draughtsmanship is beyond reproach. The drawing is simple and clear, but extremely effective. You could tell just by looking at the faces who is the trouble maker and who isn’t, without any dialogue. The facial features, the big, blunt fingered hands, the way you handle light and shadows are all excellently done. Even the talk balloons are good, the lettering small and clean, the margins wide, and the connection between the speaker and his remark wiggles a little, all of which, to my eye, is as artistic as you can get.

All this well-deserved praise is leading up to something, of course, and the catch is a rather big favor I want you to do for me. I need a picture to alleviate the blankness of one of my bedroom walls, and there is nothing that I would like better than a little momento of the comic strip I have followed closely for over a decade. So–could you possibly send me a little autographed sketch of Annie that you have done yourself? I realize that you probably have some printed cards you send to people like me, but could you maybe do just a quick sketch by yourself? Nothing funny, just what you have done yourself. I you cannot do this (and I really wouldn’t blame you) will you send me anything you like, perhaps an original comic strip? Whatever I get will be appreciated, framed, and hung.


(Signed, ‘John Updike’)

John Updike
Elverson P. D. #2

Moran did the Updike world a huge favor when he saved all those bags from the dumpster, and the Society would have loved to bid on them. They would have made for terrific exhibits for The John Updike Childhood Home at 117 Philadelphia Avenue in Shillington, Pa., where Updike said his “artistic eggs were hatched.” Hopefully they’ll end up in a public, not private, collection.

The John Updike Society is committed to building a world-class author home museum, and anyone with materials to donate or offer for sale should contact Society president James Plath, We are a 501c3 non-profit organization so all donations are tax deductible, and all donors will be acknowledged at the point of exhibit. We are also planning a donor wall where all who donate $500 or more, cash or in-kind, will be honored.

Vintage Centaur review is anything but kind

In a review of The Centaur published in the February 1, 1963 issue of The New York Review of Books, now online, Jonathan Miller takes Updike to task for “a poor novel irritatingly marred by good features.”

Such as?

“Updike’s didactic allegory suffers by contrast with the delicacy with which Joyce uses the myth of Daedalus. . . . Updike’s quotations, his pretentious index, and interpolated episodes of mythical narrative simply provide an irritating distraction.”

One has to wonder what Miller’s reaction was when The Centaur was awarded the National Book Award. And John Updike Society members who listened to Adam Sexton gush about how his students at the Parsons School of Design really respond to The Centaur will wonder if Miller read the same book.

Here’s the whole review:  “Off-Centaur.”

The Atlantic on The Other John Updike Archive

Ever since Paul Moran began sharing Updike ephemera on a blog called The Other John Updike Archive (the link to which you can find on our home page), Updike scholars have been wondering where he got the materials—with many speculating that he may have rescued them from a dumpster after Updike died.

Now in a story titled “The Man Who Made Off With John Updike’s Trash” by Adrienne LaFrance, posted on The Atlantic website on August 28, 2014, the mystery is explained . . . sort of.

Moran, a bicyclist, cycled past the Updike house and grabbed bags of trash, some of which Updike himself had just carried out. He did this regularly, and the family didn’t seem to mind, Moran says. Martha Updike is not quoted—only Estate literary agent Andrew Wylie, who says that Moran would “steal the Updike’s trash bags every Wednesday” and that the family tried to get him to stop.

The article is subtitled “Who really owns a great writer’s legacy?” but the law is pretty clear here. It’s not illegal to take someone’s trash from the curb. People do it in every town everywhere in America, so Moran did nothing against the law. And if he had taken the items after what amounted to an Estate housecleaning, thrown away after Updike’s death, he could be considered heroic for saving things that future scholars might find useful. I would have done it myself.

Even if he got the items while Updike was still alive, if there was no objection, where’s the foul? The problem, for some people, comes if the Updikes truly did want him to stop. That adds a moral dimension to it, and as someone who’s put the brakes on an idea the minute that Updike objected, my own inclination on such things has always been to abide by Updike’s wishes. Still, there are other collectors and scholars who would argue that preservation of the materials is more important than personal feelings, just as Updike, as we read in Begley’s recent biography, put fiction ahead of people. And it’s not clear from the Atlantic article whether the family truly objected, or to what degree. One quote from a literary agent doesn’t make the case.

The law is pretty clear regarding the items themselves. The physical items are owned by whoever bought or in this case salvaged them. And it’s terrific that Moran has chosen to share them with the world. He can get away with “publishing” items like the Hotel Algonquin bill, or ticket stubs, or invitations, or a call to jury duty, because they’re artifacts not subject to intellectual property law. Any drawings that Updike did, any doodles, any notes, anything that expressed a thought or opinion of his are covered by that law and Moran cannot make those items public because the content is owned by the Updike Estate, even though he owns the physical objects.

Puzzles remain, though: Updike was a pack-rat. He saved everything. So why throw away these things after holding onto them so long, especially all of those old slides and photographs? Why not give the latter to his children? I know from talking with him that he cared very little about the honorary degrees, but I find it hard to believe that he didn’t include them with the Harvard materials, or that “Mrs. Updike said it was fine and she was glad [the honorary degrees Moran found and sold] were going to support a local bookstore.”

So there are aspects about this that we may never know. Moran is quoted as saying that “he’s looked for permanent homes for the archive” but “says everyone he’s approached has turned him down.” Maybe he wants something in return, and the price is too high. But I do know that if the items were displayable and not a violation of intellectual property laws, if the items were Pennsylvania-related, and if the board of The John Updike Childhood Home approved, some of those items would find quite a welcome home.


Gallery features vintage, current Reading photos

Screen Shot 2014-08-24 at 8.21.55 PMFaulkner had his Yoknapatawpha County, and Steinbeck the Salinas Valley. For Updike it was his boyhood borough of Shillington and the nearby big city of Reading, Pa.

Newsworks recently posted a gallery of “Photos: Then and Now, Reading places and faces” that includes shots of the Pagoda and the Reading Public Museum—the latter especially of interest because the facade has changed.