Dialogue in the Age of
Paul Twitchell's Early Careers
The files at the Paducah Library, offer some fascinating articles that shed light on Paul's early writing career. His first attention came from his poetry, as I reported in The Coins of Gold story. Shortly after this book of poems was published, Paul decided to try a career as a freelance writer. A little over one year later, the following story appeared in a local newspaper. It offers some interesting insights:
LOCAL WRITER IS ATTAINING WIDE FAME FOR WORK
According to word received here Paul Twitchell 1625 N. 12th is rated one of the highest in the history of free lancing, in selling and publishing during the first year of any writer.
Twitchell who took to the task of free-lancing in 1940 has sold and published more than 100 articles, stories and poems. Approximately 75,000 words in the form of news items, syndicated stories, magazine fiction, articles, and features reached this new all-time record, to appear over Twitchell's name. His works have been received by such institutions as Harvard, Yale, University of Michigan, Dartmouth and many others, while the Kentucky library at Western State College of Bowling Green, Kentucky collects every word he writes for their files. He has been exploiting legends, stories and news of the lower river country of Western Kentucky in a style which has caught the public eye so well that the Literary Florida Magazine is reputed in saying that he is to become a great Kentuckian.
During 1940 Twitchell reached his peak in December in which he scored a serial, two fiction, one article and numerous syndicated features and stories. In the Fireside Chatter of West Albany N. Y. appeared the first installment of UNTIL TOMORROW, a serial while two short pieces of fiction BURIED TREASURE and A MOTHER'S JOB came out in the Whip Magazine of Washington, D. C. and West Albany. His article A GREAT NAVAL EXPLOIT, was in Our Navy, the official publication of the Naval Department.
Twitchell also endorsed a national known typewriter. His statement and picture will be used in the early part of 1941 for a nation-wide advertising campaign. He was given an honorary membership in the Eugene Field's Society which is one of the largest associations of authors and journalists in the country. There are only fourteen honorary members on the roster which contains such names as Mme Eve Curie, Lowell Thomas, Mark Van Doren, Walter De La Mare, E. Phillips Oppenheim, Edgar Lee Masters, Robert Frost and Rupert Hughes.
David Lane would probably question the facts in this story. I can only say that a number of the points are corroborated by files from the Paducah Library. Chapter Twenty-Three from Paul's serial, UNTIL TOMORROW was found, along with a number of the pieces on Western Kentucky history. And believe it or not, the professional publicity photo of a very young and good looking Paul posed next to a typewriter, was also preserved.
I wonder if anyone near Western Kentucky could check out the Kentucky library at Western State College of Bowling Green. There might be a collection of Paul's writings still there.
Here's a short article mentioning Paul from OUR NAVY, about mid-1942:
A good way of fighting for America - and NOT against it - is to JOIN THE NAVY - as did our associate editor, Paul Twitchell, whose photo appears below.
Paul is no "warrior" by nature . . . He is the kindest fellow you would ever want to meet - Yet, between writing tripe to further confuse Americans - and between writing good clear-cut material and joining America's War Effort, he CHOSE the second alternative.
Today PAUL is a Chief Petty Officer at Norfolk, Va. - and his writing output continues.
He does not, however, write SAGAS to breed Inter-American Disunity. He writes "enjoyable stories", such as that which has just been brought to light by THE FIRESIDE PRESS, of West Albany, N. Y. - And which entertains; uplifts; helps Americans to bear the depressing news of war with a smile, and with the good cheer that is essential to our NATIONAL MORALE.
We recommend "The Blue Coupe" by Paul Twitchell, as an amazing good book for all Americans, from Cape Cod to Cape Horn.
It is skillfully written; cleverly worded; human to the core - and as frank and open as is Paul Twitchell, the Writer. - And Paul Twitchell, the Sailor!
(For further dope on it - Fireside Press, West Albany, N. Y.) - (The Chief Ed.)
Imagine that, Paul being called frank and open!
Unfortunately, I see no copies from The Blue Coupe, which sounds like an interesting story. However, I found the following article on Paul the most revealing, since it shows us the great efforts he made to be successful as a writer.
This piece is from The Courier-Journal, Louisville, Kentucky, Roto Magazine Section, dated November 7, 1943:
This is the story of a fortunate victim of circumstances.
He's sold some 1,800 stories and articles in three years as a writer, but his first effort was turned down over a hundred times before it passed the desk of an editor of a small magazine. Punctuation of the story was terrible, spelling even worse, but this editor thought the many errors were intentional and the mark of a new, individualized style of writing. Whereupon he hailed the author as a genius, published the story and entered it in a contest in which it won $125 second prize.
"He" in this case in Ensign Paul Twitchell of Paducah, and that's the way he broke into the writing business. Since then he has gained wide recognition and has been tagged "one of America's most prolific writers," by such authorities as columnists Charles Driscoll and Walter Winchell.
Twitchell, a short, light-haired citizen, is a jack of all trades. In his relatively few years he has been, in addition to writer and sailor, a star high school and college athlete, a physical director, track coach, swimming coach, college athletic trainer, member of two college faculties, recreation director, professional baseball scout and river traffic manager for an oil company. However, his strong point, aside from his ability to grind out a story on just about any subject, is his ability as a promoter.
It's no exaggeration to say Twitchell sold himself as a writer. When a story was red-slipped by one magazine, he simply mailed it to another, absolutely refusing to allow rejections to discourage him. And all this effort has paid off.
Until 1940 he had no intention of becoming a writer. He was answering telephones for an oil company in Paducah when, one day, he thought it would be nice if he were a writer. So he sat down and wrote a story which he called "Old Cap'n Bagby and Mr. Scratch." The story was mailed and started collecting rejection slips until it was read by the editor of The Waterways Journal. He's the fellow who called Twitchell a genius.
Even after breaking the ice with his first story, he didn't find it easy sailing. In order to catalogue his market, he set up personal contacts with over 1,000 magazines and learned the kind of articles each would be interested in. Some stories would be returned as many as fifty times before being accepted. At one time he had around 300 stories in the mail. A number made the rounds and were never bought, others were accepted the first time out.
Twitchell works on the theory that no market, even the lowest pulp magazine, is too small. He sells his work to editors who will publish it. Most of his articles have appeared in such little-known publications as Reflections Magazine, Stepladder Magazine, The Athletic Journal, Echoes Magazine, and Popular Poetry. But his work has been read and his name has gotten around. He also has hit some of the big-time markets, including Liberty, Life and the American.
Twitchell has been featured in Ripley's syndicated cartoon column six times in four years, but his initial appearance in "Believe It Or Not" was the result of a pure misunderstanding. A Western Kentucky farmer, living near Paducah, had made a mailbox in the shape of a prehistoric animal. Twitchell made a picture of the box and sent it to Ripley, believing he would be paid for the contribution. He wasn't paid, but the cartoonist did draw the box and credit Twitchell with being the owner. For several weeks after the cartoon appeared people from all over Western Kentucky kept dropping by the Twitchell home just to take a peek at the oddity.
But Ripley's isn't the only stranger-than-fiction column Twitchell has made. His unusual rise has caught the eye of others, among them John Hix and R. J. Scott.
Since entering the Navy soon after Pearl Harbor, Twitchell has found time to sell 125 stories. Before the Japs struck their low blow he was in line for a commission, but after December 7 he decided to enlist. He was assigned to the Seabees at Camp Endicott, R. I., as welfare and recreation man. He received his commission some months ago and was sent into training as a gunnery officer. His training now is completed and he is waiting for orders to board ship.
Apparently Paul's early spelling was atrocious. Another article, printed years later, records Mattie Twitchell (Clyde's wife) as saying that Camille Ballowe, who Paul married in 1941, had to correct everything Paul wrote. Even in his later life, Paul had the strange ability to pick the wrong word or spell it incorrectly. Most ECKists look upon this trait of Paul's in a humorous and fond manner, and have learned that one must always try to understand what Paul is really saying, because the words don't always match.
The Library files show lists of magazines that Paul submitted to, and a list of 16 articles that Paul sent to the Paducah Library librarian, Miss Harriet Bosswell, along with the following note:
Dear Miss Bosswell:
I'm going to start sending to you a copy of the publications in which my stories appear! Don't be surprised if I send in pictures, etc.
I'm awful busy but think of my friends, in Paducah, quite often. Give my regards to all.
None of the 16 articles listed were found in the files, and they are all different from the names of stories mentioned in the articles on Paul. Besides this, there are perhaps a couple dozen stories that made it into print under Paul's name, from his early writing days. Following are a couple short ones to give you a flavor of Paul's early writing:
The Wreckers of Goat Island
By Paul Twitchell
July 5, 1940
Fiction has given to the ancient coast of Cornwall, in England, a great place in our world of books with legends and stories of the wreckers. But not many readers would believe that during the flatboat days in western Kentucky that there were desperate bands of such wreckers operating in the vicinity of Paducah.
The Wilson gang who had their headquarters on Hurricane Island near Cave-In-Rock, was one of the worst bands of river pirates in history. Their plans of operation were simple. The cave was made up as a house for entertainment where the crews of richly laden flatboats were lured and in short order made away with while the pirates took the boats on to New Orleans to keep down suspicion.
When this band was broken up it was well numbered over fifty members with such well known outlaws as Little and Big Harpes, Meason, Murrell and others.
But near Paducah, just below the city, on an island which is today called Goat Island were a band of boatwreckers who roamed the brakes from that headquarters to the Mississippi.
This band of pirates worked in the usual manner. They would never hesitate to boldly attack the boat-crew or secretly scuttle the craft when thought necessary. Their plans of operation were to lure the crew into a card game, which the boatmen were passionately fond of, and cheat them out of everything they possessed. When this plan failed the wreckers usually offered their services as pilot, or by suggestion from the shore, which insured fatal injury to the boat. At other times they would creep into the boat when tied up for the night and bore holes in the bottom or dig out the caulking. As soon as it showed sings of sinking, these miscreants would swarm out in skiffs to assist saving the cargo, which they would convey to secret places along the river beyond discovery.
If the captain became bold enough to search for it he usually met with a mysterious death.
After U.S. troops were placed at Fort Massac this band gradually ceased to exist.
By Paul Twitchell
Jan, Feb, March 1941
Every now and then, Kate Mae Sullivan would look towards the white road that stretched across the valley.
The dust lay unbroken, and in the evening sunlight her eyes reflected the mute agony that was in her brain....
She rose slowly from her chair and moved to the edge of the porch, looking and hoping that they would not come after him... From the rear of the house came the sound of a dog barking and several children squawking.
She waited, trembling with indecision as she heard the vanishing steps of her husband going into his room... It was better to act as tho nothing had happened... in case someone came.
Soon little Dave would be coming home from school and he was innocent of any knowledge that his father (who was to have been executed at Eddyville in five hours...) had escaped and just come home.
He didn't know either - that the Sheriff had called that morning and said, "Twon't do you no good, Kate Mae... There ain't nothing that'll stay John's execution... He's the Night Rider that killed Al Jones last year on Mitch's creek. The court done proved that he flogged old man Jones to death!"
"But how could John kill him when he was with me that night?" Kate Mae had said - as bitterly as she had in court... John didn't do it. I know he didn't. He couldn't have!"
The sheriff had turned slightly in his saddle, looking down on her with hard eyes. Kate Mae looked back at him - deciding that there was little use for tears... She had spent herself of all grief.
The sheriff noticed that his pipe had gone out, he felt in the pocket of his jacket, took off his right glove and reached for a match. Then lighting his pipe he looked at her again....... "T'ain't much you kin do, Kate Mae - I reckun t'ain't much anybody kin do for him." He then dug his spurs into the belly of the mare he was riding, and was gone. And that's all there was to it.
But now, as the eyes of Kate Mae caught the sight of rising dust dissolving and forming horsemen... her heart constricted with fear... The men wore dark hoods and carried black-snake whips. The dog growled. With a quick motion Kate Mae fled into the house. She slammed the door, bolted it, then reached for the long rifle. With it poked through the window, she watched the riders pulling to a halt by the side of the road... For a moment they talked... One of them - a big fellow pointed to the house - "That's where she is."
"I reckon so..." another said - "But we ain't got no right to flog a woman."
Her heart leaped. Now she knew!... The Night Riders were afraid to hurt her... Oh, why hadn't she thought of it before! "John, slip down to the shed and hitch the mare," she said - "Take it out thru the pasture and then down to the creek. Quick, now, and don't let them see you!..." John left. And looking out again she saw other riders coming up the slope.
Slowly she raised the rifle and sighted. The kickback almost threw her off balance. She looked again. The Night Riders had scattered; those who had gotten off their horses now quickly ran for them; others dropped to the ground or headed for the trees.
Kate Mae did not wait any longer. She fled, with the pistol shots echoing still in her brain, then she found John waiting for her in the buggy.
It was a nightmarial ride... Dust choking her and that awful feeling that tore at her breast.
Somehow she clung to the rocking buggy, feverishly cracking the whip on the back of the panting mare...
Each mile to Smithland grew longer, but she fought for self control.
What would Judge Smith say?... Would he believe her? Or would it all be useless?...
The sun faded and darkness filled the space... John fell asleep on the buggy from sheer exhaustion... It had been many nights since he had been able to sleep in that calaboose waiting for his death.
The lathered mare slowed down to a stiff walk, then at the sight of water, quickened its pace... The buggy rolled into the creek and the mare drank noisily.
It was late when Kate Mae drove into Smithland. She pulled the mare to a halt before the little clapboard house where a weathered sign creaked in the wind. She knocked on the door with her bony fist. Hardly had she knocked than a long bearded man with iron-gray hair and stooped shoulders came on the threshold.
"'Evenin', Miss Sullivan," came Judge Smith's pleasant voice - "I've been trying to find you... Sent my boy out to your place a while ago..."
"I know now who killed Al Jones --" The grey eyes searched her, but they did not show the incredulity that was in the Judge's mind. "You've suffered a lot, Miss Sullivan, come on in and sit down --"
"But Judge, I tell you I know who did it!" insisted Kate Mae. "This time I can prove it."
"But how?" asked Judge Smith.
"Well --- you 'member Mirandy Jones saying the leader of the Rider who killed Al had a crescent shaped scar on his right hand?... Well, I saw it today when the Sheriff took off his glove to reach for a match!"
"Tarnation," said Judge Smith - "So that's why the critter always wore gloves?"
"Well, don't you fret now, Miss Sullivan. Your man is just as good as with you."
Smiling... Kate Mae said, "Yes, his is just as good as with me!..."
From the articles I see, a number of Paul's early pieces were either based on interesting little historical events, often forgotten or overlooked, which Paul wove into interesting stories. Many of them were stories from the Civil War, or Revolutionary War, such as a piece he called, The Madness of Anthony Wayne, which tells how General Anthony Wayne came to be called "Mad Anthony" Wayne. And another long, but interesting article about how the song, Yankee Doodle, had started as a song sung by the British to mock the Americans, but ended with the Revolutionary War as a song sung by the Americans to mock the British.
Both of those stories are too long to print here, but here is one last piece. It is from OUR NAVY, dated October 1943, and clearly shows the shadow of World War II in its storyline:
At Three O'Clock
By Paul Twitchell
Jim Ryan, Gunner's Mate, First Class, was rolling a cigarette as he planned to kill the Nazified Frenchman, Rodolph Gauiter, who say across from him drinking his wine from a small glass. The clock on the wall said five minutes to three. As he took a white leaf from the little book of cigarette papers he carried in his tunic, a still fear made his hands tremble. The wine glass! The wine glass! The wine glass! The words hammered through his brain until they became clanging, clashing cymbals!
"About this poilu, Monsieur? Tell me, who is he?" the Frenchman said.
"No!" Jim's reply was abrupt and definite.
The Frenchman twisted his mustache with a sharp movement. His face flushed and he sat forward quickly. The wine glass was twisting nervously in his long fingers.
"It means your freedom! A pass to the coast! And a ship to safety!" His thin lips held a smirk.
Jim suddenly laughed. He felt as if he were a cat toying with the mouse. He kept watching the glass go round and round! There was a symbol of death in the rich red wine. Then with hard mirthless eyes he stared at his companion.
"A bargain is a bargain! There might be ways of bargaining with people like you!" Jim said.
He turned to his cigarette smoking, shook the tobacco into the little trough of paper, glanced at the shadowy window on the fire-escape. It could be opened without making any sound. Outside in the cold drizzling rain, guards in Nazi gray patrolled the hospital grounds. It should have been called a concentration camp instead. Beyond the hedge he could see the gray wall where at three o'clock the doomed French soldier would stand blind-folded, to receive a bitter reward for his loyalty to his country. But Jim drew his mind back to his own problem. They had sent messages through to the American Red Cross headquarters in London that Jim Ryan was seriously wounded and being cared for at a base hospital in Vichy. He had been picked up at sea after being washed overboard. No American warship ever stops for "Man overboard" during war time. This message was probably accepted without suspicion that he was a prisoner.
Rodolph Gauiter saw that his prisoner was thinking strange thoughts. He sat down his glass, said in a silky voice: "Have a German-made cigarette, Monsieur, you clutter the floor with tobacco."
Jim Ryan said: "Don't bother, go ahead with you wine!" The room hung around him, a shadowy globed space. Through the curved window, as if more Nazi tricks were playing fantastic things with his mind, he saw one of his own American ambulances filled with German wounded roll through the gate. But always as before his roved farther on to the gray wall where death was to play its role. He let his glance come back to the smug Latin face and said again: "I prefer American milkweed to your best Nazi smoke!"
The Frenchman flushed. His voice lost its easiness that had been trying to bait Ryan. He said: "Your precious American products will be a thing of the past when the New Order is established." Jim Ryan laughed. The clock had ticked off a half minute. The Frenchman rattled on: "I've been faithful to the party and under the old regime I would have had nothing!"
Jim Ryan was silent. He was silent for several reasons. Good reasons, too! And the best one was to think. This Nazified Frenchman had kept him a prisoner for a cause. Somewhere in the building the condemned Frenchman was making his last prayers to God. And alone. The Nazis didn't believe in priests. Rodolph Gauiter was curious about this French soldier who had tried to help Ryan escape. The air was heavy with tension. He twisted the ends of the cigarette with slow grinding fingers, and said: "A man must be low to betray his country!"
The Frenchman thrust his hands forward in a quick nervous movement over the desk. His hands locked around each other and wrestled as though a dire something was clasped between them.
The Frenchman said: "You Americans never have understood the European way of thinking and doing."
Ryan lit a cigarette with a steady hand although inside of him was a rising fear. He stared long at the wine glass! Any moment now would come the sound of rifle fire. The clock upon the wall said three minutes to three. It would be well not to interfere with fate. He said: "I'll need your signature on a pass."
A shadow fell upon the Frenchman's dark face, blurring its outline and the strange look it wore stayed in the American's mind.
"I'll give you that pass if you'll answer one question for me."
"I must have the pass first - "
The hands unlocked. For a moment the pen scratches made the only sound in the room. The Frenchman thrust it across the desk, then drained his wine, and said: "This poilu. He is a member of a secret organization trying to assassinate Frenchmen who have turned to Germany for aid. I can counteract those orders for his death if you are willing to tell who he is and how I can find the others - "
Ryan drew on his cigarette deliberately. His eyes moved from the Frenchman across to the window and to the clock. It was two minutes until three. He said: "You don't have time to counteract those orders now. The poilu will be dead in two minutes. He is Jacque Gauiter, your own son, who saved my life. To repay him for that I have placed in that last glass of port a tablet of bichloride of mercury that I stole from the medical room. At exactly three o'clock when your son dies for liberty, you'll die for treachery."
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Copyright © 2000 by Doug Marman