Sunday, September 28, 2008

James Crumley, meet Paul Newman

"When I finally caught up with Abraham Traherne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic
bulldog named Fireball Roberts, in a ramshackle joint just outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon."

James Crumley
The Last Good Kiss

“Yeah, well, sometimes nothin' can be a real cool hand.”
Cool Hand Luke

It was a tough week for me last week. Two of my favorite entertainers died. James Crumley died at the age of 68. Pretty young by today’s standards. And to bookend the terrible week, Paul Newman died Friday at the age of 83. That’s a more acceptable age I guess.

Everyone knew Paul Newman. Those blue eyes; the great work he did with his charitable food line. And the movies. Who could forget those. The Verdict is still one of my favorites of his and I still argue that he should have won the Oscar that year for best actor. The Sting. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Hombre. Color of Money. The Hustler. Slap Shot. The list is pretty long. Paul Newman deserves those accolades. He lived his life well – a life one could emulate and be quite happy – even if you weren’t a movie star.

But James Crumley, on the other hand, is a bit of an enigma. He never had a best seller. He never rose above the level of “cult writer” despite critical acclaim. Something just didn’t click for him like it did for Paul Newman. But I, like many crime writers, credit Crumley as one of my inspirations when I started writing. There was something earthy and real about his characters and his writing. They were deeply flawed people that did violent things in gritty locations. He was a very fine writer that deserved a wider audience. But then, maybe he didn’t care.

And that’s were these two men intersect. They lived their lives as they wanted – doing the things that gave them joy. They excelled at their crafts, and while one of them achieved worldwide stardom, the other lived quietly in Missoula, Montana. But they are equals in my eye.
And I suspect in that bar behind the pearly gates, the two men are sitting next to each other drinking the heart out of a fine spring day. Yeah, sometimes nothin’ can be a real cool hand.

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