Interviews and Appearances
Sunday, January 7, 2017: Modern Language Association convention. I was part of a panel on the future of literary biography.
October 18, 2017: Out of focus image, sort of how I feel after completing my work on 105 boxes in the Carvel Collins Collection at the Harry Ransom Research Center, University of Texas at Austin. Collins began work on a Faulkner biography in 1948, doing interviews with many of those who were dead by the time Joseph Blotner began work on his Faulkner biography. The Collins collection is a treasure trove. He was still at work on his Faulkner biography more than forty years later when he died, never having written a word of the biography but making many contributions to Faulkner research and scholarship. I once asked Collins when his biography would be published. He paused and said: “I haven’t yet found the figure in the carpet.”
An entire weekend celebrating the iconic actor and Wallowa County local, Walter Brennan. In 1940, Brennan purchased the 12,000-acre Lightning Creek Ranch twenty miles south of Joseph, Oregon. He built the Indian Lodge Motel, a movie theater and a variety store in Joseph, and continued going there between film roles until his death in 1974 at the age of eighty. Some of Brennan’s family continue to live in the area.
Thursday, April 28 at 7 PM – FILM “THE WESTERNER”, with Gary Cooper and Walter Brennan as Judge Roy Bean. Brennan won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Event is free, but donations are welcome.
Friday, April 29 at 7 PM – Book Signing and Talk with Carl Rollyson – author of A Real American Character: The Life of Walter Brennan. Free, but donations welcome.
Saturday, April 30 at 2 PM & 7 PM One man play, “The Old Character: Walter Brennan in His Own Words”. Written by Rollyson, performed by La Grande actor and high school professor Kevin Cahill, who has appeared in many EOU plays, most recently as King Lear. Admission is $5, students free.
Past Events and Interviews
On the way to work in the M. Thomas Inge Faulkner Collection at West Point, the best defended Faulkner collection in the world.
Inside the Faulkner room at West Point
On May 30 & 31, 2015, I appeared on the Lifetime Channel's two documentaries about Marilyn Monroe.
October 8, 2014: New York Presbyterian Hospital about Marilyn Monroe.
Story behind the Story: Carl Rollyson’s American Isis.
Seaman, Donna (author).
First published January 1, 2013 (Booklist).
When you look at the impressive list of biographies Carl Rollyson has written over the past 25 years or so, you notice that most are about women and that they fall into two categories: writers and actors. What’s the link?
“I think the thing that fuses the writers and Hollywood people I’m interested in is that the writers had a connection with Hollywood, or they had what I would call a Hollywood personality. Writers who project themselves. Like Martha Gellhorn. She came from St. Louis, but in her maturity, she had this almost British accent. She had completely reinvented herself, just like an actress. Susan Sontag, too. She had an aura, an image, a public persona, and she maintained it even through her struggles with cancer, just like a Hollywood figure. Poet Amy Lowell, whom I’m writing about now, had an incredible interest in the theater and the ability to project herself onstage. She lived all of her adult life with a marvelous actress, Ada Russell, who coached her on how to speak in public.”
We spoke with Rollyson via phone, which was like plugging into a generator, he has so much energy. Zealous in his mission to portray “people of destiny,” he revels in every challenge biographers face. When we asked him how he managed to be so prolific, you could hear him smile.
“I have a secret weapon, my wife, Lisa Paddock, who coauthored the Susan Sontag biography. Even when we’re not writing books together, she’s a super editor. Not only does she have a PhD in English; she also has a law degree. As a biographer, I’ve gotten into lots of trouble when working with living figures, so when legal issues come up, I have my at-home attorney as well as editor.”
Rollyson heard the call to biography during the summer of 1980 when he was reading books about Marilyn Monroe in preparation for writing an academic bio-bibliography. An actor before he became a professor, he realized that none of the biographers “had any idea of how acting had shaped Marilyn’s personality, or how she prepared for her roles. They had no vocabulary for how an actress works.” Monroe became the subject of his first biography, and she provided the key to his newest book, American Isis, a biography of the iconic poet Sylvia Plath.
For two decades, Rollyson has been trying to write about Plath, but there are so many Plath books already on the shelf that agents told him to forget it. Instead, he kept searching for a new perspective and he found it in a 1959 entry in Plath’s journal: “Marilyn Monroe appeared to me last night in a dream as a kind of fairy godmother.” Marilyn gives her a manicure and invites Plath to visit her, “promising a new, flowering life.” Plath also writes, “I spoke, almost in tears, of how much she and Arthur Miller meant to us.”
Monroe married playwright Arthur Miller in June 1956, the same month and year Plath married the English poet Ted Hughes. Both couples also spent the summer of 1957 on the same Cape Cod beach. Last year marked the fiftieth anniversary of Monroe’s tragic death (see Lois Banner’s Marilyn, 2012). This year is the fiftieth anniversary of Plath’s infamous suicide. Both women were, in effect, punished for their brilliance. Rollyson observes, “Monroe and Plath are great transitional figures. They lived just before that second wave of the women’s movement, doing things that women 10 years later will feel more comfortable undertaking.”
While movie star Monroe brought her volume of Rilke to the set, Plath, Rollyson observes, “had the sensibility of a great actress.” He also marvels, “Here was a woman who not only wanted to be a great poet; she also wanted to write potboiler fiction for the Ladies’ Home Journal. Like Marilyn, Plath was determined to reach a much, much bigger world.”