“Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal.”
High Concepts is indebted most of all to three sources of inspiration…
First, the Pat Hobby Stories written by F. Scott Fitzgerald toward the end of his life. Exceedingly brief, mordant tales of 1940ish Hollywood featuring the hapless, has-been screenwriter, Pat Hobby.
From the beginning of “Pat Hobby and Orson Welles” (Esquire, 1940):
“Who’s this Welles?”Pat asked of Louie, the studio bookie. “Every time I pick up a paper they got about this Welles.”
“You know, he’s that beard,” explained Louie.
“Sure, I know he’s that beard, you couldn’t miss that. But what credits’s he got? What’s he done to draw one hundred and fifty grand a picture?”
What indeed? Had he, like Pat, been in Hollywood over twenty years? Did he have credits that would knock your eye out, extending up to–well, up to five years ago when Pat’s credits had begun to be few and far between?
“Listen–they don’t last long,” said Louie consolingly, “We’ve seen ’em come and we’ve seen ’em go. Hey, Pat?”
Yes–but meanwhile those who had toiled in the vineyard through the heat of the day were lucky to get a few weeks at three-fifty. Men who had once had wives and Filipinos and swimming pools.
“Maybe it’s the beard,” said Louie. “Maybe you and I should grow a beard. My father had a beard but it never got him off Grand Street.”
The gift of hope had remained with Pat through his misfortunes–and the valuable alloy of his hope was proximity. Above all things one must stick around, one must be there when the glazed, tired mind of the producer grappled with the question ‘Who?’ So presently Pat wandered out of the drug-store, and crossed the street to the lot that was home.
As he passed through the side entrance an unfamiliar studio policeman stood in his way….
(For a five-finger exercise in imitation of Fitzgerald’s Pat Hobby stories, see here.)
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Second, the early comic novels of Evelyn Waugh: Decline and Fall, Vile Bodies, and Scoop. The cover art of the Back Bay editions of these novels also inspired my concept for the cover design of High Concepts, winsomely captured by Theodore Schluenderfritz.
a prosaic hero…falls accidentally into strange company and finds himself transported far beyond his normal horizons and translated into a new character; finally, he returns to his humdrum habits. It is one of the basic stories of the world…it has been treated romantically, farcically, sentimentally, satirically, melodramatically; it never fails if it is well treated. –Evelyn Waugh
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Third, the comic stories of P.G. Wodehouse. The Master.
From “The Clicking of Cuthbert”:
“I do not know if you have had any experience of suburban literary societies, but the one that flourished under the eye of Mrs. Willoughby Smethurst at Wood Hills was rather more so than the average. With my feeble powers of narrative, I cannot hope to make clear to you all that Cuthbert Banks endured in the next few weeks. And, even if could, I doubt if I should do so. It is all very well to excite pity and terror, as Aristotle recommends, but there are limits. In the ancient Greek tragedies it was an ironclad rule that all the real rough stuff should take place off stage, and I shall follow this admirable principle. It will suffice if I say merely that J. Cuthbert Banks had a thin time. After attending eleven debates and fourteen lectures on vers libre Poetry, the Seventeenth-Century Essayists, the Neo-Scandinavian Movement in Portuguese Literature, and other subjects of a similar nature, he grew so enfeebled that, on the rare occasions when he had time for a visit to the links, he had to take a full iron for his mashie shots.”
So if you like Fitzgerald, Waugh and Wodehouse, you will surely be let down by High Concepts. But hopefully you’ll enjoy a few laughs as you drift quietly to the ground.