Wednesday, May 15, 2013
by Pa Rock
Recently while doing some research on two famous American writers of the 1920’s, Dashiell Hammett and F. Scott Fitzgerald, both nearly as well known for their drinking as their writing abilities, I came across information on the drinks of choice of five notable authors. (Unfortunately neither Hammett nor his long-term love interest, playwright Lillian Hellman, herself a tippler of some skill and regularity, were on the list. I became interested in the writers and their preferred cocktails, and was soon able to locate similar information on five additional prolific American writers.
The first source material that I encountered was from a rehab website which raised a basic question: did the prodigious use of alcohol free the imaginations of these authors and enhance their writing abilities, or did alcoholism ultimately limit their productivity and potential? That is, of course, one of those questions which generate more heat than light, with many people having strong opinions on the powers and liabilities of demon rum.
F. Scott Fitzgerald and his lovely (but somewhat wild) wife, Zelda, were both known for being fond of alcohol . Fitzgerald, author of The Great Gatsby and several other American classics once famously said, “First you take a drink, then the drink takes you.” His favorite cocktail was the "Gin Rickey.” Fitzgerald died in his early forties from alcohol-related heart attacks. The drink had obviously “taken” him.
The” Gimlet” was the preferred drink of mystery writer Raymond Chandler, the man who brought a detective named Philip Marlowe onto the American literary scene. Chandler, via Philip Marlowe, helped to popularize the “Gimlet” in the novel, The Long Goodbye.
Not surprisingly, rough and tough Ernest Hemingway, who had multiple homes in the Caribbean (Havana and Key West), expressed a fondness for rum. Hemingway’s favorite cocktail was the “Mojito.”
William Faulkner, the epitome of the genteel southern gentleman, was, of course, fashionably at home with a “Mint Julep.” Faulkner, like Fitzgerald, died of a heart issue thought to have been brought on by drinking.
Tennessee Williams, another writer who affected a southern background and demeanor, had a preference for a drink called the “Ramos Gin Fizz,” a cocktail that reportedly can still be found in and around New Orleans today.
Carson McCullers was said to have enjoyed a beer while typing in the mornings, and would usually finish her day with a cocktail – her preference being “Long Island Iced Tea” – a concoction which contains about everything except iced tea!
Truman Capote, whose In Cold Blood set the standard for true crime reporting, had a preference for the “Screwdriver” which he called “my orange drink.”
Beat author Jack Kerouac developed a fondness for the” Margarita,” probably as a result of his travels in Mexico.
“Between the Sheets” was the name of a cocktail favored by Edna St. Vincent Millay. One description of this little-known drink is that was a “Sidecar with rum.”
And lastly, John Steinbeck favored a drink called the “Jack Rose” or “Jersey Lightening,” which apparently had brandy as its main ingredient.
The takeaway form all of the above is this: if one believes that alcohol might be a building block to literary success, one strategy for becoming a great writer might be to adopt the cocktail-of-choice of the writer whose style one most admires. It couldn’t hurt, when done in moderation, and might even make the blank page a little less threatening.