Letters, Literature and Film from James Pepper Rare Books
By Michael Stillman
James Pepper Rare Books has issued their Catalogue 178. Pepper catalogues are mostly filled with items of literature or those relating to film and theater. There are always a few exceptions, an occasional work related to history or art, but literature and film predominate. Here are a few we found this time, including some very interesting personal letters.
Item 43 is a biography, along with a most critical letter from its subject. The book is Robert Mitchum. A Biography by George Eells, published in 1984. The tough-guy movie actor was evidently not pleased with his biography. Along with the book is a copy of a letter Mitchum sent to a man who wished Mitchum to sign his copy. After noting that he never met author Eells, Mitchum writes, "The book is a compilation of inaccuracies and downright fabrication, and I have adopted a posture of disclaimer and refusal to sign my name to avoid any semblance of endorsement. I might suggest that you paste this note inside the book, if you so please." Priced at $1,500.
If you think that comment is tough, take a look at this one from writer-journalist-satirist Ambrose Bierce. Bierce had evidently been asked for an opinion of the magazine Lantern, published in Chicago, by its editor. Bierce most caustically replied. "Will I tell you what I think of your magazine? Sure I will. It has thirty-six pages of reading matter. Seventeen are given to the biography of a musician, - German, dead. Four to the mother of a theologician, - German, peasant-wench, dead. (The mag. is published in America, to-day). Five pages about Eugene Field's ancestors. All dead. 17 + 4 + 5 = 26. 36 - 26 = 10. Two pages about Ella Wheeler Wilcox. Three-fourths page about a bad poet and his indifference to - German. Two pages of his poetry. 3 = 3/4 + 2 = 4 3/4. 10 - 4 3/4 = 5 1/4. Not enough to criticize. What your magazine needs is an editor - presumably older, preferably American, and indubitably alive. At least awake." We gather Mr. Bierce didn't particularly care for the publication. The letter was written on May 22, 1913. Later that year, Bierce headed off to Mexico to report on that nation's revolution and was never heard from again. His fate is still unknown. Item 14. $3,000.
Now for a more positive letter. Item 101 includes a first edition, first issue of Gone With The Wind. It is signed by author Margaret Mitchell. This is already highly collectible and very valuable, but additionally, laid into this copy is a 1960 letter from Clark Gable, who played the leading male role in the movie adaptation of the book. The letter was to an editor of the Atlanta Constitution, in response to some written questions he sent. Gable most obligingly wrote out his answers in this letter. Gable states his belief that Gone With The Wind "is one of the finest motion pictures ever made," that Rhett Butler was his favorite role, and that he was more associated with this film than any other. Of author Mitchell, he says that not only did she write "a wonderful novel," but was very helpful to him in describing how to play the role. "I listened to her and followed her advice, and fortunately for me everything she told me was right. Naturally she was the one to whom I went for advice, because she was the one who had created the character. I am forever grateful to Margaret Mitchell." Gable died later that year, making this likely his final observations about this film. $85,000.