|Birth Day:||December 23, 1922|
|Death Date:||Feb 19, 1995 (age 72)|
As per our current Database, Calder Willingham died on Feb 19, 1995 (age 72).
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In his early adulthood, he worked for the Office of War Information in Washington, D.C.
Next came Reach to the Stars (1951), a second Dick Davenport novel, with Dick as a bell-boy in Los Angeles, making observations and sexual hay on the fringe of the upscale Hollywood scene. In 1951, Willingham also published Gates of Hell (1951), his lone book of short stories, mostly comic. The book was revered in literary circles, and in 1970, Tom Wolfe called it "the most undeservedly neglected book since World War II" referring to Willingham as "the great comic genius of American fiction."
Willingham followed it with the first in a semi-autobiographical trilogy of novels about an aspiring writer Dick Davenport. Geraldine Bradshaw (1950) was set in a Chicago hotel during World War II where Dick works as a bellboy (as Willingham had), lusting after a new elevator girl. Its sexual explicitness divided critics, who felt its subject was beneath the writer's gifts, but it sold well and has maintained a cult following among writers. William Styron reported visiting William Faulkner and noticing it prominently placed on his desk, and it appears on various published lists of “lost classics.” The original version was 415 pages long, but a 1964 edition, considerably shorter, is definitive, including a foreword from Willingham who explained how the pressure of End as a Man’s success led him to the grandiose idea of filling the follow-up book with obscure references to the next two in the trilogy. "Success is always dangerous, and early success is deadly," he said in a 1953 interview. "What I went through writing my second book shouldn't happen to a dog."
Though Willingham dropped out of the literary scene when he left New York in 1953, he maintained his friendship with Vladimir Nabokov. Broke and isolated, Nabokov was teaching at Cornell University and considering moving from the U.S. Willingham encouraged him to sell his books to Hollywood and passed along a copy of Lolita to Kubrick, who agreed to buy it. Willingham arranged the deal and wrote the first drafts, before giving way to Nabokov, who'd never written a screenplay but contributed significantly and also profited financially. The film was released with a screenplay credited to Nabokov, but is really an amalgam of Willingham, Nabokov and Kubrick's work, and it was nominated for an Academy Award. Willingham's fifth and final collaboration with Kubrick was One-Eyed Jacks (1961) with Marlon Brando. The three collaborated on the story for a year before Kubrick left and Brando directed himself in the film.
Willingham's work is now generally out of print. In a biography written for the Literary Guild, author Herman Wouk blamed a twist of fate, a newspaper strike coinciding with publication of Eternal Fire, limiting its readership. Publisher Donald I. Fine echoed this notion in his re-issue of the book in 1986, and perhaps this is a partial explanation why Eternal Fire, arguably deserving of recognition by the literary awards which would have secured him a brighter place in the postwar pantheon, was overlooked. At the same time, as early as 1969, an article entitled “Calder Willingham: The Forgotten Novelist,” appeared in a literary quarterly and most current references refer to him as one of the under-appreciated talents of his generation.
Soon after, Willingham went through a cataclysm: His New Hampshire house burned down, destroying all of his personal papers. He stopped working and regained his health, reading and reflecting during a decade of philosophical and spiritual reevaluation. He re-emerged in 1989 to do movie work again, his first assignment, adapting one of his own novels directly to the screen.
Rambling Rose (1991) starred Robert Duvall, Diane Ladd and Laura Dern as Rose. Willingham also began a screenplay for Steven Spielberg in 1994 entitled Julie’s Valley about a pioneer family attacked by Native Americans on the Oregon Trail. However, after delivering the draft, he was diagnosed with lung cancer and died February 19, 1995, and the film never was made.
Currently, Calder Willingham is 98 years, 8 months and 30 days old. Calder Willingham will celebrate 99th birthday on a Thursday 23rd of December 2021.
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