Monday, July 16, 2018

A debauched dress in New Orleans from MY LIFE WITH JOHN STEINBECK by Gwyn Steinbeck- A Story Hidden 50 Years!

Chapters and Excerpts from MY LIFE FROM JOHN STEINBECK by Gwyn Conger Steinbeck

A debauched dress in New Orleans! (Excerpt Chap.7)
And so the wedding day was set for 29 March, 1943. I was deliriously happy; so was Mother. All our friends were happy, and so was John. We picked out wedding rings at Tiffany’s. John wanted an antique ring, an old-fashioned ring. We settled on two semi-round twenty-two-carat gold rings. They would have made a fine set of brass knuckles! But that was what John wanted, and when he wanted something, he got it.
I went to New Orleans a few days ahead of John and was a houseguest of Roark and Mary Rose Bradford. Roark was a well-known American writer. He did The Green Pastures with Marc Connolly, and used to write the ‘Little B Plantation’ in the old Collier’s magazine. I stayed with them for my so-called ‘brideship.’ Meanwhile, Jed Harris, the producer-director, had latched onto John and was trying to get a piece of property for him to do a play. John called me every day from New York, usually around seven at night. He would be stinking drunk with Jed. ‘Well, we’re on our way!’ The next evening I would get the same call and the same message.
Lyle (Saxon) wrote John and told him that in the State of Louisiana a man had to be tested for a venereal disease to get married. A woman does not. John was insulted. ‘It’s only women who have venereal diseases,’ he told Lyle. He resented the test and demanded that if he had to have one, then I did, too. His macho character again.
Anyway, after a whole week of bachelor dinners with Jed, John arrived, hung over but sober. He flew down after obtaining a special permit through President Roosevelt, because in those days you were bumped off a plane for the army, air force or navy.
John arrived in New Orleans and then it was just one big party after another. Everyone entertained us. It was quite fantastic.At that time, Higgins, the boat builder, was involved in making landing craft for American troops. Part of my wedding present was driving the bayous in one of those boats. We crowded into one and had a ball; it was one of many pre-wedding parties. Every party I went to I started out with a beautiful dinner dress, usually a full-length and low-necked dress and with slippers to match.
At one of the first, at the Sheflins (John’s friends), no sooner had I entered the house than a drunk came over and poured a whole glass of scotch down the front of me. As I sat in a chair, someone else came over and dumped champagne on me, vintage at that. The next party, I forget where, someone spilled a dish of shrimp jambalaya on my lap – all that shrimp and tomatoes and beans and rice. Yuk!
It seemed like everyone was giving us a party; it was one round of moving from house to house, and everywhere somebody spilled something on me: champagne, shrimp jambalaya, scotch, gin, all kinds of drinks, all kinds of food. Personally, I do not take to champagne very well – always been a vodka martini fiend – and I was allergic to seafood, and I am not particularly fond of Crêpes Suzette.
My dresses got them all, and everywhere we partied we got roaring drunk. John did pretty well for himself, too. When John drank, he drank. And he sure could hold his liquor. At one party I remember he sat down in a place of honor reserved for me, the blushing bride-to-be (blushing?) and, hell, if it didn’t happen again. This time, someone spilled a whole plate of Crêpes Suzette into my lap. My poor dress was a mess. We kept going, we kept drinking and eating, which was fine since it was a pre-wedding party, although a rather long one.
We ended up on Bourbon Street, then a great place back in the forties, full of so much life. We hit a bar, and I got on the piano, high up behind the bar, and sang with a bunch of colored people. They were wonderful. My dear dress continued to get sloshed with drink; all I seemed to do was to have my damned dress mopped up!
Naturally, all that eating, drinking and partying took its toll on the human body. ‘I’ve got to go home, John, I don’t feel well,’ I finally said. An understatement. We headed back to the Bradfords’ house on Toulouse Street in the old French Quarter. That was another haunted house; yes, haunted. Like all Southern houses in New Orleans, you have to reach it through an alleyway that’s very small. We were staggering down the alleyway, and I began to feel faint. When you’re going to be sick, you get a certain feeling. I did.
‘My God, John, I’m going to be sick.’ I managed to stumble out the words.
‘For God’s sake, let’s go, kid,’ he said.
‘What, and get stuff over the front of my dress!’
He broke up. ‘You gotta be kidding,’ he laughed. We both stood there, laughing, and then I started to faint. He carried me the rest of the way into the house, and I let go in the courtyard fountain. That was an event in itself, a wild climax to the night before our wedding day.

 Chapter 4, Gwyn describes Ed Ricketts John's friend, muse, and alter-ego.
(Ed Ricketts was a marine biologist, the owner of Pacific Biological Laboratories and a pioneering ecologist. He is known to most people as the inspiration for the charater of “Doc” Ricketts in John Steinbeck’s novel Cannery Row, but Ricketts was also the author of two books on marine biology: Between Pacific Tides and Sea of Cortez.. His lab was a gathering place for writers, artists and musicians, counting among its guests Joseph Campbell, Henry Miller, and of course Steinbeck.)
Three was company, not a crowd in this fond portrait. Here are photos of Gwyn and John's Monterey House and Pacific Biological Laboratories
Millions of words have been penned and spoken of John and Ed Ricketts, some true and some false. I do not profess to know all, but I know much, since I was there and lived through an important part of their lives. Ed Ricketts was possibly one of the finest marine zoologists the world has ever seen, or will see, and his untimely death in an accident was a tragedy. He was one of the most benign men I have ever met, and he became the best friend I ever had. Ed was one of those people who give you strength while they lack that for their own emotional problems, their own involvement with others, both men and women.
John and Ed had a tremendous bond of friendship between them. I never experienced anything from Ed except sheer goodness. He opened my mind to philosophy which I had never skirmished with since school days. To me, Ed was a kind of Jesus. I believe John thought that way, too. Ed wore a beard, this man of middle stature. Everything he did had the essence of kindness in it. If he did not really like you Ed would not display it with unkind words or temper; he just looked at you, smiled and said, ‘Oh yes, really.’ He did not say, ‘Get out of my life, you’re a pain.’ He said, ‘It’s nice meeting you.’
He had this great essence for life, and you could not help but admire it, whatever his faults. He was, in a way, enamored by sex, which perhaps isn’t too bad a fault. John loved Ed’s love of life; Perhaps it was the qualities that Ed displayed all the time that John wished to have but could not show, or would not allow himself to have. With Ed, they were built in, solid.
In our correspondence Ed would write: ‘My dear girl – never be ashamed of using the word “good.” There is much behind that, if you think on it. There is “good” everywhere; sometimes it takes people months, even years to discover it through mistakes, and God knows I have made them, and, anyway, who hasn’t?’ Ed used to say, ‘Don’t bother about hyperbole; simply say you like it – because it is good.’ It was that simple; beauty in that simplicity.
Ed was simple, too, in that he never cared about material things. Life was his work, and music too. He would listen from the moment he got up (if he was alone, he went around the house naked), and throughout the day while he dissected a starfish or anemone, or when he cooked. He would try to cook anything and was a gourmet. Once he said, ‘You can eat from the world if you know how to preserve.’
Ed Ricketts never wavered in his loyalties – John didn’t, either – and would never show jealousy. Even when some of the women he loved and who loved him left him, Ed continued to be their friend. Many times he saved their life.There was a special magic about Ed Ricketts; in many ways he was John’s offspring, the source of the Steinbeck Nile.It is a well-known fact that Ed and John’s correspondence was one of the most prolific between friends other than writers.
Whenever John discussed anything with him, Ed had a way of saying something was not right without saying it, and that is an art. At such times he would sip a beer and look to the ceiling and say, ‘Hmm, hmm, John, but that’s not quite right.’ Never did he say, ‘No, don’t quit.’
For John, sharing moments with Ed – and they shared many – was like going to an analyst. Afterwards John would tell me, ‘I’m all right.’ There was not any problem that he ever took to Ed that he could not solve, where John was at a loss.
I first met Ed in the early forties. John wanted me to meet him to see whether Ed approved of his ‘choice.’
Ed Ricketts watched all life go by, everything. There was nothing in the passing parade that escaped his eye or he could not laugh or cackle about. He was a slow speaker, exceedingly slow; every word he spoke was a saga. The way he spoke was like a Max Beerbohm drawing.
Another side of Ed was that you never knew what you were going to eat at his house. God knows, John loved good food. One day, while the rain poured a monsoon, Ed called and asked us over for chicken soup. It was one of those cold, raw Monterey days. We went, and he served the soup in vast bowls, complete with his homemade bread. The soup was delicious, and I know how to make chicken soup.
But Ed’s ‘chicken soup’ was made out of sea cucumbers, which are part of the slug and worm family. He had collected his ‘chicken’ that day, and chopped it up. ‘I simply wanted to try it,’ he said nonchalantly. It was delicious. ‘You can always live off the land or the sea,’ he said, smiling.
‘Goddam it, Ed, I wouldn’t be surprised if you went and made a ground-up clam milk shake!’ said John.
‘Wait a minute, I have to write that down and try it,’ teased Ed.
‘With malt in it,’ added John.
\‘What else?’ Ed replied.
Ed should have published a recipe book from the sea and elsewhere. It would have made a fortune.
No matter what you said to Ed Ricketts you could not shock him. Take the time he told us about a woman he had picked up some place (and there were many women) when he had been drinking his usual rum or beer. Ed always drank rum or beer. He had been in no hurry. Ed said he felt the woman had been suffering all her life, and he helped her. John and I listened to him, unmoved. Ed always expressed himself freely about his sex life. ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘we made love and if it hadn’t been for me, she would have never discovered that she had a double vagina.’ ‘What?’ said John. ‘Yes, after the first time, I discovered it,’ he said in a very low tone of voice, but yet completely natural.
In a way, Ed was over-idolized, but maybe John made him that way. There is a story a professor told me, that John and Ed treated each other like Greek sisters, and I think in a way they did, if walking arm in arm on a beach makes you a Greek sister. They had this so-called gypsy pact, and they were brothers. Anyone can do that – if they’re rotten drunk. It is open to conjecture, but I believe that although John, with his own brilliant mind, gave so much to Ed, in turn Ed was a father figure to John.
The three of us had many good times together, and you always came out of them learning something from two great minds. In my eyes, Ed was nine feet tall, although he was only five-foot-six. But he had this aura. When he entered the room everyone stopped, turned their head, and asked, ‘Who is that?’ John once told me Ed would make one hell of a politician because he went around patting babies’ heads. He listened to everyone. Ed wanted to know what everyone else was thinking.
About a year after I first met Ed he had been carrying out research and, since he lived on Cannery Row, he said to me, ‘You know, before I die the Cannery will be dead, and we’ll fish out our waters. Every day we’re going out farther, and I’ve studied the waves, tides and fish schools. Every year when I go down to the wharf, the fishermen tell me they had to go out six miles while the year before it was five.’ He predicted the canneries would die and we would fish out ‘the beautiful waters,’ as Ed always called them.
The Cannery was dead before he died.
When John and I were married Ed wrote us that the canneries were closing because we had taken so much from the sea and had given nothing back. He felt about the sea as Jacques Cousteau feels, although Ed pre-empted Cousteau by twenty years.
It was an experience to be with a man who took us out in a dune buggy and said, casually, ‘Oh, there’s a paleolithic rock over there and we’ll find some seashells.’ We would look at the rock and he would turn, saying, ‘All this was under the sea once.’ There wasn’t anything you could discuss with Ed Ricketts that he did not know about; he had an understanding of archaeology and geology as well, but his particular knowledge was of marine biology and the sea.
Ed cared little for money. John financed him. Ed’s laboratory did become a sagging enterprise. He did not have the driving desire for fame that John had; he was a philosopher and a scholar, and there was not one single thing that passed him by that Ed did not study.
In his makeup he did not have time to stop and fight. Occasionally he might get tight and then would say, if it were a lady, ‘Lady, you’re full of shit!’ When he spoke it was as if Jesus had said it.
Ed was happy for John and me, although he never visited us in New York. Once, he felt let down because John was not allowed, on medical grounds, to go with him on an excursion to the Aleutian chain. I do believe that John was, unbeknown to himself, highly possessive, and this sometimes showed in his relationship with Ed. In many ways, Ed was a man’s man as well as a woman’s man. I never saw him without a drink, yet only saw him drunk twice. From the moment he arose and started the day, he started on beer, and by two in the afternoon he was on rum. John liked that about him.
Sometimes for breakfast, Ed used to go across the street from the Lab to Wing Chong’s and get six cans of beer, a large hunk of cheese and a pineapple pie. Some breakfast!
Ed was what he was, and my life was vastly enriched for knowing him. He never spoke much about his family. Ed loved animals, although he put them to sleep and cut them up; that was his living. ‘You can’t make anybody like you who doesn’t like you,’ he once said. How true.He told John and me the story of when he was a young boy and he had a cat that liked to jump on the mantelpiece in his home in Chicago. His father didn’t like the cat, and it knew it. His father had a high wing chair with a lamp beside it, and would there sit and read the evening paper. Each night the cat would get up, turn around and wet all over his father. ‘Every night my father would say he was going to kill that cat tomorrow. I used to hide the cat. He didn’t kill it. You see,’ said Ed, ‘if you give bad feeling you’re going to get it back.”
If something went wrong and someone tried to start a fight when the three of us were together, Ed would simply look up to the ceiling and say, ‘Well, I guess the cat’s about to piss.’ That was the signal – don’t fight, just get out. But Ed had problems always with women or his love life, his wife or his children. He knew how to solve others’ emotional problems, but not his own. He watched the world go by. Ed read constantly, and I have never seen such a magnificent library as his. He had a constant desire and thirst for knowledge.
I am proud that once he said he liked me, because when he was talking about something I didn’t know about, I would say, ‘I honestly, don’t know what you are talking about.’ Said Ed, ‘Most people say, “Oh yes, uh-huh, I think I know what you’re talking about.” Gwyn never does.’ That was a great compliment coming from a man I so admired. He was never condescending. If I would tire, or be busy he would politely ask forgiveness; never would he say, ‘Get lost, you bother me.’ Sometimes he got angry, but I never saw such control in a man, and he always refused to argue; Ed always wanted to debate a problem. ‘You have your point of view, and I have mine,’ he used to say.
When Ed died a horrible death from injuries after being hit and dragged by a train, John went to pieces. He flew from New York to Monterey. After the funeral, he went to Ed’s house and destroyed diaries and letters, including their letters. Why? I believe John thought there is a beauty in the world you just don’t want others to pore over.
Ed Ricketts, John and I shared a special relationship, the kind that comes along once in a lifetime. John left a legacy of great writings to the world. His beloved friend Ed left himself.
Below Gwyn's pueblo house in Monterey and Ed Ricketts' lab. Pacific Biological Laboratories

In December, the 50th anniversary of Steinbeck's death, his papers will be unsealed. Perhaps there will be surprises, revelations . Here is Gwyn's story about  a haunted yellow house.
From the outside, the house looked almost like nothing, but behind the high walls and the fence was a house that was unique. It was built like a string of freight cars, and the inside was almost all glass. It was the first house I had ever seen that was a ‘His’ and ‘Hers’ house. In the living room were two built-in desks; in the bathroom, two built-in medicine closets. In fact, there was a ‘His’ and ‘Hers’ of everything in that house. John was in the process of cleaning it up, although he was not a domestic man, not by any means.

He was intrigued by the house. He told me he had found all kinds of weird wiring and things for lighting, and concluded that the former owners, the Johansens, must have held seances. Besides, he had unearthed yards and yards of black velvet gauze in a closet. He showed me around and begged me to stay with him and help him fix it up. ‘I am very lonesome, and I am upset. I must work, and I need you,’ he told me. John had chosen the house because of its seclusion. He always liked a secluded atmosphere. He did not like people looking in windows.

The dining room, immediately off the living room, was solid glass. It made you feel as if you were in a garden because the fernbrakes were as high as five and six feet. A door led to several steps and a fishpond. Directly to the right of the dining room was a kitchen, then a small hallway and another door leading to the first bathroom. Next came a large room with narrow windows, very high-up windows. John turned that room into his library. As well as being almost fanatical, he was an avid reader. From the library, there was another passageway, again solid glass, with window seats. It was a quick passageway and this, too, led into the garden. It led into another bedroom, a pleasant room, again with high windows and a big bay window facing the garden. John wanted to turn this room into the master bedroom, which he did. Next to that was another, with a small kitchen. It was solid cement and only had one window, again facing the garden.

The kitchen did, however, have its exit door, which led to an area where there were once rabbit hutches. Apparently, the people slaughtered their rabbits because there were hanging hooks and butchering tables. Everything had been left in a state of disrepair. Mother called this room ‘Little Siberia.’ Outside of this area was a large gate that led into a vacant lot, a lot so overgrown with mattress vine that we could barely open it. John left it that way.

We started work. We painted, and we scrubbed. We burned weeds and tore out things. John and I did most of the painting ourselves. Mother visited, and she helped a little. Then we began the task of furnishing. I handled that while John worked in the garden in the mornings. He seemed at peace with himself during this time, although I know he was very restless. He knew I loved roses, so he went down to the Cannery and ordered a whole truckload of fish guts and had them turned into soil, spread everywhere. You do that, and you don’t have to fertilize for another seven years. And he built me a rose garden outside the guest house, directly opposite the room he turned into his ‘nest.’ He hired a Japanese gardener named Frank. John had been brought up around Japanese, and he felt they were good people to have work for you, which they are.

On the gate, John installed a big Mexican bell. The only way he would let anyone in was if they pulled the cord and rang the bell. It made a big noise. We had a great sense of accomplishment cleaning up the house and painting it. It looked stunning in yellow and white. We bought furniture from Holman’s store, and the house began to turn from an old brown shack into a lovely, warm home. As you might imagine, we were extremely proud of what we had done. We were together – but not alone. We found out that the house was haunted!  I say that because many things happened in that house at 425 Eardley Street; strange and weird happenings.

John was a mystic, as I said earlier, and he was interested in the unknown, and at the same time, he liked to scare people. He would get enjoyment out of sitting in the living room with guests, and suddenly the doorknob would turn, and the door would open. Everyone would get up and pour another drink. Furthermore, you could not keep that house locked up. John did not believe in reincarnation, but he did acknowledge ghosts, and we certainly had them on Eardley Street. At night the place groaned and creaked, and nobody wanted to remain alone in that house. John would not stay alone there, either. Toby Street, John’s lawyer, later tried to live in that house and said it drove him crazy. Lewis Milestone, the director who did the movie Of Mice and Men, and who had come up to work on the script of The Red Pony, awoke in the middle of the night. He said afterward, ‘John, I hate to say this and I know you won’t believe it, but when I got up and looked out of the windows that garden was full of people!’ John laughed and said, ‘I believe you.’

I remember the time when a friend of John’s, Ellwood Graham, had painted a very modern painting of boats in the Monterey harbor. John loved it and bought it and decided to hang it above the living room fireplace.‘Old Johansen won’t like that,’ I said. ‘Oh yes he will,’ he answered. We were having our morning coffee. John hung a big bulldog hook over the fireplace. I watched him as I sat on the hearthstone below. He hung the painting and stepped back to admire it. ‘It looks very nice there, don’t you think?’ he said. With that, there was a loud noise, and the bulldog hook was torn out of the wall. The painting crashed down and missed my head by the umpteenth of an inch. 

John laughed. ‘I’ll fix that old sonofabitch,’ he said. He went to the garage and came back with a spike a good four inches long, and drove it into the wall. ‘He won’t pull that out!’ he said, and rehung the painting. We admired it again and left the room. Moments later, as we were in the kitchen, there was a terrible screeching noise. We rushed back into the living room. The nail had come out of the wall, and the painting was on the floor, its frame smashed. Needless to say, John moved that painting to another part of the room. I simply believe the former owner did not want anything modern around.There was another time when Mother was helping to clean up the lawn in the yard, because it was so overgrown with weeds. She had gotten mud on her shoes and took them off and tapped them against the wall. The wall tapped right back at her.

That’s the way the house was: if you touched anything and rapped – it rapped right back!
Despite the ghosts, the noises, there was contentment in this house. The reason for that was because John was able to write again. His energy peak was usually from daylight onwards. When he worked, he worked damn hard. John was a man of great discipline, and he let nothing, absolutely nothing, interrupt him. His power of concentration was phenomenal. Sometimes, after a morning’s hard work, perhaps he would come in from his ‘nest,’ and decide that we would have a love scene, a little matinee. There is nothing unhealthy in that, I assure you. However, when we began to make love we often ran into a funny situation because of the folks next door. They were migrants from Texas who worked in Cannery. No sooner would we start making love when they would put on a record, full force, and we would be lying in bed naked, listening to Roll Out the Barrel. We invariably broke up, and even if we were in bed at night, there it would go again, rolling out that damned barrel! All we could do would be to roll on our backs and kill ourselves laughing! But there were of course quiet, loving times when we shared each other’s body, like any couple in love, as we were.

While we were living in the haunted house, we found our famous rat – Burgess. One day John came home with a baby white rat. ‘I thought you might like this, darling, and at least save it from the guillotine and the snake pen for twenty-four hours,’ he said. ‘A boy came running into the lab and yelled to Ed that his mother told him to sell it because it bites everyone.’ It was a beautiful little rat, three months old. I took it in my hands. ‘Why, it’s darling,’ I said, ‘and looks like Burgess.’ I meant Burgess Meredith, that actor. So we named him Burgess. I don’t think Burgess ever forgave me for that. The weekend we acquired the rat, Eli and Mollie Kazan visited us. They also decided the rat looked like Burgess. Loving animals is part of me, and it was something that John loved about me, too. Animals are very precious to me, as all life is precious. John had a special feeling for animals, too, especially dogs, as the world found out later in his : In his Travels with Charley: In Search of America.

He doted on Burgess; that rat loved him, and he loved the rat. Whenever we took a drive Burgess would perch on John’s shoulder. In the evening we would go down to the sea and see the sundown, and little Burgess would be with us. He would scramble out of the car and run down to the sea. John would say, ‘Come here, Burgess.’ Burgess would come. It was not, as some people might think, weird having a rat as a pet. It was fascinating. But then sometimes John would do peculiar things with Burgess. 
John was a sadistic man, of many emotions, but being sadistic was one of his unattractive qualities. He would let people in and set Burgess loose and gain a great sense of enjoyment, watching women scream and pull up their legs. Once, he wanted to amputate Burgess’s tail because he felt that the reason people disliked rats was because of their raw tails. But I would not allow him to experiment. That was one time he let me have my own way. When we drove down to Los Angeles to visit mother and my stepfather, Burgess would ride all the way in the ‘funny box’ as John called the glove compartment. We checked into a hotel and John would do some kookie things like deliberately return to our room and let Burgess out of his cage and then go down the hall and wait for the maid to go into the room and listen to her scream. I, I might add, would run and hide!

The story of our pet rat Burgess does not end there. Months later, after we had been to New York, we returned to California. My mother and stepfather had taken care of Burgess while we were gone. One day they went fishing in Malibu to get John some fresh herring for breakfast. That day it rained, but Burgess remained on the porch in his cage. He was about four years old then, which is old for a rat, yet he was healthy as hell. But he caught pneumonia and the next day he began coughing blood, so Mother called a vet. ‘Lady,’ the vet said, ‘you’ve gotta be drunk. Your rat has pneumonia?’ ‘But it’s John Steinbeck’s rat,’ she persisted…‘Yeah, yeah, goodbye lady.’

Mother called us at two in the morning and informed us, ‘I think Burgess is dying, and it’s our fault. We can’t get a vet.’ We got up and went to look at Burgess. John looked at our pet and said, ‘You poor little shit, I loved you so.’ He took Burgess and put it in Mother’s oven and put it to sleep. Then he sat there and cried. ‘There goes the last pure thing I ever loved,’ he said.That was the only time in my life I ever saw John Steinbeck cry. He never cried for me. He never cried for his sons. He never cried for anybody.but he cried for a rat called Burgess. He came home, and he wept, and he wept, and he said again, ‘That poor little shit, that poor little shit.’ He was a brilliant man, but a strange man.Then there was the incident of the bird, which happened while we were living in the haunted house.
We had cleaned the house up, and the birds were coming into the garden to nest. One day, out of the blue, a mangy old cat appeared – an aged black cat with an ulcer on the side of its face. It began to kill the birds (animal instinct), and John became angry. He decided to trap the cat and give it to Ed Ricketts for the laboratory. I found him in the garden whittling away on several sticks of wood.
‘What are you doing?’
‘Haven’t you ever seen a figure-four trap, you old nature lover?’ he snapped back.
‘Yes, I have.’
‘Well, that’s how I’m going to catch that damned cat.’
‘What will you use for bait?’
‘I’m going to the Cannery for a big fish head.’ He did. He came back with a fish head a good eight inches or more, and solid meat, too. He laid the trap on the lawn. It held up a galvanized tub. When he had it fixed, he tried it; it was a like a hair trigger. It was tough balancing the fish head, but he did it.

Just before daylight, I awoke with John shaking me.‘Call Ed and tell him to get here fast with the burlap sack.’ I did. Ed staggered out of bed and came to the house. The three of us stood by the tub listening to a helluva lot of noise and scratching. ‘Now Ed, you know how to catch him,’ said John.‘You hold the sack, and I’ll lift from this side. Gwyn, you stand on the other side.’ It was quite a production, an MGM job. Next step, John raised the tub, and nothing happened. He lifted it a little further. Ed stood ready with the gunny sack open, and I crouched on the other side. One of us had to get him. Then, from out under the rise of about two and a half inches off the ground, popped a baby robin, all of two and a half inches, not even a fledgling. ‘Cheep! Cheep!’ It went, madder than hell. Ed and I began to laugh. Ed fell over on the lawn with the empty sack, and he and I convulsed in laughter. John’s reaction was different.

‘I don’t think it’s funny,’ he said, and stomped into the house. He was mad as hell, too, and when John was angry, he was angry. He did not speak to either Ed or me for a few days. Still, he did catch the cat. It was a battle, and in the process he was thoroughly scratched up. At the height of his successful cat-catching escapade, he pointed at me in one of his rages and said, ‘I told you! I told you I would catch that cat! I did!’ That was the way it always was with John. If something funny happened to him, or perhaps he had been the cause of it, or it was against him, he did not like it. If his friends or I fell, he became hysterical. Life with John was never dull.

We lived in the haunted house four months, and then John’s usual restlessness came back to life. He wanted me to go back east, to New York. He did not tell me, but he had found out – also unbeknown to me – that his old friends, except Ed Ricketts, were not his friends anymore; they resented his success. They should have welcomed it, been happy for him. Such is jealousy. I did not know this until many years later. He also found out that Carol was moving back to the west coast, so we packed up and went to New York. John directed my mother and stepfather to sell the haunted house in Pacific Grove. Mother did, although John’s lawyers said it would not sell because it was too haunted. My mother did not care. She finally swelled enough courage and, standing in the house alone, said out loud, ‘Now listen here, Johansen, if you don’t behave I am going to burn your house down!’ From that time on there was no trouble, and the house was sold in seventy-two hours to an army captain.

John and I flew to New York, and we moved into a double suite at the Bedford Hotel. It faced the river. John liked that because he could stare at the river and it reminded him of the ocean at Monterey. Mother did not exactly approve of my going to New York with John, but she knew how much I was in love. And I was. She loved me, and whatever I wanted, she wanted. We had not been in New York long when, one morning over breakfast, the news came over the radio: Pearl Harbor was under attack. John shot out of his chair. He was in complete horror. He wanted to go to war right then. ‘I told you we would have to get in it sometime. I told you!’ he blurted.

By this time, John had finished Sea of Cortez with Ed. Ed was a great influence on John until World War II ended. As I said earlier, they had this unique bond of friendship and respect between each other. And before Pearl Harbor, John had been living out the war in Europe. He ate, slept and dreamed it. The radio was never turned off. The idea of The Moon Is Down had been forming in his mind all during this period. So life at the Bedford went on as we were at war with Japan. But there were moments when the war did not exist. One of those involved our dear, dear friend Burgess Meredith, the actor. Burgess was a lieutenant, a liaison officer, and had a terrible crush on a young, beautiful singer at the St. Regis, where he billeted.

John and Burgess decided they would have a night on the town, which was alright with me because I never stopped John from having his night out with the boys before or while we were married. Men had to do that at times, even though they loved their wife, girlfriend or mistress madly. No woman should stop her man from having a night out with the boys. I never knew about John’s nights out with the girls. And he had them. But what I didn’t know, I didn’t have to worry about. Burgess wanted to see his friend when she finished work, about one in the morning. He took John to her dressing room, and they invited her out to Reuben’s Restaurant for a sandwich. John, of course, was taking a back seat. After they had eaten, she said, ‘Let’s go to my apartment,’ which they did. She made them drinks, and Burgess naturally tried to make points with the Junoesque girl, who was somewhat on the tall side. She enjoyed the attention Burgess gave her, and besides, she was damned good looking.

Suddenly, the key turned in the lock and in walked a portly gentleman. As John explained to me later, it was clear that the singer was kept. Burgess’s mouth fell. After all, any man who has a crush on a girl thinks he’s the only one – and he is not. ‘I think we should leave,’ John said. ‘No, no, don’t go, finish your drink,’ implored the man. They told me they had another scotch and soda, which the man made while they sat looking on, saying nothing. They finished their drink and thanked the man. John said he was pleasant, but his face was cold, like ice. John and Burgess left but began to feel ill. They brushed it off as having too much to drink, so they started walking back to the Bedford. Just before daylight, I was met with two of the sickest-looking men you have ever seen. The ‘gentleman’ had given each a Mickey Finn!

All I could think of was Mutt and Jeff. John, six foot tall, and Burgess a foot smaller, looking smaller than ever. In they came and it was a fight to get to the bathroom. Of course, I had to mop up. I ran out to a nearby drugstore to get baking soda. Now how do you go to a drugstore first thing in the morning and say, ‘I’d like something to counteract a Mickey Finn?’ A Mickey makes you vomit, and you have diarrhea. The only thing I could also think of was to get a hen and boil it, and I made some strong chicken broth. Burgess was laid out on the couch, and John lay groaning in bed. Burgess had ruined the front of his uniform. I sponged it down and even washed their underwear. It was quite a scene.

John admired Burgess for he had a great sense of humor, and held his liquor well – which John could too – and the two of them raised hell together. Life with John Steinbeck was quite a combination of heaven and hell – I never knew where one started and the other left off.I was never, ever bored with John; angry, yes, but how could you be bored with a man who always, always had something exciting to say, even if he made it up with his immense imagination – and often he did. After the Mickey Finn episode with Burgess, John once again began to grow restless and moody, but I was used to that by now. I did not mind his moods; our lovemaking was passionate, morning, afternoon or night; John was a man of much strength, not only in his mind, but in his body. He decided we ought to rent a house at Snedens Landing, overlooking the Hudson River. It was an upscale area, and one of our neighbors was Burl Ives. It was twelve miles from Manhattan and ‘the action,’ as he said.

We moved into our retreat, as John liked to think of it. With us was our Willie, our sheepdog, who was just a puppy. Once more he had moved, and like everywhere else we lived, John had to have his personal ‘nest,’ and it had to be away from the house and the telephone. He did not like his nest to have a beautiful view. Many times John wrote in articles that he hated the idea, because he found himself staring out of the window and not concentrating on his work. His nest at Snedens Landing was in the woodshed.

I’m going to clean it out and move in,’ he said. He got a chair and a writing board, a place for his coffee cups, his pipes and his ashtrays. John always used an outsized writing board as his desk. He also liked directors’ chairs, camp chairs. He bought one from the army and navy store, and then he was ready to go to work. Usually, he had six or eight pipes, which he took good care of; he preferred one as a change from cigarettes. Whenever he bought anything, it was always the finest. He also bought a new record player and beautiful records. He loved classical music. His favorite composers were Beethoven, Bach, Monteverdi, some Ravel and quite a lot of Debussy and Stravinsky. Oddly enough, he also liked Prokofiev and Schoenberg. Sometimes, during a work week, he would listen to a symphony, stretch out, close his eyes and that would refresh him.

There is a particular story attached to the nest at Snedens Landing – skunks. A family of skunks moved in on John. One morning he came flying out of his nest yelling, ‘MY GOD! WHERE IS THE SKUNK?’ His face was an indescribable blue.Our house was then more or less in the woods. I didn’t know where the hell the skunk was until one morning when up at dawn. I looked out of the kitchen window, and there they were, Momma and Poppa Skunk with five baby skunks out for an early morning walk. When they finished, they went right back under the woodshed. I called John but he didn’t believe me. ‘Alright, let’s set the alarm for five-thirty tomorrow, you’ll see.’ We did. Out trotted the skunk family. He killed himself laughing.

John thought he had an answer to that problem. He built a feed pen hoping the skunks would stay out while he worked. They did not. When the baby skunks were old enough they left, but by that time the heat and humidity rising from the Hudson River was too much, and John moved his nest into the guest room. He wasn’t mad about that situation; he wouldn’t have harmed the skunks for anything, and neither would I. That period of my life with John was a pleasant one, the only way to describe it. During the shad season, we would take an afternoon walk and watch the fishermen on the shad run. John would wave at them with a handkerchief, and they would stop, and he would get his shad, so he could have his shad roe, which he adored. John’s friends then became my friends. 

There were wonderful people living nearby. They included Maxwell Anderson, the playwright, and his wife, Marg, and Burgess, who by then was wooing Paulette Goddard, the actress. Also close by were Henry Varnum Poor, the ceramicist and painter, and Kurt Weill, the songwriter, and wife, Lenya. Other neighbors we had then were Sally Lorentz, Pare’s wife, and Jack Radcliffe, who wrote for Readers Digest. Living next door to the Weills was another great actress, Helen Hayes. There were plenty of dinner parties and barbeques, and show business and literary talk, and talk of the war in Europe and the Pacific. But John became restless and discontented as the summer progressed, and the humidity increased. John felt that the war would end before he had a chance to get in it.

After dinner together, when we figured it had digested, we used to walk down the stone steps into our octagon-shaped pool, and we would sit there until we were chilled to the bone and then run like hell for bed before we started to sweat again. John never thrived well in humidity. Does anyone? Every evening, he sat and removed the mildew from his beautiful handmade Mexican boots, cursing the summer weather. By August he had become angry at Snedens Landing. ‘I want to go back to California,’ he said one day, without warning. When John made up his mind, that was it, believe me. It was packing time again.


One night, in late 1938, I went to a room at the Aloha Arms in Los Angeles, carrying a pot of my own freshly made chicken soup. There, in a room that smelled of drink and tobacco, and lying in an old Murphy bed and obviously in great pain, was John Steinbeck. He looked at me with his cold blue eyes. ‘Sit down,’ he said. ‘I really don’t like chicken soup.’
Max Wagner, a long-time friend and then a public relations man, was with me that night. The Wagner brothers were all madcaps, but the most charming Irishmen you would ever want to know. Max had been an admirer and escort for months. Max told me his ‘friend from Salinas’ was in town and was very ill, in pain and hiding out. ‘What do you want me to do about it?’ I asked.
Max was what a friend should be; he cared. ‘I told him you were the best cook in the world. He hasn’t eaten anything. Will you make him some chicken noodle soup? I already told him you and your mother made the best chicken noodle soup in the world.’ I said I would see his ‘friend from Salinas’ on my day off, but Max made me promise I wouldn’t tell anyone that John was in town. At that time, I was a twenty-year-old singer. I was a staff singer with Columbia Broadcasting Studios, and also worked at a cocktail lounge and restaurant next door to the studios. Max picked me up in his funny little second-hand Buick, and we went to the hotel. I entered the room still holding my pot of soup, and I asked: ‘Have
you had any food?’ ‘No, just coffee,’ he answered. He had had more than that. Obviously, he had been drinking heavily. ‘Did you bring my scotch, Max?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Pour some and let’s all have a drink.’
Max did, from a new bottle, and after John drank his scotch, I made him eat the soup. I washed and bathed him, rubbed his back and his legs. He was a man of magnificent physique, yet never in my life had I ever seen such varicose veins of the legs.
We started to talk, and conversation came easily for this man of words, and his newfound Florence Nightingale. He had just finished Fight for Life, and he was running from the world and a tiff with his wife, Carol. He was in fact, suffering from a nervous breakdown. His whole condition was heightened by his own sense of insecurity as to how The Grapes of Wrath would be received but, more than that, he was afraid people were using him. Later, I learned that he felt this way all his life.
As it does so often when we least expect it, life takes us into so many things that we never visualized – as it did that night I met John. I guess it was a night of complete chemistry, a beginning of years of a love that became great and, in its way, would be forever.
Before I left with Max, John said he would like to see me again. Two nights after the back-rubbing, the hours of talking and chicken soup, he did.
To my surprise, he walked into the club where I was singing, leaning on a blackthorn cane like a cripple, and sat down at a table and listened to me sing. During a break, I joined him, and we had a few drinks. He was quiet, somewhat reserved, yet he was inquisitive just like any man. ‘What else do you do besides sing?’ he asked. I said nothing and just sat and looked at my drink. ‘Who are you? Where are you from?’ Natural questions. ‘I was born in Chicago,’ I began. ‘My ancestors came here in the late 1600s, and one part of me is American Indian, and the rest is Welsh and English.’ So I told him of my heritage, and he listened, his eyes piercing my whole body, dissecting and undressing me. He stayed until I finished work and we went for coffee. Over coffee, he told me a little about himself, but it was obvious he wanted to talk. He did tell me why he did not like chicken soup. When he was a little kid, his mother used to make him kill chickens. He hated the job.
‘I didn’t know it, but my father had bought some fighting cocks, and my mother asked me to kill six chickens because we were expecting relatives to visit. I did. I killed my father’s six fighting cocks! I really got whopped for it. From then on I just hated to wring a chicken’s neck. I hate chickens,’ he said. As I was to learn so well in later years, John Steinbeck could not only hate chickens; he could hate many things, especially people who crossed him and even people he did not even know. And when he hated, he hated with a passion.
In those early days of our relationship, I began to know John as a man with whom I was falling in love. When John looked at me with those cold blue eyes, there was that unexplainable feeling that took over my whole being. In the days that followed our first meeting, he began to be a regular customer at the club. If he did not appear in the evening, he visited my mother and I, in the afternoon. Then, I was living with my mother and my stepfather, who was in the produce business. Times were not easy then, for it was in the last years of the Great Depression. John admired how my mother and I could manage with the small amount of money available. Oddly enough, he always managed to arrive around supper time. ‘It is just a casual call,’ he would say, looking me straight in the eye with his Svengali eyes. After we had eaten dinner, he would usually say, ‘I would like to take you out to dinner sometime.’
Basically, John was a very shy man. He did not ask me if I liked him, yet somehow I knew that I did. At the same time, to me, he was like a little stray dog, who needed help and I felt I was the one who could help him. Finally, I accepted his constant invitation to dinner. First, we enjoyed a few cocktails with my mother and my stepfather, and then we went to The Little Bit of Sweden on Sunset Boulevard. Throughout that first dinner together we talked in subdued tones. Again he asked me all kinds of questions. What did I do? Who was I in love with? What kind of books did I read? Again, I went into my background and then he suddenly said, ‘You are an earth woman.’ ‘I guess I am,’ I answered. Now how, at twenty years old, do you know if you are an ‘earth woman’? You don’t, but since the age of twelve, I had a thirty-six-inch bust – if that helps.
That night he began courting me like a Don Juan. He rubbed knees under the table, and he held my hand, yet, strangely, he kept covering his face with his hands because he was afraid to be recognized in the restaurant. Our dinner was a very pleasant affair, but the time came when I told him I had to go to work. He reached for his wallet and found he had no money! I paid the check. I never forgot that. Apparently, it was the last money he had for the whole week. Of course, John was polite and said he would pay me the next day.
John found himself without any money when we dined together three times in a row!
Naturally, I wondered why such a man of means never had any cash on him. John explained that his wife, Carol, gave him an allowance of about $35 a week. He did not want to be bothered with money. I found this hard to believe, but apparently, it was true. Never in his life did John know how to balance a checking account, and when he was married to Carol, she took care of the finances. That was the way he wanted it.
We did not see each other after that for quite some time. John kept in touch and sent me little books and little gifts, mostly books, and each one with a short note tucked inside. He said he wanted me to have the books in case he never saw me again; everything between us, which was not much at this point, had to be kept secret, he said. He sent me such books as the World Anthology of Poetry, with ‘Black Marigolds’ dog-eared; all of George Burrows and all of Robert Louis Stevenson. Later, when he thought he was going back to Carol and would never see me again, he sent me the translation of Synge Marking Petrarch’s Death of Laura. He continued to live with Carol in Los Gatos, and I kept working in Hollywood, singing at CBS and earning an extra dollar whenever I could by working as an extra. When I sang, I either worked with Freddy Garger or Matt Dennis, two very talented musicians.
That winter, I got a strep throat but continued to sing, which was a mistake, but a dollar was a dollar, and still is. I kept getting sicker and sicker until finally I was put in the hospital in Los Angeles. My doctor was Alfred Huenergardt, who was incidentally in Palm Springs where, in those days, Hollywood’s stars were beginning to discover fun, relaxing and loving weekends. In the early 40s, Charlie Farrell’s Racquet Club was the only place for tennis, drinking, lazing and trysts.
When you feel sick or horrible, all you want to do is get well, of course, but with my throat, it seemed as if I were heading for eternal rest. Doctor Huenergardt came into my room and quietly announced to my mother and stepfather that the infection had reached the lower lobes of my brain. I shall never forget it. ‘I must be honest,’ he said in a matter of fact voice, ‘there is very little chance you will live. The infection has entered the mastoid.’ That was far from encouraging, but at least he was honest. The only thing he could think of was to lance my eardrums and hope that some of the infection would come out.
While everything looked pretty bad for me, I remembered something that John had told me the night of our first meeting, something about when he had been doing Fight for Life, his story about saving a woman from her puerperal fever caused by filth. He had gone to a Chicago clinic where they had saved women’s lives by using sulfa for all strep infections. Somehow I managed to get that out to the doctor.
‘Send a wire to Doctor Harry Ben-Aaron, and he’ll get it to you,’ I managed to say.
More people than Doctor Harry were involved. Paul de Kruif entered the picture and contact was made with Chicago. But by this time I was getting ready for the beyond. Fortunately, Paul mailed the sulfa, yet when it did arrive Doc Huenergardt did not know how much dosage to give me. I was given plenty, and it saved my life. For a while, I climbed the walls and was seriously ill for several days. Gradually I returned to the land of the living, and when I was able to sit up, I asked for a mirror. Being a woman, I naturally wanted to have a look at myself, and to braid my beautiful hair. My request was refused. I couldn’t understand why. After all, to a woman, a mirror often is as important as a husband. I finally persuaded a nurse to let me have one. When I looked at it, there was not the fairest maiden in all the land. Instead, I saw a woman who was blue, beautifully blue! Even the moons on my fingernails had turned blue. I did not get upset. I was alive. The sulfa had saved my life: I said a prayer of thanks. Better blue than dead.
It was a long time before I fully recovered. John called me a few times and said he would try to see me. About that time he had gone to Chicago to have an operation on his back. It turned out that it was not his back that was the trouble – it was his tonsils! So I had a strep throat, and he had his tonsils out.
Now I was out of work and running short of money. Bad news. The club had hired another singer. In those days, clubs did not hold jobs open for long. I turned on the female charm and got my job back with CBS through a dear man, Russell Johnson. I returned to the club and did the little afternoon show from the cocktail lounge. I still felt weak, but I had to work. You still have to pay those hospital bills. I was happy because I was singing again, and I still had a good voice. Then one day I received a letter from my father whom I had never seen during my life, except once when I was fifteen. He had remarried and was living in Tampa, Florida. My mother had written to him and told him I was ill. He replied that he and his faith were praying for me. He was a Christian Scientist. He sent me $50 and a ticket to come to Tampa. He said he wanted to get to know me better and I could learn to know him better. Isn’t that amazing? After years of emptiness between us he suddenly wanted to know his daughter. Perhaps his conscience had begun to bother him. I don’t know. Russell told me CBS had a station in Tampa and, if I wanted, I could work there. I thought about it and decided to go.
I wrote John care of Ed Ricketts at his marine laboratory in Monterey. Ricketts was a brilliant marine zoologist and John’s great friend. Ricketts, when I came to know him better, was enamored by sex, which didn’t stop him from his work with sea creatures. Anyway, John was still with Carol. I wasn’t a pusher, and have never been one of those women who will go nuts if they don’t get something they want badly. By now, I was very much in love with John, yet I respect marriage and I respected him. Somebody had to drop out, and I was the logical one. So, I went off to Florida and worked at the Tampa CBS Station for six months.
One day Russell called. The San Francisco State Fair had started, and he wanted me to join his staff in the Bay City. I had had enough of Florida. I packed my bags and headed back west. It was 1939, and I was soon caught up in the whirl and excitement of the Exposition. Once again I was doing what I loved, singing, but I worked hard and enjoyed myself.
San Francisco is a beautiful city; it is a great city, crazy but with plenty to occupy the mind. That year of the Exposition there was plenty to see and do. One night, I received a long-distance telephone call. It was the Lab in Monterey. John had heard me singing on the radio. ‘I have to see you,’ he said.
Fine, that will be nice, I answered. His call was unexpected, but then John always did the unexpected. As our relationship developed over the months, you never knew what John was going to do next. He was an extremely impulsive man, always restless, always searching for something, for life – but was I that life?
In those days John was taking flying lessons, and he flew to San Francisco in a chartered plane. We had a long talk over drinks at the Cliff House. ‘Things aren’t getting any better between Carol and me, and I can’t get over you,’ he said over his scotch and my vodka. ‘I think I am very much in love with you. Will you wait for me?’ His words came as a shock. By then, I already loved him, but I did not commit myself. All I remember saying was, ‘I’ll try.’
He went back to Carol, and I went back to my singing. Before the Fair ended, he was back in San Francisco to see me again. This time he asked me to meet him at the top of the Mark Hopkins Hotel. As people usually do in clubs, we sat at a low cocktail table. I happened to be short-sighted and had forgotten my glasses. He ordered Stingers. We had not been there long when John said ‘Gwen, everybody is staring at you because you are so attractive.’ I leaned over and patted his knee and happened to look down. ‘Oh, you have a new keyring,’ I said. He looked down to find something other than a keyring. Everyone had not been looking at me.
John had his fly open!
Our feelings for each other developed slowly. We did not leap into bed. I knew that whatever was going to happen between us would need time. After the Exposition, I returned to Los Angeles, and John went back and forth to Mexico for his work on The Forgotten Village. He had a great affection for Mexico and its people. During this period he wrote letters and told me he had written ‘some poems’ for me, and he wrote about his love for me. He wrote twenty-five love poems to me, a suite. In his letters, there was an anxiousness although he urged me to wait for him, always to wait for him. Frankly, I was in no hurry to become his permanent acquisition; besides, I did not want to hurt his wife, Carol. Apparently, something was happening that was causing a rift in their marriage. What, I did not know and did not want to know. It was none of my business. I later found out that Carol did not know then, of his relationship and feelings toward me.
Life went on, and John continued to send me letters and little pieces of paper with messages scribbled on them. They were sad writings, secret and furtive little things. And then, during one of his trips he called and announced his arrival in Los Angeles. John’s coming and going during this period was like predicting the tides in a universe without a moon!
‘I have some presents for you, darling,’ he said. He loved to give presents, especially crazy presents, and being a woman I naturally liked to receive them. When I could afford it, I also liked to give them. In those days, I could rarely afford it.
The presents he gave me were a voodoo bird in a coffin, a silver bracelet and a small book of love poems. I must admit that the voodoo bird gift surprised me, but later I found out that John enjoyed and delved into the mystical. Some people have denied it (and they still do) but while John was and may have been many things he was, too, a firm believer in the supernatural. He also had a habit of picking up pebbles from the ocean floor and, if it was a soft stone and had what he called a ‘culture,’ then he kept it in his pocket. As the Greeks have their worry beads and the Chinese keep jade in their sleeves, so John kept his stones in his pocket.
Another weekend, when he returned from Mexico, he again brought me presents. This time it was an opal ring. He bought it because he thought opal was my birthstone, yet I am a late October child. That was a beautiful thing about John, his love of surprising people. Whenever he gave a gift, he was as excited as a little boy at Christmastime. He told me the story of how he found the opal ring, and it was then I received my first insight into a man who, once he wanted something, never stopped until was his – no matter what means he had to take to get it. I have met some women who are like that, too.
John first saw the opal around the neck of Trini, a witch doctor. It had a bubble in it, and, according to Trini, the god of evil hairs lived there, and she used the opal to cure children of pneumonia by placing it on their chest. As I said, John was determined to have Trini’s jewel for me. It was not easy for him to get it. The old woman at first refused to sell it, but John was not a man to give up, so he went to a nearby village and bought chairs for Trini. The chairs were a sign of stature, and she thanked him, took them, but still kept the opal! Again, John returned to the village and bought two more chairs which created an even bigger thrill among the people of Trini’s village. Still he could not get the opal. By now, John was irritated. Back he went to the area, some 20 miles away, and found a cow that had just been freshened and was quite pregnant. He took the cow back to Trini. She gave him the opal.
Later, he took it to Mexico City and had it mounted by one of the primitive artists. The top of the ring represents two cow horns, and the space inside is lined with gold. It reads in Spanish, ‘Yo te cuido,’ which means ‘I protect you,’ and one side has the initial ‘J’ and the other reads ‘G.’
The weekend he gave me the opal ring, we made contact with Max (Wagner) and went on the town in Los Angeles drinking tequila and eating all kinds of Mexican foods. We had a ball. We ended up on Olvera Street. John liked good food, all kinds, and it’s well known he liked a good drink. That was a wonderful night, one of many I was to have with him, but, as with all good things in this life of ours, it had to have its ending. None of us wanted the night to end, so as a remembrance I bought three little silver rings with clam shells on them, little bells, and we performed what was like a brotherhood ceremony; we each kept a ring.
Max, John and I had great times together, times when we laughed, joked, sang, raised constant hell in an almost childlike fashion. Oddly enough, in those early days of our relationship John and I were never alone, although when we were, John wanted to make love to me as any man would. He tried hard to get me into bed, but I resisted. I knew I was in love with him, but I was not ready to jump head first into a sex relationship. Besides, I was afraid of getting hurt, and my mother felt I was getting into a relationship that would break my heart. I thought she was being silly and being a worrying, overprotective mother. After all, I was twenty years old and knew that the world was no rose garden, even though there were roses in it. During our growing relationship, there was a great deal of zipping back and forth to Mexico. I never knew from one day to the next when John would appear. It was nothing for him to call in the middle of the night and say, ‘I am coming.’ When I did not want to see him, I had his letters and poems that drew me close to him, letters that always spoke of us being together again, somehow. Each of his letters told me, ‘I need you; you give me comfort; wait for me.’ I was young, full of life, pretty, not rich and not prepared to sit at home and wait for my knight to arrive. I had fun. Why not? I went with Max, went to parties and entertained my friends. I shared a deep and loving friendship with Max. Some of our friends felt that our relationship was more than that, but it was not. I was in love with John and Max knew that John was his friend since childhood. Max loved John, and I suppose that John’s friendship with him was for Max a kind of claim to fame. If he had known John as I came to know him, would he have kept the same feelings as in those early days? Like so many, Max knew only one John Steinbeck – the hero. There were others.
After the weekend that ended up on Olvera Street, John said, quite casually, ‘Why don’t you and Max come up to Monterey some weekend? We’ll have fun, all of us.’ By that, he meant Ed Ricketts, his closest friend and confidant, and Carol, his wife. Max would be with me as a front. The only reason for the weekend was so John could see me again.
Max and I drove to Monterey, that beautiful place on the California coast, for what turned out to be a crazy weekend. My feelings for Monterey were simple – it was beautiful Steinbeck country and like its people, another world. Monterey has so many wonderful characteristics that John has revealed to millions. We stayed at an old hotel in Salinas and went on one long bar crawl. John liked bar crawls. We hit bar after bar, on foot, until I just could not walk anymore. We were in one bar – I don’t remember which one as there were so many – and I told Ed Ricketts, ‘I can’t go on, I just can’t.’ Ed left the bar and came back after some time, smiling.
‘Come on,’ he said, ‘I have solved the problem.’ We all trooped outside, and there was this little red wagon. ‘I have rented it from a kid from the flats for twenty-five cents, and we’ve got it for an hour.’ Ed bowed to me. ‘Your taxi service awaits.’ We continued our barhopping with me riding in the little red wagon. In one bar I remember sitting on the piano and singing for them Some Day I’ll Find You and Just My Bill. I remember a red-checkered tablecloth that I used à la chanteuse Helen Morgan. Nobody went to bed that night, and we ended up at Ed’s laboratory where Ed cooked Wing Chong’s home-cured bacon and scrambled eggs, topped off with pineapple pie and blue cheese. Chong was the Chinese grocer John immortalized in Cannery Row.
With that to fortify us, Max and I drove back to Los Angeles. On the way, we heard the news: ‘War in Europe.’ We pulled over to the side of the road and, for a few minutes, we cried. We both had the feeling that the future held a kind of horror, that the world had never seen before.
Things quietened down after that weekend, but not for long. John was on his ranch in Los Gatos, and I was back singing in Los Angeles. Not long after I had returned to work, John called. ‘Must see you,’ he said, sounding despondent. He was. Apparently, he and Carol had had another family tiff. John drove down and picked me up, and we went to Oceanside, a little town not far from Los Angeles. Not very romantic, however. We stayed in a small hotel by the sea, and I could see that John was mentally shaken up, but I did not ask why. It was easy to guess.
That weekend it rained. That weekend I went to bed with John Steinbeck for the first time. I gave myself to him, willingly. It seemed like years since our first meeting. I thought of nothing but him. My feelings were unexplainable. It was one of the most beautiful happenings. John was strong in bed. I was ready for him, and he for me. We wanted each other, and we gave ourselves to each other, passionately. But while that weekend of sex and passion was wonderful it was also bewildering. John became moody. He called Ed Ricketts all the time, always asking about Carol, and phoned his agents. I did not know what to do. There was nothing I could do so I accepted John’s strange, brooding behavior because I was in love.
I wrote in my diary: ‘He is wonderful. He is so beautiful, but I wish to God, he would stop trying to play God!’
During our life together John tried to play God many times. So many times he declared that no matter what he did or said – it was always right. He hated to be wrong; he wanted to be perfect, yet he was not, for he was only a man.
The weekend ended, and he drove me back to his ranch. I did not know when or if I would ever see him again. He did not even say goodbye. He merely said, ‘I guess I’ll see you around, honey,’ and drove away. Once more for me, it was back to Los Angeles, yet I knew that whatever happened I would have one beautiful, beautiful memory.
That weekend in Oceanside became a storm after a rainbow. I discovered that I was pregnant. We took no precautions because John had a thing about using contraceptives. He didn’t. He said they made him ‘impotent.’ I did not complain about my situation; it always takes two. I called Ed Ricketts and told him. He called John. When John called me he did not seem particularly upset or concerned, but then, that was his way, his manner. It was not his problem.
‘I am sorry. Can I do anything?’ Then he asked, ‘Why don’t you have the baby?’
‘I can’t. It’s impossible. I don’t want the baby. I don’t have the money for it, either. Besides, I have a career,’ I answered.
‘Come and see me,’ he said.
I flew to Monterey the next morning, and when we met, he said, ‘Somehow we’ll work things out.’
He forgot to say how, and nothing was worked out.
It was clear that John did not give a damn about me being pregnant. There was only one thing to do. I left and flew back to Los Angeles the same day. How does a young and pregnant and unmarried woman feel? I felt like crap. I felt entirely alone while John was back in his cocoon of married life with Carol, secure. Our weekend of passion was seemingly nothing. I was mentally depressed and even thought of committing suicide. But then I turned to my mother and told her. My mother was a kind, yet robust woman, although John never liked her. Like many mothers, she had told her daughter many times, ‘If ever you are in trouble, come to me.’ Who else could I turn to? She took me to a doctor, and he gave me some medicine. Fortunately, I was not that too far along, and the medicine removed the pregnancy. I felt rotten.
Several months later John called. Casually, he asked: ‘How are you?’ How kind. Then he said, ‘I am terribly upset. I have to see you. I need you.’ He spoke the words in his usual quiet voice. It began to have a familiar melody. He sent me a plane ticket, and I joined him in Monterey. On the flight, my mind asked me: ‘Why are you doing this? Are you being used?’ I still loved him and had the feeling that our relationship was incomplete and some decision had to be made.
That weekend we talked a lot, and drank a lot, and spent the evenings with Ed Ricketts. By now, John was working on a prose outline of Sea of Cortez which became a journal of travel and research which he co-authored with Ed Ricketts. By then, too, The Forgotten Village had been edited and was almost ready for release.
That weekend in 1941 was a strange one. It seemed as if he was looking to his great friend Ed for support and silently looking to him for an answer to his relationship with me. I felt as if I was being inspected by Ed, but not unkindly. John drove me back to the hotel where I was staying, and on the way said that something would work out; all I had to do was hang on. He also said, ‘Ed likes you very much.’ With that remark, I felt as if I had passed the supreme test. I returned to Los Angeles but still did not know where I was going. I had to be content to let life show me the way. Sometimes, we all have to do that.
For a long time there was nothing, and then, from nowhere, a telephone call: ‘I have to see you. Will you fly up? I will arrange everything.’ John was back in Monterey. He and Carol had bought a house in Pacific Grove. Here we go again. What would it be this time? He met me at the airport.
‘I have had some things brought down from the ranch,’ he said as we drove from the airport. I knew John well by now, and knew he had not sent for me just to show me the house. ‘I finally told Carol all about you. I have done all I can to make her happy. What more can I do? She says she’s tired of living here. She says she is too lonely; the place is too remote. I don’t understand. She wanted it so much.’
We arrived at the new house. It was dark and gloomy and surrounded by an eight-foot fence. It looked like something from one of those old horror movies. It was not helped by the fact that it was one of those grey Monterey days. Any moment I expected Boris Karloff to greet us. We went through a very narrow gate. It was a funny, ugly little old house and it smelled of age and decay. There were packing cases here and there. John and Carol had had a few drinks. I felt like a ninny as I sat down on a crate.
‘Like a drink? Pink champagne?’ asked John.
‘Thanks.’ I took it. I needed it although I was not in the mood for drinking as it was in the middle of the afternoon. Carol sat in a chair and John spread himself out on a funny-looking overstuffed couch. He quickly came to the point. ‘I know you both love me,’ he began, ‘and I have been thinking. I want you two to talk this out. What do you women want to do about me?’ This was a jolting statement, to say the least, and at least to me. I wasn’t used to that kind of situation. I am sure that Carol felt the same. Then he said, ‘Whichever of you ladies needs me the most and wants me the most, then that’s the woman I’m going to have,’ he added, smiling. I thought he was joking. He wasn’t. This certainly revealed his ego.
Carol started to talk. With all due credit to her, she told me, ‘You don’t want him, and you don’t love him. I love him, terribly, but he hasn’t slept with me for three years. I have done a great deal for John, and we’ve done a great deal together…’ John went into the kitchen, poured another drink, came back and said, ‘I’m going for a walk, and you two argue it out. Whichever one wants me I guess gets me.’ Just like that. He left the house, and the two of us were alone. I wasn’t ready for that kind of shit. It was like a Nixon/Kennedy debate.
‘You’ll never be accepted by his family,’ Carol warned. ‘You won’t because they’re very possessive of him and extremely clannish.’ There she proved to be right. ‘And furthermore, he won’t be faithful to you…’ There again she was right. ‘And he is a jealous, nasty man, and if you get him…’ She paused and then said, ‘I’m going to take him for every goddamned f***ing cent! I want him!’
She went on talking, telling me about the intimate details of their marriage. It only embarrassed me more, and I’m far from being a prude. What I heard from Carol that day I could not believe, but I know she was speaking the truth. She loved him, too; no matter what might have happened in their married life; she loved him.
John returned a short time later and by this time Carol was pretty well along with her sipping. She asked me to follow her to the bathroom. I sat on the tub. She was a little unsteady on her feet. She pleaded, ‘Give me a chance and get out of John’s life.’
‘If this is what you want, then I will,’ I said. Carol continued with more intimate details of their life together, but it was just too much for me to take. We went back into the room and I finished my drink. The three of us had gone through three bottles of vintage pink champagne, that grey afternoon. And it was grey, inside and out.
‘I am leaving,’ I said.
‘Please take me to a hotel, John.’
It was done without any drama. He suggested I stay with Barbara and Ellwood Graham, the artists, which I did. The next morning I flew home, and that was the last I heard from John for several weeks.
While Carol was experiencing an emotional upheaval I, too, was living traumatic days and nights. In was fact, I became very ill. Mother took me to a ranch in Cherry Valley, just outside of Palm Springs. It was raining and cold, and I was, in every sense of the word, physically and mentally exhausted. Now my mother’s Welsh spirit was aroused over the protracted situation with John, and she called his attorney and then took a train to see him. It was a brief visit and to the point: ‘What was John going to do? Was he going to break it off? Gwyn has to know so she can go back to work or do something,’ Mother told the lawyer.
She returned two days later and told me the attorney’s answer was, ‘Well, I’ll tell you, Bird Eyes, once upon a time Carol was a sweet girl and John made her into a monster, and if he gets Gwen, he will make her into a monster, too.’ He said he would see what he could do.
Mother and I stayed at the Cherry Valley ranch a while longer and then went home to Los Angeles. A wire was there. All it said was ‘Coming. John.’
A week later he was in Los Angeles.
‘Carol’s going to New York, and we have agreed. I love you, and I need you. Come back to Monterey with me,’ he pleaded; yes, I swear, pleaded. Mother did not exactly approve.
But it was my life. It was no snap decision. Mother, John and I discussed it for several days, and then I made up my mind. I was going. Early one morning we set out for the old house at 425 Eardley Street in Pacific Grove. It began to rain hard. We stopped on the way in Andersonville and went into a dismal little restaurant. John knew the place and told me they had good split-pea soup.
Behind the counter was a pubescent, pimply-faced girl who paid no attention to us. She was bowed over a spiral notebook, writing. John leaned and read, upside down, what she was writing. She had written, ‘Dear Clark Gable…’ She stopped and served us. John never forgot that pimply-faced girl and stored her until he was ready to use her like he memorized so many people and things. He used her in The Wayward Bus.
As we sped towards Pacific Grove, I felt exhilarated for the first time in many months, although I felt apprehensive as to what the future would hold. There was little conversation. The swishing of the windshield wipers gave me no answer. I looked out into the rain.
How did this "Everywoman" who gave all for her family, find her voice living with a literary icon?  Did the cauldron of WW2 affect them both?  Recovered history, published for the first time!

A Story Hidden for Fifty Years – Gwyn’s Memoir
“I believe in and will fight for the right of the individual to function as an individual without pressure from any direction. I am unalterably opposed to any interference with the creative mind. It may be wrong but out of it have come the only rights we know. I am opposed to these pressures and constrictions, no matter where they arise in my own country or in any other” (America and Americans – page 90, 1954, John Steinbeck).
John Steinbeck won the Pulitzer Prize in 1940 for his best-known work, The Grapes of Wrath when married to Carol, his first wife, to whom “Grapes” was dedicated and who indeed suggested its title. Other well -known works East of Eden, Of Mice and Men, Cannery Row reflect the influence of his second wife, Gwyn Conger Steinbeck, who until the publication of her memoir MY LIFE WITH JOHN STEINBECK, has been a silent presence in the Steinbeck story. Her name is even missing in the bios that accompany his works, which still sell in tens of thousands, some standard works for literary students worldwide.
Steinbeck was rightly awarded the Nobel Prize in 1962 for his overall canon of work soon after the publication of The Winter of Discontent. By then, he had been married to his third wife, Elaine, for a decade. Steinbeck's writing was well thought through, wonderfully descriptive of America (and on one occasion Russia!), yet energetic and edgy. It regularly featured characters on the fringe of society, bums and misfits, the greedy, the crooks and in some cases even the depraved. His tales were understandable to ordinary readers, if not popular with Sunday school ma’ams, and more genteel and conservative middle Americans.
But what of second wife Gwyn, his wartime lover, mistress, bride, mother and ex-wife within nine years (1939-1948)? She divorced him on the grounds of incompatibility (the only ground that he would accept) and later died in 1975, before the major biographies of John Steinbeck were written. Her full story has never emerged until now. Her memoir accounts their wild times together and recalls his personality, tempers both good and bad, his moral frailty, belligerence and fanatical devotion to his writing. Her memoir is graphic, often funny and indicative of the relationship between the sexes in those times (which now seem so long ago and wrong by todays’ standards), and if in places her tale is embittered, then that is inevitable.
From the 1972 interview with Douglas Brown until this year – the story has been hidden. The publishers believe it should be revealed; that it would be remiss for Gwyn’s story not to be published, although this is but one complete version told to Palm Springs Desert Sun editor Douglas Brown.
In the United States, December 20th marks the 50th anniversary of Steinbeck's death. papers are to be unsealed. Who knows if among them there will be more revelations about Gwyn Conger Steinbeck.
This year also makes the centenary of women’s suffrage in the United Kingdom, how fitting that Gwyn’s journal – the story of Steinbeck’s second, and perhaps deliberately “forgotten” wife, be published.
Bruce Lawson, Biographer

This book is now available in Paperback in the U.S. (hardcovers soon) at

Steinbeck's range of writing was rich and varied.He honed his craft on a number of short stories, which were published in magazines as was the fashion at the time.In this way he built up a following which enabled him to break through as a writer.Surprisingly it was one of his 'little books' that provided his first success Tortilla Flat.His agent thought it was 'trivial':his then publisher turned it down,but Pascal Covici, who became his long time publisher and friend did publish it in 1935: the critics liked it and John Steinbeck was on his way.
NYC Partylife Xmas 1943
Gwyn lore 5, Excerpt from My Life With John Steinbeck
That first Christmas as Mrs. John Steinbeck was a sensational one, day and especially the nights. We were both quite passionate. During this festive holiday season - and Christmas and the New Year is always somehow special in New York with excitement, and snow- we went to one celebration that was out of this world. Mildred Bailey and her husband Red Norvo, the great musician threw a party. What a blast! I shall never forget it, nor, I imagine did anyone who was there. Everybody in show business was there. In the crowd was Humphrey Bogart, Virginia Mayo, Burl Ives, the Robert Ruarks, George and Mimsi Frazier, the great pantomimist Jimmy Savo, and all of Red Norvo's band. Hazel Scott was there, too. She later married Adam Clayton Powell. Perhaps I may have been ahead of the times in those days: we did not care about color, just friendships and talent.
It was a huge party, and every singer, entertainer, and great jazz musicians performed. Mildred had invited a whole gang from Harlem, including the great negro keyman, Eddie Heywood. Mildred was working at Cafe Societt then, so naturally, she got up and sang. That evening was the first time, too, that I met Robert Capa, who was John's partner when they did A Russian Journal. John adored those kinds of parites. If you loved life, music, good friebnds, who wouldn't?

Excerpts from Preface by Jay Parini, Steinbeck biographer on MY LIFE WITH JOHN STEINBECK
John Steinbeck (1902-1968) was, with Hemingway, Faulkner, and Fitzgerald, among the small handful of American literary giants of the twentieth century; the author of such classic novels as OF MICE AND MEN, THE GRAPES OF WRATH, TORTILLA FLAT. CANNERY ROW and EAST OF EDEN. His achievements were recognized with the Pulitzer Prize in 1940 and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962, among other awards.
When he accepted the Nobel in Stockholm, he declared with typical eloquence:’ The writer is delegated to declare and to celebrate man’s proven capacity for greatness of heart and spirit–for gallantry in defeat, for courage, compassion, and love. In the endless war against weakness and despair, these are the bright red flags of hope and emulation. I hold that a writer who does not believe in the perfectibility of man has no dedication or any membership in literature.’
There is, of course, oftyen a dramatic, even jarring difference between a writer’s art and his life, between what the writer puts on the page and how he conducts himself in human affairs. as a man, like most men, Steinbeck had inconsistencies in character, some of them glaring.He drank too much, often to the point of complete inebriation; he could be thin-skinned and spiteful, hated all forms of criticism and was (in his first two marriages) unfaithful in his relationships. These early marriages failed in part because of ways he behaved, without much consideration for his spouses…..
I found in writing my biography it was impossible to get a good take on Gwyn. Steinbeck had been wildly attracted to her: she was beautiful, tall, and willowy. She had a lot of energy and intelligence, or so I gathered from various accounts. But as she had passed away, it was impossible to know how she felt about her famous husband and what that marriage was really like. Did Steinbeck value her? Did he treat her well? Did they have much in common? Was he a consistent husband, someone she could trust? What sort of effect did she have on his writing life, and why did the quality of his writing often seem to waver in the forties, fifties, and sixties?
…MY LIFE WITH JOHN STEINBECK is a memoir of her marriage to Steinbeck by Gwyn….To a degree, it answers these questions, and it’s a compelling story, with many biographical details, asides, and, anecdotes….Published here for the first time, it’s a genuinely significant literary discovery. Her memoir sheds light on the part of Steinbeck’s life that has been in shadow over half a century. Aa readers will discover, Gwyn’s voice is passionate, radiant and clear, and it tells us a lot about why Steinbeck might have fallen in love with her.

9/6/18! Lawson Publishers Ltd. are pleased to announce
the historic first publication of Gwyn Conger Steinbeck's

MY LIFE WITH JOHN STEINBECK by Gwyn Conger Steinbeck
As told to Douglas Brown.
ISBN: 978-1-9996752-0-2 Paperback, $18.00
978-1-9996752-2-6 e-book, $7.00
978-1-9996752-1-9 Hard cover $25.00
Pages: 272
"... a compelling story, with many biographical details, asides, and anecdotes that make it well worth the price of admission. Published here for the first time, it’s a genuinely significant literary discovery. Her memoir sheds light on the part of Steinbeck's life that has been in shadow over half a century."
Jay Parini, author of John Steinbeck: A Biography
20th December is the 50th anniversary of John Steinbeck’s death (1968),No one knows what will be revealed when the records are unsealed at his instruction.
Gwyn's revelations, published 9/6, beat that timing.
It was in our house that I almost lost John Junior before he was born. John showed up with some agents. John said, "Take them through the rest of the house." It had been an exhausting day. It seemed as if I had climbed the five flights of stairs up and down a dozen times. I was completely tired out and just did not have any energy left.
"I cannot climb another flight of stairs today," I said smiling. John looked at me as though he would kill me. We were standing on a landing. He swore at me and tried to kick me down the stairs. I fell about five steps. I grabbed the rail as the agents stood with their mouths open.
:Come on," he said, "I'll show you the place." They followed him meekly and I sat on the stairs until they came back down. I was so angry with him but knew that my refusal caused the anger.

GWYN Lore 2, Excerpt from Gwyn Steinbeck’s MY LIFE WITH JOHN STEINBECK
“That evening at Tim Costello’s is a famous part of Carlos Baker’s book, where he described John Hersey, Bob Capa, John Steinbeck and Mrs. Steinbeck. But he does not say which Mrs. Steinbeck. That was the night, too, when Hemingway broke the blackthorn over his head and ordered John O'Hara out.
The way Baker put it is not quite the real story. The blackthorn happened to have belonged to John’s great-grandfather, and John had given it to Tim who was hanging it over the bar. Also contrary to what Baker said, O'Hara did mot leave the place in a huff. He stood outside looking through the window, whimpering like a child. That is the truth, and when John and I left, there was O'Hara, eaving back and forth in the middle of Third Avenue.
‘Let’s do something,” I said to John.
“Oh that poor sonofabitch, that poor sonofabitch,” he said,“he’ll get into a fight, don’t let’s get near him because he’ll want to start a fight.’
We left another merry writer and tottered home. John had yanked me by the arm and said, 'Leave O'Hara alone; and we moved off for home on 51st Street after what had been an eventful dinner at Costello’s. John and Hemingway were quite cordial (the drinks helped.) It had been a fun evening, enhanced not only by the company of great men of words but by our fresh corn on the cob.”

"John was finally allowed to return to the room where I was covered and ready for surgery. "I don't want you to worry," he said."I'm terribly disappointed."
"I;m disappointed in myself," I said.
Then John said, 'I chose you as the woman to bear my children without problems, and here I am, working on a book, working with my editors, and you have complicated my life."
I was sure he loved me, but I did not know what to think. I did not believe he even knew what he was saying. I was wheeled away to have our baby.

Excerpt--"John continued to work on Cannery Row, but I knew he was becoming his old restless self once more. As for me, I had the post natal blues and was still ill and very thin. Fortunately, we now had Ms. Diehl, who took over in her most efficient German way. She was so organized that John began to hate her, and even wanted to get rid of her. I did not, and she stayed. John returned to his daily work on Cannery Row, to his routine with his ranch coffee breakfasts and hot baths at the end of the day. He was never much of a domestic man. "I'll always take pride in the fact that I will never learn to pin a diaper," he remarked.

Airbrushed from History
John Steinbeck (1902 -1968), supreme writer and storyteller, led millions, who had never before read fiction, to read his novels and magazine pieces – stories of ordinary characters told in a home-spun way. Despite his critics, Steinbeck’s books still sell in tens of thousands worldwide and his 1962 Nobel Prize was well earned. A critic at the time, on hearing of the $50,000 prize, sniped at Steinbeck saying how long did it take him to earn it? ‘Forty years’, was the gruff, yet succinct reply.
Of his three wives, Carol, Gwyn and Elaine, Gwyn has been totally and perhaps deliberately forgotten. Steinbeck pursued her. She was introduced to him by his childhood friend Max Wagner at just twenty years old. Gwyn was bright and beautiful and taught Steinbeck to enjoy life. It was a relationship doomed to fail, but it lasted eight years.
Age difference, his indifference and the dislike of Gwyn by Steinbeck’s sisters (he was the only boy amongst the siblings) meant their union was ill-advised. Yet she met celebrities like Robert Capa, Ernie Pyle, Burgess Meredith, Charlie Chaplin and Ernest Hemingway, in an alcohol fuelled war and post war era.
Eventually, partying and travel did not compensate for his affairs, unexplained absences, constant restlessness and indifferent, sometimes brutal behaviour toward her and their children. Then there was Steinbeck’s soul mate, Ed Ricketts, who contributed to a relationship that was “a bit crowded”
When Gwyn divorced Steinbeck, he was astounded and spent the rest of his life hating her, even demonising her as Kate, the wicked villainess and brothel owner in East of Eden. Steinbeck could hate with a passion – and did.
Gwyn never remarried and in later life, according to Douglas Brown, suffered from terrible asthma, not eased by her constant smoking and periodic heavy drinking-a legacy of her time with Steinbeck. She died in 1975, aged just fifty-eight. This is a story never before told. Was she treated fairly? Did Steinbeck value her? Was she thwarted in her ambition-a victim of attitudes at that time?
Before her marriage to John Steinbeck, Toby Street, Steinbeck’s long-time friend and lawyer told Gwyn’s mother, known as Big Gwen, ‘Carol was a sweet girl too, but John made her into a monster. If he gets Gwyn, he will make her into a monster too.’ Perhaps he did. Read her memoir, a missing piece of his private life, and make up your own mind.
Bruce Lawson, Publisher
MY LIFE WITH JOHN STEINBECK by Gwyn Conger Steinbeck

"... a compelling  story, with many biographical details, asides, and anecdotes that make it well worth the price of admission. Published here for the first time, it’s a genuinely significant literary discovery. Her memoir sheds light on the part of Steinbeck's life that has been in shadow over half a century."  --Jay Parini, author of John Steinbeck: A Biography

Discovered--GWYN CONGER STEINBECK. New book relates love and adventures of the "forgotten wife," muse to the Nobel Prizewinning author of American classics
MY LIFE WITH JOHN  STEINBECK: by Gwyn Conger Steinbeck The Story of John Steinbeck's Forgotten Wife

Who was Gwyn Conger Steinbeck? Unlike Steinbeck's first and third wives, she's unmentioned in standard editions of  classics, such as The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men.  But that's about to change with the publication of MY LIFE WITH JOHN STEINBECK: by Gwyn Conger Steinbeck, The story of John Steibeck's Forgotten Wife. (Lawson Publishing Ltd. Sept. 6th.). The ms, lost since 1972, was recently discovered in Wales. The book includes her introduction, that of journalist Douglas G. Brown and the acclaimed John Steinbeck biographer, Jay Parini.

The book reveals the missing voice of  Gwyn,  "the forgotten wife," mother of his two sons, during a 6-year marriage that included the tumult of World War 2. When she met Steinbeck in 1939, Gwyn was a professional singer, working for RKO radio and CBS in L.A. She was an independent young woman, lively and radiant in her love for the great man wooing her--14 years her senior. He was impressed by her beauty and magnetic presence.  For women of her era, many of whom had to leave jobs after the war, marriage was considered a woman's true career--love was life. This journal is her story of that adventure, often "on the road" with a restless Steinbeck, criss-crossing continents and making homes. She later wrote:.

"Tremendous love existed between us....Sometimes, love made us better than we were, it does that with everyone. My love for John was such that I had no hesitation in giving up everything I had for him, which I did. That was a mistake. Although out relationship brought happiness, it also brought unhappiness. At one point, I became the Indian woman, walking three paces behind the master."

My Life with John Steinbeck is on target about people and places. A newlywed on 78th St in NYC., Gwyn was alone after John suddenly decided to go to war. But later they enjoyed snowstorms and high society, carousing with the  Robert Benchleys and Burl Ives among others. They moved to Monterey for sojourns with Steinbeck crony Ed Ricketts in his eccentric Lab. There were treks to Mexico, a story of an elegant party at a Russian Embassy, and one about being pregnant and sick by the side of a road.. 

Gwyn says Steinbeck was "in love with love." But for much of their time together, she was completely in love with both the great writer and the flawed man. She gave him complete quiet to work and, when needed, her full attention. The Moon is Down, Cannery Row, The Pearl, The Wayward Bus were written during their years. Gwyn  tried to be the "Amazon" Steinbeck expected; until their sons' births which she linked with the mysterious "death of their love." When she asked for a divorce (finalized 1949) she could  no longer live with him. He may never have forgiven her. Considering the character of Cathy in East of Eden, is said to be modeled on  Gwyn, that may be so.

How often do we hear about the costs of being with a famous man? When is trading up self-abandonment? Gwyn’s story is an enigmatic look at an "Everywoman" of her era, who took marriage as her vocation and  enabled a great man to pursue his work.  Yet the ideology of giving "all" came at a steep price.  I was moved by the pathos of her efforts to make home--not one but many--an attractive place of comfort, if not security. Just as she was putting down roots, her home was gone, lost in another unfathomable whim. 

2018, the 50th anniversary of John Steinbeck’s death (12/20/68), may be the year of the woman. How fitting for Gwyn Steinbeck's journal to be published.  

Lawson Publishing LTD is located in Powys, Wales. Publisher Bruce Lawson is pleased with the release of GWYN CONGER STEINBECK: My Life With John Steinbeck in  the U.K. and the United States.

Douglas G. Brown, Editor

Douglas G Brown was a British and American journalist, feature writer and one-time columnist who became editor of the Palm Springs Desert Sun. His brother, John Brown, who inherited the manuscript for My Life with John Steinbeck, decided to publish it with Lawson Publishing Ltd as his late brother’s legacy.

Bruce Lawson, Publisher
Bruce Lawson was born and educated in Kidderminster. After working in Ireland and Jamaica, where he became a rugby international, he returned to the UK to run his own Chartered Accountancy Practice. In 2013 he wrote and published Charles Rolls of Rolls-Royce. Bruce now lives in Montgomeryshire and is the director of Lawson Publishing Ltd. He has made an extensive study of Steinbeck’s early life and worked for two years, bringing My Life with John Steinbeck to publication..


Gwyn Lore.

GWYN LORE--Recounted by Jeffrey Archer
Jeffrey Archer (now Lord Archer) wrote Cain and Abel, Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less and many other thrillers, wrote in a short story about a journey where Kelley, a student at Stanford, hitches a ride with an elderly gentleman. She talks of her ambition to write the Great American Novel and how Hemingway, Steinbeck, Bellow and Faulkner are the “modern giants of American literature."
Driving his pre-war Studebaker, the old man urges her to “get as much experience of the world and people as you can before you sit down and put pen to paper." He refers to Ed and his first wife Carol who “lasted thirteen years before she was replaced by Gwyn who managed just five. But to do her justice, which is quite difficult, she gave me two great sons.”
Continuing, the driver went on “when I got home (from being a war correspondent) I discovered my wife (Gwyn) had shacked up with some other feller. Can’t say I blame her."
He continued “soon after, I married Elaine. I can only tell you one thing, I know for sure, Kelley, three wives are more than enough for any man.”
At the end of the journey, the elderly driver brought the car to a stuttering halt, outside Stanford College gates.
“Thank you for the lift, John,” said Kelley as she got out of the car. She walked quickly round to the driver’s side to say goodbye to the old man as he wound down the window. “It’s been fascinating to hear about your life.”
Taken from Tell Tale by Jeffrey Archer, 2017 ISBN: 978-1-4472-5230-6
Bruce Lawson--Publisher of MY LIFE WITH JOHN STEINBECK

Doug Brown info

Douglas G Brown 1939-1997

Douglas Brown was born and educated in Enfield near London in England.  After receiving a degree in journalism from the University of London, he joined the Royal Air Force and was eventually assigned as Secretary to the Consul General of the British Embassy in Washington DC.
  In 1960, he decided to try his luck in Hollywood.  Taking the train west, he interrupted his journey to see Palm Springs.  Thirty- seven years later he was still enthralled with the magic of that desert oasis and became a dedicated promotor of the resort.  As both editor of the Palm Springs Desert Post and as a feature writer and columnist he covered the entertainment and social scene for the Desert Sun, the Key Magazine and Beverley Hills Courier. Doug Brown was also Art Editor for the popular Sand to Sea magazine.  He authored two books and headlined his own radio show, as well as establishing his public relations firm. His many clients and friends held Doug in high esteem, appreciated his charisma, energy, personal warmth and unique European charm.  He was a gentleman’s gentleman who sadly died far too young.
One friend quoted of him “Whenever one met Doug Brown, one’s day became a little brighter…”
He said he met Gwyn Steinbeck in the early seventies, when she ran a small art gallery and lived in a modest, two-bedroom house in Palm Springs, California. She had many mementoes of her time and travels with her then husband John Steinbeck, but following his death in 1968, Gwyn lived modestly, as Brown understood it, on a low fixed income.
She related her story, both the early promise and later tragedy, describing it as ‘but a fragment of John’s life.’
The result is a memoir that delivers a unique and controversial portrait of the great American writer, John Steinbeck. Lost since 1972, and recently discovered in Wales, My Life with John Steinbeck allows Gwyn Steinbeck - John Steinbeck’s second wife and the mother of his two children – to tell her story for the first time in 46 years. It is the compelling story of a woman’s love for a man hailed by the world for his literary genius. A man who, in Gwyn’s own words, “was not a hero. He was only a tremendously complex man who could be very beautiful one moment and then change into something very un-beautiful.”

Bruce Lawson