I received this just after Christmas and with permission I'll
send it to the list.
---------- Forwarded message ---------- Date: Wed, 27 Dec
2000 22:32:42 +0700 From: "From the Cluttered Desktop of:"
email@example.com Subject: James Atlee Phillips
I'd be delighted to contribute what I can about my friend
James Atlee Phillips, as your list's information about him
seems quite limited.
James was born in 1915 in Fort Worth to a prominent Texas
family, which later fell on hard times. His first novel, THE
OUTSIDERS, was an expose about the Dallas country club set
and is quite hard to find (read: suppressed.) It was
published in the mid-1930s. Dallas Library keeps it under
lock and key to this day.
James learned to fly when quite young. He worked as a
publicist in New York for Walter Winchell and Billy Rose,
wrote a detective novel in 1939, and joined Claire
Chennault's Flying Tigers.
After Pearl Harbor he enlisted in the US Marines. After WWII
he was a senior staffer for Leatherneck Magazine, then spent
some time in intelligence work. He ran Amphibian Airways in
Burma between '47 and '54, under contract to the Burmese
Government, and we can guess who else. His very first Joe
Gall novel, PAGODA, was based on these experiences, and was
published in the 50s in hardcover long before the Fawcett
paperback 'Contract' series started up. It was basically
autobiographical. James' photo adorned many of the back
covers of the Fawcett paperbacks.
It is unclear whether or not James recruited his younger
brother David into the Agency or whether it was the other way
around, or unrelated (unlikely!) David was recruited in Chile
c.1950 where he had emigrated to, after purchasing a printing
business and an English language newspaper. He had previously
been a Army Air Corps NCO and was a POW in a German
luftstalag. He wrote a play about his POW experienced, which
was accepted for Broadway production, but 6 weeks before
opening night STALAG 17 opened, and blew David's dramatic
career out of the air...David strongly resembled James.
James also wrote two succesful screenplays. One was THUNDER
ROAD, which starred Robert Mitchum as a moonshine runner and
Gene barry as an Alcohol & Tobacco Tax Division (IRS)
agent out to nail him. There was a famous theme song to this
The other was BIG JIM MCLAIN, and was John Wayne's first
independent production. Wayne at first employed his house
writer, James Edward Grant, best remembered for THE ALAMO.
However, there were problems, Grant was a natorious drunk,
and Wayne was shooting this turkey of a movie entirely on
location in Hawaii at a cost of $50,000 a day (big money
then.) Grant climbed into his bottles, sat in the hotel bar
and wouldn't budge. Wayne pleaded with him to no avail, Grant
told him (rather precognitively) to get cancer. Finally Wayne
sent for James Atlee Phillips. Phillips agreed to write the
script, which he did in 10 days with the film being shot as
it rolled off his typewriter. Afterwards James refused to
accept payment; he told me this frightened Wayne's lawyers so
much that they met the Honolulu flight at LAX and insisted he
sign a quit-claim.
The film, which is a potboiler about a House Un-American
Activities Committee investigator chasing Commies in Hawaii,
was a low point in everyone's careers. Worth a mention was a
very young Peter Graves as Wayne's assistant who is murdered
by the sinister forces from Moscow Center.
As James related to me, he collected on the favor John Wayne
owed him. A buddy from the Flying Tigers days in China ended
up in a Taiwanese prison for smuggling opium. This
n'eer-do-well appealed for help from James, who squeezed John
Wayne, who squeezed Dwight D.Eisenhauer, who squeezed
Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek -- who James utterly despised.
The sentence was commuted. And that's how John Wayne paid for
the script to BIG JIM MCLAIN. The fellow in question was the
model for 'Captain Nash', in James' novels PAGODA and THE
STAR RUBY CONTRACT also set in Burma.
James had at least one child, Shawn Phillips, the folk rock
singer. Shawn described his father as being a 'secret agent'
on several of his album blurbs.
James lived in Fayetteville, Arkansas, where his wife was an
executive for the phone company. He travelled a lot on tramp
steamers, where he did most of his writing, often sailing out
of New Orleans, and he always dropped by Mother's Restaurant
when he passed through town, it's a famous USMC haunt.
We were still in touch when he quit writing the Gall novels,
he felt that Joe Gall was getting 'a little long in the
touth'. (His own words.) The final novel was set in South
While the Contract series was occasionally uneven, the best
of the series are as good as anything James ever wrote. I
once did a critique of the series and james told me it agreed
uncannily with his own self-assesments. The best of the
series were THE GREEN WOUND (later reissued with 'Contract'
appended to the title; THE SILKEN BARONESS (likewise
retitled); THE STAR RUBY CONTRACT, THE ILL WIND CONTRACT, and
that great one where Gall taken on heroin addiction as part
of his cover. I can't recall the name. The weakest were THE
IRISH BEAUTY CONTRACT, and that one set in Haiti with the
exploding teddy bears, which James admitted was written for
film but the option was never picked up. Just as
His two novels where Gall goes up against black
revolutionaries in US and the Carribean were in between, as
were the two in which he operated in Canada. THE SKELETON
COAST CONTRACT was good, good enough to get the author
blacklisted by South Africa's apartheid regime!
James was a hard case, just like his character Joe Gall. I
always thought Lee Marvin would be the only choice to play
Don Walsh Bangkok, Thailand
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