RARA-AVIS: Re: James Atlee Phillips (fwd)

From: Juri Nummelin ( jurnum@utu.fi)
Date: 03 Jan 2001

I still got messages about James Atlee Phillips AKA Philip Atlee. I don't know the URL for the web site that is mentioned below, but I'm sure it could be easily found.


---------- Forwarded message ---------- Date: Tue, 2 Jan 2001 15:45:52 +0700 From: "From the Cluttered Desktop of:" < cjade@ksc.th.com> To: Juri Nummelin < jurnum@utu.fi> Subject: Re: James Atlee Phillips

The following is from a page on the Net about James's son, folk-rock artist Shawn Phillips. As you will see it contains a lot of family background. It must date from pre-1991 since Jim's death is not included.

"CHAPTER 1: AN AMERICAN FAMILY Shawn Phillips was first arrested at the age of ten, and had to face the United States District Attorney as a result. When he was a teenager, he was arrested several times by the Fort Worth Police, and almost thrown in jail. While in the Navy, he had to spend two weeks in the discipline barracks for going A.W.O.L. A few years later, he spent three days in jail in Dublin, Ireland. Before going into detail about how a rock musician evolved from such a turbulent youth, his family background will be considered.

Phillips' paternal grandfather, Edwin Thomas Phillips, was a graduate of The University of Texas Law School, and founded a large corporate law firm in Fort Worth: Phillips, Tramel, Chizum, Estes, Edwards, and Price. On September 5, 1928, despite his robust health (6'3", 205 pounds), he suddenly caught lobar pneumonia and died; the business went downhill very rapidly without his leadership. Shawn Phillips' grandmother, Mary Louise Phillips, was socially prominent in Fort Worth, serving on the School Board, and having an elementary school named for her in 1948.

Shawn's maternal grandfather, Dr. Charles Fielding Clayton, was an orthopedic surgeon, with head office in Fort Worth, and practice in neighboring states as well. Clayton founded an orthopedic clinic, in which Shawn presently holds a 25 percent financial interest. All four grandparents are deceased.

Shawn's mother, Joyce Clayton Phillips, attended The University of Texas and Fairmount College, before marrying Shawn's father October 12, 1938. She worked as a fashion model in New York briefly, and, as an amateur pianist, provided Shawn's only musical background. She suffered from Raynaud's Disease, a scleroderma in which the blood supply to the extremities is restricted. She had to have seventeen surgical operations, including the amputation of several of her fingertips, and died October 14, 1956.

Shawn's father, James (Jim) Atlee Phillips, "the black sheep" of his family, has been a writer most of his life. At nineteen, he had published two books of poetry, The Metal Forest and Wind, Sand, and Stars. After discovering that poetry would not support his family, Phillips stopped trying to market it. He has continued writing poetry, stating, "If it's good, it'll keep. If it is not, it doesn't matter." After marrying Joyce, he moved to New York City for three years, where he did publicity for Billy Rose. While there he published his next book, The Inheritors (Dial Press, 1940), a survey of
"country club Christianity." He thought that he would lead the student rebellion of his day with that book and was so convinced of it that "I became a leader of the people. Then one day I looked around and there was nobody behind me. So I gave up the crusade."

In 1941, Phillips became operations manager at Hicks Field near Fort Worth, training Army Air Force pilots, until he had a fight with the Director of Flying and knocked him over his desk. Phillips moved briefly to Consolidated Vultee, where he was recruited by Pan American Airlines to join the China National Aviation Corporation (of which they owned 49 percent, with the rest owned by Chiang Kai Chek's Kuomintang government) as head of Flight Operations for the Hump route from India to China over the Himalayas.

After two years in that capacity, he returned to the United States and joined the Marines. He intended to become a combat correspondent but was not allowed to. Instead Sergeant Phillips (he had been a colonel in the Chinese Air Force) served as an editor of The Leatherneck, the Marine Corps magazine. One of the men on the staff of The Leatherneck was Fred Lasswell, the creator of the comic strip, "Snuffy Smith." Phillips gave Lasswell a picture of his son, with a mournful expression on his face, taken when Shawn was about two years old.

I took this picture to Lasswell who imposed it on his board and drew a picture around it of Shawn sitting in a crude wooden tub. And Snuffy Smith is standing there with a big scrubbing brush, bubbles all over the place, and he's saying, 'Well, Goddamn, Shawn, you got to take a bath once in your life.' Shawn is so outraged that it was a great thing.

After the war, the Phillips family moved to San Miguel Allende, Mexico, for about two and a half years. "We just decided to find a Mexican place, and we didn't really mean to go to San Miguel. We just started driving, and when we got there, we said, 'This is the place,' and stopped. Shawn, then about four years old, quickly picked up Spanish from the street children. When the Phillips were entertaining, Shawn would come in, "glance around like a tow-headed fireplug, and say 'Chingada la cabrn, seor,' or 'bsame cula, seor.'" His father would quietly take him by the hand and walk him out of the room. Shawn also would go to the poorest hovels of town and say, "no hay huevos en mi casa." (There are no eggs in my house.) Even the poorest family would give him an egg, which he always brought home.

They subsequently returned to Fort Worth, and Phillips went to Europe on an
"abortive mission" to do a syndicated column called "Scene Abroad." After two years of that, he returned to Burma to run a charter airline, supplying troops and ammunition for the Burmese government. In 1953 he returned to the United States, and, due to his constant travel and their general incompatibility, divorced Joyce. Phillips announced to the Judge that he would pay Joyce $600 a month for the rest of her life, regardless of whether she remarried.

Because he did not wish to subject his son to the emotional stress of custody conflicts, Phillips moved to the Canary Islands. There he married the former Baroness Hermelin; that marriage lasted seven years. During that period, while living in the Canaries, Sweden, and Spain, Phillips wrote sports and adventure stories for the Saturday Evening Post and Collier's and did television and movie work.

In 1956, he returned to Fort Worth and Joyce's funeral, a very traumatic event for Shawn. After completing a contract for Radio Keith Orpheum, Phillips took his son to Tahiti for several months. There he rented a house in the Punavia district on the beach outside Papeete. Shawn, an expert swimmer, had fun learning to fill outrigger canoes with water and then empty them again. Jim was having a delayed reaction to Joyce's death, and "was drinking far too much. Shawn helped me more than I helped him."

In his movie work, he signed contracts by the movie rather than by the year. He did numerous bad movies; the only decent one he worked on was Thunder Road, which starred Robert Mitchum. Phillips' independent spirit got him into a fight with Mitchum, which was described:

I said in a fit of pique, 'Oh, fuck you!' And [Mitchum] said, 'How can you, when you can't even kiss me?' And I said, 'Well, then, I just better take a shot at you.' And I hit the son of a bitch, and was there with it for quite a while. All hands drunk, of course.

The following morning, Phillips woke up with pillows attached to his head by matted blood. Mitchum visited him and helped detach the pillows. The next year, 1959, Phillips committed himself to the federal hospital in Fort Worth for Nembutal addiction, worried about the danger caused by mixing that barbiturate with whiskey. He was released after ninety days, and moved to Eureka Springs, Arkansas, and in September, 1963, married his present wife, Martha Tuttle Phillips. During his first years in Arkansas, he continued to do occasional movie work but did so reluctantly, as he preferred writing for Collier's and the Saturday Evening Post. Until those magazines discontinued publication, he had a "gravy train," because he was paid $3,500 for a short story he could write in two weeks. However, when those magazines ceased to exist, he was "driven to the basement of publication" to begin an adventure series about a character named Joe Gall. While his wife was pregnant with Shawn's brother, Phillips wanted a middle name for this "cuckoo," so he appropriated the name of the unborn baby for it. Gall became Joseph Liam Gall, and Shawn's brother, Liam Pritchard Phillips, when he arrived on November 14, 1964.

Phillips has recently finished the nineteenth book in the Gall series, which is published by Fawcett, and describes the books, which have sold about 18 million copies, as "nothing but cops and robbers, international background. Do it fast enough so you get them out of the theater before they realized they've been defrauded." Phillips has spent much of the past ten years overseas, researching backgrounds for the books. He noted, "I use only about 25 percent of what I find in these books, and the reason I'm going is to educate myself, and this is just a pretty good swindle to pay for the trip. He plans to continue the Gall series as long as it is interesting and exciting, and has plans to write his memoirs, tentatively entitled, Going to Find the Wizard. He also plans to devote more time to his family. From the foregoing, it is evident that Shawn Philllips' family background is unusual; it had a significant effect upon his life and attitudes."

Note (by DW): the stint in Ft Worth federal hospital obviously provided background for THE DEATH BIRD CONTRACT.

Also here is a photo of Jim, probably taken sometime in the 80s; also from one of his son's websites. [This I took off, since it was an attachment.]

Feel free to use these on the mailing list.


Don Walsh

PS elsewhere on the Net Jim is quoted as saying he was wounded in the ankle on 'Iwo Shima' (Iwo Jima) and spent some time in Klamouth Falls US Navy hospital...that whole speech is straight out of several of the Gall books word for word, and accoding to the above material, he never saw combat in USMC. So, the Iwo Shima thing appears to be a 'war story' or was lifted from the novels and assumed to be autobiographical. I know for sure that he was editor of LEATHERNECK as friends of mine in the Corps remember him well.

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