RARA-AVIS: Steve Lichtman on William March

From: William Denton ( buff@pobox.com)
Date: 20 Mar 2001

[Steve Lichtman is having some trouble getting his mailer configured, and asked me to forward this for him]

>From: Sllichtman@aol.com
>Date: Tue, 20 Mar 2001 16:28:50 EST
>Subject: (no subject)

According to the introduction to the Prion edition of March's "The Bad Seed" (available for under five pounds/$8 from amazon.co.uk; there is also an Ecco press edition available from amazon's US site for under $10 - not sure if its the same as the UK edition I have), the book was published in April 1954 to great success: big sales, critical acclaim from the Atlantic Monthly and the New York Times, and praise from the likes of Hemingway, Dos Passos, Carson McCullers and Eudora Welty.

Maxwell Anderson's stage version of the story opened on Broadway at the end of 1954 and ran for 322 performances, and two years later Mervyn LeRoy filmed the story for Warner Bros. using most of the original stage cast. The film received four Oscar nominations, though critics lamented the studio's substituting a happy ending for a . . . not-so-happy ending. According to Elaine Showalter, who wrote the introduction to the Prion edition, and where I'm getting all this information from, it was March's book that introduced the phrase and image of the "bad seed" to connote an evil child.

March died of a heart attack in May, 1954, soon after publication of the book. He was already sixty years old, and prior to "The Bad Seed" was the author of many short stories and novels over the years published to no great acclaim. Apparently there should be in existence somewhere "A William March Omnibus", edited by his friend Alastair Cooke, and published in 1954. There is also apparently a critical biography called "The Two Worlds of William March", published in 1984 by Roy S. Simmonds. March was born in 1893 in Mobile, Alabama (the setting of "The Bad Seed").

March's given name was William Edward Campbell. He spent his youth in Alabma, and his family went from wealth to modest means during his childhood, a turn of events which seems to have left its scars. March moved to New York in 1916, where he lived with his sister before enlisting in World War I. March served with distinction in France and won several medals. After the war he had a successful career with a shipping firm, making a lot of money. His work for the company included stints overseas, notably in Berlin.

March eventually moved to London where he underwent psychoanalysis in the 1930s. His analyst, Edward Glover, encouraged him to move back to New York and resume writing. March did that, and his Southern Gothic novels garnered him a name in New York literary circles, though not any commercial success. However, his financial success in business enabled him to devote himself to writing and to become a figure in New York's literary and party life in the 1940s. He also became a discriminating art collector.

According to Showalter, March led a troubled life, suffering several severe breakdowns early on and becoming increasingly alone and bizarre over they years, obsessed with sex and criminality. He was obsessed with the sex lives of his friends and of strangers, but very reticent about his own. Clearly he was homosexual, but very conflicted about it (not surprising given his birthplace and era) when not outright repressing it
(homosexual repression is a theme of the book). He apparently liked to look out his Central Park Window with a pair of binoculars and watch the comings and goings and sexual pairings in the park below.

March suffered another serious breakdown in 1946 and spent six months in a Southern sanitarium. He moved to New Orleans in 1950 and settled in the French Quarter. He finished "The Bad Seed", which he had been working on
(and talking to friends about) for years. The manuscript was rejected as too shocking by Little, Brown, but accepted by Rinehart with minor changes.

Amazon.co.uk also has available inexpensively the play based on the novel. Amazon's US site also has listed a University of Alabama Press paperback edition of "Company K", March's tales from WWI.

--Steve Lichtman

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