RARA-AVIS: Traven & Huston

From: Moorich2@aol.com
Date: 02 Apr 2003

In a message dated 4/2/03 4:06:55 AM Eastern Standard Time, owner-rara-avis@icomm.ca writes:

 I remember doing some research in the Warner Bros. files a number of years
 ago and running across an original typed letter from Traven to John Huston,
 the director of TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE, and signed in Traven's hand.
 Having heard many of the legends, I found it rather thrilling to hold in my
 hand a paper typed and signed by the legend himself. Rumor has it that
 Traven showed up on the SIERRA MADRE set, "disguised" as an emissary from
 Traven. As I recall, Huston was pretty sure it was Traven himself.
 Jim Beaver

Wow! Thanks for sharing that memory! Warner Brothers bought the rights to TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE before the war and selected Huston to direct it.
 The war intervened as Huston went off to service. During the 1940s, Traven was living in Acapulco pounding out letters on an old typewriter in a mud hut. At times to outsiders he claimed to be a Norwegian sailor named Traven Torsvan but he was always called "el gringo" by his neighbors as to them he always claimed American citizenship. In fact, from the time he fled Germany after his sentence of death following WW I, he had no citizenship until he accepted Mexican naturalization in 1951. He may have been aided in this by his connection to Esperanza Lopez Mateos, his friend and sometime agent. Her brother was prominent in Mexican political circles and, in fact, later in the 1950s was elected president.

Huston may have been the first person to whom Traven pretended to be Hal Croves, agent for B. Traven. Off and on he was Croves when he needed to be for the rest of his life speaking of Traven in the third person. In his autobiography (OPEN BOOK I think was the title) Huston has some vivid memories of Croves. Croves was hired as a consultant at $100 or $150 a week.
 Huston said on the location set there was a running gag where all the guys would gang up on one person, his clothes would be stripped and (IIRC) his balls painted red or some such nonsense. Huston took his turn as did Bogart and the others. But when it came time for Croves he fought so violently that eventually they stopped as it had ceased to be fun. I have some vague memory that in that book Huston expressed some doubts as to whether Croves was actually Traven. I will check the next time I see a copy. Huston's wife Evelyn Keyes remembered they went fishing with Croves/Traven but the writer wore a coat and tie the entire fishing trip.

The most curious thing to me was the fact that Traven did very little writing in his last quarter century of life. He rewrote old books as they appeared in new editions and more than anything, devoted time to film adaptations often in collaboration with the great Mexican cameraman Gabriel Figueroa. The German biographer Karl Guthke gave me a believable explanation. Traven's German declined through the many years of nonuse in Mexico. His English was also somewhat awkward or clumsy as witness Harlan Ellison's (how did he get in this story!) reaction to the manuscripts for STORIES BY THE MAN NOBODY KNOWS which Regency Books published in 1961 with several "new" stories. In fact the new stories were mostly translations of stories that had been written in German years before, translated into Spanish by Ms. Mateos, and finally published by Regency (perhaps IIRC after some touching up by the editor Mr. Ellison). This paperback, by the way, also has Traven's stories from "Manhunt" and is worth looking for. I also recommend the later collection THE NIGHT VISITOR and other stories, which includes several superb stories of interest to readers of this list.

But to return (and end) to the question of language, it may be that in the last period of his life, he simply did not have a language in which he had sufficient mastery to tell his stories at the same level as his early years.

Richard Moore

# To unsubscribe from the regular list, say "unsubscribe rara-avis" to
# majordomo@icomm.ca.  This will not work for the digest version.
# The web pages for the list are at http://www.miskatonic.org/rara-avis/ .

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 02 Apr 2003 EST