|"When asked if he felt he deserved it, he replied 'Frankly, no.'"|
In January the world learnt that in 1962, the year American author John Steinbeck won, Karen Blixen, Robert Graves and Lawrence Durrell were also nominated. This has restarted the debate which raged at the time as to whether Steinbeck was worthy of the prize at all. The New York Times were shocked that a writer of ‘limited talent’ prone to ‘tenth-rate philosophizing’ was even nominated.
In 1962 the Nobel committee was split over the prize as there wasn’t ‘any obvious candidate’; they claimed they were in an ‘unenviable situation’ – Graves was considered too much of a poet (a poet had won the year previously), Blixen had died that September (making her ineligible) and it was considered too soon to give Durrell the prize (his only novels of note being The Alexandria Quartet). This left Steinbeck, previously nominated many times and hugely popular (despite the misgivings of the literary establishment), to take the prize. His literary credentials may have been suspect to some, but there is no doubt that his influence as a writer remains supreme – his books are still massively popular, particularly with schools. Steinbeck himself was skeptical of the prize: when asked if he felt he deserved it, he replied 'Frankly, no.'
On the fifth of February, 1959, Carson McCullers gave a luncheon. She seldom entertained anymore, her health was so precarious, but Isak Dinesen was in town--New York, that is—for the first (and only) time, and there were two women she wanted to meet. McCullers was one. The other was Marilyn Monroe. Dinesen mentioned this to McCullers when they were introduced at a literary function, and Carson said nothing could be easier. She knew Marilyn, she said, and there was Arthur Miller at the next table; she would ask a few old friends as well. It was a little disconcerting to learn that "Tanya," as Dinesen preferred being called, lived on oysters and white grapes, washed down with champagne — so perhaps a souffle, too, she told her cook, in case the other guests found that fare meager.Speaking of favorite writers, do do do read this letter from the hospital by Dorothy Parker. Why can't she have been cloned?? ("And, above all, there is the kindhearted if ineffectual gentleman across the hall, where he lies among his gallstones, who sent me in a turtle to play with. Honest. Sent me in a turtle to play with. I am teaching it two-handed bridge. And as soon as I get really big and strong, I am going to race it to the end of the room and back. ")
On the day, the Millers called for Dinesen in their car, late — when was it otherwise with Marilyn? Monroe did look luscious in her black sheath with the pronounced decolletage and fur collar. Tanya (Dinesen), who weighed eighty-odd pounds, wore an elegant grey suit, her head swathed in a turban. After lunch she told one of her tales about being young in Kenya and killing her first lion and sending the skin to the King of Denmark. It was a hard act to follow. But Marilyn had a story, too, if a less heroic one: She was giving a dinner party, using her.mother-in-law's recipe for noodles, but it got late, the guests arrived, and she had to finish off the noodles with a hairdryer. Marilyn was always best in comic parts. Then Carson, as she told it later, put a record on the phonograph, and she, Tanya, and Marilyn danced together—on top of the black marble dining table, she said. Blame it on the oysters and champagne.