Last night the Doris Duke Theatre screened From Here to Eternity, as part of Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day AND the series “Bookish: Novels on the Big Screen.” It was great seeing Frank Sinatra in his Oscar-winning performance as scrappy, big-hearted Maggio, who is killed by one of his own, and aloha-shirted Montgomery Clift as the crazy handsome, hard-headed former boxer and ichiban bugler Robert E. Lee Pruitt who is shot by an MP (the first case of on-screen friendly fire?). Filmed on location on O‘ahu!
As Doris Duke Theatre director Gina Caruso says, you never know what you might experience at the venue—last night Gov. Neil Abercrombie attended the show. Gina convinced him to say a few words about the film, before the scheduled speaker Jeffrey Carroll, chair of the UH English Department. It turns out that the guv KNEW James Jones, author of From Here to Eternity!
“I read the book in 1959, during statehood,” said Abercrombie, and went on to say that along with Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead, it is one of the greatest novels about World War II. (Did you know that the governor did his PhD on Norman Mailer? And even interviewed the great American writer several times.) “I wanted to say that in 1968, I was on my way backpacking round the world. On the Champs Elysées I went to see a film—because I wouldn’t have been on the Champs Elysée otherwise—and coming down the street was this bulldog. A short, thick, square-jawed, fierce-looking man. And I knew instantly that it was James Jones. I had just read an article on Jones in Esquire belaboring him and saying how he hadn’t lived up to his promise. I walked up and said ‘Excuse me, you’re James Jones. I just wanted to tell you, don’t pay any attention to those SOBs.” The then shaggy-haired backpacker went on to give a poetic speech about how Jones wrote true and from the heart (sorry, the governor spoke too quickly for me to get it all down). “And I fled.”
Two weeks later, still in Paris, Abercrombie read an article about Jones, and it included his address on the Quai d’Orléans on the Ile Saint Louis. He headed for Jones’ apartment to apologize. He knocked on the door and “an even fiercer” woman opened the door. Abercrombie explained that he was “the man that Mr. Jones met on the Champs Elysées two weeks ago.” The women asked him to wait at the door, then returned and told him to please stay, that Mr Jones wanted to invite him in for a drink, as soon as he finished his writing for the day. Abercrombie was shown to a large room which contained a wood Renaissance pulpit that served as the bar.
“He burst in the door,” said Abercrombie. “I immediately loved him because he’s short and thick like me.” And to his surprise, Jones told him, “I have been riding on the energy of our meeting for the past two weeks.” Abercrombie remains friends with Jones’ daughter Kaylie to this day.
Image by Matt Jisa.