William Faulkner’s Drinking Was A Matter Of National Security
Times they have a-changed, friends.
In today’s “image means everything” political climate, I can’t imagine the United States sending a drunken author overseas as an official ambassador. In the 1950s, though? No problem.
Over at Slate, Greg Barhisel discusses how, during the Cold War, many American authors traveled around the globe as ambassadors for the United States—meeting with foreign diplomats and dignitaries. Their purpose? To show that “America wasn’t just Mickey Mouse and chewing gum.”
One of those ambassadors was William Faulkner—and Faulkner had special instructions. You see, Mr. Faulkner was an alcoholic prone to public displays of embarrassment. On one trip to Japan in 1955, one official ordered Faulkner to be sent back to the states.
Faulkner’s handler, Leon Picon, ignored the directive, and the trip turned out to be a success. After that trip, Picon created a list of guidelines to make sure Faulkner’s visits overseas went smoothly. They’re hilarious and include:
- “Keep several pretty young girls in the front two rows of any public appearance to keep his attention up.”
- “Put someone in charge of his liquor at all times so that he doesn’t drink too quickly.”
- “Do not allow him to venture out on his own without an escort.”
The Department of State was quite pleased with how the trip turned out and praised Picon’s handling of Faulkner, as seen in this memo published over at Slate.
Funny stuff, but not the first time an author has become an official diplomat of sorts.
Remember when Hemingway patrolled the Caribbean in his personal boat, spying on German U Boats, and reporting his findings to the U.S. military?
(Image: Wikimedia Commons)