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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.

FaulknerVisit.jpg.CROP.original-original

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)

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12 Comments Post a comment
  1. Reblogged this on oshriradhekrishnabole.

    Like

    March 4, 2015
  2. Reblogged this on mira prabhu and commented:
    William Faulkner’s Drinking Was A Matter Of National Security! Read Robert’s interesting post…

    Like

    March 4, 2015
  3. Ah, the ’50s. Back then you could get away with quite a bit if you were a celebrity. Oh, wait…that hasn’t really changed.

    Liked by 2 people

    March 4, 2015
  4. I think it was quiet common for authors to have semi-public side activities in those days. Marnix Gijsen, a prominent Flemish author, was cultural attaché for Belgium in the States for long years.

    And as to Faulkner’s drunkenness, where else than in Belgium would a minister address parliament in, say, an illuminated state of mind:

    To his defense, he was talking in a language which was not his native one.

    Like

    March 4, 2015
  5. Reblogged this on Fonte da arte.

    Like

    March 4, 2015
  6. lilplasticpurse #

    Reblogged this on lonely.

    Like

    March 4, 2015
  7. Dave #

    Personally, I think our whole Congress is drunk. All they do is fight and disagree! Lol

    Like

    March 4, 2015
  8. This is why political correctness is the black hole of today’s society. If a drunk writer can get out there and participate in foreign politics and be successful, then let him do it. Clearly the sober politicians aren’t doing anything useful, but they still get chewed up by the people and the press every single day.

    Like

    March 4, 2015
  9. Omg! gotta no words for it..

    Like

    March 6, 2015
  10. Oh my God! Finally a program where I could work for the Government! Going around drunk from country to country…I do this and end up having to teach English As a Second Language if things are going well, and seducing semi-elderly divorcees if not. I once even had to stoop to participating in medical experiments in Southeast Asia to get enough money for a plane ticket home.

    Does anyone know if this USIS outfit has tryouts or anything for drunken artists? And do you get diplomatic immunity? Nothing like an official passport to keep the cops from getting you for public urination or open container.

    Like

    March 6, 2015
  11. What a character! Thanks for sharing.

    Like

    March 7, 2015
  12. Haven’t read William Faulkner, but now I’m motivated!! Great post.

    Like

    March 7, 2015

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