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The Magpie Sings the Great Depression:
Selections from DeWitt Clinton High School's Literary Magazine, 1929-1942

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He Can Get It for You Wholesale

By Bob Levin

The Magpie, January 1938, v. 22, n. 1., p. 55.

"When I gave the publishers permission to 'blue pencil' any part of my book that they cared to, I thought they would really delete some of the raw elements. But when the book was published, I found that they had changed it very little, and it was much stronger than I thought it would be when printed; I was really a little amazed!"

Thus spoke Jerome Weidman, Clinton '30, author of I Can Get It For You Wholesale, a novel which topped the best-selling list for fourteen weeks and had critics raving about the potentialities of this young man who had aroused the literary world with his first book. It is undoubtedly one of the most crudely powerful and realistic novels ever printed.

Mr. Weidman writes with clarity; but more than that, his short stories and his novel are distinguished by sheer realism and a definite perfection in the use of words. And Jerome Weidman speaks as he writes. It is impossible to do anything but listen when he talks; the piece of paper on which I had intended to jot down notes was just as blank when I left as it had been originally. Occasionally halting the informal discussion, the author would light a cigarette and nervously puff away, meanwhile spinning his oral web of enthrallment over the interviewer.

"I must have written thirty or forty short stories," remarked Mr. Weidman, "before I had one printed. I turned them out one after another, and then I 'rushed in where angels fear to tread,' I suppose, submitting them to magazines which are reputed to accept articles from established authors only. Finally, in 1934, the American Spectator printed Anything For A Laugh, and after that, it was a little easier to get stories published."

But it wasn't as easy as all that to attain success, even along the magazine line. It was constantly—submit, rejection; submit, rejection—until things broke his way. Harry Hansen, literary critic of the New York World-Telegram and editor of the O'Henry Best Short Stories volume picked Mr. Weidman's My Father Sits In The Dark for inclusion in the 1935 edition. And thereupon a literary agent, maker and breaker of authors, (at ten per cent pert), entered the picture, offering to act on Mr. Weidman's behalf.

"After Richard Simon, (of Simon and Schuster Publishing Company), read one of my stories while vacationing in Florida," continued Mr. Weidman, "he wired the New York office to contact me. I brought the manuscript of I Can Get It For You Wholesale to the office. That's all there was to it." The publishing company and the author came to terms and the novel made a hit.

Following the success of his novel, Mr. Weidman was offered a Hollywood position. "Mr. Simon advised me not to go, since he believed that if I became accustomed to making easy money, I would never write a story again. Mr. Simon's advice is always good and, anyway, I had too much to do in New York, so I didn't go."

The twenty-four year old Clinton "grad" briefly sketched his method of working, which is extremely methodical. "The idea for my book didn't dawn on me at any one time; ideas never do. Your mind is constantly absorbing impressions, some more vivid than the others. The useless ideas are discarded but the worthwhile thoughts are stored away. Right at this moment, I may be getting an idea for a story or a character in a story"—the interviewer's heart skipped a beat—"and then again, I may get the idea when I'm working out in the gym or while I'm shaving. If I believe the theme is worth some thought, I keep turning it over in my mind and finally sit down to plan it. The most difficult part of writing is arranging the facts that you have in the order you desire them. I plan a short story paragraph by paragraph—every sentence and every paragraph must point toward the theme or motive of my story. For a single column article in the New Yorker, I may have two or three pages of outlines! After my preliminary planning is completed, if it's a long story, I type snatches of dialogue and brief descriptions. The actual writing is not difficult."

When Mr. Weidman's memory flashes back to his Clinton days—working on Dr. Kelley's Memorabilia Squad... speaking in the Times Oratorical Contest... winning the Douglas Fairbanks medal for the best oratory two years in a row... once silver and then gold... being accepted in Arista... studying under Miss Marine and Miss Garrigues... having Mr. Jaxon Knox help him with his valedictory address... graduation. Mr. Weidman's scholastic path then advanced to C.C.N.Y. night school, N.Y.U. evening courses, and N.Y.U. law school until 1937.

Mr. Weidman's thorough and comprehensive knowledge of today's authors and literature made the interviewer wish that Father Time would take a holiday, but he had no such luck. The young author spoke of his admiration for Thomas Mann, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Dos Passos and John O'Hara, among many others. He recommended as "must" books for a modern writer A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Appointment in Samarra by John O'Hara.

Jerome Weidman's plans are numerous: He is writing another novel, at present; intends to complete a trilogy on the life of Harry Bogen—I Can Get It For You Wholesale was the second of the trilogy, with the first ready to be printed and the third yet to be written—and then wants to continue writing novels which will "make a mural about the kids I went to school with;" will take a trip around the world, may go out to Hollywood; wants to write, write, write....

The Magpie Sings the Great Depression

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