It doesn’t happen too often in Hollywood, where art and reality go to be tortured and distorted in the name of “good” drama.

But in 1940 a miracle occurred when Darryl Zanuck  produced the movie version “The Grapes of Wrath,” Steinbeck’s mega-selling, culture-shocking, politically correct story of the Okies and Tom Joad.

The film version was better.

Time magazine’s Richard Corliss does a great job of explaining how that miracle occurred in the latest issue of what’s left of Time.

In his essay he reprints the opening paragraph of Time’s original unsigned review of the movie, which premiered 75 years ago Jan. 24 and was written by none other than then-ex-Commie Whittaker Chambers.

Chambers’ review, which can be read in its entirety here,  shows how sharp he was. Here are the opening paragraphs, which still hold true.

The Grapes of Wrath.The Grapes of Wrath (20th Century-Fox). It will be a red rag to bull-mad Californians who may or may not boycott it. Others, who were merely annoyed at the exaggerations, propaganda and phony pathos of John Steinbeck’s best selling novel, may just stay away. Pinkos who did not bat an eye when the Soviet Government exterminated 3,000,000 peasants by famine, will go for a good cry over the hardships of the Okies. But people who go to pictures for the sake of seeing pictures will see a  great one. For The Grapes of Wrath is possibly the best picture ever made from a so-so book. It is certainly the best picture Darryl F. Zanuck has produced or Nunnally Johnson scripted. It would be the best John Ford had directed if he had not already made The Informer.

Part of the credit belongs accidentally to censorship and the camera. Censorship excised John Steinbeck’s well-meant excesses. Camera-craft purged the picture of the editorial rash that blotched the Steinbeck book. Cleared of excrescences, the residue is the great human story which made thousands of people, who damned the novel’s phony conclusions, read it. It is the saga of an authentic U. S. farming family who lose their land. They wander, they suffer, but they endure. They are never quite defeated, and their survival is itself a triumph.

As I write about in “Dogging Steinbeck,” Time (i.e., Luce) hated Steinbeck because of “Grapes” and bashed him and “Travels With Charley”  (though its unsigned reviewer believed it was a true account of Steinbeck’s phony travels).

Here’s Time’s mean — but accurate review of ”Charley” from 1962:

TRAVELS WITH CHARLEY, by John Steinbeck (246 pp.; Viking; $4.95). Put a famous author behind the wheel of a three-quarter-ton truck called Rocinante (after Don Quixote’s horse), equip him with everything from trenching tools to subzero underwear, send along a pedigreed French poodle named Charley with prostatitis, follow the man and dog on a three-month, 10,000-mile trip through 34 states, and what have you got? One of the dullest travelogues ever to acquire the respectability of a hard cover.

Vagabond Steinbeck’s motive for making the long, lonely journey is admirable: ‘To try to rediscover this monster land’ after years of easy living in Manhattan and a country place in Sag Harbor, L.I. He meets some interesting people: migrant Canucks picking potatoes in Maine, an itinerant Shakespearean actor in North Dakota, his own literary ghost back home in California’s Monterey Peninsula. But when the trip is done, Steinbeck’s attempt at rediscovery reveals nothing more remarkable than a sure gift for the obvious observation.

It’s not surprising Steinbeck hated Time.

Following in the unreliable footsteps of Steinbeck

Geert Mak: In America – Travels With John Steinbeck.

It looks like I’ll be spending the rest of my life trying to get the credit I deserve for exposing Steinbeck’s fictions and lies in “Travels With Charley” and ruining the fun for Steinbeckies everywhere.
The Herald Scotland reviewed Geert Mak’s “In America: Travels With John Steinbeck” on Jan. 10.
It was a good review, but it made the usual mistake of not crediting me for what I did. (“Several scholars and journalists” outed Steinbeck, wrote reviewer Ian Bell.
I doubt that this self-promoting comment I sent to the Herald will get past its moderators, who don’t work weekends and  have  better hours (and more dumb rules) than bureaucrats or government regulators.
For the record, here is what I wrote:
If the readers of Scotland want to know the sordid details of just how much fictionalizing and fibbing Steinbeck did in “Travels With Charley,” and how I exposed his literary crime after 50 years, I urge them to seek out my Amazon ebook “Dogging Steinbeck.” As Geert Mak generously points out in his fine book, in 2010 I proved with my journalism on and off the road that “Travels” was so full of fiction that it could no longer be considered an honest work of nonfiction. (Because of my troublemaking, Penguin Group changed the introduction to “Travels” to say just that.) Also: Mak and I retraced Steinbeck’s 10,000-mile road trip concurrently in the fall of 2010, but we saw two different countries through our windscreens. That’s because he’s a proud Euro-socialist and I’m a proud libertarian. I like the (mostly) prosperous, safe and psychologically healthy country I saw better than the impoverished, fearful and diminished one he saw. Everything any Scot would want to know about my Steinbeck trip — including links to video and many photos — can be had at www.truthaboutcharley.com

Jan. 10 Update:

My mad attempt to penetrate the Herald Scotland’s over-regulated and asinine comment process continues. I hope this email — which I posted on their web site to give their mindless moderators something to do — annoys them. I repeat what I wrote here, so as to shame them for their tight-ass stupidity. The Herald Scotland is one of the oldest newspapers in the world and it acts like it.
As far as I can tell, my three attempts to add a comment to the Jan. 10 review of Geert Mak’s book “In America” have failed because I dared to mention my own Amazon ebook, “Dogging Steinbeck.”
Will a rational adult — and not a lawyer or former bureaucrat or mindless robot — please moderate my attempts to add a comment?
Pick one, any one, of the comments I’ve sent you. Ask Rosemary Goring’s advice.
 The fact that I am the veteran newspaper journalist who first exposed the heavy fictional content of “Travels With Charley” in 2010 and changed the way “Charley” will be read forever, is, while admittedly self-promotional (sorry), both important and interesting to the larger discussion of Steinbeck and “Charley.” No?
Despite what Mr. Bell implies in his review, in recent years “several scholars and journalists” did not simultaneously come to the same conclusion about “Charley’s” untruthfulness by accident; they only did so after I blew the literary whistle on Steinbeck’s fraudulent work, which had been passed off as a work of nonfiction for 50 years.
Geert Mak mentions me about 10 times in his book, credits me with my discoveries, repeats them and generously praises my dogged journalism.
Further proof of my claim: The New York Times editorial page praised my expose here in 2010 after its arts and entertainment section wrote about me here.
Travel writer Paul Theroux, Reason magazine, the Weekly Standard, NPR and the CBC, among many others, have covered my discovery and mentioned or reviewed my book, which I dare not mention again in a promotional way so as not to offend a publication that makes its profit selling advertising.
Your reviewer, unlike the reviews of Mak’s book in the Spectator and the Guardian, did not mention me. Fine.
But the Guardian and Spectator both allowed me to add my comments, criticize their reviews, correct their mistakes about me and blatantly flog my self-published book without posing a threat to the sanctity of their commenting processes or the credibility of their publications.
Is it too much to ask that the Herald — which, not surprisingly, has zero comments attached to the Mak review — figure out how to allow me to do the same?

The English version of Geert Mak’s Steinbeck/America book, “In America: Travels With John Steinbeck,” is the hit of the UK’s book pages.

Geert Mak sent me an English version of his 2012 book, which has been updated. The inscription reads: To Bill Steigerwald, Who really did what Steinbeck only suggested.”

It’s been reviewed  fairly favorably in the last two weeks by the bookies at the Guardian newspaper, the Spectator magazine and now the Herald, the Scottish paper that is the longest running national newspaper in the world.

Mak’s book — an impressive combination history book and travel book aimed at informing his fellow Dutch — is more than 500 pages and covers a lot of American ground.

A 2013 bestseller in Holland, it was hooked around the idea of following John Steinbeck’s “Travels With Charley” route exactly 50 years later.

An ocean apart, we had the same book idea — to show how much America had changed from 1960 to 2010 by retracing Steinbeck’s “Charley” trip and comparing what we saw on the road with what he did.

Mak mentions me about a dozen times in his book and repeatedly praises me for my drive-by journalism and for digging up and exposing the fictions and lies Steinbeck filled “Charley” with.

It was/is a great honor to be praised by a great journalist like him.

We didn’t meet on the Old Steinbeck Highway in the fall of 2010, but we’ve met since. (He flew from New York City to Pittsburgh last year just to meet me and buy me lunch.)
We were only a day or two apart on the road as he and his wife drove behind me in their rented Jeep.

Mak slept in motels and behaved like a mature mid-60s author and journalist while I slept in my car and drove like a mad teenager.

Mak is a major Dutch media figure, best-selling historian and journalist who had a sweet book deal. I, being a nobody, could not get a publisher and so I had to travel on my own dime and time.

As I’ve said often, I had a blast chasing Steinbeck’s ghost, exposing his ethical lapses and dueling with the Steinbeck scholars. I would not rewind the tape of the last five years to do it any other way.

I’ll get my payoff when Kevin Costner options my book so he can play Steinbeck, the great author who at age 58 bit off more than he could chew when he set out to rediscover America.

Mak and I are not political soul mates, though we are both against the war on drugs, the wars in the Middle East and poor city planning.

He is a self-defined “euro-socialist” and therefore what we say is right and wrong about the Americas we saw in our books differs by about 180-degrees when it comes to economic policy, the wage gap and the efficacy  of government welfare programs.

The America he found was an ocean of impoverishment with outposts of prosperity that needed more government, not less; the America I found was an ocean of prosperity with outposts of poverty that had the federal government and both parties to blame for the economic woes of the Great Recession.

Someday I hope we will have a debate in Holland, where Mak jokes he has made Bill Steigerwald a household name.

Geert Mak’s Steinbeck book, “In America,” was reviewed in the Spectator magazine by a guy with a great British name, Lewis Jones.

Unfortunately, though Jones manages to give me credit for discovering the literary fraudulence of “Travels With Charley,” he screws up my politics.

Jones doesn’t know what a libertarian is, obviously, or he wouldn’t have said that libertarianism is the same as being stridently Republican.

Go to the Spectator to read the review, which is of the typical lefty variety. Or just stay here and read my comment, which gave me the opportunity to plug my book to the good people of the UK.

photo

Steinbeck (with wife Elaine) as he really looked a month after completing his “Charley” trip — not as he is pictured in the Spectator.

Thanks much to Lewis Jones for mentioning me, my book ‘Dogging Steinbeck’ and my role in exposing the fictions and fibs in Steinbeck’s iconic work of non-nonfiction, ‘Travels With Charley’.

As my new friend Geert Mak knows, for 50 years ‘Travels’ was marketed, reviewed and taught as work of nonfiction — until I came along, did some basic snooping in libraries and on the road, got lucky, proved it was mostly made up and occasionally outright deceptive and declared it a ‘literary fraud’.

(Not that I haven’t said it somewhere in a blog or interview, but the phrase ‘a very flawed load of fictional crap and deception’ does not appear in my book, which, while full of jokes, void of footnotes and liberally sprinkled with my libertarian politics, is a serious work of journalism that has changed the way ‘Travels’ will be read forever. Anyone interested in learning more is urged to buy my ‘literary expose’ at Amazon.com.UK or go to www.truthaboutcharley.com).

I especially urge Mr. Lewis to read my book — or at least skim it — before jumping to any more conclusions or launching any more of his ‘surmises’ (i.e., wild and uninformed guesses) about my politics, my affection for the Republican Party or my adherence to Fox News’ historical interpretations.

He’d find evidence in ‘Dogging Steinbeck’ that I dislike (i.e., hate) both major parties for their bipartisan plundering and wrecking of our land, which is still great in spite of them:

“It was Nov. 2 – Election Day. The historic date the Tea Party was going
to seize America from the Democrats and give it back to the Republicans,
the party that had taken us to a foolish war in Iraq, copiloted the
economy into a mountainside and squandered federal money it didn’t have
like drunken Democrats.”

And the morning after the election, I write:

“Overnight America supposedly underwent a historic political change. Republican Tea Partiers had seized the U.S. House and a new Golden Age of limited government, lower taxes and personal freedom was allegedly on the way. It was the usual hype and hysteria. Nothing would be changing on the U.S.S. Big Government except a few deck chairs.”

Based on his review, I surmise Lewis won’t like my politics. Nor will he appreciate what I say about the political biases and cultural snobbery of liberal New Yorkers like Steinbeck (that’s what he was in 1960) who’ve made it a habit to sneer at the politics, culture and values of the Americans they encounter in Flyover Country when they dare to travel by car between Manhattan and the Hollywood Sign.

When Lewis wrote that I take “an ‘openly libertarian’ (i.e. stridently Republican) line against the Democrat Steinbeck” he demonstrated that he has absolutely no idea what a libertarian is. (A primer: it’s someone who favors, stridently, maximum individual freedom, a weak and limited state, a system of free market — not crony — capitalism and a non-interventionist foreign policy; Brits should think John Stuart Mill, Manchester Liberalism, Bright & Cobden, Lord Acton, Hayek, etc.).

Libertarians — especially this one — wouldn’t be caught dead being ‘stridently Republican’. And while Fox News does have good libertarians like John Stossel and Andrew Napolitano, its prime-time all-stars — O’Reilly, Kelly and Hannity — are awful conservatives and/or partisan Republicans.

The America I found along the Old Steinbeck Highway in 2010 was opposite from the gloomy one my esteemed Euro-socialist colleague Mak found. I described 11,276 miles of it as well as I could, as a veteran newspaper journalist, albeit through libertarian eyes, not socialist ones.

Where Mak saw islands of prosperity in a sea of poverty and anguish, I saw the opposite. Where Mak saw the failure of the federal government to make things right in the hinterland and cities, I saw evidence of the federal government’s century-old habit of doing things wrong. Etc. Etc. From a libertarian, not Republican, point of view.

Same country, same roads, same time; two people, two very different sets of opinions and conclusions. Steinbeck knew it would work that way and said in ‘Travels’ that the country he found would not be the same one others coming behind him would find 10 minutes later. He wasn’t lying about that, at least.

For the record: The missing Washington Post woman was/is Rachel Dry, who wrote a nice piece about her pursuit of Steinbeck’s ghost and her accidental encounter with me. http://www.washingtonpost.com/… And your photo of Steinbeck is not what he looked like in 1960, but more like 20 years earlier.

Finally, I stridently apologize to all proper Brits who might be offended by my use of the slang term ‘dogging’ in my title. I had no idea.

 

 My name finally appeared the Guardian newspaper in connection with my Steinbeck exploits, but look at what happened.tumblr_n7zatwvlCA1rxrxxxo1_1280
The Guardian reviews Geert Mak’s book about his “Travels With Charley” trip around the USA, which I appear in about 10 times, but it fails to credit me for my expose.
The Guardian’s reviewer also falsely accuses me of having a web site for dog-lovers. My barrister will be contacting them. My comment is at the end.
In case it gets killed out, here is what it says, using Brit punctuation:
It’s nice to see my name in print in the Guardian, but can we get a few things straight — things that my Dutch pal (and ideological opposite) Geert Mak got straight in his fine book. First off, while I am a longtime libertarian newspaperman and columnist, and I did chase Steinbeck’s ghost concurrently with Mak in the fall of 2010, I did not have a web site for dog lovers. That was fellow Steinbeck-chaser John Woestendiek, a Pulitzer Prize winner who used to work for the Baltimore Sun. A minor quibble in a long review, to be sure, but we ex-newspapermen can get picky with our facts. Much more important to me and readers of the Guardian is the failure of the reviewer to credit me and my dogged journalism (on and off the road) for exposing, after 50 years, that “Travels With Charley” was filled with so many fictions and lies that it did not deserve to be called a work of nonfiction. (It had been deceptively marketed, reviewed and taught as a true nonfiction account of Steinbeck’s iconic 1960 road trip since 1962; because of the trouble I caused in newspapers, Reason magazine and in my book “Dogging Steinbeck”, the latest introduction to “Charley” by Jay Parini has been carefully amended to tell readers the truth — that they are about to read a work of BS, I mean fiction. My name was not mentioned by Professor Parini but the paper I was working for was.) Geert Mak — who went out of his way earlier this year to fly from new York City to Pittsburgh to meet me face-to-face — honestly/graciously credited me in his book for discovering, long before he did, the inconsistencies between Steinbeck’s first draft of “Charley” and the published version. I’ve tried many times to get the Guardian’s book people to pay attention to “Dogging Steinbeck”, which was self-published on Amazon and therefore has trouble being taken seriously, or reviewed, by newspapers and magazines. My book contains no footnotes, cracks lots of jokes and looks at 11,276 miles of the Steinbeck Highway from a refreshingly libertarian point of view (i.e., not the standard cliche-ridden East Coast liberal establishment one that Steinbeck had and Mr. Lennon betrays), but it is a serous work of journalism. “True nonfiction”, I call it. The New York Times editorial page and travel writer Paul Theroux were highly pleased with what I learned about “Charley”, its author and the lengths to which Viking Press went to create the myth that Steinbeck traveled alone, traveled rough and traveled slow. Mak gave me credit for my literary expose several times in his book, but Mr. Lennon somehow missed it. Here’s what Mak wrote to me in an email: “I wanted … first to express my personal admiration for the job you did. Second, to tell you that you became a kind of a journalistic hero in my travel-story about Steinbeck, because you did such fantastic detailed research on the subject, and you did it alone, in sometimes-difficult circumstances”. Readers who want all the crazy details of my road trip, my expose and my pain in trying to get “Dogging Steinbeck” the attention it deserves can go to Amazon or my web site, www.truthaboutcharley.com, which is not about dogs.