Continuing on last week’s theme, I’ll share more of my recent movie watching. Unlike last week’s movie, this one, though a black and white work, isn’t a classic. I’d never even heard of it until I ran across it on my TV schedule. Still, being familiar with the name O. Henry, the nom de plume of American author William Sidney Porter, known for the surprise endings of his short stories, I couldn’t help but watch it. And the movie, O. Henry’s Full House, held many surprises for me other than the endings of the stories, for early in my life, I’d read every one of them.
The great John Steinbeck in a rare on-screen appearance, introducing one of the five pieces.
One of the first surprises was the opening narration by another author I was very familiar with, the great John Steinbeck, another man I had read many works of, such as The Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men, and East of Eden. I’d only seen photos of this man and found it fascinating to actually see him speaking and hear his voice. And he made this rare on-camera appearance and introduced each of the five stories. Another unsuspected surprise was to see a young Marilyn Monroe in a minor role as a prostitute. Also making appearances are other now well-known performers, Richard Widmark, Dale Robertson and Anne Baxter.
On the cusp of stardom, Marilyn Monroe in a scene from “The Cop and the Anthem”.
Of the five stories chosen for this movie, all are well known pieces: “The Ransom of Red Chief”; “The Gift of the Magi”; “The Cop and the Anthem”; “The Last Leaf”; and “The Clarion Call”. Most of these stories take place in a turn-of-the-century New York City, where O. Henry had moved in the latter years of his life to be near his publishers. And they all feature the ironic twist endings his stories are most notable for.
Actually born here in my home state of North Carolina, O. Henry moved here near my home city of Asheville during the last year of his life hoping to help his failing health recuperate. But he didn’t find the laid-back area conducive to writing; he missed the busyness of New York and the inspiration that it gave him, so he moved his office to downtown Asheville but still found it to be empty of noise and people. He then returned to New York City where he soon died. His wife, a native of Asheville, then brought him back to Asheville to be buried at Riverside Cemetery, near another famous author, Thomas Wolfe, an Asheville native son who penned the famous autobiographical novel “Look Homeward Angel”.
I just recently discovered that O. Henry created a pop culture icon of my childhood, the Cisco Kid, in his story “The Caballero’s Way”. However, this “Kid” was not the heroic Mexican caballero depicted in the movies, radio and television of my era but actually a cruel and vicious killer. And though this story had the classic trick ending, unlike many of his others this one ended tragically.
Once again, my love of books and movies have tied in together, filling my life and imagination with joy.