Friday, August 27, 2010

When James Jones Lived at Leahy's Tourist Court

Posted By on Fri, Aug 27, 2010 at 11:02 AM

From_Here_to_Eternity.jpg
Most everybody is familiar with the best-selling novel, From Here to Eternity, which the Modern Library has ranked #62 on its list of the "100 Best Novels." Perhaps even more of you have seen the 1953 movie based on the book, which won a whopping eight Academy Awards. Even if you haven't read the book or seen the movie, I KNOW you're familiar with the famous "beach-kiss" scene featuring — oh good grief, do I have to tell you everything?

But (and this is my point) how many of you know that James Jones, the hard-drinking, tough-as-nails author of this book, along with many others, actually wrote it while he was living in Memphis — at Leahy's Tourist Court, of all places? Not many, I bet.

But it's true. In 1943, Jones had been shipped to Kennedy General (later Veterans) Hospital here to recover from injuries he received in action at Guadalcanal. He must have liked it here, because he returned with his wife, Lowney, in 1950, and settled down at Leahy's to write the greatest novel of his career.

With assistance from a former Memphian named Birch Harms (it sounds like a made-up name, doesn't it?) I tracked down an old friend of Jones, Captain Patt Meara, now retired and living in Florida, who told me the whole story, and a lot more — including all those times he and Jones went to the (in)famous Plantation Inn over in West Memphis to enjoy a band with an up-and-coming young singer by the name of ... Isaac Hayes.

I tell the whole dramatic story in the September issue of Memphis magazine. So turn your computer off right now — do it! — and go pick up a copy if (for shame!!) you don't already subscribe.

In the meantime, here's an old postcard of Leahy's when it had seen better days. The old house was torn down a few months ago.

BOOKJACKET IMAGE COURTESY OF PATT MEARA — Look carefully at the credit line and you'll see that Meara took the photo that ran on the dustjacket of the first edition.

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