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BOB PERLONGO Interview with Nelson Algren 'ovelist nelson algren, perhaps one of the most consistently underrated of major American writers, died in 1981 of a heart attack at the age of 72. Although born in Detroit, Algren* spent most of his life in Chicago, the locale of many of his works. Among the betterknown books graced by the richly poetic cadences of his prose style are a collection of short stories entitled The Neon Wilderness (1947), the National Book Award-winning novel The Man with the Golden Arm ( 1949) , and Chicago: City on the Make ( 195 1 ), a briefyet deeply insightful volume of essays and prose poems about his adopted city. The following informal interview came to pass rather by chance on April 4, 1957 in Champaign, Illinois, as I was visiting my former roommate at the University of Illinois, journalist/lawyer and now Circuit Court Judge Warren Wolfson. Algren had just arrived from Chicago for a speaking engagement at the University that evening. The versatile Wolfson—who was also a broadcaster for the University radio station (WILL)—and I met him at the Illinois Central railroad station, where we ate a leisurely breakfast before proceeding in Wolfson's car to the English Department and various other points on campus, including the WILL studio, where Wolfson interviewed Algren on the air. I tagged along, asking Algren some questions of my own, with the results recorded here. interviewer: Do you agree with most critics that The Man with the Golden Arm is your best work? Algren: I suppose I do—though, in lots ofways, the new one (A Walk on the Wild Side, 1956) has more vitality. Arizona Quarterly Volume 45 Number 1, Spring 1989 Copyright © 1989 by Arizona Board of Regents ISSN 004-1610 'Real name: Nelson Ahlgren Abraham. Bob Períongo lnt: Would you change anything in The Man with the Golden Arm if you could rewrite it? Algren: Certain things. For one thing, I wouldn't have had Frankie Machine commit suicide. A more tragic ending would have been for him to go into isolation—cut himself off from people—as many addicts do. lnt: What did you think of the movie version of your book? Aigren: The book, after all, was a tragedy. There is no easy solution to the problems G wrote about. I didn't recognize any of the people in the movie as the people I had in the book. The names were the same, but that was all. That ending [in which Frankie kicks the habit and gets the girl] was just ridiculous, though. But then, I wrote the book before I saw Kim Novak [who played Molly]. Who knows? lnt: What did you think of the way they had Frankie Machine [played by Frank Sinatra] kick the habit? Aigren: You mean that business where Kim Novak goes around gathering up all the silverware? lnt: Yes, that part. Aigren: You know, when an addict's sick like that, he becomes almost totally helpless. He couldn't hurt anybody even if he wanted to. It's hard work for a guy like that just to tie his shoelaces. Yet they gave the impression that a sick addict becomes some sort of raving, foaming-atthe -mouth monster. int: Do you think there's been anything lately, in the movies or on the stage, that treats narcoticism in a true manner? Aigren: There certainly hasn't been much. Jack Kirkland, I thought, did a nice job with the play version of my book. But the play didn't make it. The movie made all the dough. lnt: Did you see Hatful of Rain1. Aigren: Yes; I went with a friend of mine. We had to leave in the middle of the second act. lnt: Not long ago, in Time magazine, there was an article telling how certain writers get in the mood to write. Faulkner takes a shot or two of whiskey, Hemingway sharpens pencils. Do you have a device of this sort? Aigren: Yes, as a matter of fact. You might laugh, but sometimes I go over to the gym and work out on a punching bag. It loosens me up. lnt: Incidentally, have you...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1558-9595
Print ISSN
0004-1610
Pages
pp. 101-106
Launched on MUSE
2014-04-02
Open Access
No
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