- Jim Tully “Remembers” Jack London
Ohio native Jim Tully made a name for himself in the 1920s and 1930s penning hard-boiled, autobiographical works. Born in St. Marys on June 3, 1886, Tully spent six years in a Cincinnati orphanage following his mother’s death in 1892.1 Here, he first dreamed of becoming a writer, having won a piece of candy for writing the best composition.2 In the winter of 1901, Tully hopped a freight train and continued to ride the rails off and on for the next six years.3 As an aspiring writer, he drew inspiration from former tramps who had become successful authors, reasoning that, if they could make good, so could he. These writers included John Masefield, Maxim Gorky, and Jack London.4
London first tasted life on the road in 1892 at the age of 16. In April 1894, he set out from Oakland, California, to join Charles T. Kelly’s Industrial Army. Arrested for vagrancy in Niagara Falls, London did a month’s time in the Erie County Penitentiary. He then rode the rails as far south as Washington, DC, before heading north and tramping across Canada.5 In 1907, Macmillan [End Page 86] published London’s The Road, a collection of nine essays about his tramping experiences.
Following a brief correspondence, Tully met London, with whom he remained obsessed for much of his life. In Emmett Lawler (1922), his first novel, Tully mentions London by name several times; in Biddy Brogan’s Boy (1942), he portrays London as the tired, disillusioned writer Jackson Lake.6 More importantly, Tully produced a number of articles that either deal with London or mention him. These articles profess a familiarity with the famous author for which there is little or no foundation. They also include “reminiscences” that either lack credibility or have clearly been fabricated. In short, Tully created a relationship with Jack London that did not exist and, in so doing, attempted to pass fiction off as fact.
On March 23, 1912, Jim Tully wrote to Jack London from Kent, Ohio. He declared his intention of becoming a writer and asked how much of London’s success derived from hard work and how much from talent.7 London did not reply to this letter; almost certainly, he did not see it. Three weeks earlier, on March 1, he and his wife, Charmian Kittredge London, had set off on a journey around Cape Horn. They did not return to Beauty Ranch, their spread in Glen Ellen, California, until August.8
In letters written a year later, Tully confided that he found London’s life a source of inspiration, and he praised John Barleycorn, London’s “alcoholic memoirs,” which the Saturday Evening Post had just begun to serialize. On September 10, 1913, he declared his intention of becoming a writer once again and asked for London’s advice, offering to pay him for it.9
Like the articles Tully would write, his correspondence evidences a carelessness with facts and a disregard for the truth. On March 4, 1913, Tully wrote to Eliza Shepard, London’s stepsister and business manager, requesting the return of “an article” that he had sent to London some 10 months earlier, in [End Page 87] other words, in May 1912. London himself answered, explaining that at that time he “was off the Horn in a gale in a windjammer.” Neither he nor Eliza could find any record of the article, he told Tully, and offered his apologies.10
Tully replied that the Cleveland Plain Dealer had devoted a full page to him one year earlier—that is, in March 1912. Writing to Charmian London several years after Jack’s death, Tully indicated he had sent the article immediately on publication. His observation that the Londons were sailing around the Horn at that time tends to confirm the May 1912 date.11
In fact, no article featuring Tully ran in the Cleveland Plain Dealer in 1912, neither in March nor in May, although some of his verse appeared in Ted Robinson’s column, the Philosopher of Folly.12 Robinson first included Tully’s work, the poem “On...