The papers of American novelist Benjamin Appel include holograph and
typescript drafts, correspondence, diaries, notebooks, clippings, reviews,
contracts, and royalty statements from 1920-1977. The collection is arranged in
four series: I. Works, II. Correspondence, III. Career and Personal Papers, and
IV. Works of Others. Appel maintained his manuscripts and other papers in
labeled stationery boxes. The order of this inventory has been derived from
Appel's own arrangement. Descriptive information from the boxes has been
transferred to the foldered material.
The works in the first series are organized in four Subseries: Novels,
Plays, Short Stories, and Other Writings. Pertinent correspondence is scattered
throughout the works found in this Series. Arranged alphabetically by title,
the novels in Subseries A include a draft of Appel's first successful book
Brain Guy published by Knopf in 1934. Like
Brain Guy, a number of Appel's novels are
drawn from his youthful recollections of life in Manhattan's West Side,
including his last work
Hell's Kitchen, published in 1977. In all,
his works have been translated into Spanish, Italian, German, French, Dutch,
Czech, Polish, Rumanian, and Russian. Unpublished novels are also present, as
well as numerous drafts of the "big family novel" or
"Big Book, "which Appel considered his most
important work. Envisioned as a series of novels, Appel hoped to capture the
story of "man-in-society" by tracing the lives of
two families across sixty years of American history. The first of these novels
A Time of Fortune, published in 1963, covers
the years from 1890 to the beginning of World War I. Numerous drafts intended
for this series are present, covering subsequent decades, political climates,
and historical events. While he preferred to focus on his novels, especially
"Big Book "series, much of Appel's revenue
came from another literary source, juvenile books. His last work of this kind,
Heart of Ice, adapted from an old French
fairy tale, was published in 1977. Title changes are sometimes found in Appel's
works in both the draft and reprint stages. For example, the novel
Autobiography of a Tastemaker evolved from
The Signature of Love by Brenda Appleton.
Dancing in a Dream and
Sweet Money Girl are similarly related,
Brain Guy reappeared in paperback as
In addition to gangsters, con-men, politics, and the mean streets of New
York City, Appel also wrote non-fiction, including
The People Talk, his Depression-era oral
history of ordinary people interviewed during an automobile tour of America.
Appel's experiences in Manila during World War II (1945-46) are reflected in
the detailed entries of his
Manila Diary and the novel
Plunder. Also the author of science fiction,
Appel's last novel of this genre,
The Devil and W. Kaspar, was published at
the time of his death.
The three plays in Subseries B echo the American urban settings found in
Appel's novels, as well as the theme of war. While known primarily as a
novelist, Appel's plays were recognized by playwright Clifford Odets who wrote
letters of encouragement to Appel in the 1950s.
Appel's published and unpublished short stories in Subseries C are
organized according to the author's chronological arrangement of selected
stories written in the 1920s and 1930s, as well as a number of published
stories he compiled. These arrangements may reflect the order Appel devised for
various short story anthologies published in the 1930s. The remaining short
stories were arranged in alphabetical order by the accessioner.
The other writings in Subseries D reflect the diversity of Appel's
literary work. These include wide-ranging formats such as a radio script and
speeches for war service agencies. Also present is material for a proposed
anthology of Mexican short stories edited by Appel, including his article
"Hecho en Mexico "which recounts the political
repercussions of honoring Frida Kahlo at her death (1954), by fulfilling her
request to have the Mexican Communist Party flag drape her coffin. Related
newspaper clippings are also present.
Many of the literary and popular magazines in which Appel's stories and
articles appear are included with this collection. These have been transfered
to the Ransom Center Library.
The bulk of Appel's correspondence from 1920-1977 is found in Series II.
Included are holograph and typewritten carbons of his letters, as well as
letters written to him. Appel maintained his correspondence in chronological
order. Correspondents include friends, family, agents, editors, publishers,
writers, and playwrights, including Louis Adamic, Nelson Algren, Nathan
Ausubel, Millen Brand, Erskine Caldwell, Bennett Cerf, Stoyan Christowe, Morton
Cooper, Malcolm Cowley, J. Frank Dobie, Albert Halper, Hiram Haydn, Conrad
Knickerbocker, Paul Leslie, Yvonne MacManus, William F. Meckfessel, Edward J.
O'Brien, Max Pfeffer, Elmer Rice, Bill Saroyan, and Upton Sinclair. While Appel
did employ a series of agents during his writing career, much of his
correspondence involves self-promotion of his novels, both new material and
reprints of existing titles, as well as foreign translations. The
correspondence also reveals Appel's fierce opposition to censorship. At
considerable financial loss, Appel refused to sign a Texas Education Agency
"Non-Subversive Oath for Authors "which was
required as a prerequisite for a 1963 textbook contract. Subsequently,
Publishers' Weekly invited Appel to write an
article describing his experience with Texas and the Oath which was published
in the September 7, 1964 issue. The following month, The Authors League of
America adopted a resolution opposing such oaths and pledged
"the support of the League for the position of any author
who stands upon his constitutional and professional rights and refuses to take
such an oath."
The Career and Personal Papers found in Series III range from a diary
begun on his 12th birthday in 1919, through his college and war years to his
1977 obituaries. The dates of the diaries are somewhat problematic in that the
years represented on the covers may not coincide with the dates the entries
were written. Appel's ink drawings are frequently scattered throughout. Also
included are numerous notebooks which, like the diaries, contain story ideas
and outlines. Business papers such as contracts, royalty statements, and
Appel's Washington, D.C. employment file from the mid-1940s are also present.
Reviews of Appel's works from newspapers and magazines are contained in
scrapbooks as well as folders. Problems surrounding the financial outcome of
the 1963 film
Cry of Battle are also detailed.
The last series, Works of Others, contains two works by Percy Greg and
Paul Leslie which were abridged by or adapted from Appel. Also included are
engravings and poems for artist and poet Helen West Heller
"printed in honor of her memory" by Rose Kleidman. A
photograph of Kleidman's pastel
"Coal Miner's Life "is also present.
Because of age and paper quality, many items in the collection are
extremely fragile and brittle. Cautionary flags have been placed in folders
where photocopying is not possible due to deterioration. Protective paper
sleeves bear a "Fragile!" note when delicate
handling is required. Users of the collection are asked to be aware of these
circumstances and ask staff for assistance when needed.