Just One Catch: A Biography of Joseph Heller

Just One Catch: A Biography of Joseph Heller

Tracy Daugherty

Language: English

Pages: 560

ISBN: 0312596855

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

In time for the 50th anniversary of Catch-22, Tracy Daugherty, the critically acclaimed author of Hiding Man (a New Yorker and New York Times Notable book), illuminates his most vital subject yet in this first biography of Joseph Heller.
Joseph Heller was a Coney Island kid, the son of Russian immigrants, who went on to great fame and fortune. His most memorable novel took its inspiration from a mission he flew over France in WWII (his plane was filled with so much shrapnel it was a wonder it stayed in the air). Heller wrote seven novels, all of which remain in print. Something Happened and Good as Gold, to name two, are still considered the epitome of satire. His life was filled with women and romantic indiscretions, but he was perhaps more famous for his friendships—he counted Mel Brooks, Zero Mostel, Carl Reiner, Kurt Vonnegut, Norman Mailer, Mario Puzo, Dustin Hoffman, Woody Allen, and many others among his confidantes. In 1981 Heller was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré Syndrome, a debilitating syndrome that could have cost him his life. Miraculously, he recovered. When he passed away in 1999 from natural causes, he left behind a body of work that continues to sell hundreds of thousands of copies a year.

Just One Catch is the first biography of Yossarian’s creator.

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said. Money had nothing to do with this ambition. It was partly a matter of character—like “my characters [I] may not be decent, but [I] do know what decency is”—and partly temperament. “I can be a fairly prolific writer if I don’t have distractions, because there is very little else that I want to do.… If I retired, I would live exactly the way I live now, assuming my health was good. Sleep as late as I want to, which is about eight in the morning, have a leisurely breakfast, and begin writing

it binds the literary (Yossarian) to the real (Singer). It demonstrates how events inform literary art. Man is matter, but the imagination soars above it. We inhabit two realms, body and mind, even if they are really only one. Sammy Singer is Yossarian—and Joey Heller, among many others. (Storytelling is a matter of organizing experience and fantasizing, indulging in a conscious extension of the imagination, Joe once said. A schizophrenic exercise, it is both denial and confession). At novel’s

neighbors”: Weiss, “‘A Bintel Brief,’” p. 218. “If you got money, come down and buy”: Charles T. Powers, “Joe Heller, Author on Top of the World,” Los Angeles Times, March 30, 1975; reprinted in Sorkin, ed., Conversations with Joseph Heller, pp. 142–43. “He used to wet my carriage”: Sorkin, ed., Conversations with Joseph Heller, p. 195. “There were lots of Jewish criminals around”: Heller, Now and Then, p. 233. “When you come from California”: ibid., p. 231. The 1930 census: 1930 United

Luce summed it up in practical terms: “I am biased in favor of God, Eisenhower, and the stockholders of Time Inc.” He promoted a certain image of American masculinity. Time and Life ran numerous articles on Billy Graham’s increasingly popular Christian crusades, describing Graham as lean, blond, and handsome. Besides his physical attributes, a large part of what made Graham so attractive, said Luce, was the businesslike efficiency of his religious operation. When Graham went to New York City in

agencies—“the essence of Mad’s success is its nimble spoofing of promotions of all kinds,” Time noted in 1958. The Disney Corporation came under fire (Mickey Mouse as a rat-faced thug). Joseph McCarthy didn’t escape: “Is Your Bathroom Breeding Bolsheviks?” asked one of the magazine’s fake ads. Predictably, Mad spawned a backlash from the intellectual set. In The New Yorker, Dwight Macdonald wrote, “Mad expresses … teenagers’ cynicism about the world of mass media that their elders have

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