A Guide to the Grover Lewis Papers, 1955-2005
Grover Virgil Lewis, Jr. was born November 8, 1934, in San Antonio, Texas. Tragedy struck the Lewis family when Grover was eight years old during an encounter between Grover’s mother and his estranged father that led to a double-homicide with each parent allegedly murdering the other by gunshot. Lewis was soon removed to Fort Worth, Texas, where he lived with the blight of, in his own words, a “haunted” and “painful” existence while in the abusive household of his maternal aunt and her husband. After five years, he fled to live with his uncle, “Spook” Bailey, in the Fort Worth suburb of Oak Cliff.
At Oak Cliff, Lewis attended W.H. Adamson High School and worked at the Texas Theater, a site made infamous some years later as the location where Lee Harvey Oswald was taken into custody. He graduated from Adamson in 1953 and moved to Denton to attend North Texas State College where he majored in English and Drama. It was around this time that Lewis married and fathered a son and a daughter with his first wife, Peggy. At North Texas he also found a “kindred spirit” in future Pulitzer Prize-winner Larry McMurtry.
Together Lewis and McMurtry—“each being the only aspiring writer the other knew”—found their way around the back roads and byways of Texas. And Lewis, like McMurtry, began his career as a writer while attending North Texas. He and McMurtry both won various student writing awards for poetry, fiction, and nonfiction in Avesta, the school’s literary magazine; and Lewis’s creative work was soon published in other literary magazines and journals such as Carolina Quarterly, New Mexico Quarterly, and The Nation. Samuel French Inc. published his play Wait for Morning, Child, after winning the company’s national collegiate writing contest.
Also while at North Texas, Lewis and McMurtry and a third North Texas student, John Lewis (no relation to Grover) self-published two issues of The Coexistence Review, a literary magazine full of original poetry, short fiction, and essays that became notoriously controversial on campus. Knowing that after graduation they were both headed in different directions—both moving away from Denton—Lewis and McMurtry intended the magazine as a token of gratitude devoted to several inspiring professors at North Texas.
The school’s administration, however, was not as enthusiastic about the project as the 200-plus students who eagerly bought-out the magazine. According to Lewis’s book proposal for his unfinished memoir Goodbye If You Call That Gone, “The administration sent out growls of disapproval via channels. Somebody had to explain the ‘political error’ of the red lone-star cover to us. It began to be whispered around that there would be a loyalty investigation of some sort…whether conducted by the school or the state legislature, nobody would say.”
The Coexistence Review was interpreted as a thinly-veiled attempt to broadcast communist propaganda; and Lewis and McMurtry were thus prohibited from publishing in the school’s accepted literary magazine, Avesta (although the two had been named winners of the semester’s literary awards). But the threatened investigations never materialized, and Lewis and McMurtry both graduated on schedule from North Texas State College in 1958 with a bachelor’s degree in English. Lewis left Denton but remained in Texas, contributing book and music reviews to several of the state’s metropolitan newspapers such as the Dallas Times Herald and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
In 1960, Lewis was named a National Defense Act fellow and moved to Lubbock to pursue a Ph.D. at Texas Technical College. While a graduate student at Tech, he again wrote for the school newspaper and edited Tech’s literary magazine, The Harbinger. Lewis also worked as a graduate teaching assistant, and his students included Ponty Bone and Jimmie Dale Gilmore—both of whom became acclaimed Texas musicians.
While in Lubbock, Lewis found himself frustrated by the conservative culture, lifestyle, and politics of the South Plains. Around 1960, he made plans to leave and set out to find and write about blues musician Lightnin’ Hopkins. Lewis traveled to Houston’s Third Ward and spent a week with Hopkins writing what eventually became a 5-part series published years later in The Village Voice (1968) and winner of a Sigma Delta Chi writing award.
It was during this time, circa 1963, that Lewis discovered his passionate interest in film journalism. Accepting an invitation from McMurtry, Lewis spent a week on the film set of Hud in Amarillo, a motion picture adaptation of McMurtry’s novel Horseman, Pass By. Lewis’s unrealized notes from his experience in Amarillo became the blueprint from which he would work seven years later, with his famous Rolling Stone article about the filming of The Last Picture Show.
After returning from Houston to his graduate studies at Lubbock, Lewis met fierce resistance to his scathing review in the school paper of a Christian, anti-communist tract written by Billy James Hargis. He was subsequently dismissed from his duties as columnist for the school paper, abandoned by his professors, and received death threats by phone and mail. Lewis’s appeals for help—to, among others, the Students for a Democratic Society—fell on deaf ears. Lewis, in turn, not only dropped out of graduate school, but divorced his wife and signed away parental rights to his two children.
Out of school and without his doctorate, Lewis returned to the copy desk of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, where he slipped into the life of a hard-drinking newsman. During his three-year-tenure at the Star-Telegram, he contributed frequent reviews to the book page and began the first pop music column for a daily newspaper in the state of Texas. In 1966, Lewis moved to Houston as a reporter for the Houston Chronicle, but quit two years later to write copy for a Houston advertising and public relations firm. A year later, in 1969, Lewis moved to San Francisco, California, to work as a West Coast correspondent for The Village Voice.
Although his term at the Voice was brief (1969-1970), Lewis was able to utilize his unique position at the epicenter of youth-culture activity by covering such milestones as the Indian takeover of Alcatraz Island and the Rolling Stones concert at Altamont Speedway. It was Lewis’s coverage of the Altamont murder that caught the eye of Jann Wenner, founder, editor-in-chief, and publisher of one of the nation’s newest and most unpredictable magazines, Rolling Stone.
From 1970 to 1973, Lewis worked as Associate Editor of Rolling Stone magazine, in charge of features on film and books. Rolling Stone’s independent spirit proved auspicious for Lewis. He was allowed to self-assign stories and follow his own initiative; and in doing so, produced electrifying pieces of New Journalism, notably his “Splendor in the Short Grass”—a piece The New York Times later called “extraordinary”—which revolved around the wealth of in-house drama running throughout the big-budget motion picture production of director Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show, a film adaptation of yet another Larry McMurtry novel. Due to the praise and popularity of that reportage, Lewis was able to continue producing on-location features for Rolling Stone, interviewing such eminent talents as Robert Mitchum, Sam Peckinpah, Robert Redford, and Paul Newman.
Although Straight Arrow Press, the publishing arm of Rolling Stone, published two books featuring Lewis’s work—I’ll Be There In the Morning, If I Live (poetry) and Academy All The Way (collected Rolling Stone coverage)—his relationship with Jann Wenner soured, in large part due to a baulked agreement between Wenner and Lewis over a book Lewis was contracted to write with friend Sherry Kafka about Texas politician John Connally. Lewis describes Wenner—dubbing him “Citizen Wenner”—as a capricious and manipulating editor, a “bottom-feeder” with a personality “exacerbated by cocaine.” Lewis sued Wenner over the Connally deal for breach of contract and was awarded $10,000 in an arbitration proceeding.
After marrying Rolling Stone employee Raona Ence Seavey in 1973, Lewis quit the magazine and moved with Rae to her home state of Utah where he found work despite Wenner’s attempt to blacklist him professionally. Lewis worked briefly as a freelance writer for Playboy and Oui magazines before moving back to California—Los Angeles, this time—in late 1976 to write for New West (later named California), a nascent publication at the time.
At New West, Lewis continued where he left off at Rolling Stone, writing pieces about Bette Midler, Elisha Cook, Jr. (from The Maltese Falcon), and Hustler publisher Larry Flynt. Lewis was walking with Flynt outside the county courthouse in Lawrenceville, Georgia, when the publisher was shot in an assassination attempt. The article, “The Shooting of Larry Flynt: An Eyewitness Account by Grover Lewis,” was published as a cover feature for the March 27, 1978, issue of New West. In addition to celebrity profiles, Lewis wrote opinion-driven pieces for New West, such as his “Buried Alive in Hype: My Years Among The Reality Vultures,” which was nominated for a National Magazine Award in 1979.
During the 1980s, as freelance magazine work became more elusive, Lewis turned to newsprint, contributing stories and book reviews for The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times Sunday Magazine, The Los Angeles Times Book Review, and The St. Petersburg Times. It was also during this time that Lewis worked as book editor of Movieline magazine and began copious research for his unrealized novel, The Code of the West, based on the Western cinema-heroes of Old Hollywood.
In 1992, Lewis began to confront the troubling memories of his childhood with his Texas Monthly article “Farewell to Cracker Eden,” nominated for a PEN West award for journalism in 1993. On the strength and poignancy of that well-received article, he was awarded a contract with HarperCollins to write a memoir under the editorial guidance of Judith Regan. Unfortunately, the memoir—which was to be titled Goodbye If You Call That Gone—remained unfinished due to Lewis’s untimely death from lung cancer on April 16, 1995. His widow, Rae Lewis, began donating his literary archives to the Southwestern Writers Collection in 2001.
In 2005, University of Texas Press published Splendor in the Short Grass: The Grover Lewis Reader, a collection of Lewis’s journalism and poetry spanning his nearly forty-year career. The collection preserves Lewis’s work—and reputation—as one of New Journalism’s founding fathers and most fearless mavericks. In his New York Times book review of Splendor, Roy Blount, Jr., calls Lewis’s work “Impressive” and “worth preserving.” “Lips were loose in those days,” as Blount recalls, “and Lewis took every advantage.”
The papers of journalist Grover Lewis span the years 1955 to 2005 and are arranged into seven series: Personal Papers, Correspondence, Published Works, Unpublished Works, Works by Others, Audio Tapes, and Oversized Items. Brief descriptions of each series are below. More detailed series descriptions begin on page 11 of this finding aid.
The first series, Personal Papers (boxes 1-11), contains academic materials dating from the late 1960 to magazine and newspaper clippings dated shortly before Lewis’s death. Also included are scanned photographs of Grover and wife Rae Lewis, correspondence regarding organizational affiliations, book and music catalogs, address books, eyeglasses, mini cassette recorder, various other personal artifacts, and the bulk of Lewis’s Rolling Stone material.
The second series, Correspondence (boxes 12-18), dates from 1958 to 1995 and includes letters and postcards from notable actors, artists, musicians, and writers as well as correspondence with lifelong friends. Notable correspondence is sheathed in a “white envelope” with pertinent information written across the top edge.
Series three, Published Work (boxes 19-48), is the largest series and contains work in various media—academic and literary journals, newsprint, and magazines—dating from 1955 to 1994. This series includes Lewis’s earliest published material in Avesta, and his last published article in Los Angeles Times Magazine. Lewis’s meticulous writing process is evident throughout this series in the surfeit of small, hand-written and typed notes, as well as his corrected typescripts.
Series four, Unpublished Work (boxes 49-64), contains research, notes, and finished pages for numerous unrealized projects. This series is dominated by Lewis’s unfinished novel, Code of the West, and his unfinished memoir Goodbye If You Call That Gone.
Series five, Works By Others (boxes 65-82), consists of original typescripts or photocopies of short stories, novels, poetry, and screenplays. Also included are several published works, often inscribed to Lewis, and a videotape of Suicide: The Movie, by Ray Cameron and Barry Cryer.
Series six, Audio Tapes (boxes 83-89), contains both original tapes and listening copies of audio-taped recordings of friends, family, and celebrity interviews Lewis conducted for various magazine articles. There are two items on CD format, which were transferred from reel-to-reel format.
Series seven, Oversized Items (boxes 90-91), is comprised of diverse materials and media, including personal artifacts, photographs, photograph reproductions, a lithograph, and various newspapers. Most of the material in this series is press/publicity photographs and reproductions relating to Lewis’s article for New West magazine, “The Shooting of Larry Flynt: An Eyewitness Account by Grover Lewis.”
Series I: Personal papers, 1960-1995 Boxes 1-11
This series is arranged by subject and contains material reflecting important aspects of Lewis’s Life. The Rolling Stone material is a sub-series containing mostly office memoranda, but also some humorous general correspondence and related ephemera.
Other notable material is the transcription of Robert Draper’s interview with Lewis, which Draper conducted for his book-length expose, Rolling Stone Magazine: The Uncensored History. Lewis’s astringent testimony of his working relationship with founder and editor-in-chief of Rolling Stone, Jann Wenner, play a memorable role in Draper’s book. The complete transcription of the interview not only details Lewis’s relationship with the incomparable Wenner, but also includes other amusing anecdotes concerning the high-profile masthead of the magazine.
Also noteworthy is the personal correspondence exchanged with legendary San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen.
The personal artifacts here (boxes 10 and 11) include Lewis’s mini-cassette recorder, several pairs of eyeglasses, a small notebook with handwritten notes, buttons, pens, matchbooks, and a view-finder.
Series II: Correspondence, 1958-1995 Boxes 12-18
This series is arranged chronologically and is comprehensive enough to effectively relate the inherent complexities in the life of a prominent working-journalist. The correspondence signals both Lewis’s constant loyalty to friends as well as his uncommon writing ability. The series contains many poignant and superbly crafted letters. The tone of this series ranges between expressly personal letters and perfunctory business memos.
This series is rich with notable correspondence including Nelson Algren, William Brammer, Marlon Brando, Tim Cahill, L. M. Kit Carson, Andrei Codrescu, Francis Ford Coppola, S. Deitch, Joan Didion Dunne, John Gregory Dunne, Peter Gent, Allen Ginsberg, Norman Mailer, Michael McClure, Steve Miller, Trina Mitchum, Sam Peckinpah, Anthony Perkins, Robert Redford, Tom Robbins, Bob Schieffer, Edwin “Bud” Shrake, Judee Sill, Delos V. Smith, Mick Stevens, Hunter S. Thompson, and Tom Wolfe.
In addition to famous celebrities and well-known literati, Lewis’s correspondence includes numerous lesser-known writers and artists such as Eve Babitz, Gina Berriault, Dotty Le Mieux, Speer Morgan, Joyce Rezendes, Kell Robertson, and Jack Thibeau.
A Correspondent Index can be found at the end of this container list.
Series III: Published Work, 1955-2005 Boxes 19-48
This series is arranged alphabetically by publication and surveys Lewis’s entire writing career from his earliest poetry and short fiction publications in Avesta (1955)—the student literary magazine of North Texas State College—to his last published piece, a profile of well-known photographer Birney Imes, published in the Los Angeles Times Magazine (1994). Material from a posthumous collection of Lewis’s writing, Splendor in the Short Grass (2005), is also included.
The bulk of the newspaper work contained here (from the Dallas Times Herald, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Houston Chronicle, Houston Post, and St. Petersburg Times) is book reviews of contemporary work of the mid to late 1960’s. These pieces are often highly opinionated and reflect Lewis’s idiosyncratic literary and philosophical sensibilities.
There are many notable inclusions in this series:
• The Coexistence Review, an underground literary publication published with friends and fellow North Texas State College students Larry McMurtry and George Lewis (no relation).
•L.A. Weekly, dated 1993, with Lewis’s cover story feature of the death of his close friend Gus Hasford, author of The Short-Timers—the novel on which Stanley Kubrick’s film Full Metal Jacket was based.
• The aforementioned Los Angeles Times Magazine article dated 1994, which includes audio tapes and a complete transcription of Lewis’s interview with Birney Imes.
• The Movieline material, which consists of Lewis’s book reviews, and also the audio-taped interview and complete transcription of his interview with Hollywood legend, Aldo Ray, for a January 1991 feature story.
• The New West material, which includes extensive correspondence and research, interesting artifacts, and audio-taped interviews for two important articles: “The Shooting of Larry Flynt: an Eyewitness Account by Grover Lewis” (March 27, 1978), and “Buried Alive in Hype: My Years Among the Reality Vultures” (May 22, 1978).
• Lewis’s Rolling Stone material, which includes all of Lewis’s major articles, and specifically, the September 2, 1971, issue featuring the article, “Splendor In the Short Grass.” The related material for this issue of Rolling Stone includes letters and a telegram from Bogdanovich; pay stubs; and several heavily corrected typescripts, including a preliminary film-reportage attempt written seven years before “Splendor,” while on the set of Hud near Amarillo.
• Thirty-seven typescript articles published in The Village Voice during 1969. These articles cover topics from the San Francisco area such as the Rolling Stones concert in Altamont, Indian takeover at Alcatraz, and the People’s Park protest in Berkeley.
Series IV: Unpublished Work, [1958-1995] Boxes 49-64
This series is arranged alphabetically according to either title or subject of work. The bulk of this series is comprised of two large, unrealized projects: The Code of the West (a novel) and Goodbye If You Call That Gone (a nonfiction memoir).
Both of these projects reflect immensely important aspects of Lewis’s life. The Code of the West reflects his intense love of the cinema—especially the bygone era of the Western. The material surrounding this project includes a surplus of handwritten and typed notes and an audio-taped interview with Diana Carey, a.k.a. “Baby Peggy,” the famous child-actor of the early 1920’s. Also notable here are handwritten notes concerning Lewis’s work-in-progress by Gus Hasford, Lewis’s friend and author of the famous Vietnam War novel, The Short-Timers.
Goodbye If You Call That Gone remains unfinished due to Lewis’s death from cancer in 1995. This was planned to be an expansive project in which he hoped to chronicle his own past—with both memory and fact—which centered on the tragic double-murder of both his parents in 1943. Included here are many photographs of Lewis’s immediate and extended family, and extensive genealogical research. Other notable items are Lewis’s book proposal accompanied by finished pages, both of which tell the fascinating story of his personal life and journalism career in his own words.
Box 47 contains strictly unpublished material; boxes 48-62 comprise a sub-series, Unfinished Work, containing material relating to articles that remained unfinished.
Series V: Works by Others, 1969-1997 Boxes 65-82
This series is arranged alphabetically by author and includes mostly photocopied short stories and screenplays. Two notable items relating to Lewis are a forty-six page biography, Grover Lewis: The Uncommon Insight and Grace of an Ordinary Man, written by longtime friend and poet R.K. Scott; and the screenplay Deep Ellum, by Stan Vosper, Jr., based on Lewis’s adolescent days with Larry McMurtry and other North Texas friends. Included with the screenplay are several pages of Lewis’s handwritten notes and corrections on the screenplay itself.
Series VI: Audio Tapes Boxes 83-89
This series is arranged alphabetically by subject and includes both original tapes and listening copies of many of Lewis’s taped interviews conducted for L.A. Weekly, Movieline, New West, Oui, and Rolling Stone magazines. Many famous and prominent actors and artists can be heard, among them Diana Carey (a.k.a. “Baby Peggy”), Elisha Cook, Jr., Larry Flynt (with attempted assassination), David Geffen, Howard Hawks (in a film festival Q and A session), Birney Imes, Lash La Rue, Bette Midler, Robert Mitchum, Slim Pickens, Aldo Ray, Andy Warhol, and Hank Williams, Jr.
Series VII: Oversized Items Box 90-91
Although comprised of various materials and media, photographs and photograph reproductions constitute the bulk of this series. Most of the material here is press/publicity photographs and reproductions relating to Lewis’s article for New West magazine, “The Shooting of Larry Flynt: An Eyewitness Account by Grover Lewis.” The newspapers (box 91) are Fort Worth Star-Telegram and Fort Worth Press coverage of the Kennedy Assassination.
Open for research.
Grover Lewis Papers, Southwestern Writers Collection/Texas State University-San Marcos.
Gift of Rae Lewis. Contact the SWWC for information about additional materials from this writer that have not yet been fully processed.
Processed by Jeremey E. Cagle, 2005-2006.
Detailed Description of the Collection