A Preliminary Inventory of His Papers at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
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 Unpublished novels are also present, as well as numerous drafts of the "big family novel" or "Big Book, "which Appel considered his most important work.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 the "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, while Brain Guy reappeared in paperback as The Enforcer.
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.
Open for research
Gift No. 10627
Liz Murray, 1996
Benjamin Appel Papers--Folder List