CLOSE
ThinkStock
ThinkStock

10 Tempestuous Writerly Romances

ThinkStock
ThinkStock

Hemingway believed “the best writing [happens] when you are in love,” which might explain his serial marriages, while others found that romantic tumult spurred their creativity. Norman Mailer’s editor even claimed he needed violence to work up the courage to write. For them and eight other writers featured below, turbulent real-life relationships rivaled the dramas that played out on the page.

1. Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe

Getty Images

The playwright’s rose-tinted glasses came off just two weeks after marrying the blonde bombshell when he witnessed her Jekyll & Hyde transformation on a movie set. Marilyn’s demanding behavior and explosive temper, fueled by booze and pills, thrust him into the reluctant roles of caretaker, psychiatrist, parent, and apologist. Miller didn’t produce a single work during their five-year marriage, instead becoming “the most talented slave in the world,” according to Norman Mailer. After Marilyn’s death, he wrote two thinly veiled plays about their turbulent relationship.

2. Ernest Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn

Getty Images

Before tying the knot with journalist Martha Gellhorn, Ernest Hemingway made her sign a mock contract promising she wouldn’t leave him to go on assignment since he couldn’t stand being alone. Turns out, it was no joke. When his willful wife continued to report on the events of World War II rather than play happy homemaker with him, Hemingway saw red. “Are you a war correspondent or wife in my bed?” he petulantly cabled to Martha during one of her stints in the field. Despite his efforts to sabotage her career by literally stealing her job, Martha persevered with her career and ditched her demanding husband.

3. Tennessee Williams and Pancho Rodriguez

Getty Images

Tennessee Williams’ affair with Pancho Rodriguez, an attractive, macho hotel clerk, was doomed almost from the start. Ironically, 25-year-old Pancho, a decade younger than the writer, wanted a stable, committed partnership, while Williams refused to give up sex with other men. He also couldn’t tolerate his boyfriend’s insecurities, which often led to stormy rows. Pancho once tried to run Williams down with a car when he (rightly) suspected the playwright was returning from an assignation, but what finally made Williams give him the boot was when he tossed his typewriter out a hotel room window. Writing A Streetcar Named Desire at the time, the playwright transferred some of his boyfriend’s volatile tendencies into the brutish, short-tempered Stanley Kowalski.

4. Leo and Sophia Tolstoy

Getty Images

When Leo Tolstoy penned the first line of Anna Karenina, “Happy families are all alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” he had no idea his own 50-year marriage would be immortalized as one of the unhappiest in literary history. Soon after finishing the novel, the mercurial writer experienced the mother of all midlife crises—but rather than resort to womanizing or flashy spending, he took a vow of poverty and chastity. Tolstoy’s radical transformation and devotion to his disciples led to fierce arguments with his long-suffering wife, Sophia. Ultimately, her spying and theatrics drove the writer away shortly before his death at a remote railway station.

5. Norman Mailer and Adele Morales

Wikimedia Commons

Norman Mailer bedded Latina beauty Adele Morales within hours of meeting her, winning her over by quoting F. Scott Fitzgerald. Adele should have run for cover, but instead she became wife number two and set in motion a life of spiraling tragedy. Years of domestic violence, alcoholism, and drugs culminated in a shocking act: Mailer stabbed Adele in the back, literally, during a drunken rage at a party. Despite spending a month in the hospital recovering, she refused to press charges (admitting later that she was too scared), and Mailer got off with just five years’ probation.

6. F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald

Getty Images

By the time the Jazz Age pair staked a stretch of sand on the French Riviera, their marriage was already on shaky ground. Zelda rocked the boat further by nearly running off with a French aviator, who Scott threatened to challenge to a duel. The golden couple’s mutually destructive chemistry spurred them to dangerous heights, as they dared each other to cliff dive and undertake other reckless acts. After they returned stateside, Scott took up with teenage actress Lois Moran and flaunted the relationship in Zelda’s face. If this sounds like the plot of a novel, well, the drama offered plenty of fodder for Scott’s Tender is the Night.

7. T.S. Eliot and Vivienne Eliot

Getty Images

After spending a miserable night in a deck chair during his honeymoon, married life only got worse for T.S. Eliot. He finally called it quits after 18 years, cowardly ending the relationship in a letter from his lawyer. Heartbroken, his unstable wife Vivienne resorted to stalking him and even attempted to place an ad in the Times personals imploring him to return home. Her desperate measures failed to win him back, and she was eventually committed to an asylum. Eliot later admitted, “To her the marriage brought no happiness … to me, it brought the state of mind out of which came The Waste Land.” The bleak confessional poem was largely composed while he was being treated for his own breakdown in a Swiss sanitarium.

8. D.H. Lawrence and Frieda Weekley

When D.H. Lawrence and Frieda Weekley weren’t hitting each other, hurling dishes, or sparring in public, the pair had a hot and heavy sex life. Throughout their 15-year marriage, Frieda also indulged her libido elsewhere with her husband’s blessing, once seducing a Sicilian mule driver by stripping off her clothes and running naked through a vineyard. As the inspiration for Lady Chatterley and other characters, fiery Frieda believed she was equally deserving of the credit for her husband’s stories for having unleashed his passionate side.

9. Dylan Thomas and Caitlin Macnamara

Getty Images

“Ours was a drink story, not a love story,” Caitlin Macnamara said of her marriage to Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. The pair met in a pub, where Thomas announced they would wed the moment he saw her. Their alcoholism and his rampant infidelities fueled Caitlin’s epic rages, sometimes leading her to bang her husband’s head against the floor so hard that he would pass out. When Thomas died at 39, after consuming a reported 18 whiskies, Caitlin lashed out at hospital nurses and pulled a four-foot crucifix from the wall before being hustled off in a straitjacket.

10. George Sand and Alfred de Musset

Getty Images

Novelist George Sand courted controversy in 19th century France by writing racy novels, smoking cigars, cross-dressing, and dating younger men. Her on-again, off-again relationship with philandering poet Alfred de Musset took a dramatic turn during a trip to Italy when she dumped him for the physician who treated him for a mysterious ailment, likely an STD. When she returned to Paris, she reconciled briefly with the poet before breaking it off for good. As a parting gesture, she cut off her long, dark hair and sent it to him in a skull.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
holidays
A Brief History of Black Friday
iStock
iStock

The unofficial start of the holiday shopping season is often referred to as the busiest shopping day of the year. But where did this tradition start and just how big is it? Here are the answers to a few frequently asked questions about Black Friday. Hopefully they'll give you some good talking points tomorrow, when you line up outside Best Buy at 4 a.m.

HOW DID BLACK FRIDAY BECOME SUCH A BIG SHOPPING DAY?

It's hard to say when the day after Thanksgiving turned into a retail free-for-all, but it probably dates back to the late 19th century. At that time, store-sponsored Thanksgiving parades were common, and once Santa Claus showed up at the end of the parade, the holiday shopping season had officially commenced.

In those days, most retailers adhered to an unwritten rule that holiday shopping season didn't start until after Thanksgiving, so no stores would advertise holiday sales or aggressively court customers until the Friday immediately following the holiday. Thus, when the floodgates opened that Friday, it became a huge deal.

SO RETAILERS WERE ALWAYS HOPING FOR AN EARLY THANKSGIVING?

You bet. They weren't just hoping, though; they were being proactive about it. In 1939, the Retail Dry Goods Association warned Franklin Roosevelt that if the holiday season wouldn't begin until after Americans celebrated Thanksgiving on the traditional final Thursday in November, retail sales would go in the tank. Ever the iconoclast, Roosevelt saw an easy solution to this problem: he moved Thanksgiving up by a week. Instead of celebrating the holiday on its traditional day—November 30th that year—Roosevelt declared the next-to-last Thursday in November to be the new Thanksgiving, instantly tacking an extra week onto the shopping season.

BRILLIANT! HOW DID THAT WORK OUT?

Not so well. Roosevelt didn't make the announcement until late October, and by then most Americans had already made their holiday travel plans. Many rebelled and continued to celebrate Thanksgiving on its "real" date while derisively referring to the impostor holiday as "Franksgiving." State governments didn't know which Thanksgiving to observe, so some of them took both days off. In short, it was a bit of a mess.

By 1941, though, the furor had died down, and Congress passed a law that made Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday in November, regardless of how it affected the shopping day that would become known as Black Friday.

WHY CALL IT BLACK FRIDAY?

If you ask most people why the day after Thanksgiving is called Black Friday, they'll explain that the name stems from retailers using the day's huge receipts as their opportunity to "get in the black" and become profitable for the year. The first recorded uses of the term "Black Friday" are a bit less rosy, though.

According to researchers, the name "Black Friday" dates back to Philadelphia in the mid-1960s. The Friday in question is nestled snugly between Thanksgiving and the traditional Army-Navy football game that's played in Philadelphia on the following Saturday, so the City of Brotherly Love was always bustling with activity on that day. All of the people were great for retailers, but they were a huge pain for police officers, cab drivers, and anyone who had to negotiate the city's streets. They started referring to the annual day of commercial bedlam as "Black Friday" to reflect how irritating it was.

SO WHERE DID THE WHOLE "GET IN THE BLACK" STORY ORIGINATE?

Apparently store owners didn't love having their biggest shopping day saddled with such a negative moniker, so in the early 1980s someone began floating the accounting angle to put a more positive spin on the big day.

DO RETAILERS REALLY NEED BLACK FRIDAY TO TURN AN ANNUAL PROFIT?

Major retailers don't; they're generally profitable—or at least striving for profitability—throughout the entire year. (A company that turned losses for three quarters out of every fiscal year wouldn't be a big hit with investors.) Some smaller outlets may parlay big holiday season sales into annual profits, though.

IS BLACK FRIDAY REALLY THE BIGGEST SHOPPING DAY OF THE YEAR?

It's certainly the day of the year in which you're most likely to be punched while reaching for a Tickle Me Elmo doll, but it might not be the busiest day in terms of gross receipts. According to Snopes.com, Black Friday is generally one of the top days of the year for stores, but it's the days immediately before Christmas—when procrastinators finally get shopping—that stores make the serious loot. Black Friday may, however, be the busiest day of the year in terms of customer traffic.

Snopes's data shows the 10-year span from 1993 to 2002, and in that interval Black Friday was never higher than fourth on the list of the year's busiest shopping days by sales volume. In 2003 and 2005 Black Friday did climb to the top of the pile for sales revenue days, but it still gets stiff competition from the week leading up to Christmas, particularly the Saturday right before the big day.

DO PEOPLE REALLY GET INJURED ON BLACK FRIDAY?

Sadly, yes. One of the most tragic Black Friday incidents happened in 2008, when 34-year-old seasonal employee Jdimytai Damour was killed after a crowd of hundreds of people from the approximately 2000 people waiting outside knocked him own and stampeded over his back after the doors opened at 5 a.m. at the Wal-Mart on Long Island, New York.

In 2010 in Buffalo, New York, several shoppers were trampled trying to get into a Target. One of the victims, Keith Krantz—who was pinned against a metal door support and then shoved to the ground—told a CNN affiliate he thought he would be killed. “At that moment, I was thinking I don't want to die here on the ground,” Krantz said.

In Murray, Utah, 15,000 shoppers swamped a mall with such force, the local police had to respond to break up skirmishes and fistfights, and keep shoppers from ransacking stores.

In 2008, a fight broke out between a young girl and a man at another Wal-Mart store in Columbus, Ohio, over a 40-inch Samsung flat-screen television. It was $798, marked down from $1000. The New York Times reported that the not-so-aptly-named Nikki Nicely, 19, leaped onto a fellow shopper’s back and began pounding his shoulders violently when he attempted to purchase the television. “That’s my TV!” shouted Ms. Nicely, who then took an elbow to the face. “That’s my TV!” The fight was broken up by a police officer and security guard. “That’s right,” Nicely cried as her adversary walked away. “This here is my TV!”

HOW CAN THIS KIND OF THING BE AVOIDED?

In an effort to keep a few would-be clients from personal injury law firms, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) created a special checklist for retailers expecting large crowds.

So what’s OSHA’s advice? Consider using bullhorns. Hire a team of police officers. Be prepared for “crowd crushing” and “violent acts.” Set up barricades. And, above all else, if charging shoppers come running, stay out of the way.

Haley Sweetland Edwards contributed to this story, portions of which originally appeared in 2009.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Hess Corporation
arrow
Pop Culture
A Speedy History of the Hess Truck
Hess Corporation
Hess Corporation

Unless you know someone crazy about air fresheners or caffeine pills, holiday gifts purchased at gas stations don’t usually provoke much excitement. But if you were one of the millions who grew up in the northeast, the annual release of the Hess toy truck at Hess gas stations—usually green, always labeled with a Hess logo, always boxed with batteries—was and is as much a part of the holiday as Santa Claus and his sleigh.

The idea for an affordable, quality children’s toy sold at service stations at thousands of Hess locations in 16 states was courtesy of Leon Hess, the college dropout-turned-fuel magnate who began selling oil door-to-door in 1933 and graduated to gas stops by 1960. Hess decided he would trump the cheap merchandise given away by gas stations—mugs, glassware—by commissioning a durable, feature-heavy toy truck modeled after the first oil tanker he ever bought for his company. Unlike most toys of the era, it would have headlights that really worked and a tank that kids could either fill up or drain with water.

Most importantly, Hess insisted it come with batteries—he knew the frustration suffered by kids who tore into a holiday present, only to discover they’d have to wait until it had a power source before it could be operated.

The Hess Tanker Truck went on sale in 1964 for $1.29 and sold out almost instantly. Hess released the toy again in 1965, and then introduced the Voyager Tanker Ship in 1966. For the next 50 years, hardly a year went by without Hess issuing a new vehicle that stood up to heavy play and offered quality and features comparable to the “real” toys on store shelves. Incredibly, fathers would wait in line for hours for an opportunity to buy one for their child.

The toy truck became so important to the Hess brand and developed such a strong following that when the company was bought out in 2014 and locations converted to the Speedway umbrella, new owners Marathon Petroleum promised they would keep making the Hess trucks. They’re now sold online, with the newest—the Dump Truck and Loader, complete with working hydraulics and STEM lesson plans—retailing for $33.99. Bigger, better toy trucks may be out there, but a half-century of tradition is hard to replicate.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios