Bandini Tidbit #3 - Finding Fante

by John Fante

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Bandini Tidbit #3 - Finding Fante

Unread postby Liz » Wed Aug 08, 2007 11:20 am

This is an interesting account of a journalist’s encounter with John Fante back in 1979.

NOTE: There is a tiny spoiler about Ask The Dust.



http://www.laweekly.com/index.php?option=com_lawcontent&task=view&id=9569

FINDING FANTE
An encounter with one of L.A.'s literary ghosts
BY TOM CHRISTIE
Thursday, December 11, 2003 - 12:00 am

John Fante was blind, and he was watching a football game. It was 1979, and I’d come up to his house on Point Dume to interview him about Ask the Dust, his 40-year-old novel that was about to be republished by Black Sparrow Press. He seemed perplexed: “What have you come for, again?” Fante was near the end of his life, and I may have been the first young journalist to ask to see him in years. That would change over the next decade as his books began selling around the world and gained an almost cultlike following. But for now this was unusual.

Recently bumped up from the United Artists mailroom to the story department, I was the first person there to see Fante’s unbound proofs. The book included a preface by Charles Bukowski, who had discovered Fante at the Central Library as a young man and later came to befriend him. Of Fante, Bukowski wrote: “. . . the way of his words and the way of his way are the same: strong and good and warm.”

I took Ask the Dust home to my claustrophobic flat above Mr. Lee, China Tailor on Fairfax, next to the Jack in the Box. I hadn’t been in the city long, and the story of Arturo Bandini and Camilla Lopez drew me into Los Angeles, made the history of the place real, and “strong and good and warm.” It also excited the hell out of me. I recommended that the studio buy it. Actually, I gushed, ruining whatever career I might have had as a “story analyst” — UA was never going to film a book like Ask the Dust. Naiveté unabated, I called Robert De Niro’s agent, Harry Ufland, and asked if he would take a look at my coverage. He did. There was some interest there — Francis Coppola, it turned out, had Fante’s The Brotherhood of the Grape under option for years. But as for Ask the Dust, it went where you might expect it to: nowhere.

An editor at the Weekly named Tracy Johnston — we would later work together at California magazine — agreed to an interview with the old man. And so it was that I watched that football game with Fante, and talked Bandini. And movies (Fante had made his living writing them), and Bukowski and the screenwriter Robert Towne, with whom Fante had a tempestuous relationship. (Actually, most of Fante’s relationships seemed to be tempestuous.) And Fante shared a little literary secret: He had lived Bandini’s story with Camilla, and now he thought he understood the conflict between them — she was a lesbian.

I wrote the piece, but I left that out — the novel was better with a little mystery. And I made the mistake of a neophyte, writing in the rhythmic style of Fante as a kind of homage. On the Thursday it came out, I took my unopened copy of the Weekly to El Coyote, sat at the bar, and read. And discovered that Johnston had edited out most of my Fanteisms without a word to me about it. (The Weekly was then infamous for rewriting pieces without the writers’ knowledge, let alone permission.) I had several margaritas that night, and promptly began writing for the competing alternative weekly, the Reader.

But no one else seemed to mind. The following week, the paper published a letter from the late Tomata du Plenty, then lead singer for the Screamers: “Thank you for Tom Christie’s haunting encounter with John Fante in your Dec. 28th issue. Four years ago, I left New York for Los Angeles. Pals asked, ‘Why L.A.?’ At that time I discovered John Fante’s great novel, and it seemed so right answering Ask the Dust!”

Nor did Fante or his wife, Joyce, mind. But then, they could hardly object to a piece titled, somewhat optimistically, “The Great Los Angeles Novel.” Joyce was a poet when they met in Santa Rosa, and even with John’s screenwriting successes, their heart and hopes remained with his novels.

Meanwhile, Fante’s diabetic condition worsened; he lost his legs and wound up in the Motion Picture and Television Home in Woodland Hills. I visited him there a couple of times. Once, I took a short story I’d written and read it to him and some of his pals, sitting around me in their wheelchairs. The story was lousy, but Fante was encouraging, even sweet about it. The last I saw of him, a nurse was taking him down the hall to, in his words, put him on the pot. “Don’t be bitter,” he’d once told me.

Fante died not long after. By then his reputation was growing. (Some 100,000 copies of Ask the Dust would sell by the time Black Sparrow sold the rights of Fante, Bukowski and Paul Bowles to HarperCollins in 2002.) New Fante works were published posthumously, articles were written, documentary films begun, biographies imagined. Fante was writing again, too, at the end. Bedridden, he had been formulating a new novel in his head, the morphine encouraging him sweetly.
You can't judge a book by its cover.

The only thing that matters is the ending. It's the most important part of the story.

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Unread postby gemini » Wed Aug 08, 2007 3:54 pm

Yes Liz, I agree that was a very interesting read. It is very sad that his fame came so late he could not enjoy it. I am not so surprised that the author was so taken with Ask the Dust. I read its reviews on amazon and most thought it was a great book. I can not believe they do not have it in my library system so I guess I'll have to buy it. Since I have read Arturo Bandini's younger years, I want to read about him as an adult.
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Unread postby Linda Lee » Wed Aug 08, 2007 4:15 pm

Interesting tidbit, Liz. I agree with gemini it is sad his fame came too late for him to enjoy it.
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Unread postby Liz » Wed Aug 08, 2007 4:58 pm

Gemini & Linda Lee, I feel the same as you--it is very sad.

I just picked up my copy of Ask the Dust from the library today. There were a couple of copies, but no copies of Bandini.
You can't judge a book by its cover.

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Unread postby Parlez » Wed Aug 08, 2007 5:15 pm

Thanks for a great tidbit, Liz!! The human side of the stuggle to make it as a writer is apparent, and tragic. I thought it was interesting that Fante told Christie, "Don't be bitter," when it certainly seemed like he (Fante) had every reason to be! And the characters he wrote about were full of that nasty, self-defeating emotion. I guess he got rid of it by writing it, bless his heart!
I started watching "Ask the Dust" last night, and I must say Colin Ferrell is great as Bandini. The movie, as some of you probably already know but it came as a surprise to me, was produced by Tom Cruise. I stopped watching when the story caught up to where I am in the book...I want to finish reading before I watch any more...but the movie is lovely and very true to the quality and tone of the book.
Gemini, if you have to buy your own copy of Ask the Dust I don't think you'll be sorry.
"Belay that! ...Do something else!" ~ Hector Barbossa
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Unread postby Liz » Wed Aug 08, 2007 5:59 pm

Parlez wrote:Thanks for a great tidbit, Liz!! The human side of the stuggle to make it as a writer is apparent, and tragic. I thought it was interesting that Fante told Christie, "Don't be bitter," when it certainly seemed like he (Fante) had every reason to be! And the characters he wrote about were full of that nasty, self-defeating emotion. I guess he got rid of it by writing it, bless his heart!
I started watching "Ask the Dust" last night, and I must say Colin Ferrell is great as Bandini. The movie, as some of you probably already know but it came as a surprise to me, was produced by Tom Cruise. I stopped watching when the story caught up to where I am in the book...I want to finish reading before I watch any more...but the movie is lovely and very true to the quality and tone of the book.
Gemini, if you have to buy your own copy of Ask the Dust I don't think you'll be sorry.


Anita said that writing The Gonzo Way was cathartic for her. I think it works that way for most writers. They can work out some of their frustrations and disappointments that way. It is the same with writing in a diary or journal.

I can just picture Colin Ferrell in the part of Aturo. I’m not going to watch the movie, though, until I finish reading the book, which may take a few weeks.
You can't judge a book by its cover.

The only thing that matters is the ending. It's the most important part of the story.

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Unread postby fansmom » Wed Aug 08, 2007 10:36 pm

Liz wrote:Anita said that writing The Gonzo Way was cathartic for her. I think it works that way for most writers. They can work out some of their frustrations and disappointments that way. It is the same with writing in a diary or journal.
I have a half-written novel in a box in my spare room. I thought I'd been writing fiction but suddenly realized how autobiographical some of it was, and thought, "I can't tell people that!" :blush:

Liz wrote:I can just picture Colin Ferrell in the part of Aturo. I’m not going to watch the movie, though, until I finish reading the book, which may take a few weeks.
So Irish men can really stand in for Italians? I know it worked for Peter Boyle in "Everybody Loves Raymond". . .

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Unread postby Theresa » Wed Aug 08, 2007 10:43 pm

Of Fante, Bukowski wrote: “. . . the way of his words and the way of his way are the same: strong and good and warm.”


I think this is a wonderful tribute to any writer...that the way of his words are strong and good and warm. I can't wait to get my copy of Bandini and start reading it.

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Unread postby Parlez » Wed Aug 08, 2007 10:44 pm

fansmom wrote:So Irish men can really stand in for Italians? I know it worked for Peter Boyle in "Everybody Loves Raymond". . .

Yeah, apparently! But what really impressed me about this role for Colin is his ability to act so innocent and naive, which is far beyond his bad-boy-Irish image!
"Belay that! ...Do something else!" ~ Hector Barbossa

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Unread postby nebraska » Wed Aug 08, 2007 10:50 pm

fansmom wrote:
Liz wrote:Anita said that writing The Gonzo Way was cathartic for her. I think it works that way for most writers. They can work out some of their frustrations and disappointments that way. It is the same with writing in a diary or journal.
I have a half-written novel in a box in my spare room. I thought I'd been writing fiction but suddenly realized how autobiographical some of it was, and thought, "I can't tell people that!" :blush:


In my younger days I wrote the great American novel.......I showed it to a college writing instructor once and she had very high praise for it. But my manuscript has rarely seen the light of day, partly for the same reason you describe. The emotions and the fantasy are too raw and close to share without feeling like I am vulnerable and naked before the world. I applaud a writer who can expose himself so openly.

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Unread postby Liz » Thu Aug 09, 2007 12:33 am

Fansmom and Nebraska, why don’t you use a Pseudonym? I’ve considered it myself.

And on Colin Ferrell: There is something about him that is so not Irish. After seeing him in a couple of movies I was shocked to find out that he was Irish. He is an expert at totally losing his accent for a role.
You can't judge a book by its cover.

The only thing that matters is the ending. It's the most important part of the story.

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Unread postby magpie » Thu Aug 09, 2007 7:56 am

Thanks, Liz, this makes me even more curious about Ask the Dust.
It sounds like Mr. Fante had an encounter himself with bitterness, and realized how much damage that particular 'demon' can do. I'm glad he overcame it, & told Mr. Christie to avoid it.
I'm having a thought here. . . .
. . if you simply try to tell the truth you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.
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Unread postby DeppInTheHeartOfTexas » Thu Aug 09, 2007 7:58 am

I agree, magpie. It would be hard to think he stayed bitter all his life. It is too bad he didn't live to see the success of his work.
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming -
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