When he’s not writing best-selling novels and acclaimed screenplays, McMurtry (The Last Picture Show, Lonesome Dove, Brokeback Mountain) deals in rare and used books. An Aug. 12 profile in The New York Times detailed how McMurtry was consolidating all his inventory into one store in Archer City, Texas.
Such efforts required an auction, dubbed “The Last Book Sale,” which is where our manly millionaire Johnson comes into, um, play.
One of the most expensive items at the sale was, as NYT described it, “1,139 pages of bound typescripts of erotica commissioned by an oilman in Ardmore, Okla., in the 1930s and ‘40s.”
“I defy anyone to know who wrote those novelettes,” McMurtry told the newspaper. “It doesn’t suggest Henry Miller. It may have been just local opportunists.”
According to a 2009 report in Fine Books & Collections magazine, however, ol’ Miller was indeed one of the salacious scribes. Best known for Tropic of Cancer, Miller is among those whose identities have been confirmed, along with noted dirty wordsmiths ranging from Anaïs Nin to trash writers like Jack Hanley. Even one Robert De Niro Sr. — yep, the father of That Guy — was among Johnson’s frisky freelancers who knew a good gig when it had enough zeroes attached.
But at one point, Nin got so fed up with the oilman that she even wrote about Johnson — the man, not the ... well, you know — in the third volume of her published diaries: “We have sat around, imagined this old man, talked of how much we hate him, because he will not allow us to make a fusion of sexuality with feeling, sensuality and emotion, and lyrical flights which intensify eroticism.”
You lost us at “fusion,” Ms. Nin.
We’ll assume Johnson is the only member in the Oklahoma Hall of Fame, to which he was elected in 1953, to have owned such an interesting library.
The Times noted that Johnson’s big book was purchased at the sale by one Tom Congalton, a New Jersey bookseller who plans to resell it. McMurtry told the paper that it could go for $3,000.
In that case, Chicken-Fried News offers its writing services to Larry Nichols, Aubrey McClendon, Tom Ward and any and all other local oil moguls who may be curating private literary stimulation for leaky wells: “I never thought it would happen to me, but there I was, tightening a lug nut on a big rig with my giant tool, which I grasped tight with both hands …” Call us maybe.