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Finding the Real Jack London
By Russ Kingam
The Kenwood Press
One of the reasons that Jack London is one of the most popular authors in the world today is because his life is as interesting as his works. From the time The Call of the Wild caught the imagination of the world in 1903, until his death by a stroke and heart attack in 1916, his 51 books, hundreds of his short stories, essays and other writings had more newspaper coverage than any other writer. The story of his adventure-filled life still intrigues readers of all ages and from all walks of life.
This popularity has been good and bad since the real Jack London is seldom seen. Biographers and writers by the hundreds have written about him without bothering to research for the facts. This is also true in his own beloved Valley of the Moon. The average resident of this area has been exposed to so many myths about Jack that they will probably never know the truth. I discovered several years ago that 17 of the 18 biographers of Jack London had simply failed to dig for facts. The only reliable, though heavily biased and protective, one was The Book of Jack London by his wife Charmian. This was the reason that I wrote A Pictorial Life of Jack London with an attempt to set the record straight. It was also an opportunity to share 280 pictures taken directly from London's over 100 photograph albums.
The major stumbling block in the search for the real Jack London is the depth of study required to separate fact from fiction. I had discovered that far too many people thought of him as a woman chaser, and alcoholic, a land Baron, that snooty writer on the hill, a gullible businessman, a suicide and many other derogatory assumptions.
Now how do you combat this ignorance which has been handed down every generation with embellishments? I knew he was extremely faithful to his wife, Charmian; that he was a staunch prohibitionist who stated that as long as alcohol was legal he would continue to drink socially with his friends, but would gladly quit drinking when prohibition was passed; that he was an excellent businessman and a progressive farmer who loved to share his new and scientific ideas of farming with his neighbors; and that he loved people. I also knew that he did not commit suicide, that he was a kind, gentle man who lived what he wrote and wrote what he lived. He loved fun, but it was always clean fun, and he proudly proclaimed that he never had, and never would, write anything that he would be ashamed to have his daughters read. But how do you get people to listen to the truth when they would rather hear gossip? I am still trying to find the answer to that.
How can I expect people to believe the truth in my biography when they read a different report in biographies by Irving Stone, Andrew Sinclair, Richard O'Connor and others of equal standing? How can I get them to accept the fact that these widely accepted biographers had failed to do their research?
I have spent 14 wonderful and exciting years of study and research, and am still trying to find the real Jack London. It is a worthwhile quest because the world which loves Jack London and his work should know the truth about this great writer. The present interest in Jack London is undeniable proof of his popularity. How many authors who have been dead 66 years still have 24 books in print?
Dr. Charles Wilson of Syracuse University has published a fabulous and scholarly book entitled The Novels of Jack London, a Reappraisal; Outlet Books has just put out an anthology called Jack London, Series II; and the Library of America has included two volumes of Jack London in their prestigious Literary Classics of America series. On the press or nearly ready are nine new works about Jack London, with others being written.
Bill DeVane's movie of Jack London was recently shown on T.V.; the University of Indiana has just completed a film on Jack London; Paramount Studio's Stu Silver is working on a Jack London play. Other film makers have plans to do some of his novels and various foreign countries are publishing and filming his books.
You and I aren't fans of a dead hero. He is very much alive in our country and around the world. We in the Valley of the Moon can be justifiably proud that Jack London once lived amongst us. He is the incarnation of the American dream: The Horatio Alger picture of rising from a poverty environment to become the best known author in the world, through sheer strength and determination.
Our appreciation to The Kenwood Press for permission to reprint this 1983 article written by the late Russ Kingman