The rum coco was made sort of famous in the U. S., and hip in some quarters, like my house, by the Tennessee Williams play and film Night Of the Iguana, in which it's presented as the specialty of the house at the Costa Verde inn on the west coast of Mexico, where the story is set.

In fact, the rum coco is one of the most popular mixed drinks among locals south of the Rio Grande and around the Caribbean, any place where rum is popular, though generally not considered fancy enough for tourists.

It's made with coconut water, the almost clear juice of young coconuts, not coconut milk, the white juice of mature coconuts, which is thicker and sweeter.  Coconut water is a miraculous drink all by itself, low in fat with no cholesterol and more potassium than most sports drinks, and can be used in a pinch as a substitute for blood plasma in surgical operations, delivered intravenously.

My friend Jae recommended it to me as a healthier alternative to the sports drinks I consume regularly out here in the Mojave Desert, to keep hydrated in the extreme dry heat.  However, it didn't take me long to realize that it's sort of a crime to drink coconut water without a healthy shot of rum in it.

Traditionally the rum coco is made with a light amber rum, some ice and nothing else, but I like a slice of lime in it.  Vita Coco is the best known brand of coconut water but can be hard to find and tends to be a little costly.  I have a small case of it delivered to my home every month via Amazon, which offers a good deal on such an arrangement.

What a happy day it is when that small case arrives, and how quickly it vanishes in nights of tropical dreaming.  After two rum cocos, you can hear the waves breaking on the shore nearby, even when there is no shore nearby, and the rustle of the palm fronds sounding just like rain.  A voice whispers in your ear, “Go on, fall apart,” and you fall apart, your molecules dispersing in the humid night air.  Soon there's nothing left of you at all — nothing but the scent of flowers on a breeze coming in from the ocean.


The first part of a remarkable two-part essay by Paul Zahl on the James Gould Cozzens novel By Love Possessed and its screen adaptation by John Sturges.

(Part One):

The once extremely popular novel of the year 1957 entitled
By Love
Possessed, written by James Gould Cozzens, was made into a Hollywood
movie in 1960 and released the following year.  The novel tells the
story of Arthur Winner, Jr., a very sane and prudent attorney living in
a small town in mid-Atlantic America, as his life unravels over a
period of 49 hours.  Arthur Winner, who is always referred to in the
novel as “Arthur Winner”, navigates defending a pretty indefensible
young man, for whom Arthur Winner feels personally responsible, from a
charge of rape; as well as helping a legion of citizens of Brocton,
their small town, with their unending personal, legal, and financial
problems.  Somewhat priggish — that is what the many hostile critics
By Love Possessed called Arthur Winner — but also unflappably calm,
Arthur Winner succeeds in holding the wolf of anxiety at the door,
until . . . 

Because I hope this post may succeed in making you want to read the
book, I won't give away what becomes of the limits of Arthur Winner's
ability to keep it together.

I will say that the brilliant and wise hero is, credibly, reduced to a
humbled condition, almost a desperate condition.  And, partly through
the aid of his friend and law partner Julius Penrose, Arthur Winner
finds the hidden door, the still small voice of an answer, through the
box canyon of his shattering humiliations and disappointments.  The
novel's resolution is noble, lyrical, and possibly true . . . to life.

Because By Love Possessed was a number one best-seller for many months
— something close to a national sensation in the fall of 1957 —
it was filmed as an “A” production in 1960 by an independent production company releasing through United Artists.  The movie version starred Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. as
Arthur Winner, Jason Robards, Jr. as Julius Penrose, and Lana Turner as
Marjorie Penrose, the extra-marital love interest of  the Man of
Reason, Arthur Winner.  Other familiar actors played supporting roles,
such as George Hamilton, Thomas Mitchell, Susan Kohner, and Barbara Bel
By Love Possessed was directed by John Sturges, who also
The Magnificent Seven, released in 1960.  John Dennis wrote
the screenplay, which was a big challenge, as the novel is actually an
epic, with many interlocking characters and a lot of talk and a lot of
ideas.  The music, which is wonderful in a kind of 1950s soap-opera
manner, was composed by Elmer Bernstein.

I want to say something about movies and books in relation to a comparison of the two versions we have of
By Love Possessed.

But first, two additional facts about it:

This novel became the object of a famous attack in print by Dwight
MacDonald, in the January 1958 issue of
Commentary magazine.  Because
Cozzens refused to take the trouble to check the copy for a
Time magazine cover story about him and By Love Possessed, several extremely
damaging statements, which he claimed later were not his words at all
but the words of the two hostile writers who interviewed him, had
appeared in print, for the country to see.  They made Cozzens sound
like a social snob, who was also bigoted toward African-Americans and
Jews.  Although he was a snob — more a “meritocracy”-type  snob than a
WASP snob —  he was not a racist.  His 1949 Pulitzer-Prize winning
Guard of Honor had exposed racial segregation in the Air Force,
taking the lid off a subject that many people did not like to talk
about then.  Cozzens was also not anti-Semitic.  His only real friend,
for he was a hermit in effect, a little like J. D. Salinger in that way,
was his wife.  And his wife was Jewish, a well known literary agent in
Manhattan and a liberal Democrat.  Nevertheless, certain attitudes of
some of the characters in
By Love Possessed are intolerant.  So Dwight
MacDonald, stoning the book and its reclusive author, believed he was
taking on “Eisenhower-era” intolerance and complacency.

James Gould Cozzens' career never recovered from MacDonald's attack,
which was widely accepted as being true and accurate.  The January 1958
attack on Cozzens was his Nightmare on Elm Street.  He had written
incisively and even shatteringly, I believe, about “Ivy League”
characters in a small mid-Atlantic town, a town full of Water Streets,
and Market Streets, and Elm Streets; and then paid a nightmarish price
for it.  You can read about the personal effects and “after birth” of
the abuse he took from the critics, in the journals he kept from 1960
to 1964 when he was living in Williamstown, Massachusetts.

Oh, and Cozzens was also accused of being anti-Catholic.  And
Catholic he was, no doubt about it.  Religiously, the writer saw
himself as a “P. E. agnostic” (i.e., Protestant Episcopal agnostic), who
regarded most expressions of Christianity as superstitious.

The second fact I need to mention about the book in relation to the
movie is that the author saw the Hollywood version twice and wrote down
his reactions.  This is how James Gould Cozzens reported his first
viewing of
By Love Possessed in his journals [
VII 19-VII 22 (1961)]:

By Love Possessed was opening at the Capitol [i.e., in New York City]:
and though I thought little of the idea, at loose ends after lunch at
the Harvard Club [above] I followed S.'s [i.e., his wife's] suggestion and went
up.  I must admit I got several surprises.  For one thing, the
photography was simply and even, sometimes, amazingly, beautiful.  For
another, the direction gave constant signs of intelligence, especially
in small touches, often faithfully taken from the book.  When law, for
instance, was touched on, the to-be-expected nonsense was carefully not
made of it.  The simplification, by sometimes telescoping, sometimes
eliminating characters obviously necessary if the material was to be
got into any actable form, showed evident judgment.  Flabbergasted, I
can only say that, taken all in all, I found it a good deal better than
the critics (who probably missed all the good careful small points)
claiming it made a mess of the book, had allowed.

Later, on April 21st, 1962, Cozzens saw the movie again, this time with his wife.  Then it was showing in Williamstown:

S. hadn't seen the By Love Possessed film and when it turned up
(second time around) at the Spring St. theatre today insisted on
going.  Seeing it a second time,  I was again impressed by much really
beautiful photography, and a number of excellences of small detail and
minor casting — the man, whoever he was,  cast as “Dr. Shaw” [i.e.,
Everett Sloane]  in the trifling part allowed him was almost
disconcerting, he was so exactly in face and manner what I was seeing
as I wrote.

But it was as plain as ever that the job they undertook was impossible:
the book defeated them at every turn and was indeed specifically
intended to
.  [PZ's Italics.]

A play, an acted entertainment by definition, can't be “honest”
exhibiting True Experience.  Actors act “parts”: plays must provide “parts”.  The whole basis is “Let's Pretend”.  Anything “real” or “true” will destroy or at any rate vitiate this basis.  Life is life,
not a play: a play is a play, not life.  It seems to follow that an
effective play must cut loose from considerations of: is this probable?
(or even: is this possible?)  and proceed on the principle of, say,
Hamlet.  Never mind whether this situation makes sense, never mind if
it's obviously impossible.  Assume it to be the situation: Now, what

I think this has to be interesting to people who are interested in
movies.  Here is a deep and dense novel — even the people who hated it
admired its craft and structure, and its verisimilitude to life as
lived by people like that — which was translated into a lavish
Hollywood production with a famous star and the most costly energies of
studio film-making.  And the novel's author, who rarely went to movies
and rarely talked to people or even saw them on the street, approved
of the full treatment.

Now, with the book in one hand — my wife's family owned a
first-edition with its famous cover of the “Omnia vincit amor” clock
[the paperback edition, with the same cover design, is pictured above]
and a videotape of the movie in the other (“Miss Turner is as fine as a
red hot flame!”), I would like to compare the two, looking for
similarities and disparities.  Since I love the book, admiring
absolutely its reportorial and philosophical ambition, I feel a little
vulnerable.  But here goes . . .

Click on the link below for the second part of this essay:

(Part Two)


Part two of Paul Zahl's essay on the novel By Love Possessed and its screen adaptation:


Arthur Winner's “nightmare on Elm Street” begins when a Roman Catholic
lady friend of Marjorie Penrose attempts to convert him to the true
church in the setting of a rose garden that bears remorseful memories of his
affair with Marjorie, the wife of his law partner.  This Mrs. Pratt
corners Arthur Winner and very skillfully, and craftily, turns the
conversation in the direction of his past sins, which Marjorie has
apparently confessed to her.  Just when the Man of Reason thinks he is,
as usual, in quiet control of things, Mrs. Pratt harpoons him.  She spears him straight to the heart: “Thou art the man”.  Arthur
Winner is only saved from complete humiliation by the appearance, in
the underbrush, of a

From this point on, the humbled hero of
By Love Possessed is so fully
de-constructed that he has no choice but to take his famous literary
walk from the steps of Christ Church (Episcopal), where he has been
ushering at the Sunday morning service and where he is to become the
next Senior Warden, over to the crucial Detweiler House, then past the
Courthouse and the Christ Church again, past  his law office, past
the Union League Club (moribund and soon to close), past the
storefronts of Main Street and beyond, up the street where the old
families of Brocton used to live, right up to the entrance of the house
in which he was born and where his mother still lives, to make his
great and ever remembered (for those who read the book) entrance,
calling upstairs to his aunt, his mother, and his wife.

This is Arthur's nightmare, a universal dereliction of disillusionment,
by which he must catch at hope in
a new way.  I, for one, find the last
five pages of
By Love Possessed satisfying, real, and ennobling.  They
took me by surprise.  I think about them every day.

How does the movie version envisage the emotionally overwhelming finish
of the book? The answer is, not very well.  As Cozzens himself
remarked, in his journal entry describing his second viewing of the
movie in Williamstown, the script writer had collapsed some characters,
and had to diminish the inwardness of the book.  So much of this novel
is inner dialogue, inner qualifyings, inner voices of contradiction,
and association; inner asides, both cruel and kind.  Thus the
cascading, baroque language of the book is lost in the movie.  Of
course it is lost.  The visual image is not the same as the written

In its ambitious attempt to put this complicated story in a narrative
without flashback, into a linear tale which takes you somewhere, the
movie fails.  I don't see how  anyone would really dissent from that
By Love Possessed The Movie flattens everything out.  It
has only its story to tell, brick by brick, or step by step.  No one
has gotten inside the story and then developed it cinematically, either
through the composition or the editing.  The building and billowing
mood of the book, and also the philosophy of resignation that the book
embodies: they're not on film.

Only in two sections, so far as I can see, do the director and crew get
under the story, to what it is really about — which is the shipwreck
of love that attempts to possess, the forms of love that try to possess
the loved object.  Loving that possesses the lover, and thus is about
the lover rather than the beloved — whether it be the love of a parent
for a child, of a husband for a wife, of a high-school girlfriend for
her selfish boyfriend, of an old patrician man for his reputation in
the town, or, in a case so important to this novel, of a “responsible”
older sister for her feckless younger brother — possessive love makes
catastrophes of human relationships.  The book is about the victory, in
utter failure, of a man who overcomes the possessiveness of love in
order to, well, live, and then, counter-intuitively, love.  That man is
Arthur Winner.  What Arthur Winner stumbles on, you might say, is the
victory of resignation, the acquiescence of defeat which results in a
simple solution of simply taking the next step in good faith.

Only in two sections of
By Love Possessed The Movie is the deeper
interest of this material expressed visually.  There's a lot more
footage outside of these two sections, but it has an almost indifferent
quality of detachment (the wrong kind), which is not philosophical
detachment but rather, “I think we'd better film this thing as quickly
as possible, grin and bear it, and get our product into theaters while
people can still remember reading the book a couple years ago.”

The one section of the film that catches some fire is the scene of
Marjorie Penrose (Lana Turner) coming on strong to Arthur Winner (Efrem
Zimbalist, Jr.) in the Victorian “wedding cake” summer house behind his
home in Roylan, the little enclave just outside Brocton where the
professional families live.  This is a memorable scene in the book,
persuasively underlined by thunder and lightning, the last heat of
summer in the autumn leaves, and the very beautiful garden building in
which the conversation takes place. The set dressers here, the  sound
effects and music, the roll of the fallen leaves, the effective and
dramatic lighting, and the two performances themselves all come
together to evoke the spirit of the book.  I guess there is nothing
particularly cinematic to see, neither in the camera movements nor in
the editing.  But the technicolor style, with that swirling music, kind
of takes your breath away.  For five minutes.  I imagine James Gould
Cozzens was pleased with this scene.  The message of the scene( if it
could be put into words?): A nice and ordered Georgian garden with a
decorous Victorian summer house, and it's all about to be ruined, by a
love that possesses its demoniacs.

The second and for my money the only other sequence in
By Love
Possessed The Movie that works, is the opening credits.  They are very
good.  Why very good?  Because they capture, in just a few expertly
edited exterior shots and one long pan, the emotional, geographical
context of the story, this story of one man's  struggle to find the
answer to the question of how and also why it can be possible to live
in the presence of hope.  The camera shows two churches around the town
square, one Episcopal, one “mainstream” Protestant; the Court House;
the Union League Club, dying home to the old and increasingly few first
families of Brocton; and a few old and tired 19th Century mansions
still in use.  It feels a little like the main square of Columbus,
Ohio, tho' smaller; or the main square of Columbus, Georgia, about the
same size.  Then, at the end of the credits, as “Directed by John
Sturges” flickers on, and off, you see Arthur Winner, briskly but not
hurriedly, calmly but not unconcerned, striding, or rather, simply
walking, across that “Brocton Square”. 

The credits for
By Love Possessed The Movie capture the atmosphere the
book projects.  They are the high point of the film.

“Ain't that peculiar? (Peculiar as can be)”: The story is fully
captured in “second unit” work, with not a word spoken nor any
exposition offered. 

There is a lot you could  say about this.  We have a book that is
possibly great — its controversy never diminished its claim, not
self-made, to gravity. 
By Love Possessed, I repeat, is a grave and
serious book.  We also have a movie version that was probably produced
simply and almost only to capitalize financially on the popular success
of the novel.  And so the movie tells its story, the best it can,
having to cut the inwardness of the source, the complexity of the plot,
several important characters, and certainly the religious concerns of
the source.  (The Episcopal church in Brocton, together with its young
, well educated, and sincere if inexperienced Rector, The Reverend
Whitmore Trowbridge, S. T. D., figures importantly in
By Love Possessed;
and Cozzens's depiction of a Sunday service of Morning Prayer is
absolutely the last word in clinical portraits of what they are
actually like.  I know what they are like.)  There is nothing
controversial in the movie version — no anti-Catholicism, no “Uncle
Toms”, no intolerant remarks about New York lawyers from the failing,
unsteady patriarch Noah Tuttle, none of that!  Only the references to
sex have been kept, but even there, oddly enough, the better sex is in
the book and describes a happily married couple making love. 

Here I close.  Let me confess something.  I love this movie!  It's not
very good; it is actually boring; the camera set-ups and pacing are
perfunctory; the actors sleep-walk through their parts, with the
exception of Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., who does convey the vulnerable
actuality of Arthur Winner; and the conclusion is rushed and overly
happy.  (The ending of the book is hopeful, but not happy.)  Yet I love
this movie.

Why?  Because it connects in visual form with some of the constructions
my imagination had made on the basis of the words.  The town, the lead
character, the meeting by night in the summer house, the gushing,
oceanic music — these are there, right up in front of you.

If Orson Welles had made this, it would have been a completely
different result.  It would not have been the book at all.  Or it would
really been the book.  If John Ford had made it . . . well, John Ford never would have made it.

As it is, we have John Sturges's big but little piece of work.  Although
I will probably keep the novel with me until the day I die, and though
I make no claims for the turgid tired movie it spun off, I will probably still keep the movie under my pillow, for the next six months.


                                                                                                           [Photo by Bruce Aydelotte

Above is a picture of John Lettiere, whose passing I wrote about in the previous post on this site.

It makes me smile, mainly because of the intent look on John’s face — which usually meant he was about to say something outrageous or funny or wise, and often all three at once.

To a friend from the old Dylan newsgroup where I first encountered John I wrote:

John was a quintessentially American type — a gentleman and a scholar
who looked and behaved and talked like a common longshoreman.  No other
nation on earth could have produced a man like him — a kind of
Whitmanesque ideal.

John was laid to rest earlier today.  Peter Stone Brown read some words over him and sang “I Shall Be Released”.  In life, John would have said, “Fuck that shit,” but I suspect he would have been touched as well.

John was a big Dylan fan but he hated Dylan’s Christmas album and thought that those of us who loved it had taken leave of our senses.  It occurs to me that I’m never going to be able to listen to it again without hearing John’s voice in the back of my mind — “You’ve gotta fucking be kidding me!”  That will be part of Christmas for me, too.


John Lettiere just died.  He was in his mid sixties.  He suffered a mild stroke not long ago but was recovering nicely when he was diagnosed with a super-aggressive form of liver cancer which carried him off in a matter of weeks.  John was a big, burly Italian-American from the Bronx, wildly profane in speech — he could fit more variations of the word “fuck” into a sentence than anyone I ever encountered.  His last e-mail to me, about a month ago, consisted of a single line, in response to a question I'd asked him — “Abso-fucking-lutely . . . . .!”  He was wildly opinionated and loved to shove his opinions in your face in the most challenging way.

He was also one of the sweetest men I ever knew.  All the aggression was bluster.

John was a high-school drop-out but exceptionally well-read — like many autodidacts he never stopped learning and studying.  I met him via a newsgroup dedicated to Bob Dylan.  It was the first online community I ever became part of, and it eventually turned into a flesh-and-blood community for some of us who lived in and near New York City.  Peter Stone Brown, another contributor to the group, is a singer-songwriter from Philly who occasionally plays clubs in New York.  Whenever he had a gig there, the New York members of the group would convene to hear him, and so we got to know each other face to face.

The newsgroup eventually degenerated into an uncivil place and I checked out of it, but I stayed in touch with many of the friends I'd made there, and many of them have now re-bonded on Facebook.  (As Peter points out, John, who worked as a computer security expert, would never have joined any enterprise as insecure as Facebook.)

At one point, when I still lived in New York, John and I discovered that we were both Civil War
fanatics and obsessive collectors of books on that subject.  Like me,
John first got interested in the Civil War through the works of Bruce
Catton, and we both owned copies of
Battles and
Leaders Of the Civil War
, a fairly rare four-volume series of collected articles
about the war by participants, published some years after the conflict
.  A few years ago he wrote me about how he got his copy of Battles and

7 May 2004

Let me tell you a story on how I acquired them:

I am a book fiend.

Back in the late 60s, me and a friend would visit book row down in the
East Village a few times a month.  I loved those old book stores, with their old musty shelves, bins and
boxes of old used books.  We'd spend the whole day looking, it was like
an adventure. Now the only thing left is The Strand.

Some days we'd find nothing, and then there were days where we cleaned
up, and brought back bags of old books, comics and magazines.  And some times finding that one gem of a book in all those piles, WOW! 
Like a copy of
Men And Things I Saw in the Civil War by Gen. James F.
Rusling (1914) for 2 bucks.

Anyway I digress . . .

I was on the Grand Concourse in the Bronx one night, and stopped off at
a local book store as was usual.  In those days I could never go past a
book store without browsing its wares.  Killed I don't know how many thousands of hours doing that.  Anyway, I was going through their discount bins, and what do I see? 
Battles and Leaders, all four volumes.  I couldn't believe my fucking luck.  Only thing was they cost 20 bucks
plus tax, and all I had on me was 9.

I was with a friend at the time, and asked him to lend me the balance
till I got home, not more than 15 minutes by bus from where the store
was.  But the prick refused.  I was so pissed I almost strangled the bastard.  After I finally calmed
down, I tried to reason with him, but no, he wasn't gonna budge.

Now what the fuck am I gonna do?  I knew I wasn't leaving that fucking
store without those books.  So now I go to a candy store around the corner that we'd frequented,
run by two nut jobs, Pete and Larry.  I went in to buy a pack of cigarettes, and an egg cream, and make a
phone call home to see if one of my sisters could bring me some money
to buy the books.  Spoke to my mom to explain the situation, but neither of them were home.

Now here's the freaky thing — Larry, one of the owners of the candy store, overhears the
conversation and says: hey don't sweat it, I'll lend you the money.  You
could've flattened me with a feather off J. E. B. Stuart's hat.  As it turned out both Pete and Larry were Civil War re-enactors.

Who would've guessed?

We knew these guy only as candy store owners, where we'd go in, buy cigs
and a soda and bullshit baseball, football, and hockey.  Anyway, they didn't have such a high opinion of Catton.  Not that they
knocked him, but as Larry told me: there's a lot of other books that
were better.  Needless to say I got the books and a whole lot more
because of these two candy store guys.

I'm guessing that the edition John found is the same one I found in a
New York City used bookstore when I was in my twenties — a reprint
from the 1950s, illustrated below:

This story is pure John — the act of unexpected kindness done to him was the sort of thing he loved doing for others.  The unruly passion for books was one of the chief things I liked about him.  He was a good man, and good company, as well — two attributes that don't always go together in the same person.

Fucking hell, John — I can't believe you're gone.


Most “erotic” works of art aren't erotic at all.  They are, at best, vaguely sensual, and at worst merely shocking.  The truly erotic is never shocking, but always surprising.

The image above by Hokusai strikes me as genuinely erotic.  It has a delirious, unreal quality, a sense of suspended boundaries, of otherness becoming familiar and intimate.  It doesn't purvey a male fantasy — more of a female fantasy which no man could actually fulfill.

The octopus here is an ideal lover to which men of great industry and imagination might aspire.


Autumn at the beach — a season that has some substance here because
the damp of the sea air puts a bite into the chill of things.

Ventura Beach is never what you would call a happening place.  Even in
high summer it's slow during the week, barely crowded on weekends.  Now
it's left to the surfers, who never stop, the year-round residents, a
strange breed, and the lost.

The McDonald's which I stop into often for a McBLT — an excellent, if
mushy, sandwich — is virtually deserted after dark, the Denny's across
the boulevard hardly less so.

Down the coast, the fields near the ocean are always dotted now with
imported farm workers, moving slowly along the furrows, harvesting
things.  Always a truck parked at the edge of the field near the road,
with racks where the workers hang their open, woven-straw hand-baskets,
stuffed with their personal effects.

You never wait in line at the Vons supermarket these days, amongst
vacationers laden with twelve-packs of beer and soda.  Just us members
of the Vons Club now, the regulars, with the discount card.

A beach town never feels desolate, though. The sound of the waves is a
constant reminder that it's hooked up to something vast and
industrious.  It's like having the TV on all the time . . . tuned to
the Cosmic Channel.


In a great interview, Robert Mitchum talked about the difference
between stage acting and movie acting. He said that when you're acting
in a play, everything on the stage is fake except you. In a movie,
everything is real except you. So it's all about the actor's
relationship to the props. Bad actors hold guns like they're light
objects and good actors hold them like they're heavy.

                                                                   — Dave Hickey

An observation worthy of André Bazin.  It occurs to me that actors in the classic Westerns treated horses as if they were real, while actors in modern Westerns treat them as if they were props.