Sailor and Fiddler: Reflections of a 100-Year-Old Author

by Herman Wouk, 2016

Short biography by Herman Wouk, the author of The Caine Mutiny, which was one of the best books I ever read. He wrote this short biography in 2016 and he died in 2019 at the age of 103 in Palm Springs, CA. As a youth, he loved Mark Twain, then Dumas. He wrote for the Fred Allen show for many years. He loved being a funny man, a “Gag Man.” Then WWII started and he wanted to join the Navy but they wouldn’t take him (because he was drafted by the Army?) until he got a letter from Fred Allen. He served in the Navy in the Pacific Ocean. That’s where he got the idea for The Caine Mutiny. When he landed after the war, he married the love of his life (he doesn’t tell how they met), Betty Sarah, and spent the rest of his life loving her and writing. They had 3 sons. The first, Abe, died tragically by drowning in a pool in Mexico at the age of 5. He can’t write about it except to say: “This fateful mischance, [From Here to Eternity coming out 2 weeks before The Caine Mutiny] with the arrival in the mansion of a second baby son, unnerved us; we put the mansion on the market and moved to Mexico to reduce expenses. There in a rented house in Cuernavaca, we lost our firstborn son, Abe. The “very lively baby,” grown to a sagacious little boy almost five, lovable and winsome beyond telling, drowned in the swimming pool. I have not written, nor will I, about this catastrophe, from which we never wholly recovered.”

What I mostly got from this book is that writers write. They are constantly thinking about writing and writing; every person they meet becomes fodder for their writing. In addition to all the books he has written, he states he has 100 bound diaries that he has kept and maybe his sons will publish them after he dies. Wow! That’s a lot of writing.

His “Main Task” was writing The Winds of War and War and Remembrance. Those two books became very successful mini-series and they allowed he and his wife to pick the sponsors, and him to write the screenplays, as requested by his wife, so that nothing was changed from the books: “…no character could so much as kiss another unless it was there in the book.” After those, he wanted to write about his Jewish faith, which means so much to him. He does in The Hope and The Glory.

His book, Youngblood Hawke, is kind of autobiographical. He says it shows 12 years of the life of an author and what would have happened to him if he hadn’t met and married Betty Sarah. They lived on St. Maarten in a place they named Star Pines for the trees that grew there. It was his favorite place to write. “Scrawling at Youngblood Hawke on a favorite breezy spot looking north to the Atlantic and south to the Caribbean (when I looked, which was seldom)…”

He wrote a book called Don’t Stop the Carnival about the Caribbean. I will read that next. And there is a book, Inside, Outside, that is about his father and his faith. Someday, I also need to read Youngblood Hawke, Marjorie Morningstar, The Hope, and The Glory.

I admire Herman Wouk. He was a writer, and I will always love him for The Caine Mutiny, one of the best books ever written. He was asked at the time he was writing it if he would write a Broadway play. His wife said, ‘NO! You’re writing that Navy story!’ And the rest is history…