Phillips, Gene, 1915-1990

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1915-07-25
Death 1990-01-10
Americans

Biographical notes:

Branch, Edward M. A Bibliography of James T. Farrell Writings, 1921–1957. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1959. Metzger, Linda, Ed. Contemporary Authors. New Revision Series, volume 9. Detroit: Gale Research Co., 1984. pp. 158-161. Biographical information for Gene Phillips is derived from the collection.

American author and political activist James T. Farrell (1904–1979) published more than 65 volumes in his lifetime, including 26 novels and novellas, 15 collections of short stories, and more than ten books of criticism and collected essays. He achieved critical success and international recognition by the age of thirty-one with the completion of the Studs Lonigan trilogy, which includes Young Lonigan: A Boyhood in Chicago Streets (1932), The Young Manhood of Studs Lonigan (1934), and J udgement Day (1935). Known for his realistic, often gritty, portrayal of life in Chicago’s South side (his hometown and the setting for many of his major novels), Farrell has long been considered one of the most influential American writers and thinkers of his time.

Success as a writer did not come easily. In 1931, Farrell relocated to Paris, hoping the change of scenery would prove inspirational. Financial difficulties forced him to return to the United States in 1933, and he took up residence at Yaddo, the rent-free writers’ colony in Saratoga Springs that would become his home for the next three years. His productivity increased dramatically. In 1936, he won the Guggenheim Fellowship, followed by a Book of the Month Club Award for the Studs Lonigan trilogy. Despite critical success, his novels were not overnight best sellers, and money was frequently scarce. During one such period of hardship, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer offered Farrell $250 a week to write Hollywood screenplays, an offer which, in the interest of artistic freedom, he promptly refused.

Farrell was also very active politically, attending and lecturing at several international conferences, including the Berlin Conference for Cultural Freedom (1950) and the Paris Conference for the Mobilization of Peace (1949). At the latter, he delivered a speech entitled, “Truth and Myth about America,” an experience he describes in detail in a May 17, 1949 letter to Phillips (see F1). In 1933, Farrell invented a satiric alter-ego, Jonathan Titulescu Fogarty, Esq., through whom he delivered many of his biting social and political commentaries.

Farrell died of a heart attack at his home in New York City in 1979.

Biographical details about Gene Phillips are not available; however, the collection indicates that Miss Gene Phillips and James T. Farrell were longtime friends and business associates. Based in New York City, Phillips worked for Farrell, transcribing handwritten texts he sent her during his trips across the country and abroad.

In October 1951, Farrell sent a letter of introduction on behalf of Phillips to Alfred Frankenstein of the San Fransisco Chronicle: “I am taking the liberty of giving this introduction to you to Miss Gene Phillips. She used to work for me, and she is a good friend of mine, and since she knows few people in San Fransisco, I am asking her to look you up. I’d be very grateful for anything you can do to help her see San Fransisco in her short stay there . . . ”(F5).

Farrell and Phillips seemed to have many friends in common, including Phillips’ friends Alice and Lionel of Urbana, Illinois, with whom Farrell stayed while on one of his lecture tours. They also had mutual friends in Dwight and Nancy Macdonald, both of whom played an integral role in the founding of the Partisan Review . Upon her death, Phillips bequeathed these papers to the latter, whose son donated the papers to the University of Delaware Library.

From the guide to the Gene Phillips collection of James T. Farrell papers, 1932–1954, 1949–1952, (University of Delaware Library - Special Collections)

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