Have a (Mr.) Blue Christmas

Myles Connolly's works were suffused with Catholicism - Part 2

Topics

Literature

My last post introduced the novel Mr. Blue. Here I’ll look at author Myles Connolly’s life.

Connolly was born in 1897 in Roxbury, outside Boston. He attended Boston Latin School. At Boston College he edited the literary magazine The Stylus (founded in 1882 and still extant). After his 1918 graduation, he served in the Navy during World War I. He then worked for the Boston Post as a reporter and then as editor of the Sunday paper. In 1924, he began four years as editor of Columbia (founded 1921), the magazine of the Knights of Columbus (founded 1882). During those four years, Chesterton contributed regularly to Columbia. Connolly had first written about Chesterton in 1921 and undoubtedly read his biography of St. Francis before he wrote Mr. Blue. Connolly dedicated the 1928 Mr. Blue to Agnes Bevington of Nashville, an esteemed concert pianist in New York. Remarkably, at the time of the dedication, Agnes was not yet his wife. They married in May, 1929, after four years of courtship. They would have five children.

A year earlier, in 1928, Connolly was recruited from Columbia by Joseph Kennedy (father of John F., Robert, and Ted) to become a screenwriter and producer in Hollywood with Kennedy’s RKO Pictures which had just been formed after the invention of “talkies” (movies with soundtracks).

In Hollywood, Connolly soon met director Frank Capra (1897-1991). The men, born the same year, had a close association both professionally, as detailed in Capra’s 1971 autobiography The Name Above the Title, and personally — Connolly became the godfather to Capra’s three children.

In Part 1 I mentioned Connolly’s contribution to It’s a Wonderful Life. According to Professor Stephen Mirarchi of Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, Connolly wrote or produced 40 films, including:

  • Face in the Sky (1933) (Spencer Tracy);
  • The Right to Romance (1933) (Robert Young/Ann Harding);
  • It Happened One Night (1934) (Clark Gable/Claudette Colbert), for which Connolly won an Oscar;
  • Youth Takes a Fling (1938) (Joel McCrea);
  • Smith Goes to Washington (1939) (Jimmy Stewart), nominated for 11 awards, winning Best Original Story;
  • “Tarzan” movies of the 1940s;
  • Music for Millions (1944) (June Allyson), for which Connolly was nominated for an Academy Award;
  • Till the Clouds Roll By (1946) (biography of composer Jerome Kern with a host of stars including Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra)­;
  • Two Sisters from Boston (1946) (June Allyson/Kathryn Grayson/Jimmy Durante);
  • The Unfinished Dance (1947) (Margaret O’Brien/Cyd Charisse);
  • State of the Union (1948) (Spencer Tracy/Katharine Hepburn comedy);
  • Here Comes the Groom (1951) (Bing Crosby/Jane Wyman);
  • Hans Christian Anderson (1952) (Danny Kaye), nominated for six awards;
  • My Son John (1952) (Helen Hayes/Van Heflin/Dean Jagger), for which Connolly was nominated for an Oscar. It was directed by his friend and fellow Catholic Leo McCarey, who had directed Bing Crosby in Going My Way (1944) and The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945).

Connolly’s works were suffused with Catholicism and the spirituality of the Franciscans, the Jesuits, and the Carmelites. (His sister was a Carmelite nun.) In a 1951 interview with the Boston Pilot, he said, “To me a book is Catholic if it tells in concrete terms man’s relation to his God and to his soul…Why can’t some of our writers talk more about the adventure of Catholicism?” (italics added)

In his introduction to the 2005 Loyola Classics edition of Mr. Blue, Fr. John Breslin, S.J., quoted one of Connolly’s daughters, Ann:

In today’s vernacular, my father believed very strongly that you could be a very strong Catholic without being a wimp. People used to love to gravitate to him. He was a wonderful raconteur. He loved to eat and drink and be merry. He was extremely generous with his money to people who were down-and-out. I could remember on Christmas Day how people would be around our Christmas dinner table. There’d be the cop on the beat because my dad would run into him, or some alcoholic. He had very strong principles for himself and for our family. He never pretended to be perfect, but he would say he’d keep trying.

Connolly died in July 1964, at age 66, during open heart surgery, when open heart surgery was fairly new. An editor of Columbia magazine wrote a remembrance of Myles Connolly in 2014, for the 50th anniversary of his death. He related:

Four days before the surgery, [his daughter] Mary, then 20 years old, called and reiterated what she had written to him in a letter: “I don’t know what’s wrong with your heart. Your heart is perfect; it’s the most beautiful heart. Because of you, I understand God the Father’s love for me. I love you.”

By the time of Connolly’s death, Mr. Blue had appeared in Brazil, England, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands.

 

[For Part 1, click here: https://www.newoxfordreview.org/the-season-for-mr-blue/]

 

James M. Thunder has left the practice of law but continues to write. He has published widely, including a Narthex series on lay holiness. He and his wife Ann are currently writing on the relationship between Father Karol Wojtyla (the future Pope) and lay people.

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