Monthly Archives: September 2013

Ross and Tom: Two American Tragedies

“Enthralling. It ought to be read by all editors, publishers, writers, and critics and by the general reading public, for it is the best case-history account of the writing profession in America I have ever read.” —James A. Michener

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This is the story of Ross Lockridge, author of Raintree County, and Thomas Heggen, creator of Mr. Roberts, each catapulted into sudden fame and money, each thrust young and unprepared into the center of the American Dream, and each, in his own way, playing out a tragedy of self-destruction.

John Leggett has re-created their growing up in a Midwest of deep American traditions and has explored their loves and friendships to discover why their lives ultimately failed them.

Ross Lockridge was dedicated to celebrating the American Spirit, its history and its heritage, and his work, reflecting it, was hailed as the most ambitious since that of Thomas Wolfe. But Puritan pride and tradition would not let him live easily with the complexities and contradictions of acclaim.

Thomas Heggen had all the glamour of theatrical success. His days were spent with such men as Henry Fonda, Joshua Logan, Budd Schulberg, and Ernest Hemingway. It seemed a charmed life. But he had already gone through one marriage and was addicted to drink and pills, and his dark and brooding spirit seemed to take no pleasure in its rewards.

Ross and Tom is a deep and hauntingly detailed portrait of two gifted writers, the worlds in which they moved, and their final descent into the Fitzgeraldian crack-up where “in the real dark night of the soul it is always three o’clock in the morning.”

“Fascinating and timely.” —Tracy Kidder

“A fine example of literary and psychological investigation… It wrenches the heart. Yet it is neither maudlin nor excessive. It is affectionate but dispassionate, and it reaches its conclusions calmly.” —Jonathan Yardley, New York Times Book Review (front page)

“A deeply compassionate double portrait of the artist in creation and in crisis. An extraordinary achievement.” —Mel Gussow, Newsday

“Leggett has told us more about the tragedy of American Success than a dozen novelists could.” —Frederick Exley

“A riveting, utterly engrossing psychological probe.” —Publishers Weekly

“If, as Jimmy Walker once said, no woman was ever ruined by a book, men have nonetheless been killed by them….In these two case histories of obsession and ruin, Leggett reveals much about ambition, vanity, and the self-destructiveness that often accompany literary success in America. This is a compelling book.” —Peter S. Prescott, Newsweek

“John Leggett has written the literary biography of Ross Lockridge and Tom Heggen, and of our age as well.” —Jerome Klinkowitz, Chicago Tribune

“A powerful and engrossing picture.” —Francis Steegmuller

“A distinguished literary event.” —Robert Downing, Denver Post

“For writers and aspiring writers (and how many of us are not in the latter category?), this book is indispensable reading… No one who has had anything to do with the literary life in America—or, for that matter, with the pursuit of achievement in America—can fail to hear the relevant echoes. The book, quite apart from its fascinating narrative, its Rashomon quality of detection, has as much to say about the nature and quality of ourselves as about the two protagonists.” —Robert Kirsch, Los Angeles Times

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