Gay Prophet of the Prairie
The following collection of letters, manuscripts, and books relating to James Barr is without a doubt the finest such collection to appear on the market in recent memory. Historically important, this group of materials is without equal. A most fitting addition to any private or institutional collection.
In the early 1950s, a dramatic new era dawned in Gay literature. Eschewing the stereotypical images of Gays in both literature and life, James Barr (pseudonym of James Fugate) produced three major works of literature that heralded a new paradigm for Gays in America. The homosexual characters in his works did not led lives of depravity that were doomed to failure, suicide, murder, or worst. Barr set out to prove that Gays could lead normal lives, that they could fall in love with and be loved by other men without a tinge of self hatred or loathing or of calling down divine retribution. Revolutionary by any standard (this was the first time a unapologetic gay had appeared in any publicly printed novel), Barr's characters also refuted the image of Gays as effete sissies-prancing about as Oscar Wildes in New York night clubs. Instead, Barr's characters reflect a deep rooted masculinity that is self assured, rooted in the age old affirmation of male pride and will. This concept of the unabashed homosexual militant (an honest, open, unapologetic and down to earth persona) reflected Barr's own life in rural Kansas. He saw his closest Gay friend commit suicide because of homophobic panic and terror and had to deal with the same from his own family. He had had sex with farm boys, construction workers, married men, and men in uniform and knew the truth behind America's hetrosexual pieties. He proclaim a new identity for himself and other Gay men. He had the courage to tell the truth.
Although ignored by straight reviewers, Barr's works impressed a number of specialists in Gay literature. Professor Samuel Steward called Barr's first novel one of the most important Gay novels of the century and Paul Austen also cited it as one of the most intelligent American Gay novel ever written. Barr's novels, short stories, and his play, The Game of Fools, were very popular in their day and even now continue to garner new readers. Quatrefoil, his first novel, went through at least 3 initial printings and numerous paperback printings and was reissued twice by Alyson books-once in 1982 and again in 1991. Obviously, his message has and continues to resonant among the Gay community.
The following collection of Barr's personal correspondence, typeset galleys, inscribed books, and photos tells a riveting tale of affection and love won and lost and of Barr's outlook on life, and his works. This drama unfolds in 1950 when Dr. Noel Cortes of Philadelphia wrote to Barr requesting the manuscript of his first novel, Quatrefoil. Barr eagerly responded and quickly developed a relationship with Cortes. Barr was soon exchanging lengthy letters with Cortes. In this remarkable series of 17 letters, Barr expounded on his sexual relationships, his family life, finances, and relationship with his editor at Greenburg (who, like most, was trying to get into Barr's pants.) He also freely gives his opinions (perhaps too much so) on such diverse subjects as Harry Truman, Jews, Catholics, African-Americans (not the term he used), Operas, other Gay novels, and Dr. Cortes's attempts as an painter. In one most astounding letter, Barr waxed pornographic about one of the doctor's paintings-imagining what Cortes must have done to his model to keep the penis so fleshy and plump during posing. The relationship with Cortes came to a crashing end in 1952. Invited to a cocktail party hosted by Cortes in Philadelphia, Barr was somehow insulted enough to break off his relationship. Although the specifics are not known and none of the other guests seem to notice anything remarkable, one might imagine a number of possible scenarios that could have set the sometimes very prickly Barr over the edge. Barr, however, only hints at what the insult was in his last letter to Carter. Interestingly enough, Barr, in his last known letter to Cortes, asks him to help out a young friend who is also a painter. In addition, Barr also later became friends with one of doctor's friends, the Reverent Herbert Sacher. All in all, a very interesting saga.
The collection consists of the following items:
Seventeen handwritten letters in their original envelops from Barr to Dr. Noel Cortes (see above for a brief description of their contents).
The original typescript manuscript for Quatrefoil with corrections and additions in Barr's own hand As Barr notes in one of the letters, this is the original manuscript used to set the type for the book and there were two carbon copies, one of which Barr retain in his own files and the other he bound in covers and gave to another friend. The approximately 400 page manuscript is in the original shipping box Barr used to mail it to Dr. Cortes. On average, there are about 2 to 3 corrections per page, none of which substantially alter the text. The manuscript, however, includes both a 19 page preface and 6 page epilogue that have never been published, even in later editions. The preface and epilogue concern events that took place after the novel, hence continue the story line of the novel beyond its formal ending. Accompanying this manuscript is a 2 page handwritten letter by Barr to Cortes dated 12/21/50 in which Barr profusely thanks Cortes for accepting the gift of the galleys and cites his increasing feelings of affection towards Cortes. Also laid in is a typed noted describing the 4 meanings of the title and a 6 pages of handwritten notes by Barr detailing the changes he made. On the last of these pages Barr wrote in a large hand the following----happy ending simply because it is not being done is no excuse.
The original typescript manuscript for Derricks, Barr's second book, a collection of short stories. Title page inscribed by Barr as follows "For Noel Cortes with my love the author James Barr" Most corrections done by the editor.
Both manuscripts are housed in black cloth covered clam shell boxes.
Barr, James. Quatrefoil. New York, Greenburg, 1950. Fine with black cloth covered boards, gold design of a four leaf clover and a man's three quarter profile on front boards. Fine green decorative wraps, 373 pages. First edition. Young listing 188*. Inscribed by Barr "For Dr. Cortes - Noel with my admiration, and great happiness for our new friendship James Barr Kansas 12-20-50"
Barr, James. Quatrefoil. New York, Greenburg, 1950. Fine with black cloth covered boards, gold design of a four leaf clover and a man's three quarter profile on front boards. Fine green decorative wraps, slightly sun faded, 373 pages. Third printing. Inscribed by Barr "For Noel whose understanding intelligence and kindness have made me a much finer person, my sincerest gratitude and deepest affection always James Barr Philadelphia 2-4-52"
Barr, James. Derricks. New York, Greenburg, 1951. Fine in red cloth covered boards. Fine, slightly edge worn paper dust jacket, 230 pages. Inscribed by Barr "For Herbert Sacher with my very best wishes James Barr Philadelphia 2-4-52."
Barr, James. Game Of Fools. (play) LA, One Incorporated, 1957. Number 88of 2,000 copies. Fine in slight edge worn DJ, 100 p. Signed by Barr. Small library sticker of Herbert Sacher on f.e.p. Sarotte states "(this play) was not staged...it could only be performed before invited audiences...it is a denunciation of the state, the police, the law, the army, the church, etc. (and it) tried to cover all psychosociological bases by describing several types of homosexuals." Young listing 186*.
A small photo album containing three photos of Barr dressed in a white summer suit, looking a great deal like Tennessee Williams. Inscribed by Barr to Cortes