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Rushford Related Articles

Philip Wylie: An Appreciation

The following article was authored and submitted for publication here by Richard L. Kellogg of Alfred.

"Wylie was one of the most popular and influential writers in
the country from the 1940s through the 1960s. He was a rather quiet and
shy fellow so many residents of Rushford never realized the fame of
their summer visitor. Wylie always relished the peace and tranquility
of small-town life."
 

Philip Wylie: An Appreciation 

 

Richard L. Kellogg

 copyright ©2007 by Richard L. Kellogg 

 

It was my good fortune to grow up in a home where books and magazines were readily available.  A singular blessing of my childhood is that my grandmother was kind enough to read stories from The Saturday Evening Post to her three grandchildren.  Arthur, Ruth, and I would sit attentively by her rocking chair while Grandma Grace Kellogg would regale us with the Babe and Little Joe stories of R. Ross Annett, the hilarious Tugboat Annie series by Norman Reilly Raine, and the swashbuckling Horatio Hornblower tales of C. S. Forester.  However, it was an extra special treat when we were transported into the deep-sea fishing world of Crunch and Des.  I had no idea at the time that those enchanting adventures of angling on a charter boat in the Gulf Stream were penned by an author who spent his summers in Rushford, New York.  The short stories about Crunch and Des, a staple of The Saturday Evening Post for many years, were written by Philip Wylie. 

            My second exposure to the Wylie literature was provided by two of my high-school teachers.  Homer Norton, who had the rare gift of bringing Shakespeare to life for even the most reluctant student, often discussed Wylie’s books in his English classes.  Ruth Albro, a gracious lady who used Latin to improve our English skills, was a neighbor of Philip Wylie and she kept her classes informed as to his latest book.  Both teachers were excited in 1954 when Tomorrow, Wylie’s dark prophecy of an atomic holocaust, shot to the top of the best-seller list.  I recall that classmate David Hagen and I scared ourselves to death about the coming nuclear conflict and we discussed the novel for days.  We then scoured the library shelves to discover other books by the remarkable Mr. Wylie.   My life-long interest in this author was underway. 

            Before exploring the Rushford connections, it may be helpful to provide some biographical information.  Although he was not a native of Rushford, Wylie was one of Rushford’s most famous and successful “adopted sons.”  There is ample evidence that he relished the many summers which he spent in the village. 

            Philip Gordon Wylie was born on May 12, 1902, in Beverly, Massachusetts.  He was one of three children and his father Edmund was a prominent Presbyterian minister.  His mother Edna, who died when Philip was five years old, was a writer who published several novels.  The death of his mother had a profound and lasting impact on the young Philip.  He would frequently return to the eternal themes of death and dying in his later writing. 

            As a teen, Wylie was active in the Boy Scouts and he developed a great love for nature.  He often hiked in the Lake George region of the Adirondacks and learned how to identify the various birds, trees, and flowers.  Outdoor pursuits contributed to his knowledge of ecology.  He was an early environmental activist and was passionate about the preservation of our natural resources. 

            Wylie attended Princeton University from 1920-23 but did not complete the requirements to earn a degree.  Following his studies at Princeton, he worked for several firms which specialized in public relations and advertising.  After serving as a staff member at New Yorker magazine from 1925-27, he moved to Hollywood and wrote screenplays for Paramount Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. 

 

            Although he wrote steadily all through the 1930s, Wylie did not gain national recognition as a writer until 1942.  His book Generation of Vipers created a sensation and propelled Wylie into the spotlight.  This book of essays was a biting and satiric attack on American institutions and values.  His savage criticism of government bureaucracy, our educational system, the churches, the large corporations, and the mass media delighted some readers while it shocked and infuriated others.  Wylie even questioned the traditional model of motherhood and introduced the term “Momism” to our language.  Generation of Vipers became compulsory reading in many college English classes and it helped Wylie to become one of the most popular and influential writers in the country. 

            Once the gates of creativity were opened, Wylie labored feverishly to produce hundreds of novels, short stories, serials, philosophical works, and newspaper columns.  His work ethic inspired him to write as rapidly as possible.  He could sometimes write a short story in a day and a novel within a few months.  Wylie was among the most prolific authors of his era. 

            As for his personal life, Wylie married fashion-model Sally Ondeck on April 17, 1928.  This union resulted in the birth of their only child, Karen, on May 14, 1932.  The marriage ended in divorce in 1937.  Philip then married Frederica Ballard, the daughter of Rushford’s village physician, on April 7, 1938.  Frederica, or “Ricky,” was the emotional anchor which stabilized Philip’s life and many of his books are dedicated to her.  For those interested in their marriage, The Innocent Ambassadors is more than a diary of a trip around the world that the Wylies took in 1956.  The book reads very much like a love letter from Philip to Ricky and it illuminates the strength of their relationship. 

            Although the Wylies maintained permanent residences in Florida during most of their years together, they spent their summers at the Rushford home of Ricky’s parents, Dr. and Mrs. F.C. Ballard.  The house, located on Lower Street and built in the 1850s, was the birthplace of Frank Higgins, who served as Governor of New York State in the early 1900s.  The property served as both home and medical office for Dr. Ballard until his death in 1944.  From the time of their marriage in 1938 until Philip’s death in 1971, the Ballard residence served as a summer home for the Wylies. 

            My father, Nellis Kellogg, was the only member of our family who got to know Philip fairly well.  When he plowed the vegetable garden for Dr. Ballard each spring, Philip would always come out, shake hands, and chat about the issues of the day.  Thereafter, they would visit whenever they met in the village.  They also worked together on the annual Labor Day activities for a number of years.  Dad was proud of their friendly relationship and described Wylie as a tall, slim fellow who was courteous but rather shy and soft-spoken. 

            Since Wylie lived in Rushford many years ago, residents who remember him now have gray hair (or no hair at all).  Friends and relatives have graciously shared some of his interests and activities with me.  According to them, Wylie was an avid golfer and he spent many enjoyable afternoons competing with pals at the Allegheny Hills golf course.  Although known as a deep-sea fisherman, he also delighted in fishing for the hatchery-raised trout which were abundant in area rivers and streams.  Wylie enjoyed teaching children in the village how to swim and he rewarded their achievements with silver dollars.  Working in the vegetable, flower, and rock gardens behind the Ballard home provided him with hours of relaxation and pleasure.  Finally, Wylie was no slouch with a deck of cards.  In fact, he was an amateur magician who specialized in card tricks.  Consequently, he played a mean game of bridge with friends in the neighborhood.   

            Wylie enjoyed knowing all the people in Rushford and often referred to Rushford and surrounding communities in his books and articles.  For example, Opus 21 contains a number of revealing comments about Rushford and Rushford residents.  He once wrote a short essay for The Franklinville Sentinel and Rushford Spectator titled “Vignettes of Rushford.”  In the essay, he describes how he first met Frederica at a New York City nightspot, how he accompanied   Dr. Ballard on house calls, and how the peace and solitude of the village increased his writing productivity. 

            A second article, which Wylie published in The Readers Digest, deals with a morning fire which broke out at the Lower Street home in November, 1963.  The blaze may have been caused by paint cans stored in the house.  This fire did considerable damage to the house and Philip narrowly escaped with his life.  The piece suggested methods for preventing home fires and expressed the author’s gratitude to the members of the Rushford Volunteer Fire Department who fought the fire and escorted him to safety. 

            Wylie was a quiet man who was not fond of public speaking.  However, he was a good sport and spoke several times at meetings of the Alumni Association for graduates of Rushford Central School.  He also took pride in participating as a judge for the parade which started the annual Labor Day festivities.  Philip and Ricky could invariably be seen enjoying the horse-pulling contest in the afternoon and watching the brilliant fireworks display in the evening. 

            Sadly, Wylie’s final years in Rushford were stressful and challenging.  Many of the popular magazines, which had published his work for decades, were no longer in business.  Poor health in his later years made writing increasingly difficult.  His books were no longer selling well and financial difficulties required selling his Florida home in 1964.  He suffered a severe heart attack in October of 1970 and this necessitated prolonged bed rest.  However, Wylie was a determined, old man and he struggled to keep writing until his death from heart failure in Miami on October 25, 1971.  His final book, aptly titled The End of the Dream, was published posthumously in 1972.

 

            To conclude these observations on a positive note, it is encouraging to see that the Wylie literary legacy lives on.  It has been noted that Philip’s mother, Edna, was a skilled novelist.  Philip’s brother, Max Wylie, was an author of several books and a pioneer in writing TV scripts during the Golden Age of Television.  Philip’s daughter, Karen Pryor, is a scientist, animal trainer, and gifted writer.  Finally, it is significant that Gale Pryor, Karen’s daughter and Philip’s grand-daughter, has written several popular books and is a rising star in the literary world.  It seems that members of the Wylie family have a rare genius for writing embedded in their genes. 

            A second positive development is that critics are beginning to re-evaluate Wylie’s work and there is a resurgence of interest in his books.  Some of his titles are again available after being out-of-print for many years.  For fans of science fiction, the University of Nebraska Press has recently published The Disappearance, Gladiator, and When Worlds Collide.  Dalkey Archive Press has released that old classic, Generation of Vipers, for a new generation of readers.  Lastly, the Lyons Press has published Crunch and Des, those nostalgic stories of salt-water fishing.  The most current edition of the Crunch and Des collection contains a sensitive and affectionate tribute to her father written by Karen Wylie Pryor.  After all these years, Wylie is making a comeback and we can all be grateful for that. 

            Philip Wylie worked hard at his writing craft for more than forty years.  He wrote in a variety of genres and became one of the most influential authors of his time.  His intellectual honesty and his courage in tackling controversial issues are evident throughout his literary career. 

            It is pleasant to recall that Wylie did some of his best work while residing in Rushford.  He found the quiet village to be a sanctuary and a haven from the pressures and problems of the larger world.  The First Burying Ground, a small cemetery on Brooks Avenue just behind his Lower Street home, was chosen as the final resting place for Philip, wife Frederica, and half-brother Tedmund.  It is apparent that Philip Wylie truly considered Rushford to be his home.  Rushford residents can be proud that they welcomed and accepted him as one of their own.

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