Hamill, Pete 1935-
HAMILL, Pete 1935-
PERSONAL: Born William Peter Hamill, June 24, 1935, in Brooklyn, NY; son of William and Anne (Devlin) Hamill; married Ramona Negron, February 3, 1962 (divorced, 1970); married Fukiko Aoki, May 23, 1987; children: (first marriage) Adriene, Deirdre. Education: Attended Pratt Institute, 1955-56, 1957-58, and Mexico City College (now University of the Americas), 1956-57. Politics: Democrat.
CAREER: Journalist and novelist. Brooklyn Navy Yard, Brooklyn, NY, sheet metal worker, 1951-52; advertising designer, New York, NY, 1957-60; New York Post, New York, NY, reporter, 1960-63, political columnist, 1965-67, 1969-74, columnist, 1988-93; editor, 1993; Saturday Evening Post, Philadelphia, PA, contributing editor, 1964-65; war correspondent in South Vietnam, 1966; freelance writer, Brooklyn, 1968; former Washington columnist for Newsday; New York Daily News, New York, NY, columnist, 1977-79, 2001—, editor, 1997; Village Voice, New York, NY, columnist, beginning 1974; Mexico City News, editor, 1986-87; Esquire, columnist, 1989-91. Military service: U.S. Navy, 1952-54.
MEMBER: Writers Guild.
AWARDS, HONORS: Meyer Berger Award, Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, 1962, for series on slums; Newspaper Reporters Association special award, 1962, for series on police; Society of Silurians Twenty-five-Year Achievement Award, 1989, Peter Kihss Award, 1992.
A Killing for Christ, New American Library (New York, NY), 1968.
The Gift, Random House (New York, NY), 1973.
Flesh and Blood, Random House (New York, NY), 1977.
Dirty Laundry, Bantam (New York, NY), 1978.
The Deadly Piece, Bantam (New York, NY), 1979.
The Guns of Heaven, Bantam (New York, NY), 1983.
Loving Women: A Novel of the Fifties, Random House (New York, NY), 1990.
Snow in August, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1997.
Forever, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 2002.
The Invisible City: A New York Sketchbook, drawings by Susan Stillman, Random House (New York, NY), 1980.
Tokyo Sketches, Kodansha International (New York, NY), 1993.
Also author of short-story series "Tales of New York," New York Daily News, 1982-84.
Doc (produced by United Artists, 1971), Paperback Library, 1971.
Nightside, American Broadcasting Company (ABC TV), 1973.
Liberty, National Broadcasting Company (NBC-TV), 1986.
Also author of screenplays, Badge 373, 1973, Report from Engine Co. 82, Death at an Early Age, and Neon Empire, 1987.
RECORDINGS WITH MUSIC; AUTHOR OF SCRIPT
Massacre at My Lai, Flying Dutchman, 1970.
Murder at Kent State University, Flying Dutchman, 1970.
Also author of script for Snow in August, read by Tom Merritt, Soundelux.
Irrational Ravings (collected columns), Putnam (New York, NY), 1971.
Fighters, photographs by George Bennett, Dolphin Books (New York, NY), 1978.
A Drinking Life: A Memoir, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1994.
Tools As Art: The Hechinger Collection, foreword by John Hechinger, Abrams (New York, NY), 1995.
Piecework: Writings on Men and Women, Fools and Heroes, Lost Cities, Vanished Friends, Small Pleasures, Large Calamities, and How the Weather Was (collected columns), Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1996.
Times Square Gym, photographs by John Goodman, EVAN Publishing (New York, NY), 1996.
News Is a Verb: Journalism at the End of the Twentieth Century, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1998.
Why Sinatra Matters, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1998.
Diego Rivera, Harry N. Abrams (New York, NY), 1999.
(Editor and author of introduction) New York Exposed: Photographs from the Daily News, Harry N. Abrams (New York, NY), 2001.
(Author of preface) Paul Sann, Kill the Dutchman!: The Story of Dutch Schultz, Da Capo Press (New York, NY), 1971.
(Author of introduction) Harvey Wang, Harvey Wang's New York, Norton (New York, NY), 1990.
(Author of afterword) Tales from the Arabian Nights, translated by Andrew Lang, illustrations by Edmund Dulac and others, Reader's Digest Association (Pleasantville, NY), 1991.
(Author of introduction) The Brooklyn Reader: Thirty Writers Celebrate America's Favorite Borough, edited by Andrea Wyatt Sexton and Alice Leccese Powers, Harmony Books (New York, NY), 1994.
(Author of introduction) Edward Robb Ellis, A Diary of the Century: Tales from America's Greatest Diarist, Kodansha International (New York, NY), 1995.
(Author of foreword) William Kornblum, At Sea in the City: New York from the Water, Algonquin Press (New York, NY), 2002.
Contributor to books, including New York: City of Islands, Monacelli Press, 1998; and American Perspectives: The Bill of Rights, Mightywords.com, 2000. Contributor to periodicals, including Cosmopolitan, Life, New York Times Magazine, Playboy, Reader's Digest, and Village Voice.
ADAPTATIONS: Flesh and Blood and The Gift were adapted for television and broadcast by the Columbia Broadcasting System in 1979 and 1980, respectively; a story by Hamill was adapted for television as Loyalty and Betrayal: The Story of the American Mob, Fox Broadcasting Company, 1993.
SIDELIGHTS: Pete Hamill learned the craft of writing as a journalist on major metropolitan daily newspapers, and he has been recognized as a preeminent commentator on national news in general and New York City events in particular. Tikkun contributor Jack Newfield called Hamill "one of the leading journalists of his generation." Hamill's work as a reporter and columnist is reflected in his fiction, according to many reviewers, who note that among Hamill's talents are his realistic dialogue and settings.
Although best known as a novelist and author of nonfiction books on such varied topics as Diego Rivera and Frank Sinatra, Hamill became something of an institution in New York, where he has written for the New York Post, Village Voice, and New York Daily News. New York Times Book Review correspondent Andrew O'Hehir claimed that Hamill "embodies the city's finest tradition of popular journalism. His wide-ranging compassion, his commitment to clear and emotional prose and his unabashed love for New York and its people are exemplary." New York historian Kevin Baker told the Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service: "He's a wonderful storyteller, in the way of the old-style New York newspaper writers. He's also a newspaperman who sees himself as an advocate for the working class, and there are precious few left."
Perhaps not surprisingly, many of Hamill's novels are set in Manhattan and feature ethnic characters seeking their place in New York City's grand scheme. Assessing Hamill's Dirty Laundry in the Washington Post, Robert Parker wrote: "Hamill does a lot of things very well. He has a lovely romantic sense of place. . . . Mexico, where much of the action takes place, is vivid and real. . . . Hamill's dialogue is right, especially his ear for New York small talk." Village Voice contributor Geoffrey Stokes concurred that one of Hamill's greatest strengths is the realistic voices of his characters. Discussing The Gift—a slim novel centering on a neighborhood bar—Stokes declared that Hamill makes "the inarticulate, broken language of late-night drinkers sing for him."
One of Hamill's best-known works is his novel Flesh and Blood, which chronicles Irish-American Bobby Fallon's journey from the tough streets of Brooklyn to the arenas of professional boxing. His story is complicated by an erotic entanglement with his mother, who was long ago deserted by Bobby's father. "If you like such fables of the fight game served up tough and sordid with the lyrical strains of 'Danny Boy' to sweeten the anguish of Oedipus, here is a taut, punchy read that makes Rocky seem like a fairy tale," commented Eliot Asinof in the New York Times Book Review. "Hamill writes through the voice of his hero, sometimes in the first person, sometimes in the second—stark staccato sentences designed to sting, building suspense that is rooted in character, relentlessly knifing through Bobby's ferocity."
Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, writing in the New York Times, believed that Flesh and Blood, despite some predictable plot devices, "is a powerful story. For one thing, Mr. Hamill's boxing material seems unusually savvy and authentic. . . . The boxing passages are a good deal more sophisticated than they are in most fiction of this sort. For once we can really believe it when . . . [Bobby's trainer] tells his young charge, 'You're not a fighter. You're a bum. An Irish bum. . . . But I can make you a fighter.'"
John Rechy in the Los Angeles Times suggested that while Hamill's writing is fine, his stories are somewhat contrived. Discussing The Invisible City: A New York Sketchbook, Rechy observed that "such remorseless sweetness coats these doggedly decent vignettes that at times one dislikes oneself for not loving them." As an example, Rechy pointed out the story of an aging actress that features "a fine beginning, splendid writing, [and] an enduring theme." These effects are unfortunately marred, suggested Rechy, when "the happy ending gallops to 'save' her—and trample on the story." But Geoffrey Stokes reacted very differently to the optimism that pervades much of Hamill's fiction. Stokes placed Hamill in the classic tradition of Charles Dickens, writing of Hamill's Christmas story, The Gift: "In its stubborn insistence on seeing the best side of tenement life—without hiding the worst—it reminds me of an earlier seasonal classic. As well it might, for in its heightened emotionality and recklessly extravagant language, The Gift is our Christmas Carol."
Hamill was the oldest of seven Brooklyn-raised children of Irish immigrant parents. Following in his alcoholic father's footsteps, he started drinking at an early age. Despite this, Hamill's academic record won him entrance to Regis High School, a Manhattan college prep school for Catholic boys. When he was fifteen, he enrolled in Manhattan's Cartoonists and Illustrators School, taking a course in drawing and anatomy. At age sixteen, he quit school to help his struggling family by taking a job at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
Hamill did a stint in the Navy, then returned stateside, traveling to Mexico City to study art on the G.I. Bill. By then, he'd begun writing short stories. He worked in an advertising agency but soon became frustrated with the work. Hamill landed a job on the New York Post, then progressed upward as a journalist, but "I drank in the morning when I worked nights, and at night when I worked days." He became a regular at the Lion's Head bar in Greenwich Village. He married, fathered two children and then divorced. Reportedly, it was actress Shirley MacLaine—whom he met in 1966 while working on screenplays in Hollywood—who helped the writer understand he had a problem with alcohol. He cut down on his drinking, somewhat, for the next ten years, then quit in 1972.
Hamill's autobiography, A Drinking Life: A Memoir, received enthusiastic praise from many critics. Tom Walker, writing in the Denver Post, commented that "Hamill lets it all out, pulls no punches. It's neither whiney nor preachy. It just tells his story in a straight, this-is-what-happened fashion. The writing is tight, the style graceful. But, most important, when you read it you know he's telling the truth." For those readers who have "toted a heavy drinking habit . . . the book will hit closest to home," maintained Vincent Patrick in the New York Times Book Review. However, he added, "you need never have lived the drinking life to savor this brutally honest memoir." Despite A Drinking Life's somewhat downbeat subject matter, Patrick found a good deal of warmth within its pages: Hamill's "fine memoir will evoke an abundance of welcome memories: the Wonderland of Knowledge encyclopedia acquired with coupons clipped from the New York Post, Mission Bell grape soda, our first street fight, the terrifying sight of the Normandie lying on its side at a Hudson River pier, kegs of beer at a V-E Day block party, the local candy store's seemingly endless racks of comic books."
Snow in August is a novel whose characters, setting, and recurrent motifs are fictionalized versions of the young Pete Hamill readers met in A Drinking Life. Eleven-year-old Michael Devlin awakens early on a snowy morning in 1946, his thoughts full of comic-book character Captain Marvel and the power-word "shazam," and plods through the snow to Saturday mass and his role of altar boy. On his way he meets the mysterious Rabbi Judah Hirsch, who later strikes a deal with Michael. Judah will teach the boy Yiddish and spin him remembrances of his life in Prague in return for help in honing his English and lessons in the mysteries of baseball, which the rabbi believes is the key to understanding America.
Religious intolerance, particularly anti-Semitism, in their Irish-Catholic community, is the driving force in Snow in August, as Michael witnesses the vicious beating of a Jewish candy-store owner by gang member Frankie McCarthy, and the youthful thugs threaten him, striving to keep him quiet about the crime. Christopher Lehmann-Haupt noted in the New York Times: "In the end [Michael] is pushed to wreak revenge on his tormentors, and Mr. Hamill permits him to act out a juvenile fantasy tantamount to achieving the power of Captain Marvel by speaking the magic word shazam." Lehmann-Haupt concluded, "Although conventional in form, Snow in August takes many risks, often approaching the brinks of sentimentality and cuteness without ever going over."
Hamill's novel Forever is an extended fable of the history of New York City as seen through the eyes of a supernatural Irish immigrant who is granted immortality so long as he remains on the island of Manhattan. The story commences in the mid-1700s and ends with the attack on the World Trade Centers and its aftermath. Hamill had ostensibly finished writing the book before the Trade Centers were destroyed, but he delayed publication and added to the tale to include this devastating event. Hamill told the Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service: "I knew I had to change the book's ending, but I agonized. Would this be exploiting 9/11? But there was no way to get out of it. I couldn't write a novel about New York's history and leave out the greatest calamity of all. It would be like writing about World War II and leaving out Pearl Harbor. I took another year."
Ambitious in scope and employing magical realism from Celtic and African sources, Forever tells of Cormac O'Connor's journey from Ireland to colonial America in search of revenge against his parents' killer. Granted immortality by an African shaman in the wake of a slave uprising, Cormac lives to fight with General George Washington, dine with Boss Tweed, and befriend musicians Duke Ellington and Madonna. Citing Forever for its "honorable intentions and its moments of grandeur and elegiac sweetness," New York Times Book Review contributor Andrew O'Hehir noted that the novel offers readers "an eye and ear sharply tuned to the street and densely larded chunks of convincing historical detail." In Entertainment Weekly, Troy Patterson called Forever "a lavish block of Hollywood-worthy wish fulfillment" that "wholeheartedly celebrates human goodness at every turn." Brad Hooper in Booklist found the novel to be "remarkably imaginative" and "perfectly enjoyable to read for [Hamill's] great felicity of style . . . as well as his originality of plot."
Hamill's nonfiction includes collections of his newspaper columns, essays on art and art history, and books on artist Diego Rivera and singer Frank Sinatra. The latter, Why Sinatra Matters, was one of many retrospectives of the entertainer's life and career published after Sinatra's death. Hamill, however, wrote from experience: he had been friends with Sinatra, so his meditation is interspersed with personal recollections of time they spent together, as well as analyses of the changes in the singer's style and manner over time. A Publishers Weekly reviewer called Why Sinatra Matters "confident, smart and seamless," concluding that Hamill's book "is a definitive introduction to Sinatra's work." Booklist correspondent Brian McCombie likewise praised the book for its "combination biography and cultural analysis," adding that Hamill provides "a heartfelt and intelligent tribute to Ol' Blue Eyes."
In News Is a Verb Hamill muses about the changes in the journalism profession that have led to a greater emphasis upon celebrity gossip at the expense of hard reporting. Having himself been fired as editor of the New York Daily News before he could have a significant impact on the paper's direction, Hamill speaks to the modern newspaper's inability to meet the needs of an inner-city, immigrant, and resident population with serious concerns about education, the environment, crime, and city services. In Nieman Reports, Ying Chan called News Is a Verb "a small gem," suggesting that reporters in particular read it to remember "the whys and hows of our crafts, basics of often-forgotten journalistic wisdom that Hamill dispenses throughout the little book: that journalism is about 'helping people' and keeping the country 'functioning as a democracy.'"
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 10, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1979.
American Journal of Psychiatry, December, 1994, p. 1828.
American Spectator, June, 1991, p. 8.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, March 10, 1996, p. K12.
Booklist, September 15, 1998, Brian McCombie, review of Why Sinatra Matters, p. 184; December 15, 2002, Brad Hooper, review of Forever, p. 707.
Chicago Tribune, February 9, 1996, sec. 5, p. 3.
Christian Science Monitor, May 28, 1998, David Holmstrom, "Separating the Wheat from the Tares in News," p. B11.
Commonweal, February 1, 1974; August 15, 1997, p. 26.
Denver Post, April 10, 1995, p. E8.
Entertainment Weekly, January 28, 1994, p. 48; April 22, 1994, p. 51; April 14, 1995, p. 61; January 19, 1996, p. 48; June 19, 1996, p. 48; May 30, 1997, p. 67; January 10, 2003, Troy Patterson, "He Loves N.Y.," p. 72.
Esquire, September, 1989, p. 51.
Forbes, March 11, 1996, p. S20.
Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 1992, p. 1525; November 1, 1993, p. 1365; October 1, 1995, p. 1399.
Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, January 15, 2003, Celia McGee, "Pete Hamill's Epic New York Novel Tracks City, Time after Time," p. K0745.
Library Journal, April 10, 1989, p. 111; April 1, 1990, p. 154; January, 1993, p. 168; January, 1994, p. 130; December, 1995, p. 120; February 15, 1997, p. 162; February 15, 1998, p. 184; October 15, 1999, Mary Hamel-Schwulst, review of Diego Rivera, p. 66.
Los Angeles Times, November 21, 1980; June 25, 1997, p. E6.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, March 14, 1993, p. 6; April 9, 1995, p. 10.
Nation, February 7, 1994, pp. 166-9.
National Catholic Reporter, March 2, 1990, p. 20.
National Review, April 12, 1993, p. 51; February 7, 1994, p. 74.
Newsweek, March 29, 1993, p. 67.
New York, December 4, 1989, p. 162; March 1, 1993, p. 32; May 12, 1997, p. 24.
New York Times, November 18, 1977; October 12, 1979; March 16, 1989, p. C21; March 19, 1993, p. B3; January 10, 1994, P. C18; February 24, 1994, pp. C4, C10; January 7, 1997, p. B1; May 1, 1997, p. C20; May 30, 1997, p. B5; June 14, 1998, Deborah Stead, review of News Is a Verb: Journalism at the End of the Twentieth Century, p. B9; November 23, 1998, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, "Yes, Tough Guys Dance and Sing Blues in the Night," p. E7.
New York Times Book Review, November 11, 1968; November 20, 1977; April 2, 1989, p. 13; January 16, 1994, p. 9; June 5, 1994, p. 24; December 4, 1994, p. 66; March 26, 1995, p. 32; June 11, 1995, p. 58; May 1, 1997, p. C20; May 4, 1997; November 21, 1999, Carolyn T. Hughes, "A Unifying Art," p. 75; January 19, 2003, Andrew O'Hehir, "Not a Bridge-and-Tunnel Guy," p. 6.
Nieman Reports, fall, 1998, Ying Chan, review of News Is a Verb, p. 58.
People Weekly, April 10, 1989, p. 36; March 11, 1996, p. 32.
Publishers Weekly, February 17, 1989, p. 64; February 1, 1993, p. 74; November 22, 1993, p. 54; January 10, 1994, p. 38; December 18, 1995, p. 38; March 17, 1997, p. 76; October 6, 1997, p. 38; August 24, 1998, review of Why Sinatra Matters, p. 37; December 23, 2002, review of Forever, p. 48.
Saturday Review, January 7, 1978.
Tikkun, March-April, 1998, Jack Newfield, "An Interview with Pete Hamill," p. 24.
Time, March 29, 1993, p. 15; January 24, 1994, p. 68; December 9, 1996, p. 25.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), April 2, 1989, p. 64; January 23, 1994, pp. 3, 8.
Variety, April 18, 1973.
Village Voice, December 16, 1981.
Washington Post, October 1, 1978; October 13, 1979; November 8, 1980.
Writers Digest, September, 1993, p. 44.
Pete Hamill Web site,http://www.petehamill.com/ (November 10, 2003).*