Leggett, John (Ward) 1917-
LEGGETT, John (Ward) 1917-
PERSONAL: Born November 11, 1917, in New York, NY; son of Bleecker Noel and Dorothy (Mahar) Leggett; married Mary Lee Fahnestock, 1948 (divorced, 1986); married Edwina Benington, October 26, 1986; children (first marriage): Timothy, John, Anthony. Education: Yale University, A.B., 1942.
ADDRESSES: Home—1781 Patrick Rd., Napa, CA 94558. Office—Napa Valley Writers Conference, Napa Valley College, 1088 College Ave., St. Helena, CA 94574. Agent—Sterling Lord Literary Agency, Inc., 660 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10021.
CAREER: Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, MA, editor and publicity director, 1950-60; Harper & Row Publishers, Inc., New York, NY, editor, 1960-67; University of Iowa, Iowa City, professor of English and director of The Writers' Workshop, 1969-87; Napa Valley Writers' Conference, St. Helena, CA, director, 1987—. Military service: U.S. Naval Reserve, 1942-45; became lieutenant.
MEMBER: Century Association.
Wilder Stone, Harper (New York, NY), 1960.
The Gloucester Branch, Harper (New York, NY), 1964.
Who Took the Gold Away, Random House (New York, NY), 1969.
Ross and Tom: Two American Tragedies, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1974.
Gulliver House, Houghton (New York, NY), 1979.
Making Believe, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1986.
A Daring Young Man: A Biography of William Saroyan, Knopf (New York, NY), 2002.
Contributing editor, "Elements of Literature" series, 1988. Contributor of articles and short stories to New York Times, New Republic, and Harper's.
Leggett's papers are housed at the University of Iowa Libraries.
SIDELIGHTS: John Leggett wrote about one of the quirkiest personalities in American literature in his extensively-researched biography, A Daring Young Man: A Biography of William Saroyan. Saroyan was the child of Armenian immigrants, born in California in 1908. The family endured poverty and hardship, but Saroyan's writing propelled him to fame and fortune. His stories celebrated life and the triumphs of underdog characters, which appealed greatly to readers in Depression-era America. While they seem on the surface to be sentimental, Saroyan's narratives also expressed a great deal of cynicism about life and humanity. His early success was so great that at one point he had three plays on Broadway at the same time, but in the years following World War II, Saroyan found himself unable to match his early successes. His personal failings are often pointed to as the factors that led to his professional downfall as well. He was mistrustful of everyone and lacked any sense of humility. Leggett, like many biographers, faced the task of reconciling his subject's fine achievements with his unappealing characteristics. He "is fascinated by Saroyan, sympathizes with him and admires his limited literary achievements but not his personal qualities," observed Roger K. Miller in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. According to a Publishers Weekly reviewer, the biographer "describes in painstaking detail the hubris and callousness—not to mention the gambling debts—that destroyed Saroyan's once-charmed career" and provides "keen insights into the motivations that drove Saroyan's outrageous behaviors." By the end of his life Saroyan was a man with many self-proclaimed enemies; he had married and divorced the same woman twice and had become so estranged from his children that he disinherited them shortly before his death. Moreover, his writing, once so celebrated, was largely forgotten. And yet, observed Bryce Christensen in Booklist, "Leggett tells the story with such poignancy that even readers indifferent to Saroyan's work will care about Saroyan's life."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, October 15, 2002, Bryce Christensen, review of A Daring Young Man: A Biography of William Saroyan, p. 379.
Chicago Tribune, June 17, 1979.
Kirkus Reviews, February 15, 1986, review of Making Believe, p. 238.
Library Journal, April 15, 1986, review of Making Believe, p. 96; December, 2002, Henry L. Carrigan, Jr., review of A Daring Young Man, p. 127.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, May 18, 1986, review of Making Believe, p. 11.
New Criterion, November, 2002, Brooke Allen, review of A Daring Young Man, p. 77.
New York Times, June 4, 1979; August 7, 1986, review of Making Believe, p. 19.
New York Times Book Review, July 29, 1979; May 11, 1986, review of Making Believe, p. 45.
Publishers Weekly, February 28, 1986, review of Making Believe, p. 116; October 7, 2002, review of A Daring Young Man, p. 60.
Wall Street Journal, June 3, 1986, review of Making Believe, p. 26.
Wilson Quarterly, winter, 2003, James Morris, review of A Daring Young Man, p. 115.
International Herald Tribune Online, http://www.iht.com/ (December 19, 2002), Janet Maslin, review of A Daring Young Man.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, http://www.post-gazette.com/ (November 24, 2002), Roger K. Miller, review of A Daring Young Man.*