Bart and I knew that the founder and director of the Jack London Museum and Bookstore at Glen Ellen, Russ Kingman, had engaged in a personal vendetta against Joan. In the press and in the papers disseminated gratuitously to those eager Jack London buffs who sought out this self-appointed Jack London expert, he vilified her viciously, attacking her socialist views and activities, her personal life, even declaring that she had no love for her father and citing her first biography, JACK LONDON AND HIS TIMES, as "cold and unfeeling, the work of an unloving daughter who did not deserve her illustrious father". He stooped so low as to deny the fact of her having graduated from the University of California Berkeley. Gosh! I have her diploma to prove otherwise. Kingman was the man who threatened the University of Washington Press with legal action if they published the book without his permission.
A woman does not spurn pridefully, with arrogance and scorn, such a man without paying a price. Before her death when Joan was suffering the wreckage of the cancer that was to kill her, Kingman began the campaign suited to his own aggrandizement of having the kin, the blood of Jack London, a trophy to hang on his arm to parade in front of select groups of Jack London fans. Spurned by Joan, his vendetta began and was to last more than twenty years after her death. Eventually he was to acquire and to possess Becky, and make of her the trophy; "Daddy's Girl", white-haired, near-blind, heavy with age, Becky, silly in girlish dresses with ribbon sashes and bows in her white curls, little girl slippers on her swollen feet paraded out mincing, curtsying, lisping "Daddy this and Daddy that" to select groups of Jack London fans.
No, this was not Joan's cup of tea, nor was it Becky's; certainly not the feisty mercurial Becky I knew before a Svengali took over her life. But Joan! She invented the curled lip, the female growl, the put down, and shrugged off the libelous lies she knew Kingman was foisting on a gullible group of Jack London researchers. Her contempt for him was legendary. You could virtually see the hackles rise between them as they jockeyed for battle positions.
Joan's memoir JACK LONDON AND HIS DAUGHTERS, "The Book Of My Heart" as Joan would say when reading from it to family members, was targeted by Kingman and was to become his major malicious triumph. His threat of legal action against the University of Washington Press was taken seriously despite Bart's efforts to dissuade them. From the beginning in 1978 when Bart began negotiations with that press until 1989 when the "coup de grace" was administered, many barriers to suppress the book were erected and various villains began to surface. Up in my mountain fastness I spent months examining contracts and letters, all with names and dates... and what a bunch of frauds and shady characters were revealed! Dare I name them? Or do I say they acted under Svengali's spell and knew not what they had done?
Had any one of them read Joan's "Afterward", titled "Myths and Realities", they might not have acted so thoughtlessly and the reader of Joan's memoir would have seen the other side of the mirror; the portrait of Joan, the woman grown, reaching past the girl to gain understanding and the compassion to forgive the human frailties of those who, in the throe of their own passions, had levied too severe a penalty on two little girls who had only their youth and innocence to offer. The course of events covering the time in 1978 when Bart first contacted the University of Washington Press until the termination of the contract in 1989 could set a track record for misadventure. The bungling surrounding what should have been the simple publication of a loving memoir still boggles my mind.
The first letter from Bart to Editor-in-Chief, Naomi Pascal dated December 28, 1978 asks if the press would be interested in publishing Joan's manuscript; he explains: "The work was to be more than purely the recollections from childhood and adolescence by the daughter of a world famous writer-father. It was of course such a recollection but it was to be more. It was intended as a statement, an appeal for awareness of the often painful, damaging emotional stress that children of divorced parents are sometimes subjected to..."
All was well by February 1980. Bart had sent the manuscript with Joan's synopsis and afterward. A contract was signed. Advance readers had given the book 100 % approval. A professor from the University of New Mexico, a Jack London scholar, was engaged to "flesh out" the synopsis and another contract was signed between Bart, the professor and the editor. "Revisions" began, reluctantly accepted by Bart. A year dragged by with no progress. Bart and I made several visits to Seattle and discovered that legal action had been threatened if the University published Joan's memoir! The editor-in-chief refused to reveal the name of the person involved. But as usual when it came down to the nitty-gritty of something nasty regarding Joan, dead or alive, we knew Kingman would be the instigator.
Sure enough, the first forked-tongued viper had worked it's way out of the box; Kingman. A letter to Bart from the editor, dated March 12, 1981 names the man; "Sorry Bart", writes the editor, "I had no choice but to give Mr. Kingman a copy of Joan's manuscript. It was the only way to avoid legal action..." That letter signified the drawing up of the battle lines and was to culminate in defeat on the part of those who struggled for eight more years to see Joan's manuscript to publication; valiant efforts on the part of those most intimately involved; Editor-in-Chief Naomi Pascal, Editor Bruce Wilcox, Professor Richard Etulain, and Joan's son, Bart Abbott who had promised his mother as she lay dying in Kaiser Hospital, Oakland, that he would get her book published.
In a letter to Bart dated May 2, 1989, Editor-in-Chief Naomi Pascal sums it up;
"Dear Bart: At your request, I am returning to you, under separate cover,the manuscript of JACK LONDON AND HIS DAUGHTERS. Reviewing our file on this project, I see that the earliest entry in it is dated December 1969, when your mother first discussed it with Don Ellegood. After more than twenty years it seems time to acknowledge that we have not been able to bring it to a successful conclusion. We have talked to Professor Etulain, and he agrees. By mutual concurrence, therefore, we may consider the contract dated 10 September 1980 no longer in force.
"Professor Etulain requested that I send you a copy of the letter he sent you in February 1988 (of which he sent us a copy). Since he did not receive a response to that letter, he wondered if it reached you. In any case, he wanted you to know that if the manuscript is published clearance will still have to be obtained from the Jack London Estate. Additionally, as you know, his attempts to obtain the needed material from Waring Jones has been unsuccessful.
"We all regret that we have not been able to bring about the publication of JACK LONDON and HIS DAUGHTERS, and we wish you well with the project if you find some other means of accomplishing it." Sincerely yours, Naomi B. Pascal.
Professor Etulain's letter to Bart dated 15 February 1988 sums up the method of suppression: "For too many years I've been trying to shake loose the letters between your mother and grandfather. As you can see from the agreement you and Howell Books and Waring Jones signed that's on file at The Huntington Library--I should be able to gain access to the materials that Waring Jones bought from you through the Howell Books. But I have been unable to get Jones to give me access to those important items. Although I've written to him, phoned him, and talked to him about the matter,I have not been able to get copies of the needed letters. Do you think you can do something to get Jones to provide me xerox copies of the needed letters?
"Second, we cannot move ahead with the publication of your mother's manuscript - Jack London and His Daughters - until we have clearance from the Jack London Estate to publish materials over which they have copyright control. That means the letters that Joan quotes from Jack in her manuscript are out of our control--only Milo Shepard can give permission to quote them. Unless, unless - you have a letter from the Jack London Estate giving you the right to publish those Jack-to-Joan letters.
"Let me tell you where I've been. I've been through all the pertinent Joan London Miller and Jack London stuff at The Huntington, have drafted much of the introduction on your mother, and have completed some of the annotations to explain references in your mother's manuscript. But I have done little on the project for a couple of years because I could not get copyright clearance on using the Jack stuff in your mother's memoir, and I could not get permission to use the stuff between your mother and grandfather that Waring Jones has in his possession.
"I can't see that I can move ahead on this project - nor anyone else of the project - until and unless the difficulties are solved that I mention in the paragraph immediately above. Do you have any suggestions? If so, I'm looking for some answers before I get tired of all this red tape." Signed, Sincerely yours, Richard W. Etulain Professor of History.
It is possible that Bart did not reply to Richard Etulain's letter of 1988. He was, at that time dying of the cancer that was to prove fatal to him. He had had emergency surgery in 1984 for the cancer that almost killed him~ then and was undergoing follow-up treatment. It is ironic that both he and Joan should have been so cruelly treated during the desperate period when they were each battling, not only for life but for that book. Bart died in 1991 the year after he managed to see JACK LONDON AND HIS DAUGHTERS in print. Yes indeed red tape! How about fraud or the sins of omission, ignorance, malevolence, or undue influence on an elderly person? The cast of characters involved in this shameful charade could be; THE GREAT MANIPULATOR, SNAKE IN GRASS, CHIEF HONCHO, THE ARTFUL DODGER, THE BETRAYER, and variegated COGNIZANT BYSTANDERS of many stripes and colors.
Kingman, the chief instigator in the suppression of Joan's book, did not directly achieve his goal. He traded off his threat of legal action when the editor gave him a copy of Joan's manuscript. In my view, The University Press succumbed to blackmail and bought off the blackmailer. Kingman based his threat of legal action on the claim that Becky adamantly objected to Joan's version of the window incident; a disputed scene during which Becky's leg was accidentally swung through a window. Actually the book went down in defeat due to the benign neglect of Mr. Jones, who somehow managed to politely avoid granting Professor Etulain access to the material at The Huntington.
The contract of sale for Fifteen Thousand dollars set up initially by Howell Books between Joan and Waring Jones only a few weeks before her death clearly states: "Purchaser agrees to allow scholars access to material for purpose of serious study." Joan's death prevented the implementation of the contract which was later, at the behest of Mr. Jones, agreed to by Bart the following July 15, 1971, five months after his mother's death. The new contract was identical in every respect even though Bart was reluctant to let go. He was obliged, he felt, to honor his mother's wishes. He especially mourned for the loss of JOAN: HER BOOK, an album of baby photos of Joan that her proud father had taken, developed, and put together with humorous captions typed in archaic English.
Before she made the decision to sell her papers, Joan had attempted to borrow money, first from the poet Robin Lampson who had been a devoted friend of the family since she and Becky were teenagers, and when that request could not be forthcoming, Joan then asked Bart to make the same request of Barney Mayes, her former husband. Both men were themselves as strapped for money as was Joan. It was then that she selected her most precious papers and arranged the sale with Howell Books.
It is strange now at this late date of the 1990's to realize just how much valuable material Joan had been willing to sell to pay off debts! Bart too must have realized a similar loss beyond that of Joan's baby album... 147 items including many letters between Jack and Joan, three letters to Joan from Leon Trotsky, two holograph wills of Jack London, one dated 1905 the other dated 1916. That illusive will! Mentioned even by Russ Kingman as having possibly existed. Yet its existence denied by Waring Jones even though I have two original contracts, listing the same 147 items signed by him and by Bart and Mr. Howell, and the same items listed again three months later, in September 1971 when Mr. Jones requests a price reduction!
I am sometimes hard pressed to believe what my own eyes tell me when I read through the blitz of letters back and forth and the alteration of the original contracts of sale. I was stunned and shamed to read the reason for the price reduction as explained in the summary of Ronald R. Randall for Howell Books; Mr. Jones's offer ($12,000.00) is based on the following reasoning:
1. Much if not all the manuscript material has been xeroxed and several people have copies of these xeroxes (Sisson, Bubka, and perhaps Tweney). The photograph album has also been copied.
2. Most of the material involved has been published in Letters From Jack London edited by King Hendricks and Irving Shepard, N.Y. 1965. A few were also published in Walker's JACK LONDON of THE KLONDIKE.
3. Parts of the wills have been published.
4. George Tweney offered the collection to The Huntington Library for $20,000.00 and was turned down.
Discovering this bit of evidence still shocks me. I knew that Joan had given George Tweney a copy of her manuscript. He was to make a copy each for James Sisson and Tony Bubka with the understanding that all three would work together on completing the synopsis and the afterward. The plan fell apart. Tony and Jim returned their copies, but I am unclear about Tweney's role. There are letters between Bart and Tweney in which Bart requests the return of Joan's copy. Tweney explains he had returned the copy Joan had given him and had made three copies, one for himself, and one each for the others. I believe Bart was satisfied with that. But if George Tweney offered Joan's collection to the Huntington for $20,000.00, as stated in the summary of Waring Jones's offer... if that is true, then I have to conclude that collectors are either rogues, thieves, con artists, or completely mad!
I almost prefer to think the latter. Joan placed complete trust in George Tweney. She had special admiration for him and I find it difficult to believe that he would have made copies of all that material and then try to sell it only months after her death! Still, a prestigious fellow connected with the Kingman group, conned me out of some material he wanted for one of the Jack London museums... Of course I only made copies of the material and had him checked out before I sent it... the snake-in-the-grass. It took me two years, with help, to track him down and recover my material not through his good graces but through those of his wife! Save for her, I would name him.
Referring back to the summary of Mr. Jones's reasons for reducing the original purchase offer of Joan's collection; "that much of the material had already been published", does not that strike you as odd? Wouldn't such a prestigious press as the U. of W, know that the so-called Jack London Estate in the name of Milo Shepard had no reason nor right to halt Joan's Memoir. She was only paraphrasing from letters that had already been published.
And in the same summary; "Parts of the wills have been published." Aha! The plot thickens. Notice the use of the word "wills", plural. The two wills listed in the contract are dated 1905 and 1916. And years later, mysteriously, the 1916 will is replaced by a second 1905 will!; replaced under suspicious circumstances; just one-more thread in this tale which I will pick up later and beg your help in the untangling.
Letters often take on a life of their own once they leave the hand of the writer and somehow surface and make a mess of things, as in the matter of Joan's memoir. It isn't as though Joan was writing of mad passions and scandalous alliances. Such a tempest in a teapot drummed up by Russ Kingman in his letter to the University in which he not only threatens legal action to protect Becky's rights but excoriates Joan, her mother, and also Bart. It is a long rambling letter so filled with conceit and vindictiveness that I marvel that it was taken seriously as factual. This sample phrase, used often by Kingman in other of his papers on Joan reads: "Joan London Abbott Mayes Malamuth Miller was raised by a bitter and, as she often stated, discarded wife..." This letter written February 11, 1981 ten years after Joan's death is the work of a man holding a terrible grudge. By the way, he got the sequence of the names wrong. Malamuth was before Mayes. Also he claims no one ever contacted Becky about her opinion.
Bart and I visited Becky on various occasions and naturally the subject of getting Joan's memoir published came up. On two different visits Bart left Joan's manuscript for Becky's input. The first time was four months after Joan's death when Becky was the friendly talkative sports loving Aunt. Her letter to Bart written after she had read the manuscript is dated May 31, 1974, reads:
"All I can say is what a pity Joan couldn't have finished her book. The part that had been 'polished' is so well written and expressed - her vocabulary and quotations are so apt - that anyone could be proud to have written it. While at the same time it is so natural it seems as though she is speaking. But, Bart, what can be done with this writing? It is merely a fragment. It is neither a biography nor an autobiography. It is not the beginning of a novel. In it's present form it is nothing but some wonderful writing.
"I am glad to have read it at last. I enjoyed it very much. But since I am a very different person from Joan it seemed to be a story about some people I had once known. I could not see me as I remember myself in any of it.
"Thanks for letting me read it. It brought Joan closer to me and I think helped me to understand her better. You can pick up the manuscript anytime. Please bring Helen with you when you come. It's been so long since I have seen her. As ever. Becky.
This was Becky, Bart's good aunt, the woman who had created a baby album of Bart, snapshots from infancy throughout his boyhood. She presented me with this album as a gift because, as she said, "it looks like you and Bart will stay married." I thought at the time that such a comment, accompanied by a precious gift was illustrative of her affection for Bart, an affection that came to a shocking end once she came under Russ Kingman's obsessive possession.
Bart, who had worked longshoring for twenty two-years was retired disabled on a small disability pension which explains why we spent more time in Mexico than in California; living in a camper in Mexico was affordable. Our frequent absences may have had some bearing on Becky's cruel mockery of Bart's later effort in 1981 to seek her approval regarding the publication of Joan's memoir, which was by then under contract with the University of Washington Press. Here is Bart's letter to editor Bruce Wilcox regarding that visit:
"Helen and I met with my aunt in January and after chatting inanities for a while I mentioned that the U. of Wa. Press was planning to publish Joan's ms. 'Oh, is that so? Well, as long as that part about Daddy putting me through the window is left out it's all right with me'. I was quite startled to say the very least. You will no doubt remember that I had told you that I had left the manuscript with Becky for several days so that she might make comments, suggestions or objections. When she had finished reading it, she said, 'I can see no objection to its publication.' When I reminded her of this, her comment was: 'I was sure it would never be published.'
"I had the instant feeling not to push with Becky, not at all. I looked noncommittal and made the uncomment, "Oh", unpunctuated.
"She pressed on for a few minutes. 'Joan was sick that day, she had a fever, was all bundled up in a chair. She didn't even know much what went on, or what happened. I know that Daddy would never dream of hurting either of us.' She then went on to describe events of a week or so later --- One of her legs continued giving her considerable pain and one of the teachers or the principal accused her of malingering. She was eventually taken to the doctor who treated an infected wound and removed a sliver of glass --- Her story indicated that she had indeed been thrust through a window. She gave no details on what preceded the incident. She threatened legal action if the incident were not expurgated. At this point Becky blasted at the Sinclair biography, JACK, which she said put forth the assertion that Joan and Becky were terrified of Jack during later visits made by him. She was somehow transcribing this objection to Joan's manuscript. When I got home I reread Joan's account and realized that her recollection of events did not imply terror during later visits but rather that physical roughhousing, "romping", was avoided.
"My feeling is that the manuscript be without significant alteration or deletion. I so promised my mother. My thoughts are the same but for other reasons. I think that memoirs, biography, history, all should be published pretty much as written by the author. If scholarly dissent is raised or if people involved in the events have another viewpoint it too should be published.
"I faintly recall that during our luncheon in Seattle a statement was made that Becky might wish a statement of her own to be a part of JACK LONDON AND HIS DAUGHTERS. If my recollection is faulty it seems like a good idea well worth considering.
"I mentioned earlier Sinclair's book JACK which Becky took exception to. I may have mentioned at our meeting that Sinclair acknowledged the use of some material from Joan's unpublished manuscript. Where he got it I can only guess. I rather think George Tweney may have been the source but when I visited him eight or so years ago about the copy Joan told me she had sent him he told me he had sent it back to her. It has never shown up that I know of. To wind this up, I repeat, I very much hope the window scene will be left as is. I also hope the title remains in its original form. The manuscript is after all the recollections of Joan, of the time she shared with her sister and father. It is about Jack London and his daughters." (Dated May 11, 1981).
Joan had just turned ten. It was early February 1911. Joan was ill with a cold and fever and was wrapped in blankets on the couch in the sitting room. Both girls were eagerly awaiting their Daddy's visit, unaware of the bitterness that had been brewing between their parents. In her memoir Joan writes:
Nine-year-old Bess, eyes sparkling and round face wreathed in smiles, was too excited by seeing Daddy for the first time in many weeks to notice the set faces and anger-roughed voices. Daddy's visits always meant romps and she was eager to start... she restrained her impatience, then, unable to endure it longer, she touched his hand: "Please, Daddy, romp with me?" Ignoring her, he brushed her hand away and continued the argument. Again, a little later she sought to gain his attention, bending over and looking up into his face beguilingly, and again he ignored her.
The third time she touched his hand he stopped in mid-sentence. "If you put your hand on mine, Baby B," he told her, "I'll put you through that window!"
This was a new game, the most thrilling yet! I sat up, the better to watch. I shall never forget Bess' face as, tense with anticipation, she slowly put her hand on his: for the first, and probably for the last time in her life, it mirrored the ultimate in trust.
The next moment, springing to his feet and grasping both her hands he swung her up and thrust her feet first as far as her knees through the big front window, then quickly pulled her back.
Blocked off forever is any coherent memory of what happened next. The crash of breaking glass, Bess' scream of pain and terror, Mother leaping from her chair to take Bess from Daddy, the glimpse of bright blood spurting from Bess' leg - these I remember. ( See JACK LONDON AND HIS DAUGHTERS by Joan London, Heyday Books, 1990).
Since I have had many years of contact with Becky, I must add to the above that Becky was not one to volunteer her relationship to Jack London. Until she came under the spell of Russ Kingman she was positively mum on the subject. I very much doubt you would find any published writings or speeches attributed to Becky prior to Joan's death. Joan, on the other hand, needed no invitation to speak of "Daddy" on all occasions, public or private. You always knew she was her father's daughter and that she took pride in being so.
In a letter to Russ Kingman, dated February 7, 1981, Becky makes a mockery of Bart's visit of the previous day when she threatened Bart with legal action if the window incident were not expurgated; "Dear Russ, Haven't done anything about seeing a lawyer yet. Can't talk without laughing. Am writing because Bart came to see me yesterday. When he phoned to see if I were home I said to Per (Percy Fleming, Becky's husband) 'What does he want? I haven't seen him for over three years'.
"After 'chatting' for an hour about the traveling he has done - East, Canada and six months in Hawaii - I got tired and asked what he did in his spare time. He said he hadn't any. He was busy. 'Doing what I asked'. 'Getting Joan's book published.' 'What luck', I asked. He had just signed a contract with the University of Washington Press. (I bet Mr. Tweeny(sp) is in there somewhere).
"So I said there wasn't to be anything printed about the window episode. That that concerned me only and I didn't want it to be read and misunderstood because Joan's account was inaccurate to say the least.
"He said, 'but you read the ms.' And I said, 'yes, I liked the way Joan wrote, but I never OK'ed it for publication.' I continued, 'it isn't to be printed, if necessary I'll get an injunction or whatever is necessary.'
"He got angry. I've known him for long enough to see that and left in a couple of minutes. Just one more problem for you, and I know you're very busy, but I don't know anyone else who can help." ... signed, Becky.
Four days after Becky wrote that letter Kingman wrote the University Press (Feb. 11, 1981) threatening legal action and announcing his claim as Becky's literary executor in this way; "In the case of Becky London's death I will be the Literary Executor of her estate and will continue to protect her interests."
Two days later Becky signs away all her rights without any thought for the future of her children or grandchildren. On February 13, 1981 she writes; "I hereby appoint Russ Kingman, Glen Ellen, California, as my literary Executor. He will see to it that should mention of me Becky (Bess) London Fleming appear in any book or article about my father, Jack London, it had my approval. I wish Russ Kingman to continue as the Literary Executor of my estate after my death. Mr. Kingman is to receive 100% of any income. In the event of there being such an income, the remainder after the above 100% is deducted, is to go to the Jack London Foundation." signed Becky London Fleming.
So! The sins of the fathers do come down to the children! Becky, inadvertently, but to a lesser degree, disinherits her children as her father did his! If such a document were legal and if any royalties were to come to Becky's estate then Kingman could reap the benefits. However, presuming there is a literary estate, Becky, under the laws of copyright could not disinherit blood or adopted descendants if they are alive at the time of her death. Becky herself and Joan too were very much alive when Jack London died leaving behind a 1911 document not clearly a will - a paper which he stated "will" and which he also stated, "I do not want this will probated." Later on I will go into this document more completely and leave you to draw your own conclusions, as I have, given the material I have found in Pandora's Box.
When I, in the role of "Investigator", go through these letters and papers I feel shamed and disheartened. The dismal transformation of a light hearted, funny, chatterbox Becky into the toadying mouthpiece of her "mentor" chills my very soul. Except in the privacy of her own home, where she could spout off her own tempers, I can't remember any time that Becky would denounce Bart as she did in that letter to Russ Kingman. Nor can I imagine Becky in her right mind signing away any income. After all she too suffered the loss of inheritance through mischance, whether by fair means or foul. I am sure Becky would not knowingly deprive her own family. This kind of calculated influence on an elderly person is shameful.
I would say that Mr. Kingman stepped beyond his role as purveyor of all things Jack London. If other historians continue to publicize the same tired old fables of Jack London as macho-hero, writer of dog stories, as` Kingman and Rogers have, they will fail then to present Jack London at his best; his prophetic future is our present; we are under THE IRON HEEL (Corporate Greed), we are PEOPLE OF THE ABYSS (unemployed and homeless) and as such we are part of THE WAR OF THE CLASSES. Those who are involved as historians of Jack London ought to know that Jack wrote primarily of and for the working class. He would find himself in his element in this world of today and just imagine! Wouldn't he shake the timbers of this troubled old world!