There is no knowing what lies in a man's heart. On a trip to buy ponies, Frank Ross is killed by one of his own workers. Tom Chaney shoots him down in the street for a horse, $150 cash, and two Californian gold pieces. Ross's unusually mature and single-minded fourteen-year-old daughter Mattie travels to claim his body, and finds that the authorities are doing nothing to find Chaney. Then she hears of Rooster - a man, she's told, who has grit - and convinces him to join her in a quest into dark, dangerous Indian territory to hunt Chaney down and avenge her father's murder.Charles Portis
Charles McColl Portis
December 28, 1933 ( 1933-12-28 ) (age 77)
El Dorado, Arkansas. U.S.
Charles McColl Portis (born December 28, 1933) is an American author best known for his novels Norwood (1966) and the 1968 classic Western novel True Grit (1968), both adapted as films. The latter also inspired a film sequel and made-for-TV movie sequel. A new film adaptation of True Grit was released in 2010.
Portis has been described as "one of the most inventively comic writers of western fiction". [ 1 ]Early life
Charles Portis was born in 1933 to Samuel Palmer and Alice Waddell Portis in El Dorado, Arkansas. He was raised and educated in various towns in southern Arkansas, including Hamburg .
During the Korean War. Portis enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and reached the rank of sergeant. [ 2 ] After receiving his discharge in 1955, he enrolled in the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. He graduated with a degree in journalism in 1958.
Portis began writing in college, for both the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville student newspaper, Arkansas Traveler. and the Northwest Arkansas Times . One of his tasks was to redact the colorful reporting of "lady stringers" in the Ozarks, a task credited as a source for the vivid voice which he created years later for his character Mattie Ross in True Grit. [ 3 ] After Portis graduated, he worked for various newspapers as a reporter, including almost two years at the Arkansas Gazette . for which he wrote the "Our Town" column.
He moved to New York, where he worked for four years at the New York Herald Tribune . His work led him to return to the South frequently to cover civil rights–related stories during the early 1960s. After serving as the London bureau chief of the New York Herald Tribune. he left journalism in 1964.
Portis returned to Arkansas and began writing fiction full-time. In his first novel, Norwood (1966), he showed his preference for travel narratives with deadpan dialogue, combined with amusing observations on American culture. Based in the mid-1950s, the novel revolves around Norwood Pratt, a young, naïve ex-Marine living in Ralph, Texas. He is persuaded by con-man Grady Fring (the first of several such characters created by Portis) to transport a pair of automobiles to New York City. Norwood encounters a variety of people on the way to New York and back, including ex-circus midget Edmund Ratner ("the world’s smallest perfect fat man"), Joann ("the college educated chicken"), and Rita Lee, a girl Norwood woos and wins on the bus ride back to the South. Norwood was adapted as a movie in 1970, starring Glen Campbell as the title character, with Kim Darby and the football star Joe Namath. [ 4 ]
Like Norwood. his novel True Grit (1968) was first serialized in condensed form in the The Saturday Evening Post . The story is told by Yell County native Mattie Ross who, at the time of the events, is a prim, shrewd, strong-willed, Bible-quoting 14-year-old girl. When her father is murdered in Fort Smith by a hired hand, Tom Chaney, she recruits Deputy Marshal Rooster Cogburn—in whom Mattie sees one possessed of "grit"—to help her hunt down Chaney and his outlaw band to "avenge her father’s blood". Both satirical of Westerns and realistic, the novel succeeded through its taut story line, Mattie’s believable narrative voice, sharp dialogue, and a journalistic attention to details. [ citation needed ]
Both Norwood and True Grit were adapted as movies starring fellow Arkansan Glen Campbell. and Kim Darby. and were commercially successful. John Wayne won an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for Best Actor for his performance as Rooster Cogburn in True Grit. one of the top box office hits of 1969. True Grit was released on June 11, 1969, earning USD$ 14.25 million at the box office. A second film version, written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. debuted in December 2010. [ 5 ]
Portis published several short pieces in The Atlantic Monthly. including the memoir "Combinations of Jacksons" [ 6 ] and the story "I Don't Talk Service No More". [ 7 ]
Portis currently resides in Little Rock, Arkansas. [ 8 ]
Charles Portis has written five novels: [ 2 ]Short fiction and articles
The novelist Charles Portis, best known for his novels Norwood and True Grit. was also a brilliant reporter, and with the likes of Tom Wolfe and Jimmy Breslin, helped introduce New Journalism. Jay Jennings, the editor of the new collection Escape Velocity: A Charles Portis Miscellany . on the legacy of Portis’s reporting on the civil rights movement.
Jay Jennings 09.25.12 8:45 AM ET
In his fiction and magazine pieces over more than a half-century, the novelist Charles Portis, most celebrated for True Grit and much admired by fellow writers like Roy Blount Jr. Donna Tartt, and Wells Tower, has made relentless fun of journalists of all stripes. Ray Midge, the copy editor who tracks his errant wife to Mexico in The Dog of the South . comments about the fellow copy editor who stole her away: “His dress was sloppy even by newspaper standards.” In Masters of Atlantis . newspaper people “treat as pests those who walk in off the street with inquiries, or even news.” In a New Yorker humor piece. he describes the “journalist ants” of Burma, “scurrying about on the forest floor and gathering tiny facts.” And in a long travel story about a river in Arkansas—included in the upcoming collection of his work I edited, Escape Velocity: A Charles Portis Miscellany —he offers an opinion on both the climate debate and himself as a journalist: “Knowing nothing about changing weather patterns, but, being a journalist and thus having no scruples about commenting on the matter, I think they may well have changed.”
These various put-downs, especially of himself, are a dodge, because although Portis the novelist is press-shy and publicity-averse, in his early career he was a skilled, diligent, and sometimes brilliant journalist, which the selection of his best newspaper work in Escape Velocity will demonstrate. After serving in the Marine Corps during the Korean War, he studied journalism at the University of Arkansas. (Looking back at those years in an interview with fellow newspaperman Roy Reed, he said, “I must have thought it would be fun and not very hard, something like barber college. Not to offend the barbers. They probably provide a more useful service.”)
After graduating, he worked briefly at The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, moved to the Arkansas Gazette in 1959 (a year after the paper had won two Pulitzer Prizes for covering the integration crisis at Little Rock Central High), and then began a four-year stint (1960-64) with The New York Herald Tribune. ending as London bureau chief before he quit to write novels. At the latter, he shared a newsroom with Tom Wolfe, Jimmy Breslin, and other reporters who were stretching their craft into what came to be known as New Journalism. In fact, in a 1972 piece in New York magazine excavating that “movement,” Wolfe cites Portis as one of the preeminent feature writers in the city who followed the philosophy that “it just might be possible to write journalism that would. read like a novel.” Wolfe’s own flamboyant style bears little resemblance to Portis’s straightforward one, but in their reporting both showed—and eventually brought back to their respective novels—expertise in conveying “scene” and an eye for the telling detail. These qualities and other examples of Portis’s extraordinary abilities as a journalist are best seen in his brief, overlooked tenure on the civil-rights beat, particularly during a busy spring and summer in the South in 1963.
The failure of historians studying the era to acknowledge Portis’s work that year is a mystery to me. His name is absent from David J. Garrow’s Bearing the Cross (1986) ; Taylor Branch’s Parting the Waters (1988) and Pillar of Fire (1998) ; Diane McWhorter’s comprehensive history of Birmingham’s troubles, Carry Me Home (2001) ; and perhaps most egregiously, The Race Beat: The Press, the Civil Rights Struggle, and the Awakening of a Nation (2006). which won the Pulitzer Prize for history. Neither is he included in the two volumes of the Library of America’s collections Reporting Civil Rights (2003). though one of his Herald Tribune colleagues, Robert J. Donovan, is.
At the time, however, his journalism was recognized for its excellence, and his account of two bombings in Birmingham that threatened to derail a desegregation agreement was reprinted in a collection published the next year, Twentieth Century Reporting at Its Best (1964), which praised it as a “crisp, tightly-written story.” More impressive still is the deadline duress under which it—and an accompanying story about a Ku Klux Klan meeting—was produced.
On the evening of Saturday, May 11, 1963, Portis went to nearby Bessemer to cover a Klan rally. The animosity toward the press in Birmingham—and especially the New York and national press from the local authorities, including the police—was significant. Earlier that month, a Life reporter and his photographer, who had captured with his camera demonstrators being pummeled by fire hoses, were arrested and had to flee the state after making bail, certain they could not get a fair trial.
Portis was aware of himself as a target for locals who despised the media. In a story filed earlier that day, he had written of a Friday night gathering in the county courthouse in which “angry white extremists” who opposed the integration of downtown stores “ejected” the newsmen. Portis added, with wry pride, “A reporter from the Herald Tribune, in particular, was booed.” It must have taken no small amount of courage to then present himself in Bessemer the following night. Fortunately for him, the Klan crowd there “was not rising to the rhetoric,” as McWhorter writes, and when it ended about 10:15 p.m. Portis headed back to the Tutwiler Hotel with some other reporters. Around midnight, he and the others heard the “dull whoomp” of an explosion and they rushed to the scene, the Gaston Motel four blocks away.
What followed was a full night of rioting, arson, and civil unrest, unquelled until 6 a.m. by which time more than a thousand policemen and state troopers had brutally subdued African-American participants and spectators both. Portis had been in some peril from the fire and from bricks and bottles thrown. The city’s reckless armored police vehicle, he writes as he dips briefly into the first-person plural, “mounted the sidewalk once and made a headlong pass down it, sending about 50 of us spectators diving for the dirt.”
The next day, no doubt on very little if any sleep, he produced a 1,900-word front-page story about the evening’s chaos, one that not only captures the scene with immediacy and concreteness but gives it context and lyricism. When he describes the attack of a Col. Lingo on defenseless black bystanders, he takes the time to remind us that “Col. Lingo and his men had been chafing all week at the moderation and restraint of Chief Moore and his city police.” When he notes that at dawn a police car announced that residents should “get off the God damn streets, get,” he adds with subdued irony, “but someone put a stop to that, evidently because it was Sunday and Mother’s Day.”
Included with the long piece was Portis’s sidebar about the Klan rally. Readers will recognize in it more clearly Portis the novelist, casting a gimlet eye on any organization or person that leans toward groupthink and messianism, much less notions of superiority underpinned by violence (see his novel Gringos ). His report portrays the meeting and its participants as tedious and shabby rather than menacing, reserving the unkindest cut for the visiting grand dragon of Mississippi in what is my favorite line of the collection: “Everyone drifted away and the grand dragon of Mississippi disappeared grandly into the Southern night, his car engine hitting on about three cylinders.” For Portis, as his fans well know, any man who can’t even keep his car tuned is a man to be scorned indeed. An empathetic, unsentimental Southerner, Portis in this vein points himself in the same direction as his predecessors in fiction like William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, and Flannery O’Connor, writers who understood deeply the milieu and did not blink in facing its contradictions.
To my mind, Portis’s complete coverage of that marathon evening is one of the great deadline reporting efforts of the civil-rights era and maybe of the second half of the 20th century. Why has it, along with his other work of that time, gone unrecognized?
For one thing, his coverage of civil rights was largely limited to that year; by November 1963, he had moved to the London bureau. Others on the beat, like Claude Sitton of The New York Times and the Herald Tribune ’s own Donovan, who primarily covered the politics of the movement from Washington, D.C. rather than front lines, made the subject their life’s work, while Portis left it behind to write novels.
Another reason might have been the dubiousness with which the tactics of the so-called New Journalism were viewed. The Herald Tribune was known as a writers’ newspaper and its marketing slogan at the time was “Who Says a Good Newspaper Has to Be Dull?” The answer for a few critics was, We do. Walker Gibson, in his book Tough, Sweet & Stuffy: An Essay on American Prose Styles (1966), pointed to a Portis story about an earlier day’s action in Alabama and with horror accused the journalist of employing “the model of the novelist ” (italics in the original). Gibson favors Sitton’s concurrent New York Times piece, though even he admits it may be “a little dull, considering the circumstances.”
Further, and perhaps ultimately more important, was the imminent demise of the Herald Tribune. which expired for good after frequent starts, stops, and strikes in 1967. That abrupt ending left the work of Portis for the paper—not to mention that of illustrious alumni in addition to Wolfe and Breslin, like Dorothy Thompson, Dick Schaap, Red Smith, Lewis Lapham, Virgil Thomson, and Art Buchwald—as an orphan of the eventual Internet age, consigned to microfilm, undigitized; and even so, the microfilm is scarce. Some Internet billionaire would do literature, history, and journalism a great service by funding a project to convert the Herald Tribune ’s microfilm to a searchable digital archive.
Finally and most obviously, a significant reason for the obscurity of Portis’s journalism is the same one that caused his novels (other than True Grit ) to go out of print for a time: what some have called his reclusiveness, perhaps more accurately described as his desire to do the work of fiction rather than talk about it or promote it. Since leaving the Herald Tribune and returning to Arkansas in 1964, he has toiled away at an oeuvre that led Ron Rosenbaum to call him “the most original, indescribable sui generis talent overlooked by literary culture in America.” Novelist Ed Park, in a long essay in The Believer in 2003, asserted that Portis has written “five remarkable, deeply entertaining novels (three of them surely masterpieces, though which three is up for debate).” Portis politely declines most interview requests, but when he has spoken to me of his time as a journalist, he modestly underplays his efforts (while stressing how well he was treated by his employers and fondly recalling talented colleagues). Perhaps for him, the practice of the newspaperman, despite his skill at it, was too much like that of the journalist ants, which “coat. facts with a kind of nacreous glaze.” In the art of the novel, he better found his own imaginative, uncoated truth.
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True Grit Vs Old Man And The Sea
Comparative Essay Between The Old Man and the Sea and True Grit The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway, a simply written novel of an old man s.
In the novel True Grit by Charles Portis, there is a character by the name of Thomas Cheney. Tom is a character with many traits, almost all negative. Amongst them, the three best ways to describe the character Tom Chaney are as a heartless, miserable and hypocritical man.
First off, he is a heartless man because he does not have to think twice about pushing Mattie into the pit full of snakes. How cruel do you have to be, to place harm on a young innocent girl? He shows no mercy when it comes to doing whatever it is he needs to do to escape as a free man. For Example, in the book, there is an intense scene where Mattie thinks that she has defeated Chaney, but he comes back and pushes her into a pit full off rattlesnakes when she is not alert. Tom says, �I warrant there will be another one before spring! A little spindly one� (Portis 284)! He shows no remorse watching Mattie struggle to get away from the venomous snakes ;he even has the nerve to make a joke about it! This clearly showing that he is a heartless, cold-blooded man with no feeling towards others including women and children is sickening.
Secondly, he is a very miserable man, shown in many ways. There are many instances where he is shown depressed. He thinks that all of the other bandits are just using him. For instance, on top of the mountain at the secret hideout, they leave him to watch over Mattie. He gets so depressed and beats himself up over the fact that they just ditched him with all of the stolen money. Cheney says, �I fear he has no idea of paying me. I believe he has left me, knowing I am sure to be caught when I leave on foot� (Carter
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T he cult novelist Charles McColl Portis, who wrote True Grit, Gringos and the comedy classic The Dog of the South, was born in El Dorado, Arkansas, on December 28, 1933. This article was first published in 2011.
Rooster Cogburn, the charismatic rogue played by Jeff Bridges in the Coen Brothers entertaining 2011 film True Grit, is fearsome enough – a one-eyed, whiskey-guzzling, trigger-happy US marshal. But his creator, Charles Portis, the reclusive and somewhat forgotten American novelist who wrote the 1968 book on which the film is based, wasn’t someone to mess with either.
“A reporter from The Times wanted to arm-wrestle, and as I recall, he kept challenging me,” Portis once revealed in a rare interview with Roy Reed for the Little Rock Gazette. “So we went at it and there was a pop. His arm broke. Very strange. He went into a kind of swoon.”
Known only as “Buddy” to his friends, Portis was born in El Dorado, Arkansas in 1933, to Samuel Palmer Portis, a seventh son, and Alice, the daughter of a Methodist minister and one of 11 children. He had a bucolic upbringing across the state in Mount Holly, a dream of a place where “flying squirrels glided across [the] front yard” and watermelons were left floating in the creeks to cool. Mount Holly had two schools – one for blacks, one for whites – and a backdrop of interesting characters included moonshiners and bootleggers.
Many of his early days were spent swimming outdoors with friends and poring over the adventures of “forgotten comic book heroes like Plastic Man and The Sand Man”.
Films were another favourite escape, especially at the “shabby and disreputable Star cinema” in El Dorado, where he would watch westerns. A droll, deadpan humour, evident throughout Portis’s novels, was a family trait. “The Portises were talkers rather than readers or writers,” he said. “[There was] a lot of cigar smoke and laughing when my father and his brothers got together. Long anecdotes.”
A valuable first edition of True Grit Credit: Rex Features
H e signed up to the Marines and fought in the Korean War. On his return to the United States, he took a major in journalism at the University of Arkansas and became a reporter in 1958. He was put on the night police beat, covering State Fair stories and ice storms and waiting for the occasional murder. “I didn’t care for beat reporting, covering the same thing day after day – short attention span,” he admitted.
It was the era of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X and Portis had to cover the civil rights turmoil, noting interestingly that “some of it was the Civil War being replayed as farce”.
After three years in Little Rock, Portis moved on to the Herald-Tribune, working for three years in New York before his spell in London.
John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn Credit: Rex Features
B ased near the Savoy Hotel, he combined reporting with his duties as bureau chief. He was amused rather than annoyed by the constant clicks of the telephones that indicated British intelligence were tapping his calls. He also dealt with Downing Street, as he remembered: “The Prime Minister was Sir Alec Douglas-Home. He gave us – a handful of American correspondents – one or two off-the-record interviews and spoke of Lyndon Johnson as, 'your, uh, rather racy president’, referring, I suppose, to Johnson’s barnyard humour.”
He quickly became disillusioned with the whole business of “management comedies”. As he says: “I wanted to try my hand at fiction, so I gave notice and went home to America.”
That was in November 1964. Four years later, he had published True Grit to widespread acclaim. Roald Dahl – who rarely reviewed books – wrote in praise for the American first edition dust jacket:
“True Grit is the best novel to come my way for a very long time. I was going to say it was the best novel to come my way since…Then I stopped. Since what? What book has given me greater pleasure in the last five years? Or in the last 20? I do not know. I expect some have, but I cannot recall them right now. Marvellous it is. He hasn’t put a foot wrong anywhere. What a writer!”
The book is written as a world-weary spinster’s account of the events of 1873, when, as a spiky 14 year-old, she avenged her father’s murder. Portis’s language is blunt but poetic. The murderer, Tom Chaney, was “a short man with cruel features”. Rooster Cogburn, the flawed hero, “a pitiless man who loves to pull a cork”.
Barbra Streisand presented John Wayne with his Oscar for Best Actor for True Grit Credit: AP
P assing characters are dissected: one is “a long-backed man with a doorknob head and a mouth full of prominent teeth”, another is a gossip who “could no more keep her mouth closed than can a yellow catfish”. The action rattles along and events are seen in the hard, unsentimental eye that Cormac McCarthy would assume a few decades later.
The first film adaptation, starring John Wayne, was made in 1969 and when Portis visited the set he marvelled at the way Wayne and Robert Duvall blew up and stormed off – only to return as though nothing had happened.
The original film, though, lacks the book’s charm and power – something the Coen brothers captured far more successfully, a success reflected in the 10 Oscar nominations the film received. Jeff Bridges, the new Rooster Cogburn, says: “The Coens mentioned the idea of doing a western to me years ago, and I thought that sounded interesting, and then when I got the script and it was True Grit I was surprised. Then I read the book and it made perfect sense. It’s very Coen-esque.”
It's also funny how many people you come across who are Portis fans. Writer Roddy Doyle and country music singer Tom Russell have both separately urged me to read The Dog of the South. In November 2014 the comedian and Better Call Saul actor Bob Odonkirk gave an interview in the New York Times saying that Portis is one of his favourite authors ("and I love True Grit as read by Donna Tartt in the audiobook," he added).
Despite the enormous success of True Grit, decades would pass before Portis’s next, The Dog of the South, hit the shelves. It is a comic masterpiece.
But Portis, who turned 80 in 2013, has all but disappeared from the public eye. Portis has not published a book since Gringos in 1991 and declines requests for interviews.
“Talking about himself is something that would feel false," William Whitworth, the former editor of The Atlantic and his old friend, said of Portis. “It would be like asking him to stand up and sing like Frank Sinatra."