News & Politics

The Changing World of Bill Manville


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November 1, 1962, Vol. VIII, No. 2

The Changing World of Bill Manville

By John Wilcock

It’s been much too long since Bill Manville, creator of “Saloon Society,” last appeared in these pages, but he hasn’t been drinking his life away — at least no more than is necessary to stay attuned to his particular milieu. His first novel, “Breaking Up” (Simon & Schuster, $3.95), which is about a disastrous marriage, was published a few weeks ago, and he’s working on a second, theme not yet announced.

In the meantime, his book “Saloon Society” (Duell, Sloan & Pearce, $4.95), which was put together from the original Voice columns, has been adapted for a Broadway musical by Stewart Meyers and novelist Rona Jaffe. Book and lyrics are complete, music is still to come, and the production is tentatively set for next fall.

Meyers, a trade-magazine publisher and among the earliest of off-Broadway impresarios with a now long-defunct theatre, says that one of the earliest problems he faced was how to tell the audience who Saloon Society characters are. “Bill’s people are not angry young men,” he explains, “they look back in laughter; and yet they represent a little world of their own with a distinctive set of attitudes and dialogue. Both Rona and I are determined to recreate that world accurately — a world of reality utterly unlike the world that Damon Runyon created with his Disney-like hoods.”

Manville’s biggest asset, in my opinion, is his own ability to bridge the gap between life as we really know it and as it is presented to us via the arts, and that is why I have high hopes for the success of a movie, “Headlong,” for which Bill has written the script, and which will be produced by a friend of mine, Stan Russell.

Says Stan, a former RKO editor who recently made a short for the State Department which is now touring Russia: “When most of us go to the cinema it is with the hope that we shall gain some insight into the way other people manage to cope with the same day-to-day problems and circumstances that we have to handle ourselves.

“Usually we come away with a feeling of disappointment, part of which is attributable to the bland emotions which are permitted by the Establishment. The unique quality of Manville’s Saloon Society pieces is that they are relatively free of guilt. His characters pursue pleasure openly, wantonly, defiantly, and experience all the pains and sorrows that all of us experience in that pursuit, without the false guilt and remorse experienced by that articulate, repressed minority who exert great pressure on all of our means of communication.”

…What does Bill himself have to say about all this success — and potential success? Though I see him quite a lot at parties these days, I wrote to ask him that and various other questions — notably what he keeps in his refrigerator (to bear out a theory of mine that what’s in a man’s icebox reflects, to some degree, what’s in his mind). Bill’s reply:

“Fascinating that you should ask me the contents of my ice-box. I have 93 different kinds of vitamin pills…not the synthetic vitamins but the real organic pills: rose hips, kelp, dessicated liver, bone meal, etc. In fact, taking all these different kinds of pills is one of the principal ways in which I pass the time; it means a great deal to me. I have to take them since I’ve stopped eating. The name of the next book I’ll write is going to be ‘Booze Calories Don’t Count.’

“I’m determined to look haunted and neurotic if it is published and so just go without food. Lost eighteen pounds so far. I’m shooting for another ten — or perhaps beri-beri. People come from miles around to watch me not eat. I drink a lot, though, and go dancing often. I have some scallions left over from an old love affair (she liked to cook, so she’s out) and the manuscript of a new novel I’ve started, but I’m deadly afraid of losing this in a fire.”

As you can see, he hasn’t changed.

[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956. John Wilcock is still going strong at]


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