An excerpt from the upcoming book by Armando Nieto, Mary Conrad, and Matt Pallamary: The Santa Barbara Writers Conference Scrapbook — Words of Wisdom from Thirty Years of Literary Excellence 1973 – 2003
In 1977 Star Wars hit theaters for the first time and became the second highest-grossing film of all time while Saturday Night Fever sparked a disco inferno and the popularity of movie soundtrack. Elvis Presley died at Graceland, his Memphis, Tennessee home at age 42.
The correspondence between Barnaby and his writing pals is the stuff of legends. The following exchange between Jessica (Decca) Mitford and Barny discussing compensation is a classic that really captures the wit, talent, and essence of Barnaby Conrad.
“Robert Frost said blank verse is like playing tennis with the net down;
So I hope this won’t be too much of a let-down
But hereafter I am going to drop the pose
And go back to good old prose.
I’m done—you’ve clearly won
I wish you would
Not write so good.
As a poetaster
I’m sheer disaster.
But, unpoetically, we offer to you
300 Bucks plus a room with a view.
(And not such a bad one, Hon,
The view’s of Georgie Plimpton!)
As an added inducement to join our club,
One hundred clams to spend on grub,
This time the meals are reproachless
And, hopefully, the bedroom is roachless.
And now here’s a threat, dear Decca
If you don’t set aside
Your fiscal pride
We’ll dredge up Faithey Baldwish—to hear HER side!!!”
Said Decca (Jessica) Mitford in reply, on a postcard of Dartmoor Prison in England:
I might like to play,
But what is the pay?
Here’s where you’ll be
If I don’t get my fee.
(See over: A
Community, English style,)
Much love, etc. to Mary,
Your money grubbing old friend.”
To which Barnaby responded:
“Dear Money Grubbing Olde Friend:
You are the living end!
So, hooray, hooray, hooray!
But—about this here pay:
With another Oaklander I must agree
That a fee’s a fee’s a fee.
But you must be wary
Of institutions eliomosonary
(of which this is not only one
but quite possibly the champion!)
Our honorarium has very little honor in it,
But your son can always tune a spinet.
Agree, it is ludicrous payola—
Still, it suits Clifton, Ray and Gayola.
Michener was really nifty—
He paid his travel and charged us only fifty
And I’ll swear by any Gideon
You’re getting as much as Joanie Didion
Ross and Buddd, Eudora and Haley
Waived their fees and did it gailey.
Only Charlie Schulz was a little poopy
His fee?—a case of Alpo for his Snoopy.
We wish ya would
be like Isherwood
Why not say to yourself, Decc—
What the heck
to hell with the pay”
I’ll join the fray
And save the day.
Cause if you don’t accept our generous offer of
Pelf, lodging and grog beside,
We’ll offer the place so rightfully yours to the editor of
Gasket and Sunnyside!
Please Dear Decca, think on it and think again
Just remember: three hundred American dollars is five
thousand 200 and ninety-six yen!!
Edgar Guest Conrad”
So, what could Decca say?:
“But I’m not welty, like Eudora,
I wish you’d be a little more, a-
Menable—in fact, I wish you would
Pay me what you save on Isherwood.
For what you save on Sidney Stebel
I really think you should be able
To enlarge your paltry fees
For me and Kurt and Gay Telese [sic].
And what about old Bradbury (Ray)?
I bet he gets astronomic pay.
But anyhow, I’ll comy your way
If not for a week, at least for a day
Love to all, Decca
p.s. I see you offer free sea air
And (unless it’s improved) plain prison fare.
A dip in the surf and a walk on the turf
Plus spectral visits from Bennett Cerf.”