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Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history

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Writer arrested for threatening wife with butcher knife, November 21 1958



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"Suddenly it seemed the whole panorama of his life was a race and he was running last.... There was something in him that had to come out. He had to find a way to get it out, to free himself of it. Something that would give him a chance to feel and know things. To blend all of the things which were in him: the matter, the spirit, the flesh."

--Thomas T. Chamales, "Go Naked in the World."

"Chamales is a writer who can and must write. Even his partial failures are more impressive than some fancy-Dan success we've seen in recent years."
--Robert Kirsch



If you were ever looking for a prototype of the alcoholic, brawling, self-destructive author, you might consider Thomas T. Chamales, a veteran of the OSS who wrote the 1957 bestseller "Never So Few," which The Times' Robert Kirsch called, "Easily one of the best novels to come out of World War II."

Before he died at the age of 35 when he was trapped in a burning apartment, Chamales wrote "No Rent in His Hand," an unpublished novel; another novel, "Go Naked Into the World"; a play, "Forget I Ever Lived"; an outline for screenplay, "The Mill"; and 550 pages of an unfinished novel titled "Run and Call It Living." 

He also spent a fair amount of time in jail during his stormy marriage to big band vocalist Helen O'Connell, whom he married in 1957, with novelist James Jones as best man.

In October 1958, Chamales and O'Connell had a violent argument at a Wilshire Boulevard restaurant, but police said she refused to press charges. A month later, O'Connell's 14-year-old daughter from a previous marriage called police from the family home at 445 Homewood Ave., to report that Chamales had threatened O'Connell with a butcher knife. While he was in jail on those charges, he was accused of passing a bad check in Florida.

In June 1959, he was fined $500 and given two years' probation for wife-beating and the next month, five LAPD officers showed up at the home to evict him.


He lived hard! He fought hard! And he fell hard!
And then, on the night of March 20, 1960, Chamales smoked his final cigarette. He was living in a fourth-floor apartment at 1441 S. Beverly Glen Blvd., and evidently fell asleep. The cigarette set the sofa on fire and soon the apartment was in flames. Firefighters found him on the floor in his shorts; blackened hand prints on the walls of the apartment showed where had desperately tried to find the door.

He was survived by a daughter from his marriage with O'Connell and two sons from a previous marriage.

Curiously, and perhaps tragically, Chamales' novels appear to be largely forgotten. "Never So Few," was made into a movie with Frank Sinatra, but the book is long out of print after being reissued in 1972.

The Wall Street Journal published this story about Gerald Chamales, one of the novelist's children, in 1998.

Update: The only copy of any of Chamales' books in the Los Angeles Public Library is in Spanish!

 
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Comments (1)

A "butcher-knife fracas"?

More evidence times have changed; just allowing that phrase to be printed in the LAT.


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