Print Friendly and PDF With Strings Attached: 84, Charing Cross Road: 60 years ago today, and my follow up

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

84, Charing Cross Road: 60 years ago today, and my follow up

From today's edition of "The Writer's Almanac"
"It was on this day in 1949 that Helene Hanff wrote her third letter from New York City to a used bookshop at 84 Charing Cross Road, London. It was the beginning of a flirtatious epistolary friendship across the Atlantic that lasted for 20 years and revolved around classic literature. The letters were collected into 84, Charing Cross Road, a book Hanff published in 1970 and later adapted for the London stage, into a Broadway production, and into a film starring Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins (1987).....
"After 20 years of corresponding with Frank Doel, Hanff received a letter from the bookstore that he had passed away. She had never made it to London nor met him in person. The day in 1969 that she found in her mailbox the news of his death, she also found a rejection slip for a play script she'd submitted.
"She decided then that she was going to share the story of her correspondence, but figured it would be in a magazine article. But in 1971, she ended up publishing the letters in a slim book, just 97 pages long. It was a huge success (though no one had really expected it to be) and became a best-seller. The Wall Street Journal said of her book: 'A real-life love story … A timeless period piece. DO READ IT.'"

In 1981 I created a booktalk based on Helene Hanff's three books: 84, The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, and Q's Legacy. My booktalk included her reply to a fan letter that I had written her (I still have the letter) and an article she wrote for Reader's Digest about the success of 84 in which she mentioned the number of books people sent her (c/o the address in the book, which was several apartments prior to where she lived then), not thinking to enclose return postage, and the reviewer who suggested that people sent her money to help fund a trip to England (which they did, and she did).

In 1990 I was co-chairman of the Maine Library Assn. annual conference. I thought I'd invite Ms. Hanff to be the speaker at the banquet. That was before websites and e-mail, of course. I went to the library's collection of telephone books and, yes, she was in the Manhattan directory. So I called her -- and she answered! In an evocative throaty (smoker/drinker, most likely) New York accent, she said that she appreciated the invitation but was unable to travel.

I confess that I haven't seen the stage play or the movie. I like the mental pictures that reading these charming books provides.

1 comment:

  1. I saw the post in today's Writer's Almanac as well. I loved '84' and 'Duchess'. Was a little disappointed in the film, but it was basically a filming of the stage play, and those kinds of movies are always a little disappointing to me. The film did delve a little more into Frank's family life, details that the reader doesn't really learn about until Helene finally reaches London in 'Duchess.' Such small books, but so satisfying. All of us who are in love with books can identify.


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