Noah Gordon, 95, Dies; American Novelist With an Audience Overseas

Noah Gordon a Massachusetts native died Thursday at his home in Lisbon, Portugal, after a brief illness. He was 95.

Gordon was born in Boston on 6 January 1921, and attended high school in Savannah, Georgia. A prior marriage to Elizabeth Morton endures to this day, and they have two children. Gordon and his family lived in Savannah and Boston, respectively, when he graduated from Harvard University in 1942 and 1946.

Noah Gordon, 1 of the Only 3 Unpublished Booker Prize Nominees and the Librarian of Belsize Park Read more

In the war Gordon served in France, and his experiences left him with a deep respect for what men would do to survive, whether they were wearing the same uniform as themselves or in the same battles. Although he never heard the stories of those he fought with, he knew stories were being written of them. Some would become World War II novels and many would become oral histories by others. Gordon’s later novel account of the US Marines during the Korean War (Shadow of a Chance), about two African Americans of mixed race, inspired some Korean war oral histories.

In 1948 Gordon returned to Harvard as a writer-in-residence, and was interested in continuing to try his hand at writing novels. He was part of a quarter that included John Updike, John Berendt, and Robert Stone. Stone had published several nonfiction books, and was featured as a New Yorker contributor. As Gordon said of Stone in his autobiography, “To borrow From Mark Twain, Stone is a playwright who thinks he’s a novelist.” Gordon and Stone collaborated on American Moon (1950) and a series of books called “Old Bill” that chronicled the soldiers of the 2nd Marine Division. Although only a trilogy, the books captured the entire history of the Marines in the Pacific, and the vastness of the territory. Gordon also published a novel, Into Stars, in 1956, and wrote a nonfiction book titled Requiem for a Killing – a term Gordon found quite appropriate as an insider’s look at the Vietnam war.

Noah Gordon, 95, Dies; American Novelist With an Audience Overseas

The novelist Jerry Pepinsky described Gordon as “a librarian who had decided to write,” and Gordon elaborated in his autobiography: “I felt a bit of a genius.” A rare talent, Gordon’s writing was interrupted by five months of World War II service.

Gordon started work on Darkness on the Edge of Town (1953), a novel about a private eye looking into the death of a man, at the age of 31. Gordon, who was recruited from a Boston classroom, was the only writer to win the Monitor Literary Critic’s award in 1952, along with Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Darkness on the Edge of Town was his first book to be published in America. But the career of Gordon and American fiction would receive a boost when the novel was optioned by Walt Disney for a live-action feature film. This was the first novel that had been optioned for production. Darkness on the Edge of Town was later turned into an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents on television.

A month after Dark Side of Town’s publication, Gordon published Stephen and Susan Brownlee’s novel Sanctified at Calais. The set-up of the novel is familiar, a private eye looking into the death of a soldier. The Canadian novel was recognized by many as being a precursor to Dashiell Hammett’s character Sam Spade. Stephen and Susan Brownlee’s novel lost the dubious honor of being the first novel ever optioned for the movie by the Disney Corporation, however. The novel was turned into the Jack Benny television special The Lovely Ladies of Satirie Lane, starring Crosby and Crawford.

Noah Gordon, the very first novel to be optioned for film by the Walt Disney Corporation Read more

Gordon’s novel Tiffany Rhoades, the Rape of the Sabine Women (1957) did not receive the same attention or acclaim as his earlier novels. He completed four more novels (Voyage to Wilmiston, Mysterious Island, The Dance of Stars, and Dreamer) that received book reviews and some publicity; later he published a novel each year.

Noah Gordon with Walt Disney at their movie option

Gordon ultimately sold his interest in Stephen and Susan Brownlee’s novel into deal with the novel’s publisher, and later became the director of Dean’s Library at Harvard University. His life was full of interesting and inspiring things, most notably many major accomplishments and a determination to tell as many stories as

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