Charles R. Jackson
BiographySummit, New Jersey, USA
Charles Jackson was born in 1903 into a wholly dysfunctional family in Summit, New Jersey. His father skipped out on the family when he was 10 and the boy completed his elementary education in Newark, then began college at Syracuse University but abruptly quit. Despite never completing college, Jackson had a passion for literature and at various times into the late 1920s found himself working at bookstores, editing weekly newspapers and taking various jobs in repertory theaters. Read more... was tormented by sexual ambivalence. Clearly Jackson was inclined toward homosexuality but found himself unable to accept the fact. He contracted tuberculosis in 1927 and while recovering in a Pennsylvania sanitarium, read Thomas Mann's "The Magic Mountain" and decided to move to Europe. Jackson spent a year in Switzerland and on the French Riviera drinking heavily and in poor health. Upon his return to New York he obtained work at CBS Radio as a staff writer and eventually married an editor at Fortune Magazine, Rhoda Booth. The years prior to WW2 were his most productive, and although dogged by alcoholism, he knocked out several well-received short stories including, "Palm Sunday," and "Rachel's Summer" before creating his most-famous novel, "The Lost Weekend" (Farrar and Rinehart; 1944). The book is essentially Charles Jackson as protagonist Don Birnam on a four-day weekend bender in 1936. Remarkably, it contains several insights into his own tormented psyche and provides strong hints into events that occurred in his own life. Birnam is ejected from a fraternity over an infatuation with an upper classman and, while not shying away from his addiction, permits himself to be seen as worthy of some sort of redemption which can never be achieved. The book met with excellent reviews and became a best-seller, thanks to being chosen as a Book-of-the-Month Club selection. No one was more shocked, however, than Jackson when Paramount Pictures bought the film rights on the urging of its star director Billy Wilder, who had read the book on a cross-country train trip. Wilder himself was no alcoholic, but was peripherally exposed to the disease through his writing partner, Charles Brackett, whose wife and daughter suffered from the disease (curiously, Wilder had just wrapped up production of the classic Double Indemnity (1944) and spent months dealing with the alcohol-fueled genius of Raymond Chandler). Despite the loud objections of the liquor industry and the Hays Office, Wilder plunged ahead with the $1.2-million production, compromising on a few points: censorship demanded changes in the depiction of a female character in Birnam's favorite watering hole and he caved to the studio's demands of casting a star in the lead role. His initial choice of José Ferrer, a stage actor then unknown outside of New York, morphed into Ray Milland, who balked at the assignment. Milland held no fondness for booze, but his wife correctly saw it as a career-defining part and he delved into it. Wilder and Brackett arguably improved on the novel on several points but drastically altered the ending, having Birnam beginning an autobiographical novel of his tortured long-lost weekend instead of the far bleaker alcoholic relapse depicted in the book. At any respect, the movie was a huge hit and garnered 4 Oscars. Moreover, the proceeds from the book and film provided Jackson with a lifelong income. He continued to write sporadically over the next 24 years, publishing his final novel, "A Second Hand Life" in 1967. Sadly, Jackson never escaped the grip of alcoholism and whatever private torments he carried from within, committing suicide in 1968.