Part I: Summer, 1956
From “Pamela Moore + 40″ by Robert Nedelkoff
The Baffler Magazine , Issue 10, 1997
In the summer of 1956, the hottest thing going in American fiction publishing – as well as the book industries of Western Europe and England – was the slim oeuvre of a 21-year-old Frenchwoman named Francoise Sagan. Her first book, Bonjour Tristesse, written at the age of eighteen, had caused a sensation in her native land in 1954 and had soon been translated into English, rocketing up the American and British bestseller lists the next year, settling in at number one, and making the title such a catchphrase that not even Hollywood could bring itself, when Jean Seberg starred in the film version in 1958, to change the title to Goodbye Sorrow or even Bye Bye Blues.
During that summer it was clear that Sagan’s second book, Une Certaine Sourire, would do even better, as it piled up the largest advance sale for its publisher, E.P. Dutton, since the 1920s. American houses, agog at the figures, were conducting an intense search for the domestic equivalent of the free-spirited writer famed for driving a sports car barefoot. Such a novelist, given that her subject matter would be the pleasures and problems of youth, could also count on comparisons to J.D. Salinger, whose following had only just begun to exceed cult status. (It was in this year that the first censorship fracas involving The Catcher In The Rye erupted when a college professor was dismissed for assigning it to his students.)
It fell to Rinehart & Company, publishers of Norman Mailer’s first two books, to find the American Sagan. She turned out to be the obigatory adolescent – her book, in fact, came out three weeks before her nineteenth birthday. She was precocious in other ways as well, being a senior in college when her book came out, and having entered the world of higher education a month shy of sixteen. Her academic majors, rather than the expected English or “creative writing,” were ancient and medieval history (with an emphasis on military history) and, for her minors, Roman Law and Greek – with straight A’s. She had acted in summer stock, and, as the daughter of a magazine editor, could be expected to handle publicity with aplomb. Her alma mater, Barnard, struck just the right note of cutting-edge elitism. Best of all, her book was set in the world of the rich, spoiled haute monde – what had been called “Cafe Society” in the ’30s, and had only just acquired the handle “Jet Set.” Her name was Pamela Moore, and her book was Chocolates For Breakfast.
Pamela was born on September 22, 1937, in New York, the daughter of two writers. Her father, Don Moore, was 32 at the time. He was the son of an Iowa newspaper publisher; in 1925, he had graduated second in his class at Dartmouth. In the late ’20s he had edited Edgar Rice Burroughs and other pulp writers at Argosy All-Story Weekly, then signed on with Hearst’s King Features Syndicate as writer for a new comic strip drawn by Alex Raymond (who’d just finished doing a G-man strip written by Dashiell Hammett.) The strip was Flash Gordon, and Moore wrote it, as well as Jungle Jim, until 1954, with time out for trips to Hollywood to work on the serial versions of the two strips.
Sometime in the ’30s, Don Moore married a young woman named Isabel Walsh. She already had a daughter, Elaine, who took her stepfather’s name. Isabel was a writer as well, specializing in syrupy stories and advice-filled articles for women’s magazines, among them Redbook and Cosmopolitan. For Rinehart, her daughter’s future publisher, she wrote three novels in the early ’40s, with titles like The Other Woman and I’ll Never Let You Go. Just after World War II, Don and Isabel Moore split up. In later years, Isabel devoted herself to supervising the show-horse riding career of her daughter Elaine, who won a number of championships in the ’40s before retiring to settle, raise a family, and run a stable in Cooperstown, New York. Pamela shuttled back and forth between parents in these years: her mother in New York, where Isabel edited Photoplay for some years; her father, mostly in Hollywood, where he supplemented his King Features earnings by working as a story editor for RKO and Warner Brothers. Both of Pamela’s parents moved in a world defined by columnists: Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons on one coast, and Walter Winchell and Dorothy Kilgallen on the other. It was a world where childhood had to be cultivated like an orchid in a greenhouse if it was to happen at all. For Pamela Moore the situation was a tragic one: childhood succeeded maturity rather than preceding it. One of the most poignant aspects of her first novel, indeed, is the curious perspective of age with which the narrator describes her protagonist: “Years later, Courtney would remember…” or “As a grown woman, Courtney would realize…” When Pamela wrote these words she was seventeen; the character ages from fifteen to sixteen in the course of the book. Through the fictive and narrative personas of Chocolates For Breakfast, its author essentially pleas, over and over: I don’t understand how one endures these things now, but one day, when I’m older and wiser….Her subsequent books show how far she was from ever reaching that status, as woman or writer.