Part II: A Brief Career
From “Pamela Moore + 40″ by Robert Nedelkoff
The Baffler Magazine , Issue 10, 1997
Rinehart, as noted, snapped up Chocolates For Breakfast, and, following a careful publicity campaign, unleashed it on the world in September 1956. It attracted attention at once, and no wonder. The first chapter depicts Courtney Farrell, the heroine, and Janet Parker, her best friend, sitting “with their clothes off” (as the book’s second paragraph pointedly informs the reader) in their prep-school dorm, while arguing over whether Courtney is stumbling into a lesbian relationship with her English teacher. Before many pages have passed, Courtney is attempting to lose her virginity to a pretty-boy acquaintance of her fading movie-star mother at the Garden of Allah in Hollywood – the onetime home of F. Scott Fitzgerald, as the author notes. True, Pamela does prudently postpone the virginity-losing until Courtney has safely reached sixteen, but the book’s impact was still enormous, given the moral climate of 1956, when the Legion of Decency condemned Baby Doll while there were whisperings about a reputedly pornographic paperback from Paris called Lolita.
“Not very long ago, it would have been regarded as shocking to find girls in their teens reading the kind of books they’re now writing,” observed Robert Clurman of Chocolates in the New York Times Book Review’s literary-news column — and that was before publication. Newsweek’s reviewer presciently observed: “She may well be part of a trend among publishers to start a new cycle of youth problem novels, as told by the young – a kind of literary parallel to the more overt delinquencies of the switchblade hoodlums.”
The novel went into two printings before publication and scraped onto the bottom of some hardcover bestseller lists for a few weeks in September and October 1956. The comparisons to Francoise Sagan continued, though William Hogan of the San Francisco Chronicle noted that Pamela’s “dabblings” in sex were not as “blatant” as the French writer’s. He also remarked: “It would appear that Miss Moore had hoped…to become the female J.D. Salinger.” This was one of the very first instances of a comparison made countless times since for countless writers.
In the weeks prior to the appearance of her book, Pamela had, in fortuitously Salingerian fashion, traveled to Paris for her senior year of study and made herself unavailable for interviews with the American press. Instead, she busied herself studying the “strategy and tactics of European warfare” in a tour of battlefields, which struck the journalists of that time as an entertaining eccentricity in a young woman. But after publication, she juggled her studies with being, in her words, “caught between the American public and journalists who wanted to know about my love life, and my college friends studying creative writing who condemned me as ‘commercial.’” Publishers were deluged by manuscripts by young women seeking to imitate her, as she had been thought to be imitating Sagan (though the Fitzgerald of This Side Of Paradise was clearly her most important model). As much as the best-known of her counterparts in the ’80s, she was a star. And, all over the country, young mothers and fathers began naming their daughters Courtney.
It seems worthwhile to note here that Pamela Moore’s one permanent contribution to American culture was in the area of nomenclature. In all the name-your-baby books published before 1960 that I’ve seen, Courtney appears exclusively as a male name of French or Norman origin; prior to 1956, it was a not uncommon Christian name for men in England and the southern United States. But every female Courtney that this writer has known or heard of, in fact, was born in 1958 or afterwards – that is, during or immediately after the period that Chocolates began to sell in paperback. In high school and college I encountered a number of Courtneys born from 1958 until 1960; thereafter, for four years – a time when the book was out of print; the name appears to have dropped off in frequency, then reappeared, with a vengeance, in 1964 when a new printing of Chocolates arrived. The name has maintained its popularity since then, as a star of the nation’s most popular sitcom, and another woman, one of this mighty land’s twenty-five most influential citizens (according to Time), can respectively attest. The Guinness Book Of Names includes a survey showing that through the ’90s Courtney has consistently ranked among the twenty names most frequently given to female infants in America.
Pamela Moore was still in Paris “to find my identity” (as she later wrote in her Contemporary Authors entry) when Bantam issued Chocolates in paperback in May 1957. That edition sold nearly 600,000 copies in the second half of that year, and, had Pamela returned to America at that point, might have consolidated her celebrity. (Another thing that would have completed her fame would have been a movie version of the book, but no such film was made, perhaps because the moguls regarded her unsentimental view of Hollywood in the same way they thought of the depictions offered before by Budd Schulberg, Horace McCoy and Nathanael West.) Pamela’s reasons for going to Europe were clear; like the heroine of her book, she wanted to be taken seriously, not only as a writer but as a person. In an American where the burgeoning cult of the nymphet was shortly to make an obscure Cornell professor rich and famous, she was clearly not going to be allowed to grow up easily. Things were different in Europe. There, Chocolates For Breakfast not only made the bestseller lists but was favorably reviewed in both Italy and France, whose pundits warmed unexpectedly to a novel which was ostensibly an imitation of one of their own writers. In America, the public wanted to know about Pamela’s boyfriends and eating habits; “in Paris,” she observed, “they wanted to know my politics and metaphysics.”
Her timing was fortuitous; the first stirrings of the Beat movement, in the form of “Howl,” On The Road, and contraband chapters of Naked Lunch, were already before the public, and the “alternative” culture that continues to beguile aging columnists and sell running shoes was in its nascent stages. In Europe, Pamela Moore was perceived as part of this culture. She spent 1957 and the first months of 1958 explaining herself in the press and on radio and television in France and Italy. She was even listed in a multivolume literary encyclopedia published by the prestigious Milan house of Mondadori in 1961. The entry includes a photograph of her posing in what must have been a local TV producer’s idea of a Greenwich Village coffeehouse, complete with guitarist, mazes of cigarette smoke, flattened paperbacks, and black-clad denizens.
In the spring of 1958 she returned to America. But she was not interested in resuming her career as a celebrity. She got married instead. Her husband, Adam Kanarek, was of Polish-Jewish origin, and had very little in common with the residents of Beverly Hills, the Westchester horse set, and the habitues of “21″ and the Stork Club. The couple settled down in New York, and he was soon attending law school.
Meanwhile, Pamela’s parents continued their quasi-literary labors. Don Moore published his only book, The Naked Warriors, about Navy frogmen, in 1956. And Isabel Moore began publishing novels again, with paperback houses — most notably (under the name Elaine Dorian) The Sex Cure, a version of Peyton Place set in Cooperstown. The book inspired her famously image-conscious neighbors to daub her house with paint. Isabel also studied for a Ph.D. at Columbia, traveled in Russia, and published, in 1961, The Day The Communists Took Over America, a novel which, despite its Red Scare title and semi-pulp style, is a somewhat sophisticated treatment of a resurgent Klan and neo-Nazis stirring up homegrown genocide.
By early 1959 Pamela, with her husband’s encouragement, had resumed writing. She completed her second novel quickly; the use of a diary in the book’s final pages suggests one source for her facility as a stylist. It was submitted to American publishers and rejected — unsurprisingly, since in terms of theme, style, and characterization, it was very different from Chocolates For Breakfast, and none but the most understanding publisher or editor is keen on such a step from a writer, especially when the earlier book has been the bonanza that Pamela’s was. Instead, it was issued by her French publisher, Julliard, as Les Pigeons de Saint Marc in 1960, as as East Side Story by Longmans in the UK in 1961. The reviews were still favorable in France; in England, the book received a one-paragraph notice in the Times Literary Supplement and scarce notice elsewhere. When Chocolates For Breakfast‘s paperback sales began to slacken in America by the end of 1960, the awful truth was clear: Pamela Moore, a few months past twenty-three, was a has-been, as completely a relic of an era as coonskin caps or prime-time quiz shows.
Still, she was a writer, so she kept on writing. In 1962, L’Exil de Suzy-Coeur appeared, only in France, and she traveled with her husband to France, where she gave some interviews to Paris-Match and Le Figaro Litteraire. Soon after this came what must have been hopeful news: Simon & Schuster accepted her fourth book, The Horsy Set. At the very end of the year she became pregnant. Things were going well, and given that Pamela Moore appears to have been suffering from bipolar disorder (her description of Courtney Farrell’s mood swings in Chocolates is precise enough that a psychiatrist reading the book today might find it difficult to refrain from a long-distance diagnosis), it would have been preferable for things to stay that way, given the absence of meaningful therapy for such a condition in that era.
But things did not continue to go well. The Horsy Set, a story set in the wealthy, decadent world of show-horse racing in which her sister was such a prominent figure, received no notice in The New York Times, nor in any of the major newsmagazines or literary and cultural weeklies. What few reviews it received appeared in daily papers in those cities on the Gulf and Atlantic coastlines where show-horses were big news, presumably to let the locals know that they might figure as characters in a book. Hardcover sales were minimal. Dell issues a paperback Horsy Set at the end of 1963, in what must have been a large printing – it shows up in secondhand stores about as often as Chocolates. But that one printing remained in stock for nearly five years. (Also in 1963, Doubleday reprinted it, bound with a war novel by another writer, as part of a book-club series called “Stories For Men.”) Pamela’s bid for recognition as a serious writer had failed utterly; the publication of her third novel as The Exile of Suzy-Q in April 1964 by the second-rate house Paperback Library served only to underline this fact. The birth of a son, Kevin, and her husband’s admission to the bar were all the compensation for this misfortune that she received.
She kept writing. Her fifth novel was tentatively titled Kathy. Its protagonist was a washed-up writer, contemplating her failure. Pamela’s model, F. Scott Fitzgerald, had taken sixteen years to travel the path from This Side Of Paradise to “The Crack-Up;” she had covered the distance in less than half that time. Through the early months of 1964, as Chocolates was reissued and as stray readers in news shops and drugstores discovered she had some new books, she continued to work. One of the characters in her novel, according to Detective Robert Gosselin of the NYPD, “talked about marital difficulties and suicidal tendencies…there was a reference to that guy Hemingway and how he died.”
On Sunday, June 7, 1964, she reached the end of the line.
It was late afternoon. Her husband was out of the apartment. Her nine-month-old baby was asleep in the bedroom. She sat at the living room, at her desk, and wrote in her diary. “If you put it all together,” Detective Gosselin told the press the following day, “the last four pages, under the date June 7, indicate that she was having trouble with her writing and intended to destroy herself.” He said that the pages describes the rifle barrel feeling “cold and alien” in her mouth, and continued: “She wanted the last four pages, the suicide note, added to the novel she was working on.”
Pamela Moore finished writing, inserted a .22 caliber rifle into her mouth, and pulled the trigger. Her husband found her on the living room floor. She was three months short of twenty-seven.