The Matchbox

Born in 1893, English author and poet Sylvia Townsend Warner wrote seven novels in her lifetime beginning with Lolly Willowes – the quirky tale of a lady who moves away from home following the death of her father and, as is often the case, takes up witchcraft – the book for which she is now

Let us blaze new trails

Bill Bernbach was one of the original Mad Men. A real-life Don Draper. One of the greats. In May of 1947, at which point he was 35 years of age and Creative Director at Grey Advertising on Fifth Avenue, he noticed a worrying development: as the agency grew in size, they were in danger of

My name is Sidney Poitier

In January of 1943, 15-year-old Sidney Poitier left his poverty-stricken family in Nassau and headed for the United States, the “land of opportunity,” in search of a better life for himself and, ultimately, his loved ones. Months of low-paying jobs in Miami followed, and then countless nights sleeping rough as he slowly made his way to Harlem. Once

With deepest sympathy, Fido

On April 12th of 1945, a few months before the end of World War II, the U.S. President of 12 years, Franklin Roosevelt, passed away after suffering a brain haemorrhage. He was 63-years-old. Nine days later, the following letter of condolence was printed in various newspapers, addressed to his beloved dog, Fala. It was written by Bob

Sin-sationally, Mae West

In 1942, midway through World War II, Hollywood actress Mae West discovered that RAF aircrew had taken to calling their life jackets “Mae Wests” — in part due to rhyming slang, and also as a result of their “bulging” shape when inflated. West, delighted to be playing even a minuscule part in proceedings, immediately wrote the following letter to the RAF. (Source: Air Force Association, 1943;

Shall we go together & look for her?

In April of 1948, having recently watched and been mesmerised by Open City and its sequel, Paisà, Oscar-winning actress Ingrid Bergman wrote a fan letter to the filmmaker responsible, Roberto Rossellini, and offered her acting services. That note can be read below, as can three passionate replies from Rossellini — the first an excited telegram sent in

You are not so kind as you used to be

It’s difficult to imagine the stress experienced by Winston Churchill in June of 1940, as WWII gathered pace just a couple of months after he first became Prime Minister. Behind the scenes, however, the weight on his shoulders was noticed and felt by all those around him — so much so that on the 27th of

The Great Sex Letter

On March 7th of 1947, a drunken Neal Cassady — the man on whom Dean Moriarty in On the Road would later be based — wrote the following letter to his friend, Jack Kerouac, and described two recent sexual encounters. Cassady’s uninhibited, free-flowing prose was a huge influence on Kerouac’s writing and this letter in

To Hell with Hitler

In 1940, a year after fleeing Nazi Germany and setting up home in New York, the writer of the following letter attempted to enlist with the U.S. Armed Forces; however, his application was denied for one incredible reason: his uncle was Adolf Hitler. He wasn’t deterred, and two years later, a few months after his

Sure, go ahead

In February of 1945, James Thurber — much-loved New Yorker cartoonist and author of, most notably, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty — delivered, quite brilliantly, a playful jab to his attorney and friend, Morris Ernst, by way of the following letter — written in response to a request from the lawyer to reprint some of Thurber’s drawings in a forthcoming book. (Source:

Sex does not thrive on monotony

In the 1940s, at which point she — along with a collective of other writers that included her lover, Henry Miller — was earning $1 per page writing erotic fiction for the private consumption of an anonymous client, author Anaïs Nin wrote the following passionate letter to the “Collector” and made known her frustrations — frustrations caused by his repeated insistence

American democracy will have disappeared

On May 2nd of 1940, a Reverend Leon M. Birkhead — National Director of “Friends of Democracy,” an organisation committed to combatting “anti-Semitic propaganda” — wrote to the author John Steinbeck with the following enquiry: I hope that you will not think I am impertinent, but our organization has had put up to it the problem of your nationality. You

God damn it, I split it so it will stay split

In January of 1947, renowned novelist Raymond Chandler wrote a letter to the editor of The Atlantic Monthly, Edward Weeks, primarily with regard to the title of a piece he had written for the magazine which was ultimately published the next year, titled, “Oscar Night in Hollywood.” It is the latter half of this letter,

1984 v. Brave New World

In October of 1949, a few months after publication of George Orwell‘s dystopian masterpiece, Nineteen Eighty-Four, he received a letter from fellow author Aldous Huxley, a man who, 17 years previous, had seen his own nightmarish vision of society published in the form of Brave New World, a book also now considered a classic. Having recently finished reading

I love my wife. My wife is dead.

Richard Feynman was one of the best-known and most influential physicists of his generation. In the 1940s, he played a part in the development of the atomic bomb; in 1986, as a key member of the Rogers Commission, he investigated the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster and identified its cause; in 1965, he and two colleagues

I feel happy tonight

On July 2nd of 1944, as she travelled by train from Chicago to San Francisco, author and aviator Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote the following beautiful letter to her husband, Charles Lindbergh — an aviation pioneer who, 17 years previously, in 1927, flew from New York to Paris in the Spirit of St. Louis to much acclaim. They remained

The love of a parasite is worth nothing

In May of 1948, author Ayn Rand received a letter from a fan named Joanne Rondeau. In it, she asked Rand to explain a sentence in her bestselling 1943 novel, The Fountainhead, which reads: To say ‘I love you’ one must first know how to say the ‘I’. Rand responded with the following letter. (Source:

Nor was there a stock comedy Negro

In 1943, Alfred Hitchcock approached author John Steinbeck and asked him to write the script for his next movie, Lifeboat. Steinbeck agreed, and quickly supplied the director with a novella. Over the coming months, Hitchcock gradually modified the story with the assistance of other writers, and in January of 1944, just before it premiered, Steinbeck

America is pretty empty without you kids

Groucho Marx wrote this lovely letter to U.S. troops stationed in Suriname in 1943, in response to a request from a Corporal Darrow to send a morale-boosting message. Groucho doesn’t disappoint, and cracks a couple of gentle jokes about life back home and his attempt to grow some vegetables; there are even a few genuinely

A bag of wind

George Orwell wrote the following letter to his publisher, Frederic Warburg, in 1948. At the time, he was valiantly attempting to finish the first draft of his latest novel whilst “under the influence of” tuberculosis, and was still undecided as to the book’s title. Sadly, that book — the incredible Nineteen Eighty-Four, published in June the next year — would

Why don’t you write a story?

Below is a short, sweet, and very impressive letter written by Elizabeth Taylor in reply to a note from a downbeat fan whose pet bird, “Chips,” had recently passed away. Her gentle advice to the young girl — to write a story about the late-pet — is admirable; even more notable, though, is the fact

Dear Mr. Vonnegut

In 1949, just a few years after surviving the bombing of Dresden as a POW, 27-year-old aspiring author Kurt Vonnegut submitted a written account of the event to The Atlantic Monthly for consideration, along with two other pieces. Below is the rejection letter he later received from the publication’s editor at the time, Edward Weeks.

Subject: Toilet Paper

On June 11th of 1942 (not 1943, as the memo’s opening typo states), the Commanding Officer of USS Skipjack, Lt. Commander James Wiggins Coe, sent the following sarcastic memo to the Navy’s supply department at Mare Island. At this point it had been almost a year since crew aboard the submarine had placed a simple

I have just written you a long letter

The late, great Lt. Col. Alfred D. Wintle was opinionated, brave, comical, intelligent, and, most importantly, hugely entertaining. A true “character.” He once attempted to escape a hospital dressed as a female nurse in order to rejoin the war effort, but his monocle gave him away; as a prisoner of war in France during World War

Try again, won’t you?

In the mid-1940s, before breaking through to become the successful novelist and prolific short-story writer many now remember, the late-John D. MacDonald was the recipient of countless dreaded rejection letters. Undeterred, he ploughed on. Some years later — at which point his services were very much in demand and he was selling his short stories

Critics are venomous serpents that delight in hissing

When the movie Gilda was released in 1946 to less-than-stellar reviews, its lead actress, Rita Hayworth, immediately became somewhat dejected. Understandably keen to rebuild the confidence of his biggest star, Columbia Pictures‘ then-president, Harry Cohn, quickly assembled a list of quotes relating to the supposed uselessness of critics and included them in the following letter. Transcript follows. Image

I can’t look you in the voice

The late, great Dorothy Parker had many strings to her bow. She wrote hundreds of poems and short stories, many of which were published in magazines and books; she was a biting and much-loved book critic for The New Yorker in the late 1920s; in the 1930s, she moved to Hollywood to try her hand

11 ALIVE…NEED SMALL BOAT…KENNEDY

On August 2nd of 1943, whilst serving as commander of the PT-109 during World War II, John F. Kennedy and crew  (pictured above, JFK on the right) were rammed by the Japanese destroyer Amagiri; their boat instantly halved by the impact and two of the crew killed. Six days later, stranded in the Solomon Islands with

I will always be grateful for your courageous action

The Beverly Hills crash site | Image: Bob McCaffery On December 23rd of 1946, five months after the plane crash that almost killed him, world-famous aviator and movie producer Howard Hughes wrote the following heartfelt letter of thanks to the man who saved his life: U.S. Marine William Lloyd Durkin. During its maiden flight in July

Your draughtsmanship is beyond reproach

As creator of his widely-adored comic strip, Little Orphan Annie, the late-Harold Gray no doubt received many a fan letter during his lifetime. The following example of such a missive was sent in 1948 by an eloquent admirer named John, aged just 15; an aspiring cartoonist who, after lavishing four paragraphs worth of praise upon

Ezra Pound is obviously crazy

In addition to being one of the most influential figures in the world of modern poetry, highly-regarded American poet, editor and critic Ezra Pound also became one of the literary world’s most controversial characters when, in 1945 – at which point he lived in Rome – he was arrested by the U.S. Army after recording

The War is officially ended

On August 15th of 1945 – following six years of conflict, two atomic bombs, and the deaths of over 50 million people – Hirohito announced the surrender of Japan to the Japanese population, effectively bringing World War II to an end, and as word soon spread through various channels a sigh of relief slowly swept across the globe. Below is

Ghosts in the White House

On June 12th, 1945, then-U. S. President Harry Truman wrote the following letter to his wife, Bess. She had recently taken their daughter to visit relatives over the summer, and Truman’s subsequent attempts to work had been somewhat hampered by the endless noises and draughts emitted by the White House; a building which at the time was desperately in

The birth of Wonder Woman

Here we have a piece of comic book history from early-1941 in the form of a letter from cartoonist Harry G. Peter, written to William Moulton Marston, in which he unveils some very early sketches of Marston’s new superheroine, Wonder Woman; Marston’s handwritten response to Peter can also be seen, penned in red below the original message.

Am Ricely and Chickenly Yours

Here’s a heartwarming, poem-topped letter from the late jazz legend Louis Armstrong — sent to a poorly friend of the family, named Gina Nirova — that serves to illustrate Satchmo’s charming habit of signing off informal letters in an offbeat manner. Other notable examples of Armstrong’s colourful valediction include: “Am Trumpetly Yours”; “Am Ulceratedly Yours”; “Yours Soul Foodly”, and, most

Be an unbeatable person and avenge my death

On the evening of May 23rd, 1945, in the Japanese town of Chiran, Masanobu Kuno sat down and hand-wrote the following farewell letter to his 5-year-old son, Masanori, and 2-year-old daughter, Kiyoko. The next day, Captain Kuno proudly boarded his explosive-laden aircraft, took to the skies and, as did thousands of other Kamikaze pilots during World War

You’re chaining up far too many women

Particularly during its infancy in the 1940s, the sight of its numerous characters being bound, dominated and disciplined was an incredibly common occurrence for readers of the Wonder Woman comic. However, it was a certain method of restriction – being chained, specifically – and its repeated usage that sparked the following glorious letter to the strip’s

You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade

On the evening of June 5th, 1944, just hours prior to the D-day landings in Normandy, copies of the letter seen below – Eisenhower‘s Order of the Day – were distributed to members of the allied forces. The meticulously crafted, highly encouraging call-to-arms was drafted by Eisenhower himself over a period of four months, and

These bastards let your brother die

To usher in the weekend we have a blistering attack on early-science fiction fandom from an unlikely source: science fiction novelist Robert Heinlein. In a letter to super-fan Forrest Ackerman, written during the final months of World War II, Heinlein begins by offering his condolences following the death of Ackerman’s brother whilst serving his country, then

Popeye’s favorit tree

Here’s an utterly charming letter from Popeye in which he ponders an apple tree’s life cycle, written and drawn by Bill Zaboly in 1942. Zaboly was one of the artists responsible for the comic strip following Elzie Segar‘s death in 1938 and lovingly produced this piece for a fan by the name of Jennette Winterhalter. Reading the

Posterity is quite apt to be a little rough on you

Late 1946, a preview screening of The Beginning or the End – a dramatisation of the events surrounding the bombing of Hiroshima – was arranged for then-U.S. President Harry Truman and his aides. They were unhappy, in particular due to Roman Bohnen‘s unflattering portrayal of Truman when deciding – quite quickly and with little consideration

The trouble with Chinese…

Following the 1946 release of The Wild Flag (a collection of essays previously published in The New Yorker) author E. B. White – now best known for his novels Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little – was contacted and questioned by a Mr. Wells with regard to his usage of the word ‘Chinaman’. White responded with the

Einstein on astrology

A brief 1943 letter from Albert Einstein to a Eugene Simon, care of Rabbi Herman Simon, in which the renowned scientist clearly makes his opinion of astrology known. This flies in the face of many astrologers’ claims that Einstein was a firm supporter of the subject; these beliefs all stemming from the following quote, incorrectly

When a real and final catastrophe should befall us…

On April 9th, 1948, a month before Israel declared independence, just over one hundred residents of Deir Yassin were massacred by members of two militant Zionist groups – Lehi and Irgun – as part of an effort to cleanse the area of its Arab population. The next day, Albert Einstein wrote the following passionate letter

This was dictated before the world fell in on me

The main body of this letter was dictated by then-Vice President of the United States Harry Truman on the morning of April 12th, 1945. In it, he tells sister-in-law May Wallace of his ever-increasing workload after just three months in a role for which he didn’t actually campaign. Just hours after the letter was dictated,

This is the second fan letter of my long career

It’s nice to know that someone as supremely gifted as Norman Rockwell (born on this day in 1894) wrote fan letters. Realise too that this particular example wasn’t penned by Rockwell as a child but in 1948 when he was both 54 years of age and already extremely established as an artist. It was written

Life on the battlefield is different from the movie version

Writing letters of admiration to Hollywood pin-ups was a regular pastime for many soldiers during World War II, and the gracious responses and photos they received went some way to boosting troops’ morale at such uncertain times. In 1943, Lieutenant Norman Klinker wrote such a letter to Hollywood actress Donna Reed (It’s a Wonderful Life,

Ordinary standards do not apply to Tesla

On January 4th, 1943, Slovenian-American author Louis Adamic wrote the following heartfelt letter to ex-President of the United States, Herbert Hoover. The letter concerned the alarming treatment and general well-being of Adamic’s friend, Nikola Tesla; an immeasurably important inventor whose impact on the modern world is still difficult to appreciate and who, despite his numerous

My life couldn’t fill a penny postcard

In response to a request for ‘biographical information’ by Harper’s Magazine‘s managing editor Russell Lynes, 21-year-old Andy Warhol wrote the following self-deprecating note. It was 1949, Warhol had recently moved to New York following his graduation at Carnegie Tech, and he was already starting to impress as a commercial artist having just illustrated Vega, a

Superman looks worse in each picture

At some point in the early 1940s, the following letter of complaint was written – along with numerous others during that period – by DC Comics editor Whitney Ellsworth and sent to Jerry Siegel, the man responsible for co-creating Superman and then signing away the character to DC for pittance. This particular day, Ellsworth was

You must not even think of settlement during the war.

As World War II took hold, Rolex benefited from its growing reputation and unofficially became the brand of choice amongst British Royal Air Force pilots. Of course as captured pilots became prisoners their watches were confiscated, and when he caught wind of the situation the company’s founder – Hans Wilsdorf – offered to replace them,

A cunning suggestion

In a valiant attempt to keep her father at home during World War II, ten year old Carolyn Weatherhogg sent the following letter to the White House in October of 1943. Since 1942 the U.S. Army had drafted new recruits by way of a lottery system, and as luck would have it Carolyn’s father had

This rain of atomic bombs will increase manyfold in fury

At 11:00am on August 9th, 1945, just a minute before the second atomic bomb in the space of three days was dropped on Japan, a B-29 bomber named The Great Artiste quietly dropped three canisters from the sky. Inside each of the canisters, alongside a shockwave gauge designed by American physicist Luis Alvarez, was an

THIS IS NO DRILL

At 07:58am on December 7th, 1941, Commander Logan C. Ramsey ordered the following telegram to be sent to all ships in the Hawaiian area after watching a low-flying plane drop a bomb on Ford Island. Ramsey had in fact just witnessed the very beginning of a coordinated attack on Pearl Harbor in which the Japanese, over the

“He is a second Dirac, only this time human.”

Whilst heading up the Manhattan Project during World War II, theoretical physicist Robert Oppenheimer quickly became aware of a promising young physicist by the name of Richard Feynman. Sensing that Feynman would be incredibly valuable at UC Berkeley come the end of the war, Oppenheimer wrote the following letter to then chairman of its physics

Slaughterhouse Five

In December of 1944, whilst behind enemy lines during the Rhineland Campaign, 22-year-old Private Kurt Vonnegut was captured by Wehrmacht troops and subsequently became a prisoner of war. A month later, Vonnegut and his fellow PoWs reached a Dresden work camp where they were imprisoned in an underground slaughterhouse known by German soldiers as “Schlachthof

Thousands of other Daddies went too…

On October 21st of 1942, not long after being called to New Guinea to fight the Japanese forces during World War II, a young Australian soldier named John Byrnes decided to write to his 2-year-old daughter in an effort to explain his situation. His letter can be seen below. It’s beyond beautiful. (Update: It seems

..the brains of a cross-eyed titmouse..

Below is a fascinating letter from the creator of Tarzan and John Carter, Edgar Rice Burroughs, to his daughter in 1941, 29 years after the first Tarzan story was published. Burroughs penned a large number of letters during his lifetime but I chose to highlight this one for a few reasons: 1) The impressive letterhead

The lowest class of people I ever heard of

Whilst stationed in Egypt in 1941, Australian soldier Jim Moody befriended a stray puppy. The animal – Horrie – quickly became the entire battalion’s mascot and guard dog, accompanying them through Greece, Crete, Palestine and Syria. Horrie worked as a messenger, warned of approaching aircraft as a result of his acute hearing, and survived a

We all feel like that now and then

At the height of World War II on April 6th, 1943, the British Ambassador to Moscow, Sir Archibald Clark Kerr, wrote a letter to Foreign Office minister Lord Reginald Pembroke in an effort to simply brighten up his day–a letter which has since become a classic piece of correspondence for reasons that will soon become

Lord Luv a Duck, Gov’nor

Prior to being called up as a B-17 pilot during World War II, David ‘Bud’ Swift worked as an animator’s assistant – and later animator – at Disney, initially under the watchful eye of Ward Kimball. His handiwork can be seen in films such as Pinocchio and Fantasia. The following amusing letter was sent to

The things I saw beggar description

The concentration camp in Ohrdruf was the first to be liberated by U.S. forces during World War II, and just a week later, General Dwight D. Eisenhower paid a visit in order to survey the scene. The following letter, in which Eisenhower describes said experience, was written by the future President three days later and

To one and all I wish a speedy victory

As World War II took hold, the re-routing of seaborne traffic resulted in an incredibly slow international postage system. As a result the General Post Office, after seeking a speedier method by which to send correspondence to troops stationed in the Middle East, introduced Airgraph. In short, postal workers photographed each message and then flew

They are solid and good people

Grant Wood‘s iconic American Gothic (above) is one of the world’s most recognisable paintings, and as such its subject matter has been the cause of much debate since its unveiling in 1930. Most presume the painting to be satirical and the two characters to be husband and wife, whilst many Iowans were/are furious at being depicted as

Spit shall rain on the ‘experts’

Previous to his television career, Bob Hope was already an extremely successful radio, movie and vaudeville star and as a result was regularly courted by the television networks. In 1949, NBC‘s Vice President, John Royal, sent the following amusingly complimentary letter to Hope with a view to luring the performer to the network. There was

I can pay you back with penny stamps

Ann Kemp sent the following ‘secret’ letter to her father in 1945 while he was at war. She was 12yrs old at the time and clearly had problems budgeting. Source Transcript 4-12-45Tuesday. Dear Daddy This is just a very secret letter between you and I. I really do not like asking you, but do you

My good friend Roosvelt

In November 1940, thirteen years before spearheading the revolution that would ultimately see him replace dictator Fulgencio Batista as leader of Cuba, a teenage Fidel Castro—aged fourteen, not twelve as he inaccurately claimed—wrote a somewhat cheeky letter to the then president of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and asked him for some money: a

It was hard to give five sons to the Navy

November, 1942: Five brothers, all serving on the same vessel during World War II, are killed in action as a result of said warship sinking at the Battle of the Solomons. Two months later, after hearing no word from the Navy regarding her sons’ well-being, Alleta Sullivan writes the following, deeply moving letter to the

From your Daddy and pal always

On September 27th of 1945, whilst on a ship headed for Sydney, Australian soldier Charles Castle wrote the following emotional letter to his young son after being released from Changi‘s Prisoner of War Camp — a camp at which he had been held captive for 3 years — and announced his imminent return. Charles eventually arrived

Your girl, Frida

A parting note written by Frida Kahlo on the back of a depository envelope – used by Kahlo to hold jewellery during a stay at hospital – prior to a trip to New York. Her husband (for the second time), Diego Rivera, was painting a mural in San Francisco which now resides at City College.

Everything you hear is true

A heartbreaking letter, and farewell, from a brother to his sister. At the time of writing, Herbert Langer was based in Terezín, a Czech town which was used as a Nazi German concentration camp by the Gestapo during World War II. Herbert’s sister Elly – the intended recipient of the letter – was living in

It would be best for the country to keep baseball going

On December 7th of 1941, the Japanese Navy carried out a devastating attack on the U.S.’s naval base at Pearl Harbor, and ultimately sealed the Americans’ participation in World War II.  Just a month later, Kenesaw Landis — then-Commissioner of Baseball in the U.S. — asked President Roosevelt whether the upcoming baseball season should be called off in