Written by Joe Scotchie Friday, 25 November 2011 00:00
The Roslyn area has produced or was home to three popular literary figures—William Cullen Bryant, Christopher Morley and Michael Crichton. Of those three, Morley still has his fans. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Christopher Morley Knothole Association (C.M.K.A.), an organization that was founded in 1961 as a way to maintain public awareness of Morley’s prodigious literary output.
Morley and his family first moved to Roslyn Estates in 1920. While there, he set up a cabin, which he dubbed The Knothole in his backyard as a place to work on his multifaceted writing projects.
The C.M.K.A. was originally set up to save the Knothole from destruction. After a five-year long process that took place in the 1960s, that project has been a success. Even more striking, the cabin itself has been relocated to a park on Searingtown Road, one that includes golf and ice-skating and bears the author’s name.
The cabin looks as it did when Morley passed away in 1957, complete with a desk, sofas, books, magazines, and Morley’s well-used typewriter.
The anniversary itself is a time of reflection for C.M.K.A. members. Writing in its annual newsletter, Mark Montanaro said that the physical preservation of The Knothole remains a major goal of the organization. Noting C.M.K.A.’s achievements, Montanaro was also optimistic about the future.
“The Association has maintained strong community ties, and continues its mission to find ways to best serve its membership by keeping the spirit of Morley alive through programs and activities,” he wrote. “Fifty years after its inception, the Association finds itself with a membership that is just as passionate about Morley as it ever was. Time has not eroded the sense of enjoyment that we all get from reading a good Morley book, and most of us can vividly remember the very first time we read one of Morley’s books or poems.
“As our membership ages, we continue to share that thirst for knowledge and passion to read with the younger generation that follow us,” Montanaro continued. “Through reading scholarships, and the use of technology we are able to reach a greater population of consumers of literature. During the first 50 years, the Association has enriched the lives of Morley fans, and students of literature…In the next 50, we challenge ourselves to remind the masses through the use of email. Blogs, ebooks, iPads, Kindles, Nooks, [and] Apps…and share the lessons we’ve learned, through words in literature, and how Christopher Morley positively impacted our lives.”
A native of Pennsylvania, Morley displayed literary gifts at a young age. Much of that was inherited from his mother, a poet and musician who encouraged her son’s artistic leanings. Later, Morley left the United States to attend Oxford University, graduating in 1913. That same year, he married Helen Fairchild. The couple, which would have four children, settled first in Garden City, where the young Morley was working for Doubleday publishers. They lived in Hempstead, Queens Village, and Philadelphia before settling in Roslyn Estates, as noted, in 1920. That year was also when Morley began writing a popular column, “The Bowling Green” for The New York Post. Many of those columns were collected in several volumes, including Where the Blue Begins, which is available in the Bryant Library as part of the collection Four Favorite Books, which also includes Thunder on The Left, Parnassus on Wheels and The Haunted Bookshop.
By the 1920s, Morley was set to establish himself as a major figure in American letters. He published his first book of poetry, The Eighth Sin in 1912 and his first novel, Parnassus on Wheels in 1917. His most well known novel, Kitty Foyle, about a working girl who marries and later divorces a Philadelphia socialite, was published in 1939 and made into a major motion picture the next year. Starring Ginger Rogers, the film was nominated for several Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Writing Adapted Screenplay. Ms. Rogers would end up winning the Oscar for Best Actress for her portrayal of the main character. Kitty Foyle later resurfaced as a regular program on CBS Radio from 1941 to 1944 and on NBC television from 1958 to 1960.
Morley was also involved in numerous editing and journalistic projects. He edited two editions of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, one in 1937 and the other in 1948. More importantly, he was a founder and contributor for The Saturday Review of Literature, the nation’s major mass circulation periodical for serious books, art, theater, and film. Throughout the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s, Morley also was a judge for the Book of the Month Club. He also found time to edit the complete works of both William Shakespeare and Sherlock Holmes. Early in his career, Morley co-produced theater productions in Hoboken, NJ.
Morley’s prolific career suffered a serious setback in 1951, when he was stricken by a series of strokes. After that he did little writing, dying at age 67 in 1957. However, by then, he had long established himself as an author, novelist, poet, columnist, and editor. After his death, a final manifesto was published in the New York papers.
“Read, every day, something no one else is reading,” Morley advised. “Think, every day, something no one else is thinking. Do, every day, something no one else would be silly enough to do. It is bad for the mind to continually be part of unanimity.”
The Christopher Morley Knothole Association hopes to keep that iconoclastic spirit alive into the new century.