Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Vincent McHugh

Vincent McHugh (b. Providence, Rhode Island, 23 December 1904; d. Sacramento, California, 23 January 1983)

Vincent Joseph McHugh was the eldest child  of Michael Joseph McHugh (1868-1946), a printer and an amateur painter, and his wife, Mary Esther, née Young (1874-1916), who were married on 5 August 1903. The family was of Irish- and Scotch-American stock. Vincent had two brothers and one sister.

Vincent was raised Roman Catholic and educated at La Salle Academy and Providence College, where he spent one year. He later noted that he was "forced out of the latter institution for reasons not unlike Shelley's in similar circumstances.  I had been very reluctant to bring up my non-religious views." He worked at odd jobs but felt that the four years he spent as a public library messenger had probably decided his taste.  From the age of seventeen, he wrote book reviews for the Double Dealer of New Orleans.  He began a first novel at age twenty.

He moved to New York City in 1928, and worked there writing for newspapers and magazines. Around 1929 he married a woman named Lillian (1910-2009); they had no children.  His first book was a novel, Touch Me Not (1930), followed by four other novels, including Sing Before Breakfast (1933), and The Victory (1947). A short story "Parish of Cockroaches" (Story, March 1934) appeared in The Best Short Stories 1935, edited by Edward J. O'Brien. The Blue Hen's Chickens (1947) is a collection of poetry. Alpha: The Mutabilities (1958) is a small press poetry booklet.

Two of McHugh's novels are fantastical in nature.  Caleb Catlum's America (New York:  Stackpole Sons, 1936) is a mix of tall tales and satire.  The eponymous folk hero Caleb Catlum, who was born in 1798, tells the story of his first one hundred years and his friendships with some well-known historical figures, like Ben Franklin, Tom Jefferson, Huck Finn, Sam Clemens, Dan'l Boone, Buffalo Bill, and Uncle Remus. It was mostly well-received and quickly went into multiple printings.

I Am Thinking of My Darling (New York:  Simon & Schuster, 1943) was a bestseller. In this novel a strange affliction has settled upon the inhabitants of New York City, a kind of epidemic that starts with a low-grade fever and brings with it the loss of all inhibitions, conventions, and hatred. The authorities try to suppress the outbreak, while the "victims" seek to share their new happiness.  The novel was filmed in 1968 as What's So Bad About Feeling Good?, starring George Peppard, Mary Tyler Moore, Susan St. John and Dom Deluise. 

Through the 1930s and 1950s McHugh had a large number of varied jobs. He was editor-in-chief of the Federal Writers' Project in New York City, and oversaw the New York Panorama and New York City Guide, both published in 1939. For some years he was a staff writer at the New Yorker. He taught a course on the "Technique of the Novel" at New York University, and worked as a writer-director of some propaganda films for the Office of War Information.  In 1944 he moved to California and became a contract writer for Paramount Pictures, leaving after the minimum ten weeks even though he was offered a renewal. He spent several months in the South Pacific as a merchant marine correspondent (this experience provided the basis for his novel The Victory, and the related 1953 paperback collection of short stories, Edge of the World), before returning to New York. From 1948 to 1952 he lectured and taught at various writer's conferences and colleges in New Mexico, Colorado, Missouri, and New Hampshire. His nonfiction book Primer of the Novel was published in 1950, and at this time he contributed a number of sea stories to Argosy. He moved to San Francisco in December 1952.

He had divorced his first wife in 1945, and thereafter married at least two more times. One marriage (c. 1948) was to Adeliza Sorenson (1912-2003), of St. George, Utah, an artist known familiarly as Addie. The marriage also ended in divorce, and McHugh was married again, on 5 February 1965, to Patricia A. Tool (b. 1927) in San Francisco. They settled in Sacramento.

McHugh's last three books were small press translations, with C.H. Kwock, from the Chinese: Why I Live on the Mountain: 30 Chinese Poems from the Great Dynasties (1958), The Lady and the Hermit: 30 Chinese Poems (1962), and Old Friend from Far Away: 150 Chinese Poems from the Great Dynasties (1980).

McHugh died of respiratory complications at a hospital in Sacramento.  His body was cremated.


  1. McHugh was mistaken when he said he was "forced out of [Providence College] for reasons not unlike Shelley's in similar circumstances. I had been very reluctant to bring up my non-religious views."
    Shelley was sent down from Oxford because of his enthusiasm in bringing up his non-religious views.

  2. I think McHugh was being somewhat ironic, though his statement is not crystal clear. I read it that, like Shelley, his non-religious views got him forced out of school, though unlike Shelley he had been very reluctant to bring up these views.

  3. Just reading Weldon Kees's diary entry for March 20, 1954. He met McHugh at a party given by Macgregor Folsom in Berkeley. They collaborated on film scripts later that year.

  4. Interesting. I don't see that any of the films were actually made, and note that Kees died in 1955. Thanks for writing.