Search for Books by:  


contact us | home


Join Our E-Mail Announcement List!

John Villiers Farrow

I FIRST THOUGHT OF BECOMING A WRITER WHEN I WAS ABOUT ten years of age. The idea was suddenly born when I received praise from my English master for a composition that I had handed in. I still remember that this work began with the words "Bang! Crash! The airplane smashed into the deck!" The master, Mr. Moody by name, thought that this was an unusual beginning and prophesied to the entire class that I would become a writer. Thus the thought was given, the seed planted. I can well remember the glow of self-satisfaction that I experienced that day. The resolutions that were made. The ambitions that were formed.

By the time I was twelve, it was decided that I should adopt a naval career. In the Australia (where I was born) of that time, a boy took examinations for the Naval College at about the age of twelve and a half-and I passed successfully. But these were the years when disarmament was the mood and when one's instructors were being demobilized and, accordingly, disillusioned. Instead of continuing in the Navy, I joined the Merchant Service as cadet. The ship in which I served voyaged from Sydney to New Zealand, the Fijiian Islands, Honolulu and Canada. Sometimes an alternate run would take us to Tahiti and various other islands. During the tropical peace of the night watches I had ample opportunity to keep alive my ambitions of becoming an author and, in the off-duty hours of the long voyages, I had the time to read and study the great books.

My first work took the form of poetry and, when my name appeared in print, it proved an added and fierce spur. Short stories were my next effort. These too were sold and eventually I "swallowed the anchor," and took up writing as a full-time job. Almost immediately after leaving the sea, Hollywood engaged me, much to the disapproval of the late George Putnam, a publisher who had taken an interest in me and who possessed a deep conviction that script writing would spoil a promising novelist.

After writing a score of screenplays, I became convinced that a scenario writer had too little to do with the actual making of a film, so I left Hollywood and went to the Society Islands. In Tahiti, aboard a trading schooner, I commenced writing a novel which I enthusiastically thought would prove to be one of the best sellers of all time. I wrote the first part of the book while wandering around the Islands, the middle part on a long trip on a freighter to Europe, and I finished it while cruising on a fishing boat in the Mediterranean. The book was published simultaneously in France and the United States. While receiving fairly good reviews, it proved, from its sales, to be a failure.

I had written what I thought to be a popular book. Now I would write a book for myself, and one that probably would not sell more than a few hundred copies. I had heard about a leper priest, called Damien, while I was in the Islands. The idea of writing his life intrigued me- his courage, his example, his inspiration. But, of course, a book about a leper, and laid in the dismal confines of a leper colony, could never be a success. Thus I thought- but, nevertheless, I commenced writing the book. Damien the Leper was completed in about ten weeks of actual writing and the book, that I thought no one would read, has seen thirty-three printings and has been Published in twelve languages. My publishers (Sheed & Ward) assure me that it still has the same steady sale that it enjoyed in the first year of publication.

After the emergence of Damien the Leper, I was once again employed by a Hollywood Studio, but this time I was given a chance to direct. This latter job did not leave me much time to write, but I managed to get in a few articles and to commence the arduous task of writing Pageant of the Popes. It was my belief that a readable one-volume history of the Papacy was needed.

In 1939, World War II broke out, and I immediately joined the Royal Canadian Navy. The war served to postpone my directorial career but not so my writing. I took several crates of research books with me to sea. Once again the long night watches gave me much opportunity to think and plan the actual writing. I have told in my introduction to Pageant of the Popes how, in relieving a fellow officer on the bridge, I would be greeted with the question: "Have you finished off another Pope yet?" Pageant of the Popes was first published in 1942 and won the Catholic Literary Prize for that year. Since then I have revised it and it has seen several printings and revisions.

In addition to directing, I am now producing films and again I have little time to write, but in 1954 I managed to finish and see published The Story of Thomas More and a small book of poems.

Making films is a drudgery and reqllires much self-discipline, but I know of few greater or more triumphant moments than when, putting down the pencil for the last wonderful time, one realizes that one has finished another book.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: In 1936, Mr. Farrow married the actress Maureen O'Sullivan, and they have seven children. Among his dozen decorations is that of Knight Grand Cross of the Holy Sepulchre. And among his books he did not mention is an English-Tahitian Dictionary.]

Bookshop | Contact Us | Home