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
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
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
[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.]