Joseph Crowley, Waugh’s friend and correspondent in the 1950s, died last month in Washington. Joe first encountered Waugh while an undergraduate at the University of Detroit in 1949. He crossed over to Windsor, Ontario, to hear Waugh lecture at Assumption College on 16 February. Later, while stationed in London, he attended a public open house at Waugh’s home in Piers Court. This was held on 14 August 1954 to benefit the local Roman Catholic parish church. The two met and became friends and correspondents after that event. Another American present, Edward Sheehan, a Boston Globe reporter, wrote about the event as did Frances Donaldson, Waugh’s neighbor, who included an account her memoir. Joe later commented on both of these versions, as is described in Douglas Patey’s 1998 biography of Evelyn Waugh:
An intelligence officer with the CIA in London, Crowley asked that his anonimity be preserved, and so appeared in Sheehan’s “A Weekend with Waugh” as “Conley”. He arrived at Piers Court having read Waugh’s advertisement in The Tablet, not expecting that Waugh himself would be present. […]
In the year after that first meeting, Waugh invited Crowley back to Piers Court and entertained him in White’s; the two visited an exhibition at the Royal Academy. (Later Crowley invited Waugh to join him for a holiday in Spain.) In October 1954, as he later told Nancy Mitford (NM 354), Waugh sought Crowley’s literary advice. Famous for his ability to reproduce colloquial conversation, Waugh had been criticized for his uncertain grasp of American slang in LO. Determined that OG would contain no such slips, he wrote to Crowley: “In the book I am writing I have introduced some American journalists. I should greatly like to have their conversation vetted…Few things are more exasperating than bogus slang.” (16 Oct. 1954, private collection). Crowley suggested changes such as from “Why” to “How come”, to which Waugh replied: “I am deeply grateful for all your trouble in correcting my attempts at American dialogue…I will set about revising the passage and will adopt your philological advice. The character ‘Ian’…is a British liaison officer trying to be matey by adopting what he thinks is suitable jargon, so that his errors of diction are admissable. I am sure I am wrong in the other cases. I relied on a faulty ear at the cinema. The Americans I know speak as you do.” (22 Nov. 1954, private collection). As further thanks, in the scene in which Ian Kilbannock introduces Trimmer to three American journalists (originally Bum Schlum, Scab Dunz and Mick Mulligan), Waugh changed “Mick” to “Joe” (interview with Joseph Crowley, 18 Nov. 1995). [Patey, pp. 406-07 n28]
In his cited letter to Nancy Mitford (22 November 1954), Waugh wrote:
I sent an American acquaintance three pages of typescript & asked ‘is the American slang authentic?’ Weeks passed. Now I have back 50 pages on Embassy paper giving the opinions of three public relations officers.
Joe’s friend Susan Farrell has kindly written the following remembrance to the Society:
Dear Alexander and devoted Wavians,
I am obliged to bring you sad news – wrapped in warm memories and deep thanks.
Joseph Crowley, friend and life-long devoté of Evelyn Waugh, died on March 9.
For many years, I encouraged Joe to recognize himself as a bundle of footnotes to history. Thus I let you know of his death, with thanks to Doug Patey for transmitting the most beautiful. At age 93, Joe may well have been — apart from Waugh family members — the last person alive to have actually chatted with, lunched and sipped wine with, viewed an art exhibition with Evelyn Waugh. And he would very much regret being the last.
Searching for words with which to thank you for all you brought to Joe, I was unable to call up any which resonated sufficiently until I unearthed in my archives Joe’s letter to Alexander following the 2012 Waugh conference in Baltimore:
I am still savouring the congeniality, the wit, the formation of new friendships,and the all-around jolly good fun that Susan Farrell and I experienced in Baltimore and, five days later, at Georgetown.”
To all of which I can attest! And I’d like to add the delightful semi-rustic dinner in Baltimore (which many of you were able to attend) and the deeply moving decision (at the dinner table) to embrace both Joe and me as honorary members of the Evelyn Waugh Society.
A few weeks later, in the course of assembling his EW letters (as he’d promised), Joe murmured that he had been “re-living” the experiences they called to mind – for which he would also want to thank you.
And, moving forward, he would wish you, your families, your studies and the Evelyn Waugh Society many healthy, happy years ahead.