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Catching a Market: The Publishing History of Catch-22

  • Jonathan R. Eller

September of 1961 brought welcome relief from the Berlin Crisis in the Oform of two distinctly American recreations: the World Series and the fall book season. As always, both seemed to focus on New York City, and the New York media brought excitement and suspense to fit both seasons: excitement – as Roger Maris attempted to break Babe Ruth's record of sixty home runs – and suspense, as Simon & Schuster ran eye-catching but mysterious ads for a new novel, revealing nothing more than the title – Catch-22. Everyone knew what Maris's quest meant, but no one seemed to know what “CATCH-22” meant.

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1. Heller, Joseph, “I Don't Love You Anymore,” Story 27 (0910 1945): 4044.

2. Merrill, Sam, “Playboy Interview: Joseph Heller,” Playboy (06 1975): 59ff.

3. Weatherby, W. J., “The Joy Catcher,” Manchester Guardian, 11 20, 1962.

4. Heller's view of postwar fiction appears in detailed handwritten comments on a draft of the present article, returned to me under a cover letter dated April 6, 1989. Substantial portions of my narrative derive from these holograph comments, from an October 2, 1986 interview with Mr. Heller at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, and from a July 12, 1991 interview conducted with Catch-22 editor Bob Gottlieb, currently editor of the New Yorker, and Nina Bourne, now with Alfred A. Knopf. Information on the paperbacking of Catch-22 derives from a November 25, 1991 telephone interview with former Dell editor in chief Donald I. Fine, now an independent publisher in New York City. I am deeply grateful for their support in bringing the Catch story to light. Material from all other sources is cited with a note.

5. These stories, still in the folders provided by Elizabeth McKee's two firms (see below), are located in the Heller Collection at Brandeis University. George Searles maintains that Heller “continued to write short fiction and began writing occasional scripts for movies and, under the pseudonym Max Orange, for television” (Searles, George, “Joseph Heller,” Dictionary of Literary Biography [Detroit: Gale, 1984], vol. 28, p. 101). In fact, Heller did not write under any pseudonym during this period, and published only one story during the Catch years, an unrelated story titled “McAdam's Log,” written around 1951 and published in Gentleman's Quarterly 29 (12 1959): 112ff.

6. Candida Donadio to the author, July 22, 1987.

7. Weatherby, , “The Joy Catcher,” p. 7.

8. Nagel, James, “The Catch-22 Note Cards,” Studies in the Novel 8 (1976): 394405.

9. Weatherby, , “The Joy Catcher,” p. 7; and Lehan, Richard and Patch, Jerry, “Catch-22: The Making of a Novel,” Minnesota Review 7 (1967): 238–44.

10. Weatherby, , “The Joy Catcher,” p. 7.

11. Lehan and Patch are mistaken on a number of points in their Catch chronology. Heller did not read Celine during the war, and he has never read Celine's Guignol's Band. Heller did not read drafts of Mandel's war novel prior to completing Catch-22 (Heller to the author).

12. Merrill, , “Playboy Interview,” p. 68.

13. Donadio to the author, July 22, 1987.

14. Donadio to the author, July 22, 1987.

15. Davis, Kenneth C., Two-Bit Culture: The Paperbacking of America (Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1984), p. 200.

16. Davis, , Two-Bit Culture, pp. 200–1.

17. Davis, , Two-Bit Culture, p. 200.

18. Gottlieb's report to the Simon & Schuster editorial board is dated February 12, 1958, with a follow-up of March 5. The initial report is annotated by Max Schuster with a note to discuss the book with Gottlieb and Schwed. Apparently, this group made the final decision to offer a contract (Gottlieb-Bourne interview).

19. Warburg, Frederick to Donadio, Candida, 08 26, 1958, typed letter, signed, The Joseph Heller Papers, Brandeis Library Special Collections (Miscellaneous Papers, Catch-22, 2.7a). The relevant portions of the Heller Collection include Catch-22 Papers and Miscellaneous Papers, Catch-22. I am greatly indebted to the Brandeis University Library staff, and in particular to the former Head of Special Collections, Victor Berch (now emeritus), who permitted me to use the Heller Collection materials. Permission to quote from the unpublished materials owned by Brandeis has been granted by the Brandeis University Library. Permission to quote from unpublished material by Joseph Heller has been granted by Mr. Heller. Permission to quote from publishers' correspondence in the Collection has been granted by Dell Publishing, Jonathan Cape, Ltd., and Seeker & Warburg, Ltd. Permission to reproduce publishers' advertisements has been granted by Dell Publishing and Simon & Schuster. Republication of these materials requires the same permissions.

20. Hills, Rust to Donadio, Candida, 03 11, 1959, Catch-22 Papers.

21. Davis, , Two-Bit Culture, p. 200.

22. Merrill, , “Playboy Interview,” p. 68.

23. Heller's complete typescript and subsequent revised forms through the galley proofs, as well as the deleted chapter 18 (“Rosoff”), are located in the Catch-22 Papers.

24. With the exception of the two chapters (“Rosoff” and “The Old Folks at Home”), none of the cutting involved lengthy or sustained episodes. In an interview, Heller described the cuts as 150 pages of adjectives and adverbs. Spot collation indicates that most of the cuts removed modifiers, literary allusions, and repetitive descriptions of people and places.

25. “The Old Folks at Home” first appears in the “complete” manuscript of 1960, and is retitled “Nately's Old Man” in the revised typescript (printer's copy). It was cut before reaching galleys, but the title “Nately's Old Man” remains as the new title to manuscript chapter 24 (originally titled “Nately”) and renumbered chapter 23 in the galleys. Thus the title, originally referring to a conversation between Nately and his father, now refers to the darkly humorous debate between Nately and the old man in Rome. The deleted chapter 23 was revised and published as “Love, Dad” in Playboy (12 1969): 181ff. “Rosoff” lay forgotten in the Heller Papers at Brandeis until October, 1986, when Professors Jim Aubrey, Bruce Degi, and I brought it to Heller's attention. He revised it, changing the name “Rosoff” to “Rogoff,” and published it in the December, 1987 issue of Playboy as “Yossarian Survives.”

26. Greeman, Richard, “Joseph Heller Lionized by Critics for His Novel of War and Mankind,” Fire Island News, 07 14, 1962.

27. Greenfeld, Josh, “22 Was Funnier than 14,” New York Times Book Review, 03 3, 1968; and Kisor, Henry, “‘Catch-22’ Lives On,” Chicago Sun-Times, 09 14, 1986, “Book Week” section.

28. Heller, to Gottlieb, , 01 29, 1961, Catch-22 Papers.

29. Heller, to Gottlieb, , 01 29, 1961.

30. Heller, Joseph, Catch-22 (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1961), p. [6]. Subsequent references are noted parenthetically in the text.

31. Heller, to Gottlieb, , 01 29, 1961; Heller's emphasis. It is interesting to note that Heller suggests calling the planes B-22's in the January 29 summary, since this is the same letter in which Heller offers Gottlieb the interim title Catch-14; however, Gottlieb feels certain that his idea for the title Catch-22 was not triggered by this incidental suggestion (Gottlieb interview).

32. Heller, to Simon, & Schuster, , 02 27, 1961, Catch-22 Papers.

33. Hills, Rust, “Writing,” Esquire (08 1974): 20, 28.

34. Tebbel, John, A History of Book Publishing in the United States (New York: Bowker, 1981), vol. 4, The Great Change, 1940–1980, p. 202.

35. [Nina Bourne and Bob Gottlieb] “What's the Catch?” New York Times, 10 11, 1961.

36. “Lunacracy,” Newsweek, 10 16, 1961, pp. 116–18; Dolbier, Maurice, “Daily Book Review,” New York Herald Tribune, 10 10, 1961, p. 27; and “Good Soldier Yossarian,” Time, 10 27, 1961, pp. 9798. Annotated listings of these and other initial reviews of Catch-22 may be found in Keegan, Brenda M., Joseph Heller: A Reference Guide (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1978), pp. 113.

37. MacGregor, Martha, “The Week in Books,” New York Post, 11 26, 1961.

38. Starnes, Richard, “Exciting Novel on Mad World,” New York World Telegram, 02 28, 1962, sec. B.

39. Walters, Raymond Jr., “In and Out of Books,” New York Times Book Review, 09 9, 1962.

40. Information on 1961 best-sellers and the rating system was compiled from the New York Times and Publisher's Weekly best-seller listings, September-December, 1961. Today, the process is much more scientific. Both the New York Times and Publishers Weekly poll nearly 2,000 outlets, including independent bookstores, local chains, and the Walden and B. Dalton national chains. Both also use a weighting system to make sure there is no bias toward the national chain sales (Atlas, James, “Making the List” [Atlantic Monthly, 12 1983]: 109–10). But neither system seems to account for the regional sales pattern that kept Catch-22 off the lists in 1961–62. Time Magazine, which weighs sales by geographical location as well as by size and type of vendor, would be more likely to confer best-seller status on such a sales pattern today.

41. Holiday season sales information appears in “Tips,” Publisher's Weekly, 11 20, 1961, p. 29. Most of the articles recommending Catch-22 for Christmas appeared in New York newspapers and magazines. Representative endorsements include “Christmas Books for Varied Tastes,” Saturday Review, 12 2, 1961, pp. 32ff; “Books You Really Ought to Read,” Madison Avenue, 12, 1961, p. 56; Prescott, Orville, “Books of The Times,” New York Times, 12 1, 1961; and “For Christmas Reading,” New York Herald Tribune, 12 7, 1961.

42. Media speculations on the National Book Award picks appears in “Which of These Leading Contenders Will Win the 1962 National Book Awards?” Saturday Review, 03 3, 1962, p. 3; MacGregor, Martha, “The Week in Books,” New York Post, 03 4, 1962; and “Awards: The Big Three,” Newsweek, 03 26, 1962, p. 98.

43. Liebling, A. J., “A Small Argument,” Show, 08, 1962, “Letters” section; and Talese, Gay, “3 Writers Named for Book Awards,” New York Times, 03 14, 1962, sec. L.

44. Liebling, , “A Small Argument.”

45. “Editorial: Who Gets the Awards and Why Not Everybody?” Show, 06, 1962, p. 14B.

46. “Tips,” Publisher's Weekly, 04 23, 1962, p. 77.

47. Hogan, William, “‘Catch-22’ – A Sleeper That's Catching On,” San Francisco Chronicle, 05 3, 1962.

48. Bradley, Van Allen, “Bookman's Week: Novelist Nelson Algren Campaigns for Neglected Book,” Chicago Daily News, 06 23, 1962.

49. Warburg, to Heller, , 06 19, 1961, Miscellaneous Papers, Catch-22.

50. “Jonathan Cape” (London: Cape, n.d.), brochure.

51. Maschler, to the author, 07 18, 1991.

52. Howard, Michael S., Jonathan Cape, Publisher (London: Cape, 1971), p. 289; and Maschler, to Heller, , 12 4, 1961, Miscellaneous Papers, Catch-22. Further references to the Maschler-Heller correspondence derive from this holding and are not noted in the text.

53. The principal reviews are: Allsop, Kenneth, “Are We All Heroes Under the Yellow Flag?” Daily Mail, 05 10, 1962; Toynbee, Philip, “Here's Greatness – in Satire,” London Observer Weekend Review, 06 17, 1962; and Tynan, Kenneth, “Note on Catch-22,” London Observer, 12 17, 1961.

54. Howard, , Jonathan Cape, Publisher, p. 289.

55. Miscellaneous Papers, Catch-22, Box 22, folder 2.7a.

56. London Times, 12 30, 1962.

57. Maschler, to the author, 07 18, 1991.

58. Sutherland, John, Bestsellers: Popular Fiction of the 1970s (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1981), p. 13.

59. During the 1980s, England's Book Marketing Council developed several controversial promotional campaigns, culminating in 1983 with “The Best Novels of Our Time.” The listing, which omitted most of the literary giants, outraged the London press. Not surprisingly, only three Americans made the list – Salinger, Bellow, and Nabokov. Heller was a finalist, but as one judge enigmatically noted, Heller and Norman Mailer “cancelled each other out” (Atlas, James, “The London Literature Market,” Atlantic Monthly [02 1984]: 9598). In 1984, the Council addressed this oversight by placing both authors on a list of “Twenty Great American Post-War Novels.”

60. “Points from Publishers: The Heller Cult,” Bookseller, 10 20, 1962, pp. 1672–73.

61. Price, Stanley, “Joseph Heller – the Catch of 1962,” Topic, 10 20, 1962, pp. 4344.

62. Weatherby, , “The Joy Catcher,” p. 7.

63. Anthony Burgess, Review of Catch-22, Yorkshire Evening Post, 06 28, 1962.

64. The social side of Heller's October, 1962, trip to England is covered in detail by Price, “Joseph Heller,” and Lyons, Leonard, “The Lyons Den,” New York Post, 11 26, 1962. Official accounts of the Cheltenham Festival include Allen, Walter, “London Literary Letter,” New York Times, 10 28, 1962, and Dennis, Nigel, “Sex Among the Writers,” [London] Sunday Telegraph, 10 7, 1962.

65. Archer, Eugene, “‘Catch-22’ Movie Set by Columbia,” New York Times, 08 22, 1962, sec. L. The list of interested actors appeared in “What a Catch!” New York Times, 11 3, 1961, sec. L.

66. Archer, , “‘Catch-22’ Movie,” and Nathan, Paul, “Rights and Permissions,” Publisher's Weekly, 08 27, 1962, p. 293. Archer and Nathan reported that Columbia paid $150,000; Heller notes that the actual price was $100,000, with options as stated in the text above.

67. The film- and stage-related materials described here and following are located in Miscellaneous Papers, Catch-22.

68. Interest from producers Carl Forman and George Axelrod – both former screenwriters – convinced others that Catch-22 was do-able. During the summer of 1962, at least five more producer/directors expressed interest in Catch-22: Orson Welles, Robert Rossen, Otto Preminger, Richard Quine, and Billy Wilder (Price, , “Joseph Heller,” p. 43, and “Points from Publishers,” p. 1672). The rights eventually went to Paramount. The film was finally made by Mike Nichols in 1970, with a screenplay by Buck Henry. Orson Welles played a supporting role.

69. Archer, , “‘Catch-22’ Movie.”

70. Archer, , “‘Catch-22’ Movie.”

71. The Shipman-Heller correspondence summarized in the following paragraphs is located in Miscellaneous Papers, Catch-22.

72. Earney, Alan to the author, 02 25, 1988.

73. Ragan, Sam, “Southern Accent,” Raleigh Observer, 07 22, 1962.

74. “W.T.C.”, “‘Voice of Sanity’ Comes from Novel,” Durham Morning Herald, 06 10, 1962, p. 65.

75. Ragan, , “Southern Accent.”

76. Walters, , “In and Out.”

77. Fine to Heller, November 10,1961, Miscellaneous Papers, Catch-22.

78. Davis, , Two-Bit Culture, p. 300.

79. Tobey, to Heller, , 09 4, 1962, Miscellaneous Papers, Catch-22.

80. [Nina Bourne and Bob Gottlieb] “Happy Birthday Catch-22,” New York Times, 10 15, 1962.

81. Heller, to Fine, , 11 22, 1962, Miscellaneous Papers, Catch-22.

82. “Paperbacks,” Publisher's Weekly, 12 10, 1962, p. 42.

83. “Currents: Yossarian Lives On,” Publisher's Weekly, 04 8, 1963, p. 13.

84. Milwaukee, Journal, 01 27, 1963.

85. Kolins, Bill, “Books I Like,” Best Seller, 01, 1963, pp. 34.

86. Tobey, to Heller, , 09 8, 1965, Miscellaneous Papers, Catch-22.

87. Toynbee, , “Here's Greatness.”

88. Currents: Catch-22 Lives,” Publisher's Weekly, 08 20, 1962, p. 26.

89. “Currents: Yossarian Lives On,” Publisher's Weekly, 04 8, 1963, p. 13.

90. Norris, Hoke, “Critic At-Large: Literary Retreat to Virtue,” Chicago Sun-Times, 11 4, 1962.

91. “Paperbacks,” Publisher's Weekly, 12 10, 1962, p. 42.

92. Tobey, to Heller, , 02 24, 1967, Miscellaneous Papers, Catch-22.

93. Greenfeld, , “22 Was Funnier than 14,” p. 53.

94. Tobey, to Heller, , 02 24, 1967, Miscellaneous Papers, Catch-22.

95. Hackett, Alice Payne and Burke, James Henry, 80 Years of Best Sellers (New York: Bowker, 1977), p. 34; and Kisor, , “‘Catch-22’ Lives On,” p. 25.

96. Kisor, Henry, “‘Catch-22’ Lives On,” p. 25; and “BOMC Classics,” Book-of-the-Month Club News (01 1987): 19.

97. Schickel, Richard, “Book Publishing: Comes the Revolution,” Show (09 1962): 79.

98. Schickel, , “Book Publishing,” p. 79; and Ohmann, Richard, “The Shaping of a Canon: U.S. Fiction, 1960–1975,” Critical Inquiry 10 (09 1983): 199223.

99. Schickel, , “Book Publishing,” p. 107.

100. Heller, , “Reeling in Catch-22,” The Sixties, ed. Obst, Lynda Rosen (New York: Rolling Stone Press/Random House, 1977), pp. 5052.

101. Davis, , Two-Bit Culture, 300.

102. Cowley, Susan Cheever, “The Paper Tigers,” New York Sunday News, 10 6, 1974, p. 14ff; and “Books: The Agents: Writing with a $ Sign,” Time, 03 8, 1968, p. 96.

103. Starnes, , “Exciting Novel,” p. B1.

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