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William Lindsay Gresham (; August 20, 1909 – September 14, 1962) was an American
novelist A novelist is an author An author is the creator or originator of any written work such as a book A book is a medium for recording information Information can be thought of as the resolution of uncertainty; it answers the question ...
and
non-fiction Nonfiction (also spelled non-fiction) is any document or content (media), media content that intends, in good faith, to present only truth and accuracy regarding information, events, or people. Nonfictional content may be presented either Objecti ...
author particularly well-regarded among readers of
noir Noir (or noire) is the French word for black. It may also refer to: Places In Canada * Noire River (Ottawa River tributary), in the Outaouais region of Quebec * Noire River, a tributary of the Yamaska River in Eastern Townships area, Quebec In ...
. His best-known work is '' Nightmare Alley'' (1946), which was adapted to film in
1947 It was the first year of the Cold War The Cold War was a period of geopolitical tension between the United States and the Soviet Union and their respective allies, the Western Bloc and the Eastern Bloc, which began following World W ...
and
2021 2021 is scheduled to host most major events that were originally scheduled for 2020, including the 2020 CONCACAF Nations League Finals, Eurovision Song Contest 2021, Eurovision Song Contest, UEFA Euro 2020, 2020 Summer Olympics, 2021 Copa Améri ...
.


Life and career

Gresham was born in
Baltimore, Maryland Baltimore ( , locally: ) is the List of municipalities in Maryland, most populous city in the U.S. state of Maryland, as well as List of United States cities by population, the 30th most populous city in the United States, with an estimated po ...
. As a child, he moved with his family to New York, where he became fascinated by the sideshow at
Coney Island Coney Island is a peninsula A peninsula ( la, paeninsula from 'almost' and 'island') is a landform A landform is a natural or artificial feature of the solid surface of the Earth or other planetary body A planet is an astronomic ...
. Upon graduating from
Erasmus Hall High School Erasmus Hall High School was a four-year public high school located at 899–925 Flatbush Avenue between Church and Snyder Avenues in the Flatbush, Brooklyn, Flatbush neighborhood of the New York City borough (New York City), borough of Brooklyn ...
in
Brooklyn Brooklyn () is a borough A borough is an administrative division in various English language, English-speaking countries. In principle, the term ''borough'' designates a self-governing walled town, although in practice, official use of the te ...

Brooklyn
in 1926, Gresham drifted from job to job, and worked as a folk singer in
Greenwich Village Greenwich Village ( , , ) is a neighborhood on the west side of Lower Manhattan Lower Manhattan, also known as Downtown Manhattan or Downtown New York, is the southernmost part of , the central for business, culture, and in . Lower Manh ...

Greenwich Village
. His parents divorced when he was 16. His own first marriage also ended in divorce, as well as his second to a New Jersey socialite which fell apart after nine years when he returned to America, embittered by his experiences in Spain. In 1937, Gresham served as a volunteer
medic A medic is a person involved in medicine such as a medical doctor A physician (American English American English (AmE, AE, AmEng, USEng, en-US), sometimes called United States English or U.S. English, is the set of varieties of the E ...
for the
Loyalist Loyalism, in the United Kingdom The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK) or Britain,Usage is mixed. The Guardian' and Telegraph' use Britain as a synonym for the United Kingdo ...
forces during the
Spanish Civil War The Spanish Civil War ( es, Guerra Civil Española)) or The Revolution ( es, La Revolución) among Nationalists, the Fourth Carlist War ( es, Cuarta Guerra Carlista) among Carlism, Carlists, and The Rebellion ( es, La Rebelión) or Uprising ( ...

Spanish Civil War
. There, he befriended a former sideshow employee, Joseph Daniel "Doc" Halliday, and their long conversations inspired much of his work, particularly Gresham's two books about the American
carnival Carnival is a Western Christian 250px, St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City, the largest church building in the world today. Western Christianity is one of two sub-divisions of Christianity Christianity is an Abrahamic religions, Abr ...
, the nonfiction ''Monster Midway'' and the fictional Nightmare Alley. Returning to the United States in 1939, after a troubling period that involved a stay in a
tuberculosis Tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious disease An infection is the invasion of an organism's body Tissue (biology), tissues by Pathogen, disease-causing agents, their multiplication, and the reaction of host (biology), host tissues to the in ...

tuberculosis
ward and a suicide attempt, Gresham found work editing
true crime True crime is a nonfiction Nonfiction (also spelled non-fiction) is any document A document is a written Writing is a medium of human communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share") is the act of develop ...
magazines. In 1942, Gresham married
Joy Davidman Helen Joy Davidman (18 April 1915 – 13 July 1960) was an American poet and writer. Often referred to as a child prodigy, she earned a master's degree from Columbia University in English literature at age twenty in 1935. For her book of poe ...
, a poet, with whom he had two children, David and
Douglas Douglas may refer to: People * Douglas (given name) Douglas is a Scottish masculine given name which originated from the surname ''Douglas (surname), Douglas''. Although today the name is almost exclusively given to boys, it was used as a girl' ...
. In 1946 he published Nightmare Alley, his first and most successful novel. It was purchased by Hollywood for $60,000 and made into a film of the same name in 1947 starring
Tyrone Power Tyrone Edmund Power III (May 5, 1914 – November 15, 1958) was an American actor. From the 1930s to the 1950s, Power appeared in dozens of films, often in swashbuckler A swashbuckler is a genre of European adventure literature that focuses ...
. Gresham and Davidman moved into a sprawling fourteen-room house in Staatsburg, New York. Gresham was an unfaithful and alcoholic husband. Davidman, an ethnically
Jewish Jews ( he, יְהוּדִים ISO 259-2 , Israeli pronunciation ) or Jewish people are an ethnoreligious group and nation originating from the Israelites Israelite origins and kingdom: "The first act in the long drama of Jewish history is ...
atheist Atheism, in the broadest sense, is an absence of belief A belief is an attitude Attitude may refer to: Philosophy and psychology * Attitude (psychology) In psychology Psychology is the science of mind and behavior. Psy ...

atheist
, became a fan of the writings of C. S. Lewis, which led eventually to her conversion to
Christianity Christianity is an Abrahamic The Abrahamic religions, also referred to collectively as the world of Abrahamism and Semitic religions, are a group of Semitic-originated religion Religion is a social system, social-cultural system of ...

Christianity
. Within a year or so Gresham was calling himself a Christian, which influenced his second and last novel, Limbo Tower. However, the couple struggled financially and Gresham would have tax problems for many years to come. Davidman complained to friends of his frequent drinking, serial infidelity, and even occasional eruptions of violence. At this time Gresham also became interested in
Dianetics Dianetics (from Greek#REDIRECT Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its population is app ...
, the 1950 self-help book by science fiction writer . Suffering from an illness, Davidman decided to go to England in 1952 to seek out C.S. Lewis, with whom she'd been corresponding. She invited her cousin, Renée Rodriguez—who was fleeing an abusive husband with her two small children—to keep house for her family in her absence. Gresham and Rodriguez soon began an affair. Gresham wrote to Davidman in January 1953 saying that they had become lovers and she returned to New York, enduring an awkward period where all three of them were living under the same roof because none could afford to go anywhere else. Davidman sold the house to pay off the Internal Revenue Service and moved to England with the boys. Later she married Lewis, their relationship forming the inspiration for the play and movie '' Shadowlands''. Gresham married Rodriguez as soon as the divorce was finalized. After Davidman's untimely death, Gresham visited England to see his sons. When it became apparent that they were well cared for, he left them in C. S. Lewis' care. Gresham joined
Alcoholics Anonymous Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is an international Social work with groups#Mutual aid, mutual aid fellowship with the stated purpose of enabling its members to "stay sober and help other Alcoholism, alcoholics achieve sobriety." AA is nonprofessional ...
and developed a deep interest in
Spiritualism Spiritualism is a new religious movement based on the belief that the spirits of the dead exist and have both the ability and the inclination to communicate with the living. The afterlife, or the "Spirit world (Spiritualism), spirit world", is s ...
, having already exposed many of the fraudulent techniques of popular spiritualists in his two sideshow-themed books and having written a book about
Houdini Harry Houdini (; born Erik Weisz; March 24, 1874 – October 31, 1926) was a Hungarian-born American escape artist magician Escapology is the practice of escaping from physical restraint, restraints or other traps. Escapologists (also cla ...
with the assistance of noted
skeptic Skepticism (American English, American and Canadian English) or scepticism (British English, British, Hiberno-English, Irish, Australian English, Australian, and New Zealand English) is generally a questioning attitude or doubt towards one or m ...
James Randi James Randi (born Randall James Hamilton Zwinge; August 7, 1928 – October 20, 2020) was a Canadian-American stage magician and scientific skepticism, scientific skeptic who extensively challenged paranormal and pseudoscientific claims.#R ...

James Randi
. Although an early enthusiast of
Scientology Scientology is a set of beliefs and practices invented by American author L. Ron Hubbard, and an associated movement. It has been variously defined as a cult In modern English, a cult is a social group In the social sciences, a s ...

Scientology
, he later denounced the religion as another kind of spook racket.


Death

In 1962, Gresham's health began to take a turn for the worse. He had started to go blind and was diagnosed with tongue cancer. On September 14, 1962, he checked into the Dixie Hotel, Manhattan—which he had often frequented while writing ''Nightmare Alley'' over a decade earlier. There, 53-year-old Gresham took his life with an overdose of sleeping pills. His death went generally unnoticed by the New York press but for a mention by a
bridge A bridge is a structure A structure is an arrangement and organization of interrelated elements in a material object or system A system is a group of Interaction, interacting or interrelated elements that act according to a set of rules t ...
columnist. Business cards were found in his pocket, reading "No Address. No Phone. No Business. No Money. Retired."


Works

* '' Nightmare Alley'' (1946); London : Raven Books, 2020, * ''Limbo Tower'' (1949) * ''Monster Midway: An Uninhibited Look at the Glittering World of the Carny'' (1954) * ''Houdini: The Man Who Walked Through Walls'' (1959) * ''The Book of Strength: Body Building the Safe, Correct Way'' (1961) * ''Grindshow: The Selected Writings of William Lindsay Gresham'', edited by Bret Wood (2013)


References


External links

* {{DEFAULTSORT:Gresham, William Lindsay 1909 births 1962 suicides 20th-century American novelists 20th-century American biographers American male biographers 20th-century American memoirists American male novelists American people of the Spanish Civil War American skeptics Critics of parapsychology Drug-related suicides in New York (state) Historians of magic International Brigades personnel Writers from Baltimore Writers from New York City Novelists from Maryland Novelists from New York (state) Suicides in New York City 20th-century American male writers 1962 deaths