CLAIRE PERRY by
Robert G. Cowser
first contacted Claire Perry, the widow of the Texas writer George Sessions Perry,
when she was living in Guilford, CT in 1963. Perry drowned in the East River in
1956 after having wandered away from his house on a wintry day. As a graduate
student in English at Texas Christian University, I had begun collecting information
about Perry prior to writing a doctoral thesis. In response to my inquiry Claire
informed me that she had recently sold her husband’s papers to the University
of Texas at Austin. The materials were
necessary for my research. |
Sessions Perry grew up in Rockdale.
He and Claire lived there for several years during the Great Depression before
they decided to move to Connecticut in order to be nearer his publishers. From
Claire, I learned the names of several citizens in Rockdale
who were well acquainted with the Perrys. From Fort
Worth I drove to Rockdale
one weekend after having scheduled interviews with the Boswell Newtons. Mr. Newton
took me to the site of the farm Perry once owned and used as a setting for his
best work of fiction, Hold Autumn in Your Hand. I also interviewed others
who had known George Perry, among them Lena Leowenstein. ||
| I learned
during the time I spent researching Perry just how instrumental Claire Perry was
in her husband’s achieving success as a writer. She not only typed all of Perry’s
manuscripts, but she edited them as well. She advised him regarding the content
of the stories he submitted to the Saturday Evening Post and other popular magazines,
since Perry was more apt to challenge the conservative standards of the editors.
She also corrected Perry’s atrocious spelling. |
After having graduated
from Texas Christian, I accepted a teaching position in the at Quinnipiac University
in Hamden, CT. I moved there in 1966. A few months later, another member of the
Department, Mary Ellen Duffley, and I were married.
In the summer of
1967 I called Claire Perry and informed her that I was living in New Haven and
would like to visit her in her home in Guilford, only thirty minutes or less from
where I lived. Mrs. Perry was most gracious and set a time that would be convenient
for her to welcome Mary Ellen and me. Later in the week she called and suggested
that we meet her at her club on the shore. We could bring our suits and swim in
the Sound and have drinks afterward.
Mary Ellen and I arrived promptly
at the clubhouse on the shore and were warmly greeted. I spent a few minutes asking
her about The Southerner, a 1945 film starring Zachary Scott. The film was directed
by Jean Renoir and based on Perry’s Hold Autumn in Your Hand.
A few weeks later Claire invited Mary Ellen and me to a dinner party. There we
met several writers whom she had known for years; they had been well acquainted
with George Perry. One was Ned Lanham, another Texan, who wrote several novels
set in Texas. Another guest was the religion editor
for the Washington Post.
In the spring of 1970, before we moved to Tennessee
the following summer, Claire gave a dinner in our honor. One of the guests was
a retired U.S. Navy admiral. His wife took a seat on a bench that was placed before
the hearth where a fire was burning. The bench had no back support or arm rests.
While I was conversing with another guest, I heard a thud. When I turned to look,
the admiral’s wife had slid off the bench and had landed very near the fire.
While others helped the embarrassed woman to her feet, Claire remarked, “I’ll
have to do something about that old bench.”
Later, in Claire’s kitchen,
while she was removing the lasagna from the oven, she asked me the name of the
town in Tennessee to which we were moving.
“You won’t have heard of
it, “ I said. “It’s Martin—in the Northwest corner of the state.”
she deposited the hot pan on the table, she turned to me quickly. “Oh, yes, I
‘ve heard of Martin. My good friend Holland McCombs hails from there. He says
the main drag in town—McCombs Street—is named for his family. “
went on to say that Holland McCombs was the bureau chief for Time magazine in
Dallas. He was serving there when John
Kennedy was assassinated, she said.
After we moved to Tennessee, we exchanged
Christmas cards with Claire. In 1973 she died of complications related to emphysema.
She was buried beside George Perry’s remains in the Rockdale cemetery.