Where Is William Wharton?

UPDATE (Oct. 30/08): Apparently he died yesterday. I’m saddened by the news. See William Wharton, 1925-2008.

william wharton

William Wharton is the author of Birdy, Dad, A Midnight Clear, and many other excellent books. He has written non-fiction, too, including Ever After: A Father’s True Story, a heart-wrenching account of how his daughter’s family got killed in a car crash caused by smoke from nearby fires in Oregon.

I was introduced to William Wharton’s books through Peter Gabriel, who did the soundtrack for the under-rated movie Birdy. The movie is based on Wharton’s book of the same name. It’s about a guy who thinks he’s a bird after a traumatic incident during World War II (although the movie uses the Vietnam War, of course). It’s one of Nicholas Cage’s and Matthew Modine’s earliest and best movies.

Franky Furbo is a novel about a soldier who’s rescued by a fox with fantastical powers. The author suggests that the tale is one he told to his kids; it’ll make you want to tell it to your own kids – it’s magical.

Wharton’s last book was Houseboat on the Seine. It’s a non-fictional account for how he bought a houseboat in Paris. I remember laughing out-loud at parts.

He hasn’t published anything that I know of since 1994. He has no “official” website; a lot of references to him online are inaccurate, and no full biography exists. You can learn a lot from him through his books, but he’s chosen to remain anonymous.

He also paints, as he describes in his novel Last Lovers (which I recently read and enjoyed a lot).

If you want to try Wharton (and you should), I recommend A Midnight Clear first, unless you prefer non-fiction; then, Ever After: A Father’s True Story.

He’s one of the few authors that I’ll read anything he writes.

33 Replies to “Where Is William Wharton?”

  1. yeah…yup….of course….yup…what else to say…as if i wrote it…except gramatically and spelling correct…did not know about a couple of the books….will have to look them up..

  2. I like William Wharton and would definitely buy any new book of his. His books seemed to slowly lose their steam over the years, but my perception could be biased by the huge impression his first novel, BIRDY, made on me — it’s a powerhouse and it’s hard to beat it. A “first” novel written by someone who’d obviously written a few novels before this one. I read it when I was 17 over a long weekend by myself. I don’t think I was ever so immersed in a novel, in the world it presented to me, the characters, their lives, even the fantasy/dream portions of the story. I re-read the novel 3 or 4 more times over the years and felt like I knew the characters personally. It was a bit unusual. I’m not sure how the novel would hold up reading it for the first time as an adult. Things that come at you during your formative years always leave a stronger impression than things you experience as an adult. I don’t know how objective I can be about BIRDY.

    Wharton’s second novel, DAD, which was also made into a movie (and it’s a stinker), had similar qualities. It also contains certain fantasy/dream elements, and it’s remarkable how affective those sections of the novel are. The story, about a man who has to take care of his father after a heart attack, isn’t as strong as BIRDY, but there are many parts that are equally compelling and affective. I don’t critically analyse any of Wharton’s books. That would ruin them. I’m a shitty critic, anyway.

    His next novel, A MIDNIGHT CLEAR, isn’t long and doesn’t need to be. It’s a straightforward telling of one of Wharton’s experiences during World War Two. One thing I like about Wharton’s novels is that it’s easy to take track of who’s who, and partly because of that it’s easy to get to know the characters, which is what happens in this book. By the time it’s all over, it’s difficult not to feel for these guys, to wonder what’s going to happen to them next. Wharton writes a brief epilogue, and it packs a punch. This is one of the least novelish of his novels. Nothing about it feels made-up. (It was also made into a half-decent film.)

    With SCUMBLER, his 4th novel, a story about a painter (and I don’t remember much about it even though I’ve read it twice), things begin to slow down a bit. It has its moments, but it’s a bit of a mess in terms of narrative. It feels like a book of impressions, a painterly thing, so maybe I read it wrong. At any rate, for me, his first three novels are the strongest. None of his later books are really bad, but I don’t think they’re in the same league as BIRDY.

    TIDINGS and FRANKY FURBO are nice books. TIDINGS, a story about his family getting together for Xmas (I think that’s what it’s about) has some interesting chapters, but overall, it doesn’t pack much of a punch. It’s almost too personal; it’s like you have to know the people in real life to really get it.

    FRANKY FURBO is supposedly a collection of stories for kids. Maybe it is. I didn’t get that at the time, and I haven’t read it since. It was around this time that his daughter and her family were killed, and my guess is, that took a lot out of him. I would retreat forever and to hell with everyone if something like that happened to me, which is perhaps what he’s done.

    LAST LOVERS didn’t do much for me. It’s a story about a painter in France who develops a relationship with an old blind woman (if I’m recalling correctly). I read it, but it felt like work getting through it; it didn’t grab me. As with most of his novels, it’s difficult to read them and not feel like you’re getting to know William Wharton. I get the impression he wrote this novel after the death of his daughter and during a temporary separation with is wife. But who knows. It’s an odd novel, one that I think would appeal mostly to die-hard Wharton fans. If Jody liked it, I might try it again someday.

    After LAST LOVERS, Wharton began writing books that are openly non-fiction. The first, EVER AFTER (or WRONGFUL DEATHS), the story of his daughter’s death, is not an easy read. It’s a sad way to get to know the author, but it definitely gives you a glimpse of what his life is like — and it’s pretty cool (he’s a painter who lives in a houseboat in France), except for the horrible death of his daughter and her family. Gotta say, he seems like a good guy. If I ever go to France, he’s the only person I’d care to meet, just to say, “I like your books.”

    His last English-language book came out in 1996, HOUSEBOAT ON THE SEINE, and it’s a cool memoir. He’s had some shitty things happen in his life, but he paints and lives on houseboat with his wife who seems like the warmest, kindest person you’d ever meet. He talks about how he found and built and eventually lived on the houseboat.

    Again, this is probably of more interest to people who already know William Wharton through his books. It’s kind of like hanging out with him. I only read it once, but I enjoyed it. Again, if I ever go to France, I’m looking for that boat.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if William Wharton doesn’t publish another book in his lifetime. I’ll bet he’s tired. Or maybe he’s publishing under a different pseudonym. I could see that. That seems like something he’d do. Maybe.

    UPDATE: I forgot about his novel, PRIDE. It’s a good one too.

  3. I happened across the movie Birdy on TV a few weeks ago, coincidentally. It was already about 20 minutes in, but recognizing the young Nick Cage and Matthew Modine drew my attention. My wife and I watched the rest of the movie intently. It was one of those stories that captures your attention and keeps it. Nothing exciting, nothing blowing up, no car chases. I liked it (in spite of these obvious oversights). I would never have recommended it to this audience though. I could never have guessed it was truly a quality piece of work, being the uncultured sloth that I am… a mocker afraid of mocking. :)

    I wouldn’t know William Wharton from White Stripes if they stepped on me.

  4. I and Mr. Wharton have actually traded a few letters over the years. In a letter I received around 6 months ago, WW mentioned that he recently turned 80 years old. Though he sounds to be in good health, novel writing is major work and I’m not sure he is as interested in publishihng as he was 20-30 years ago. In earlier letters he indicated that other books were completed or nearly complete but have not yet been published. I remember seeing a citation somewhere that a new Wharton novel was published in Poland, but has yet to be published in the English language. For some reason, WW enjoys an extensive and dedicated fan base in Poland. A book showcasing his art was published in Poland and it is amazing. WW wrote the introduction to the book and in also includes a time-line bio of WW. Would love to see this translated.

        • According to Wikipedia…

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Wharton_%28author%29

          …a book of his paintings was published in Poland in 1999.

          He wrote several books, including a sequel to Birdy, published only in Poland translated to Polish. That bugs me. English versions must exist, but have never been published. I’d buy them.

          I wonder what’s happening with his literary estate. Nothing? Or is someone putting together a collected works series? Probably not. Too bad.

  5. BIRDY the movie does a remarkable job at creating the world of the main characters. The feeling of the book is there in the film, or least most of the film. There are things they had to do away with in the screenplay, namely the dream/fantasy portions of the novel, which is too bad because it’s such a huge part of the novel, but the look and feel of the characters, how they interact and the neighbourhood they live in — they nailed it. The flashbacks in the film aren’t as smooth as they could have been, the voice-over narration doesn’t work too well, and some of the music is misplaced (just saying how I would have done a few things differently), but still, the feel of the movie is pretty close to perfect. I don’t think BIRDY is a great film, but it’s unique and worth a look.

  6. I heard about his fanbase in Poland, too, and that a new book was published there. That’s interesting. I would love to get a closer look at his art beyond what I’ve seen on the covers of some of his novels.

  7. You’ll find lots of references to him on Polish sites if you search for his image. I, too, knew about his popularity there. I’m interested in seeing his art, too, but I couldn’t easily find anything online.

    > I and Mr. Wharton have actually traded a few letters over the years.

    So how’s he doing?! Still living in the houseboat?

  8. Mr. Wharton’s real name is Albert DuAime & you can see a few pictures of him & his wife as well as reproductions of some of his art work on his web site: – duaime.com.
    After Houseboat on the Seine he wrote quite a few books that were only published in Poland. I’ve written his last publisher and agent to find out if they will ever be translated, but have not heard anything. I’ve enjoyed all his books & think the movie versions of Birdy & Midnight Clear were good, but the film of Dad was horrible.

  9. I’ve just been told William died at his family place in California.
    Lived a nice 83 years of life :)
    Some of us will never forget him

  10. William Wharton, a pen name for Bert DuAime, was a old family friend. I have had the privelidge to know him, his wife and his family (including his daughter who tragically died in Oregon in a auto accident) for 45 years. I last saw him and his wife in September 2007 in Paris where we spent a wonderful day. He was an absolute genius in both a creative sense (artist-I have two of his paintings) and as a novelist. He had the gift of making people feel like they were welcome, wanted and important. It was hard not to WANT to communicate with him, and his family. His later years were less productive in the written word but productve in his paintings. He has not sold his paintings (except for the early years when this was his primary income) but kept them in a personal collection.He will be missed by those who have read his works, seen his paintings and had the lucky opportunity to know him. His was an awesome person. Yes, as omeone mentioned above, his wife Rosemary is the most generous, warm and likeable person.

  11. Jon: thanks for posting the comment. It’s wonderful hearing from people who knew Wharton.

    As Phillip wrote, he was one of the good ones. My life feels a tad empty, even though I never knew the man.

  12. Wonderful to read people’s thoughts, I’ve been in love w/William Wharton books since I started reading them 18 years ago – I reread them religiously and try to live my life w/ideas inspired by his writings.
    My condolences to all who love him, his work and his family…

  13. To Jon, who posted on 31st Oct.
    I wonder if you could get in touch (mattjreganyahoo.com). Although I did not know Bert personally, my wife (who is Polish) knew him, his wife and his son very well and often stayed with them in Paris when she was younger. He was very dear to her, and she would very much like to pass on her condolences to Rosemary and Will.

  14. I knew Bert and, especially, Kate in the early 60’s while we were living in Paris. I know many of his works, but he was prolific annd there were many I am sure I ahve never see. These are very interesting. Tx for letting us see them. I will try to get some images of the two I own.
    Jon

  15. I met Albert Duaime in Columbus, Ohio in 1971 when he was visiting his friend Wally Jensen, a Professor at Ohio State. I bought four of his paintings; scenes in or around Paris painted in 1967-69. We love the paintings but since my wife and are approaching 80 years of age we wonder if there is a market for his paintings.
    Tom

  16. Tom,
    I am Jonathan Jensen. Son of Wallace Jensen. Likeley you know me as Bo. I remember your name but can’t recall the relationship to my dad. I would be interested in talking to you about the paintings, Bert, the Duaimes and the paintings. I Know that Bert did want to have the paintings left to the family. I have two paintings from that period.

    What strange and wonderful way tomake connections again

    email me at esopus50@comcast.net

    Best

    Bo

    Jonathan E. Jensen MDFACP FACG

  17. Hi, as you can see my name is Joshua Hileman I have a very interesting story to tell this post about the late great William Wharton and any information anyone can give me would be greatly appreciated. I was a Certified Nursing Assistant at Scripps Encinitas in Encinitas, CA and I had the pleasure and honor of meeting someone that I had never heard of Mr.Albert Du Aime, I took care of him and had the pleasure of meeting his wife and son as well. Well once his wife had told me so much about him I was fascinated that I was taking care of someone so special and so important in the literature and art world. Well the 4th day I was taking care of Albert aka William I asked him to sign something for me this was on 08-23-2008 and he did more than that. He drew me a picture of a bird in a birdcage wrote the words “B The birdy” and signed and dated the piece of paper. Albert as you probably already know died a little over 2 months later. While I know that I am very lucky to have such a distinguished author sign, draw and write a little letter for me. I have know idea what he means by “B the birdy” I embarassingly enough still have not read the book or seen the movie. Can anyone possibly tell me what they think he might mean. Any information would be very helpful.

    Thank you.

    • Joshua, I enjoyed reading your post very much as I am a huge fan of William Wharton/ Albert Du Aime.. I have seen “Birdy” and read “Birdy” and I think what Mr.Aime was trying to say was “while in the hospital, imagine yourself outside the hospital as a bird..” kind of like “Escape.. and take flight.. It’s meant more for people that are stuck in hospitals after/during war to act like they are birds outside in the sunshine and fresh air.

      Hope this helps.

      Thomas

      • Hey Thomas, first off I have to ask: “Are you thee Thomas Kinkade?” If so, that is absolutely amazing! I love your work/works! You are truly a very talented artist! Contact me at sequoiagroves@gmail.com if it is you. I would like to give you the piece that I have by Albert du Aime/William Wharton. I think you will appreciate it much more than I have.

  18. I read his latest book (2012), “Shrapnel” today. It’s a memoir of some of his experiences during WWII. It’s the least compelling of his memoirs, probably of interest only to die hard William Wharton fans.

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