Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Paul Maclean’s Unsolved Murder

Norman Maclean’s novella, A River Runs Through It, has an interesting back story. As youngsters, Norman and his brother Paul lived in Helena and Missoula where their father was a Presbyterian minister.

From The Norman Maclean Reader, University of Chicago Press
The brothers were fighters and daredevils, and some still remember their antics. Paul later worked for the Helena and Great Falls newspapers, earning a fine reputation as House reporter during the 1930s legislative sessions. In 1938, Norman was teaching at the University of Chicago, and Paul had almost completed his masters degree in English there. In the wee hours of May 3, 1938, Paul was beaten to death in a back alley. Terry Dwyer of the Great Falls Tribune worked with Paul and knew him as a good reporter, but also as a man who would never back down from a fight. Many believed Paul’s murder was mob related—that he owed money, or knew something for which he needed silencing. But the murder was never solved, and Norman had to come to terms with his brother’s death. After he retired from teaching Shakespeare, Norman, at the age of seventy, took up writing. He cast his wild brother as that artistically perfect, but flawed, fly fisherman in A River Runs Through It. As Norman wrote the novella so many years later, he confronted demons of the past, discussing his brother’s death publicly for the first time. Norman’s daughter, Jean Maclean Snyder, told the Livingston Enterprise that her father believed you come to terms with something by understanding it. Norman finally reconciled Paul’s senseless death through his writing. “All good things,” he wrote, “come by grace and grace comes by art and art does not come easy.”

From More Montana Moments
P.S. Remember this unsolved mystery?

68 comments:

  1. Helena District Judge Henry Keenan knew both Paul and Norman well and covered the Montana 1937 legislative session working for Paul. He has a lot of insight on the murder and feels it wasnt mob related.He knew Paul as feisty ,belligerant and would fight at the drop of a hat.Judge Keenan said Paul was a good reporter though. He thought very highly of Norman and also his wife Jessie ;
    Frank Schlenzig

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  2. Hi, I am a cousin to Paul Davidson and Norman Fitzroy Maclean from Canada. Norman and Paul's dad stayed on our farms in Manitoba in 1889 and was introduced to Clara by my great, great grandfather and his cousin who is also a Maclean. We were told Paul's death had to do with his gambling debts as being also related to his mother's side as well. We have. It in our family books in Manitoba he was killed in Chicago. If you need more info on Norman or his dad I would be glad to help.

    Andrew Kelly

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    1. Yes, I agree that the murder was probably over gambling debts. I have written another piece on this topic elsewhere and done quite a bit of research. Should I ever expand it, I would definitely be most interested in talking with you. Thanks for your comment!

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    2. My email is Andrew.rkelly1@gmail.com

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  3. Here is what I know, which information I have shared with Norman's daughter who is a well respected attorney here in Chicago. I am 65, and have lived in Chicago all my life, having graduated from Northwestern. When I was 16, my father cautioned me about the dangers of my gambling since he had a friend who was beaten to death for gambling debts. Immediately afterwards, my father started sucking air as if he had said something he had not meant to say. Seven years later I confronted my father about my feelings that he had some deep dark secret in his past. Once again, he looked totally freaked out. (My sister who is a high powered lawyer who has a national reputation came to a similar conclusion.) But my father went to his grave without revealing his secret in part because he quit drinking in 1947 when my sister was born. In 1938, my father lived on the 6400 block of South Vernon in Chicago, which is exactly one full block away from the 6400 block of South Rhodes, which is where Paul was killed. (Only Euclid Avenue is in between.) My father was a wild man free spirit outdoors fisherman womanizer booze hound who was from North Dakota, and he was a Presbyterian. Paul was the same except that he was from Montana. Given that Chicago was (and to a lesser extent still is) a city of neighborhood bars, I would be very surprised if he and Paul did not know each other. (Indeed, what attracted me so much to the movie of "A River Runs Through It," was the similarity between Paul's character and my father's was as to what imagined him as a young man in his twenties. In the movie, Paul is killed in Montana, and only in the past five years did I discover the true facts of Paul's death. It blew me away.

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    1. Thank you for your perspective and your comments! I agree with you. It was a small world (and still is) in many respects. They likely did know each other, and maybe your dad knew something about the murder. So interesting to speculate! Thank you!

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    2. The fact all the bones in his hand were broken indicate a couple things. First, breaking a hand in the gambling world is the punishment for cheating although it could be related to debt. Second, that his hand was either broken in a vice or with a sledge hammer. In that case my guess is he was tortured/punished and murdered somewhere other than the alley his body was discovered in. The alley was simply a body dump.

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    3. I just don't understand in the movie why Paul had to be murdered in Chicago rather than Montana. I love the flick so much, so that difference blew me away.
      Does anyone have any idea?
      Ken - Osaka, Japan

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    4. He was killed in MONTANA in the flick. Sorry about the typo. Ken

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    5. I have an idea why he was killed in Montana and not Illinois. It's a fictitious story, that's why its called a n-o-v-e-l lol

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    6. Yep, and you put your rear end on your head instead of your brains when you wake-up.

      I am Paul's cousin and his death was real just the place where he died was not.

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  4. Many theories spun from my cousin Paul's death, from the Indian lady he went with in Montana, Montana, the baseball game in the 1930's with a black lady to gambling debts. My guess, (if I had to put money on it lol) is gambling debts. You can take the gambler out of the one environment, however, when that environment follows you that is a different story.

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  5. Hi Ken;

    I am Norman Maclean's cousin from Canada and I think I can help you about why Paul was killed in Montana instead of Chicago in the book and movie.

    1) Norman did have regrets in bringing Paul to Chicago because of his behavior and attributes he brought along with him.

    2) Norman was most likely writing about in some cases an apology for about Paul's death, in some cases the emphases on words etc.


    3) Norman wrote in the book as well he was killed in Montana. Reasons unknown.


    Hope this helps.

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  6. Hi Andrew,

    Thank you so much for your prompt reply from Manitoba. I’m more than happy to have heared from you! You really helped not just me: my wife and a friend of mine, who all are 'haunted' by that movie and the book as well.

    In the movie when Norman goes “What do you say? Come with us (to Chicago)”, then Paul replies, “I’ll never leave Montana, brother”. So that scene, now I guess, is a point of frog, how Norman wanted the real life to be. Paul is murdered in Montana later anyway though. I guess I have not been aware enough of Norman’s feeling of regret while watching the movie over and over again. It’s a shame.

    Again, thanks a lot. I have been even thinking of planning to visit Lolo Hot Springs, where Paul was supposed to be murdered! Do not worry, thanks to your advice, we love the movie again, feeling like watching it again soon.

    Cheers,

    Ken

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    1. Read the book, it fills in a lot of details that cannot be captured in a movie.

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  7. Off topic, the film is brilliant with words. I think the answers you seek are in the poetry in the end of this film. The father's last sermon that Norman attended, adding the poetry. I think his words painted pictures that we would spend a lifetime trying to grasp a single word that could reach that deep.

    'Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. 
    I am haunted by waters.'

    'Each one of us here today will at one time in our lives look upon a loved one who is in need and ask the same question: We are willing to help, Lord, but what, if anything, is needed? For it is true we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don't know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. And so it is those we live with and should know who elude us. But we can still love them - we can love completely without complete understanding.'

    In saying all this. I think from my perspective, Norman wanted to remember 'the fine fisherman' and the character of man his brother was in a whole, with regret lurking from his shoulder. He buried his brother more than once, through words. God bless.

    -Victoria Hope

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  8. That is typical of that generation of Maclean's of not talking about somebody after they died.

    Us Manitoba Macleans had the same thinking.

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  9. Paul's death is so sad. What a beautiful person, lost forever.

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  10. I think that Paul saying he would never leave Montana and the book having him killed in Montana is a metaphor for never being able to take the Montana out of Paul. Probably, even though he was in Chicago, Paul still acted like he was back in Montana; drinking, gambling and fighting. Of which all three, more than likely, led to his death.

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  11. good point on metaphor of never really leaving Montana. One other note, I wonder if anybody could colaborate a story I read which is either true or not true that Paul "begged" Norman for help but Norman refused. I would like to believe the story false but maybe somebody knows more.

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  12. Hi I am Paul Maclean's cousin. Norman helped Paul by relocating him to Chicago to break away from his habits. But old habits die hard. Norman's dad the Rev. John Norman Maclean wanted to help Paul as much as he could. The words of Rev Maclean, "was there anything more I could have done for Paul?"

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  13. This was after Paul died. Norman shipped Paul's body back to Montana. The Indian girl in the movie was @ Paul's funeral. Norman had great sorrow and we think part of his motive to write, "A River Runs Through It" was also for a release of Paul's death not to be a cloud over Norman's head.

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  14. Thanks Andrew, I'll try to be respectful in what I write. I agree that Norman had "great sorrow". I wonder if he felt a touch of guilt also, which may also been a motive for the book. It seems Norman wanted to help but maybe felt helpless in trying to help because maybe Paul was beyond help. idk, just speculating. I also wonder, did Jessie have any part in trying to "help". Thanks

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  15. We know that Paul was always happy for Norman and Jessie I would imagine that she did her part to help Paul. Jessie did convert over to the Presbyterian faith from being what Rev Maclean said, "A Baptist that can read and write" however, I am not sure how big of a role. Jessie is also another distant cousin from me as I am related on both sides of the family.

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    1. Jessie was a Methodist, which, in the movie, the father describes as "Baptists who can read."

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  16. I am watching ARRTI, again. Father and boys are fishing for the last time, unbeknownst to all three. And Paul (Brad) is as beautiful as he must have been in life. As described by Norman. I have no ties to this family, but the book and movie haunt me well. The bittersweet journeys of this family toward Paul's tragic end, and the imprint his being left on all of them, and the regret they carried with them throughout the rest of their lives like ghosts perched on their shoulders are haunting reminders to us all that life and love and death are forever intertwined and fleeting.

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  17. Been to the actual place where Paul last fished with Norman and his dad (my cousin) the Rev. J.N. Maclean.

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    1. I am going to northern Montana in October to fish where is the site your talking about

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    2. Go to Seeley Lake and ask at the Grizzly Claw for the River Keeper. He can show you.

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  18. As Norman is haunted by waters, everyone is haunted by Paul's death. Wonderful story and movie, but a tradic end to a beautiful person, relationship and life.

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  19. Hi Andrew, where is the actual place where Paul, Norm and Dad last fished together? Me and my wife are visiting Montana this summer partly to look around the footsteps of the Mclean story and the movie. Could you suggest any place for us, if possible? Thanks. Ken

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  20. Hi Ken; Paul's last place is located near Charles Linburgh's summer house a green coloured house. It is by the Bellmount River as the area is called Bellmount and the Bellmount river is near by. It is down a steep hill and looking across is a gorge with red coloured trees growing out of it.

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  21. A good place to stay is either the hotel I stayed at just as you come into town Selley Lake motor in, or the double Arrow lodge

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  22. Thank you so much for your quick turnaround Andrew! We will definitely stop by at Selley Lake. Ken

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  23. Hi again Andrew,
    Would you think or know if Paul had a chance to fish in the east after relocated (by Norman) to Chicago? Fishing must have been an old habit of his, too. Just wondering. Thanks a lot. Ken

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  24. Unknown if he did go fishing in Chicago. We know that Paul worked for the Chicago Tribune and the University of Chicago newspaper. Unknown if he ever went fishing, he was hung over when he went to work @ around 1:00PM in the afternoon and worked until 7:00PM till 8:00PM. The Indian lady in the movie who hung around Brad Pitt in the movie did in real life attended Paul's funeral. I will have to ask my cousins that part. I know that his death may have been linked to either:

    1) the mob
    2) Indian lady he hung around with in Chicago
    3) black lady he went with to a Chicago Cubs game with

    Other theories have spun out. Here is a link to Norman's life, I tried to put on the Missoulan article from 2000 but this program will not allow that.

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norman_Maclean

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    1. What is your source for saying Paul worked for the Tribune? He worked for the University of Chicago in the public information department, I was told. There was and is no University of Chicago newspaper.

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    2. Norman's son John worked for the Tribune for 30 years. http://JohnMacleanBooks.com Perhaps that's what Andrew was thinking? ... Not many trout streams in Illinois. ;\

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  25. Thanks once again Andrew.
    Life without fishing must have been tough for Paul, if that's the case. At least there might not be trout rivers he would enjoy in the east.

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  26. I hope to fish the same area some day with my boys, or atleast some of the same rivers that they fished. I saw the movie in the theater when it first came out. The book and movie always haunted me even after countless re-reads and watches. I am very happy that people are still talking about the family. Thanks.

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  27. Hi Andrew, you mentioned a black women and Cubs game two times in this post..please explain what happened. Was it race relations? I read from other sources about Paul and others say Paul would like to instigate, antagonize or just plain go out looking for fights. I wonder if he finally picked a fight with the wrong guy/group? and got what was coming to him.

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  28. Hi Anonymous;

    Paul was a rebellious type child as also pictured in the movie, "A River Runs Through It" he tried to change the last name to McLean . In Scottish terms that is an insult as it makes us as low landers.

    Regarding the baseball game, yes Paul did go with a black lady as he had no intentions of following the order of the day. He would go out with Indian or black ladies back then. I guess it was to show a form of rebellion to his dad, (my cousin) the Rev John N Maclean. Paul was bailed out secretly a few times. Norman brought Paul to Chicago to get a clean start in life,however, Paul's vices came along as well. After Paul was killed the Indian lady he went to the speak easy with came to his funeral.

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    1. Again, what is your source about Paul going out with a black woman? Or is that speculation?

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  29. Hi Andrew, We just came back from Montana. We had a chance to talk with a lady at Seeley Lake Visitor Center. She has met Norman's son and daugher in person. Also, the town is expecting its 25-year anniversary event in September; one of the guests is Tom Skerritt. Ken

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  30. hi Ken;

    She might have meet me too, if she was the one at the museum. I supplied the info on Clara Davidson and her parents. My side of the Maclean family knew the Davidson's a few years before the Rev Maclean did. I know they are having a festival this year. My health is not the greatest so I stay here in Alberta Canada until things change.

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  31. Dear Andrew,
    Yes, the museum, where some old stuffs from Maclean's summer house are exhibited. That would be awesome if we could come back to join you in Seeley Lake, but we cannot either. Take care Andrew. Thanks. Ken

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  32. Hi Andrew,

    Before hitting Seeley Lake and the museum, we stopped by former Norman Maclean’s house and the first presbyterian church right across the street in Missoula. A funny thing was that the neighbors today, including a young gentleman now living in the house, did not seem to know or care very much about the Macleans. After Seeley Lake, we visited Bozeman and Livingston, where the Redford’s movie was filmed. Some of the buildings, as typified by “The Police Station”, were still standing as they had looked on the movie.

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  33. So I guess the last line of the novella "I am haunted by waters" is Normans guilt in not being able to help Paul. After reading this blog it sounds like Paul had it coming to him. Great story, great writing. I think this story is Norman feeling guilt for not helping Paul. Its funny, the father is a minister, and Paul is a wild man, throwing caution to the wind.

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  34. Maybe.. Paul said he'd never leave Montana, and his death being depicted there instead of Chicago is representative of Paul's life in that no matter where he went the result was going to be the same.. fishing and gambling were who he was no matter where he ended up.. maybe Norman was saying that even had he been in Montana, his ways woulda caught up with him..they were such different times, it seems his rebellious ways and refusal to comform with societal norms might of pissed a few people off!! Such a beautiful story of love of fishing and family!! - Mandy

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  35. I would like to suggest an alternative possibility as to the reason for NMac's writing, and address the ideas of guilt and 'haunted by waters.'
    There are many comparisons between the Maclean family and mine. I am a Christian pastor in East Helena, Montana. My oldest son, much like NMac, is a successful businessman in Seattle. My youngest son, much like PMac, lost his life this past October at the age of 29, needlessly because of his inability to receive help forthe problem he dealt with. With that background, my perspective is this:
    Norman did not feel guilt. He tried to help Paul, and was frustrated and saddened by Paul's inability to receive help. Sadness and frustration also felt by their father, who from the book and movie, loved both of his boys. John's desire for Norman to write the story was to try to make sense of a wasted life that showed so much promise ... especially through fishing.
    My estimation is that NMac was haunted by waters because it vicerally represents the family sadness of a young life lost that would never be on the water again.

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    1. So sorry for your loss. I, lost my husband to suicide 21 years ago because he would not stay in therapy. Our daughters were 9 and 7 then. A River Runs Through It parallels that loss.

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    2. I have a friend going through serious drug problems. He does not accept nor try to help himself. Its fustrating because we know with Gods help he can be saved, but he refuses to make that inititial step of faith. He's lost. I agree with Pastor Richards. God Bless both you and Ms. Kelly.

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  36. For me, the story can be summed up by Paul's line from the movie "Well, maybe what he likes is somebody trying to help him." In reference to Jessie's brother, but perhaps also about himself. The waters, however, haunted Norman perhaps because it was there that his brother was perfect, regardless of what was happening in his day to day life.

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  37. This is all interesting reading. I've long been a fan of the book and have always tried to find more information about Paul Maclean and the timeline of his life. Fact is most people who knew him are also not with us. What strikes me most are some of the pieces of the story that tend to rise up from myth and fiction - his obituary states he was a champion handball player in a Chicago. That's an interesting fact. He also attended Dartmouth and played football there but I can find no record of this. He died 80 years ago of mysterious circumstances but really it's his life I'm more interested in - in one way he seemed to follow in his older brother's footsteps in all he did, but was also trying to be his own person. Really hard to imagine that this guy fought and drank as much as he did or if that's all just romantization - and further what would be the psychological need for him to do this? The societal implications of manhood were strong within the River story - Ina hundred years so much has changed, for the better. These guys had to play tough. Just fun to try and piece his life together - so far I can assemble only a very small amount of info to make a Wikipedia page or similar. If anyone has any info to provide please let me know.

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    1. I'm replying to my own post here - I think much is made of drinking and gambling and womanizing and fighting. Im speculating - but I honestly don't think this is what made Paul unique as I'd imagine most rough blue collar young men of the era engaged in this sort of thing. Gambling was entertainment in a rural area. As was drinking. Not sure how much womanizing one could do in a town with maybe a few dozen young women. Further anyone who has been in a fight knows that teeth really do get knocked out - skulls can get fractured and noses easily broken. Pictures I've seen of Paul look completely normal- there is one pic where he seems to have a black eye. Also i think he was maybe five foot 8. Tall for the era but perhaps not very big? But my point is that he was a relatively white collar guy caught up in some low brow type stuff. I do think he either drank and liked to "party" as I've seen written, but as to whether he was a full blown addict is another thing. As far as his death we are all speculating. Everyone refers to gambling debts but I think this is too easy and goes back to the romantic gambling man - but really we have no evidence of that besides reference from a book that uses a lot of poetic license. I find it just as likely, based on the accounts in the newspaper after he died, that he was out and got blind drunk and walked home through chicago in the middle of the night and was jumped and beaten and suffered the fatal injury early on. Nearly all the bones in his hand being broken comes from the book and not fact, I don't believe. I think he was a drunk who got mugged. But what do I know. It's always more fun to concoct a mysterious story but perhaps it was no more than that. it may have had nothing to do with his job or who he was as a person. But as I said I'm really more interested in putting together a timeline of his life based on whatever info we have.

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    2. Do more research. Read the quotes from colleagues who worked under him. He sounds worse than Norman lets on. Do your hw.

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  38. Have done that, thanks. Widely available on the internet but it's just quotes from one or two people and at that it's vague. I think I'm intrigued by the idea of a person who is belligerent and eager to fight, and drinks heavily would make it anywhere in the world. It speaks of another time, I've just always wondered if perhaps that time has been romanticized to the point where who he was has been simplified - what's odd too is the guy looked like Montgomery Clift. When Norman and his father referred to him as beautiful, they may have also been referring to his physical appearance. Also, as a man in those times to be kind of have serious movie star looks, perhaps you had to be belligerent. Perhaps there was a notion that such men were effeminate. Maybe he felt he had something to prove. All conjecture - but the story has always felt incomplete to me. In a good way. That's poetic license that Norman refers to, but I have always wanted to connect the dots. A few sentences from an intern on a Helena newspaper doesn't reveal much. I also don't feel that Paul Maclean was some non-functioning addict. If he was an alcoholic, he was highly functioning. I suppose my question was what are some further sources - a quote above said he got to work on 1 on the day he died a son he was hungover. Just curious what the source is. Simple questions but perhaps there are no answers. The man died 80 years ago. And were it not for his older brother's book, the guy would just be an anybody - as are we all

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    1. I agree with the notion that he "would make it anywhere in the world". The guy seemed like he can do anything. We differ on "beautiful". I think its the persona as a whole that Norman was talking about. This includes looks, intelligence, social attributes. To me, it seemed Paul could do anything that he wanted. The guy was fearless. From our point of view, the guy had no blemishes, he was perfect....You and I probably read the same quotes from the same sources from the same paper. i couldn't find one positive note on this guy. My guess is that where there's smoke, there's fire. Also, I can't find any hint that Paul attended Dartmouth. I'm thinking he did stay in Montana after all and Norman used "poetic license". Read Andrew Kellys post above and you'll see that Paul was dysfunctianable. I gree that wasn't non-functioning, but I do believe the guy was a trouble maker. Your making more than is really there. I think the more you delve, the more disappointed you'll be. So we have this larger than life guy who self-destructs on a consistant basis untill he is finally put out of his misery. I read a source who said, regarding Pauls death, that "Paul was being Paul" before he skull was crushed. Thats some reputation to be carrying around. I tell you one thing, he life story would've made for an equally good read as "a river".

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  39. Paul did attend Dartmouth and I've seen his photographs in yearbooks from 1929 or so. Going on memory here. I have them but don't know how to post them here. I believe he only went there 2 years - again have to check facts. College was a different thing then. Anyway - certainly am not making too much of him. He's the tragic figure in one of the great pieces of literature in the 20th century. It should just be left at that but something always left me wanting, like Norman, to understand him better. Nice seeing that there are others who feel the same - thanks for your response. Nice to hear other perspective.

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    1. He was a preacher's son. Do you know very many of them? They are the hellers in any town. Paul was no exception. A close reading of Norman's novel tells us Paul refused to "eat his oatmeal," as a little child, displaying a defiant will that Norman didn't have. As a former newspaper reporter, I will tell you that reporters drink more than the average bear, and many of them--especially in the 1930s--are and were alcoholics. Remember the line how Norman met his brother at 10am and he looked like a man fixing to buy a drink? At best, Paul had a drinking problem. If you read the history of Montana, you will learn that the Anaconda Company controlled most of everything in the state--the newspapers, the forests, the mills, the minerals, smelters, railroads. A few crusading newspapers opposed the company, and Paul worked for them. Which I'm sure made him even more combative--his newspaper work is sarcastic, sharp and well-reported. And well written. But worrying about the details of his life won't yield much. What's more interesting to me is how his life and death affected his brother, father and mother, and how, from such a bungled life, Norman created a masterpiece. Of course, teaching Lear and Hamlet for almost 40 years helped him frame the story. JMHO PS Of course he was competing with Norman!

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  40. What caused Jessie's death at such a relatively young age?

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    1. Smoking too many god damn cigarettes.

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  41. I re-read the book a couple of years ago. I also watched the move and paid close attention to Paul's death. The move never really says that he died here in MT...but it sort of implies it. I live in Clinton, MT and was wondering if anyone knew where the MacLeans lived here in Missoula.

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  42. I'm curious. I loved the book, the movie, and the characters (family), but why does everyone call Paul beautiful, as he was full of vices he refused to abandon, or even deal with? He was truly loved by his family, but how would others know him as beautiful?

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    1. Google his name "Paul Davidson Maclean" and you will see a man who looks like a movie star.

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