Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Irregulars

Was Roald Dahl really a spy? That’s the question this book attempts to answer. Most of us know Mr. Dahl as the author of children’s books (James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, etc.) but after he was injured in a crash as a fighter pilot in World War II he was sent to Washington to complete his recuperation. There he immediately swept into the swirl of social activities with his bon vivant attitude. Though the British spy network that was operating in Washington (to the immense displeasure of J. Edgar Hoover) didn’t want to integrate Mr. Dahl into its fold they realized that his cachet with the political crowd and their backers could be invaluable in getting a sense of where the US was heading relative to Britain’s desperate need of an ally in the war against Nazism.

Not only was Dahl encouraged to glean as much gossip as possible but he was also encouraged to bed as many of the potential gossipers as he could. Initially his sexual prowess was tested to the limit but when that limit was reached he expressed his sexual fatigue. Nevertheless he was virtually ordered to continue with his conquests.

The upshot of his social arrangements was that he became virtually the protégé of Mr. Marsh, a Texas king maker who was very wealthy. As Dahl continued to extract gossipy pillow talk he also found that his circle of political friends grew to include Mr. and Mrs. Roosevelt as well as an up and coming politician from Texas, Lyndon Johnson.

The Marsh’s marriage was more or less one of convenience which gave LBJ the opening that his hormones demanded and he began an affair with Mrs. Marsh that lasted until he decided not to run for his second term as president.

As Dahl dealt with the peccadilloes of representatives and senators he also began to write—short stories that were based on both the factual experienced he’d had as a pilot and his imagination as to what made them more interesting. C.S. Forester (of Horatio Hornblower fame) read one of Dahl’s stories and was impressed enough to recommend the story to a magazine that published it. After that Dahl continued to write more war stories as he was continuing to glean bits and pieces of political gossip.

After the war ended Dahl was at loose ends. War stories were passé and he needed some kind of an income. Marsh came to his rescue providing a stipend that allowed him to return to England where he rejoined his female dominated family.

During the ensuing years, Dahl married Patricia Neal, had children with her and then after her stroke and semi-recovery decided to abandon her for a younger woman (this after 30 years of marriage).

Dahl was finally able to make his own way with the books that we are familiar with. He continued to write and hope that he would receive a knighthood for his contribution to Britain’s coffers and reputation but that never happened.

1 comment:

  1. I have to say, as one who has read several Roald Dahl books and wondered about the mind that produced them, this was amazing information. I remember reading about Patricia Neal's husband leaving her when she had her stroke. Never made the connection to RD! (What a stinker!) And the whole question as to whether he was a spy: Well, that perks the imagination. Shades of Ian Fleming.