Without giving any reason, Ernest Hemingway thought Sloan Wilson’s The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit was trash. However, Americans still readjusting to World War Two and its aftermath, thought otherwise. It was a best seller, and Nunnally Johnson faithfully adapted it for the movies.
Perhaps Hemingway might have faulted Sloan’s description of Tom Rath’s romantic tryst with his mistress Maria in a ruined villa on the outskirts of Rome. It’s a tender episode, without steamy sex, suitable for 1950s mainstream fiction.
On a cold rainy afternoon, Rath and Maria wander aimlessly until they stumble into a deserted villa. Settling in the ruined library, Rath lights a fire. They spread a ruined tapestry on the stone floor and unpack the picnic basket full of sandwiches, a cold roast chicken, and a bottle of wine.
Only when they are finished does Maria remind Rath that they ought to make love at which point Maria “unbuttoned her jacket and opened her blouse. Partly exposing her breasts and the deep valley between them.” On a wave passion, Rath cries, “Oh, God. I love you.”
*The image of the man in the gray flannel suit is so strong that it has outlived the novel and become a symbol of mid-twentieth Century America; a rising generation of white, well-educated men striving for wealth and power. On the verge of success, Tom has to face his wife, Betsy with the knowledge of his affair with Maria.
Featured Image: Tom Rath (Gregory Peck) and Maria Montagne (Marissa Pavan) make themselves a picnic. Nunnally Johnson. The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit
See: Sloan Wilson. The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1955; Nunnally Johnson. The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1956). Screenplay by Nunnally Johnson based on Sloan Wilson’s novel The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit. Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.; Ernest Hemingway. November 14, 1955, in Selected Letter 1917-1961. Edited by Carlos Baker. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1981