Successful author has Jasper links
By John Sandlin
DAILY MOUNTAIN EAGLE, Jasper, Alabama, 1987
Gustav Hasford

    REDMILL--Verdie Noblett hasn't seen Full Metal Jacket, or any other movie for that matter, but the 83-year-old is proud of her grandson's first film, even if it does have some strong language.
    Mrs. Noblett, a widow living in the Walker County community of Redmill near Jasper, is the maternal grandmother of Gustav Hasford, author of the novel The Short-Timers.
    Award-winning director Stanley Kubrick, whose credits include Lolita, Dr. Strangelove, 2001:  A Space Odyssey and A Clockwork Orange, spent five years turning Hasford's book into Full Metal Jacket, a film currently playing nationally to rave reviews.
    Mrs. Noblett, who keeps an autographed copy of The Short-Timers in the kitchen of her modest, green frame home, said she didn't know Kubrick, but two of her nine daughters went to see the film and told her all about it.
    "I don't know how he ever got that movie together.  Of course there's a lot of words in there that aren't too nice.  But they understood they weren't going to a religious movie when they went.  They were going to a war movie," Mrs. Noblett said.
    The film is based on Hasford's experiences in basic training as a U.S. Marine during the Vietnam War and as a correspondent for the service newspaper, Stars and Stripes, during the fateful Tet offensive of 1968.  Hasford assisted Kubrick and Michael Herr with the screenplay.
    The 39-year-old author, in a telephone interview from the motel room where he lives in San Luis Obispo, California, called the movie a faithful account of the war, "not very nice words" and all.
    "It was chaotic, noisy and dangerous--a lot of boredom punctuated by terror.  There's no kind of message to the film.  We just wanted to show the war as it was," Hasford said.
    Hasford, who was born in Haleyville, joined the Marines in 1966 after graduating from Russellville High School.  He sold his first freelance article to Boy's Life at age 14 and worked as a stringer for the Franklin County Times taking pictures of car wrecks and football games.
    "I suppose I should be excited, but success has come over 25 years, so I'm not in a state of shock," said Hasford, whose novel is being reprinted in paperback by Bantam.  More than 620,000 copies are being distributed and Hasford gets a percentage of each.
    Hasford's relatives describe him as a traveling man with a wardrobe of permanent press clothes.  Hasford was married once, but divorced after two years.
    Hasford's grandfather, the late Frank Noblett, worked as a farmer and dynamite shooter in coal mines near Jasper, and Hasford recalls playing with the colored demolition wires whenever he visited his grandparents' home.
    "He was a pretty nice kid.  Of course, I knew way back he would be a writer.  He always loved to write.  I'm proud of Gus--he's made a wonderful man of himself," Mrs. Noblett said.
    Hasford came to see his grandmother two years ago, arriving with a carload of scratch pads and notebooks.  "It wasn't any little stack, I can tell you.  I told him, I couldn't read that much, much less write it," Mrs. Noblett said.
    Hasford attributes his success as a writer to a voracious reading habit he developed as a child.  He's met with several successful authors, he said, and all share one common trait--a background of reading heavily as a child.
    "The key factor is liking to read.  I know dozens of writers, but I do not know a single writer who is not a book nut," said Hasford, who has a personal library of 10,000 volumes of which 30 percent are about the Civil War, the subject of his upcoming book.
    Hasford is currently researching the life of Ambrose Bierce, a Union topographer during the Civil War who created a national sensation when he disappeared during a trip to Mexico in 1913.
    Hasford's research should bring him down South this fall and he plans to also spend time tracking the history of his ancestors, some of whom were northern sympathizers from Winston County during the 1860s.
    "He needs to wait until it cools down some before he starts prowling around cemeteries," said Hasford's aunt, Nora Ann Douglas, who has assisted him on previous information-gathering trips.
    Hasford said one family legend tells of a great-great-grandfather on his father's side, James Curtis, being imprisoned in Jasper because he refused to join the Confederate Army.  A group of friends came down from Winston County, burned the jail, shot a couple of Confederate soldiers and freed Curtis.
    In retaliation, the Confederates, who were members of the home guard, killed three of Curtis' brothers.  Curtis, according to legend, tracked down each of the guardsmen after the war ended and killed them in revenge.  He then escaped to Savannah, Tennessee, where he died of natural causes.
    Adventure novelist Jack London was Hasford's favorite author when he was a boy, although he also loved reading pirate stories and spent countless hours at the library.
    The greatest living American writer in Hasford's opinion is William Eastlake, author of Castle Keep, a dark comedy about the Battle of the Bulge in World War II.  Hasford recently went to see Eastlake at his Bisbee, Arizona home.  Hasford also admires the work of Harlan Ellison, a writer of science fiction and horror stories.
    Mrs. Noblett has lived in the same house for the past 30 years and many of Hasford's favorite memories revolve around summertime visits that included fried chicken on the table and fresh vegetables from his grandmother's garden.
    Mrs. Noblett still gardens, raising beans, peas, tomatoes, okra and other crops.  Hot, dry weather has just about wiped out the garden this year, she said, although she's drying slices of apples on top of her freezer.
    After coming back from Vietnam, Hasford wrote The Short-Timers and spent three years of submitting the manuscript to various publishers without success.  "In 1977, the subject of Vietnam was box office poison," Hasford said.  "But now things have changed."
    "A whole new generation of people exists now who are curious about the war.  They're not partisans and they don't carry an emotional chip on their shoulders."
    The novel was eventually published by Harper and Row to critical acclaim, but failed to become a best-seller.
    "Everybody seemed to like it, but it sold about three copies," Hasford recalled with a laugh.
    Now that the book is a movie, Hasford has been to see it five times.  During his last trip to the theater, a girl sitting behind him started crying when a leading character, Cowboy, was killed by a North Vietnamese sniper.
    "I turned around and told her I appreciated it," Hasford said.
    But Hasford's grandmother said she probably wouldn't go see the movie, even though she was proud of her grandson.
    "I've never seen a movie in my life," Mrs. Noblett said.  "It's not that I don't think he's a great man, but I don't like to sit in one place too long."
All content © 1987 Daily Mountain Eagle.

The Short-Timers  |  The Phantom Blooper  |  A Gypsy Good Time  |  Full Metal Jacket   |  Stories  |  Poems
Profiles  |  Interviews  |  Reviews  |   Book Theft  |  Obituaries  |  Remembrance  |  Photos  |  Links