John Steinbeck’s Man of La Mancha
The silent workings of my mind are of little interest to anyone but me, yet occasionally I feel the need to chronicle some small discovery; to write it down so that it might continue to exist after I have been forgotten.
Once a year I write a Monday Morning Memo
that is more for me
than it is for you
and this is that one.
If you quit reading now, I’ll understand.
In Cervantes’ book of 1605, Don Quixote never meets Dulcinea. She exists only in his mind. Psychologist Carl Jung would call her Quixote’s “anima,” the imaginary woman that represents the innermost heart of a man.
But in Man of La Mancha, the 1966 Broadway play by Dale Wasserman, Dulcinea is an actual woman, a reluctant prostitute in whom Don Quixote sees only purity, beauty and grace. That play won 5 Tony Awards and ran for 2,328 performances. In 1972, it was made into a major motion picture starring Peter O’Toole as Don Quixote and Sophia Loren as Dulcinea.
Dale Wasserman got the credit, but the narrative arc of Man of La Mancha belonged entirely to John Steinbeck.
Follow my trail of breadcrumbs and I will tell you what I know.
1952: The prologue to East of Eden tells us that Steinbeck was familiar with Cervantes and Don Quixote. In it, he speaks to his editor and close friend, Pat Covici:
Miguel Cervantes invented the modern novel and with his Don Quixote set a mark high and bright. In his prologue, he said best what writers feel—the gladness and the terror.
“Idling reader,” Cervantes wrote, “you may believe me when I tell you that I should have liked this book, which is the child of my brain, to be the fairest, the sprightliest and the cleverest that could be imagined, but I have not been able to contravene the law of nature which would have it that like begets like—”
And so it is with me, Pat…
…Cervantes ends his prologue with a lovely line. I want to use it, Pat, and then I will be done. He says to the reader: “May God give you health—and may He be not unmindful of me, as well.”
1953: Ernie Martin, the Broadway producer of Guys and Dolls, asks Steinbeck to write a sequel to Cannery Row so that it might be made into a play.
I have in my possession the Christmas gift John Steinbeck sent Ernie Martin later that year, just as Steinbeck was beginning to write Sweet Thursday. It’s a copy of the 1949 edition of The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote de la Mancha. Inscribed on the front endpaper of that book is a note written and signed by John Steinbeck.
Dear Ernie -:
This is required preparation for Project X.
1954: John Steinbeck publishes Sweet Thursday, a love story between “Doc” of Cannery Row and Suzy, a reluctant prostitute from the Bear Flag Hotel. Steinbeck’s note to Ernie Martin makes it clear that Suzy is Dulcinea.
1955: Sweet Thursday becomes a Broadway play called Pipe Dream with a musical score by Rodgers and Hammerstein. The play received the largest advance ticket sales in Broadway history to that point, $1.2 million, and was nominated for 9 Tony Awards.
I think it would be safe to say that Dale Wasserman, a lifelong playwright, would have been very much aware of Pipe Dream in 1955.
1957: John Steinbeck writes 114 pages of Don Kehan—The Marshall of Manchon, but he abandons the novel on December 27 of that year. The unfinished book is a delightful retelling of the story of Don Quixote as a gentleman farmer in southern California in 1957. Dulcinea, once again, is presented as a reluctant prostitute. But now she’s called “Sugar Mae.”
This is the second time in 4 years that Steinbeck has created a prostitute Dulcinea.
1959: I, Don Quixote, a non-musical teleplay by Dale Wasserman, airs only once, as the DuPont Show of the Month on CBS Television. In 1965, when Steinbeck’s health was in decline, that teleplay is adapted to become the Broadway play, Man of La Mancha. It wins 5 Tony Awards the following year, including Best Musical. Man of La Mancha runs for 2,328 performances and after Steinbeck’s death becomes a major motion picture starring Peter O’Toole and Sophia Loren. (1972)
Why did Steinbeck see Dulcinea as a prostitute when Cervantes clearly did not?
The answer, I believe, lies in the “anima,” the imaginary woman that represents the innermost heart of a man.
1959: In a private letter to his agent, Elizabeth Otis, Steinbeck writes,
“I’m going to do what people call rest for a while. I don’t quite know what that means – probably reorganize. I don’t know what work is entailed, writing work, I mean, but I do know I have to slough off nearly fifteen years and go back and start again at the split path where I went wrong because it was easier. True things gradually disappeared and shiny easy things took their place. I brought the writing outside, like a cook flipping hot cakes in a window. And it should never have come outside.”
– John Steinbeck, to Elizabeth Otis
Steinbeck: A Life in Letters, p. 657
Steinbeck saw imaginary women as reluctant prostitutes because he saw himself as a reluctant prostitute.
As a professional ad writer, I know the name of every demon with which he wrestled.
John Steinbeck recovered his sunshine and gave us Travels With Charley before he died. It is, in my opinion, the greatest travelogue ever written. Not surprisingly, Steinbeck referred to that 75-day trip across America as “Operation Windmill” and named his GMC pickup-with-camper “Rocinante,” after Don Quixote’s horse.
On the campus of Wizard Academy – the school for entrepreneurs of which I am Chancellor – a larger-than-life bronze statue of Don Quixote gazes upward at Wedding Chapel Dulcinea where it hangs off the edge of a cliff far above him. Eight hundred and twenty-four couples were married there – at no cost – last year.
So it would appear that I, too, have found a little patch of sunlight to call my own.
And I hope you have, as well.
Roy H. Williams
2010, June: CBS News announced online,
“John Steinbeck Archive to be Auctioned. Never-Published Works Among Letters and Manuscripts from Nobel Prize Winner’s NYC Apartment.”
“The writer [Steinbeck] had Ingrid Bergman in mind for Vikings, a film script adaptation of a Henrik Ibsen play that he began in 1954 but later abandoned. Another project that was later abandoned was a 1957 reworking of Don Quixote, which Steinbeck titled Don Keehan—The Marshal of Manchon. Bloomsbury’s catalog says he had high hopes for it and even considered director Elia Kazan for a movie version with [Henry] Fonda in the lead.”
On June 23, 2010, I was the high bidder for Don Keehan—The Marshal of Manchon at the Bloomsbury auction in New York. I quote from that unfinished novel extensively in my 10,000-word treatise on the subject. If you would like me to email you a copy of that treatise, just let me know – Roy H. Williams