Biography and History

Gordon Merrick was born on August 3, 1916, in Cynwyd, Pennsylvania, a wealthy suburb of Philadelphia. His great grandfather was the founder of the Pennsylvania Railroad, and his father was a stockbroker. He enrolled at Princeton University as a member of the Class of 1939 and studied the modern French novel, especially Gide, Proust and Céline, with Professor of Romance Languages Maurice Coindreau. Outside the classroom Merrick was very active in campus theatre life. In his junior year he quit Princeton to move to New York and look for an acting job. He landed a three-year contract on Broadway and scored a hit with a role in Kaufman and Hart's “The Man Who Came to Dinner” at the Music Box Theatre. Becoming bored with the repetition of the same role after a year, Merrick found other parts, none of which proved successful.

In 1941 he abandoned the theatre to become a journalist. Exempt from the draft because of a hearing condition, he got his first journalism job with the Washington Star, then moved on to the Baltimore Sun, and finally to the New York Post. Merrick regarded journalism as his apprenticeship in writing. In early 1944, after training with the O.S.S. (or what is now the C.I.A.), he was sent to Algeria to engage in counter-espionage, but ended up in Cannes instead on the Côte d'Azur with French identification papers. In August of 1945 he repatriated to the United States. He tried but failed to obtain a job as Paris correspondent for the New York Post, so he went to Mexico instead, where he could live very cheaply, and began writing novels.

With the success of his first novel The Strumpet Wind (1947) he decided to return to France. The next nine years brought little success to his writing career, and, distressed by political unrest in France because of the Algerian War, Merrick decided to move to a Greek island by the name of Hydra where he bought a house and lived until tourism made life there intolerable too. In 1975 he discovered the Orient and bought himself a house in Ceylon, but on visiting France again purchased a home in Tricqueville in Normandy. Thus he ended up by dividing his time between France and Ceylon (Sri Lanka), where he died of lung cancer on March 27, 1988.

Merrick's best-known book, The Lord Won't Mind, appeared on the New York Times best-seller list in 1970 for sixteen weeks. It was the first in a trilogy that included One for the Gods (1971/72) and Forth into Light (1974). At a time when homosexuality was still viewed as a closet identity which could only end in tragedy, Merrick wrote openly about gay love that ended happily. Among the items left of the personal papers of Charles G. Hulse, in the series “Papers of Other Persons,” is a summary of some of Gordon Merrick's novels which helps to illuminate their avant-garde timing in the history of gay and lesbian fiction. In addition to his trilogy, Merrick also wrote at least eighteen other novels in the course of thirty-nine years, including An Idol for Others (1977), The Quirk (1978), Now Let's Talk about Music (1981), Perfect Freedom (1982), The Great Urge Downward (1984), and A Measure of Madness (1986).

Source: From the finding aid for C0691

  • Gordon Merrick Papers. 1936-1991 (inclusive), 1954-1988 (bulk).

    Call Number: C0691

    The Gordon Merrick Papers consist primarily of drafts of the manuscripts of Merrick's novels, written over a thirty-nine year period, from the late 1940s ( The Strumpet Wind, 1947) to the mid-1980s ( Measure of Madness, 1986). Also present is his business and financial correspondence with agents, publishers, and banks over a twenty-one year period, from 1967 until his death in 1988. In addition there is a clipping file which dates back to Merrick's first experiences as an actor in the 1930s, as well as photographs taken for publicity as well as for Merrick's personal collection.