William Bradford "Bill" Huie (November 13, 1910 – November 20, 1986) was an American journalist and novelist. He wrote several books about controversial topics related to World War II and the Civil Rights Movement. He was also known for the practice of checkbook journalism. Huie had several books adapted as feature films during the 1960s and 1970s.
Early life and career
Born in Hartselle, Alabama, Huie was the son of John Bradford and Margaret Lois Brindley Huie, and was the eldest of three children. He attended Morgan County High School and graduated as class valedictorian. He attended the University of Alabama, graduating Phi Beta Kappa in 1930.
From 1932 to 1936, Huie worked as a journalist, for the newspaper The Birmingham Post. In 1934, he married his grammar school sweetheart, Ruth Puckett. Their wedding took place in her parents' home in Hartselle. Huie later immortalized the scene in his largely autobiographical first novel, Mud on the Stars (1942).
In late 1938, Huie was in Los Angeles and worked independently as an undercover reporter to gather information on gangster Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel. He reported on his experiences in the Los Angeles Times and later in the December 1950 issue of The American Mercury, a literary magazine.
Huie's first national recognition came with the article "How To Keep Football Stars In College", Collier's Weekly, 1 January 1941. This piece about the University of Alabama 1940s football program included provocative quotes, such as "We who have recruited Alabama's players know who our competitors have been. And we've offered no higher prices than were necessary to compete in the open market."
World War II
During World War II, Huie served in the United States Navy, for a time as aide to Vice Admiral Ben Moreell of the Seabees. While chronicling the wartime activity of the Seabees, Lieutenant Huie had special permission to continue his own writing projects, both fiction and nonfiction. He drew from his Navy experiences, including his participation in D-Day, for his 1959 novel The Americanization of Emily. It was adapted as the 1964 film of the same name starring James Garner and Julie Andrews. Both Garner and Andrews consider it the personal favorite of their films.
Discharged in 1945 from the Navy, Huie went immediately to the Pacific theatre as a war correspondent. His experiences at Iwo Jima became the basis for the nonfiction work, "The Hero of Iwo Jima", published in The Hero of Iwo Jima and Other Stories in 1962. It was an account of the life of flag-raiser Ira Hayes. Huie's account was developed into the 1961 film The Outsider, starring Tony Curtis. His experiences in Hawaii during the war became the basis for his novel The Revolt of Mamie Stover (1951). This was adapted as the 1956 film of the same name starring Jane Russell.
The American Mercury
Before the war, Huie had been writing for The American Mercury, the notable literary magazine founded by H. L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan. Like Mencken, Huie was a critic of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's "New Deal" policies during the Great Depression. After the war, he returned to the Mercury, becoming associate editor, then editor. In 1950, publisher Clendenin J. Ryan bought the magazine. Ryan and editor Huie wanted to develop the magazine as a journal of the fledgling American conservative movement, introducing new, mass-appeal writers such as evangelist Billy Graham, former communist Max Eastman, and long-time Federal Bureau of Investigation director J. Edgar Hoover. Young William F. Buckley, future National Review founder and editor, was one of Huie's early staffers.
By the mid-1950s, however, Huie and Ryan were unable to overcome financial difficulties and were forced to sell the magazine to one of its investors, Russell Maguire. After Huie's departure, Maguire and other owners drove The New American Mercury, in author William A. Rusher's phrase, "toward the fever swamps of anti-Semitism." He believed that they destroyed its legitimacy and contributed to its end. To Huie's disgust, the journal that had once featured the work of W. E. B. Du Bois and Langston Hughes became a periodical advocating racism.
Freelance work (1950s to 1960s)
From 1950 to 1955, Huie was a popular speaker, traveling back and forth across the country on the professional lecture circuit. During the same period, he also became well known through his appearances on the weekly New York City television current events program, Longines Chronoscope. As a co-editor of the hour-long talk show, he interviewed newsmakers John F. Kennedy, Joseph McCarthy, and Clare Boothe Luce, as well as international figures, politicians, scientists, and economists. His program co-editors included figures such as Henry Hazlitt and Max Eastman. Domestic issues, Congressional activity, military defense, the Olympics, and foreign policy were all topics discussed on the program.
In the late 1950s, Huie and his wife moved their permanent residence back to native Hartselle. Ruth worked as a first grade schoolteacher. Huie continued to write full-time at home as freelance journalist and novelist.
During this period of increased activism of the Civil Rights Movement, Huie was commissioned by periodicals such as the New York Herald Tribune and Look magazine to cover breaking events in the South. He attended the appeal and second trial in 1954 of Ruby McCollum, a wealthy married black woman who had shot and killed her physician and white paramour, state senator-elect Dr. Leroy Adams, claiming he had forced her to have sex and bear a child. The popular married doctor was being groomed to run for Governor of Florida. Huie had been contacted about the case by Zora Neale Hurston, who had worked with him earlier at The American Mercury and covered the first McCollum trial in Live Oak, Florida for the Pittsburgh Courier. No press was allowed access to McCollum, by a gag order of the judge. Huie attended the appeal and second trial, and conducted background investigation. Because of his actions, he was arrested on contempt of court charges, the judge citing him for "meddling" in a trial that "could embarrass the community". Huie was soon freed from jail and pardoned years later. His book, Ruby McCollum: Woman in the Suwannee Jail (1956), was banned in Florida and became a bestseller. Ebony, Time, and other journals disseminated the story worldwide.
Huie also reported on the murder of African-American Chicago teenager Emmett Till in Mississippi in 1955. After an all-white jury found the suspects not guilty, he paid the men $4,000 to describe how and why they committed the murders. Since they could not be tried again, the killers complied. Huie published his account in Look magazine. Some mainstream journalists expressed criticism of his "checkbook journalism". He also published a book on the case, Wolf Whistle (1959). Simeon Wright, Till's cousin and an eyewitness to the events at the store and to the abduction, refuted the killers' version in his 2010 memoir, Simeon's Story.
Huie also reported on various Ku Klux Klan activities, including the killing of "Freedom Summer" workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner in articles, stories, and books such as The Klansman (1965) and Three Lives for Mississippi (1965). The KKK to burned a cross on his front lawn in 1967 to try to intimidate him.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC) wrote the Introduction for the second edition of Huie's Three Lives for Mississippi, saying that it "is a part of the arsenal decent Americans can employ to make democracy for all truly a birthright and not a distant dream. It relates the story of an atrocity committed on our doorstep." Subsequent editions of the work include an "Afterword" by Juan Williams. In 1970, Huie published He Slew the Dreamer, an account of the Memphis assassination of King, for which he had interviewed assassin James Earl Ray.
Huie's book The Execution of Private Slovik (1954) related the historic account of World War II G.I. Eddie Slovik, the only soldier since the American Civil War to be executed for desertion. The government had kept this quiet, not telling his widow how he died. After the book revealed Slovik's story, Huie and others tried for years to get the government to pay his widow a pension, but had no success. He had discussions with Frank Sinatra about adapting it as a movie. Sinatra dropped it in 1960 due to objections to his choice of screenwriter, one of the Hollywood Ten, while the singer was campaigning for John F. Kennedy as president. The book was adapted as a television movie, The Execution of Private Slovik (1974), starring Martin Sheen, and aired by NBC.
His wife Ruth Huie died of cancer in 1973, following the death of his father just months before. In 1975 Huie met Martha Hunt Robertson of Guntersville, Alabama, an art instructor at a local college. They married in Huntsville, Alabama on July 16, 1977. They divided their time between their Hartselle and Guntersville homes. In a few years, the Huies moved to Scottsboro, and by 1985 they resettled in Guntersville.
He wrote one more significant book after Ruth's death. In the Hours of Night is story of the development of the atomic bomb and its effect on its creators and policy makers. It is loosely based on the life of Secretary of Defense, James Forrestal.
On November 20, 1986, Huie died of a heart attack. He left an unfinished novel, "The Adversary", which was intended to be the second of a trilogy which began with "In the Hours of Night". Martha Huie, his widow and heir, continued to represent her late husband's literary properties and managed ongoing projects until her death in Memphis in May, 2014. Martha Huie's daughter, Mary Ben Heflin, now handles William Bradford Huie's literary properties and ongoing projects.
Legacy and honors
- 1975, Alabama's Library Association honored Huie with the Best Fiction Award for In the Hours of Night.
- Since 1974, the Alabama Authors Collection at Snead Community College, Boaz, Alabama, has been documenting Huie's life and career. It holds a variety of artifacts, as well as all of his books.
- After Huie's death, his widow Martha Huie donated his papers to Ohio State University.
- In November 2006, the City of Hartselle renamed the local public library in honor of Huie. The library has a permanent biographical display of Huie's work, as well as bibliographic resources.
- In 2007, the Guntersville Museum and Cultural Center added a William Bradford Huie component to its permanent collection.
- Huie's alma mater, the University of Alabama, honored him posthumously with a Fine Arts Award, and induction into the College of Communication and Information Sciences Hall of Fame.
Since Huie's death in 1986, dozens of publications have cited, quoted, referenced and analyzed his work. Recent examples include: David Halberstam's The Fifties; both volumes of Reporting Civil Rights: American Journalism 1941-1963 and 1963-1973; The Race Beat by Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff, 2006; and Devin McKinney's "An American Cuss," in Oxford American, Issue 57, 2007.