Thursday, February 6, 2014

George Fitzalan Bronson Howard -- God's Man

Howard (born in Howard County, Maryland, on January 7, 1884) was already a successful playwright (The Snobs, 1911) and novelist (God's Man, 1915) when he volunteered for service in the British Army in 1915.  Commissioned as a lieutenant in the Intelligence division, he was on active duty in France in 1916 when a mustard gas shell exploded near him.  The writer spent five hours in the field before a stretcher could reach him.  For the next 18 months Howard recuperated from the effects of mustard gas poisoning in a British hospital.  Though released, Howard's health was shattered and he was addicted to the drugs the doctors had prescribed for his condition.

 In Hollywood, Howard wrote the screenplays for The Power of Evil (1916) and The Spy (1917) while several of his stories were made into films (Come Through, 1917; Queen of the Sea, 1918; Sheltered Daughters, 1921; Don't Shoot, 1922; Borrowed Finery, 1925).  In 1922, Howard, 37, was working in Hollywood developing film stories for Universal when his estranged second wife and young child were living in Baltimore, Maryland.  In the early morning hours of November 20, 1922, Howard and his secretary, J.C. Dubois, were working on a film treatment for Universal in the writer's apartment at 2500 Highland Avenue in Los Angeles.  According to Dubois, Howard repeatedly questioned him about the effects of gas on the human body and how long it would take to die of gas poisoning.  Dubois left the writer in apparent good spirits around 2:00 A.M.

 Around 8:30 A.M. other tenants, alarmed by the smell of gas, entered Howard's fume-filled apartment through an outside window.  Howard's body, dressed in pajamas and a bathrobe, was found in a small closet adjoining his bedroom.  A long length of rubber tube clutched in his hand ran from under the closet door across the floor of the bedroom to an open gas outlet.  Howard had sealed the window crevices with paper.  A letter written in pencil to his wife, Jean Bronson, was found on a bedside table next to a copy of his novel, God's Man.  In it, Howard cryptically referred to his drug addiction and his inability to send her money.  It read (in part):

"Jean:

I got your unsteady and insulting letter.  Now there is no use in writing me in such a crazy strain.  I am going to send the baby $10 a week until I manage to get on my feet.  Whenever I can I will send you some but after what has happened I think you have a nerve to expect me to send you anything...Do you realize that the money I was sending you is being eaten up altogether by what I have to pay for what you know about?  If you worry me too much, I will probably give up in disgust."

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