Saturday, November 1, 2008

Albert Du Aime (William Wharton)

Albert Du Aime, otherwise known as William Wharton, died today in California. Here are the reports in the LA Times and the NY Times.

He has long been one of my favorite authors. I discovered his books quite by accident one lonely day prowling the Oshkosh Public Library more than 20 years ago. I read Scumbler first and then went on to read Birdy, Dad, A Midnight Clear, Pride, Tidings, and Franky Furbo. Birdy, Dad, and A Midnight Clear were later made into movies but did not quite capture the magic of the books, perhaps because only words could fully convey his fantastic versions of reality.

Scumbler gave me light and color and hope in the midst of a deep depression. Birdy, A Midnight Clear, and Dad are perhaps the best of the lot, but all conveyed the author's indomitable spirit, keen eye, and deep love and compassion, especially for his wife and children.

Although Jack Lemmon and Ted Danson and everyone involved in making the movie of Dad tried hard to capture the book, one really has to read the book to have the lines between fantasy and reality blurred in the way the story was meant to be told. For anyone who has dealt with an aging parent, it illustrates beautifully all the mixed up emotions, memories, and fantasies that seize the mind and grip the heart.

I do not know how William Wharton spent his final years. I know he suffered a heartbreaking loss in 1988 when his daughter, Kate, his son-in-law, Bert, and their two children, two-year-old Dayiel and eight-month-old Mia, were killed in a horrific 23-car motor vehicle accident in Oregon. A very private person, he finally agreed to television and radio interviews to advocate against the field-burning that caused the smoke that led to the accident. He also wrote two books about it, Ever After: A Father's True Story and Wrongful Deaths.

William Wharton was the pen name that Albert adopted when he was persuaded to publish some of his writing. He was, however, primarily a painter, as was the principal character in Scumbler. Some of his works can be seen here. Clicking on the thumbnails allows a larger view of these marvelous paintings.

Albert, may you rest in peace, along with your beloved Kate and her family.

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