8 Things You Might Not Know About 'Catch-22' Author Joseph Heller

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When it’s clip to compile lists of the 20th century’s top novels, Catch-22 is often astatine the forefront. The novel, published successful 1961, imagines warfare from a satirical perspective, evoking immoderate poignant truths astir combat successful the process.

It’s easy the best-known enactment of Joseph Heller (1923-1999), the World War II seasoned who recovered himself defined arsenic a truth-teller connected the foibles of conflict. For much connected Heller, including his clip arsenic a copywriter and his little-known enactment on James Bond, support reading.




May 1, 1923, Brooklyn, New York

December 12, 1999, East Hampton, New York

‘Catch-22,’ ‘Something Happened’

Joseph Heller is pictured

Joseph Heller. / Keystone/GettyImages

Born May 1, 1923, successful Brooklyn, New York, Heller grappled with decease astatine an aboriginal age. His father, Isaac, died during a regular cognition erstwhile Heller was conscionable 5 years old, starring to a macabre consciousness of wit that would pass some his beingness and his work. (“You person a twisted brain,” his parent told him.)

Heller signed up for the Army Air Corps successful 1942. His combat experiences successful Italy proved highly influential for his aboriginal enactment arsenic an author, though astatine the clip determination was immoderate uncertainty arsenic to whether he’d marque it. Over the people of 5 months successful 1944, Heller flew implicit 60 bombing missions, each 1 coming with the chilling statistic of a 5 percent casualty rate. Heller was truthful unnerved by his experiences successful the aerial that helium swore ne'er to get successful an airplane again, a committedness that the Los Angeles Times said helium kept “for a mates of decades.”

2. Heller worked arsenic a copywriter.

Joseph Heller is pictured

Joseph Heller astatine home. / Susan Wood/Getty Images/GettyImages

After returning to the U.S. successful January 1945 (he took a steamship to debar flying), Heller utilized the G.I. Bill to attend the University of Southern California and aboriginal New York University, wherever helium got his bachelor’s grade successful English; a master’s from Columbia University followed. He past began applying his originative penning skills successful antithetic venues, penning abbreviated stories for magazines similar Esquire and The Atlantic and moving arsenic a copywriter for TIME and Look. But Heller was dissatisfied with some vocations, and started reasoning astir turning his warfare experiences into a novel. In the aboriginal ’50s, helium began penning Catch-22—a process that took 8 years.

Joseph Heller is pictured

Joseph Heller astatine the College of Marin. / Janet Fries/GettyImages

Catch-22, which was released to wide—though not universal—acclaim successful 1961, remains Heller’s defining work, and you tin find retired much astir it successful our compilation of publication facts. But 1 communal misconception is that the publication is simply a communicative of World War II.

While it’s wide Heller drew connected his experiences, the themes of expendability had small to bash with that conflict. Instead, Heller was truly anticipating (and dreading) a warfare that had yet to occur—one that looked a batch similar the Vietnam War. “This is the warfare I had successful mind,” he would aboriginal say. “A warfare fought without subject provocation, a warfare successful which the existent force is nary longer the different broadside but idiosyncratic allegedly connected your side. The ridiculous warfare I felt lurking successful the aboriginal erstwhile I wrote the book.”

4. It took Heller different 13 years to constitute his adjacent book.

Joseph Heller is pictured

Joseph Heller. / Leonardo Cendamo/GettyImages

Catch-22 caught connected slowly, but successful time, some the publication and Heller became symbols of immoderate cosmopolitan truths connected the surrealism of war. It would beryllium a portion earlier helium had thing other to discuss: the 1974 publication of Something Happened, a caller astir a suburban father’s existential crisis. (Echoing his ain life, Heller has his hero, Slocum, coping with the fallout from the decease of his begetter astatine a young age.) It took 13 years to decorativeness Something Happened, successful portion due to the fact that Heller was besides engaged with a play, We Bombed successful New Haven. In a 1988 interrogation with The Buffalo News, Heller besides explained that Catch-22 was not the fiscal windfall it was assumed to be, and that helium was holding down teaching positions during the penning of Something Happened that delayed its completion.

Something Happened provided a measurement of fiscal security. “Even earlier work of Something Happened I knew I would gain a bully chunk of money,” helium said. “And it turned retired I did. From that time, I’ve been capable to enactment afloat clip astatine immoderate I wanted to do. And ever what I wanted to bash was constitute novels.” Heller wrote a full of 7 novels and galore abbreviated stories, though nary captured the zeitgeist rather similar Catch-22.

Joseph Heller is pictured

Joseph Heller. / Susan Wood/Getty Images/GettyImages

In betwixt his archetypal and 2nd books, Heller collected a paycheck successful what was past considered the lowbrow mean of television. He used the pseudonym of Max Orange to pen one episode of the subject sitcom McHale’s Navy. Heller besides worked connected a publication for the 1967 adaptation of Casino Royale, the first James Bond novel. He didn’t, however, lend overmuch to the 1970 movie adaptation of Catch-22, which was written by Buck Henry.

6. He was friends with Mel Brooks and Mario Puzo.

Joseph Heller is pictured

Joseph Heller astatine a party. / Susan Wood/Getty Images/GettyImages

Heller kept eclectic company, befriending some comic icon Mel Brooks and Godfather writer Mario Puzo. “Joe plays the champion verbal ping-pong of anyone I know,” Brooks said successful 1979. “The shot volition beryllium returned with a rotation connected it, always. He has a Talmudic tenacity successful argument.”

According to Heller himself, Puzo was the person friend—close capable for Puzo to get astatine an appraisal of Heller’s personality. “I ne'er knew anybody truthful determined to beryllium unhappy, truthful suspicious of happiness,” Puzo said.

Joseph Heller is pictured

Joseph Heller. / Leonardo Cendamo/GettyImages

In her 2011 memoir Yossarian Slept Here, Heller’s daughter, Erica, recalled that her begetter was prone to stocking up connected snowballs successful the wintertime months, freezing them and waiting until summertime earlier pelting her and her member Ted with them.

8. Heller suffered from Guillain-Barré syndrome.

Joseph Heller and Speed Vogel are pictured

Joseph Heller convalesces with person 'Speed' Vogel. / Susan Wood/Getty Images/GettyImages

In 1981, Heller was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome, a condition successful which the immune strategy attacks the body’s nerves. It causes paralysis and tin sometimes beryllium fatal erstwhile breathing is affected. (Heller’s conflict with it was chronicled in his 1986 memoir No Laughing Matter.) Though helium recovered, the unwellness coiled up having a extremist interaction connected his family: While convalescing, Heller fell successful emotion with his nurse, Valerie Humphries. That matter led to the dissolution of Heller’s matrimony to Shirley Held, whom helium had wed aft returning from the warfare successful 1945. It besides led to a memorable pun by Heller’s person Kinky Friedman, who mused that Heller “took a crook for the nurse.”

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