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Author Information: William Lindsay Gresham

 
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1909-1962

William Lindsay Gresham was born in Baltimore, Maryland, though his family relocated to New York City when he was a child. After high school Gresham performed as a folk singer in Greenwich Village and during the Depression worked for the Civilian Conservation Corps, a New Deal work project. He also was an advertising copywriter and contributed to pulp magazines. After joining the Communist Party, he fought and served as a volunteer medic with the Republican forces during the Spanish Civil War. There he became friends with fellow medic and sideshow veteran, Joseph Daniel "Doc" Halliday, who steeped him in carny culture. After returning to the states in 1938, he went through a dark period in which he drank excessively, stayed in a tuberculosis ward, and made an unsuccessful suicide attempt. After getting psychiatric treatment, he worked as a magician and an editor for True Crime magazine. In 1942, he married writer and poet Joy Davidman, and, inspired by C.S. Lewis’ writings, he and Davidson converted to Protestant Christianity. Though his first novel, Nightmare Alley (1946), was a commercial success and made into a film, later, as the money ran out, he started drinking heavily again and physically abused his wife. While she was vacationing in England, he started an affair with her first cousin, Renee Rodriguez. After Davidson’s return, they divorced and she moved with her two sons to England and in 1956 married C.S. Lewis, as dramatized in the play and film “Shadowlands.” Meanwhile, in 1954, Gresham married Rodriguez, joined Alcoholics Anonymous and threw himself into spiritual pursuits like the Tarot, Zen, Yoga and Dianetics. He wrote a non-fiction book on carnivals, Monster Midway: An Uninhibited Look at the Glittering World of the Carny, and another on Houdini, both well-regarded. At age 53, after he had started going blind and was diagnosed with tongue cancer, he checked into the Dixie Hotel, the same establishment where he had hoisted drinks with carnies while researching Nightmare Alley and killed himself with an overdose of sleeping pills.

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