Our modern Mithridates cont.

… in the right amounts venom, especially neurotoxic venom,  is good for you. Bill Haast of the Miami Serpentarium lived to be 101 after taking shots of venom every day. He never had a sick day in his life and survived 197 snakebites. He is a legend.

 I heard about Haast from my pen-friend and journalistic inspiration  Dan Mannix, one of the best writers on animals in his time,  an unusual rebel from a Main Line Pennsylvania family, who wrote among other things All Creatures Great and Small, The Wolves of Paris, The Fox and the Hound (Disneyfied into a silly children’s cartoon), and The Killers, as well as ones on pop culture subjects like carnivals seen from the inside (Step Right Up). In the forties, Dan and Jule Mannix, then
living at an expensive Manhattan address, started in this strange business when they were forced by circumstance
to obtain and train two eagles, a Bald (“Pre-Act”- remember both
species were shot as pests into the Sixties) , and a Golden to hunt iguanass in Mexico
and write about them. He was as usual ahead of his time; later, Harry Crews and Gordon Grice would make a literary genre  out of such things, writing about tattoos, toxic and dangerous animals,  Carneys and chickenfights in such venues as Esquire even as  Mannix had pioneered before them in Argosy and True.*

 In the Seventies Betsy and I were living in an apartment complex in Newton, Mass. Upstairs lived a faded Grande Dame from Philadelphia with a kind heart and a wealth of complicatedly pinned up hair. She stopped us on the stairs one day when we were carrying in a Merlin, and stopped us to examine the bird. She nodded and said “Many, MANY years ago my sorority housemate had one of those, but it was rather LARGER.”

Suddenly inspired, I made the correct guess: “Was your housemate Jule Mannix?

Surprised, she said “Yes..?”

“Then it was a Bald eagle, and yes, it was bigger than this one!”

*Sublit? They were considered so by snobs then. But certainly my long-term correspondent Geoffrey Household, whose Watcher in the Shadows I first read in Argosy when I was eleven, whose publisher was Atlantic Monthly,  who first mentioned the works of his “fellow pirate” Patrick Leigh Fermor to me, and who last wrote to me the week of his death, was not considered so. And John D Macdonald’s dead-on Florida portraits , which I discovered in Darker Than Amber back then in that venue, got a real second wind when rediscovered by new literati like Jim Harrison in the late 60’s.

4 thoughts on “Our modern Mithridates cont.”

  1. Swell posting. Have not read any Mannix other than A HISTORY OF TORTURE, but will. Its remarkable how much good was to be found in those old magazines like ARGOSY. You mention Household, a very fine writer who's books always reward revisiting…just reread his introduction to THE RIDDLE OF THE SANDS in a Penguin edition, and his balanced view of E. Childers. DARKER THAN AMBER, one of the lesser of the McGee adventures, but it made a great movie with Rod Taylor as Mcgee, and Theodore Bickel as Meyer that almost no one saw, save Quentin Tarantino and Steven Soderberg whom are fans

    Randy Davis

  2. The Mannix autobiographical ones to get are Dan's All Creatures Great and Small(1963) and Jule's Married to Adventure (1954).Dan's A Sporting Chance about falconry, fishing with cormorants etc is also fun.

    Agree completely re the rest. Is the film available?

  3. no, its not except on your computer on you tube which isn't the best way to see it but maybe the only way. It was made in 1968, has all of that style which is appropriate to the story I think, including Miss Agnes the RR pickup. Real Florida locations. Taylor and cult actor – stuntman William Smith have a very real fight at the end. Both were here for a showing, and Smith reported that Taylor let him have it right from the start. Smith I recall broke three of Taylors ribs in the melee (and they were friends too but thought the fight needed to be as actual as possible, and it approaches that) Smith has an interesting background, ex CIA agent, language specialist. I heard how he got into movies but can t recall. Very literate man.

    Side comment: picked up WILFRED THSIGER IN AFRICA from the Pitt Rivers Museum and Harper, a collection of essays about WT, interviews, and many photographs. Worthwhile book I d never heard of.

  4. one further comment about the admirable Household, looking for a copy of his book for young readers, published as part of the Random House Landmark series, THE EXPLOITS OF XENOPHON, and was surprised to find it described as the rarest book in the series and priced accordingly at nearly two hundred dollars. With a little patience I expect it can be found for less. I have fond memories of that book.


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