Dear Mel, What Do You Know Of Author, Paul Gallico

Posted at 13:44pm on 14th April 2012

On this night, the one-hundredth anniversary of the sinking of Titanic, comes a reminder of the sinking of another ship, the MV Victoria

Hi Ms. Menzies,

I performed a Google search on author, Paul Gallico and your name came up, and I noticed you used to work for him.  I've been conducting research on Paul Gallico and am very interested in learning more about his past relationships, but have been unable to find anything of sufficient detail.  He does not mention anything in his writings more than the fact that he has had failed marriages and the only other items I was able to find were an online interview of his son Robert where he mentions that his parents were not around much and were separated when he was a young boy, and two brief online blurb that Paul was sued for divorce by Alva Taylor and Elaine St. Johns (reason Cruelty).  I'm curious as to why so many of his marriages failed?  Did he cheat? Drink? Associate with the wrong crowd? Was he a poor father? Are there specific instances that ruined his marriages?  And how did he come to meet all of his wives?

Any guidance would be extremely helpful, I'm intrigued to learn anything you may know.  Thank you so much.


Joe Lewis
Los Angeles, CA

Dear Mr Lewis,
Many thanks for your e-mail asking about my connection with author, Paul Gallico.  I worked for him during the time he lived in the picturesque small town of Salcombe, Devon, in the South West of England.  His home was very beautiful, with stunning views over North Sands (where my mother lives, to this day) and South Sands, towards Bolt Head; and the garden was terraced to take advantage of the south-westerly aspect. 


During my time as Paul Gallico's Personal Assistant, he was working on writing up the serialisation of the sinking of the Princess Victoria.  It was a harrowing tale, a true story, reminiscent of a miniature Titanic, in which every woman and child on board perished.  As a young and impressionable girl, myself, it had a profound effect on me at the time.  Though there were many, I now recall only two individual stories: that of a young nun who was almost prevented by illness from taking the voyage back to her Convent in Ireland, and who, because she did travel, subsequently drowned; and that of a young family who at the last moment took the decision not to travel because the baby had screamed throughout the previous night, with colic, and who, therefore, survived. 


A prolific writer, Paul Gallico said of himself, "I'm a rotten novelist.  I just like to tell stories and all my books tell stories..." He was, also, a great reader. In addition to my other duties, I was employed to catalogue Mr Gallico's extensive library, and to field phone calls from his agent who was negotiating film rights for his bestselling novel Mrs 'Arris Goes To Paris.  Sitting in his book-lined library, speaking into a large black telephone to people from Hollywood, I thought I was the bees-knees.  In the event, however, it was to be many years before the film hit the small screen in the nineties, with Angela Lansbury in the lead role. 


When the weather was fine, Mr Gallico liked to stroll in the grounds of his home, and I would follow behind with my shorthand notebook, while he dictated to me.  I would then type up my dictation on a huge Imperial typewriter when I returned to my parents' home in the evening.  My abiding memory is of the sweet scent of mimosa, from the tree which dominated one corner of the garden, mingling with the ever-present fragrance of Mr Gallico's pipe tobacco. 


When Mr Gallico fell ill, with phlebitis, dictation moved to his bedroom, where I perched on a chair while he lay in agony in his four-poster bed.  Soon afterwards, he departed for Antibes, where I was to have joined him, had I not met the man who was later to become my husband and terminated my employment.  There, having written The Poseidon Adventure, among other works, he died in 1976.
I have no recollection of Mr Gallico having been a heavy drinker, nor of his having been unkind. On the contrary, he introduced me to my first experience of game pie, often treated me to tasty titbits left over from dinner parties, and was always both courteous and charming in introducing me to his friends. All I can think is that the demands made upon any author - closeting oneself away to complete the writing process - may have taken its toll on his relationships. 


I'm afraid I know little of Mr Gallico's earlier life or his wives.  During my employment, he was visited frequently by a Baroness who, I believe, was alleged to have been his mistress.  Whether or not that was the case, I don't know.  I do know, however, that her husband and young daughter, Ludmilla - for whom the book of the same name had previously been written -were also visitors, and that the Baroness was very kind to me.  She gave me a fawn cashmere sweater (an undreamed of luxury in those days) and a black leather and suede designer handbag - both probably cast-offs, but treasured by me for many years. 


My understanding is that Paul Gallico, an American citizen, was a conscientious objector and was, consequently, vilified by his native Americans.  In my view, America's loss was Britain's gain.  To this day, I have signed copies of his books, Thomasina and Flowers for Mrs 'Arris, plus a glowing testimonial of my work for him.  And, as an author, myself - inspired by my time with Paul Gallico - I can certainly identify with his description of the writing process, made in 1946: "It is only when you open your veins and bleed onto the page a little that you establish contact with your reader."  RIP Paul Gallico.

Your Comments:

Liz McGoldrick
27th January 2013
at 3:11am
Dear Ms Menzies,

I am currently reading Mrs Harris goes to Paris having first read it in my 20's. I love the story and am totally hooked by Mr Gallico's writing. I have not read the other Mrs Harris books but have them waiting.

The reason I am writing to you is that I had no idea that Mr Gallico lived in Salcombe. We have a house there (on Devon Rd) and I am so surprised that I have never seen or heard anything relating to the fact that he lived and worked there - not even in the local bookshop. I am interested to know where he lived and wonder if you would mind telling me. My 16 year old daugther is so excited !

Thanks for your help.

Liz McGoldrick

Dear Sir/Madam - I am a writer with National Geographic magazine. We would like to do an interview with Miss Menzies for publication this Christmas (2014). If you can help me contact her, I would be most greateful.


Simon Worrall
23rd September 2014
at 1:01am
Dear Simon,
I did reply to you directly by email. Don't know if you received it? Mel
Mahlon Hale
7th September 2015
at 10:35am
I was looking up material about Paul Gallico when I found that he had lived in Salcombe and segued into your site. We have never been there, but twenty five years ago stayed near the Lew Trenchard Manor in one of Baring Gould's cottages. Anyway, I'm starting to re read Thomasina in my U.S. First edition alas unsigned.
13th September 2015
at 2:18pm
Hope you enjoy it Mahlon. I still have my signed copy.
Merrilyn Williams (writing as Mel Menzies)
13th September 2015
at 2:21pm
Only two years late Liz McGoldrick - many apologies, missed this for some reason. Paul Gallico lived at Longmynd on the Main Road which, I believe, is currently being developed. Sad.
Eileen Westwood
6th June 2017
at 3:06pm
In the late fifties I knew a young actor called Bob Gallico, who was learning his craft in a tiny Globe Theatre in Dun Laoghaire, County Dublin. He was a son of the author Paul Gallico.

Over the intervening decades I have watched with interest the various actors of that little company, as they turned up in TV or film parts. Tonight, after the recent death of the delightful Roger Moore, several of the seventies series The Persuaders were being shown on a TV channel, and who should turn up on screen but my old acquaintance Bob Gallico.

Looking him up afterwards on Wikipedia I was sad to see that he died some years ago, but as far as 'family life' is concerned I could find nothing at all on Robert's or Paul's relationship to each other. Reading about the author's later life it seemed as though he was quite a solitary man, and perhaps somewhat detached from his children.
Anne Bennett
8th October 2017
at 3:21am
My cousin has confirmed that Paul Gallico lived in their family home in Monkstown, near Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin prior to her parents buying the house in the mid to late 50s. We believe he wrote at least one book whilst living there but can't work out which it might have been. Does anyone have any suggestions? The dates would appear to tie in with the previous comment.
17th July 2019
at 4:01am
Hello there. I stumbled across this site by accident. FYI I used to clean cars for pocket money in the mid 1970s, including in Belgravia, central London, and one of my clients was Ludmilla who I believed to be Paul Gallico's daughter. She was a lovely young lady, in her very late teens or early 20s I guess (when i was about 16), who lived in a mews house and I think was an aspiring actress. She kindly gave me a copy of the book "Honourable Cat", signed "To Nick Sincerely Paul[I think!] Gallico, London, Feb 10 1974". I've still got it.
Nick Jenkins
22nd May 2022
at 9:55pm
I stumbled across this site whilst researching our holiday home rental for next weekend! We are staying in Paul Gallico’s old home in Salcombe, which has been completely renovated and let out through a company called Kate&Toms.
I will be disappointed if there is no reference to the famous author in the property ie a picture of The SS Poseidon !
22nd July 2022
at 4:56pm
I found no evidence of antipathy between Gallico and the US. He was not a conscientious objector. He served for more than a year in the US Army during the First World War. In fact, due to his service, his university education was interrupted and his graduation from Columbia University was pushed back to 1921. In the middle 1950s Gallico traveled throughout the US and his observations and adventures were chronicled in a series of well-received articles in Reader's Digest magazine. It appears he simply enjoyed living abroad, as do I.

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