How Catch-18 Became Catch-14 and Finally Catch-22


Our favorite parts of Tracy Daugherty’s history of the publication of Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 in the August Vanity Fair, which describes how Catch-22 was a project ushered to life by young people.

This description of Candida Donadio, Heller’s 24-year-old agent:

She rarely spoke about what she implied was a grim Sicilian Catholic upbringing. Short and plump, her black hair in a tight bun, she’d fix her brown eyes on people she’d just met and startle them with some bawdy remark, delivered in an unusually deep voice. ‘She had more synonyms for excrement than anyone you’d ever run across,’ says Cork Smith, Thomas Pynchon’s first editor. She liked to say the primary task of a literary agent was to ‘polish silver.’ She claimed she would have loved to have been a Carmelite nun.

Victor Weybright’s description of Arabel Porter, editor of New World Writing, where the first pages of Catch-22 were published (as “Catch-18”):

According to her boss, Victor Weybright, co-founder and editor in chief of New American Library, Arabel J. Porter was ‘a Bohemian Quakeress, with inspired eyes and ears which seem to see and hear all the significant manifestations of the literary, dramatic and graphic arts.’

How Robert Gottlieb, legendary editor (and Observer dance critic) came to wield power at a very young age:

According to Jonathan R. Eller, who has traced Catch-22’s publishing trail, six S&S executives died or moved to other firms in the mid-1950s, leaving the 26-year-old Gottlieb and Nina Bourne, a young advertising manager with whom he worked, with remarkable editorial pull.

And Evelyn Waugh’s response to Bourne’s publicity campaign:

Dear Miss Bourne:

Thank you for sending me Catch-22. I am sorry that the book fascinates you so much. It has many passages quite unsuitable to a lady’s reading

You are mistaken in calling it a novel. It is a collection of sketches—often repetitious—totally without structure.

Much of the dialogue is funny. You may quote me as saying: “This exposure of corruption, cowardice and incivility of American officers will outrage all friends of your country (such as myself) and greatly comfort your enemies.”

  How Catch-18 Became Catch-14 and Finally Catch-22