Log In

Joseph Heller Edit Profile

playwright , writer

Joseph Heller was a prominent American author, who specialized primarily in short novels, satires, and plays. His works focus mainly on the lives of people in the middle class, although his best-known work is the novel Catch-22, which is seen as both a historical as well as a satirical novel. Catch-22 has entered the English language as a term that is used to refer to a situation that features only no-win choices that are all negative

Background

Ethnicity: He was the son of poor Jewish immigrants from Russia, Lena and Isaac Donald Heller.

Joseph Heller was born in Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York. He was the son of poor Jewish immigrants from Russia, Lena and Isaac Donald Heller. His father, a bakery-truck driver, died in 1927 from a botched ulcer operation. His whole family - Heller's mother, his half-sister Sylvia, and his half-brother, Lee - lived in a small four-room apartment in Coney Island. Lena Heller, who worked as a seamstress, could barely speak English. She liked to read, so Heller brought home Yiddish translations of novels from the Coney Island public library. Her favorite book was Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, which she read over and over.

After his father’s death, Heller’s half-brother Lee, 14 years elder than he, became like a surrogate father to him. Meanwhile, Lena Heller continued to support the family as best she could, by taking in boarders. When he was ten years old, Heller was given a child’s version of Homer’s Iliad by a cousin; after reading it he announced that if he ever grew up, he wanted to be a writer.

Education

Even as a child, he loved to write; as a teenager, he wrote a story about the Russian invasion of Finland and sent it to New York Daily News, which rejected it. At least one scholar suggests that Heller knew that he wanted to become a writer.

He graduated from Abraham Lincoln High School in 1941. "Joe had a pain in his neck,” one of Heller's schoolmates recalled. “He was brighter than all of us. He was a needler, a big mouth."

Heller studied English at the University of Southern California and New York University in accordance with the Veterans' Preference Act, a United States federal law passed in 1944. In 1949, he received a Master of Arts degree in English from Columbia University. Following his graduation, he spent a year as a Fulbright scholar at St. Catherine's College in Oxford University

Career

During World War II, he served in the U.S. Air Force as a bombardier in Italy and flew 60 missions. These experiences later became the basis for his first novel, Catch-22. When he was discharged from the Air Force in 1945, he pursued a degree in English at New York University. Heller earned an M.A. from Columbia University in 1949 and studied at the University of Oxford as a Fulbright Scholar for the next two years. He became a professor of English at Pennsylvania State University (1950-1952) and instructed the feminist playwright Wendy Wasserstein. His later jobs included working as an advertising copywriter for Time (1952-1956) and Look (1956-1958) as well as a promotion manager for McCall's (1958-1961).

Achievements

  • Mr. Heller's literary achievement brought numerous awards, including the University of South Carolina's Thomas Cooper Medal in 1996.

Works

  • Autobiography

    • No Laughing Matter

    • Now And Then

  • novel

    • Catch-22

    • Something Happened

    • God Knows

    • Good as Gold

    • Picture This

    • Closing Time

    • Portrait of an Artist, as an Old Man

  • play

    • We Bombed in New Haven

    • Catch 22

  • Screenplay

    • Sex and the Single Girl

    • Casino Royale

    • Dirty Dingus Magee

  • short stories

    • Catch As Catch Can: The Collected Stories and Other Writings

Views

Heller's tragicomic vision of modern life, found in all of his novels, focuses on the erosion of humanistic values and highlights the ways in which language obscures and confuses reality. In addition, Heller's use of anachronism reflects the disordered nature of contemporary existence. His protagonists are antiheroes who search for meaning in their lives and struggle to avoid being overwhelmed by such institutions as the military, big business, government, and religion.

Heller was not a writer who sought to show off his keen wit in public: he had, as Erica says, real disdain for the sort of self-consciously amusing "talking heads" who have become increasingly numerous on television.

Quotations: “It doesn't make a damned bit of difference who wins the war to someone who's dead.”

“Destiny is a good thing to accept when it's going your way. When it isn't, don't call it destiny; call it injustice, treachery, or simple bad luck.”

“I want to keep my dreams, even bad ones, because without them, I might have nothing all night long.”

“Some men are born mediocre, some men achieve mediocrity, and some men have mediocrity thrust upon them.”

“There is no disappointment so numbing...as someone no better than you achieving more.”

“Every writer I know has trouble writing. ”

“mankind is resilient: the atrocities that horrified us a week ago become acceptable tomorrow.”

― Joseph Heller

Personality

Heller was orphaned at the age of 5 when his father died due to some surgery complications. His dark and wise-cracking humor is said to have been a result of his childhood memories although Heller has not directly mentioned any of it in his works.Heller had aspired to become a writer even when he was little.

  • “THROUGHOUT ERICA HELLER’S LIFE, when people learned that Joseph Heller was her father, they often remarked, “How terrific!” But was there a catch? Like his most famous work, her father was a study in contradictions: eccentric, brilliant, and voracious, but also mercurial, competitive, and stubborn, with a love of mischief that sometimes cut too close to the bone. Being raised by such a larger than- life personality could be claustrophobic, even at the sprawling Upper West Side apartments of the Apthorp, which the Hellers called home—in one way or another—for forty-five years.

    This is Erica Heller on her father's notorious philandering: "To be fair, my Dad was an equal opportunity flirt: old women, young women, the homely and the beautiful, it didn't matter." For him, she says, the process was "like putting the key into a car to check whether the motor starts. My assumption had been that a man who flirted so openly with women in front of his wife and children had no need for actual affairs." This last belief proved, she continues, to be ill-founded.

    "That makes sense. My brother Ted was more accommodating with our father. I challenged my Dad because I wanted to get attention from him. But the attention would not be nice attention. His response would be: 'I am trying to work. Leave me alone.'"”

Interests

  • Other Interests

    Reading, History.

  • Music & Bands

    Classic.

Connections

Joseph Heller was born in Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York. He was the son of poor Jewish immigrants from Russia, Lena and Isaac Donald Heller. His father, a bakery-truck driver, died in 1927 from a botched ulcer operation. His whole family – Heller's mother, his half-sister Sylvia, and his half-brother, Lee – lived in a small four-room apartment in Coney Island.

After the war, Joseph Heller met Shirley Held at a dance competition. They were married from 1945–1981, and had two children: Erica, born in 1952, and Ted, born in 1956.

In 1987, Heller remarried, wedding Valerie Humphries, a nurse who had tended him during his illness.

father:
Isaac Donald Heller.

When he was only five, his father died after an unsuccessful operation.After his father’s death, Heller’s half-brother Lee, 14 years his elder, became like a surrogate father to him.

mother:
Lena Heller - Russian

Lena Heller, who worked as a seamstress, could barely speak English. She liked to read, so Heller brought home Yiddish translations of novels from the Coney Island public library. Her favorite book was Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, which she read over and over.

1-st wife:
Shirley Held Heller - Amercian
Shirley Held Heller  - 1-st wife of Joseph Heller

After the war, Joseph Heller met Shirley Held at a dance competition. They were married from 1945–1981, and had two children: Erica, born in 1952, and Ted, born in 1956.They separated in 1981 and were divorced in 1984.

daughter:
Erica Jill - Amercian - Copywriter , novelist
Erica Jill - daughter of Joseph Heller

Erica Heller was born in Manhattan on 1 February 1952. That same year, her family moved here to the Apthorp Building, a historic condominium built in 1908 for William Waldorf Astor, former owner of The Observer.

Erica Heller is the daughter of Joseph Heller, author of Catch-22. An advertising copywriter, novelist and creative consultant, her work has appeared in the New York Observer and on The Huffington Post. She is also the author of the memoir Yossarian Slept Here. She lives in New York. Erica's own book about her father, Yossarian Sleph Here, came out in 2011.

Erica was forced to testify against her father when he refused to acknowledge the existence of a mistress to whom he’d once casually introduced her. Their relations never quite recovered. After the trial, Joseph refused to speak to her and returned her letters unopened (a period she characterizes as “the Big Freeze” or “the Mondo Froideur”), and, despite the odd reconciliation, the two weren’t speaking at the time of his death.

Ms. Heller is, like her father, a New York University graduate. And one reviewer compared her to Carrie Fisher, an apt analogy. Erica Heller holds little back, offering details of her battle against breast cancer and a brief, unsuccessful marriage.

son:
Theodore Michael - Amercian

now a distinguished novelist in his own right

sister:
Sylvia Heller - Amercian

2-d Wife:
Valerie Humphries - Amercian - Nurse

In 1987, Heller remarried, wedding Valerie Humphries, a nurse who had tended him during his illness.