GLEN ELLEN, Calif. — Becky London never answered the call of the wild and rarely got the attention she craved from her famous father.
But despite a somewhat sheltered childhood and unremarkable life, she remains a striking link to a man whose tales of struggles for survival made him America's most beloved author a lifetime ago.
If Jack London were alive today, he would enjoy spinning yarns with his only surviving child. Becky London, 85, has a few of her own, many about the man she still lovingly refers to as "Daddy."
"Talking with Becky is like having a chat with her father," said Russ Kingman, an expert on London and a friend of the novelist's daughter. "Even her letters read like a Jack London story."
Immersed in Roots
Bess (Becky) London Fleming has never been one to take advantage of her father's fame, she said. But recently she has immersed herself in her roots.
She began using her maiden name after her husband died in 1982. Most of her life has been spent in Oakland, Jack London's home for years. Six years ago she moved north into a apartment annex of the Jack London Bookstore in the Valley of the Moon. Occasionally she visits the nearby ranch, now a state historical park, where the writer was living when he died in 1916.
She also has made public appearances and lectures, and cheerfully obliges with anecdotes about him for visitors to her home, which is decorated with pictures of cats, dogs and her father, along with his books. It is a fitting devotion for a woman who said proudly that her connection to her father is still "the greatest thing that ever happened to me."
With her round face and engaging personality, Becky London is "almost a clone of her father," according to Kingman, who runs the bookstore in this Sonoma County community.
"She has the same love for other people, the same knack for making other people feel that they're important, the same bubbly personality," Kingman said.
Both Becky London and her sister, Joan, were products of Jack's first marriage, to Bess Maddern. The parents divorced when Becky was a year old, and her jealous mother never allowed her to visit London at the ranch with his second wife, Charmian.
Kingman said that Joan London, who wrote a biography of Jack and worked for the AFL-CIO for 30 years before dying in 1972, was the author's favorite daughter. Becky, who adored him, had only one full day with him by herself, when Joan was sick. Becky was only 14 when he died.
"Otherwise, Becky was the caboose," Kingman said. "He never had time for her. It's a tragedy."
Becky London admitted with a sigh that she wishes that they could have spent more time together, but there is not a trace of bitterness to her voice.
"He still is my model of what a father ought to be," she said. "Of course, he was human, he had his faults."
Among her memories are numerous outings the writer had with his daughters. "He used to take us to an amusement park in Oakland," she recalled.
"We went to San Francisco with him when we were older, taking the train, the ferry boat and the cable cars. Oh, how Daddy loved cable cars!"
Her father didn't talk a lot about himself with his daughters, preferring to focus on their lives, she said. It wasn't until she was about 10 years old that she discovered that he was famous. It was when she dusted a bookcase and pulled out book after book he had written. "I still remember how dumbfounded I was," she said, shaking her head.
But San Franciscans were aware of his fame, as she found out.
"It was thrilling to go out with Daddy because everybody knew him and he was always so gracious to them," she said.
Talked to Everyone
"Daddy bought us taffy candy and we'd walk up Market Street, and everybody in the city, it seemed, would stop and talk to him. Sailors, hobos, businessmen wearing silk hats, ladies in carriages, boxers--he knew them all. I was so proud. Sometimes he'd shake hands and leave them a $5 gold piece."
He also took personal charge of the daughters' education, sending them a trunk full of books to read every year. Stories about heroes were a frequent choice, along with history books.
Becky London looks back now on a "very happy" life full of friendships and good times.
Today, she has lost her treasured ability to read because of deteriorating eyesight. She spends much of her time now chatting with friends, listening to baseball games on the radio--she is a big fan of the Oakland Athletics and San Francisco Giants--and savoring positive memories.
"I was born an optimist," she said. "I don't worry. I'm happy all the time."