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Hollywood Chairs : PHILIP'S CHAIR by Dale Eunson (Mercury House: $18.95; 437 pp.)

February 05, 1989|William Dozier | Dozier is a veteran film and TV producer and executive. and

In the mid-'40s, Dale Eunson wrote a touching and heartwarming novel, "The Day They Gave Babies Away." He followed with two or three others, and now has produced "Philip's Chair," a crowning achievement for him or any novelist.

It tells the story of two boyhood pals, John Ewing and Philip Pearson, who were reared in a very small town which the author calls Cottonwood, Mont. As the tale unfolds, one becomes increasingly aware that John is an extension of the author, and Philip his best friend and inseparable buddy.

If you have ever lived or spent much time in a typical American small town, really small, you will identify with and totally relish Eunson's delineation. In John's home is an antique bergere chair, always located in the kidney of the baby grand piano, and to which Philip gravitates whenever he visits the Ewings. When John later moves to New York, the chair follows, and when Philip moves to New York, he follows the chair. So now you know he did not become either an archbishop or an Oxford don.

Philip's father, Sam Pearson, is Cottonwood's baronial banker; John's father a struggling farmer. But Sam Pearson is not Philip's biological father. It seems his mother was somewhat errant in her choices of sexual partners. Philip, of course, is kept primly unaware of his male parentage, if, indeed, his mother is unerringly aware thereof.

Farming was a precarious occupation prior to World War II, just as it is today, and inevitably small farmers like John's father frequently went belly up, and small- town bankers like Philip's father took a beating on defaulted loans. So John soon moves to Los Angeles where his mother has a sister, and is promptly followed by Philip. Both find their way into the emerging motion picture industry. Before long, they become studio writers and in time, adroit and highly paid ones.

The time is the '20s and Eunson cleverly weaves in such luminaries of the time as Mae Busch, Gloria Swanson, Carmel Myers and Ramon Novarro.

John and Philip remain close pals, with unavoidable intermittent fights and strained relations, but never for long. John is slow to manifest much prowess with girls, but after age 19, he begins to compensate for lost time. Philip, on the other hand, remains somewhat aloof from the gentler sex. Today, any discerning observer would tag him as incipiently gay.

Along the way, to support himself between script writing assignments, John becomes secretary to distinguished novelist, playwright, and film director, Rupert Hughes, and it is he who first takes John with him on a business trip to New York. John takes to Gotham as a fly to honey, settles there, finds love with Elizabeth who soon becomes his wife, and together they produce daughter Amy.

Philip's health deteriorates, but when World War II engulfs the world, he rushes off to enlist and is accepted in a special sort of unit.

The story comes to a shocking, yet also satisfying, conclusion.

Eunson writes fluently, highly literately, with delightful and often sly humor, and with painstaking insight. This is a rich, detailed story, a far cry from the many minimally etched novels emerging in the late '80s. Trust me, "Philip's Chair" will enthrall you.

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