On this day, Nathanael West’s novel A Cool Million, a satire of rags-to-riches morality tales, is published.
West, the son of Jewish immigrants, was born in New York in 1903. He attended Brown University, then went to Paris to write for about a year and a half, during which time he wrote his first novel, The Dream Life of Balso Snell, about disgruntled characters inside the Trojan Horse. Only 500 copies of the book were printed when it was published in 1931.
West returned to New York, where he took a job managing a hotel. He frequently gave free or cheap rooms to struggling fellow writers, including Dashiell Hammet and Erskine Caldwell. In 1933, he published his novella, Miss Lonelyhearts, about a male reporter who becomes increasingly troubled by the pitiful letters he answers in his advice column.
In the 1930s, West moved to Hollywood to write screenplays, and in 1939 he published The Day of the Locust, considered one of the best novels written about early Hollywood. West and his wife, Eileen McKenney, were killed in an automobile accident in California in 1940. Although West was not widely read during his lifetime, his popularity grew after World War II and after the publication of The Complete Works of Nathanael West in 1957.