Discovering an Iconic Literary Character Was Based on Your Grandfather
May 16, 2019 2:36 PM   Subscribe

Did Joseph Heller Base Catch-22's John Yossarian on Julius Fish? A grieving family finds a WWII journal that leads them to discover so much about Julius Fish, how he served his country, and inspired Joseph Heller. Heller was stationed with Lt. Fish on Corsica.

A very long article but worth the read. I cannot wait to reread Catch-22 in light of all of this information.
posted by narancia (9 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
i remember reading that these journals could get you court-martialed, is that true?
posted by eustatic at 3:44 PM on May 16

I literally started rereading Catch-22 just a couple of days ago, ahead of the Hulu adaptation. It's a lot funnier than I remembered from college! I'll have to dig into this article when I have a chance.
posted by Strange Interlude at 4:06 PM on May 16 [1 favorite]

When my granddad died, I obsessed about finding some truth about his life for a long time. I don't know that I did find it, but I really get Jonathan Fish. If you grow up in a family marked by ptsd, there are so many unanswered questions, so much pain combined with the love. I can see how there is something in discovering your grandfather was the real Yossarian. It's a lovely story. Specially when it focuses on "Julie" Fish.
posted by mumimor at 4:19 PM on May 16 [2 favorites]

I love this book. I vividly remember, 40 years ago, throwing the book across the room in horror when Heller finally revealed why Snowden was "cold."
posted by ivanthenotsoterrible at 5:07 PM on May 16 [8 favorites]

My Great Great Uncle Everett was the intelligence officer in Joseph Heller's (and Julian Fish, apparently) unit. The Intelligence Officer is not sympathetically portrayed in Catch-22. We have his scrapbook up on Flickr, and we used to have a picture of him in uniform on a camel in Egypt on the wall in my parents' dining room, but we just found out he called Joseph Heller a kike (he's from the WASP side of the family) and so he's been removed from the wall.
posted by ChuraChura at 5:29 PM on May 16 [25 favorites]

i remember reading that these journals could get you court-martialed

You can be court-martialed for keeping a journal, which would mean anyone who does it must be crazy. But if you're crazy then you can't be court-martialed. That's some catch!
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:32 PM on May 16 [12 favorites]

You can be court-martialed if your shot down in enemy territory with the journal.
posted by clavdivs at 8:53 PM on May 16 [1 favorite]

Here's an interesting stat about the bomber missions over Europe -- I just finished listening to one of those "Great Courses" -- World War II: A Military and Social History by Thomas Childers.

According to Childers, more men were lost in the skies over occupied Europe than died fighting the Japanese in the entire Pacific theater of war. I cannot recall if that was both US and English airmen or just US; either way, one hell of a stat.

The idea of having to come in a straight line and at the exact same height all the way from the IP until all the bombs are gone, watching friends in other planes get shot out of the sky yet having to keep droning on your course, slowed considerably because of the weight of the bombs -- unreal terror.


In 1957, 26-year-old Robert Gottlieb was a young editor at Simon and Schuster, when the company was in turmoil and nobody seemed to be in charge. That summer, he received a 75-page manuscript for a book called Catch-18, by Joseph Heller. Gottlieb thought it was brilliant and offered to publish it.

Heller and Gottlieb worked on the book for years; Gottlieb would tape pieces of the manuscript and Heller’s handwritten notes all over his office walls and desk and then rearrange passages. Gottlieb was a tough editor, and he pored through every line, demanding that Heller rewrite whenever he thought it could be better.

One day, Gottlieb got the bad news that best-selling novelist Leon Uris was about to publish a book called Mila 18, and Gottlieb insisted that there could not be two books with the number “18” in the title during the same publishing season. They had a long brainstorming session and went through every possible number — they discarded “11” because it sounded too much like Ocean’s Eleven, and Heller wanted “14,” but Gottlieb didn’t think it was funny enough. Gottlieb was so worried about the title that he lay awake at night thinking about it, and the number “22” came to him. For whatever reason, he thought it was a funny number, and Heller agreed.

Later that year, Catch-22 (1961) was published, and by spring of 1963, it had sold more than 1 million copies.

Gottlieb went on to work with writers Toni Morrison, John le Carré, Salman Rushdie, V.S. Naipaul, John Cheever, and many more. He was the editor of The New Yorker from 1987 to 1992. He said, “I have fixed more sentences than most people have read in their lives.”
Above from this Writer's Almanac morning email 4/29/2019

Seems to me that having an editor like Gottlieb in your corner is like the Beatles having George Martin in their corner.


Catch-22 a huge favorite of mine; I've read it many times. An amazing read. Jammed with Capital T Truth. I love how it's broken into three pieces, the same thing happens in each repeat but each repeat darker and more serious.

No such thing as "a favorite book" any more than there is "a favorite movie" but Catch 22 would have to be somewhere in my top 25.

Back to my chores..........
posted by dancestoblue at 6:17 AM on May 17 [15 favorites]

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