Thomas L. Duncan Interview

These are notes Mom kept from a talk with her father, Thomas LeRoy Duncan, on December 7, 1981.

It was 1907 and 08 that I was in California. It was on the Lucky Baldwin Ranch. Dr. Cooke was President of Northern Illinois (University). His son came out to the observatory.

(You liked it out there, didn’t you?)

Oh yes, I always thought we’d move there someday. After that I went to work for the Steel Company. I was 19. We lived across the street. There was a church on the corner. That was at 4th and Locust. Mr. Payton taught me all the departments and the billing and payroll. We lived across from the forestation and I spent lots of time there. They had two fire wagons – horse-drawn. They kept them inside and the men slept upstairs. There was a pole down. One day I slid down with one hand and hit the big rubber platform below. Just that minute Mr. Murray walked in the door. He was the fire chief. He said, “Don’t you ever do that again” and I didn’t.

(This photo is of T. L. Duncan (r) and his half-brother Clifford (l) sorting oranges in Alhambra in 1909.  Lucky Baldwin owned most of what is now Alhambra and Temple City, including the Santa Anita racetrack area.  This photo might be from the ranch.)

Virgo Descending

The rewards of blogging continue. I wrote my first post about Thomas Duncan, author of Gus the Great, over six years ago. Then about 2014 Robert Barron contacted me – he had read “The Sky and Tomorrow” and never forgot it. Read his story here. Last year a reader who liked circuses wrote to me about “Gus the Great” – a fine circus novel. Recently I heard from Mike, a man in the UK who just found my blog. He told me he bought another Duncan book, “Virgo Descending,” in the 1960s and had just re-read it. Still found it to be powerful.
I had not read Virgo Descending so I ordered a collectible copy online. It was nice to see Duncan’s inscription to a woman at 20th Century Fox. I like seeing someone’s handwriting and signature.
The story’s main characters are Pete McCabe, a writer, and Solveig Skovgaard, an ambitious young woman. Part of it takes place in Santa Fe, New Mexico – I like that. In the author’s notes he specifically says he is not McCabe. But I have to think some of his attitudes show through. If so, I think I would like to have know Thomas Duncan. In this story, he writes about literary integrity and romantic integrity. His male, female, white, and brown characters are well developed, not stereotypes.

I can imagine a gathering of Thomas Duncan with Robert to discuss “The Sky and Tomorrow” and the circus historian to discuss “Gus the Great” and Mike to talk with him about “Virgo Descending.” And I get to be there too. Want to join us?