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AUCTION 22

 

Burroughs’ infamous “William Tell” shooting in Mexico City


 

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88.     BURROUGHS, William S. “My Most Unforgettable Character.” Autograph manuscript written horizontally in ink on both sides of six 3 x 5 inch ruled index cards and one side of a 7th, totaling 13 pp., numbered by the author. [N.p., 1995]. About 570 words, with some authorial corrections in text. Except for light coffee stain on recto of first card, very fine.

     Burroughs wrote this autobiographical account for Jorge García-Robles, who translated it into Spanish and published it in his La Bala perdida: William S. Burroughs en México, 1949-1952 (Mexico: Milenio, 1995), which dealt with Burroughs’ life after he fled to Mexico to avoid a pending narcotics arrest in New Orleans (“enough for two shots and enough for five years on a chain gang”). It was retranslated into English and published in William Burroughs’ Unforgettable Characters: Lola La Chata and Bernabé Jurado (Australia: Xochi Publications, 2001). García-Robles’ translation was reprinted in Burroughs y Kerouac: Dos forasteros en México (Mexico: Random House, 2007). This original manuscript has never been published.

     The “most unforgettable character” is the appropriately named Bernabé Jurado, the lawyer Burroughs found who represented him on criminal charges stemming from the accidental shooting in 1951 of Burroughs’ common-law wife. Their initial encounter is recounted in this manuscript. Thanks to Jurado he had only to report to Mexican authorities once a week after his arrest. (“Bernabé gets me out on permanent bail. I have to sign in every week.”)

     There are vivid descriptions of the powerful, well-connected lawyer and of their conversations:

     “Only later did I realize what I had learned from Bernabé Jurado. Every man can make his own universe if [he] can smile strong enough and smile long enough. You see he’s already there. You know me, friend….

“Maybe he could. Can death be a friend? Can a man have a friend? Be a friend? Every man can make his own universe. Every man is then limited by the laws of the universe he has made. Fourteen wives? That’s stretching things a bit….

“I eat too much, I drink too much, and I fuck too much.”

Referring to his long-term heroin addiction that would follow him to Europe and North Africa before he finally kicked it, Burroughs concludes:

“It was in his [Jurado’s] office I met Old Ike and got back on the junk.”

     Although autobiographical, this manuscript is not merely a factual summary of these events, but reads like a typically superb piece of Burroughs’ fiction. Burroughs, the narrator, and his attorney come to life like fictional characters. Burroughs’ relationship with Jurado is discussed in both Ted Morgan’s and Barry Miles’ biographies of Burroughs.

 

     William S. Burroughs (1914-1997) was one of the preeminent members of the Beat Literature movement, being a writer, social critic, spoken-word performer, and artist. In 1984 he was elected to The American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. However, his distinguished writing career is sometimes overshadowed by his raucous personal life. His lifelong experimentation with narcotics is legendary and strongly influenced his early work (including his famous 1959 The Naked Lunch). After fleeing to Mexico from the U.S. to avoid a potential drug conviction, he was involved in the most notorious episode of his life in 1951. After a night of drinking at the American-owned Bounty Bar, he and his common-law wife, Joan Vollmer, supposedly decided to play a game of “William Tell.” She placed a shot glass on her head, and Burroughs drunkenly took aim with a pistol and fired, mortally wounding her. He spent thirteen days in a Mexico City jail before his brother came to bribe officials to release him on bail. After trial preparations began to go poorly for Burroughs and Jurado himself had to flee Mexico to avoid his own legal troubles, he skipped Mexico and was convicted in absentia. The unintentional killing traumatized him and influenced his writing for the rest of his life. He states in the preface to Queer that he would not have become a writer except for her death.

($3,000-6,000)

Sold. Hammer: $3,000.00; Price Realized: $3,600.00

Auction 22 Abstracts

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