(1981) Interview with Grady McMurtry

NOTE: The tape from which this interview has been transcribed was recorded as part of an oral history project. In order to preserve some of the qualities of the his speech we have tended to follow Grady’s pronouncements exactly.

Grady Louis McMurtry

interviewed regarding his
upbringing and early life

by Glenn Turner

in Berkeley on the afternoon of 6th April 1981 e.v.

Glenn: Today’s date is April sixth, nineteen eighty-one. I, Glenn Turner, am interviewing Grady McMurtry. Grady, I wanted to ask you again to cover some of the personal history. Where was it you were born?
Grady: Well, for correctional purposes, let me put it this way; the name is not pronounced “Mic-mur-tee,” it’s “Mic-mur-tree,” which, when Scottish Gaelic gets correctly translated, means a viking, a son of the sea-wind. Because that’s what McMurtry means in Scottish Gaelic.
Glenn: Is that your full name? Do you have a middle name, or anything?
Grady: Louis. All right; as a matter of fact it might be interesting for future history to know that my first name is Grady, which is a river in Ireland. My middle name is Louis; L-E-W-I-S, which is an island in the Irish Sea. My last name is McMurtry, which means the son of the sea, which is as much as to say a viking, which is quite obviously of Scandinavian origin. Now, what happened was quite obvious. I once looked it up in the Research Library of the University of California, and what happened was quite obvious. This viking ship came into Scotland on the sea-winds and was wrecked off the coast, and the survivors were known by the local natives by their names, McMurtrys, the sons of the sea-winds.
Glenn: That’s good. Did your family realize that your name had mythology in it?
Grady: No; I’m the only one who ever did. I’m the only one who ever swallowed a dictionary, in my family.
Glenn: So, were they educated people?
Grady: No. They weren’t stupid, but they were not educated. My father, for example, never went beyond the third grade, but he was not dumb.
Glenn: Sure; education isn’t intelligence.
Grady: That’s right.
Glenn: What did he do? Was he a farmer, or something? You were born in Oklahoma; Big Cabin?
Grady: Right. We McMurtrys come from a long line of outlaws. My father was a criminal, by American definition of justice, which is to say he was a bank robber in the nineteen-twenties. And he went up for bank robbing. In fact, the first time I saw him — sort of like Planet of the Apes; remember Planet of the Apes, remember this thing where there’s this guy goes out of here — this guy behind the thing, that looked like that. The first time I saw my father, the way I got to see him; I was a Boy Scout. The reason I signed on to be a Boy Scout was — it was in Seminole, Oklahoma — okay; back east in Oklahoma; down south-east, right — and my brother — no, I’m sorry; correction: my step-brother, Floyd, who was a beautiful, beautiful guy, had sort of taken me in for a temporary time, because I was having a lot of problems with my childhood. I mean, with my father being an outlaw and things like that.
Glenn: So how old were you and how old was he?
Grady: Well, I was about ten at the time, and he was about twenty. Okay; anyway, this was Seminole, Oklahoma; these — okay; he took me downtown one day in Seminole, Oklahoma, and we walked by the Y.M.C.A., and as we walked by the Y.M.C.A. we saw this sign that said that anybody who signs up for the Boy Scouts will get a prize. The prize is we’re going to visit McAllister State Prison. Well, of course we both knew that my father, Grady, was a prisoner in McAllister State Prison. Well, I had never seen my father — to remember him — so I signed up, and I went down there, and I saw him. But he didn’t see me. Curious about that — but he was standing behind — he was not standing, he was sitting, in “Sunday whites,” which they had because it was Sunday, behind this god-damned door, with this bar. He was just like in Planet of the Apes, just exactly — my father! I did everything but stand on my hands. In the outlaw gang he went up with, there was this — there was a curious democracy among outlaws.
Glenn: Thieves’ honor?
Grady: Thieves’ honor, yeah. One of them was a chief, a Cherokee — full- blooded Cherokee —
Glenn: Who was a full-blooded Cherokee?
Grady: One of the gang; one of the guys in Dad’s outlaw gang, when they were robbing banks in Oklahoma — in northern Oklahoma. This was in the ‘twenties. We had that — The way I got born was kind of — I think rather romantic; I don’t know if you would —
Glenn: Well, tell the story; I’d love to hear it.
Grady: I think rather romantic. I thought of it. I don’t want to be — I think this is a beautiful story. This is something you could make movies out of.
Glenn: Okay, tell it.
Grady: All right, fine; it’s like this. My maternal grandfather was a mountain man. Do you know what a mountain man is?
Glenn: Not exactly.
Grady: A guy who goes out on the frontier, fucks the local Indian women, and survives. My grandfather killed more fucking Indians than you would believe. Not because he wanted to kill them —
Glenn: Self-defense?
Grady: Just to survive. Like, for example, he — there was one guy — like one — he did something very beautiful, in my opinion; very beautiful, in my opinion, and very strange. He surrendered his American citizenship.
Glenn: Wow. Was Oklahoma then — not a state, or something?
Grady: No; that’s right; it was a territory.
Glenn: So that’s real far back, then?
Grady: That’s right. That’s right; see, my ancestors were Confederates. We were Southerners —
Glenn: Right; okay — Rebels. Oh, so that’s a lot of the background.
Grady: You fuckin’ — all Scotch — the Scottish — the Scottish Rebels, right?
Glenn: That’s very interesting.
Grady: And we came in through the Carolinas, right —
Glenn: Right; so there’s a lot of that —
Grady: That’s why they’re still playing zithers up in the South Carolina mountains, right.

NOTE: Nearly twenty years ago, when she conducted this tape-recorded interview, Glenn Turner was taking a course in techniques of oral history. As an exercise she arranged with Hymenaeus Alpha, Caliph of O.T.O. and master of Thelema Lodge, to let her interview him about his childhood in Oklahoma in the 1920s. Grady was no easy subject, and Glenn had to push pretty hard to get any kind of straight story from him about his parents. Gradually it emerged why such reminiscences were so difficult for the old man. (Grady was then aged 63, but after so much hard living — and some hard drinking — he had only a couple more years of good health left.) He had survived an extremely difficult childhood, with a young alcoholic half-Cherokee mother who had no interest in parenting, and an uneducated father off in the state prison for a string of bank robberies. Fortunately his maternal grandfather, and later a succession of other relatives, took him in and raised him.

Glenn: So your mother, then, was –
Grady:: Was Cherokee.
Glenn: — was half Cherokee?
Grady: That’s right.
Glenn: So you’re a quarter Cherokee.
Grady: That’s right.
Glenn: You could go hunting — for free.
Grady: That’s right. Now the way it happened was this. This is so romantic it’s right out of the middle ages. Anyway, what happened was this. My maternal grandfather was — like, a — like a young kid, who came west on an ox-train, right; and he was a bull-whipper. Do you know what a bull- whipper is? He was a guy who handled this twelve-foot — you know, ah — whip, which is made of leather, which can literally cut your throat, at twelve paces –
Glenn: Oh, boy! {laughs}
Grady: That’s right. Because that’s how you get the ox to move, right —
Glenn: You don’t need a gun with one of them.
Grady: That’s right. In fact, that’s why I’m alive, because there was an argument one day with another bull-whipper, and the way they settled the argument was to see who cut each other’s throat first, and Granddad got there first.
Glenn: He won.
Grady: He won, that’s right. Okay, fine. So — we get there to Oklahoma, and he like — a lot of things go by; and like — like for example, I call him the guy who shot — what’s his name? Wyatt Earp, or — no, Marshall Dillon. Well, of course, Marshall Dillon was a fictional character, but my granddaddy was real. It really happened, so help me God. What happened was — that he fucked up. You know, in those days you were on the side of the law one day and you were an outlaw the next day, right; it just depended on which side of the — you know –
Glenn: Who was winning, or something?
Grady: — what was happening. It depended on who was robbing the bank; right. Well anyway, what happened was this: he fucked up, and so he had to split for Kansas.
Glenn: He went — your grandfather went to Kansas?
Grady: Well, he split for Kansas on his pony, right; naturally. And on the way the pony put a hoof in a gopher-hole and broke a leg. The only thing you can do with a horse that’s broke a leg is shoot it, right?
Glenn: Yeah.
Grady: So, Dad had — Granddad had to shoot the god-damned pony, right.
Glenn: Did you live with your grandfather?
Grady: For a while –
Glenn: — as a young kid?
Grady: For a while.
Glenn: What ages, would you say?
Grady: Well, he was about sixty; he was pretty decrepit at that time.
Glenn: Yeah. But you did, you know — hearing his stories, I could tell –
Grady: Oh, yeah.
Glenn: — I could tell you had known him.
Grady: Oh, yes — yes; yeah — yeah, right. But anyway, what happened was this. This is romance, right out a western novel.
Glenn: Yeah.
Grady: Okay, fine; so — but when the pony broke its leg, and Granddad went over, he broke his pelvis. Now, a broken pelvis is very painful.
Glenn: You don’t go far, either.
Grady: No. That’s the whole point. So he shot the horse; put the horse out of its misery. Of course he couldn’t shoot himself like that.
Glenn: Luckily, for you.
Grady: No. And he was laying up here on this plain. But the whole point is this — like me; I’m a survivor, right; I’m a soldier, right? You wouldn’t believe the things that I’ve done in combat to survive, right. Well, that’s what he did. I’ve come from a long line of outlaws. {laughs} Anyway, what happened was this: There was this little creek, here in the middle of the plain, right; which had water in it. He had to have water to survive, right. He probably had at least weeks — until he got that pelvis back into shape. And so he’s living on lizards, and small rats, and shit like that, like I used to do in Korea.
Glenn: Get your meat where you can find it –
Grady: You get what you need to survive. And one evening he saw this — this cowboy riding up over the ridge, right. — right over the ridge — sure — and, um — so — but he was very decent about it. He waited to see the sunlight, depending on the star on the guy’s chest. That’s when he shot him out of the saddle, with the old family hog-leg, like that. {laughs} Well, I mean, that’s real decency, right?
Glenn: Real — really, that’s right out of the wild west.
Grady: You wait ’til you find out for sure — that that’s a sheriff, then you — “bang!” Well of course the horse freaked out, naturally; but then, on the other had, Granddad was the only living human being on that plain.
Glenn: {laughs} Yeah.
Grady: So he sweet-talked the horse down, so he could ride on up into Kansas. {laughs} And he came back to Oklahoma later on, and I got born. But the way that my — my –
Glenn: Let’s see — your mother got born?
Grady: Well, no — wait, no — well, she was already born, it was just a matter of, ah — in between.
Glenn: Oh, I see.
Grady: The way I got born was that — so, okay; so — now we got a dude on our hands, haven’t we? A mountain man.
Glenn: So, this is a good sketch of your grandfather; he was a real mountain man. Did your mother live with her mother, on like an Indian ranch, or something?
Grady: No. No. You must — {pause} — you must not do anything, of course. I’m thinking; I’m thinking; wheels are turning — okay, grinding, grinding — I’m trying to think of — locate something real fast, because I don’t want to take your whole afternoon, ’cause you’ve got to get back to work –
Glenn: Well –
Grady: Okay, I’ll buy –
Glenn: We can come back.
Grady: Yeah, yeah; we’ll come back. Okay, I’ll buy — There was — by the way, this might be very interesting; check it, and see what you think — there was, once upon a time, in this country, something called a Scotch-Irish — “Scotch-Irish” is one word, with a dash –
Glenn: Yeah.
Grady: Scotch-dash-Irish-Cherokee nation.
Glenn: Oh; I’ve heard of it.
Grady: Yes, yes; there was. As a matter of fact, the last Confederate general to surrender to the Union forces was a Cherokee. His name was Stand Watie — Brigadeer General Stand Watie — and he was half white and half Cherokee.


Glenn: Well, tell me about your mother meeting your father; that sounds like a good one.
Grady: All right, fine; all right, fine — all right, fine; now, all right; this is the story, and we’ll — look; tell — ask me again, some other time, when we’re on tape —
Glenn: Oh yeah, we’ll keep —
Grady: — about how the Scotch-Irish came to America, and how they inter- married with the Cherokee.
Glenn: Yeah, that was it; yeah, okay.
Grady: I’ll tell you that some other time; now this is — it will take at least fifteen minutes, but in any case — in any case, I’ll tell you about my father and my mother and how I got born. Okay, fine; the way it was was like this: Once upon a time I saw a — a — picture; a photograph of my father when he was a young man — a very young man. He was dressed in a black cowboy suit, he had a black Stetson hat on, he was — had black cowboy boots on, and he was mounted on a black horse, because that was his business outfit. Because in those days, he was running bootleg liquor from — um — Fort Sill, Arkansas, across to Salosil, Oklahoma, in the dark of the moon. That’s the only way he could do it; with a black outfit on, in the dark of the moon.
Glenn: {laughs}
Grady: {laughs} All right; now this is the picture. You could make quite a romance out of this.
Glenn: It sounds romantic, I think.
Grady: This is romantic; but it’s going to get better — getting a lot better, okay; a lot lot better, okay; this is the background. Once upon a time, in the ‘forties, or something like that — late ‘thirties, I was home from Pasadena Junior College (where I would meet Jack Parsons), and all —
Glenn: Where was this?
Grady: I was — this is Selma, California, which is over by Fresno, in the Central Valley.
Glenn: Oh, you went to school there and met —
Grady: I went to school in Pasadena Junior College, and met Jack Parsons —
Glenn: {turns tape over}
Grady: Are you recording?
Glenn: Now we’re recording again.
Grady: All right; well, what happened was this: um — so, ah — Dad, um — being my — my father (when I say “Dad,” I mean father) —
Glenn: Yeah.
Grady: By the way, his name for me was Buck. He always called me Buck. (B- U-C-K.) I don’t know why, but that was his nick-name for me.
Glenn: Uh-huh.
Grady: Fine. I did not pretend to understand him, but, in my own way I rather admired him. He was rather like a medieval knight, it’s just — he didn’t know it. When the family needed groceries, he took the old family hog-leg and went out and robbed himself a store. You know, it’s not a lot of fun. Anyway, what happened was so fucking romantic I can’t believe it, you know. Anyway, to get back to the story, okay: So I’m up from Pasadena Junior College here in Selma, California, which is out of Fresno; we’re working in the little canning plant; I’m canning part time until I can get a good job, which is not often; working twenty-four hours a day when I can, because it’s extra money — and so forth. And I’m also studying my books, of course; I’m a print junkie from the word go, right — and so I’m reading this book in German, right; and Dad looked at it and said “What are you doing?” and I said “I’m just reading my German,” and he said — now this is the kicker; this is the kicker — you know, now — get it — he said, “What are you doing, Buck?” and I said “I’m studying my — foreign language.” And he laughed, and he said, “The way you study a foreign language is to get a walking dictionary.” And he was remembering the Cherokee girl he used to walk around the Cherokee hills there in east Oklahoma when he was a young guy. And that’s how I got born, because — {laughs} — okay; anyway, what happened was — I — I mean, even when I stop and think about it, it’s too fuckin’ romantic. Okay; what happened was this: he — like — like he starts — starts to get interested in my — in the girl who would be my mother, right. She’s the only daughter of a guy who is himself a mountain man; has four or five sons, and she’s the youngest daughter; I mean she’s the only daughter. Well, you know what —
Glenn: The youngest child and the only daughter.
Grady: That’s — that’s the only daughter. Now — now, you have some idea what a Southern family is —
Glenn: A bunch of big brothers.
Grady: That’s right. Okay; fine. Well this guy comes around, right. And so Granddad, the dude himself, sees him; he knew the deed that he’d do, right. {snickers} And he told him to get lost, and if he didn’t get lost he was going to blow him fucking away! Oh, I forgot to tell you about the time that they blew away the six Indians. Anyway, he had married my grandmother, and he was living in a soddy out in the plains, right. You know what a soddy is?
Glenn: No, I don’t.
Grady: You don’t know what a soddy is? Well, a soddy is — like energy conservation (today we would call it), because what you do is you dig a hole into the hillside, and you build a house there.
Glenn: Oh, a real earth-house.
Grady: That’s right; that’s right. And the goats run on the roof. That’s right.
Glenn: Wow, that’s an old Scotch —
Grady: Sure; that’s right —
Glenn: — hill house.
Grady: Sure. That’s right; see. So, he was living in a soddy, with his Cherokee old lady, right, and — but, a problem. The problem was this: she’s got some Cherokee brothers, right, and they’re Indians, and you know what — you know the difference — you know why — why — why liquor does strange things to Indians?
Glenn: Well, no.
Grady: Well, just as we each have different — like, white — whatever — skin color, we also have inner —
Glenn: — different metabolism.
Grady: That’s right. All right — now, the American Indian was keyed to smoke. The European was geared —
Glenn: Right; there was no alcohol.
Grady: It has to do with the pancreas. You see, this is one reason why I have hyperglycemia, being part Cherokee, you see. My hyperglycemia, which means when I get too stoned I sometimes get a little nervous — like — you know —
Glenn: Well, whatever; yes.
Grady: Well, anyway —
Glenn: It’s just balance —
Grady: Yeah; the point is, it makes you crazy. Ah — sometimes. Okay, fine; so what happened was this: so, Granddaddy was living in a soddy with his girl, who would become my grandmother, of course, and — but she of course had brothers, and one of these brothers gets some of the other Cherokee braves there, all — you know — all liquored up, and they decide to come over and — and off him. After a — you know, he’s on about “What’s that white man doing with our sister?” — right? And so they came up, and they explained to him in great detail, while he’s standing in the door of the soddy, about what they were going to do to him. First they were going to cut his nuts off — like that — and then they were going to — you know. And one thing they didn’t notice was that he had his hands behind his back, like this. So when they made their move he just came out with it, and fanned her back six times, and all of a sudden six dead Indians were lying there.
Glenn: So, what did — ? Oh, he had a gun, behind him? Oh, right.
Grady: Yeah, of course; the old family hog-leg — of course.
Glenn: So he had the gun behind, and then just wiped them out.
Grady: Just wiped ’em; all of a sudden, six dead Indians. And after that they didn’t mess with him any more.
Glenn: No; you don’t mess with somebody that does that.
Grady: Well, that’s — that’s where I come from.
Glenn: So — so that’s the kind of man your grandfather was. Then he sees your father coming up, being just the same kind of guy —
Grady: That’s right. Now, okay; now we get back to the romantic part of the story. That’s the violent part of the story; now we get back — okay, fine. So Granddad says to Daddy, “Get lost; if you come around I’m going to blow you away,” right. Yeah! You see those {pointing to military insignia on his old army jacket} — you see the “flaming piss-pots” of explosive ordnance, right here? Where do you think I’m coming from? I mean, “I’ll blow you away!” — right? {laughs}  And then Granddad either did something very bright, or very stupid; I’ve never been able to figure it out. In fact, I think, in a way, he invited it. I don’t think he had meant to invite it, but what he did was this: He took my grandmother, who was a very young girl, of course, if not actually a virgin (of course I could care less, actually) and he locked her in the outhouse. Now the outhouse was not —
Glenn: He took your mother?
Grady: My — my grand — my mother, yes; okay. Now when I say out-house, I mean the back house. Now that’s where you hang the hams that are drying (in the Southern tradition, you know); when I said out-house I didn’t mean the shit-house; I meant —
Glenn: Oh, yeah — right. {laughs} I was wondering.
Grady: — anyway; and he nailed boards across the window. Okay; romance; medieval; right out of Tristan and Isolde. So one night, in the dark of the moon, my Dad, on his great black charger, in his big black uniform, came riding up over the hills, pried those god-damned boards off the window, lifted my mother-to-be out of there, put her on the back of his saddle, and rode off across the hills!
Glenn: — “rode off across the hills!” Beautiful!
Grady: Oh God! Back to Oklahoma! Oh boy! — that’s the romance of it.
Glenn: So, did they have a cabin? Did he have a cabin in the hills he took her to, or something?
Grady: Well, as a matter of fact, yes: that’s the tragedy of it. As a matter of fact, maybe it should be recorded. What happened was this: he fucked her of course, naturally, and I was in the process to get born. That is to say I was a fetus in her womb. I mean, personally, I think that the life was waiting. And he told me something once, many years later; it scared the shit out of me. He said, “I damned near killed you before you were born.” I said, “What?” He said, “Yes.” And what happened was this: he had been — He was one of five sons: my grandfather, George McMurtry. All right; the family history is this — I’ve been able to research it so far as this — that when the Confederates lost the Civil War (or they call it the “War between the States”), there were a lot of former Confederates that decided to simply split for Oregon. I mean, get the fuck out of there. And of course they were going in ox-trains. All right; fine. Now the McMurtrys, this is the clan that — the McMurtrys — I don’t even know what — what my great-grandfather’s name was, or what my great-grandmother’s name was. Because you see, our problem was this: in those days the only history you had was the family Bible. You wrote down the names in the family Bible, who had been born or died; but the god-damned cabin burned every other year.
Glenn: Right; so you loose a lot of history.
Grady: And that — there went the Bible, right, and there the history went. In consequence I could only give you the general outline, and it went something like this: So the McMurtrys split from — wherever they were —
Glenn: I have a lot of ancestors like that; who knows?
Grady: Okay, fine. They came across the Mississippi. The parents became infected with (what do call it?) malaria, from the — from the —
Glenn: The river?
Grady: — from the mosquitoes of the river. Right —
Glenn: They were leaving the Civil War? Post Civil War?
Grady: That’s right, they were leaving the post-Civil War, and they were heading for Oregon, man, they were going to get the fuck away, right.
Glenn: So malaria strikes down the parents.
Grady: That’s — malaria strikes down the parents. But, being of good Scottish-Irish ancestry (in other words, good pioneer stock), they lasted all the way to the Arkansas-Oklahoma Territory boarder. (Now in those days it was a territory.) They died. They left two sons: George and — the other fellow — what’s the guy’s name — {pause} out of it, right? Anyway, they — these two kids, two brothers, were raised then by a local pioneer family; they had a farm, of course. And they — George would become of course my grandfather — and they would of course become Pentecostal. That is to say (what do you call it?) Holy Roller. That’s why I was raised a Holy Roller. And there’s a curious history there —
Glenn: You were raised Holy Roller? Huh? Interesting.
Grady: Just like Crowley. Different name —
Glenn: Really? He was too? Okay, right; I remember reading the history; different “brand.”
Grady: — different name; that’s right. And this is very interesting. I mean, it’s syncronisity, right. In other words, they called it in his day “the Plymouth Brethren;” in my day we called it “Holy Roller.”
Glenn: A kind of missionary –?
Grady: Absolutely completely fundamentalist Protestant. Which is one reason why Crowley knew his Bible so well, and also one reason why I know my Bible so well.
Glenn: So, did you read the whole Bible as a kid?
Grady: Well you bet you; oh yeah, oh sure.
Glenn: That must have been your first reading, if you were a book person.
Grady: It was the only thing I had to read. Just like Crowley.
Glenn: Right; so there’s a similarity —
Grady: There’s a synchronicity there, which I did not understand, except much later. But in terms of your history, it might be something worth — you know — thinking about.


Grady: Now, did I forget to say something, or did I get wandered off?
Glenn: Well, you were talking about your father’s background, which is interesting. So, he was brought up by someone who was orphaned, who was a Pentecostal. But he went into this kind of outlawry. How did he manage to go from, ah — ?
Grady: All right, fine. Now the way it worked was this. Yeah, good question. All right, fine. My grandfather George had five sons. No daughters. This is eastern Oklahoma, early nineteen hundreds. (Okay, fine.) In other words, right after “War One.” Well, actually during War One; because what happened was that my father — oh yeah, this is how the whole thing got busted. My father was {pause} intelligent, but not educated. This is not unusual at that time in that place. Anyway, he grew up an outlaw. Now as I said, my grandfather had five sons, four of whom turned out to be perfectly patient farmers. My father turned out to be the bad-ass, the black sheep. He was the second son — first name was Grady. “Grady” is a traditional name from the South, in the former Confederacy. But why? — you might well know —
Glenn: Why?
Grady: Because Grady is not a given name among the Irish — it might be a last name but not a given name — but in the former Confederacy it is. Why? Because there was a guy, who some people think was a good-ass, and in history is known as a liberal. His last name was Grady, and he was a Confederate.
Glenn: He was so popular that — ?
Grady: Well, the point is he was — he was a good person, and he was a Confederate, of course — and he went around preaching the doctrine that we form unions and we form confederacies. And there were some people who didn’t like that, and some people who did.
Glenn: Oh, so that’s a real doctrine of love, then.
Grady: That’s right.
Glenn: That’s unusual from the South at that time.
Grady: Oh, that’s right; exactly. In those days, that was considered, in my opinion, real dedication, real devotion. In other words he was saying that, “All right, the war is over; let’s be friends …”
Glenn: Well, that must have stirred a lot of feathers.
Grady: It did! And that’s why my first name is Grady. Because every time you find somebody whose first name is Grady, check; you’ll be surprised — I have never found it different — that they are all former Confederates. Because that’s the way it turned out.
Glenn: So your father, then, was the black sheep and he just started running around with the wrong crowd?
Grady: No, no, no, no, no; it didn’t work that way at all. No; being a black sheep, being a natural outlaw, like I am, it was natural for him to be running illegal liquor from Arkansas to Oklahoma. Right; fine —
Glenn: How old would he have been? Would he have been a teenager?
Grady: Very early twenties at the most. Okay, “War One” came along. At this point he decided to change his ways. He hadn’t even had his first Saturn return — you know; thirty. He decided to settle down. You can make a lot of money farming, right. Okay, and so Dad, um — decided to become respectable. On the frontiers they would do that; you know, like my grandfather: one day he was on the side of the law, and the next day he was, like, pulling them over, right? That’s the frontier.
Glenn: So okay; so he starts farming and going straight, and —
Grady: Yeah. Which meant he had to lease a lot of farm equipment, right? Because he’d got about forty acres together, and he was really going heavy on the trip. And I’m in my mother’s womb, and — you know. And the way he damned near killed me: all right, one day, what he told me was — damned near freaked me out; oh, except I was too dumb to realize it — what happened. Anyway, what he told me was this; he says, “So I was sitting out on the back porch one day.” (Here’s the farm and here’s the barn, here’s the corn crib. You know, if you’ve been in Oklahoma, what a corn crib looks like, right?) “You know; and I’m popping off the rats with the old, you know, thirty caliber, and your mother stepped around the corner, and she was like eight months pregnant with you, and I damned near popped her off!” {burst of laughter} Yeah, he —
Glenn: Well, that sounds like a close call.
Grady: That was a close call. I didn’t even know it. {laughs} That was the first time I damned near got killed; right. {laughs} After that, things got interesting.
Glenn: So what happened? How did he get busted with his friends? Did he decide he needed money, for — um, the leasing, or —
Grady: No. No, no, no. What happened was this: he got drafted, and they gave him like twenty-four hours, or something like that. In War One it was different; in War Two we had at least a week, before we had to report.
Glenn: Twenty-four hours, you got drafted!
Grady: Something like that. Which meant he had to have an auction. Auction; I remember it from the ‘thirties, when we had the California fever in Oklahoma, and were splitting for the West Coast: the auctions. And you don’t get a fucking thing out of them because everybody there’s got to split, and therefore ain’t no one going to pay you anything except minimum. Two bits for two thousand dollars; a harvester, or something like that. In other words, he went broke. In other words, he had all this equipment; he couldn’t sell it.
Glenn: So he got messed up by being drafted, then, completely — financially.
Grady: That’s right; that’s right. He didn’t get sent to war; I mean he didn’t get sent overseas, he got sent back to North Carolina or some place like that. Well, the army is the army’s the army’s the army —
Glenn: So did your mother go back to her father’s place, or did she stay up in the cabin?
Grady: No, no; she stayed up in the cabin. So the war is over, right. This is the — all right, this is the second romance trip. This is right out of the nineteen-thirties gangster movies, the grade “B” movies of those days; this is grade “B” movie scenerio, okay. You’re going to have a ball with this. This is a great classic. Right; okay, go ahead. So he comes home from war, and being from Oklahoma, he goes back to Oklahoma, of course. But, being an outlaw, he looks around to where the action is. Now the action is in Ponca City. Do you know what Ponca City means?
Glenn: No, I don’t.
Grady: You know who the Ponca Indians are?
Glenn: Oh, Ponca Indians. Okay; I’ve heard of them.
Grady: That’s right; northern Oklahoma. Now, dig the scenario; this is going to make a beautiful story. All right now; in the days when the Indians were being resettled in Oklahoma — anyway, and so we’ve got at least five nations there, maybe a lot more. {pause} No, there was some point to the story.
Glenn: Yes, we sort of got side-tracked here. Actually, what I would like to know, I think, to fill in a gap, is — we kind of got to where your father had got back from World War One. So you would have been — ?
Grady: Oh; okay, okay, okay all right, back; we’ll do that. Okay, fine.
Glenn: — see how — would you have been born yet?
Grady: No. No, I wouldn’t.
Glenn: Okay, and then he started running, um —
Grady: Okay. Dad being a natural outlaw would of course find out where the local action was. The local action had to be Poaca City, which is northern Oklahoma. Now the reason this is important is this: because when the American government, through its various military agencies, negotiated with various Indian tribes — you know, like Cherokee, Mincan, Poachan, and so forth, the — the Ponca Indians were the only ones who were bright enough to hire a lawyer who was bright enough to insist on mineral rights, in the treaty. The Cherokees didn’t; nobody else did. Chikosee, Chaktaw, and so forth; they didn’t. But the Poncas did. So when oil was discovered in northern Oklahoma, they became the richest god-damned people in the world.
Glenn: Great!
Grady: Right. My Dad used to ride — ride — ride around in a great big Cadillac, you know, with a gold eagle.
Glenn: Well — so, was he part Ponca Indian then?
Grady: No, he just an outlaw.
Glenn: He hooked into the money, though, somehow? All the money was around, so —
Grady: Well, he told me how it happened. He said, uh — you see they had this — this outlaw gang, which is really right out of the middle ages, if you’ll pardon —
Glenn: So, when he got back from World War One, he joined up with some thugs, and — ?
Grady: No. No, no, no. It didn’t happen quite that way. It always happens more gradually than that, and the way it happened in this instance as this: first, well — first, where’s the action? It was in Ponca City. Okay, it’s northern Oklahoma, right, where all the money is, because it’s like a little Chicago. (It looks to us, right.) At the same time Chicago is having Al Capone and so forth, right? Get the picture?
Glenn: So Al Capone up north, and down south —
Grady: But this is — this is like a small — a small —
Glenn: Small Chicago?
Grady: — a small Chicago, right. Okay, fine. No; no, what happened was, he had to have a job, so he hired on as a taxi driver. Now you and I know that taxi drivers know all the action going on in town.
Glenn: Yeah, that’s true.
Grady: That’s true. There’s no way you can get away from that.
Glenn: Right; it’s better than being a barber.
Grady: That’s right; better then being a pimp. And the next thing he knew, he was the wheel-man on a getaway car for a bank-robber team, running through northern Oklahoma. Right.
Glenn: He went from horses to cars, then?
Grady: That’s the whole idea, see? It was sort of like a gradual progression, see? In other words, he didn’t purposely set out to be a bank robber.
Glenn: But it just so happened that it was the thing to do at the time?
Grady: It just sort of happened that way. {laughs}
Glenn: That’s the way things always happen.
Grady: That’s the way things always happen, right. {laughs} So he got busted.
Glenn: So then he got busted, but you were born, like — you’d been born before he went off — he must have gotten drafted, then, right at the end of World War One.
Grady: He got drafted — no: well, during the middle of War One. I was born after War One. Actually there is a horror story here which I’m sure you’ll want to know.
Glenn: Why don’t we just skip that?
Grady: It has to do with my mother. I’m not saying she was a bad-ass; she was a lonely little girl, and she had a problem, and so on, about drinking. But in the words that I’ve been told, that there were times when my father got home in Ponca City, back to the apartment, you know, and I’d be screaming under a blanket, and I was about six months. Well, she’s the one that had fucking threw a blanket over me and split.
Glenn: So, was she into alcohol; no?
Grady: I — I don’t know. No; she was a young innocent girl —
Glenn: — and real flaky?
Grady: — and flaky.
Glenn: Real flaky, huh?
Grady: That flaky. Yeah, flaky like that. No, I don’t know. But, can you imagine the temperament — nineteen-twenties Oklahoma, to have all this energy running around — ?
Glenn: Right.
Grady: That’s the idea. I’m not blaming her. I would never accuse her — accuse my mother.
Glenn: But it sounds like you had a fairly rough childhood, if she was maybe not always there to take care of things.
Grady: Yes. She was never there. In fact, she —
Glenn: So she was out tripping around.
Grady: All right, um — on her behalf, in case anyone’s listening, I’ll give her a little bit of slack now. In the late nineteen-thirties in Vista, Oklahoma, I knew a strange girl. I was in my late ‘teens, and uh — I found a very strange person. I found a person who loved me; she didn’t understand me. And the person who had abandoned me — now, what the fuck; am I going to be heavy?
Glenn: No, you can, really; these things happen.
Grady: I can; those things happen. I mean, human beings make mistakes, don’t they?
Glenn: Sure; they wouldn’t be human —
Grady: — and they wouldn’t be human if they didn’t. I couldn’t blame her. But I remember, when she decided to get rid of me, I was a kid. I was only about five. And she decided — my Dad was in prison, and she decided to send me to my grandparents. You know how they did it in those days? They put a tag on you, and they hand you to the conductor in the train. And the conductor lets you off the train, and other people carry you. You find yourself out there —
Glenn: So, when you were five — let’s see, how old were you when your father got in prison? Pretty little; I guess you don’t remember.
Grady: I don’t remember.
Glenn: Yeah; so you were tiny, and then she was left with this kid, and she was probably not very able to cope, it sounds like, even when he was around, she was having trouble, so —
Grady: That’s right, yeah —
Glenn: So she shipped you off to your grandparents.
Grady: She shipped me off to my grandfather and grandmother. By the way, I want to make a note. Is the tape running?
Glenn: Yeah, it’s going.
Grady: I want to make a note: I love my grandmother. I love my grandmother like I love nobody else. My grandmother was one of the most precious people in my life. And she called me “Junebug.”
Glenn: Huh?
Grady: Because I was always there to help her.
Glenn: Oh; she sounds like a great person in your life.
Grady: Oh, she was wonderful. She was wonderful. She looked like you a lot.
Glenn: Really? {laughs}
Grady: Yeah, as a matter of fact, she did. She looked like you; as a matter of fact, she did. See, I was the one — this small kid — who would always run out to the chicken shed and get the eggs.
Glenn: Hm — right; I’ll bet you were —
Grady: And then when she wanted —
Glenn: — she could use the help.
Grady: That’s right. And when she wanted to make lye soap, in this great big witches’kettle-
Glenn: Oh, all right; so you had all the experience of your grandparents. You must know a lot of the old —
Grady: Oh yeah; oh yeah, oh yeah. You know how to make lye soap?
Glenn: I don’t know — I’m a city girl; I don’t know anything —
Grady: Well, first of all — first of all you take these — these wooden branches, and you burn them down into ash, you see; and you put them in this big witches’ kettle, you see —
Glenn: Okay. I was just talking to somebody; let’s see, “How do you make soap?” Well, we were wondering —
Grady: That’s right; that’s right. I used to help my grandmother make lye soap.
Glenn: You get ash — and — ?
Grady: I forget what else was used.
Glenn: There must have been lard, right; that’s one of the —
Grady: Well, there’d have to be lard to solidify it, of course. Yeah, I used to help my grandmother do that. She called me Junebug, right.
Glenn: So they had like a farm?
Grady: Yeah; oh yeah —
Glenn: — up there near Big Cabin, or someplace?
Grady: No, no, no; this was West Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Glenn: Oh, West Tulsa; right. Okay; I know where West Tulsa is.
Grady: Yeah; well that’s where, uh —
Glenn: — they had, like, a farm?
Grady: Well, yeah, we had a truck garden. We raised tomatoes.

Berkeley, 7th April 1981 e.v.

Glenn: — April seventh, and I, Glenn Turner, am interviewing Grady McMurtry. Again, we’re picking up at — I guess — his childhood years; perhaps at the grandparents’, or —
Grady: Yes. Now, I’ve forgotten; did I tell you about how I got shipped from Ponca City to Sallisaw, Oklahoma? Okay, I told you that, right? Now, my first memory, as a child — it was a little confused; I have two memories. One of them (which I told somebody once) is strange. Do I hate my mother, or could I hate my mother? I do not know. But the story is this; I had a memory — it could be a racial memory, I don’t know. Anyway, the memory is this; and that is that when I was a very young child, my mother threw me into the pig pen, so that the hogs would eat me, and I crawled out, and didn’t get eaten. Is this true, or is this not true? I do not know; but I do know that I have had this memory. Now, two: memories — childhood memories — very early childhood memories. There was — this is Oklahoma; this is eastern Oklahoma, rural Oklahoma, right? Okay, fine. My grandfather is a farmer, right? And I’ve been shipped off to him. Okay, fine; now: there’s something they had in those days (which they may still have, for all I know); it’s called — the place where you break the canes and make the syrup, out of the canes, you know. And this mule walks around in a circle, tied to this god-damned thing, which breaks up canes — and as the sugar canes go in, and are broken up in the thing, a small child could stand there and you know — like, eat the syrup, right? Three: my first memory that I can be positive about is a broken watermelon. And it was so stupid, because as you know I have a sweet tooth — I have hyperglycemia — I love sugar. That’s why I don’t eat sugar any more. And anyway, one day, I had gone out. I was about five at the time; maybe four. Anyway, this is eastern Oklahoma, in Sallisaw, on my grand-daddy’s ranch, and of course they had this buckboard. You know, when I saw the film — you know, “Oklahoma,” — they talk about the buckboard — that’s old memory. We had a buckboard, with a couple of horses, you know, trotting. And you literally could pull down the cellophane shields, when it started to rain. Anyway, so one day I went into the watermelon field, and I picked up this nice ripe watermelon, and I came back. But there was a little problem: this barbed wire fence. And I would learn about barbed wire in the war, of course. When you go into barbed wire fences that’s in the mine field. That would be much later. Um – by the way, the way you walk through a mine field – anyway. {laughs} And maybe I learned my first lesson there; maybe that’s why I survived. Because what happened was – as I came back, a very small boy, you know, carrying this great big watermelon. But here’s this wire fence. Well, you know, in Oklahoma — in any farm field — you spread ’em apart like that — so you can go through, right? Or you step over, if you’re big enough. I wasn’t big enough to step over, so I had to crawl through. When I leaned over, to crawl through, I dropped it, and it broke. And I looked at it. It happened to be a yellow one, by the way; yellow meat inside. And I looked over, and I cried. I broke my watermelon. {laughs}
Glenn: So you were pretty young; that’s one of your first memories.
Grady: That’s my first memory that I can be sure of.
Glenn: Right. That it was really happening.
Grady: That’s when I began to realize what was happening, right.


Glenn: Did you have, like, a one-room school house, or something?
Grady: Yes. In fact, I’ll tell you that story too if you want to hear it.
Glenn: Well, just kind of briefly, sure; because your education — obviously you’re more educated than most of your people. There must be some kind of key to that.
Grady: Well the key to that is genius. What does the word “geni” mean?
Glenn: I’m not sure.
Grady: Intelligence.
Glenn: Oh! Okay, genius; yeah. “Geni” — yeah.
Grady: “Geni.” Like you; you’re Glenn, right? You’re a genius, aren’t you, in your own way? Well, in my own way, so was I. Now, you’re right; I’m the only person in my family who ever went to school. I mean, literally. Ed Murrow, in one of his last broadcasts — I saw this on TV — said that no child of the depression generation out of Oklahoma had ever taken a degree in higher education. I’ve got news for you; not only did I take a BA in philosophy, I took a master’s in political theory. (I would have taken a doctorate in political science except for — something else.) Now, what happened was this: okay, fine; it’s nineteen-thirties Oklahoma. We were on the east side, which is over by Seminole. I’m living with my half-brother — no, not my half-brother, my step-brother Floyd, and his beautiful old lady.
Glenn: He was the one who got you into the Boy Scouts, right?
Grady: Yes.
Glenn: How is he related? He is a step-brother; is he your father’s son, or your mother’s son, or somebody else’s?
Grady: All right; my mother had two sons, Floyd and Emmet. Emmet was the older one; he was a dummy. Floyd was the younger one; he was the bright one. And so, anyway, well — I better do a whole history here —
Glenn: These are sons of your mother?
Grady: My mother, yes.
Glenn: Okay, so they were —
Grady: No, but — but, my — my step-mother.
Glenn: Your step-mother?
Grady: My step-mother, whose name was Kora.
Glenn: Oh, I get it. Okay, so —
Grady: Now all you have to do is remember your oral history of the Greeks. Who is Kore?
Glenn: She’s the daughter of Demeter.
Grady: That’s right. If —
Glenn: So she was — like, your father’s second wife, or whatever?
Grady: Yeah. When my father was in prison, she adopted me. That’s why in my early school papers, the first two or three years, my last name was Summerville, because her name was Summerville. But of course when Daddy got out of prison they were able to get married, and it was McMurtry again.
Glenn: So, but you were living with your grandparents and she lived nearby, or something? Were they all —
Grady: Oh, boy.
Glenn: — complicated? Too — I mean — ?
Grady: Complicated. Oh boy! All right, all right, all right; okay. Now, what happened more or less was this. We’ve dealing with Oklahoma history; I mean, my god! — you know. What happened more or less was this. This bank robber, my father, somehow or other — I’ve forgot — I don’t even know how, got acquainted with my mother — the gal who would become my step- mother, Kora — and they had a beautiful relation. (She was not my mother, because my mother was the little Cherokee girl, out in Ponca City.) So, then he went up for fifteen years for bank robbery. Well, she carried the torch for him, and — well, she had other lovers; she had to make a living. My mother was a whore. That’s why I’m so in love with Babalon, because my mother was a whore. I knew that; I saw her do that trip. I even made phone calls for her about it.
Glenn: This is your step-mother.
Grady: Step-mother.
Glenn: But she was good to you, so that’s what counts.
Grady: Yes; yes, she was so good to me that I have some times almost cried, because I wasn’t present at her funeral. I’ve forgotten some of that over the years. I’ve lived a long time; I’ve lived through a lot of years, and I’ve had a lot of things happen, and when I realized one day that my mother, Kora, was dead, and I had not even attended the funeral, you know, I thought, well, life must be a son of a bitch, mustn’t it? She did so much for me. I remember, like for example, I couldn’t have been more than five; we were living in a place called Slick, Oklahoma, which no longer exists — it was destroyed. And it was like, the back porch, up here on the hill. And she’s feeding me a breakfast of corn flakes and milk. And I remember sitting there eating it, and thinking how delicious it was, and looking up at her and thinking “how beautiful!” It was wonderful, and there was something else that’s even more beautiful, that happened too. Now this is oral history, right? (Just thought I’d check.) My grandmother (her mother, okay) died a rather unfortunate death. She developed something — I guess you would call it — what? — that killed her. Anyway, I remember walking behind her, from the house out to the back, and she just dropped to the ground. And I was like twelve when she died. It was diabetes. And we buried her in the local cemetery, which happens to be out from Slick — out a ways — where all the graves fall in, because nobody has money to buy a coffin to keep your bones from breaking. When she died — my grandmother, that is; Kora’s mother — a funny thing happened. A screech owl came and perched on the oak tree right next to the bed room. It’s a funny thing, but in Oklahoma we have a legend, among the Cherokees, that when you die the screech owl comes and screams.
Glenn: It — the — it comes and —
Grady: Screech owl. A screech owl is a small owl.
Glenn: It comes and screams over the — ?
Grady: It screams; over the —
Glenn: — over the body?
Grady: Yeah, that’s right; and that’s what happened.
Glenn: So, it did.
Grady: It did.
Glenn: Owls are —
Grady: Owls are like that.
Glenn: — like that; yeah.
Grady: It’s true; it happened.


Glenn: Right. So, let’s get back. So, you spent, like, some of the time with this step-mother, and with your grandparents, it sounds like.
Grady: Oh, the grandparents were later; this is early on. Okay, fine; now —
Glenn: And then you ended up going to school, I guess, at your grandparents’ place —
Grady: Now this is the way it worked; I mean, this is the way it happened. All right, we’re living in Slick, Oklahoma; I’m a very small child; okay, fine. There was a school house up on the hill. It was made of brick, for both high school and elementary school, and I — I went there. And I would walk up that street, and — I wanted an education. I was the only person like that who ever wanted an education; everybody else thought I was dumb. Except if they wanted to write the letter, then they asked me to write a letter. And that’s when I started my education.
Glenn: You, just as a kid, at six or seven or something, decided that that’s what you wanted?
Grady: That’s what I wanted; yes.
Glenn: And they thought it was weird?
Grady: Here you see {indicating an old photograph of himself} this guy in the bucket hat? Okay; when I was eighteen, or maybe a little earlier, I decided —
Glenn: Is that picture from when you were eighteen?
Grady: No, I was twenty there. I decided two things: One, I would grow a mustache; and two, I would smoke a pipe. I had never smoked cigarettes. I’ve tried several times; I don’t like them. But that’s the kind of a guy I am; in other words I just decided that “I’m going to do that,” so I did it. And that’s — that’s like — an education. I spent more years than I care to think about in that university up there around the corner, studying things which are better forgotten, just because I wanted an education.
Glenn: {laughs} Yeah. So — would you complete high school, at this same school you went to grammar school in, or — ?
Grady: No; no. That’s one of the funny things about it. I, by the time I graduated from high school, I’d gone to at least seventeen different schools, and when you consider that from grade one through grade twelve — how many different places can you be in one incarnation? Well, what happened was that we were moving. We were Depression kids. Between Oklahoma, Colorado, Texas, and California, I went to seventeen different schools before I graduated from high school. And when you stop to think about it, that’s also one reason for some of my problems. To this day, I could not diagram a sentence for you, you know, as a —
Glenn: You missed that section in school? {laughs}
Grady: No; well, I missed — you know how I missed it? Because, when I was in Colorado —
Glenn: They were studying that in the other grade?
Grady: — we all were at this level, and when I got to Oklahoma, we were at a different level, and in between the whole god-damned thing got missed.
Glenn: So who were you traveling with?
Grady: My parents. You wouldn’t believe what it’s like, looking out the side of a nineteen-thirties automobile. Looking down at the, ah — at the — rattlesnakes; they’d be splattered on the highway. Because, out in Colorado, and in Arizona, in summer, of course the snakes wake up, and they start crawling across the highway, right? And the cars come along, and barrel ’em, right? And you’ve got a whole carpet of snakes. And I’m looking, and I think, “What? Wow! Here I am, riding over them!”
Glenn: So this is when your father got out of prison —
Grady: Yeah.
Glenn: — and your step-mother. And maybe your step brothers didn’t go, or something; if they were older — ?
Grady: They were older; yeah. No; as a matter of fact they didn’t go; not because of their fault; it was just — well, Floyd was a little too fat, and Emmet was a little too dumb. What happened was that when Dad came home from prison, he had a little problem. The problem was he couldn’t get a job.
Glenn: In the ‘thirties, yeah. What year was that, I guess?
Grady: It was nineteen-thirty-five, approximately. He was a known ex-felon. Now who’s going to give a job to an ex-felon; you’ve got to be kidding. So he couldn’t get a job. So in order to keep the family going he had to go out and rob a bank now and then. And since this was known, of course, every time there was a bank robbery — they’d come and pick him up.
Glenn: {laughs} Oh, I see. That’s part of the traveling, I guess?
Grady: Part of the traveling act; right. {laughs}


Grady: All right, my grandfather had a truck patch — what we in Oklahoma called a truck patch. We raised tomatoes. He was trying to sell tomatoes to market. Now, a tomato patch is about forty acres, with a little shack, and the barn yard (with all the horse shit), and the chicken coop (with all the chicken shit). That’s why my grandmother called me “June bug” because I was the one who always ran through the horse shit and the chicken shit and picked up the eggs for her. So, somebody pulled a bank, there in northern Oklahoma, and one morning — Dad was home at that time, and so was Mom (Cora) — and, I’m sweeping up in the back yard while they were in the front. And all of a sudden, “bang, bang, bang.” What? What’s going on? We had a posse of sheriffs that you wouldn’t believe. And I remember — I’m just a kid, right? — I’m looking at this guy who had this Thompson sub-machine gun. (I’m going to get very involved with that Thompson “sub” in the next few years — oh, I used to blow people away with a Thompson “sub.” You know, the way you fire a Thompson “sub” is, you don’t hold it vertical, you hold it horizontal. You put it over there, you pull the trigger — chullp!) And I’m looking at this god-damned thing, and I’m looking at the polish on the hood of their car, while they took my Daddy away. There’d been a bank robbery in northern Oklahoma, and he was a known bank robber, so they came and picked him up.
Glenn: So then you were traveling. Did you just sort of travel with your father and mother, and then to California, during the ‘thirties? And then get drafted into the world war? Or join, or — ?
Grady: As a matter of fact I joined. Well, I might as well tell you the story. I mean, as long as we’re on oral history. What happened was this. I told you about the California fever, right? And how we in Oklahoma caught it, right? Okay, fine. Well, there were two segments to the story. One: we drove west, from Oklahoma through the dust bowl. I remember the dust bowl very vividly. Looking at it. I mean; thinking to myself, my god, I don’t want to go through it. I mean, who would be so dumb, to do a trip like that, any way. I mean, these abandoned farm sales. These people had come west, you know; the farmer had come west, and they’d tilled the soil, built their houses, and so forth —
Glenn: And they just left it?
Grady: – but then the rain didn’t come.
Glenn: Oh. Yeah. {laughs} I can recognize that, living here; it could happen.
Grady: Dig that. Right, dig that, okay. The rain didn’t come. So those farm houses are still there, to this day, to the best of my knowledge. They were there then, but the people were gone. It was like war time — it was like a war-time experience, in a way; it was that weird. I mean, here you are, out in this strange universe; like, there’s nobody there, except you. And you wonder, where the hell is everybody? Wow. So anyway — so we drove over this highway sixty- six, which you’ll find celebrated in The Grapes of Wrath. To Cayman, Arizona, where we turned north. Now at that time the road from Cayman, Arizona, up to Boulder City was pretty rough. Today it’s much smoother; in those days it was pretty rough. In other words, we had a good long car, and it was a little hard to get around some of those curves. And at that time they were building Boulder Dam. Boulder Dam wasn’t there yet; they were just digging a tunnel that would allow the river to flow through while they built the dam. And I had probably the most embarrassing time of my life, when I tried to — in fact I did — sell the Salt Lake City Tribune, as a news boy on the streets. There would be all these bars, right, and all these guys getting drunk and everything like that. And these great big high- wheelers; you know, those god- damned trucks have wheels eight foot high! They were digging the tunnel for the Boulder Dam, right? And Dad was down there, down in the tunnel, you know, sweating his fucking lungs out. Because he started to get “wet lung.” And I learned my act, I guess — well, as long as this is oral history — I guess so — by being a street boy in Boulder City, selling the Salt Lake City Tribune. I had to yell out “SALT LAKE CITY TRIB-UNE!” And I was so embarrassed I couldn’t do it, at first; then I leaned I could do it, and I did. And that’s what happened there in Boulder City. And then, of course, after my Dad started to get “wet lung,” we split for Colorado. Now, we had some relatives in Colorado. These relatives were very interesting. They did what we call dry land farming, in the west of the mountains. They had this farm up there, so we drove up, you know, in this old battered nineteen-thirties pick- up, and we lived there for awhile with them. And that’s when I first learned about sun tan, and how to avoid it {snickers} because we went down to the creek one day, to, ah – you know, skinny-dip.
Glenn: Oh, yeah.
Grady: And I learned what it means to get burned, on the skin. Because – oh boy! oh boy! – that’s why, even today, if I get really sweaty, out in the field, from here to there, {gestures along his body} and from here to there, you won’t see any dust, because all of my sweat glands have been burned off, due the fact that I got sun-tanned twice. And also then I learned how beautiful it is, to have nature — beautiful. And my experience, Glenn — I don’t know about you; I mean you’ve learned in your own environment — but my experience was this: we kids were walking across this meadow one day and there was this wild plum tree, and the plums were ripe. And I reached up, and picked one, and it was so sweet, I couldn’t believe it. That was the day I got sunburned.
Glenn: Wow, that must have been a beautiful place. So, did you stay in Colorado for – ? What year would that be? That would about nineteen – ?
Grady: That would have been ‘thirty-five, ‘thirty-six. Surely no sooner than ‘thirty- six; maybe ‘thirty-four; I’m not quite sure. Anyway; so, we were there for awhile, and — oh, that’s when I learned about Indian ruins. Yeah. Now that place is loaded with Indian ruins, and in fact for years and years and years I had a few souvenirs from there. Those Indians had been up in those places for centuries. And there are rock canyons you would not believe. The other kids and I, we’d go up in this rock canyon; we’d do tricks. And that’s when I found out about how you don’t sit down in a rock canyon without looking for the cactus spurs, because those winds blow those cactus spurs every place, and you {laughs} would be very surprised to discover – where you’re – sitting. That was the place where the old horse died; that’s a whole different story.


Glenn: Were your family, like, Holy Rollers? Did they go to Pentecostal things?
Grady: My father was probably an atheist. I don’t think he believed in anything.
Glenn: So he didn’t bring that, but what about your mother; did your – ?
Grady: No, she was not either.
Glenn: So – only the grandparents – got that?
Grady: My grandmother was not. (Now, heaven help me if I’m wrong.)
Glenn: She may have had her own sort of thing –
Grady: My grandmother looked exactly like you.
Glenn: That’s hard to believe, if she was part Cherokee.
Grady: No, this is not my Cherokee grandmother. This is my grandfather’s wife.
Glenn: Uh-huh. Oh, your father’s –
Grady: My father’s mother; my grandmother.
Glenn: Oh, okay; I get it. Right; the one who raised –
Grady: The one who raised me –
Glenn: – the five sons. I get it.
Grady: Well, anyway, what I think, Glenna, is that she actually worked herself to death, because –
Glenn: Your grandmother?
Grady: Yeah. Because, I remember looking at her when she was dying, in the bed. I kissed her. And I cried. And I think what happened was this. She grew up, in rural Oklahoma, in like the late – what? – nineteenth century? And she knew my grandfather as a child. They used to sleep in the same room together – you know, when everybody came together. At Pressure Mountain, when the Holy Roller convention, and everybody was doing everything. Anyway – and of course they pile the kids in a room, right?
Glenn: Yeah, like we do these days; yeah.
Grady: Nobody’s fucking – but everybody knew each other. Fine. So, then, she grew up, and she married my grandfather, and then she discovered something, and that is that life is nothing but hard work.
Glenn: She noticed that too, huh?
Grady: And you love the people you’re with – you love your family – but life was nothing but a lot of work. And I think what happened was that she actually worked herself to death.
Glenn: So she died, like – ?
Grady: In her sixties.
Glenn: – in her sixties. Well, that’s not a bad –
Grady: No.
Glenn: – that’s not that young, really.
Grady: Grand-dad lived till his nineties, and married again, for god’s sake.
Glenn: My goodness; that’s long.
Grady: Oh, but matter of fact, I think it’s remarkable. {laughs}
Glenn: Yeah. So, were you, living with them when your grandmother died? Or had you already moved?
Grady: No, I was with them when my grandmother died. Okay, back to Colorado. Okay?
Glenn: Okay. Yeah, side track; but that was interesting.


Grady: Hum. Okay; so anyway – Now we had – I had another uncle, who was living in Sentinel, Colorado – I guess it’s Sentinel, Colorado; it’s called Grand Junction. This is where a couple rivers that come to there gather, and there is a little place called Fruita. It’s just a little town – just a –
Glenn: This in Colorado?
Grady: In Colorado, south from Grand Junction, okay. We used to go out to the river and catch carp. Carp are bottom-feeding fish, but that’s it; we were hungry. And shoot rabbits, with our twenty-twos. And Dad had a job with a rancher, where he was doing a butcher trip, and there was this creek, where the muskrats were living, and we were about a mile and a half from town, aprox. They didn’t have any school busses, to pick me up. Every morning, in the cold of winter, when it was literally so cold that you could see the snowflakes condensing out of the air, I had to walk down a mile and a half into town to go to school, and a mile and a half back in the evening. On the mile and a half back in the evening I would pick, like asparagus – wild asparagus –
Glenn: Oh, wow. So you lived there for, what – ?
Grady: For about a year.
Glenn: – for about a year. So did you enjoy the schooling stuff that you were doing, or was it sort of, I guess, like any young person, or – ?
Grady: Um, actually, at the time, it just seemed like everyday ordinary existence. Only looking back at it do I think that there may have been something remarkable about it. Ah, I enjoyed it, yes. Look, I love education; I’m a print junky.
Glenn: Right. Let’s go through some of this quickly, and see if we can get up to when you started getting into occult things.
Grady: Oh; that’s very simple –
Glenn: Is that later in your life, or – ?
Grady: No; all right – yes and no. Okay, yes – and no. The story is –
Glenn: Okay.
Grady: Okay, now, what happened was this. Uh – you can call it stupid if you want to. It’s entirely up to you. But what happened was this. As you know I’m a double Libra, and a romantic, and all that sort of jazz, right? Now, ah – but I’m not stupid, either. I may be dumb, but I’m sure not stupid. So, anyway, um – there came a time in my life when I was very very young, and I was living with my grandfather and my grandmother – and my grandmother I remember with great affection; my grandfather, I remember him with great respect, but not necessarily affection – ah – like on Sundays and Wednesday evenings. Wednesday evenings we had prayer meeting, right? It’s Holy Roller, right. Wednesday evening you have prayer meeting, right. Sure; always, always. It’s part of ancient Presbyterian tradition, or whatever they call it. Okay, fine. So, ah – we’re, ah – living here, and, um – so what happened, what really happened was this: the reason I became a Thelemite. We had a woman preacher. Now in unordained ministry, which the Holy Rollers are, of course, it’s nothing unusual. In fact, in your modern witchcraft tradition you might take note of the fact that, among unordained ministries you’ve had women ministers for years.
Glenn: Yeah.
Grady: All right; okay, fine. And one of them was. Now, I had a rather painful decision, very young, very innocent, and very open. I fell in love with her.
Glenn: With the minister?
Grady: Yeah?
Glenn: Oh.
Grady: She would be up there on the podium, you know, preaching away. And then one day she disappeared. And I said, “Why,” you know; “what happened?” And they told me, “Oh, well; she was doing a sex trip with Joe Blow.” What – what? This is my hero, this is my – what?
Glenn: You mean – ?
Grady: At that moment I became an anti-Christian.
Glenn: You mean they got rid of her because she was doing this?
Grady: No, they didn’t get rid of her.
Glenn: She just – ?
Grady: She just split.
Glenn: Oh, she just split with so-and-so.
Grady: But I was so completely disillusioned –
Glenn: Uh-huh.
Grady: Now I have hypoglycemia, which means I love sweets. Now, in depression Oklahoma there’s only one place I can get sweets, and that was at Christmas. Cause at Christmas they brought out all the candy, right. I walked away from it. “No!” I walked away from it; I said “No, I won’t. I can’t.”
Glenn: You somehow equated the sugar with the Christian – ?
Grady: The point was, I’d made a commitment I will not, under any circumstances, submit to that type of trip. I mean, seeing as she had done something – what can I say?
Glenn: So what was the “trip?” I’m not quite sure what – ?
Grady: The trip was that, um – that, um – by, um – balling this guy, and disappearing from our scene, she had –
Glenn: Broken her commitment or something?
Grady: – broken her commitment to being a preacher of the faith. And that’s when I became disillusioned. Um, that’s when I split from the Christian church. And, um – I went out looking: where, what, will, you know – where do I belong?
Glenn: So did you feel identified with her, or did you feel angry with her?
Grady: Both. Like Margot Adler, you know, who wrote Drawing Down the Moon, or something –
Glenn: Yeah.
Grady: – said to me on that TV tape – which is upstairs if you want to hear it, by the way –
Glenn: Yeah, I’d like to, at some point.
Grady: She said, “Anger and ecstasy, both at the same time.” I said, “Yes, I know.” She said, “There’s your problem.”
Glenn: What was that, at the same time?
Grady: Anger and ecstasy.
Glenn: Uh-huh.
Grady: In other words, I was angry with her, and at the same time, I just split; I said “fucking forget it!” So I went out looking. I looked for many years.


Grady: — So I went out looking. I looked for many years. One thing I found was something – oral history, right? Is this thing rolling? Okay, oral history. First thing I found was, a number of years later, something called Technocracy, of which I’m not particularly proud at the present time, but –
Glenn: You found it then –
Grady: – but I found it then. And at the time it was the solution, because at that time – this was the late nineteen-thirties; ‘thirty-seven, ‘thirty- eight, ‘thirty-nine, approximately. I had graduated from high school in Kansas in 1937, so it had to be ‘thirty-eight, ‘thirty-nine. (It was in Valley Center, Kansas, I graduated from high school.) I found something called Technocracy. Now at the time I was a student of engineering and physics at Pasadena Junior College in Pasadena. My best friend was Paul Freehaber. Beautiful guy. Dead many years. Had a bad heart. He died at home, when I was in combat, in Normandy, and I couldn’t believe it; “I’m supposed to be dead -”
Glenn: Oh, no.
Grady: – yes, yes.
Glenn: That’s karmic, in a weird way –
Grady: Yeah, I couldn’t believe it. I got at letter from his sister, in Pocatello, Idaho, telling me that Paul was dead, and I sat – I sat down in my muddy combat boots in this god-damned fucking, god-damned, you know – tent, in the field there in Normandy, and I said, “What? But I’m supposed to be dead; how come Paul is dead? Paul is a good guy.” He was a beautiful person. And, so, anyway, this was in the days when – oral history, okay? – this was in the days when they were polishing the mirror for Mount Palomar. And –
Glenn: This was in Pasadena, California?
Grady: In Pasadena, right. Right, at Cal Tech, where I would meet Jack Parsons, which was the whole god-damned point, right?
Glenn: Right.
Grady: But we’ll get back to that later.
Glenn: You were at Cal Tech?
Grady: No, I was a Pasadena Junior College.
Glenn: Oh, I see; which is near by Cal Tech.
Grady: Paul was at Cal Tech, and so was Jack Parsons. Now, oral history, right; check. Okay, fine. Well, it was like this, and I think this is interesting, for future history, because it helped to shape me in whatever way I am, or whatever. Anyway, I had a bicycle; I couldn’t afford an automobile. The first time I got laid I did afford an automobile. Anyway, oral history –
Glenn: {laughs} Yeah; cars are tied up that way, as a rite of passage, I think, for Americans.
Grady: {laughs} The reason I got laid the first time was because {laughs} I had bought this old beat-up – I don’t know what type of an automobile it was; I don’t think they even make them any more – for about thirty bucks, which I couldn’t afford. And one night I was driving this crew of kids from Pasadena over to Los Angeles, to do a trip. There was the first piece of freeway in Los Angeles, which was the freeway from Pasadena over to LA, right. We come up over the rise; I’m driving, right. My gal, who I’m trying to get laid, is sitting next to me, and there’s a couple of other people in the back, right. And as we did so, here’s Amiee Sample Macpherson’s temple – you remember her? – probably a very wonderful lady in her own way. Anyway, there was this sign that said in black – I’m sorry, in red – neon, said “Jesus saves.” And I looked at it, and I said “He must have quite a pile by now.” And it wasn’t till later I discovered – she said, “That’s when I fell in love with you.” You know, anybody who had a sense of humor like that – {laughs}
Glenn: {laughs} That’s great. So – but you had a bicycle first –
Grady: Now, so, what happened was this. Like for example, I took my bicycle in the evenings. It was a high-speed bicycle. It wasn’t a ten-gear, but it was high-speed. It was a British racing bike. And I would go spinning down to Cal Tech. And they were manufacturing the mirror that would become the great eye of Mount Palomar. The “prime” on the two-hundred-incher, right.
Glenn: Oh, yes.
Grady: Anyway, the way it worked was this. They had this viewing room; it’s sort of like Star Trek, you know. Which meant that of course you couldn’t breathe here, because they didn’t want your breath up there, because they were polishing the mirror. Now, the way the mirror was polished was this. You put your – or, this great iron metal arm, right out of Star Trek, right. It went up like this. It had three divisions, and on the end of each division there was this pad, like of, you know, when you’re washing dishes, you know, like this metal pad. And they had it programmed, according to mathematics, that as this thing went around like this, it would take off just enough glass that when it was through you would have a mirror that could see into infinity, actually. Fantastic. And over inside, there was this rocket laboratory, which was mostly a bunch of pipes. Well, I didn’t meet Jack then; I met him later. The way I met him, the way I got into Thelema, was through science fiction, because Paul and I were headed into science fiction. Since I didn’t have much money, about the only way I could see the Sunday comics was going by Paul’s place on Sunday, because he has some family money and he could afford the Sunday comics. And on Friday night it was our habit to catch a big red car from Pasadena over to Los Angeles, to attend the Los Angeles Science Fiction Club meeting. Now this is on the fifth floor of the Clift Cafeteria, and it was called the Little Brown Room. And the reason we met there was because, as you know, in any big city they have multi-story cafeterias (like New York City, for example) and they obviously empty from the top down, and on Friday night everybody goes home, right. So obviously the upstairs is vacant, and available for rent – cheap. That’s why we went there. And also, you could walk out into the dining rooms and get all the bug juice you wanted, right out the bug juice thing. And that’s when I met Ray Bradbury. He was a student in LA High at the time. And {laughs} this – but – I could tell you stories like that all year. {laughs} Anyway –
Glenn: So how did you get into science fiction? Did you read it, like, in high school, or — ?
Grady: Yes.
Glenn: So you got into it then –
Grady: I’ve been a science fiction buff since I was in my ‘teens. I remember a day in Oklahoma – Grist, Oklahoma, of all places – walking to high school – walking to high school, or it must have been junior high – one morning, and, you know, the sun’s just come up, and I’m walking to school, you know, and the drug store is just opened and the guy had put out the book rack, here in front. And I looked, and here is a copy of Astounding Science Fiction, and here is the picture of the “Red Perry.” Now, I wonder whether you know what the “Red Perry” science fiction story is about. But there’s a beautiful picture. And I remember so vividly, because years later it had become rather interesting to realize that I’ve been a science fiction buff since then. And that was – that must have been at least ‘thirty-five.
Glenn: And this is something you just – as a young person, you just happened to like books –
Grady: Yes.
Glenn: – and you saw this book; it caught your fancy –
Grady: Yes –
Glenn: – and then you ended up just buying one, because they looked neat? Or something? Or, getting one?
Grady: And writing poetry. Now, what happened was this. So, like I said, I’m on this odyssey – this pilgrimage – whatever you want to call it, looking for – “Where are my people? Where are my people?” You know. And so Paul Freehaver and I are going over to Los Angeles for the science fiction convention. Oh, Ray Bradbury; this might be interesting; one night we were going – so, we had this big long table there, right, and there are all these original paintings by Bonestell, and whatever, of all those foreign planets and so forth. We were heavy into science fiction. There were only two women involved. One was named Mohno and the other was named Pogo. Now, Mohno was small, old, rather wizen, and nobody had any hots for her. Pogo was big, blond, buxom; everybody had the hots for her. {laughs} She finally wound up marrying some science fiction editor. It wasn’t that we – like, for example, with Beverly, I’ve talked with this – with Beverly, I’ve said, “Look, we weren’t trying to keep any women away; we wanted to have more, but where were you?” And she said, “Well, I’m just not social, that’s all.” And she –
Glenn: Beverly who?
Grady: Beverly Senseman, our Grand Secretary General.
Glenn: Ah, right.
Grady: She said, “I was reading science fiction in those days, but I just wasn’t coming around because I’m not social.” Well, that’s the way it goes. So anyway, one night we’re sitting there at the big long table, you know, and there’s this asshole running up and down the other side of the room, you know, behind the table, with a horrendous rubber mask on, trying to scare the kids, especially the girls. And I’m wondering who or what that idiot is. And so he takes his mask off, and – shit – it’s only Ray Bradbury.
Glenn: {laughs}
Grady: That dumb-dumb with a mask on. How did I know he was going to become one of the world’s most famous science fiction [writers]?

[The tape ends at this point.]

Note: Originally published in Thelema Lodge Calendar, October 2000, November 2000, December 2000, January 2001, February 2001, March 2001, April 2001, May 2001, June 2001, July 2001, August 2001, and September 2001.