Heller, Joseph


Heller, Joseph
born May 1, 1923, Brooklyn, N.Y., U.S.
died Dec. 12, 1999, East Hampton, N.Y.

U.S. writer.

Heller flew 60 combat missions as a bombardier in World War II before finishing his studies at Columbia and Oxford and working as an advertising copywriter. His satirical novel Catch-22 (1961), based on his wartime experiences, was one of the most significant works of postwar protest literature and a huge critical and popular success. His later novels include Something Happened (1974), Good as Gold (1979), God Knows (1984), and Closing Time (1994).

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▪ 2000

      American writer (b. May 1, 1923, Brooklyn, N.Y.—d. Dec. 12, 1999, East Hampton, N.Y.), was the author of Catch-22, one of the classic works of antiwar satire to come out of World War II. Not only did the book attract a cult following, but its title also added a useful phrase to the English language. In the book the phrase referred to an air force regulation regarding the flying of combat missions. If a man was willing to go on risking his life by continuing to fly these missions, he could be considered insane and would be relieved of this duty. To be officially declared insane, however, he had to submit a formal request, but by performing this rational act, he caused himself to be seen as having proved himself sane and therefore could not be excused. Catch-22 thus came to refer to absurdly paradoxical situations in which no matter what people did, they would be stymied by the rules under which they were acting. Heller, who served as a bombardier with the U.S. Army Air Force and flew 60 combat missions in the Mediterranean, based the book on his wartime experiences and those of the men with whom he served. He did not begin writing Catch-22 immediately after the war, however, and once he did begin, it took him several years to finish it. In the meantime, Heller took advantage of the GI Bill of Rights and attended college, first at the University of Southern California and then at New York University, where he received a bachelor's degree in 1948. He went on to earn (1949) a master's degree at Columbia University, New York City, and spent a year at St. Catherine's College, Oxford, on a Fulbright scholarship. From 1950 to 1952 Heller taught English at Pennsylvania State University, and he thereafter worked in advertising and promotions for a succession of magazines, had a few short stories published, and worked on his book. The first chapter of Catch-18—Heller's title until Leon Uris's Mila 18 came out in 1961—was published in the literary magazine New World Writing in 1955. Catch-22 was not an immediate success. Initial reviews were somewhat lukewarm, but praise from novelist Nelson Algren, in addition to word-of-mouth reviews, especially in light of the book's relevance to the Vietnam War era, boosted its paperback version to best-sellerdom and eventually to sales of more than 10 million copies in the U.S. alone. A film version was released in 1970. Heller's subsequent efforts, while often well reviewed, did not generally live up to the expectations of much of his public. He wrote a number of television and motion picture screenplays and a few plays—including We Bombed in New Haven, which had a brief run on Broadway in 1968—and taught writing at the college level before publishing his next book, Something Happened (1974). Later works included Good as Gold (1979), God Knows (1984), No Laughing Matter (1986; with Speed Vogel), Picture This (1988), the Catch-22 sequel Closing Time (1994), and the autobiography Now and Then (1999). Another novel, A Portrait of an Artist as an Old Man, was to be published in 2000.

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▪ American author
born May 1, 1923, Brooklyn, N.Y., U.S.
died Dec. 12, 1999, East Hampton, N.Y.

      American writer whose novel Catch-22 (1961) was one of the most significant works of protest literature to appear after World War II. The satirical novel was a popular success, and a film version appeared in 1970.

      During World War II, Heller flew 60 combat missions as a bombardier with the U.S. Air Force in Europe. After receiving an M.A. at Columbia University in 1949, he studied at the University of Oxford (1949–50) as a Fulbright scholar. He taught English at Pennsylvania State University (1950–52) and worked as an advertising copywriter for the magazines Time (1952–56) and Look (1956–58) and as promotion manager for McCall's (1958–61), meanwhile writing Catch-22 in his spare time.

      Released to mixed reviews, Catch-22 developed a cult following with its dark surrealism. Centring on the antihero Captain John Yossarian, stationed at an airstrip on a Mediterranean island during World War II, the novel portrays the airman's desperate attempts to stay alive. The “catch” in Catch-22 involves a mysterious Air Force regulation that asserts that a man is considered insane if he willingly continues to fly dangerous combat missions; but, if he makes the necessary formal request to be relieved of such missions, the very act of making the request proves that he is sane and therefore ineligible to be relieved. The term catch-22 thereafter entered the English language as a reference to a proviso that trips one up no matter which way one turns.

      Heller's later novels, including Something Happened (1974), an unrelievedly pessimistic novel, Good as Gold (1979), a satire on life in Washington, D.C., and God Knows (1984), a wry, contemporary-vernacular monologue in the voice of the biblical King David, were less successful. Closing Time, a sequel to Catch-22, appeared in 1994. Heller also wrote an autobiography, Now and Then: From Coney Island to Here (1998), and his dramatic work includes the play We Bombed in New Haven (1968).

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Universalium. 2010.

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  • Heller, Joseph — (1 may. 1923, Brooklyn, N.Y., EE.UU.–12 dic. 1999, East Hampton, N.Y.). Escritor estadounidense. Voló en 60 misiones de combate como bombardero en la segunda guerra mundial, antes de completar sus estudios en las universidades de Columbia y de… …   Enciclopedia Universal

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