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The University of Texas at San Antonio Online Magazine

Intersection of Two Jacks

Illustration by Abigail Rorer from The Folio Society edition of The Call of the Wild by Jack London © 2011

Intersection of Two Jacks

The intersection of Jack Richmond’s life with that of Jack London, one of the most popular 20th century American authors, began early and has lasted for decades.

The businessman’s connection with London is a tie that stands to benefit UTSA English professor Jeanne Reesman and her students.

Richmond, who considers Reesman “the preeminent London scholar in the United States,” and his wife, Laura, have donated $100,000 to continue what he terms Reesman’s "outstanding success in bringing Jack London’s literary and personal story to greater prominence.”

The endowment to the College of Liberal and Fine Arts will support her research on the author of The Call of the Wild, White Fang and The Sea-Wolf; stories of nature versus man and man versus man set in the large and oftentimes unforgiving world—from the Canadian Klondike gold rush to the South Pacific at the turn of the 20th century.

The gift will provide research funding. Reesman also hopes the donation will help underwrite a film festival and dramatic readings of London’s work as well as support graduate students.

Richmond, who operates 32 San Antonio-area Pizza Hut restaurants, describes himself as a conservative businessman. He nonetheless draws strong personal parallels to the avowed socialist who mocked racial inequality, criticized the use of child labor—he himself began working at age 7 to support his fatherless family—and championed working-class issues like minimum wages and an eight-hour workday.

Published in 1903, London’s classic, The Call of the Wild, is about cruel men and their sled dogs, set in the wild times of the Canadian gold rush. His stories often look at the themes of nature, brutality and the struggle to survive. But his stories are also about finding oneself, discovering one’s fundamental nature, as the hero is able to do.

The story is told from the perspective of Buck, a dog stolen from a life of relative luxury in northern California, and ends up in the anything-but luxurious Yukon Territory. Gradually, the dog turns wild, and at the novel’s end he leaves behind his once-gentle nature to roam the unforgiving countryside as the fearsome leader of a wolf pack.

London was briefly a gold prospector, but not a very successful one, Reesman said, noting that many of his topics are fictionalized accounts of events London lived through.

Reesman said that London’s most famous novel is also an allegory on race relations in late 19th- and early 20th-century America, with the dog’s life a parallel for the lives of African American slaves. The author often railed against racism but sometimes also succumbed to the restrictive racial attitudes of the day.

Yet he was one of the most well known and highly regarded 20th century authors—his popularity earned him $1 million in royalties, an unprecedented sum at the time. Reesman notes that one reason he enjoyed such worldwide renown had to do with his politics.

Jack Richmond's affinity for author Jack London is obvious in his wall-length, nearly floor-to-ceiling bookcases that contain dozens of leather-bound copies of London's work, along with a portrait of the author.

A merging of the minds

Reesman met Richmond when he became the first member of the Jack London Society, a non-profit that Reesman began in 1990.

“It didn’t take me long to realize that he not only loved London, but knew quite a lot about him—he has a large collection of London’s works and he took his wife to the London Ranch in Glen Ellen [in northern California’s Sonoma Valley] on their honeymoon,” she said.

A visit to Richmond’s corporate office on San Antonio’s North Side reveals the extent of his admiration for the iconic writer—wall-length, nearly floor-to-ceiling bookcases contain dozens of aging, beautifully leather-bound copies of London’s work, along with maps of South Pacific islands and the frigid far Pacific Northwest regions of Canada and Alaska where many of his nature stories are set. Richmond said he was smitten by the sparse, vivid and naturalistic prose.

But his admiration of London’s writing is also deeply personal—like London, Richmond grew up in a single-parent home: his alcoholic father abandoned the struggling family when Richmond was 4 years old, he notes matter-of-factly.

He said he relates to a teenaged London, who as a rough and tumble eighth-grader was known as the Prince of Oyster Pirates, because he not only fished San Francisco Bay for a living, but also stole other fishermen’s catch as well.

TOP: This issue of Classics Illustrated, featuring Jack London's work The Call of the Wild, is among Richmond's extensive collection.

BOTTOM: A $100,000 endowment from Richmond will support UTSA English professor Jeanne Reesman's research on Jack London.

Later in life London would become known for his legendary drinking bouts, and some of his contemporaries referred to him as the King of the Drunkards.

It was London’s affinity for alcohol that drew the most visceral connection to Richmond’s early life.

“I was drawn to London’s writing not only because I found that his writing touched my father’s heart, but also because in getting to ‘know’ London’s writing I was trying hard to get to know my alcoholic father better, even after he abandoned us.”

Growing up in the Texas Panhandle during the Great Depression, Richmond could also relate “to London’s abysmal poverty that he grew up around on the Oakland waterfront.”

Richmond said he admired the writer’s prodigious output, the result of writing 1,000 words a day: in the 16 years before his death at age 40 in 1916, he published 50 books, 190 fictional short stories and more than 500 pieces of non-fiction journalism. His works have been translated into more than 100 languages from Arabic to Mongolian.

London was also a newspaper reporter for the Hearst chain, covering the Russo-Japanese War in Korea in 1904, and the U.S. invasion of Vera Cruz in 1914 during the Mexican Revolution for Collier’s magazine. He also covered Jack Johnson’s world heavyweight boxing matches in 1908 and 1910.

The author was an accomplished photojournalist as well. His photos of the great San Francisco earthquake, the various wars he chronicled and the South Pacific waters he sailed are among the more than 12,000 photographs that still survive.

“It has been a sheer pleasure to have read and enjoyed his work all these years,”

Richmond said. “And now I have the opportunity to help the College of Liberal and Fine Arts promote their meaningful endeavors.”

–Guillermo Garcia

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