Stick Your Neck Out


This is the 39th in a collection of newspaper ads written by Harry Gray, then CEO of United Technologies, that appeared in the Wall Street Journal from the late 1970s through the early 1980s. Here is the text from that ad.

He was told that if he hadn’t written a book by age 35, chances are he never would.
(The man was almost 40.)

He was told that for every book published, 95 weren’t.
He was warned that short stories weren’t popular or considered for top prizes.
(His book won the Pulitzer.)
Hollywood told him his book held no dramatic possibilities and Broadway said it would never make a musical.
Would you have washed that idea right out of your hair or would you have hung in there, and written “Tales of the South Pacific as James Michener did?

Here’s a brief, factual description of the book from Wikipedia:

Tales of the South Pacific is a Pulitzer Prize-winning book, which is a collection of sequentially related short stories about World War II, written by James A. Michener in 1946 and published in 1947. The stories were based on observations and anecdotes he collected while stationed as a lieutenant commander in the US Navy on the island of Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides Islands (now known as Vanuatu). The book was adapted as a 1949 Broadway musical and as two films, released in 1958 and 2001.

And here’s a more romantic description of the book from Amazon:

Tales of the South Pacific is the iconic, Pulitzer Prize–winning masterpiece that inspired a Broadway classic and launched the career of James A. Michener, one of America’s most beloved storytellers. This thrilling work invites the reader to enter the exotic world of the South Pacific and luxuriate in the endless ocean, the coconut palms, the waves breaking into spray against the reefs, the full moon rising behind the volcanoes. And yet here also are the men and women caught up in the heady drama of World War II: the young Marine who falls for a beautiful Tonkinese girl; the Navy nurse whose prejudices are challenged by a French aristocrat; and all the soldiers and sailors preparing for war against the seemingly peaceful backdrop of a tropical paradise.

Michener began his writing career during World War II, when as a lieutenant in the Navy he was assigned to the South Pacific as a naval historian. He later turned his notes and impressions into Tales of the South Pacific (1947), his first book, published when he was 40.

Michener was a popular writer during his lifetime; his novels sold an estimated 75 million copies worldwide. He was known for his meticulous research behind the books.

Michener became a major philanthropist, donating more than US$100 million to educational and writing institutions.

So I guess we can add James Michener to the list of people whose ideas were initially rejected, but had enough belief and confidence in their idea to pursue it to its successful ending.

Think of all the lives he has affected, not only those who have had the pleasure of reading his books, but all of the students who have benefitted from the scholarships he has endowed.

None of that would have been possible if had listened to the book, movie, and play executives who said “no” to him.

So thank you James Michener for having the courage to share your gift with the world. Rest in Peace.

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