Savoring a book for weeks, months, and sometimes years inspires a natural curiosity about the person behind the words. Several scribes have reached cult celebrity status with voracious audiences, but others remain an enigma—their voices and image seldom captured, often because they reached fame before the age of film.
After spotting a rare video featuring Nineteen Eighty-Four author George Orwell on Open Culture, I realized how many writers have evaded their close-up—by choice and by fate. Watch the rare footage of famous authors that I found below for an intimate glimpse of literature's most amazing minds.
The elusive Nineteen Eighty-Four author was captured here marching across a field at Eton College where he was enrolled under his birth name, Eric Arthur Blair. While at Eton in 1917, the writer studied French with English scribe Aldous Huxley and saw his writing career guided by poetry scholar A. S. F. Gow. Catch a peek of 18-year-old Orwell around the 50-second mark in the above video (fourth from the left).
The Catcher in the Rye writer would despise me for publishing this video, which has a surreal TMZ vibe. It's like spotting a unicorn in the wild. The famously reclusive author lived a simple, quiet life in Cornish, New Hampshire after the publication of his famous novel, but a YouTube commenter points out that the locale in the video actually resembles Windsor, Vermont—a town across the river. "This community saw him as a person, not just the author of The Catcher in the Rye. They respect him. He was an individual who just wanted to live his life," a fellow townsperson said of Salinger. Neighbors also reported that he loved $12 roast beef dinners at the local church and could often be found scribbling in his notebook.
Last summer, the only known footage of Mark Twain, which was captured by Thomas Edison in 1909, surfaced. The mustachioed humorist walks his Connecticut estate grounds, smokes like a chimney, and drinks tea with his daughters, Clara and Jean, in the rare video. The clip was apparently used in part for a 1909 short film, The Prince and the Pauper, based on another Twain tale. Behold Twain's scowl and cloud of enviable white hair, above.
The Anne Frank House shared this brief video of the Holocaust diarist several years ago. This is the only time Frank has been captured on film, and she was recorded leaning out the window of her home in Amsterdam. Frank's neighbor was preparing to be married, and the surrounding residents were happily gawking at the bride and groom on their big day. The video—dated July 22, 1941—was given to the museum by the couple in the 1990s when they recognized Frank in their wedding video.
F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda Fitzgerald
This rare, intimate footage of the Fitzgeralds popped up a few months ago, and I've been loving it ever since. There are some questions about the authenticity of the Zelda footage, but the other clips are clearly the iconic Roaring '20s couple and their daughter Scottie.
The work of Anne Sexton reveals struggles with loneliness and depression, but she went before the camera to read her poems "Her Kind" and "Menstruation at Forty." The second set of clips is from a 1966 visit to Sexton's home after the release of her Pulitzer Prize-winning collection Live or Die. She tells the camera crew her husband hates the way she reads poems, but I have to disagree with him. Perhaps the most charming part of the clip is when Sexton loses her composure and snaps at her dogs. "What'd you do, tape me screaming at the dog?" she grins.
This footage of camera-shy novelist and playwright Samuel Beckett comes from documentary Waiting for Beckett: A Portrait of Samuel Beckett. See the writer reviewing and critiquing a televised production of his last play What Where in the 1987 clip.
"My belief is that a recluse is a code word generated by journalists... meaning, doesn't like to talk to reporters," the notoriously mysterious writer told CNN in 1997. He appeared on video, but the network honored Pynchon's request to remain anonymous by not pointing out the author in their footage of a crowded New York City sidewalk. CNN also uncovers a bizarre little connection Pynchon has to The John Larroquette Show. The quality of the video is subpar, but I promise it's a fascinating watch regardless.
Arthur Conan Doyle
This lovely 1927 interview with the Sherlock Holmes author answers two commonly asked questions: how he came to write about his famed fictional detective and how he discovered spiritualism.
Daphne du Maurier
Rebecca author Daphne du Maurier invited Cliff Michelmore into her Cornwall home to discuss her life's work. This clip centers on her first published novel, The Loving Spirit. Du Maurier shares that she received a 75-pound advance for completing the book (about 112 dollars) and that she wrote the elaborate generational novel to secure her independence. The 1977 video extract was broadcast in full as The Make Believe World of Daphne du Maurier.
When asked why he never appeared on camera before, Cormac McCarthy told Oprah, "I don't think it's good for your head." It was The Road novelist's first television appearance and the first time audiences had heard from him in over 15 years—since his New York Timesinterview. To find out the inspiration behind McCarthy's Pulitzer Prize-winning, post-apocalyptic novel, watch our clip. Then head to Oprah's website to explore more video excerpts.
This post also appears on Flavorpill, an Atlantic partner site.