It was August 1978 when this letter arrived

A Loving Gentleman by Meta Carpenter WildeI have a treasure: a letter from Meta Carpenter Wilde.

I wrote to her, after reading her memoir, A Loving Gentleman: The Love Story of William Faulkner and Meta Carpenter, published in 1976 by Simon and Schuster. Meta Carpenter was William Faulkner’s lover of many years. Her NYT obituary says 18 years, but the book’s dust jacket says 30. The latter, I’m guessing, reflects the years they stayed in touch.

They met in Hollywood in 1936. Meta Carpenter worked as a secretary and then a script girl for the director Howard Hawks. Faulkner wrote for Hawks’ movies to help finance his lifestyle and his wife Estelle’s spending habit. The Nobel Prize-winning author wanted to marry Meta, but he also neither wanted to lose his Mississippi home Rowan Oak nor his ability to live with his beloved daughter, Jill.  Meta Carpenter eventually broke off their relationship to marry another man. On her wedding day, Faulkner went on a non-stop drinking binge.

I read A Loving Gentleman in July 1977. I was a secretary at the time, a college graduate engaged to be married and searching for a career. Meta Carpenter’s career story resonated with me, and the romance with Faulkner enchanted me (ever a romantic). In my letter written to her that summer, I shared a little about my life. She replied a year later, apologizing for not responding sooner. She wrote that she had been recovering from open-heart surgery, adding, “I am just now beginning to answer letters from people like yourself who were kind enough to write to me about my story.” Here’s more of what she wrote in the letter 31 years ago:

“I am so happy for you that you have found a good place in the professional world and even with your own shorthand and enough determination, you can have a happy and productive life. I was never a skilled secretary and maybe that is why Mr. Hawks promoted me to Script Girl…as we were called in those far-off days. That early training Mr. Hawks made possible for me to have also made it possible for me to have a career in the motion picture industry and finally to have screen credit on the pictures on which I worked. This was certainly not a goal in itself to work toward, but it does signify some expertise…and it all started from secretarial work. So keep up your good work.”

When people ask, “What’s the most valuable book in your book collection?” I don’t think of a book, I think of this letter associated with Meta Carpenter’s memoir. Not because it’s financially valuable (I have no idea if it is or isn’t), but because the letter is so personal — not a publicity response — and from someone close to Faulkner, whose books I read and collect.

This post was updated 10.17.10 with improved images of the book and letter and 4.14.11 and 6.25.15 with minor edits.

13 thoughts on “It was August 1978 when this letter arrived

  1. Hello TLC,

    I am the step-granddaughter of Ms. Carpenter-Wilde. I came across this post today while thinking about Meta. Thank you for this. Meta was an amazing woman and quite a wonderful role-model for me as a young girl. She showed me the beauty of womanhood and our family will never forget her. She was a lady in the truest, most southern sense of the word, and her humor and stories of her plantation childhood will stay with me and be passed down to my own daughter.

    Emily Wilde-Walman


    1. After recently reviewing my journal, I came across an entry from 1990/91, when, by train I was traveling from Monte Carlo to Paris and happened to share a cabin with Wolfgang and “Doris” Rebner – whom where destined from Munich.

      I, at the time, a 30 year old African American male, was fascinated by the couple – so much so, that, we, for the entire length of the journey, conversed.

      Prior to their embarking, we exchanged contact information. A year later, finding myself in Munich, I made contact. Unfortunately, because one, or the other was ill, we did not get chance to meet again.

      I am wondering if “Doris” is Ms. Carpenter-Wilde?


      Byron A. McKeithen


      1. Hello Byron A. McKeithen,
        Thank you for visiting The Longest Chapter. From what you write here, it indeed could be possible. I skimmed through the book, “A Loving Gentleman,” after reading your comment. I didn’t find any references to Ms. Carpenter Wilde being addressed as “Doris,” but that absence doesn’t really mean anything. I know (from the book) that Wolfgang Rebner and Meta divorced and then remarried. After that, i.e. whatever happened after the book was written, I don’t know.
        All best, Kassie


  2. I love reading this about Meta Carpenter Wilde’s legacy to you, of womanhood and southern grace. It sounds like she touched your life in a very meaningful way, and that she lives on with you and your family in the stories and memories.

    I so enjoyed her memoir. I remember sneak reading it at the office where I worked as a secretary, then a 22-year-old girl, holding it open on my lap under the desk typewriter.

    Thank you, Emily, for writing on The Longest Chapter this very special message.


    1. Thank you so very much for the wonderful words about Meta. She was such a force in our family! I would love to tell you more stories about her at some point… I’m always worried that her memory will fade from people’s minds.

      A good one that comes to mind… I must have been about seven years old and was at my gradfather and Meta’s home one morning. There were two bathrooms in their house- my grandfather’s and Meta’s. Meta’s was a girls dream: crystal atomizers filled with exotic scents, small porcelain statuettes, powder puffs, soaps… I remember sitting very still on the edge of her bath tub while she applied makeup. I was rapt by her concentration and prowess in all things girlie (as most seven year old girls are). She paused at one point with her blush brush in one hand about to touch her cheek. She looked at me through the mirror’s reflection and smiled. “A real woman never leaves the house without her face on” she said in her sweet, southern drawl and then continued to apply her blush. I stored this information away into my “when I grow up” file in my head. Her words stuck with me through my life. While I’m not the type to wear make up every day, when I do Meta’s words ring through my head and I can imagine myself back in the beautiful, little bathroom.

      P.S.- I’m the same Emily that wrote about Meta a while back (above)… I now have a wordpress blog as well, so it’s signing me in with the name of my blog)

      Best wishes!



      1. Hello Emily, and welcome back to The Longest Chapter.

        Regarding your comment that you don’t want the memory of Meta Carpenter Wilde to fade, I thought you might like to know that this blog post about her consistently receives visits every week from people searching with her name via Google or other search engines. It makes me think many know of her and/or want to know more about her. All best, Kassie


  3. I found this while looking up items about Meta for a friend of mine getting ready for a trek to Oxford. Meta was a longtime friend/mentor/work colleague of mine – from the time I joined the LA script union till her passing. Very few people in LA comprehended her distinct Memphis ladylike ways, still wearing white gloves to our union meetings in the 70’s, and dressing appropriately for business. Having been a Faulkner fan while an American Studies major in college, I gravitated to her even before knowing of her longtime relationship with him – in her true “Memphis belle” fashion, she brought up this chapter in her life very modestly. We had wonderful off-hours social times talking about old-school and new-school in our field, and about her life with WF. Great memories. Back in fall of 1980, I began working at a small studio owned and run by a ‘young’ (at the time) big shot, and Meta came over to see this gigantic word-processor I was trained to use for typing all our script-drafts and revisions, plus a fax machine, something none of us had ever before seen – there, still with her matching handbag and spectator pumps near retirement, she was fascinated with the new tools that were being introduced to our field. And in the midst of our wonderful luncheon back then, she bemoaned the election of Reagan! “Bad actor, destined to be a bad president.” I howled, as I am sure very few of our colleagues had a clue about her political leanings – she was a magician of disguise! I remember her so well, and fondly – it was fun to read your own communication with her.


    1. It sounds like you experienced wonderful moments of friendship as well as work-related collaborations with Meta Carpenter Wilde.

      I would suppose many people in the later years, far removed in time from Meta’s Hollywood years with Faulkner — such as in the 1970s and 1980s as you mention here — may not have realized her place in literary history. They may have only seen a gracious Southern lady in white gloves.

      Thanks for sharing your memories.


  4. Faulkner’s mini-profile in Bennett Cerf’s “At Random” had led to this remarkable entry. I’m looking forward to reading Meta’s memoir, as decent books about anything to do with Hollywood are quite rare (steer clear of “City of Nets”!). At any rate, thank you, everyone, for writing.


      1. It’s impossible not too, but do remember, Cerf was an inveterate exaggerator. In all, the book is a great resource for information about books, most of which have aged well or otherwise merit attention. As I go along and see the titles on the second reading, I look them up to see if they’ve been reviewed on Amazon, etc. One discovers the most interesting things in this fashion. At any rate, thank you and good evening.


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