The Snow Is White in Klosters, and Irwin Shaw's Books Are Certainly Read

When his father’s real estate business went bankrupt, 13-year-old Irwin Shaw inherited the office typewriter. He has been writing ever since. Though he has rarely thrilled the critics, the 62-year-old novelist, playwright, screen writer, journalist and onetime film producer (In the French Style) has been a popular success since his first novel, The Young Lions, in 1948. “I write to amuse myself,” says Shaw. “It’s in my genes.”

Nightwork, his eighth novel, is now on the best-seller list and is his first, he says, to receive unanimously good reviews. “It is about the idiocy of money. By extension, the way we are all geared to work,” says Shaw. The hero is a New York hotel night clerk who finds $100,000 in a dead man’s room, takes it and runs off to Europe to find the good life. Producer Frank Perry has bought film rights for more than twice the amount that Shaw’s fictional clerk steals. One of Shaw’s earlier novels, Rich Man, Poor Man, can be seen during the next few weeks in a nine-installment adaptation on ABC-TV.

For more than 25 years Shaw, a Depression kid who grew up in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, has himself led the kind of life his heroes aspire to. He wrote radio scripts in New York, then moved in the ’30s to Hollywood. “You knew everybody, but it was never a serious place to work,” Shaw remembers. (His brother David still writes for the movies and TV.)

After World War II Shaw and his wife, Marian, settled in Paris, and their apartment became the center for visiting American writers. In 1951 the Shaws discovered Klosters, then little more than a way station on the trail to Davos, the skiing nirvana of northwestern Switzerland. “I fell in love with the place,” says Shaw who has lived there at least six months of the year ever since. “It’s great for working. I am up around 7 and get a lot of work done before the world starts moving.” Afternoons are for skiing. Admittedly no threat to Jean-Claude Killy, Shaw, a jock since his days as quarterback of the Brooklyn College football team, doesn’t let his paunch deter him. “I am a real basher. Not much of a style, but I always get down somehow,” he says. In the evenings there are usually celebrity-packed parties. “More people pour through here than New York. In Klosters I have met Mendès France, Hervé Alphand, Françoise Sagan, Roger Vadim. You name them.”

Six years ago the Shaws were divorced, and the experience soured him. “I’m never going to let another woman get a legal hold on me,” he vows. Today, he shares his first-floor apartment on Klosters main street with Bodil Nielsen, a Danish editor when he met her in New York in 1969. Marian got custody of their 10-room chalet where she continues as one of Klosters’ most popular hostesses. “I’m not rich any more,” insists Shaw. “I lost most of it through divorce, extravagance, carelessness and taxes. An American divorce, financially speaking,” he adds, “is Armageddon.”

He’s also given up his Left Bank flat in Paris (“My landlady threw me out”) and now plans to spend more time in the States. His son, Adam, 25, a writer, lives on Long Island where Shaw often visits. For the present there are slopes to ski and work to be done in Klosters. Shaw is collaborating with illustrator Ronald Searle on a book about Paris.

As for his own literary reputation, Shaw says, “I don’t want to be remembered—I want to be read.”

Related Articles