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Boy Atheist. Cozzens' father, a business executive with a Brooklyn typesetting-equipment firm, had other ideas about how his son should be spending his time. Says Cozzens: "My father was a proficient tennis player and a good swimmer. He used to say to me, 'You should be a man.' He looked at me with a certain disgust, and Mother would say, 'Oh, but think how intelligent he is!' He was a practical man. and he was bitterly disappointed in me. and would be today. He was an austere Episcopalian who knew his duty and did it. He wouldn't think writing was man's work. I still think he was right, if the truth were told. If I could have been a really efficient athlete, I never would have written another line."
At Kent, a high-Episcopal prep school in Connecticut, Cozzens found that if he could not command his schoolmates' respect as an athlete, he could awe them in other ways: "I was the boy intellectual who didn't believe in God, scorned healthy exercise, and subscribed to the New Republic. But Kent marked me for life. If there's hard work to be done and I get out of it, I feel extremely guilty. That's the attitude Father Sill inculcated in us." The late Rev. Frederick Herbert Sill, founder and headmaster of Kent, was a thunderous personality whose bolts of reproof struck Jim regularly. Recalls his senior-year roommate: "Jim had read Nietzsche and Schopenhauer, and he decided Christianity was a lot of hooey. He thought he should enlighten Father Sill, and went over to see him in his study. I remember I was downstairs, and suddenly I heard Father Sillwe called him the Holy Terroryell, 'Get out of my study, you dirty, stinking little coward!' Jim left, protesting all the while, 'But sir, this is most unfair . . But sir . . .' "
Vine Leaves to Harvard Club. Young Cozzens may have been a showoff, but he never really was a rebel, then or later. Says a friend: "No vine leaves in his hair the Greeks are not in him.'3-Even Cozzens' career as a Harvard ('26) hell-raiser was brief. At Harvard he was part of a splinter intelligentsiaPoet-Instructor Robert Hillyer, Classicist Dudley Fitts et al.and kept flailing away at a novel that appeared early in his sophomore year. Aptly titled Confusion, it concerned a shimmering young sylph named Cerise D'Atreé who was caught in the Fitzgerald undertow and dragged to an early Jazz Age death.
A 21-year-old reporter named Lucius Beebe from the now defunct Boston Telegram came to interview the 20-year-old author, and the two were soon painting the town mauve. "We lived on gin and Swinburne," recalls Beebe. "Jim had delusions of grandeur when it came to money. When he called on a girl, he would put on a morning coat and striped pants, hire a car and get a million orchids all of it charged and seldom paid for."