Daniel Lewis James

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Daniel Lewis James, (1911 – May 18, 1988),[1] was an American author, best known for his novel, Famous All Over Town, about Mexican-Americans in Los Angeles. He published the novel under his pseudonym, Danny Santiago, and during most of his professional career, he kept his identity a secret. James's own agent Carl Brandt did not know his real name until it was revealed by fellow author and friend, John Gregory Dunne.[2][2] Some critics call this use of a Latino pseudonym a literary fraud, while others appreciate his contributions to literature, regardless of his race. Although he was white, he was able to convey an accurate portrait of the Chicano culture.[2]


The son of a wealthy Kansas City businessman,[2] James grew up in Kansas City, Missouri[1] and graduated from Andover Academy and Yale.[2] He majored in classical Greek and was the only one to do so from the Yale Class of 1933.[1] He was a co-director of the Movie the Great Dictator with Charlie Chaplin in 1940. It was his association with Chaplin as well as his time in Hollywood that brought him to the attention Of the House Un-American Activities Committee. Both he and his wife Lilith were called to testify, and refused to self-incriminate under their Fifth Amendment rights.

In 1942 he released Winter Soldiers, a play presented at the New School of Social Research on the efforts of the underground to impede the Nazi advance toward Moscow [3]

He and his wife, Lilith, wrote the book for Bloomer Girl, a successful 1944 Broadway musical. Then he kept out of sight as an author for some time.[2] For the next 20 years, he and his wife worked as volunteers in Hispanic neighborhoods in East Los Angeles .[1]

During the 1950s he continued to work under the name Daniel Hyatt. "The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms" was released in 1953. It was listed as one of the primary inspirations for "Godzilla".[4] "The Giant Behemoth" was released in 1959, and "Gorgo" was released in 1961.

He gained notice under the pseudonym Danny Santiago, after the publication of "The Somebody" in Redbook in 1970.[2] In order to keep his identity a secret, he kept in contact with his New York agent through a post office box in Pacific Grove, California.[2] According to interviews, James apparently "lost confidence in [his] writing ability" [1] after being blacklisted and used the name as a way to circumvent the blacklist.

He published the novel, Famous All Over Town, in 1983.[1] In 1984, he was awarded the Richard and Hilda Rosenthal Foundation Award, a prize of $5,000, awarded by the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters for his novel, but he did not show up to accept it.[2] His publisher, Simon & Schuster, wanted to submit the novel for the Pulitzer Prize, but James refused to supply personal information.[1]

The Jameses rented their house to writer John Gregory Dunne and his wife, Joan Didion, for several years beginning in 1966. They soon became good friends.[2] Dunne disliked pseudonyms, and he encouraged James to write under his own name. His real identity came to light when Dunne wrote an article for the August 16, 1984, issue of The New York Review of Books.[5]

Daniel James died at the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula in Monterey, California at the age of 77. He is survived by his two daughters: Barbara James of Carmel, California, and Catherine McWilliams of Westchester County, New York.[1]


Famous All Over Town was published in 1983. It tells the story of a Mexican-American family in East Los Angeles, California. It was initially considered a "highly regarded contribution to Chicano literature".[6] The book was recognized and awarded as an outstanding work of fiction. Hispanic youths found the novel inspiring and considered the main character a role model; they believed in Danny Santiago as a man who had endured situations like their own and had become the author of a best seller.

The book became controversial when an article in the New York Review of Books revealed that the author was Daniel Lewis James from Kansas City, Missouri, and not Mexican-American Danny Santiago who was writing from his personal experience growing up Hispanic in LA.[6], as his readers believed. It is now debated whether the novel can be taken as a straightforward document of the Hispanic experience.[6]

Why did Santiago change his name?[edit]

For two decades, James wrote screen plays as "Daniel Hyatt", and he began using the name "Daniel Santiago" in 1965. James took a pseudonym because "...he had been blacklisted after he was identified before the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1951 as having been a member of the Communist Party." [7]

His friends had advised him not to use a pseudonym which implied a different ethnicity, but he argued that use of a pseudonym was well understood—Mark Twain and other authors did it—and no harm would come from it. A few of his fellow writers remarked that the pseudonym would not matter if the book was good.[7] His new name was both defended and denounced by Hispanic-American writers.[7]

Laura Browder suggests that Danny Santiago was an alter ego through which James was able to forge a new, strong public identity and to avenge himself against the repressive America that had wrecked his life.[6]


Views differed on the significance of his novel after his public learned that Santiago was not Hispanic. Some who had been inspired by the book became hostile.[6] They believed that, because he was not actually Hispanic, his work no longer mattered. "The problem of how to respond to Famous All Over Town now that it can no longer be taken as a straightforward document of the Hispanic experience has become enmeshed …".[6]

Others had a different perspective. "There is some suggestion that James felt himself to be so close to the members of the Hispanic community that he felt that he could speak from their vantage point".[6] The review in The New York Times described Famous All Over Town as ``an honest, steady novel that presents some hard cultural realities...”


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h "KC Native Ruffles Feathers with Hispanic Pen Name", McDowell, Edwin, N.Y. Times News Service. 23 July 1984: 18. Lawrence Journal-World. Web. 27 Feb. 2011.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Author Abandons Pseudonym". Los Angeles Times (Web). The Register-Guard. 22 July 1984. p. 18D. 
  3. ^ Hischack, Thomas S., Enter the Playmakers: Directors and Choreographers on the New York Stage
  4. ^ Ryfle, Steve (1998). Godzilla : the unauthorized biography. Toronto: ECW Press. ISBN 1550223488. 
  5. ^ "Socialist Realism and the Success of Famous All Over Town - Bohm - International Fiction Review". unb.ca. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f The New York Times (1988-05-21). "Daniel James, Controversial Author". Sun Sentinel. Retrieved 2015-08-05. 
  7. ^ a b c Edwin McDowell (22 July 1984). "A Noted 'Hispanic' Novelist Proves to be Someone Else". The New York Times. Retrieved 2015-08-05.