In 1934, during my sophomore year at Harvard, I sold a story to MGM, and that June, at the age of nineteen, I traveled from New York to Los Angeles by Greyhound bus to turn the story into a screenplay at MGM’s Culver City studios.
It was a wearying, four-day trip, with only brief “comfort” and eating stops and pauses at major-city terminals to change buses. After two sleepless days and nights I was almost comatose, and I dozed most of the rest of the way. Passing through Kansas, we had to stop a number of times for clouds of brown, windblown soil that roared toward us, enveloping and obscuring everything until they swept past us. I thought nothing of the storms and dozed on.
In New Mexico and Arizona, on Highway 66, the desert landscape, new to me, was interesting. At times we passed old cars puffing along in our direction and filled to overflowing with people of all ages, bedsteads, luggage, and other possessions. I paid no attention to them but gazed dreamily at the sagebrush and distant mesas, populating them in my mind with Indians and conquistadors of an earlier day, until I again dozed off.
I had traveled through the Dust Bowl and among the fleeing “Okies” in the crisis year, 1934, but had not known what I was seeing.