Mac Hyman (1923-1963)
Before he died at the age of thirty-nine, Mac Hyman published only one book, the novel No Time for Sergeants, for which he secured international fame. His second novel, Take Now Thy Son, was published two years after his death.
Hyman was born August 25, 1923, in Cordele. He discovered his passion for writing when he was a student at Cordele High School, and he first displayed his skill in a humorous article published in the school newspaper. Although Hyman frequently lived away from his hometown, he always returned to it; he once said that he felt more at home in Cordele than anywhere else. After graduating from high school Hyman studied for a year at North Georgia College and State University in Dahlonega and then attended Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, in 1941. He interrupted his studies in 1943 to serve in the Army Air Corps as a photo navigator during World War II (1941-45). He returned to Duke in 1946. His talent was recognized by his creative writing professor, William Blackburn, who became his mentor and lifelong friend, and who eventually edited his collected letters.
Just before graduating from Duke in February 1947, Hyman married his high school sweetheart, Gwendolyn Holt. For the next two years he worked in a variety of jobs, including selling ice cream in a stand at the beach. In 1949, after the first of his three children was born, he reenlisted in the air force and served until 1952.
Between 1947 and 1954 Hyman, drawing from his own military experience, worked on the comic novel that would give him literary success. Several publishing houses rejected the manuscript before it was accepted by Random House. No Time for Sergeants, published in 1954, centers on the mishaps of a country bumpkin from south Georgia who is drafted into the air force. Will Stockdale, a good-natured farm boy whose hometown of Callville closely resembles Cordele, narrates his own story in an uneducated southern dialect. The book enjoyed immediate popularity. Within a year of its publication it was adapted by author and screenwriter Ira Levin as a play, first produced for television; then as a Broadway production, where it ran for two years (1955-57); and then as a film in 1958. It made a star out of North Carolina native Andy Griffith, who played Will Stockdale in all three versions. No Time for Sergeants was later adapted into a television comedy series that lasted only a single season (1964-65), though it loosely served as the basis of a much more successful series, Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., which ironically derived from a popular country-bumpkin character played by Jim Nabors on The Andy Griffith Show.
Income from his novel and these various productions provided Hyman and his family with financial security, but he struggled with writing after his early success. No Time for Sergeants and three short stories constitute the only work Hyman published during his lifetime. In 1963, a month before his fortieth birthday, he died unexpectedly of a heart attack. In 1965 Random House published Take Now Thy Son, a novel that Hyman began before the publication of No Time for Sergeants and continued working on until his death. Although Take Now Thy Son is also set in Hyman's fictional version of Cordele, it is a much darker novel than No Time for Sergeants. A volume of collected letters, published in 1969, is entitled Love, Boy, from Hyman's habit of signing his letters to his parents with his childhood nickname, "Boy." The letters reveal his literary talent as well as his love of people, keen sense of humor, and passion for writing.