The Last Convertible, by Anton Myrer (Old Favourites #6)

Here’s another book I read as a young adult that had a huge impact on my view of life and particularly of love.  It’s also one of the very few novels by a male author that has remained a favourite over the years.  I read it first as a Reader’s Digest Condensed Book — yes, I know some people are snobby about those, but those brown-bound volumes were a staple in my house growing up, and many’s the fine book I read first in condensed form which inspired me to go out and get the complete novel, so no dissing them on my turf.

The Last Convertible is the story of five young men who become friends during their first year at Harvard in 1940, on the brink of World War Two — and of the women they date and fall in love with during their college years.  The story follows the cast of characters through the war years and beyond, ending in 1976 with the original characters all middle-aged and their children ready to take on the adult world.

This novel is beautifully evocative of a time and place and the mood of a generation.  More than that, for me, it was a novel that gave me an insight into love and romance that was lacking in many of the books I read.  One of the novel’s central characters is Christabel Farris, one of those girls in fiction that I read about and wanted desperately to be — beautiful, vivacious, life-embracing — the girl every one of the guys is either secretly or openly in love with.  Her schoolgirl romance with would-be writer Russ goes wrong and she ends up marrying a guy she doesn’t love for that most practical of reasons — she’s having a baby.  I won’t give away too much in case you ever want to read this (and you should!) but I will say that there’s a scene which occurs at their 25-year-reunion which made me realize that the literary convention of an undying love that holds you in its grip throughout a lifetime could just as easily be a prison and a trap.  I read this book sometime in my late teens or early 20s and it made me think seriously about how we change and our dreams change as we grow older.  Rereading it in midlife, I find many of its insights have held true.  That’s not why I reread it though — I reread it every few years because it’s a great story, and revisiting the characters again is like a reunion with old friends. 

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48 Comments

Filed under Fiction -- historical, Old Favourites

48 responses to “The Last Convertible, by Anton Myrer (Old Favourites #6)

  1. Your experience with this novel mirrors mine even down to first reading it in Reader’s Digest. Evocative is the perfect word for it. Thanks for the review.

  2. dan

    I found a hardback version of this book at a sidewalk sale while in college at Ohio State in 1987. I think it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. As i read it again now in my forties I find different things have a greater poignancy than when I read it as a frat boy. I coaxed my wife into reading it and she really liked it too. It’s a great book to occupy your beach time with. It’s made every move with me for 23 years.

  3. Dear Trudy,
    I’m wondering if you recall, in the book “The Last Convertible,” if parts of it were set on Cape Cod? I’m gathering a list for an article I hope to write for the local paper I work for titled “Literary Cape Cod.” The reference librarian and I have been trying to brainstorm books with Cape Cod settings and this came up though neither of us have read it.
    Many thanks,
    Joanne

    • Janet

      Joanne – “The Last Convertible” definitely has scenes of Cape Cod! In fact if I’m not mistaken ALL of Anton Myrer’s books mention the Cape either briefly or extensively – he spent part of all of many summers there. Check out all his books. “A Green Desire” – his last novel published I think in 1982 – has a great deal of the Cape in it as does “A Tiger Waits” and “Evil Under the Sun” which is entirely there. Hope this is helpful.

  4. Theresa

    I read this book when I was in my 20’s, & and it left me wanting more, so I have re-read it over the years & still enjoy it as much as the 1st time. Everytime I finish reading this book, I feel a sad longing. However, I was very dissappointed in the mini-series. I know the movie is never as good as the book, but Perry King as George was a major let down. The whole production did not do the book justice. I would love someone to put it on the big screen today. I’ll have to think of who I would like cast. Anton Myer’s writing style reminded me so much of F. Scott Fitzgerald, however, I read a few of his follow-up works and did not like them nearly as much. This is simply a good read, taking you into the world of the Ivy League, World War II, The Big Band era and that neverending story of unrequited love. Theresa G., Philadelphia, PA

    • Richard Potter

      Perry King played Russ Currier not George Virdon who Bruce Boxleitner played. Have to agree, Perry King was a total miscast and the stupid beard they put on him for the final scenes at the 25th anniversary bash made me laugh outloud. In the book, Russ was dark, handsome and with an Italian bloodline. And he and Chrissie were childhood sweethearts, not, as the mini series would have you believe, meeting for the first time at Harvard in 1940.

  5. Geraldine

    I also read this book as a Reader’s Digest Condensed book. I’ll go search for the novel so I can reread it. It’s also a favorite of mine because it helped me look forward to college. If I ever get the chance to read the book again, I’ll probably compare the feeling it evoked and what I experienced in college.

  6. Emma

    I read this book when I was 16 and I feel in love with it, I also developed a love for big band music through my grandfather’s old records.
    I have re-read it many times and always wanted more so I actually started writing a side-long story with additional characters who interact with the originals and have parallel stories. It’s a hobby, LOL.
    I was also terribly disappointed with the mini-series adaptation and wish that some really good cable channel would adapt it as a series because they could really do great things with it.

  7. Richard Potter

    I have a copy of the mini TV series on DVD together with the original novel. Many reviews get the dates wrong though. The Five Fuseliers originally meet in September 1940, their first year at Harvard, not 1944 as is often specified. Peculiarly however, the 25th class reunion occurs in 1969, which does track back to ’44, the year they were all fighting WW2, so it wasn’t even as if they all graduated then.
    The mini series follows the novel fairly well except in two significant areas. In the novel Russ and Chrissie are childhood sweethearts, the mini series has them meeting for the first time at Harvard. In both of course George falls deeply in love with Chrissie – the mini-series indicating that Chrissie did love him at one point and would have married him instead of Dal if only he had asked her. In the book, she just regards George as a dear, trusted friend even though he eventually tells her he has loved her since he first met her.
    All in all though it is a poignant story, beautifully written and captures the nostalgic mood of the 40’s through to the 60’s, bringing home just how World War 2 devasted so many lives, relationships and changed what might have been.

    • Janet

      Actually during World War II most – if not all – US colleges continued to count their students who were in the service as members of their original classes – even though they obviously did not graduate on schedule. Anton Myrer, who began at Harvard in September 1940 like the boys in The Last Convertible, interrupted his education for war service and did not actually graduate until June 1947 – but both he and his classmates who did not serve continued to be members of the Class of 44 – and celebrated their 25th reunion in 1969.

    • Lori

      Actually, there is a point in the book when Chris and Dal are living in the quonset hut, where George tells her he loves her and asks her to go away with him. She says something like “there might have been a time for that, but it’s too late now” indicating that had he asked her before Dal did, she would have said yes.

  8. I’ve always thought it was pretty clear that Chrissie viewed both Dal and George as good, reliable friends of whom she was fond, and I thought the implication of the book was that she certainly would have married George if he’d made the offer first, the night of the car accident, as he almost did, and if they had married, she probably would have grown to love him as she did Dal.

    I remember being confused about the dates — the 25th reunion being in 1969 — but realized that since they started Harvard in the fall of 1940, they were always considered the class of 44 even though the war interrupted their education, and they actually all graduated in later years.

    • Emma

      I not sure that Chris thought of Dal as a friend or as realiable, after all he and Russ who was Chris’ boyfriend were always at odds. That it really why I thought was so much more dramatic that she should have married Dal: we are left wondering if she really cares for him or if she just latched onto him to save her reputation from the very dire situation of being pregnant and unmarried in 1942. The ending when she tells him that she really loves him is even sweeter for realizing that it has grown over the years they have spent together: that was really her point in telling them all off at the end for putting her in what she called a ‘time capsule’ instead of growing up.

      • Richard

        Well the ending is a little confusing in that although Chrissie tells Dal, in front of Russ and George, that she loves him, later on, George, as the narrator, states that she has resigned herself to a life with a man she doesn’t love. But as we all know, love can take different forms and it is possible to love two people, romantically and physically, albeit in equally different ways. Seeing as Russ was her first and only true love though, I guess George is right.

    • brad black

      does anyone know or car about the make and model of the car

  9. Leo

    Have a completely out in left field kind of question. I have been told, but cannot confirm since I have not read the book, that there is a scene in the book where the characters visit a mill ( perhaps a paper mill ) located in the Boston area ( perhaps Hyde Park ). I am looking for the name of the mill that is mentioned in the book. It has a personnel historical importance to me. Appreciate any assistance and or info you can pass on.
    Thanks

    • I can’t remember any scene involving a mill, but maybe someone who’s read the book more recently can?

      • SJPATTERSON

        George Virdon worked at a paper mill in his home state of New York during the summer of 1941. He drove directly to Boston for the dance contest after his shift ended. Hope this helps.

      • emma

        The paper mill mentioned is the one in which George works before Harvard and during the summer after his freshman year. George is from somewhere in upstate New York. There is no visit to a mill in Boston.

  10. emma

    Richard, when George says after the 25th reunion that Chris is living with a man she doesnt’ love, he is talking about Nancy’s impression of the reunion and how very wrong she is. Nancy is an unhappy woman and needs to believe that all the others, particularly Chris, whom she envies and of whom she is jealous, are unhappy too. George doesn’t care enought to tell her how wrong she is.

    • Yes, that’s what I remember too — that it’s Nancy who’s left with the impression that Chris is living in a loveless marriage. Poor Nancy. And poor George, I guess.

      • emma

        I guess maybe I should feel sorry for Nancy but I don’t. I remember her writing to George during the war that Liz wasn’t going back to Wellesley because she said it was “a dishonest dream world crammed with all the wrong values”. While I dont’ agree necessarily with Liz’s assessment, Nancy certainly assimilated all those wrong values: she was superficial and grasping and jealous. I found her almost as terrible as Kay Madden though Kay Madden is much more pro-active about her jealousies and her ambitions whereas Nancy just sulks and waits and blames others for her unhappiness. The implication is that she is a latent lesbian in love with Liz which I found to be an unnecessary plot twist, a woman can be miserable with her life and her marriage even if she’s straight especially if she believes her husband loves soemone else.

  11. lhwheeler

    I found your blog while looking for a copy of this book that I too read in my early twenties and had much the same impact on my life as on yours. Remains one of the most impactful books of my youth. Love this book. I am enjoying your blog. Will be back. Happy reading.

  12. Richard potter.. could you tell where you aquired the vopy of the Mini-Series? I am seeking it as well. I just ordered the book from Amazon. I had a copy previously but have lost it in the moves over the years.. but have never lost my love of the story !!
    I know many were not favorably impressed with the miniseries but i would love to see it for myself..
    sogregory@charter.net

  13. Richard

    Hi,

    I can’t remember exactly where I found the mini series but it would have been through either E Bay or Google. The quality is a little suspect but not enough to spoil your enjoyment. Good hunting!

    • I Appreciate it .. have already checked both sources and have had no luck.. probably a vhs recording converted to DVD.. perhaps i can find an unofficial copy. I would willingly pay for a copy but according to what i have read it has not been released on VHS or DVD as yet..

  14. Richard

    Hi Edward,

    Well I have it on DVD and, and you say, it’s pretty certain its a VHS copied onto disc which would explain the quality.
    I’ve pulled these 3 entries below off Google.co.uk

    IMDb – The Last Convertible (TV mini-series 1979)www.imdb.com/title/tt0078639/ – CachedSimilar
    The Last Convertible (TV mini-series 1979). 360 min – Drama · 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.4/10 X. Users: 8.4/10 (85 votes) 7 reviews …
    THE LAST CONVERTIBLE (1979) on DVD Anton Myrer For Salewww.ioffer.com › Buy › Movies & Television – CachedSimilar
    11 Jan 2010 – Movies & Television for sale THE LAST CONVERTIBLE (1979)based on a novel by Anton Myrer. This star laden epic traces the lives of five …

    THE LAST CONVERTIBLE (1979) – Rare TV on DVD – Product Pagewww.raretvondvd.com/?Page_ID=3610&id=819 – CachedType: DVD. Description: THE LAST CONVERTIBLE(1979)based on a novel by Anton Myrer. UNCUT. NEVER HAD AN OFFICIAL DVD or VHS RELEASE! …
    Regards

    Richard

  15. Okay, notice my last name, here? When I decided to use a pen name for my own writing, I chose ‘Virdon’ as a direct thank-you to Anton Myrer (whom I dearly wish I could have met, just once) for creating such a character as George. I found your blog when I was doing one of my routine searches to see what else I might find about “The Last Convertible,” because it has been my favorite book since 1979, when I first read it. I buy every used copy I ever find, so I can give it away, and I have given away hundreds by now. I will be BURIED with a copy of this book, someday (have to have something wonderful to read while I wait for Jesus to return.) I am always amazed at how much I discover and re-discover each time I read this book again…what spoke to me in my teens is not the same as how this book affected me in my twenties…or thirties…or even my forties. Because my life has changed as much as those of the characters, and I have done both: doing the right thing for the wrong reason…and the wrong thing for the right reason. And both, as George knew…were just as bad.

    • Elizabeth, when I first saw your comments I thought, “Virdon … Virdon … why does that name ring such a bell?” I love that this post about one of my old favourites has gotten so many comments and that so many people still feel passionate about this book (though perhaps not quite to your level of being buried with a copy!) Thanks for adding your voice to the conversation.

  16. Francy

    I have enjoyed all these comments – this is one of my very favorite books. I relate to it because of my parents, who were the same age as the folks in the book. My dad fought in WWII and his feelings about the war were similar to those of George Virdon. He didn’t talk about it a lot. The book gave me a lot of insight into my mom and dad’s life, and made me realize that my mom and dad were young and carefree kids once, too. And they lived in a quonset hut once. It made my parents into “real people” for me so that I could actually see them at that age. I could actually see them as friends if I had been there and the same age, if you know what I mean. And I could understand the life changes they must have gone through when the war started and Daddy went off to fight, be wounded and be captured. The book really made me see another side of my parents and for that I am very grateful. I have read it so many times I can’t count. I agree that the TV version was very different from the book, and was disappointing in that respect. I think they should have definitely used a different actor for Russ Currier and possibly for Chris. But overall it captured some of the spirit of the book. I’d still like to have a copy of it. Would like to have an ebook version of the book also.

    • Miki

      HI Francy, like you I was disappointed in the tv adaptation and would love to see it done again preferably by the same talent that did the HBO series “Pacific” because, when I saw their home front scenes, I thought they got it right: the sets, clothes, cars, even just the colours looked right. They did a great job of casting as well.
      Oddly enough I see the young actor Zach Efron as George, perhaps because he played in “Me and Orson Welles” which was a similar though earlier era. The sets of HBOs “Mildred Pierce” were also very authentic and understated and so resonated with this era though the dates were also earlier.
      Sorry to run on but I still love this story so much that I would love to see it get a more worthy treatment, perhaps even made into a long term series running several years: goodness knows there is enough material and the talent is out there.

  17. Kay Crawford

    Have so enjoyed reading all the comments….agree with something from every one. Read this first in my 20’s when the hardback came as a book club offering. Then I read it again in my 50’s after I pried it out of my sister’s hands “just to read it, I’ll give it back, promise promise promise…” I did and I did, loved greeting my “people” again, and saw them all so differently. Last night I watched ALL of the “Once an Eagle” DVD ….took hours. Would do the same with Convertible…and buy my sis her own copy. Loved the miniseries. This was such a different world for this Texas girl…sis and I love to visit Harvard…and stroll around looking for that amazing car….we probably need to get a life!

  18. JR

    Dear Trudy,

    I feel pleased to find so many admirers of the Myrer’s book, reading their estimations consent to mine. “The Last Convertible” belongs to my favorites from early-adult age. Now I am 70 and can confirm that reading it many times, you find out something new every time.

    Compared to most thoughts in this blog and following responses, I want to accent that for me it is mostly the anti-war book, so intensive and realistic, the best I have ever read; not only the interesting novel describing how relationships between friends develops. I live in Czech republic. (So excuse my imperfect English, please.) We can read for many years only the “eastern” literature about the WW2, called Great Patriotic War here. It was described as the heroic rear up of the brave Red Army soldiers, fighting and winning the cold-bloodded and heartless Fascists.
    Myrer shows it down-to-earth: how soldiers must exist in dirt, hungry, forlorn …, many of them died. And why people participating in the war or even touched by it so changed. No one can avoid its wasting impact.

    A plea at the end : I have read “The Last Convertible” translated to Czech. In your discussion I’d found some names missed by translation : “The Empress” (in Czech exactly as “Císařovna”), “The Five Fusiliers” (“Pět Pistolníků” – pistolník is literally gunman, pistoleer; the translator wanted to remain alliteration obviously). George Virdon’s nickname is translated as “Rada” (literally advisor, counsellor). Could you tell me which name is used in English? Many thanks.

    • Very interesting point of view on the novel, JR!

      I have to go back and look at my copy of the book to see what George’s nickname is — it seems it’s time for me to reread this book, if I can’t remember!

  19. George’s nickname was Grog–a play on his real name, and the fact that he would drink lots of coffee and Cokes to stay awake so he could keep up with his crazy schedule of work and study. Russ gave all the Fusiliers (but himself) rhyming nicknames: Jean-Jean was Frog, Terry was Trog, and Dal was Wog.

    I’ve been paging through the book recently–something I do every few years. I read it when it first came out, and it’s been a favorite of mine ever since!

    I remember being really excited to see the miniseries and then being very disappointed. I guess it would be enjoyable if you hadn’t read the book. I’ll try to avoid spoilers here, but I’ll just say so many things were changed, unnecessarily, from the novel. I know a movie or TV adaptation can’t include everything that’s in a book. But to change characters radically (and not for the better), add characters and subplots that weren’t in the book, and have an ending that, to my mind, undercut a major premise of the book–that’s just not acceptable. The great movie producer David O. Selznick, when he was making Gone With the Wind, told the screenwriters (many, many people worked on it) that readers of a beloved book will forgive things being left out of a movie, but not things being added. He was very wise about that. There are a few book-into-film adaptations where adding some things works (Field of Dreams, in my opinion), but these are rare exceptions.

    Anyway, I do love the novel very much. In another of my favorite novels, Catcher in the Rye, protagonist Holden Caulfield says you know a book’s really wonderful if you wish the author was a great friend of yours and you could call him up. I was the late, great Anton Myrer had been a friend of mine!

    P.S. nice to find another Trudy!

    • It IS nice to find another Trudy … we are a rare breed! That’s an interesting statement about it being more acceptable to leave things out of a story than to add things — I definitely feel that way when I see a story I love translated to screen. Right now I am following online the saga of making a movie out of John Green’s novel The Fault in our Stars, which I really love, and keeping my fingers crossed that what they come up with is in some way faithful to the book. I have never seen the miniseries based on The Last Convertible and given my love for the book that’s probably for the best!

  20. Oops. Wish this had an edit function. I meant I WISH the late, great Anton Myrer had been a friend of mine!

  21. Bruce Valley USN, Retired

    The late, great author, Anton Myrer, was a friend of mine. As a budding writer and someone who shared his military background, I once met him at his home in Saugerties, NY. His years of correspondence with me discussing writing and the specifics of his books I regard as my greatest personal treasure. For me, Once An Eagle and, particularly, The Last Convertible, were books so powerful that they became lifelong re-reads for me. I found both TV miniseries wonderfully done, and hope one day that a DVD copy of Convertible becomes available that is of the same high quality as the Once An Eagle DVD, for which many of us waited 25 years, while making do with a bootleg TV copy far inferior to the current Convertible bootleg. Taken together, these two books go far to explain America’s Greatest Generation.
    Bruce Valley, Alexandria, Virginia

    • Thanks Bruce, what a great perspective you have, having known Myrer personally! This book will always remain among my favourites.

      • Bruce Valley USN, Retired

        Thanks, Trudy — All that said, and despite the amazing insights into character revealed by his books and particularly in his letters, the man himself did not measure well against his characters — somewhat dour and introverted in person — perhaps because of his WWII combat experiences but, as likely, because that was simply his nature. I have found that many authors better selves (I live in the same town as Dan Brown, and know him slightly as we attended the same prep school — Exeter) only appear in their novels. Bruce

      • Yes, that’s certainly true of many writers … of course many are natural introverts who only “put themselves out there” on the page. Oddly true of many actors too, who have such a pleasant onstage or onscreen persona but can be anywhere from reserved to downright rude in person.

    • Richard

      I love this book and have the miniseries too which I watch from time to time. However, I find the dates in the film don’t add up. For instance, after Russ’s marriage to Kay has inevitably fallen apart he visits George and Nancy, who is pregnant. The two men go for a drink and whilst in the bar, “Take 5” is playing on the radio. It wasn’t released until 1959 which means that, by 1969 and the 25 year reunion, George’s daughter is ten. Yet Robbie, Dal and Chris’s son (fathered by Russ in 1942) tells George he’s in love with her. He’s 27! We know it’s 1969 incidentally as the camera deliberately homes in on Robbies car number plate clearly reading “Massachusetts 1969”.
      And when does the reunion clock start ticking? They all meet in 1941, so 25 years later it would be 1966 – yet it can’t be can it. If its supposed to be 1944 that’s two years after Russ gives George a letter following his signing up for the Navy in 1942 and can only be opened 25 years later, making the reunion 1967! Towards the end of the film, sitting in the back of the Empress on their way to the reunion is George and Nancy’s daughter. She’s at least 17! Confused? Me too!

  22. The Last Convertible. Reading it the second time. Took the first copy to a boot fair, and regretted it, so much later in life, ordered a copy from Abe. It is a story which has totally enthralled me. The characters are so real. I almost feel as if I have ridden in the green convertible, and danced with them all, to Benny Goodman, Looking for a similar type book, but doubt if there will be anything that comes close to this.

  23. Ingrid

    Just finished reading this book for the third time. The first time I was about 16 years old, in 1979. The second time I was 32 and today I am in my fifties. Everytime I read the book I discover new things. It is fascinating reading. And every period of my life is in one way or other reflected in this book. Love this book.

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