Obituary: Dan Brennan, 85, novelist, journalist

  • Article by: KAVITA KUMAR , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 8, 2002 - 10:00 PM

It was the summer of 1940, and Dan Brennan was an aspiring writer. He hitchhiked from Minnesota and arrived in Oxford, Miss., on the back of a cotton truck, "wearing faded blue jeans and a T-shirt, and with a head full of glory-thirst and war names," he later wrote.

He had come to meet his idol: William Faulkner. He called the writer from a phone booth in town and was invited to his mansion the next day.

Brennan, a former Minneapolis journalist, novelist and press secretary for Minneapolis Mayors Hubert Humphrey and Eric Hoyer, died Tuesday at a retirement home in Artesia, Calif. He was 85.

He spent that day in Oxford drinking mint juleps with Faulkner on the porch, eating black-eyed peas, corn bread and fried chicken, and watching him at work on his typewriter as he wrote the book "Go Down, Moses."

The next year, inspired by Faulkner's war stories, Brennan volunteered for the Royal Canadian Air Force and spent 2 1/2 years as a tail gunner on a bomber and the next two years of World War II with the U.S. Army Air Force on missions over Germany.

He published 25 paperback novels, as well as many short stories and hunting articles. Many of his books were limited editions, but he had a following. One of his best-received books -- his first novel, "Never So Young Again" -- was published in 1942 in the midst of the war. The war story was popular in Europe and was later published in the United States.

Many of his later paperbacks, which never reached the same success as his first few novels, were set in Minneapolis. They ranged from crime stories to a fictional account of a racial insurrection on a golf course to a tale of gamblers trying to fix the Super Bowl.

"When he was serious about writing, he was very good," said Jim Klobuchar, a retired Star Tribune columnist who was Brennan's friend and frequent tennis partner. "He was an outrageous man in many ways. And he wrote some crazy paperback books. . . . But he was usually a scamp in literature and journalism."

Born in Devils Lake, N.D., Brennan moved to Minneapolis with his mother, a teacher, and his older sister shortly after his father died.

He met his wife, Helen, a British woman, while fighting World War II in England. She died in 1981.

Brennan flew in more than 80 missions during the war, was wounded twice and survived three crash landings. He returned to Minnesota in 1945 with many war decorations, including the Silver Star and the Purple Heart.

But Brennan's experiences during the war and his anger over the brutality he saw in Germany changed him, said his daughter Cathleen Novak of Chicago.

"He came home being angry with the world," she said. "He was just never the same charming, wonderful person."

But he continued writing. During his career he was a police reporter, feature writer and film critic for Minneapolis newspapers, including the Times and the Tribune. He also wrote speeches and radio spots for Humphrey's U.S. Senate campaign in 1948.

"He was a guy of a lot of parts," Klobuchar said. "He enjoyed life -- was kind of a cynic in part of it, but also was a guy with a lot of love. He had a temper. He was a hard guy to love and even harder to forgive."

Brennan spent recent years surrounded by his books, reading and writing. He was working on a draft of a book when he died.

Besides Novak, survivors include daughter Diana Ullman of Deephaven; sons John Brennan of Potomac, Md.; Tom Brennan of Laguna Beach, Calif., and Michael Brennan of Evanston, Ill., and nine grandchildren.

A private service will be held today in California.

-- Kavita Kumar is at kkumar@startribune.com .

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