Rex Benedict in Manhattan

Tuesday 12 May 2020

Drawing based on a photo of Giusi and Rex Benedict in the late 1960s
Above: Giusi and Rex in the late 1960s.

Rex Benedict was amongst other things the author of a series of unusual Western novels written for children, two of which have previously featured on this blog, Good Luck Arizona Man, and Last Stand at Goodbye Gulch. Biographical details of the writer are scarce, so I was very pleased and grateful when John F Higgins got in touch via a mutual friend to share his childhood memories of Rex:

As a young boy, from 1967-70, my mother and I lived at 23 West 88th Street in Manhattan, a half-block from Central Park. The area was nowhere near as upscale then as it is now, but it will still a marvellous area to grow up in. A large part of my memories from that time are about our upstairs neighbour, Rex Benedict.

Rex and Giusi (“Juze-ey”) lived with their cat, Sonnet, in a 1 bedroom apartment directly above ours. Their flat had a nice, small terrace—their view was of the backs of our (north) neighbour’s buildings—and an even smaller study, in which Rex had his manual single-sheet desktop printing press! Many days after school, or on weekends, I would go up there and watch him put in one letter at a time, upside down and backwards, for whatever page in whatever self-printed book of prose (“Fantasano”) or poetry he was working on for his Corsair Press. Sometimes he let me do the typesetting. It was fascinating… especially the thin-or-thick blank pieces of metal he had to put in as spaces between words or at the ends of sentences or paragraphs.

Rex was a thin, tanned, gentleman with the most prominent Adam’s Apple of anyone I ever met, before or since. He brewed his own coffee using a stovetop espresso maker on his gas stove and rolled his own cigarettes… incessantly!. He had a wonderful, authoritative but not overbearing voice and often wore casual pants and short-sleeve shirts.

Rex and I bonded over Star Trek, which was just on its original run at the time. He and I would watch the episodes weekly on his black and white television set and shared a love of the Spock character. I am certain I learned the Vulcan hand salute in his presence. I seldom watch an episode of the original series now without thinking of him. Very fondly.

My mother and I moved to a Boston suburb half-way through 1970 and even though Rex mailed me a copy of Good Luck Arizona Man, we did not succeed in keeping in touch and, much to my lasting regret, I never saw him again. I am sure he was writing Arizona Man while I was still in New York but I’m not sure what memories I have of that; since he did not typeset it at home I have no tangible memories to hold on to. I just remember loving it when I read it and always wished his books had been more popular.

I think of Rex often and every now and then have tried to find out on the web what became of him. Sadly, he passed away some years ago and Giusi some time after. I will never forget him.

— John F Higgins

A collection of Rex Benedict’s Corsair Press books. Fantasano is a prose book, and the rest are thin collections of Rex’s poems. “In The Green-Grass Time” is dedicated to John F Higgins, as it was inspired by his adventures in Central Park.