Evelyn Waugh doesn’t quite “fall in love” with Hollywood while he’s there in 1947 for an abortive attempt to make a Brideshead Revisited movie, but he did like it better than austerity Britain, and sets up residence south of the city. Witnessing the shenanigans of what passes for high society there — largely made up of treat-mongers and real estate sharpies — he begins penning a series of biting satires of his adopted home. They were centered on the misadventures of what constitutes “old money” in Orange County, the oxymoron of which Waugh found more amusing than many of his critics. Critics stand divided: some feel the series was spiteful, juvenile, and confusing, others delight in Waugh’s labyrinthine plotting, declaring him the rightful heir of the great Restoration comedians. The American public, for their part, is alternately baffled and offended by the serial version published in the middlebrow literary journals, and the editors pull the plug on the series early. A few years later, the stories acquire a cult following when they are released as a series of cheap paperbacks under the name of a psychological concept Waugh used purely out of amused contempt: Arrested Development.
The cult includes Ken Kesey, who made a deeply awkward trip to Waugh’s bungalow where Waugh pretended not to speak English and Kesey attempted to engage him with gestures and his extremely limited French.