Earnest Hoberecht Obit in Sydney Morning Herald

Here's former Asia manager Earnest Hoberecht's obit from the Sydney Morning Herald:


Novelist, 1918-1999

An American who became a literary sensation in Japan just after World War II on the strength of some romance novels he wrote in a matter of weeks, Earnest Hoberecht has died in Oklahoma City. He was 81.

Hoberecht (pronounced Hobright) turned a Tokyo assignment for United Press International as a correspondent and news executive into an improbable literary success story by filling a void created by a ban on American books. The US Army imposed the ban, fearing books like Sinclair Lewis's Main Street, critical of US society, might lead to Japanese derision of Americans.

But by writing novels in English and having them immediately translated into Japanese, Hoberecht became for about two years the best-known, and virtually the only, American writer available in Japan as it rebuilt itself and its society under the Allied occupation.

Hoberecht had hundreds of thousands of fans, many of them young women eager to learn how an American man might address matters of the heart. In a long magazine article about Hoberecht, the author James Michener said Japanese students often asked whether he was better than Hemingway. One scholar had asked him to compare Hoberecht's writing with that of Jean-Paul Sartre.

By day Hoberecht wrote news articles and tried to recruit Asian subscribers for United Press. He wrote his novels after 5.30pm, generally by dictating to a secretary. A translator who had won considerable local attention with a Japanese version of Gone With the Wind then converted them to Japanese.

One of his early successes was Tokyo Romance, published in 1946. It told of an American correspondent based in Japan falling in love with a Japanese movie star. The affair had to be secret because her studio forbade such fraternisation. There were a murder and other complications, but the most popular part of the book was the description of a kiss, which Time magazine said went into "great quivering detail".

Kissing, if done at all at that time in Japan, was very private. But it was his own well-publicised kiss that first brought Hoberecht to Japan's attention. As retold in Collier's magazine, he had visited a movie set with the intention of kissing Hideko Mimura, a highly regarded actress. He told her General Douglas MacArthur had suggested kissing in movies would be "a step towards democratisation". When he kissed her, she immediately fainted.

It was sensational national news.

The Collier's article suggested the success of Tokyo Romance resulted from the publicity. The book quickly sold 300,000 copies and would have sold more except for a paper shortage, contemporary reports said. "The Japanese women were crazy to find out how American men made love," Hoberecht told Michener.

When the book was published in America, however, the response was disappointing. Life magazine called it "the worst novel of modern times". Nor was all the Japanese reaction favourable. One reviewer compared the novel with modern Russian works and concluded: "The people of America must be intellectual midgets."

Still, Hoberecht went on to write Tokyo Diary, which in many ways resembled Tokyo Romance, in just 27 days. Michener said Hoberecht then wrote to his parents in Oklahoma for writing he had done in his boyhood and college years. This resulted in Unpublished Short Stories of Earnest Hoberecht. Then came Shears of Destiny, a novel he had written before the war and could not publish in the US. His last book before the ban on American books was rescinded was Democratic Etiquette, which included some suggestions on how to kiss.

Hoberecht was born on January 1, 1918, in Watonga, Oklahoma, where he grew up. He earned a journalism degree from Oklahoma University, then worked as a reporter for The Memphis Press-Scimitar. He quit to go to Hawaii to work as a labourer at Pearl Harbour, then became editor of the Pearl Harbor Bulletin, the Navy Yard newspaper.

United Press hired Hoberecht to cover the war and he spent most of his time with the Fast Carrier Task Force. After the war he rose to general manager for Asia. He returned to his hometown in 1966 to run a number of family businesses, including an insurance company. His writing was restricted to occasional letters to the editor complaining about low wheat prices.

In 1969, he found himself sitting at a local lunch counter next to Mary Ann Shaklee Karns. They each had four children from a previous marriage, and were married seven months later. She recalls contemplating having a home with eight children and telling him, "We should get the Medal of Honour for this." Mary Ann, the eight children and 17 grandchildren survive him.