By Beth Oljace
Anderson Public Library
— Anderson has produced several authors but Fred Mustard Stewart was the most successful of them all.
Stewart was born in Anderson in 1932. As a child he was teased about his middle name, but the teasing may have held a tinge of envy. On both sides of his family he was descended from movers and shakers. Stewart’s great-grandfather, Daniel Mustard, had been one of the founders of Citizens Bank (now Key Bank.) His father, Simeon Stewart, grew up in Rushville, where his family was engaged in manufacturing agricultural implements. Young Fred’s father headed the real estate division of Citizens Bank.
Fred attended Shadeland School, but went to a prep school in New Jersey for high school and then attended Princeton. His original aim was to be a concert pianist and he studied piano at Julliard while he was in college. He also became a member of the Princeton Triangle Club, a group which produced a touring musical comedy ever year. Stewart contributed two songs to “Ham and Leggs” in his junior year and functioned as the show’s pianist. He directed “Malice in Wonderland” in his senior year, writing the lyrics and script. The experience gave him a taste of the writer’s life and an interest in show business.
He graduated from Princeton in 1954 with a degree in history. He enlisted in the Coast Guard and spent three years on ships off the East Coast. After his discharge, he drifted for awhile. For a short time he returned to Anderson and worked in the real estate division of Citizens Bank. He decided to become a writer and spent several years writing plays and television scripts. (He wrote a musical based on Dracula during this time period.) He spent a year in California writing a screenplay for a movie that was never made. He switched to writing fiction and looked about for a subject. A friend suggested that he try to write something like “Rosemary’s Baby,” a popular horror novel which had been turned into a movie.
‘The Mephisto Waltz’
By this time Stewart had married Joan Richardson, a literary agent, and they lived in a 19th-century townhouse in Greenwich Village in New York City. He drew on his neighborhood for a setting and created a character who was a young pianist turned writer (also Stewart’s own experience) who interviews a successful older pianist. The older pianist, who is a secret Satanist, notices that the writer has a concert pianist’s hands and decides to take over the writer’s body when it comes his time to die.
Stewart titled the book “The Mephisto Waltz,” which is an actual piece of concert music. As a gimmick, Stewart’s publisher had him record “The Mephisto Waltz” and issued the book’s publicity packet with a 45-rpm recording of the title song.
The story was suitably creepy and the book sold well.
Stewart did a booksigning tour which brought him to Decker’s bookstore in Anderson. His beginner’s luck continued when Hollywood producer Quinn Martin bought the movie rights to “The Mephisto Waltz” for $250,000. The book was made into a movie starring Alan Alda of “M*A*S*H” fame.
Impressed with Anderson
Stewart was launched on a writing career, although it would take several years before he would find that level of success again. He tried several fiction genres. His next novel, “The Methuselah Enzyme,” was a science fiction novel. “Six Weeks” (which was made into a not-very-successful film starring Mary Tyler Moore) was a contemporary romance. “The Mannings” was a family saga and contained elements of his Indiana childhood. (He included fictionalized mentions of Anderson’s Whitehall and the Green Lantern roadhouse.) Stewart’s most successful novels were probably family sagas, a genre he enjoyed very much. The novel “Century,” which deals with an Italian family and is set in Rome, New York and Los Angeles, was inspired while on a trip to Italy. Stewart followed it with “Ellis Island,” another novel about the immigrant experience. Both novels were made into successful television mini-series.
Throughout his adult life Stewart lived in New York and Connecticut, but he retained his connection to Anderson. He always mentioned his hometown on his book jackets. When the Anderson Daily Bulletin interviewed him in 1969 about his success as an author, he talked about a recent visit to Anderson. He was impressed with the town’s growth and predicted that eventually Anderson and Muncie would grow together to form one city. He had managed to get lost on the new 109 Bypass, but was glad to see familiar landmarks.
After his father’s death in 1975, he no longer had family in the area and seldom returned. He was glad to receive an invitation to speak at the opening of the new Anderson Public Library in 1987. Stewart spoke to a crowd of library staff and invited guests on the Saturday evening before the library’s opening. He was impressed with the new building and thought that it was unusual that a factory town should invest in such a fine library. He hoped that the building would inspire young people to dream ambitious dreams and challenged the community to read.
He returned again in 1992 for a Fred Mustard Stewart Day sponsored by Citizen’s Bank. Fred Mustard Stewart died of cancer in 2007 and was buried at sea
After his death, his widow Joan Richardson Stewart donated his papers to the Anderson Public Library, which is the home of the Fred Mustard Stewart archives. The archives contains material from his Triangle Club days, his unpublished musical Dracula, and copies of his novels in American and foreign language editions. Scholars and researchers who would like to use the Archives should contact the Fred Mustard Stewart archivist at the Indiana Room of the Anderson Public Library.
Beth Oljace works in the Indiana Room at the Anderson Public Library. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.