Wednesday, August 12th, 2015

The Art of Gonzo Journaling: Hunter S. Thompson’s Blank Yellow Legal Pads?


We recently received a question from Thomas K. asking if we carried blank yellow legal pads like Hunter Thompson- the American journalist, author, and founder of the gonzo journalism movement.

In a word, no. Exaclair only imports one Rhodia product to the US with yellow paper – the 8×12″ No. 19 line ruled +margin. Not that there are many more yellow Rhodia options available, I went digging through the French catalogs and all I could really find was a 4 hole punched version of the No. 19, and a 5×5 graph version of the 5×8″ No. 16.

(Side note – a 5×8″ yellow Rhodia graph ruled pad? Does that sound at all interesting to you?) 

Getting back to the original question, I went digging around the web looking for references to Hunter Thompson’s blank yellow legal pads and came up pretty empty.

From a 1993 article in the LA Times written by John Schulian, I found: “The last memorable thing I read by Hunter Thompson was written in his own hand on sheets from a legal pad. There were maybe a dozen pages in all, and atop the first one, he had printed NOT FOR PUBLICATION in red ink, a warning that forced the magazine editor showing me Thompson’s missive into grudging acquiescence.”

So sheets from a legal pad – though no mention of yellow or blank.

In a 1998 Gadfly article written by Peter O. Whitmer: “Copyboys were sent to Thompson’s room. Out of futility he gave them handwritten notes from his note pad. An hour later, a copyboy returned, asking for more. Thompson was disbelieving, but sent his entire note pad over the telecopier, then slunk back to Aspen, feeling tawdry for his butchered attempt at investigative journalism”

Note pad – not yellow, not legal, not blank.

From a 2000 interview in the Paris Review, Douglas Brinkley, and Terry McDonell asked: You’re famous for traveling on assignment with an excess of baggage. Did you have books with you? (regarding Thompson’s 1974 trip to Saigon to cover the war) 

“I had some books with me. Graham Greene’s The Quiet American for sure. Phil Knightley’s The First Casualty. Hemingway’s In Our Time. I carried all these seminal documents. Reading The Quiet American gave the Vietnam experience a whole new meaning. I had all sorts of electronic equipment—much too much. Walkie-talkies. I carried a tape recorder. And notebooks. Because of the sweat I couldn’t write with the felt-tip pens I usually use because they would bleed all over the paper. I carried a big notebook—sketchbook size. I’d carry all this stuff in a photographer’s pack over my shoulders. I also carried a .45 automatic.”  

Notebooks instead of legal pads.

And though this doesn’t reference Thompson’s choice of writing paper, it made me laugh. From Wiki: “Armed with early fax machines wherever he went, he became notorious for haphazardly sending sometimes illegible material to the magazine’s (Rolling Stone’s) San Francisco offices as an issue was about to go to press.”

Searching Google images for Hunter Thompson+handwriting offers many results, though I’m not really seeing a lot of yellow paper. Since I’m pretty unfamiliar with Thompson’s writing, life, or movies based on his work, there is always a chance I might be overlooking a fairly obvious reference to his preferred writing supplies.

3 thoughts on “The Art of Gonzo Journaling: Hunter S. Thompson’s Blank Yellow Legal Pads?

  1. I know Elmore Leonard used blank legal pads to write his novels.

    “I order the pads that I write on. They’re eight and a half by eleven, buff—a nice yellowish color—and unlined.

    To write with, I started out with a 29-cent Scripto pencil, then worked up to an orange 98-cent pen. I used those for a while. And now I’m up to an expensive Montblanc—and it works very well. It’s a very nice pen. It’s maroon. The pen is important because I’m doing it all in longhand, and it has to feel right. There has to be good flow. That is important—not absolutely necessary, but why not go with what works best for me?”

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