Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Painting the Town

The identity of the Young Man of Manhattan book jacket artist has always been something of a mystery to me; the signature in the lower right hand corner of the picture is not large or clear enough to be legible. I've seen the artist credited as Emar Williamson by an online antiquarian bookseller; but an internet search on that name doesn't return any meaningful results. Besides, Emar doesn't even sound like a real name. For a person, anyway.

Well, with the help of the good folks at the Society of Illustrators, I think we have found our man: he is none other than Edgar Franklin Wittmack. It's easy enough to see how that name could have been misread as Emar Williamson. I guess.

Wittmack did covers for The Saturday Evening Post and the adventure story pulps, but is best remembered today for the futurstic illustrations he did for magazines such as Popular Science.

This looks like an absolutely TERRIBLE idea!

The Society of Illustrators, located on East 68th Street here in Manhattan, has a wonderful museum space and is well worth a visit if you're in New York.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Greetings From Governors Island!

Today we took our bikes on the ferry over to Governors Island. Besides it being a perfectly gorgeous day for a bike ride, I wanted to get a shot of this view of lower Manhattan.

It's obvious that the artist worked from this vantage point while painting the dust jacket picture for Young Man of Manhattan

The view was easily identifiable by the presence of two New York City landmarks: the Whitehall Building (the building on the left, indicated by the pointing finger), and the Standard Oil Building (the right indicated building, partially obstructed). The tall building still under construction to the left of the Whitehall is, of course, One World Trade Center, previously referred to as The Freedom Tower. And the green-topped tower at the far right is the Bank of the Manhattan Company Building, now known as the Trump Building. It was built the year after Young Man of Manhattan was published, which explains its absence in the dust jacket painting.

I believe the gold-topped building just below Toby's right knee is the Woolworth Building, which is now obstructed.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Pulp Fiction V: Show Me The Money!

Misled. No male characters actually appear in the story Night Club. And just what conclusions, exactly, are we expected to draw regarding the wad of bills being tucked down the front of the girl-in-pink's dress? (Do I even need to ask?) Readers will search in vain for anything even remotely akin to what the cover illustration suggests.

And while "Intimate Confessions" might be accurate, the alleged behind-the-scenes "goings-on" happen outside of the club: the story's impact lies in its sheer vagueness, the incompleteness of its narrative. 

Oddly enough, Night Club does actually contain one genuinely controversial  story: The Mother Has the Custody was rejected by numerous magazine publishers because it dealt with the subject of abortion, which of course was absolutely taboo in 1928. The story appeared in print for the first time anywhere when the hardcover edition of Night Club was published in 1929. 

The Little Sins cover is certainly the tackiest and tawdriest of all the pulp covers. Look closely: I am quite certain that the décolletage was drawn in. And that icky guy squishing his greasy face against the girl? 'Nuff said.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Pulp Fiction IV: Banned in Pittsfield

From the "That's Incredible" File:

The 1949 Avon reprint of You Go Your Way was actually banned in Pittsfield, Massachusetts for having an obscene cover! Not for the content of the book, mind you, it was banned for its cover! Booksellers and newsstands were ordered to remove the book, along with a handful of other titles deemed equally offensive.

Kay, of course, defended her work (and rightly so), saying "there's not a salacious word in it!" Kay publicly took full responsibility for the debacle, admitting that she should have been more vigilant and not allowed the book to be released in its immodest new attire in the first place. But in the same breath she went on to assert that the cover photograph certainly wasn't that different or any worse than much to be found in current advertising, giving a pretty clear indication of just what she thought of the Pittsfield officials' decision...  

Even by 1949 standards, Pittsfield must have been one hell of a straight-laced town!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Grande Dame

So today I took the day off and rode the train up to Windsor, CT to look over the Katharine Brush papers in the Loomis Chaffee archives. Loomis Chaffee is a private high school just north of Hartford; Kay's son Thomas Stewart Brush, Jr. went there (Class of '40). In the late 60s, TSB gave money to Loomis to build a new library, completed in 1970 and named after his mother. And he gave them all of his mother's papers, too, which, as I mentioned, they very graciously let me examine. 

Hanging in the library is this colossal portrait of Kay. And "colossal" is hardly an exaggeration: it's 8 or 9 feet tall!

It was painted in 1933 by Leon Gordon, who was known for his celebrity portraits: Calvin Coolidge, Winston Churchill, Helen Keller, Will Rogers, and Dorothy Gish (to name but a few) all sat for him.

If we take Kay at her word, the diminutive authoress was somewhat abashed by the grandiose scale of the thing: "...the effect is distinctly that of a billboard ad for cigarettes, even though the painting is superior."
The portrait originally hung in Kay's apartment at 322 East 57th Street. 

"I'm already beginning to wonder," Kay wrote in 1940, "what the portrait's future is, if any. 

"I think ahead to the days when it will be known to my son and his wife and their offspring as 'Grandma's portrait,' and when the problem of what to do with it will plague them ceaselessly. I even  seem to hear the treble pipe of childish voices, inquiring wonderingly, 'Was Grandma really nine feet high?' 

"No darlings, no. Not really. She was five feet three in her stocking feet. It was just that she took life in a big way, there, for a while."

Kay Brush never had any grandchildren.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Back To School

Kay attended Centenary Collegiate Institute in Hackettstown, NJ from 1914-1917.  Originally a girls' preparatory school, it later became a women's junior college. Blondie's Debbie Harry (Class of '65) is probably Centenary's most famous alumna, at least in terms of name-recognition. The school, now known by the name Centenary College, finally went co-ed in 1988.

I guess by "sanitary arrangements" they
mean indoor toilets? Advertisement from 1911

Greetings from "Healthful and Beautiful" Hackettstown!

1914: Freshman Kay (standing, far
right) played on the field hockey team.

1915: Kay is second from the right (top); 
and back row, far left (bottom photo).

The group photographs above are from Centenary's yearbook, "The Hack", and were very graciously and generously furnished by the Archives Department, to whom I extend my sincerest thanks.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Pulp Fiction III: The British Connection

Kay was forever suffering the indignity of having her name misspelt (and no, I haven't misspelt "misspelt"; look it up) a fact pointed out by one New York gossip columnist who mentioned that Katharine Cornell also spelled (or should I say "spelt"?) her given name with two a's. (As did Katharine Hepburn, of course.) It must have been particularly galling, though, in the case of Avon's tawdry looking pulp edition of Red-Headed Woman. (The editors and art directors also managed to lose the hyphen in the title.)

What's really funny to me, though, is on the back of the book: a picture of the Bard being used to tout "GOOD BOOKS" by "Great Authors". That may well be the case, but it's completely incongruous with what's on the front cover. (Oh, remind me to show you my copy of The African Queen sometime!)

ANYway. One of the books in my collection is this 1948 British edition of Woman (depicting an elfin, modestly attired Lil--LOVE the Cinnabon hairdo!), inscribed by Kay in 1949 to some friends, with thanks for a lovely weekend. 

Now, one of the really nifty things about collecting is that sometimes you find little  unexpected surprises. Inside this copy of the book was this hand-written note from Kay ("Bob" was Kay's companion):

Isn't that cool? The "nasty-looking paperbound reprint, of the railroad station type" is undoubtedly the Avon edition. It's no surprise that Kay found it distasteful. The note also contains a bit of poignancy: Kay never would get around to writing that new book. She would be dead just three years later.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

112 Years Ago Today...

With a little bit of help from the wonderful staff at Middletown's Russell Library, I was able to locate the house where Kay was born, 112 years ago today. I had come across a biographical sketch which happened to mention that Kay was born in the home of her maternal grandparents, D. Ward and Mary Northrop. 

A 1900 Middletown telephone book was all we needed to locate the Northrops at 174 Church Street. Though we at first thought the house was no longer standing, a little more digging by the Russell Library staff revealed that the house had at some point been renumbered as 154, and is now owned by Wesleyan University.

D. Ward Northrop, ca. 1885
The Northrops were a prominent Connecticut family, all the way back to Revolutionary War days. D. (avid) Ward Northrop was born in Sherman, Connecticut in 1844.  He was graduated from Wesleyan University (Class of '68), opened a law practice in Middletown in 1870, and later became a judge. He subsequently held a number of important political posts, including Mayor of Middletown, and Secretary of State of the State of Connecticut (1883-85). D. Ward Northrop died of pneumonia in 1918.

Built in 1874, the Northrop house, though charming, seems remarkably modest compared to some of Middletown's other homes, especially when one considers that D. Ward Northrop was one of the city's preeminent residents.

The house is used today as student housing. I imagine that the exterior remains little changed since 1900; and the floor plan provided at Wesleyan's Web site would seem to indicate very little, if any, alteration to the interior, as well. Alas, the house was locked up for the summer vacation when we visited, so we didn't get to see the inside.  

But Kay didn't live there long; shortly after she was born (a month or two, it would appear), the family were living in Washington, DC, where Kay's father was employed as a housemaster and instructor at Washington School for Boys, now defunct.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Pulp Fiction II: Bad Girls Club

Apparently, sometimes the titles of the books themselves were deemed insufficiently titillating, and had to be changed:

But it's interesting, isn't it, that it's the female character that gets recast as the bad one. So what if that's thoroughly inaccurate and completely unfair? The point is to sell books, right?

Oh, well. At least they spelled Kay's name correctly...

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Pulp Fiction; Or, You Can't Judge a Book by Its Cover

Like the work of many a greater and lesser writer, Kay's novels were republished through the 1940s and 50s in cheap (in both commonly understood senses of the word) paperback editions, tarted up with racy new covers that gave a thoroughly inaccurate and misleading (and certainly intentional) impression of the work therein. 

While the clothes and hairstyles have been brought up-to-date for this 1949 reissue of Young Man, you'd never know that this is actually a Jazz Age story about newspaper reporters, Prohibition, and bootleg whisky!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Never Ask a Lady Her Age!

Here's a contemporary account of Kay and the house in Haddam:

VERY interesting (and completely incidental to the story) is that the year of Kay's birth is given as 1900 (though the day was actually August 15); by this time she had already started shaving two years off her age. Even today, most sources indicate 1902 as the year of her birth, a fiction promulgated by no less than the Grey Lady herself, The New York Times. The 1900 date is confirmed, however, by the family's grave marker in Old Saybrook. 

One wonders--did Kay slip up, or did the newspaper have more reliable information?

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Haddam House

On the way to Old Saybrook yesterday, we stopped at Haddam to see the Nehemiah Brainerd House, which was built around 1765, and which Kay owned from 1932 until some time in the early 1940s. Kay moved the house some 400 feet back from the road, creating quite a sweep of front lawn, and had the house enlarged with the addition of two wings.

After years of neglect, the house was purchased by Maryan and Jeff Muthersbaugh in 2002, who have lovingly restored the house, retaining as much period detail as possible--period detail that acknowledges both the the house's Colonial Heritage and its later Deco Era transformations.


Maryan and Jeff started operation of The Nehemiah Brainerd House B&B three or four years ago. They are two of the nicest people you'll ever meet, and, despite a houseful of company, they were so sweet to give us a tour of the entire house, and part of the lovely property.

The Connecticut River is hidden
from view during summer months

Perhaps the most charmingly alluring feature of the Inn is the cottage, which has its own kitchen and bath (recent additions by Maryan and Jeff), and a commanding view of the Connecticut River, which was mostly hidden by the lush foliage when we visited. It's not clear if the cottage was there in Kay's time (it doesn't appear on the blueprints of the house and property), but Maryan and I like to think that Kay may have used it as a studio, where she could write in quiet solitude... 

Dennis, Gloria, and Maryan on the cottage patio

The cottage was chosen by Yankee Magazine as Editors' Choice Best of New England, Best Hilltop Cottage for 2011.

Sunday, June 10, 2012


Today was the 60th Anniversary of Katharine Brush's death. A few friends and I drove up to Old Saybrook, Connecticut to visit Kay's grave in Riverside Cemetery.

Kay's ashes are buried next to her parents, and her brother Travis.


August 15, 1900-June 10, 1952

Monday, June 4, 2012

Urban Oasis

Joseph Urban
Kay's sumptuous (9 rooms, 5 baths) duplex on East 57th Street was the last interior design work of Joseph Urban, the famous Austrian architect and designer who had emigrated to the US in 1912. The Hearst International Building (with later additions by Norman Foster) and the auditorium of the New School are two of his architectural projects that can still be seen in New York today. Urban also designed productions for the Ziegfeld Follies and the Metropolitan Opera. Joseph Urban died shortly before work on Kay's apartment was completed. He's buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.

The two-story living room was 30 feet by 40 feet!

Most of the furniture was custom-built to Urban's designs.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Last Word

Kays last two books amount, rather sadly, to little more than an addendum, a footnote to a career that was ofttimes marked by huge popularif not critical—success.

Out of My Mind from 1943 is a collection ofwhat, exactly? Observations, musings, and vignettesabout life and love and aging and language and Christmas and travelthat had previously been published in magazines such as The New Yorker, Good Housekeeping, and Readers DigestAnd War. More than a few of the pieces are about War. Not surprising, given the time. 

Most of the pieces seem dated and irrelevant today, but the best of them have a certain timelessness about them:

It's New York. It's the town that out-of-towners wouldn't live in if you gave it to themand neither would New Yorkers, as far as that goes. Not if you gave it to them. What they like is paying and paying and paying. That's obvious. ("Bronx Cheer For Manhattan")

There is no proper day or date for mailing out your Christmas cards, and no matter when you do it, you'll be wrong. Here we have a problem which—though annual and universal—has never been solved by anybody in the history of man. For if you mail your greetings late, with a view to getting them there on Christmas Day, you are (a) burdening the post office, and (b) giving the recipients the impression that you only remembered to address a card to them after their card came. Whereas, if you mail early, it's just the reverse, as everybody knows. In that case you will never be sure whether the influx of greetings that you yourself receive at the last minute is truly affectionate, or merely dutifully reciprocal. You will never (I repeat) be at all sure. But you'll suspect. ("Merry You-Know-What")

This Man and This Woman appeared in 1944 and gathered together four magazine stories, the earliest of which dated all the way back to 1936 (Free Woman, mentioned previouslyand which were now re-categorized as short novels.

Free Woman is probably the best of the lotwhat with Harriet Lansingwho seems so to have everythinglosing the one thing that matters most in the world to her in an ironic twist of fate. Kays best stories always end with an ironic twist.

And Two to New York has the glamorous and soign√© atmosphere of vintage Brush, even if it is marred by an overly sentimentalized ending played out against a backdrop of the Pearl Harbor attack. But, hey, I wasnt around for Pearl Harbor, and I imagine it was as good an excuse for sentimentalized endings as ever there was.

This Man and This Woman does not, certainly, represent The Best of Katharine Brush. Writing in The Saturday Review, Sara Henderson Hay felt that, having already appeared in the pages of Good Housekeeping and Redbook, the stories would seem to have served their purpose. To put them into a book is a bit like trying to immortalize yesterdays omelette. I am sorry to say that I am inclined to agree.

This Man and This Woman was issued in two different dust jackets

Monday, April 30, 2012

Master of Ceremonies

Katharine Brush’s last published novel, The Boy From Maine, debuted in 1942. Phil Stong, writing in The Saturday Review, called the novel “a heroic effort to take the gay, brittle, and slightly desperate survivors of the last war [World War I] and bring them up to date.” Beatrice Sherman of The New York Times thought the book contained “quick and realistic sketches of the social upheavals of the last twenty-five years, all laid on by a competent brush” (Did you catch that last pun?)

I just re-read the book, and I think it’s Kay’s best. It has more of the depth that the critics found lacking in Don’t Ever Leave Me, a sentiment that Miss Sherman shared. It’s a pity that Kay didn’t live longer to write more.

Above: The first edition dust jacket in dire need of some good art direction. Disembodied heads; and no music note ever looked like that. The result of War-time economies?

The Boy is one Hobey Hadley, a bumpkin born Hobart Higgins, on an Island off the coast of Maine at the turn of the last century. After fleeing the poverty and utter bleakness of the island, and surviving a requisite patriotic stint in the US Navy (he lies about his age to get in), Hobey lands in New York, and decides to stay, at the urging of benefactress (Fairy Godmother is really more like it) Ruby, who runs a smart cabaret, and whom Hobey meets right off the boat, even before the salt spray on his uniform has had a chance to evaporate. Our Boy eventually works his way up the ladder of show business, first as MC and erstwhile crooner at Ruby’s, then as a radio announcer, and, finally, at the ripe old age of 40, Hobey leaves the spotlight and becomes a successful radio executive.

Broadway Gave The Boy From Maine Everything But the Girl He Loved

1945 reprint
And all the while he yearns for his childhood love, Rosalie, whose family used to summer on Hobeys Island. While Rosalie is genuinely fond of Hobey, both know there can never be anything between them. Or, rather, Hobey knows it; it would never occur to Rosalie that such an idea could even exist. Rosalie is rich and glamorous (she’s a Katharine Brush heroine, afterall), and Hobey is a hick.  A lovable hick, but a hick nonetheless.

But Fate, if it won’t let them be together, will at least not allow them to be kept entirely apart. Rosalie and her second husband (was the fatal wound that killed Rosalie’s first really a gun-cleaning accident?), the faded (though still extravagantly handsome) football star Bailey Harker, move in and out of New York over the years, and neo-sophisticate extraordinaire Hobey, at the center of her circle of intimates, basks in the warm glow of his radiant Rosalie.

And They Lived Happily Ever After

Of course theres never a doubt that Our Boy is going to get his girl. The only question is how long it will take, the only suspense what obstacle will need to be overcome next.

At Last: after 7+ years work, 
a rather bemused looking
Kay (from the jacket)
And that brings me to an observation about The Boy From Maines structure. Though Kay began the book around the time Dont Ever Leave Me was finished (1935), work on the novel stopped sometime before 1940, when Kay suffered some serious writers block. Kay apparently became unstuck in 1941, when You Go Your Way was completed. Kay often said that Boy stalled at page 220, and, interestingly enough, a perceivable change in the tone and the pacing of the novel occurs right about that spot, when Hobey returns to the island to visit his estranged family. Once Hobey leaves the island for the second time and returns to New York, Kay wraps everything up with a swift neatness that is not in keeping with the first part of the novel, and which all seems just a little too convenient. Frank Stockton could have been writing about The Boy From Maine when he complained that the ending of Young Man of Manhattan reminds one of the hasty cutting of knots with which some of Dickens's plots are brought to a close.

I dont know if I would have noticed this shift had I not known anything about the novels compositional history, but its unmistakably there.

Anyway, the book is pure soap opera, sentimental, sometimes silly, sometimes melodramatic; so I naturally ate it up.

Monday, April 23, 2012


“I haven't met Dorothy Parker, and I wouldn’t dare say a word if I had. I guess I know when to make wisecracks and when not to.” 

That’s what Kay said in 1940. I wonder if she changed her mind a year later, when Parker’s review of You Go Your Way appeared in the July 6, 1941 issue of PM...She must have had plenty to say. At least in private.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

They Went That-a-Way!

You Go Your Way was Kay’s sixth novel to be published, but it was not  the one that had stalled at page 220, the one that led Kay to write This is on Me. (That novel would have to wait yet another year before finally finding its way into hard covers.) Kirkus Reviews called You Go Your Way Airy amorantics by a crack hand, and Beatrice Sherman, writing in The New York Times found the novel light and amusing, short on ballast, but long on smartly frivolous conversation, and generously diverting.

Young and vivacious (and stunningly beautiful—that goes without saying) Connie Crowell, though madly in love with husband Bill, decides (before their honeymoon is even over) that she married Bill too hastily. Connie’s unorthodox philosophy (I wish bigamy wasn't illegal) is that she should have been married once or twice before—unhappily—so that she and Bill would be assured of unending marital bliss. And so, what follows is a completely preposterous string of separations, rivalries, and courtships, through which Connie bounces merrily while Bill fumes and tries to keep up. You know exactly how it will all turn out in the end, but the ride is a lot of fun. I won’t give anything away, but you can probably figure out the ending from my simple synopsis without much effort.

“Then Bill fell in love with a purple china
dachshund with cacti planted in its open back.”
The rivals prepare to go wooing--simultaneously.
Though the plot is light as air, Connie’s amorantics and the book’s dialogue are genuinely funny. You Go Your Way is Kay’s only truly comedic novel, and the only one that actually makes me laugh out loud; it has all the elements of classic Hollywood screwball comedy. Doesn't that look like Cary Grant holding the red roses?   

In fact, The New York Times announced in late 1940 that Paramount had bought the screen rights to You Go Your Way as a probable vehicle for Claudette Colbert. That’s funny, because a few days ago The Palm Beach Story (which starred Claudette Colbert, of course) was on the television, and I was struck by how alike Preston Sturges’s picture and Kay’s novel are. Both date from the same time, and the main characters are young, glamorous New Yorkers. Both start off with the wife deciding the couple shouldn't be married any longer.

Joel McCrea and Claudette Colbert in
Preston Sturges's
The Palm Beach Story
Both marriages are “threatened” by the presence of romantic rivals on each side. And in each the wife goesby trainto Palm Beach for a divorce (Florida divorces are quicker than Reno divorces, according to Connie Crowell.) The plot of The Palm Beach Story is, not surprisingly when one considers Sturges's oeuvre, even more ridiculous than Kay's story.

But I think Palm Beach gives a little hint of what the movie version of Your Way might have looked like. It’s a pity the picture didn’t get made, and we’ll most certainly never know why.

One odd coincidence: Connie and Bill (in You Go Your Way) don yachting caps and go “yachting” on a chartered tug called the Ella F. McGlew. In The Palm Beach Story Gerry Jeffers (Colbert) introduces husband Tom (Joel McCrea) as her brother, Captain McGlew! Mere coincidence? Or was Preston Sturges perhaps familiar with Kay’s book?

You Go Your Way was originally  serialized in The American, starting with the April, 1941 issue. Illustration by Alfred Parker

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Time of Her Life

After work on her sixth (which would eventually be published as her seventh) novel stalled, Kay found herself unable to write. Anything. 

So she started doing finger exercises on the typewriter. Then, at the prompting of her publishers (at 2am in the Persian Room of the Plaza Hotel, if we take Kay at her word), she agreed to tell the story of her stories. What resulted was This Is On Me, a “hodge-podge autobiography, bubbly and easy to take throughout and really memorable in spots,” according to The American Mercury. 
The book owes its “hodge-podge” character to the fact that it is both autobiography and anthology, “interlarded” (to borrow Mercury's term) “with samples of pertinent literary work, including complete short stories.”

And though Time magazine felt the stories and sketches would not have been missed, their reviewer found This Is On Me “lively reading,” and “a welcome change from the usual preening of popular authors on How-I-Learned-To Write.” The critics, in fact, appear to have been quite unanimous in their praise; I have not found a single review that was less than glowing.

Parts of This Is On Me appeared first in Ladies’ Home Journal (beginning with the December 1939 issue) under the title Time of My Life. The Journal excerpts featured photographs that were not included when the book was published in the summer of 1940. This Is On Me was instead illustrated with simple line drawings by Susanne Suba. Suba was a successful and well-regarded artist and illustrator, but I think This Is On Me would be just that much more valuable as autobiography had the photos been retained.  

Left: This photographic timeline appeared in Ladies' Home Journal;
Above Right: Photo of a rather prim looking Kay from the book's dust jacket