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.