Tuesday, August 18, 2015

1954: Uncle Saint reporting from Fire Island?

    My cousin Katharine and I have every reason to believe the young barefoot reporter seen in this 1954 NBC news footage is our Uncle Saint. The footage is for a story about New Yorker theatre critic Wolcott Gibbs and his weekly summer newspaper The Fire Islander. Gibbs was a friend of Saint's step-father John O'Hara back then ( thus the name "Gibbsville" in so many of O'Hara's stories) and must have known J Bryan III as well. Gibbs even recruited O'Hara and other friends to write for The Fire Islander.

  With literary lions providing much of the copy, it was up to the Gibbs's reporting team to handle the day to day news and Uncle Saint, the former managing editor of The Virginia Spectator at U.VA, appears to be up to challenges like covering trustees meetings.

   In the first issue of The Fire Islander Gibbs promised his readers:

    Our reporters will be instructed to get around. There are usually twenty little communities in any community. It will be their job every week to get in touch with a representative member of each of them and come back with the facts, upon which the editors will them superimpose grammar.

  Why would Gibbs devote so much time to a little read broadsheet?

"I'm in love with the goddamn beach!"


Thursday, January 1, 2015

Witty Dotty

  These are photographs of Dorothy Parker and her canine companions that my Grandpa Joe took a year before she died at the age of 73. I found them inside the cover of Sunset Gun, a collection of verses she wrote in 1928.

   No Dorothy Parker biography is complete without the story of how my grandfather first met Parker, the Algonquin wit who wrote "Men seldom make passes At girls who wear glasses". By the mid 1930's she was drinking a lot and even suffering from blackouts. 
     The year was 1933. Joseph Bryan III was a childhood friend of Parker's future husband Alan Campbell. The two ran into each other at a dance in New York.

Alan Campbell and Dorothy Parker

   "Come along at once," Alan said. "Dottie Parker is here and she's dying to meet you."
   Grandpa Joe, then a 29 writer,  followed him to the edge of the dance floor, where Dorothy was holding court. To his amazement, she seemed thrilled to see him. It seemed she couldn't believe her luck in meeting the author of a recent New Yorker profile. She insisted he take a seat next to her. She flooded him with complements and eventually worked up to a proposition: would he be interested in collaborating on a play with her. He said of course he would and they agreed to meet the next morning.  

     The following day, at the stroke of eleven, Grandpa Joe appeared at her hotel and asked the doorman to ring her.

  The following excerpt is from Grandpa Joe's 1985 book Merry Gentlemen (And One Lady):

    She was a long time answering, but finally he said, "Mr. Bryan, madam...Mr Bryan...." He turned to me: "Will you spell it, sir?" I spelled it, and he repeated, " B, R, Y, A, N, madam...Yes, madam." He turned to me again: "Mrs. Parker asks what you wish to see her about." I don't know how I made myself heard over the noise of my heart crackling, but I succeeded, because presently I found myself in the elevator, even though I was already achingly aware that she'd have no recollection of our glittering plans from the evening before. It proved to be worse than that: she had no recollection of it, it never happened.
  I saw Dottie many, many times afterwards...but never once was that first evening ever mentioned. For all that she retained of it, it had never happened.

  When Dorothy Parker died, she willed her ashes and her entire estate to the Dr Martin Luther King Jr. His assassination complicated matters. For 20 years her ashes were kept in a can in the office of a New York lawyer. When columnist Liz Smith made this public in the late 1980s, Grandpa Joe wrote the lawyer, offering to help have the ashes spread over her late husband's grave in a Virginia cemetery:

   God knows I have no desire --none!--to push myself forward in this sad affair, but I can't stand by and let the ashes of a friend and so distinguished a writer be tossed into the street.

 That's not at all what happened. Dorothy Parker's ashes have been placed in a memorial garden at The NAACP headquarters in Baltimore. Her estate has earned the NAACP a great deal of money.