Sunday, July 16, 2006

June At The Pepper Pot

June Mansfield Miller worked at various Greenwich Village clubs and cafes during the mid-1920s, including Raymo’s, The Perroquet, the Roman Tavern and The Pepper Pot. At the Pepper Pot, as with the other clubs, the waitress work was often just a means for her to harvest admirers who were willing to shell out money and gifts to win her favour.
June [at left] seems to have started working at The Pepper Pot in 1925. After an absense, she returned to the club in the Autumn of 1926, working in the basement bar instead of the more formal restaurant on the main floor. She and Henry had returned from a botched adventure in North Carolina and needed money desperately.
"And that very day she hired herself out as a waitress at The Iron Cauldron *." [Plexus, p. 550] * see below
LOCATION OF THE PEPPER POT
The Pepper Pot began at 144 West 4th street in Greenwich Village, New York City, some time by 1921. Apparently due to re-zoning, it became #146. Later, due to expansions in the late 1920s, it covered 146-150 West 4th Street. Beneath 150 was The Mad Hatter coffeehouse, which became a significant hangout for lesbians.

HISTORY OF THE PEPPER POT
The New York Songlines website provides an historical overview of the club. The Pepper Pot was created by 1920, if not earlier. The restaurant was formed by Carlyle and Viola Sherlock, both "retired" from the silent motion picture business [all of this from Songlines]. In 1921, the couple also incorporated a restraurant called The Melting Pot [New York Times, March 13, 1921, p.23]. Legend has it that Al Jolson was "discovered" there, and that actress Norma Shearer once worked there.

As this 1920s postcard describes, The Pepper Pot was the only official stop in Greenwich Village for many bus lines. It also provided chicken and eggs straight from Viola Sherlock's farm estate in Orange County.
In 1927, the Sherlocks leased the adjoining building at 148 West 4th, with plans to re-model it and connect it to The Pepper Pot [New York Times, Feb. 17, 1927, p.40]. By the 1930s, The Pepper Pot turned into The Chantilly Club, which was an irreputable speakeasy. It was shut down after a murder, but re-opened briefly in the 1950s before becoming a jazz club known as The Showcase. Today, #146 seems to be a co-op apartment complex and 148 is a restaurant called Vol de Nuit.

INSIDE THE PEPPER POT

The clientele of The Pepper Pot was distinctly bohemian in the 1920s; actors, artists and the like. According to the book, Tea At The Blue Lantern Inn, many of the hostesses at Pepper Pot were artists and musicians from NYU and dressed in artists' smocks [p.96] The postcard below shows a photograph of hostesses at the Pot.

I'm a bit confused by the layout of the original Pepper Pot, but it seems to me that it comprised of at least two floors and as many as four: the main level restaurant and a bar in the basement. In Jay Martin's Always Merry And Bright, he refers to June's employment at "The Catacomb." It's never explicitly clear that he is referring to The Pepper Pot, although the other Miller biographies refer to it as so. I think that The Catacomb--which implies a basement--is simply the basement bar of The Pepper Pot.

The decor of The Pepper Pot comprised of "red-hot peppers and Chinese lanterns ... strung from a labyrinth of pipes." [Tea, p. 47]. Artists has been comissioned to carve out elaborate candles [pictured at left].

JUNE AND HENRY AT THE PEPPER POT

Using the three Miller biographies I always use (A Life, Merry And Bright, Happiest Man Alive), I've tried to identify every incident relating to June, Henry and The Pepper Pot.

* In 1925, within a year of marrying Henry Miller, June took a job at The Pepper Pot to help support herself and the unemployed Miller. As a waitress here, she sold Miller's Mezzotint writings under her own name to her customers, at an infalted price [Merry, p. 104];

* Around October 1926, after returning to New York with Henry after a botched attempt to live in Asheville, North Carolina, June again took a job at the Pepper Pot. Robert Ferguson describes it this way: "The Pot occupied a basement that ran the length of an entire buidling and it had a weird ambience that June liked. The interior was dark, lit by flickering candles which illuminated the drawings that covered the walls, and a sculptor had been employed by the manager, a Mr. Miller, to create figures from the melted wax which were strategically placed around the room. The floor above housed a conventional restaurant" (Life, p. 123). Again, I believe this basement level of the Pepper Pot is what Jay Martin calls "The Catacomb" on pages 118-122 of Merry And Bright. [photo at right is of patrons at the Pot, from collection Sclesinger Library collection, Harvard].

* During the same time, Henry attempted to sell encyclopedias door-to-door. After this venture fell through, he began to drop in on June at the Pepper Pot. This annoyed her, as it interfered with her freedom to connect with potential admirers and sugardaddies. Henry then took to lurking in the shadows and spying on her activities (Merry, p. 121). Often when he showed up, she was not there when he expected her to be (Happiest Man, p. 103);

* At the end of October 1926, June met Jean Kronski at The Pepper Pot. Jean had entered The Pepper Pot looking for a job, even though she was wearing overalls and was without stockings or decent shoes (Life, p. 123). Jean became an obsession of June's, as well as her friend and lover;

* Jealous of Jean's relationship with his wife, Henry tried to embarrass her one day by entering The Peppr Pot and loudly demanding of Jean: "Tell us, are you a pervert or an invert?" (Merry, p. 128, in ref to Crazy Cock);

* Henry showed up at the restaurant with a suitcase, a bunch of violets and a note for June, stating that he was going out West (he didn't); (Merry, p. 130);

* While working on the manuscript for Crazy Cock, Miller took his notes with him to The Pepper Pot for June to read (Life, p. 142). In Crazy Cock, he often refers to a club called The Caravan, which seems to be the Pot (Crazy Cock, pgs. 14, 15, 27, 32, 33, 35, 38, 42, 48, 49, 53, 59, 79-83, 87, 88, 91, 100, 153, 157, 189);

* In Miller's Nexus, he describes himself spying on June and Jean at what he calls the "Iron Cauldron," which to me is an obvious reference to The Pepper Pot (Nexus, p. 14) It's refered to as such in Plexus as well;

"The Iron Cauldron was one of the landmarks of the Village. Its clientele was drawn from far and near. Among the many interesting characters who frequented the place were the inevitable freaks and eccentrics who made the Village notorious." [Plexus, p. 586]

* Henry caught June leaving The Pepper Pot with wrestler Nat Pendleton in her embrace (Life, p. 144);

* June's run at The Pepper Pot was over by April 1927, when she and Jean ran off to Europe together, leaving Henry behind.

UPDATE July 2010: See this post about a Pepper Pot menu from 1929, which sheds a bit more light on the layout of the club.

The photograph of June Mansfield at the top of this posting comes from Stepehn Starck's biography about her, June Scattered In Fragments. Although I know he credits this picture as being June, I confess I don't own the book and found it on the internet, so I'm uncertain as to the source of origin for this photo. If you know, please pass your knowledge along to me.

The majority of the images are from 1920s postcards found on Ebay.

** UPDATE JULY 21/06 - Thanks to 'Pierre from Montreal,' we now have better information regarding the source of the June photograph on this posting. To quote: "it was taken apparently "circa 1927," according to Kathryn Winslow in Henry Miller : Full of Life, Tarcher, Los Angeles, 1986, p. 176. She also adds under the photo : "Courtesy of Capra Press "; so this picture is probably not royalty free, although it appeared previously without artistic credit or ownership on page 142 of Henry’s My Life and Times, Gemini Smith/Playboy Press, Chicago, 1971."

16 Comments:

Anonymous Eric D Lehman said...

RC, I've said it before and I'll say it again now, this site is one of the most complete explorations of an author I've ever seen (and I'm an English professor). Keep it up, and eventually this will be published in book form.

2:33 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a fellow Henry Miller buff, I say bravo. Keep on keepin' on...

9:41 pm  
Anonymous pharmacy said...

What a great story, it sure is a great club, in which lies a great tradition and history. Great review.

4:26 pm  
Anonymous M. Harris said...

Regarding the putative picture of June, above, it certainly appears the earring she's wearing in it matches the (solitary) one she's sporting in the full-faced photo shown in the Brassai Miller memoir - "Henry Miller: The Paris Years."

Brassai's caption claims HM gave him the photo, but it's not known who the photographer was.

I find it astonishing that by all appearances, there are only something like six photos extant of this important literary "muse" (that I've ever seen anyway, since being introduced to Miller's oeuvre in the early 1970s)!

8:25 pm  
Blogger Daniel Smith said...

thank you.
i've always loved the village and of course hm but never had the inclination to sift through where he lived there etc.
i will use your site shen i next visit this summer.
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