Tuesday, November 29, 2005

June Comes To America

UPDATE - OCT.2008: Vital new information on the origins of June's family has appeared on the Henry Miller Walks website, through research by Kreg Wallace. Please be sure to read his "June's Origins: New Documents" after reading the posting below, as it clarifies and corrects some of these assertions.

Two of the more recent Miller biographies, Happeist Man Alive by Mary Dearborn and Henry Miller: A Life by Robert Ferguson, state that June's father, Wilhelm Smerth (later anglicized to Smith) arrived with his family to New York in 1907; Ferguson specifies July 10, 1907.

Thanks to the internet and the amazing resource that is the Ellis Island website [free with registration], I was able to do a little research. What I discovered is this: Wilhelm did indeed arrive in 1907, but he came alone. The rest of his family--wife and children--arrived in 1908, including six-year old June.

Wilhelm Smerth arrives in America in 1907
If you search this yourself, make sure to look it up by its misspelling: 'Withelm Smert'. Wilhelm was 29, Jewish, last resided in Biory, Austria. He sailed to Amercia from Hamburg on the Batavia, arriving at Ellis Island on July 9, 1907 with six dollars in his pocket. If I can read the handwriting on the original ship manifest correctly [fully viewable on the website], he stated that he would be staying with his brother Chaim Lipschultz at 155 Rivington Street.

I assume that Wilhelm came in advance to establish a homestead for his family before calling for them to join him; a common plan of action for new immigrants even today.

June arrives in America in 1908
On June 26, 1908, six-year old June, her mother, and four siblings boarded the President Lincoln [pictured left] in Hamburg. The ship was built in 1903 and went through various names before being christened President Lincoln in 1907. It was later entered into service during WWI and was sunk at the end of the war [a detailed history of the ship can be found here and here].

The President Lincoln docked at Ellis Island on July 8, 1908, almost exactly one year since Wilhelm arrived. The ship manifest is sometimes difficult to read, so I'll include some image samples.

Above is the entry for the mother, age 30. Her name was apparently Francis Budd, but this name has been interpreted by the Ellis Island website transcribers as "Tanie." The manifest states that her husband is Wilhelm Smerth. Her contact person back home is noted as being her brother in Moldawitza, Bukowina/ Bukovina [ref. 3 below].

From the Naturalization Record refered to by Robert Ferguson, we know that June had brothers and sisters: Maria Augusta, Herman, Sigmund, and Edward. Besides June, four children are listed as being a "child" of "Tanie": Gustava (11), Herman (9), Sigmund (4) and one I just can't read (3) [ref. 1 above].

Finally, there is June. In Ferguson's biography, he suggests that June changed her name to Julia when the family went from being Smith from Smerth. However, this 1908 manifest shows an entry for Julia, age 6; June's real name [ref. 2 above; could be "Julie"]. Julia is listed as being Austrian, Jewish, last residing in Russian Moltawica [ref. 4], also her place of birth [ref. 5]. She and the family would continue on to Norfolk Street, where Wilhelm was living [ref. 6].

Incidentally, the records of Henry Miller's immigrant German family are absent because they predate those avaialble on the Ellis Island website. Henry and June's passages to Europe in the 1920's are also unavailable because they postdate the records available on-line.

For those interested in Anais Nin, however, make sure to look up her arrival from Havana in 1905, at age 2, and her return from Barcelona at age 11 in 1914. And if it's relevant to your genealogy, don't forget to look up your own family.

Friday, November 25, 2005

June Mansfield Miller On The Internet

There's so much to say about June, it certainly can't be summarized on a single blog entry. So I'll start my first post on June Mansfield (June Smith/ June Miller/ June Corbett ... but I'll stick to Mansfield because she personally chose the name) with a run-down of the various June-related items one can find on The Net.

The Motherlode: Cara Bradley's on-line thesis research on the subject of June. This includes a biography, an analysis of June's place in the writings of Henry Miller, the same for June in the writings of Anais Nin, and a bibliography of works related to the love triangle between June, Henry and Anais. [*UPDATE: This link may be dead; please read her biography here].

There is also a solid June biography entry on Wikipeida. This also includes a bibliography of works in which June is written about as Subject (including Stephen Starck's June Scattered In Fragments [1998], which is rare and expensive, but can be purchased through Roger Jackson's website, and June's interview in Henry Miller: Colossus Of One [1967]).

The photo at the top of this posting was taken circa 1930 by Brassai, and is one of only a few known photographs of June. The colour photo above--of a much older June [1958?]--was originally posted on an Anais Nin tribute site I can't seem to be able to find anymore. Thankfully, William Ashley has posted it on his website.

Lopez Books has/had a collection of books and photographs, supposedly from June's own collection, on which Henry had made inscriptions to her. Here's a list of a few of the titles with inscriptions:

Maurizius Forever (Henry Miller) - 1946: "June -/ Here's one/ you may/ not know./ HM".

Henry Miller Autographed Note - (undated): "June -/ Tell me what/ you have read/ and I'll know/ better what to/ send!"/ Henry"

The Idiot (Fyodor Dostoevski) - 1927: "June/ Your wit and/ wisdom inspire a/ Scotish [sic] mind;/ Your beauty/ has captured an/ Irish heart./ [wax seal]/ 10-18-27."

Siddhartha (Hermann Hesse) - 1956: "... to read in moments of despair."

Henry Miller (Rowholt bio) - 1961: "Dear June -/ We made it/ at last! (From/ 1924-1961)/ Now I can take/ a walk on the/ wild side!/ Henry."

A few other such inscribed titles from June's collection may be found at Between The Covers ; here's June's copy of The Paris I Love sent by Henry in 1956, and a 1956 postcard from Henry to June [seen above, left].

Pacific Book Auctions describes a few letters it once had (now sold), written by June to Henry Miller in the late 60's: ("Many of the letters complain of ill health & poverty, some delve into the past.") A sample quote from June to Henry: "Henry - this is to explain more that I simply acted as a buffer of the world surrounding you - I tried at the time to explain - I could not understand Anais or anyone's influence - I could not & still do not understand your ---...I still am unequipped to write and explain anything - for me the world dropped. I sat through the nights with a stranger who assumed a p-- of nonsense, who used the excuse of making love to me but lacked the understanding - all."

PBA also referes to two colour photos of June from 1958, one of which I believe is the source of the one above.

Finally, look at this essay about June's place in the erotica of Anais Nin, written by Jen Maher-Bontrager, and read Nin's descriptions of June from her Henry & June journal, from excerpts provided by anaisnin.net.

For another photo of June, see my posting about June's association with The Pepper Pot, the Greenwich Village restaurant.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Miller's Apartments in New York, 1935

"I want to go [to New York] terribly; I feel it would do me good. Especially the Tropic Of Capricorn! It would renew all those old nerve centers which are withering slowly. Just a peek at Wilson's joint, at the Palace, at the Roseland, at Minsky's."
---- Henry Miller, writing from Paris, in a letter to Emil Schnellock, Oct. 25, 1934.

Henry Miller returned to New York from Paris in 1935, after a five year absense. Not only did he want to refresh his New York memories for Capricorn, but he also wanted to see Anais Nin who had transplanted herself to his home-city of New York in November 1934.

It was during this voyage to New York that Miller wrote Aller Retour New York. He arrived at NYC in January 1935. I don't know where he stayed during his first few days there. Anais Nin was living with her husband Hugh Guiler at the Barbizon Plaza Hotel [in old postcard, left, and today, right]. When Guiler went out of town on a three-week business trip, Miller stayed with Anais in the hotel at 101 East 58th Street.

The Barbizon Hotel was opened in 1930. In the 30's, it's unique rooftop emited a moonglow light beam. It contained an art gallery and a ballroom, and overlooked Central Park. Frida Kahlo stayed here in 1931 and felt the staff treated her poorly due to her class staus. Lucky Luciano also took up residence at the Barbizon [ref.]. The building still exists, but is now a condo complex renamed Trump Parc. [a history of the building is here.]

Once Nin's husband returned in March 1935, Miller found residence at the Roger Williams Hotel Apartments [seen in undated postcard at left] at 28 East 31st Street. New York seems to have disappointed and depressed Miller during this 1935 visit. "In New York I fear to be swallowed back into drabness, limited surroundings, slavery," said Henry to Anais, as reported in her diary.

While staying the the Roger Williams apartment, Miller did the last of his revisions and additions to Black Spring. In her March 1935 diary entry, Nin recorded that Henry "wrote the marvellous 'City Man' section, and the pages on burlesque." In April, she noted that he finished Black Spring.

In May, Anais returned to France. Henry stayed on in New York and at the Roger Williams until September 1935, when he went back to Paris. The Roger Williams Hotel is now a chic "boutique" hotel. If I were to check into its cheapest room today, it would cost me $270 U.S.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Casting Henry Miller

When choosing an actor to portray Henry Miller in a movie, casting directors probably experience this dilemna: Do we pick the man who best embodies the gruff-yet-sensitive complexities and Brooklynite earthiness of the author, or do we just go with the bald guy who looks most like him? The best answer, to me, is to combine the two agendas; a solution that has, so far, been employed in the few films that include Henry as a character. Here's my hit-and-miss list of the best and worst Henry Millers on celluloid.

THE BEST: Fred Ward
I don't think Ward would be anyone's first choice to play Henry Miller, but the end result rings true on many levels in Henry & June (1990). Ward brings his masculinity to the role, but also manages to reveal a tender undercurrent which is charming to see on a boxer's mug like his. Even when he's decked out in a black beret and playing his best at being a Parisian artist, Ward's Miller seems genuine in his passion and his purpose, always grounded as he is by a sort of blue-collar integrity that Ward naturally inhibits. I'd let him do it again.

THE WORST: Andrew McCarthy
It makes perfect sense that the worst Miller appears in probably the worst Miller film: 1990's Quiet Days In Clichy. The former member of the 80's "Brat Pack" whose claim to fame for many is Weekend At Bernie's, has so little charisma, I wonder why he was ever in movies. McCarthy's far too boyish and meek to pull off Miller's passion and confidence. The unnerving feeling of McCarthy's wonky-eyed gaze is more psychopathic than warm and wise, as is the sense I get from looking at images of Miller. In the end, McCarthy is dorky and totally inappropriate. Just another clue that director Charbol understood nothing about his subject matter.

In 1970's Tropic Of Cancer, Rip Torn played a contemporary Miller, with some success. I'll be honest, I haven't seen this one in about ten years, so I just have enough memory of the role to give Torn kudos for capturing a certain Miller feel in the not-quite-good film adaptation. Physically, his face is just too evil-looking to be a successful embodiment of Miller's charms.

TOO WIMPY: Paul Valjean
The Danish version of Quiet Days in Clichy (1970) was pretty terrible, overall, but managed to capture the grittiness and wildness of the Clichy novel, but dropped the ball in casting an American choreographer as Miller. Paul Valjean looks a bit like Miller in some shots, especially when he's decked out in the classic Miller wardrobe of round black-rimmed specs and Stetson hat, but the director went for look over feel. Valjean is just such a feminine, wimpy Henry Miller; and a bad actor to boot.

JURY IS OUT: Scott Glenn
I base my opinion of Glenn purely on my knowledge of what he looks like. I have neer seen him play "Henry" in The Art Of Seduction a.k.a. Men & Women 2: In Love There Are No Rules (1991). This anthology film includes a story called Mara, which is apparently another take on the Henry and June love story. I haven't been able to find any stills on the net, but the one here I've taken from the video box. Looks contemporary, what with the long hair. The face and feel of Scott Glenn? Not bad for Miller, but I'd have to see him act the role. Anyone seen this?


Left to right: Bruce Willis, Corbin Bernsen, Ed Harris, Val Kilmer, Bruce Cockburn.

Here are a few suggestions for casting Miller in future projects: Bruce Willis - From the balding bean to the manliness and the charm, Willis could pull this off if he can hide Hollywood Willis behind his character; Corbin Bernsen - No longer the L.A. Law slickster he once was, Bernsen has aged more gruffly and I think could surprise everyone with a down-to-earth portrayal of Miller; Ed Harris - OK, I had Miller's bald head in mind when the idea of Harris seemed good, but he's a fine actor with the right look. He can be too intimidating, which is really the only set-back I see; Val Kilmer - Kilmer is my wildcard submission. Forget the cool prettyboy image. He's aging now and is taking on more "adult" roles. He can be surprisingly good and was able to lose himself in his portrayl of DeKooning in Pollock. And his name is Val (Millers middle name). I'm telling you, think about it; Bruce Cockburn - For photo shoots only!!! He could never act and doesn't seem a thing like Miller when he talks. But if anyone needs to take photographs of people looking like Miller, look no further than this Canadian folksinger.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Henry Miller And Black Cat Magazine

“The longer a man lives the more convinced he becomes that the essential thing is not what a man says or does but how he says it or does it.”
----- Henry Miller in The Black Cat magazine, May 1919

Henry Miller was 27-years old when he received his first cheque for a published piece of his work. The work in question was a series of story critiques for The Black Cat Magazine in 1919.

The Black Cat magazine began publication in 1895 under the editorial eye of Herman Daniel (H.D.) Umbstaetter in Salem , Massachusetts. It intially focussed on strange fantasy stories and welcomed contributions from first-time writers. Science fiction writer Clark Ashton Smith first got his start in its pages. The most notable neophyte writer to launch his career in The Black Cat was Jack London, whose short story A Thousand Deaths was published in May 1899 and earned him $40. London refers to this experience in this essay from 1913.

Umbstaetter died in 1913 and the editorial reigns passed through a few more hands before resting in those of Harold E. Bessom in 1915. At the start of 1919, Black Cat announced the beginning of the Black Cat Club. BCC membership allowed subscribers to submit critiques of stories that appeared in the magazine, and would pay one penny a word in return.

Henry Miller first learned of this "club" when he happened to purchase a 15-cent copy of the January 1919 issue of The Black Cat. The editorial stated:

“The editors of The Black Cat are constantly receiving manuscripts that are apparently the first, last, and only efforts of writers who look with longing eyes upon authorship as a profession, but haven’t the courage to keep eternally at it. It never occurs to many of them that in the writing game, as in any other profession, it is necessary to serve an apprenticeship. They are a long time in finding out the first rule—that only by steeping themselves in technique can they master the art of the short-story writer.”

Miller took the bait and bought a subscription. Upon arrival of the February 1919 issue, he set to the task of dissecting a story by Carl Clausen called The Unbidden Guest. His 486-word essay was accepted for publication in the May 1919 issue of The Black Cat [at left]. Henry was so happy he threw his hat into the city air and allowed it to be run over by traffic.

The Black Cat accepted four more critiques from Miller: two in June (When The Red Snow Falls and The Graven Image), Proprietary And A Pullman (August 1919) and A Philistine In Arcady (October 1919). [source: William Ashley's Henry Miller bibliography].

As I've never personally read these essays, I can only recommend that you read the reviews of his biographers who have. In particular, see Jay Martin's Always Merry And Bright (p.51-53) and Mary Dearborn's Happiest Man Alive (p.62-64). Miller also makes reference to his Black Cat experience in Remember To Remember (p.338). Besides literary commentary, Miller's BC critiques include personal observations, such as "The single truth about marraige is that it is a disillusion."

The Black Cat Club was dissolved by the end of 1919, ending Henry's good run. Black Cat magazine continued publication until March 1922. In 1996, Miller expert Roger Jackson published Henry's Black Cat critiques in a limited run of 350 copies under the title Letters To The Black Cat.

The photo of Henry Miller on the left side of the banner heading was taken in 1920.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Alfred Perles - A Biography

"The truth is, [Alfred Perles] had led so many lives, had assumed so many identities, had acted so many parts, that to give any hint of totality would have meant reconstructing a jig-saw puzzle. He was as bewildering to himself, to be honest, as he was to others."
--- Henry Miller from Remember To Remember

"Floating, however, is not drifting. To float requires a kind of internal balance, to drift smacks of directionlessness."
--- Alfred Perles, explaining the finer points of being a "floater" through life, from his My Floating Life.

Updated December 28, 2007

I don't pretend to present you here with the ultimate Alfred Perles biography. The short blog format doesn't suit it, and my own status as an amateur means I am drawing from a limited source of second-hand information. I tracked down a copy of Perles's My Floating Life, thinking I would get an autobiography. Unfortunately, it's merely a three-page booklet in which he elaborates on his philosophy of "floating" as an vital means of living one's life.

The book I should have bought was his rare "unfinished" autobiography Scenes From A Floating Life. When I manage to get this--and uncover any further biographical information--I will update this posting, so that some form of concise Perles biography exists on the net.

1898 - Perles is born in Vienna, Austria, to Czech parents: a Jewish businessman father and French Catholic mother. Childhood in The Schmeltz.

1914-18 - Serves as Junior Officer in Austrian Army under the Kaiser during WWI. After failing his duties in some way, he is sent off to an insane asylum instead of being shot; his father's influence may have helped save him.

1919/20 - Leaves home to become a writer against his parents' wishes. Travels to Berlin, where he leaves one of his earliest manuscripts called Luechtraketen with a hotel manager as a pawn for a 5 mark debt. He moves on to Switzerland, then finally arrives in Paris (as a Czech national). He is in a constant state of starvation, but learns how to survive; skills he will later pass on to Henry Miller.

1920's - Struggles as a writer, but still travels to Prague, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Italy, and Yugoslavia.

1926-7 - Works as a press agent (mostly in German publications) and assistant for photographer Brassai.

1927? - Fiancee Mara Andrews falls ill, breaks off their engagement.

1927 ? - Becomes a writer for the Port Edition of the Chicago Tribune. This includes profiles of artistic events in Paris. Meets June Mansfield Miller in Paris (doesn't like her much though she'll claim he had an interest in her), then runs off to North Africa with June's lesbian lover, Jean Kronski (Vanya in Crazy Cock).

1928 - Meets Henry Miller for this first time, on rue Delambre in Paris.

1930 - Becomes Miller's living-in-poverty mentor upon Henry's return to Paris. Together they write a joke manifesto called The New Instinctivism (A Duet In Creative Violence).

1931 - Gets Miller work on the Chicago Tribune Port Edition. Behind the landlord's back, Miller is invited to live with Perles at the Hotel Central. Fred is so broke that his typewriter is in hock.

1932-34 - The so-called Quiet Days In Clichy, during which Fred and Henry are roommates in Clichy, just outside of Paris. In the novel, Fred is referred to as "Carl," just as he will be in Tropic Of Cancer. Perles and Miller visit Luxembourg together.

1934 - During the summer, Fred attempts to have his novel Title To Follow published. Miller describes it as a "companion piece" to Tropic Of Cancer because it was written during the same time period and at the same place (in Clichy). It's biographical in nature and mentions Henry by name as a character. [Miller letter to Emil Schnellock, Aug. 28, 1934]

1934 - Meets Ezra Pound, who then (Perles claims) wrote of Fred's WWI expereinces in Canto XXXV (in which he is referred to as 'Mr. Corles.')

1935 - Miller writes What Are You Going To Do About Alf?, in an effort to raise money to send Alfred to Ibizia, where he could write in peace. (I'm not sure that he ever went; I will have to track down the 1971 edition of this piece, for which an epilogue was written by Perles [in 1968]). Perles contributes to the Hamlet letters along with Michael Fraenkel and Miller.

1936 - Writes his first French novel Sentiments Limitrophes.

1937-39 - Out of work due to closure of the Chicago Tribune Paris office, Perles takes a job running The Booster magazine for the Amercian Country Club of France. Perles, Miller, Lawrence Durrell and Anais Nin turn this into a literary enterprise of their own.

1938 - Second novel, Le Quatour En Re Majeur. With WWII on the horizon, Perles evacuates Paris for England.

1939 - Joins the British Army's Pioneer Corps, helping to clean up the rubble after the bombings of the Blitz. Around this time, he meets a Scottish woman named Anne Barrett, whom he'll evetually marry [in an issue of the Lawrence Durrell Journal, Anne wrote an essay called How I Met Fred.]

1943/44 - Now living in England, Perles writes his first book in English, The Renegade (with its autobiographical set-up: a Frenchman who has just moved to Britain). The novel wins a Book Society Recommendation. [Also see his Allez Sans Retour, Londres, and Round Trip]. Writes the story Alien Corn. Although his real and publishing name is Alfred Perles, he takes on Anne's surname and becomes Alfred Barret.

1946 - Contributes a piece for the series Why I Write in the short-lived Gangrel magazine; George Orwell also contributes. On the flap jacket to the 1947 edition of Orwell's anti-English The English People, Round Trip is referenced as a counterpoint, as a very pro-English book (Alf indeed loves England).

1947 - Becomes a naturalized British citizen. Around this time, he lives in Hampstead.

1950 - Perles marries Anne Barret in or around 1950 (his 1990 obituary states that he'd been married for "40 years"). They will later live in Rhodes and Cyprus for a short time.

1952/53 - Living in Wells, Somerset [seen at right] with his wife Anne. Henry visits them from his new home at Big Sur.

Mid-50s - Writes tributes My Friend Henry Miller (during a visit to Big Sur in 1954; published 1955) and My Friend Lawrence Durrell.

1959 - Perles, Miller and Durrell all reunite and vacation in Europe [ See Reunion In Barcelona].

1961 - Perles and Durrell publish a critique on Henry called Art And Outrage.

1960s - Employed as a messanger for Reuters in London.

1967-68 - My Floating Life [quoted at top] is written in Chania, Crete (but only published in limited edition in 1973). The 36-page Scenes From A Floating Life is published by Turret Press in London (less than 250 copies).

1980s - His two French novels are re-issued. To coincide with their release, Perles becomes a subject for French media.

1987 - Publishes an English translation of Rilke's The Lay of Love and Death. This was adapted into a musical piece, which is performed in Holland in 1989.

1990 - Dies on Janury 27th, age 92, in Somerset. According to this old posting on the Henry Miller Library message board, he was cremated and his ashes scattered in Bath, England.

The portrait photo of Perles in the banner above is credited to Wynn Bullock. The image of him on the right of the same banner graphic is credited to Rupert Pole.

Some of this biographical information was updated on December 28, 2007, to conform to the Alfred Perles obituary published in The Guardian (London), January 30, 1990.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Draco & The Ecliptic: The Book That Wasn't

DRACO: A long constellation of stars, near the North Pole, that astrologers have depicted as a dragon. It symbolizes self-sufficiency and cyclical infinity.
ECLIPTIC: The geometric plane around which the Earth orbits and the zodiacal symbols rest.

During Henry Miller's years at Villa Seurat, he became increasingly interested in astrology and mysticism. In 1939, he began announcing to friends that he was going to write his final book: a self-analytical text outlining what it was he'd been intending to do with his writing in the past decade. The book--to be called Draco And The Ecliptic--was vaguely conceptualized as a work partly informed by mysticsm. He planned to finish it in 1942, the year his own astrological charts predicted an intersection with his own ecliptic.

In 1957, in the preface to Big Sur And The Oranges Of Hieronymus Bosch, Miller gave an update of his works-in-progress, and mentioned that "Draco and the Ecliptic is still in the egg."

The book was never written, though it was still on his back-burner as late as the mid-60's. In an interview with The Paris Review in 1961 (page 33; this is a PDF document) Miller was asked what became of this project.

"That's been forgotten, though it is always possible that I may one day write that book. My thought was to write a very slim work, explaining what I had been trying to do in writing all of these books about my life. In other words, to forget what I had written and try once again to explain what I had hoped to do. In that way perhaps to give significance of the work from the author's standpoint."

Back when the idea was conceived in 1938-39, Miller desribed his intentions in various letters to friends. To Herman Keyserling, Miller defined the future work as a "joyous book of the mystic." To his old friend Emil Schnellock, he predicted a book about "the heaven beyond heaven." To Lawrence Durrell he admitted he didn't know what the hell it would be about. Jay Martin seems to hit the nail on the head when he described the project (in his Miller biography Always Merry And Bright) as "a title in search of a vision." (p. 335)

Miller's inspirations for the title apparently came from the Frederick
Carter book called The Dragon Of Revelation. Carter's book was published in 1931, and sought to analyze the Book Of Revealtion from the perspective of an astrologer. D.H. Lawrence had written the introduction to this book, which may help to explain how it ended up in Henry's hands.

If you want to full story of Miller's still-born book, you may want to acquire the 48-page essay In Quest Of Draco And The Ecliptic: Henry Miller's Interspacial Literature by Yasunori Honda. This chapbook (which I don't have myself) was published in 2003 by Stroker Press, and is written by the president of the Henry Miller Society of Japan.