Saturday, November 17, 2007

Jean Kronski: Revealed?

I received an anonymous post on my blog in the past day, highlighting an incredibly interesting reference to the apparent actual identity of Jean Kronski. The quote is taken from page 11 of an autobiography by blacklisted screenwriter Bernard Gordon, called Hollywood Exile, Or, How I Learned to Love the Blacklist: A Memoir (2004). In this excerpt, Gordon talks about the life of his wife, Jean Lewin. I'll let you read it first, before I continue:

"Despite her youth and inexperience, she [Jean] found a niche for herself in the Village where she was taken in hand by the legendary June Mansfield of Henry and June, who was already involved with the legendary Henry Miller. June arranged for Jean to live with her, not only because she felt a maternal affection for the innocent kid from the sticks but because it was convenient. She used Jean as a buffer between Henry Miller and her other lover, a moneyed man who paid the rent, showered June with gifts, and provided the funds June spent supporting Miller, who was supposed to be in the dark about this liaison. Occasionally Jean had to answer the door and keep one of them from entering and finding June engaged in the bedroom with the other man. But the mercurial June eventually took off for Europe with Henry, coolly abandoning Jean. By now, the crash of 1929 had occurred."

Whoa. I don't know what to make of this. I've previously posted about the mystery of the actual identity of "Jean Kronski." In the last issue of the Nexus journal, an article by Karl Orend entitled Dear Ghost--A Few Fragments on Henry Miller's Nemesis identifies her as Marion Fish or Marion McCarthy from Baltimore. For me, that was the authorative and definitive answer. So, now, what do I do with this new information? Should I doubt Bernard Gordon? Why would he make this up? If I have little reason to disbelieve him--with his account of the life of his own wife of nearly 50 years--then I must accept this as true. Right?
Thanks to "Anonymous" for posting this. I'll continue to look into this theory, and invite readers to leave their thoughts in the Comments section.
Here is a biography of Bernard Gordon's wife, Jean Lewin. Following this biography, I'll address a few inconsistencies and observations about this and the supposed story of Miller's Jean Kronski.

Jean Lewin was born in West Virginia on December 4, 1909 (mother's maiden name: Skinner). [1] When she was 18, she moved from Morgantown, West Virginia to New York City. Jean was only 5-feet tall, 100 pounds, with fair complexion, blue eyes and wavy blonde hair. [2, p.11]. According to Gordon, she met June Mansfield in Greenwich Village, and was invited to move in with her, during which time she acted as a "buffer" between Henry and June's sugardaddy. When Henry and June ran off to Paris together, Jean found herself broke and unemployed. Sick of New York, she and a female friend dressed as boys and hitchhiked to California. The friend has a small gun, which came in handy when one driver tried to impose himself upon them once he realized they were actually girls. [2, p.12]
For the next decade in California, Jean found odd jobs here and there, sometimes with the help of FDR's make-work program, but she endured poverty for part of the 1930s. Jean taught herself to type and managed to get into Republic Studios as a receptionist. Bernard Gordon met Jean when he arrived in Hollywood in 1940. Jean was at that time working in the Screen Office Employees Guild, where she was involved in union activites. [2, p.12] Through the Guild, she became involved organizing the Hollywood Canteen when the United States entered WWII. As the Executive Secretary, she was brought shoulder to shoulder with prominent Canteen organizers like Bette Davis (who was the President). [3]

Jean Lewin, seen at far right, next to Bette Davis at a Hollywood Canteen function in 1942. (photo: Jack Albin)

Jean encouraged inter-racial mingling at the G.I. dances (which were segregated), and for this, was written up in an FBI file, where is was noted that she was a "possible Communist." [4] According to Gordon, she was in fact a member of the Communist Party. [3] Jean and Bernie married in 1946, and had a daughter soon afterward. Jean collaborated on screenplays with her husband; the two of them were employed for a time by Columbia Pictures, in their B-picture unit, then by Warner. They had no luck having their projects developed. In 1952, a Gordon script, Flesh And Fury (with Tony Curtis), was finally produced. But he was soon after black-balled during the Hollywood blacklisting frenzy of the early 1950s. He continued to work on B-pictures, but had to assume an alias.

Jean moved with Bernie to Mexico and later to Europe. They eventually returned to California. Jean Lewin Gordon died in Los Angeles on February 12, 1995. [1] [5] Bernard Gordon just died recently, on May 11, 2007. [5]

The problem here is deciding which is the "fact" to be compared to. We can never be sure in Miller's writing that he hasn't taken liberty with the facts. It's possible that he's made a fact up or exaggerated it, as he's done in much of his writing. Also, it's possible that Bernard Gordon has remembered details incorrectly.

HAIR: Miller describes Vanya (Jean Kronski) in Crazy Cock [p.3] as having black hair (also in Plexus, p. 586). Gordon says blonde. Jean Lewin's photo in 1942, however, shows darker hair. Also, the Lewin account references her dressing as a male, which is consistent with the Kronski accounts. As a "male," Lewin very likely did not have blonde locks by this time.

EYES: Lewin had blue eyes. In Plexus (p. 587), "Anastasia" has violet-blue eyes.

BODY SIZE: Lewin's description makes her petite. Miller, however, described a Vanya who has "broad shoulders and a towering build" (Crazy Cock, p.11). Perhaps he exaggerated her size to make her more of a butchy, masculine threat to him in the story?

AGE: In Plexus (587) Miller has June guess she is 22 or 23. Lewin was 18.

ARRIVAL: Gordon says Lewin came to New York when she was 18 -- this would be 1927. Kronski appears to have arrived into their lives late in 1926.

DEPARTURE: Henry & June left for Europe in 1928. Gordon is a bit off on this timeline, implying that it was 1929.

MOUNTAINS: Crazy Cock opens with Jean Kronski leaving her small town to go to New York. Miller describes the "snowcapped mountains" around her. According to Wikiepdia, West Virginia is the "only state in the nation located entirely within the Appalachian Mountain range, and in which all areas are mountainous; for this reason it is nicknamed The Mountain State." Lewin was from West Virginia.

I'll post some more as it comes.

[1] Rootsweb. California Death Records.
[2] Gordon, Bernard. Hollywood Exile, Or, How I Learned to Love the Blacklist: A Memoir (2004).
[3] Gordon, Bernard. Letter to the editor. Marxism Mailing List: June 2002.
[4] Gordon, Bernard. The Gordon File: A Screenwriter Recalls Twenty Years of FBI Surveillance: 2004.
[5] Various obituaries and articles on Bernard Gordon, which reference Jean's death and their marriage: New York Times; Alternative FIlm Guide; The Independent (London); The Guardian (UK).

NOTE: There are some great points being made in the Comments section. Please read them. I would also like to clarify that I'm not making a definitive declaration that Jean Lewin is our mystery Jean Kronski. Judgement is reserved. But keep the comments coming--We may get somewhere yet.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Henry Miller: The Man & His Works

"There is a rumor going around that Henry Miller has suffered from critical neglect in the English-speaking world. As this volume amply demonstrates, such is by no means the case."
(George Wickes, "Introduction," Henry Miller And The Critics; September 15, 1962).

When George Wickes conducted an interview with Henry Miller in 1962 for the Paris Review, it was the beginning of a long-standing association with the author. That same year, he was compiling a selection of letters for Lawrence Durrell & Henry Miller: A Private Correspondence, which would see publication the following year (1963). Also that year, Wickes edited a collection of critiques, memoirs and court transcripts on Miller called Henry Miller and The Critics, published by the Southern Illinois University Press.

Henry Miller and The Critics (1963) was reprinted in 1969 as Henry Miller: The Man & His Works, on a small press imprint from Toronto, Canada, called Forum House Publishing.

Preface. By Harry T. Moore, May 11, 1963.
Introduction. By George Wickes, Sept 15, 1962.

1930 - 1940: Henry Miller in Paris
My Friend Henry Miller--Paris, 1930. By Alfred Perles, from My Friend Henry Miller (A. Perles, 1956).

Henry Miller in Montparnasse. By Samuel Putnam, from Paris Was Our Mistress (S. Putnam, 1947).

A Note on 'Tropic Of Cancer'--Paris, 1931. By Walter Lowenfels, from Paris To Mays Landing (W. Lowenfels, 1963)--"a book in progress"--which the author appears to have never published.

The Booster. By Frederick J Hoffman, from The Little Magazine (1946, Princeton University Press).

Un Écrivain Americain Nous Est Ne. By Blaise Cendrars, from Blaise Cendrars (H. Miller, 1951).

Twilight of the Expatriates. By Edmund Wilson, from The Shores of Light (E. Wilson, 1952).

Inside The Whale. By George Orwell, from Such, Such Were the Joys and The Collected Essays of George Orwell (G. Orwell, 1945, 1952, 1953).

The World of Henry Miller. By Herbert J Muller, from Kenyon Review (Summer 1940).

1940 - 1960: Henry Miller in America
The Miller of Big Sur. By Lawrence Clark Powell, from Books in My Baggage (L. Powell, 1960).

Henry Miller: Bigotry's Whipping Boy. By Walker Winslow, from Arizona Quarterly (Autumn 1951).

Sketches in Criticism: Henry Miller. By Philip Rahv, from Image And Idea (P. Rahv, 1957).

Studies in Genius: Henry Miller. By Lawrence Durrell, from Horizon (July, 1949).

A Letter to Lawrence Durrell. By Henry Miller, from Lawrence Durrell & Henry Miller: A Private Correspondence (H. Miller, L. Durrell, 1962).

Henry Miller. By Herbert Read, from the New English Weekly and The New Stateman [H. Read, publication dates not listed].

The Reality of Henry Miller. By Kenneth Rexroth, from Bird in the Bush (K. Rexroth, 1959).

The Rebel-Buffoon: Henry Miller's Legacy. By Kingsley Widmer, written exclusively for this book.

1961 and After: Tropic Of Cancer in America
From Under the Counter to Front Shelf. By Harry T. Moore, from New York Times Book Review [no date].

An Old Shocker Comes Home. By Stanley Kauffman, from The New Republic (July 10, 1961).

Commonwealth of Massachusetts vs. Tropic of Cancer. Witness transcript: Mark Schorer (Boston, September 26, 1961).

Commonwealth of Massachusetts vs. Tropic of Cancer. Witness transcript: Harry Levin (Boston, September 28, 1961).

Statement for the Los Angeles Trial. By Aldous Huxley.

Henry Miller and The Law. By Elmer Gertz, written exclusively for this book.

Draconian Postscript. By Henry Miller, written exclusively for this book (July 25, 1962).

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Return To Paris, 1959

In the book called Henry Miller, Happy Rock (2002), Brassaï gives us an account of Miller's return to France in 1959 after a six year absense. The publisher of this book, University of Chicago Press, provides an excerpt of this account on their website. Here's the first quarter:

Sunday, April 19, 1959
Six years have gone by. Miller and his family have just arrived in Paris. And this morning, I am going to see them again at their home on rue Campagne-Première. A flurry of letters preceded this journey. All his friends were alerted. A month ago, Henry told me: "Yes, everything is arranged: passports, visas, tickets. All I need to do now is relax. Working feverishly to finish rereading Nexus before I go!"

As for Eve, she announced their return with this exclamation of joy, in capital letters: "WE ARE COMING BACK TO FRANCE!" And she added: "I say COME BACK because that's what this journey means to me. In Henry's mind, it's just one more trip. So there you have it!" And she ended her letter: "I want my children to have a real sense for what it is to live in France, and not only to be passing through" (letter to Brassaï, January 28, 1959).

When I arrive at the studio in Montparnasse, Henry exclaims: "What a pleasure to see you again. Most of the friends and acquaintances I saw in Paris are faring well. But just think if you lived in the United States! There, at forty you're prematurely old, used up."

Brassaï: How was your trip?

Henry Miller: It's the first time I've flown in a jet. San Francisco-New York: five hours and forty-five minutes. It's fantastic! Nine thousand meters up and not a bump. I felt like I was living in the future, the future that is becoming our present.

Brassaï: What do you think of Paris? Has it changed in six years?

Miller: So many cars in the street! It's astounding! People think New York's a frenetic city. But it's really Paris! The traffic is even heavier here and the police wave their arms to get people to go even faster. When I have to cross a street, I start to shake. I fear for me and my children. Fortunately, French cuisine hasn't changed, it still lives up to its reputation. But the odd thing is, I've lost my passion for Paris. I've changed. I don't like big cities anymore and I'm looking forward to being in the country. It's different for Eve! She loves Paris and wants to know it better. She'll stay here while I visit the Scandinavian countries with my children.

Continuing reading about his plans for this trip, his attachment to Big Sur, and Henry's tour of Paris with his children. Most of this account is written as dialogue, with Brassai as the interviewer.

With return tickets booked for August 20th, Henry had many things he wanted to do in Europe before heading back to Big Sur. One of these was to visit Lawrence Durrell and his family. In a letter to Durrell on March 8, 1959, Henry wrote: "Yes, all's set--passports, visa, tickets. All I need to do is relax. Working feverishly to finish re-write of Nexus before leaving (Just had letter from Franchette. He's using the text I wrote expressly). Think we have a place in Paris -- at a hundred (dollars) a month." Henry mentions the return ticket for August 20th, but is open to the idea of re-settling there if it appeals to his kids, Val and Tony. "But there's their mother to reckon with. And I am not quitting Big Sur for good -- not yet. It's a real haven." (MacNiven, Ian S. The Durrell-Miller Letters, 1935-80. Faber and Faber, London: 1988, pp. 341, 342).

Yellow text above ©2002 Excerpted from pages 19-32 of Henry Miller, Happy Rock by Brassaï, translated by Jane Marie Todd and published by the University of Chicago Press. ©2002 by the University of Chicago. All rights reserved.

Friday, November 09, 2007

A Visit To The Forest Park Overlook

I have recently posted about the Park Commissioner's office at which Henry Miller once worked. Oliver Fox of Queens, NY decided to investigate the location himself:

"I live in Astoria, Queens, close to the Triborough Bridge which links Queens, Manhattan and the Bronx (also Randall's Island). This is the north-western-most part of Queens. Although I'm a native New Yorker I had never been to Forest Park before today. It's a very large and, I must say, a beautiful and well-maintained park. On the website you linked to they call it a "treasure of New York" and I can see why. There are sections of true forest, where all you see are trees and all you hear is the wind through the leaves. I'll definitely be back.
"I wandered and finally found the Overlook building. Unfortunately there was no 'sign' of the sign you described in your entry. I have a suspicion that what they call "historical signs" are symbolic 'signposts' and not actual physical descriptive signs of the history of the park. The Overlook building is at the Eastern End of the park in a very nice neighborhood of Kew Gardens, Queens. The homes surrounding are luxurious and very attractive. Apparently you can go inside the building during the week and after five on Saturdays, but I didn't feel like waiting around. Maybe they have some information on Miller inside the building, but that will have to wait for another day and another motivation.

"In front of the building is an impressive bronze of "Job" by Rappaport, forget the first name. A fitting subject for Henry Miller. Then there's a playground which is west of Overlook."
All photographs by Oliver Fox.
I like receiving accounts of people's visits to various Miller landmarks. Thanks to Oliver for allowing me to post this. I encourage others to do the same. I've already posted my own visits to Miller's tailor shop in New York and Villa Seurat in Paris. Please add your own anecdotes to these posts if you've done the same.
Of course, there's always a virtual tour of Miller's Paris at Miller Walks.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Annotated Nexus - Pages 39, 40

39.0 Henry wonders about Love: its sincerity, its selfishness, its power to submit us to bondage to another, or to the emotion itself. He appears to speak objectively, without direct reference to himself, saying "we" instead of "I." In context, it's clear he is really talking about his own feelings for Mona (June). This passage actually ends at the top of page 41, bookending the idea of the foolish/brave quest of the Knight Errant [38.6] from Page 38.

39.1 great figures that have accepted their lot...
After a series of rhetorical questions about the sacrifices people make in the name of love, Miller admits that there are a few notible exceptions who have "accepted their lot, who have sat apart in silence and solitude, and eaten out their hearts." He doesn't name these "great figures," and I find myself hard-pressed to think of any other than English queens and other royalty who have been reported to have had romances that went unfulfilled; i.e. Elizabeth I, Queen Victoria. Feel free to add others in the Comments section.

39.2 "In pure love (which no doubt does not exist at all except in our imagination) the giver is not aware that he gives nor of what he gives, nor to whom he gives, still less of whether it is appreciated by the recipient or not."
Miller provides this quote as a concise explanation of true or "pure love." For someone who so freely name-drops writers and thinkers he admires, it's a bit odd that, in this case, Miller merely attributes this quote to "one I admire." I can't find a source for this quote; perhaps the admired one is a friend, or the quote is completely wrong or antiquated. Most references I've found to "pure love" are religious in nature (the religious obsession with purity). Maybe its from a religious source?

39.3 D'Accord
French, meaning "in accordance with"; i.e. "OK!" "I agree." This is Miller's response to the defintion of "pure love" cited above. But he doubts anyone is capable of expressing this level of love, except for those who, ironically, "no longer have need for love."

40.1 God in action, as someone has said
Miller wonders if the "mysterious energy which is identifed with the life of the universe" is in fact a "manifestation of love." He also mentions that "someone" has refered to this as "God in action." This may be Karl Barth, who published an essay called God In Action in 1936.
40.2 Lazarus was raised from the dead, if Jesus rose from the tomb
A reference to the biblical tale of Lazarus told in the Gospel of John, of Jesus bringing one of his believers back to life. And then there's the more famous story of the resurrection of Jesus. This is a highly (excessive!) romantic passage from Miller, in which he states that "whole universes which now cease to exist" can be revived when love conquers wisdom. Both a corpse and a spirit contains life, he says -- using the back-from-death tales of Lazarus and Jesus as his examples of the possibility of physical revival through the power of love. Passages like this confuse me about Miller's stance on religion.

Read page 39 of Nexus at Google Books.

<--- Previous Page 38 . . . . Next Pages 41-42 --->