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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whoa...cognitive shift!

10:31 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very interesting stuff there! I wonder if June may have see a resemblance between the two -- see this image I stitched together for reference.

Also of note is that the link you provided for Flesh And Fury lists Miller's friend Joe Gray as one of the actors. Miller wrote a chapter on Joe Gray in My Bike & Other Friends. Here's a few photos of Gray and Miller together.

10:52 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll add another whoa to the list.

This is the kind of stuff keeps me coming back to the CTC.

And forgot to mention in my earlier comment how much I like the banners you create for the tops of your posts.

10:33 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great work as always, RC.

This is the sort of "note" that Nexus might like? (once you have followed this path to a conclusion)

10:15 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Exciting and intriguing post, RC!

Jean Kronski is indeed a never-ending mystery, although one fact remains in all her literary appearances : the trip she took to Europe with June Mansfield in 1927. Such a trip is not mentioned in Jean Lewin’s bio. Interestingly June met Roland Freedman, her future sugar daddy, in 1927 when she was in Paris, and Jean Lewin came to New York that same year. It is quite possible that after she met June in Greenwich Village, she was invited to move in with her, during which time she acted as a « buffer » between Henry and June’s « Pop », until Miller left for Paris in 1930.

Moreover, one must remember that June knew a lot of people in the Village. I’m sometimes inclined to think that all these Vanya, Anastasia and Thelma are for Miller, the novelist, an amalgam of the different women June had known : Marion Fish-McCarthy, Jean Bakewell, Martha-Mara Andrews, Jean Lewin, etc.

The real Jean Kronski however has to be the one who went to Europe with June in 1927 and, as I said in a previous post, finding the passenger list of the boat she and June sailed on, in April 1927, would be the only way to know her passport name; but does such a list exist 80 years later? and, just to complicate things, Robert Ferguson says the boat was the « Rochambeau » (p.152), Jay Martin the « S.S. Suffren » (P.132).

Take care, RC!

4:17 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is an interesting new theory, but I'm troubled that Gordon does not give us any details that are verifiable (e.g., a letter, specific addresses, etc.) Adding that with the skewed chronology, and I'm skeptical. June used to tell Henry mysterious tales, and it's conceivable that Jean Lewin might tell a romantic white lie or two--and that Gordon swallowed them. Alas, Gordon died last May, so we can't ask him follow-up questions.

7:43 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bernard Gordon's books make clear that he and Jean attracted considerable attention from the FBI. If Jean's FBI file could be acquired through some sort of FOIA request, it might provide enough background information to confirm or deny Lewin as a candidate for the real Jean Kronski. Also, a surviving daughter named Ellen Gordon is mentioned in Bernard's obituaries. She may know enough family lore to shed light on the subject.

12:09 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah, James comes in with the cold hard facts of scholarship.

Just be glad you're not trying to do an annotated biography/literography of, say, Shakespeare. At least a good deal of 20th Century information is 'trackable.'

7:19 pm  
Blogger Roure Vilòbit said...

Another appearance of Henry Miller in this hilarious excerpt from The Soul of Kindness (1964), by the excellent Elizabeth Taylor.

There’s this holier-than-thou bitch do-gooder who

“...sat gazing in front of her. On a table at her side was a piece of knitting which had not grown for days, and the book by Henry Miller Patrick Barlow [that’s a homosexual writer ‘friend’ of hers] had lent her, which she was reading with such mild surprise. (‘What does this word mean, Richard?’ [Richard is her husband.] ‘Truly? Well I suppose it had to be called something.’ How had she lived so long without knowing? He wondered.)”

Enchanted, I’m sure.

6:52 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For another view on whether Jean had blonde or black hair, note that Perlès described her as "Lucrezia Borgia painted by Pinturicchio."

I found the quote about Lucrezia Borgia in Jay Martin's biography on page 124. His notes on page 520 show that he is quoting from Perlès' The Renegade.

You can see Pinturicchio's painting of Lucrezia Borgia here, in which she has wavy blonde hair, just as Gordon describes Jean Lewin.

9:45 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

come on, Miller always changed the people showed in his books, not only the names but the psychical and character details too. He do it in order to protect them and himself and, most important, to have more "freedom of movement" when picturing them. A great example of that was the description of his relationship with Brassäi, who becames to Miller a suject really different of the real one, with a name and a history who has no relation to true. The thing is that Brassaï later becames a famous person and had the chance of publish some books where he points this opposite versions of the reality, but with photos to prove it. So I will not take the "differences" involving Kronski has a important fact. That doesnt mean that she was that lady, but we cannot take Miller's descriptions as an relevant factor.

5:46 pm  
Anonymous viagra online said...

Wow I heard some cases like this, people who you see in movies and you said who's that ? and some years later they just appear like nothing happends, usually have a base in which one they can't stand up and if they fall it's not gonna hurt.
You know what I mean.
Nice post

11:57 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From The Journals of Anais Nin Volume 1 (1931-1934): "The first time Jeanne came to Louveciennes all I noticed were her eyes...She was tall, blonde; she looked like Danielle Darrieux with less softness of contour, a more austere quality. She limped. She dragged her leg and talked continuously".

2:08 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Scratch that. wrong jeanne. Though "Jean" the poet-sculptor that June is involved with is indeed mentioned several times in the beginning of this journal. No hair or eye colours though...

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