Reincarnation Stories Revealed – Making the Comics

Pam’s Pictorama Post: It is a very exciting week here at Deitch Studio! As I write today (they are yanking our windows out of the wall as I start this) the big news here is that Reincarnation Stories is hitting the stands at last! Yay! Today I am putting on my dyed in the wool Deitch fan hat and telling all about how the books get made, followed by my honestly biased review of Reincarnation Stories tomorrow. While I have written about Kim’s work in the past (see my recent post about his book Beyond the Pale which was my introduction to him here) this launches with a bit of a diatribe on the subject of the books he has done during the time we have been together.

I realize I cannot help but start with Kim’s process of making comics because when I open a book that I have watched him make for me, the process of getting there, and the lingering memories of what we were doing during each stage telescopes before me. These are microcosms of our daily life and certain drawings take me back to utterly unrelated events. (We were watching the election back when that was drawn; I was traveling in Shanghai when he came up with that…) However, mostly I remember watching it all come to life on blank sheets of paper – or even before when the story was just a kernel that Kim told me or that grew from a nascent conversation, or with him waiting for me to wake up on a Saturday morning, sitting on the edge of the bed and anxiously saying he has a story idea he wants to try on me.

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Kim may be surprised to know that this cover takes me right back to when we first started dating! I was beyond delighted to watch it come to life.

 

The first story I remember watching Kim work on was Molly O’Dare from what would become the Shadowland book. (Molly comes back for a rip roarin’ turn in Katherine Whaley.) We had started seeing each other and, Kim being Kim, he had his work along with him so that he could fit a few hours in here and there. It was my first chance to see how the sausage is made in a Kim Deitch comic book (they still were published as comic books, pamphlet length, then) and I was fascinated. The process from the simplest un-readable lay-outs to proper roughs and then fully realized lay-outs – which would then be traced and inked. (I had missed the character development sketch pages for that story. In some ways this has since become my favorite part of the process.)

As someone who draws (and actively was at the time) I was fascinated by Kim’s process. After writing the story in outline form, he more or less draws the entire book about four times. There are the roughest of roughs where the script sort of gets put down, and at that point Kim has to walk me through it because it isn’t legible. Then come the readable roughs. It was more layers than I would have dreamed possible.

About this time, if not earlier, those character drawings start fleshing out not just characters, but locations too, teasing out situations. Sometimes there is some back and forth – Kim using writing to push drawing forward and the other way around. If you’ve suspected that there is a Deitch universe behind every book, that somehow you never quite get to see – that’s it! The El Dorado – there actually is one! These are glorious pencil drawings on 11″x14″ copy paper. He makes piles of them.

Some have notes he’s written to himself with an arrow or box – sometimes it is a tidbit about the character Pam in her new size body or Transferring the souls of dead human beings into new miniaturized living bodies as from a new sheet hot off the press, shown below. Yes, I am here to tell you, everything does have a history and background. Some of the folks who follow Kim on Facebook see these as they develop. You too are getting a great backseat view of the process, albeit in pieces. And yep, we have ’em all and someday I want to see the best of them published.

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Snapshot of a design page, snatched from the pile, for Kim’s next book, How I Make Comics.

 

Meanwhile, the process marches on and readable roughs get turned into layouts which are amazingly finished looking, yet further changes are made before – voilà – they are finally traced onto Bristol board before being inked. The lightbox Kim uses to trace his drawings was a novelty to me. (A small Butler-Deitch fact is that a lightbox of my own was the first gift he gave me – one that eventually went on to be a shared one when his died. I believed we are now ironically using one that I in turn bought him when that one died. Something about lightboxes.) I had, before meeting Kim, been holding things up to the window to trace them, usually in order to flip them. (Welcome to the 20th century Pam.)

Anyway, the sheets of drawings quickly pile up – first the Xerox paper pages, followed by piles of inked finished pages, until (awash in paper) the story sits finished in a grand pile next to Kim on his desk. (I believe I have mentioned that we live in a single room where Kim also works? Yes, storage is an issue.) These days things then get scanned – there was a time within memory when they were carefully wrapped, packed up and Fed Ex’ed to Fantagraphics. We would be on pins and needles until we were assured they had arrived safely – and again when they were to be sent back. Scanning has its own issues – faithful Pictorama readers know that our scanner died on the very last page of Reincarnation Stories. We are hard on scanners. (There is great grousing during the scanning phase which is persnickety with making sure all pages are scanned, kept in order and all the scans are good.)

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The pile today. To my knowledge this is all of Reincarnation Stories and some of the new book, How I Make Comics. Kim notes that the other half of the book pile lurks, barely visible behind the lamp.

 

Kim and I met after Boulevard of Broken Dreams was published as comic books, although I had the pleasure of revisiting it all when it was published in hardcover as a single book by Pantheon (’02). So now I am going to start to wear my fan hat a bit more and say that as much as I loved seeing Boulevard published as a book, the size disappointed me and I felt the same about Alias the Cat (’07) – as beloved as it is for me. Both are better printed in comic book size – some of the detail isn’t sharp enough when you take Kim’s drawings and scale them down. Shadowland, a book of ribald carnival related stories displaying Kim at his best with this genre, collected and published by Fantagraphics at the about the same time (2006) was printed in a glorious size which further highlighted the difference. (It is in a trade paperback format of roughly 9″x12″.) I would love to see all his books re-issued in this or the same size as Reincarnation Stories. (Just sayin’ to you all at Fantagraphics.)

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Alias isn’t my first appearance in Kim’s comics (I have a cameo in Smilin’ Ed) but Alias is the first time my comic book character is in fully realized glory. I could and probably should devote considerable space to my love of Alias the Cat – I am quite sure few women can claim such a declaration from their spouse as this book is to Kim seeing me via my cat collecting mania. Now, looking back, the collection was in the somewhat early stages – readers here know that it has grown in leaps and bounds. Anyway, the thrill of opening that book never quite pales for me.

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Sporting a great coat designed by Kim, but a hat I really own – book held open by a rather sharp beaver paperweight I gave Kim during the beaver story in Katherine Whaley.

 

In passing I will say, as I am wont to do in person, that my comic book character is a tad more volatile than I think of myself. I don’t think I lose my cool as quickly as she does. (She’s a yeller and I am not.) Although some of her wardrobe reflects mine (a black beret-style hat I have worn for many seasons, handmade by a Japanese couple who used to have a store down the street – I have been recognized in it a comic book stores and cons when wearing it), but some is clothing designed by Kim I would love to own in real life. There is a certain winter coat that I would love to have – and the dress that I wear at the end of Reincarnation Stories is pretty spectacular too. I suppose my character being immortalized in them will have to be sufficient.

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Detail from the What It All Means section of Reincarnation Stories – the dress I wish I owned!

 

The Amazing, Enlightening and Absolutely True Adventures of Katherine Whaley (2013) breaks all the rules and the tosses much of the tradition of the making of a Kim Deitch comic book up in the air with an original more text (but not less drawing) format. While I do not appear in it (Kim barely does) I have a very strong sense that the design for Katherine Whaley is very much me, and Kim has said that the Eleanore Whaley character has much of me. Another shout out to Fantagraphics and especially the late Kim Thompson who edited that book – he took a chance and allow Kim to design it as a horizontal which the early art just screamed out for and it looks wonderful. Kim T. did a lovely job on that book and it is dedicated to him.

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Uncredited Pam drawing making an appearance here in the epilogue of Katherine Whaley

 

Meanwhile, the fact for the day for you Deitch Studio aficionados is on page 164, in the epilogue, is a small drawing of some beavers and the main character drawn by me. While the making of Katherine Whaley was in some ways stressful, it was a somewhat different process for Kim and the concern of whether or how it would be made to work remained a question during much of the conception and production, it really came out full blown from his mind in a very coherent way and he blasted through it. (It is my own opinion that this book will someday be considered a pivotal contribution that Kim made to the evolution of the graphic novel and perhaps suffered from being a bit before its time. I say that both as a biased wife and an uber Deitch fan.)

So, as I sit down now with this yummy amazing and satisfyingly fat copy of Reincarnation Stories I couldn’t be happier or more proud of Kim! Tomorrow I will get into what I will call a wife’s Very Biased Review of Reincarnation Stories. I hope your copy has arrived and that you will take the trip with me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of Tropes and War: Part 2

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Picking up where I left off yesterday, today I tackle what really made this recent Frances Hodgson Burnett read a bit different, the description of a WWI Britain. I am a bit fascinated with a lot of contemporary fiction which covers the period between the two world wars in Britain. It is an interesting slice of time as people recover from the horrors of WWI and then, in too short a time, the foreshadow of the second world war rapidly creeps over them. Conceivably many of those men who survived the first war had sons in the second and that alone is too horrible to really contemplate. This novel is an eloquent reminder of the reality of that war.

The sequel to her book, The Head of the House of Coombe, Robin occupies itself entirely with the war, the main male character of the story having been marched off at the end of part one, this second half takes place during the war which is central to it. There are things that surprise me about this description. Perhaps because it is so close to the actual events there is a vividness to the descriptions that I have not read before.

The horrors of the pillaging of Belgium is graphically described and a central motivation for young Brits, even from the wealthiest families, to join up. I was well aware that part of the horror of WWI was because of the brutal mix of modern warfare with what had sufficed for ages before – men killing each other on horseback and in hand to hand combat. Now men on horseback and fighting with swords were being killed by mechanized weapons and bombs from the sky. For all of that somehow the kind of on the ground rape and pillage that went on in a more Genghis Khan fashion had escaped me.

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The cynicism of the British nobles about the Americans and if and when we would enter the war was also enlightening. Would the United States only enter if it was of economic value to us? They desperately needed the Americans in the war and as we are aware, for a number of our own reasons that commitment was not so quick to come. This was hugely frustrating and even terrifying for them.

Remember also, Hodgson Burnett had deep loyalties to both countries – that of her birth and the country she adopted as a teen and subsequently lived in most of her life and that conflict plays out here. I assume Burnett, in the final years of her life which were spent living in Westchester, did not see or experience WWI London firsthand. Perhaps these vital descriptions came from accounts from friends and newspapers of the time or maybe she did travel back shortly after.

Finally I was surprised to read that, much like those folks who brought picnics to watch the first battle of the Civil War, there was a practice of going up on rooftops to party while watch the zeppelin bombings on London. Ultimately this ends badly in the novel (as I assume it must have in life) and a brief but horrific plot point turns on this event. There is a description of random body parts being found in the street after, only a hand left to be found and identified, that had a realism which was also chilling.

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I did know from other reading that the bombing of London during WWI was as devastating as that of WWII and again one is stunned thinking about a certain sandwich generation which experienced bombing during both wars fully.

Worst of all were the descriptions of the German prisoner of war camps however. One assumes that a few years after the war these stories were finding their way out and Hodgson Burnett shocked me with some of them.

To me it is of interest that even at the end of her life, Hodgson Burnett was still delivering these very contemporary stories. A few decades before her stories described the emerging 20th century world – where travel between Europe and the New World became accessible to all and the role of women was rapidly emerging. (I have written about the emerging 20th century woman in her novels here.) As in WWII Britain, women took on all jobs at home during WWI which is also described in this novel. She also recognizes that sweeps many of the remaining social constraints and conventions for women aside.

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Knowing that the first half of this novel, filled with the aforementioned tropes of pining romance, rags to riches plot and unearthly communion (as outlined in yesterday’s post found here) was hugely popular in the United States I do wonder about the reception of this second half, originally published on its own the same year. While the first half is all flag waving for the war, this second half contains all the cynicism and pain. Somehow she wrapped all these things together and tucked them into one final novel.

Of Tropes and War: Part One

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I do apologize up front if you do not share my continued interest in these Frances Hodgson Burnett novels, because even I thought I would be done by now. Yet I find another aspect that had me in its thrall this week and has occupied my mind in a way that prevents me from finishing my next Felix post of a great new wind-up toy recently acquired. (For anyone who is joining me for the first time, a few earlier posts on Hodgson Burnett’s adult fiction can be found by searching this blog or herehere and here.)

For those of you who are following my passion for Hodgson Burnett’s novels, you may remember that early on I said that the worse the title of one of her stories, generally the better it is and The Head of the House of Coombe falls neatly into that category. As a result I had not grabbed it before this. However, I recently used Goodreads.com to help me figure out what remained of her works that I had not read and create a list of which are novels, as opposed to novellas and short stories, that remained for me to read. For all its greatness Project Gutenberg supplies no information before you download – could be a hundred pages, could be twelve and I like to know what I am getting into when I start a book or story.

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Written originally for serialization it was published as a novel in 1922; it was the fourth most popular book in the United States that year. The sequel, or second part of the book as it was served up to me, is called Robin. It also has a publication date of 1922 so the exact publication history and serialization of the two parts remains somewhat unclear to me. The publication date is mostly of interest to me because of the proximity to the end of WWI, which drives the plot of this novel, and that this book appears to be the last major publication of her life as she dies in 1924. Assuming these were actually written for magazine serialization in 1921 or so, it is a few years after the conclusion of the war and as many before she dies.

However, before we get to the war, we are treated to Burnett in all her glory reveling in several of her favorite Victorian tropes. Robin, the main character, is a commoner ultimately taken up by nobles. She is so purely good and innocent the more cynical nobles quickly become devoted to her. Meanwhile, her mother is a stunningly beautiful chippy, wonderfully named Feather, who it is well-known, a woman kept by the Lord of the House of Coombe.

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FC Yohn illustration of The Head of the House of Coombe as published in Good Housekeeping

 

Meanwhile, in addition to her rags to riches story line for Robin, she also puts her through her paces with two other beloved tropes, illness and spiritual communion or communication. Burnett just loved to plunge her characters, usually a woman but occasionally a man, into a mysterious consumptive wasting state due to separation from or rejection from a beloved, usually a lover. In some way s/he is miraculously revived when reunited with the person in question.

Again, for those of you who have been following me on this path thus far, know that Burnett’s own oldest son Lionel was lost to consumption (TB) just two months before his sixteenth birthday. While blogging about Frances Hodgson Burnett I was contacted by her great-great granddaughter, Keri Wilt, who has a website (fhbandme.com) and an active Instagram account also under the name fhbandme. I began to follow her and she recently posted a photo of a locket Burnett wore with Lionel’s photo. I was a bit fascinated by this post. She shows us the locket and the inscription Farewell to others, but never we part. Heir to my royalty, son of my heart.

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Burnett with son Lionel. The inscription on his grave, “Lionel, whom the Gods loved”.

 

She also quotes a letter of Burnett’s about her son’s death, It will seem almost incredible to you, as it does to others, when I tell you he never did find out. He was ill nine months but I never allowed him to know that he had consumption (tb) or that he was in danger – and when he died he passed away so softly that I know he wakened in the other world without knowing how he had left this one. I can thank God for that. Wowza – not sure what I make of that. Can a 16 year old boy, dying of consumption at that time not at least deeply suspect that he is dying? For me it is overwhelmingly moving though in its need to be true to her. She returns to it again and again in her fiction.

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The wasting unnamed and consumptive disease illustrating an article on this topic.

 

Another deep vein of interest is Hodgson Burnett is her interest in spiritualism which I gather she takes up somewhat later in life. (I am assuming that it ties out to the death of her son but I am not sure I have seen this confirmed.) If I can find more information on where it parallels with her life it will definitely rate a post of its own – this may happen when I get to reading her autobiography which is already in the house. Spirit communication is a frequent plot device with some variations – mystical communication with both the living (but not present) and the dead. The novella The White People is one of several shorter works devoted entirely to the subject. Without being a plot spoiler I will just say that it makes up the major plot weenie (as Kim would say) to the second part of this novel.

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Library of Congress example of spirit photography.

 

Having covered wasting illness, rags to riches plots and touched on spiritualism I leave you for today. Tomorrow I will share the fascinating turn things take with Burnett’s surprisingly graphic descriptions of WWI England which was what really made this book stand out for me.

3 Little Kittens

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Pam’s Pictorama Post: This wonderful little tidbit was a gift from my friend Eileen Travell – and it is a perfect addition to the Pictorama library of cat literature, toys, phots and collectibles. I read that the original poem is an English nursery rhyme with roots in British folk lore. The poem as it is generally known today is attributed to Eliza Lee Cabot Follen, an American writer (1787–1860), first published in 1843, but finding its way to the Mother Goose canon over time. This edition is of the poem updated further and modernized for the 1923 publication by Ruth Kauffman. On the inside flap of this copy there is an undated inscription by an earlier owner, Alma Richarde, in uneven but very legible print.

Not much can be found about Ruth Kauffman beyond this volume – although it should be said that must have been a wildly popular book as many copies are available on the internet today. It would appear that Ms. Kauffman was married to Reginald Wright Kauffman, author and journalist; his work generally pertaining to social causes of the day. As for Ruth, her slim volume of The Three Little Kittens Who Lost Their Mittens seems to be what she is remembered for today. I could find nothing else attributed to her – or an author with her name spelled this way.

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Her 1923 version of the Kitten Mitten story has the mama cat warning her kits of the great, big world. Of streets and motor-cars, of wayward baseballs and of stones that make a cat see stars. Mama cat further tells them to keep themselves and the “clothes” tidy – their wardrobe consisting of little jackets, shoes and of course mittens, in this case mits that matched each Kitten’s hair. I’ve never been sure why kittens needed mittens, nor for that matter why small children needed them beyond winter weather protection – and these seem to be indoor/outdoor mittens. (Meanwhile, cat mittens turns up some alarming images of contemporary be-mittened cats. No idea why anyone would do that to a cat.) Cookie as a tuxedo has permanent, nice, bright white mittens – those are the kind I like best on kittens.

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Although she doesn’t appear to even rate a Wikipedia entry, the illustrator Margaret Campbell Hoopes’s has illustrated books which appear to do brisk business on antiquarian book sites. Born in 1893 (d. 1956) she studied at the Philadelphia School of Industrial Arts and she and her Florence sister achieved success as illustrators of their day. Their combined work seems to be best known for something called the Alice & Jerry readers of the 1930’s – these have escaped my notice until now. However, in addition to my slim volume, I find illustrated editions of Peter Rabbit, A Child’s Garden of Verses, and many copies of something called I Don’t Want to Go to Bed. (There’s a handsome Puss ‘n Boots that maybe I need to own.) I found a fellow blogger searching for information about Margaret and her sister back in 2008. There needs to be more information on these gifted illustrators.

I do love her illustrations in this book. The cats are just the right combination of anthropomorphic and true feline. The three kittens, Tortoise-shell, Silver-fur and White, are sent out to play while Mama has to bake a pie, and cook some mice that I have caught, So you must just amuse yourselves, but – wear the mits I bought. Out they go and there they skipped about and sang, and bit their tails in play, and turned the cutest somersaults; you know a kitten’s way.

 

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Lastly of note is the owner of the interesting shop where Eileen found and purchase this nifty little book. Sally Brillon, along with her husband Joe, is the owner of 1786 Wilson Homestead (1117 Chamberlin Mill Road, Salem, NY; their website which can be found here) and the photos of the Hutchinson’s shop in a barn intrigued me before I knew Eileen had procured this book for me. In addition to books and antiques, until recently she also taught cooking on a hearth, something for those with a fireplace and the inclination.

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Sally in her shop.

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Andrew, did you buy the top hat?

Should the winds of chance take me to Salem, New York, I will be anxious to stop in and spend a few hours digging around. Who knows what cat related gems must lurk in those piles.

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Joyful kittens at the end of the book!

Editha’s Burglar: Book vs. Film, an Unexpected Review

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Just when I thought maybe I had come to the close of authoring my thoughts on Frances Hodgson Burnett I stumbled across a rather splendid DVD of the 1924 film, The Family Secret, issued by the film accompanist Ben Model under the Undercrank name. The disk (which can be purchased here) came out in 2015. We missed it then and I came upon this release while reading a blog post by Ben, via Twitter one morning about a week ago, concerning the short in the same package, Circus Clowns. (Ben’s fascinating blog post can be found here.)

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Needless to say, when I realized that The Family Secret was based on a Frances Hodgson Burnett story published in 1888 under the title Editha’s Burglar, I almost spilled my morning coffee and couldn’t wait to get my hands on both the film and the story for comparison. (For those of you who have stuck with me through these several posts on Frances Hodgson Burnett and her adult fiction, you will remember that while discussing the women in her stories I also delved into the early films made of her work, many now lost. For new readers, that post can be found here. The other Hodgson Burnett posts can be found here, here and, yep, here.) The whole disk features Baby Peggy which is a super bonus as well.

The DVD arrived just in time for the commencement of our vacation. A short list had quickly formed for film watching vacation activity – Kim is working his way through the available films of Jessie Matthews with mixed results, and something called Faithless with Robert Montgomery and Tallulah Bankhead, 1933, is up next for me. We reconvene together over the ones good enough to share with the other. There’s also lots of trolling through what’s available on TCM – a trick I only recently taught our tv and we’re having fun with that. (A raucous sounding Jessie Matthews film is issuing forth from the television even as I write this. Sounds like a winner.)

The print quality of the film on the disk is really great, pieced together from a few sources, an Italian print and a Library of Congress one at a minimum, to maximizing all. It is a complicated and twisting melodrama, worthy indeed of Frances Hodgson Burnett (whose short story is credited), complete with separated lovers and a little girl who doesn’t know her father. I won’t spoil the plot, although I have probably already told you enough to figure it out. Baby Peggy was great. I don’t know what I expected, but she really sort of ruins me for other kid actors because she just sparkles on the screen in a way I hadn’t anticipated. She really had something.

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This is definitely the print of the film you want and Circus Clowns is a treat too. The disk is topped off with another great short, Miles of Smiles (with Baby Peggy in a dual “twin” role), and some newsreel footage of Baby Peggy as well. All great and worth seeing – scoop up whatever copies are available immediately.

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This time Google Books provided the short story in question rather than Project Gutenberg and it is a story that is appropriate for children as well as adults. I probably would have been better to have read the story first, but it didn’t work out that way. The version I downloaded provided very good original illustrations, by Henry (Hy) Sandham and I offer samples below. (I always select the option to include the illustrations if any when downloading, but they are rarely as good or as plentiful as these engravings.) I didn’t know his work, but Hy Sandham, 1842-1910, was a Canadian painter and illustrator.

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I am a tad confused about the letter that appears at the opening of the book and which I offer in its entirety below. Elsie Leslie is identified as the inspiration for Editha although what that has to do with Jordon Marsh (which I believe was affiliated with the Boston based department store) or what was written to Frances Hodgson Burnett I cannot say. The letter seems to always be included with the short story and Jordon Marsh is the publisher of the elegant, fully illustrated 1890 edition of the book. Elsie Leslie was the first child to portray Editha in a one-act stage version two years after the original publication.

March 25 1888

Dear Mr Jordan Marsh & Co

Mamma has left it for me to deside if I will let you have my picture for your book I think it wold be very nice. wont it seem funny to see my very own picture in Editha like the little girl that used to be in st Nickolas. I think mrs Burnet writs lovely storys I wrote her a letter and sent it away to paris and told her so and asked her if she wold hurry and write another story just as quick as she could I am looking for an anser everyday. I like to write letters but I like to get the ansers still better I am going to play Editha in boston for two weeks and I will ask my mamma to let me come to your store and see all of the butiful things I used to come every day when I was in boston last winter

your little frend 
Elsie Leslie

72 West 92 Street 
New York City

(Written by Elsie Leslie Lyde, the original Editha, eight years old.)

The play adaptation was written by Edwin Cleary and, from what I can tell from a (rave) review of 1887 which dates it to before the 1888 copyright of the Hodgson Burnett story – it is beyond my sleuthing to untangle what this means and if she adapted his play or the other way around, although the easiest guess is that perhaps the story was first published in a magazine under a different copyright, the thread of that tale now lost to us.

Interesting in her own right is Elsie Leslie (the Lyde somehow gets dropped in her professional moniker), who at age six was already three years into her stage career when she took the role of Editha which solidified her star billing. According to Wikipedia she is propelled into further stardom in her stage production of Hodgson Burnett’s Little Lord Fauntleroy and becomes America’s first child star, highest paid and most popular child actress of her day. William Merit Chase even paints her in the garb from Little Lord Fauntleroy. I have used a photo of her from the collection of The Museum of the City of New York to illustrate today’s post.

She doesn’t seem to make it into early film (an adult return to the stage in 1911 was not resounding), but was evidently a great correspondent and maintained contact with people from her stage career through her life. Wikipedia sites letters to and from her that can be found in the collected correspondence of such luminaries as Mark Twain, Helen Keller and Edwin Booth. Married twice, she was a great beauty, traveled the world with her second husband, lived to the age of 85 and in general seems to have lead a rollicking good life.

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The bottom line is the short story is lovely with a very simple plot which is purely about Editha, a rather extraordinary small child, and a burglar in her home whom she convinces to burgle very quietly so as not to wake and upset her rather fragile mother. Instead Editha and the burglar have a conversation (he a snack as well, helping himself to the well-stocked larder including a very large glass of wine) where she also convinces him to take her bits of jewelry rather than the things of value which belong to her parents as it would make them very sad. He takes those, and also appears to pile up the family silver, although not much note is taken of that. The dramatic arc of the story is Editha meeting up with said burglar in prison later.

I can’t help but feel that if a film had instead been made of the original story Baby Peggy would still have been my pick to play her. I believe Baby Peggy could have pulled off the role that way as well, based just on the character of the little girl. I end by saying that I was anxious to compare one of her original stories to what was contemporaneously being made from and inspired by her work and I accomplished that here. To my amazement, very little of the plot survives and instead only the plucky spirit of the character Hodgson Burnett created.

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Frances Hodgson Burnett: the Fashion, Part 4

Pams Pictorama Post: I am wrapping up this summer reading series on the adult novels of Frances Hodgson Burnett with this post on the lavish and lovingly described clothing in her stories. It is clear from her detailed descriptions that she loved fashion and had thoughts about clothing and what it meant. I share an autochrome of a well dressed woman of the day by Helen Messing, a French photographer, taken in 1912, as the featured image and to set the tone for today. For anyone who has just wandered in, the first three posts can be found clicking on the following: Frances Hodgson Burnett, an Excellent ReadFrances Hodgson Burnett, Part 2: the Grown-up Books;and Frances Hodgson Burnett, Part 3: The Women.

Frances Hodgson Burnett was one of those people who lived long enough and over a time to experience fashion from the days of whale bone corsets to the nebulous non-supportive skivvies of the 1920’s. One interesting quote which I pulled out off the internet concerned her own wedding dress. The story went that she had a long engagement to her first husband, Swan Burnett, and with the earnings from her writing had a couture wedding dress made for herself on a trip to Paris. They were to be married in Tennessee and she shipped the dress there. For whatever reason, now lost in the telling, it was delayed and despite her urging, he would not postpone the wedding for the arrival of the dress. Writing to a friend about her new husband she had this to say, “Men are so shallow … he does not know the vital importance of the difference between white satin and tulle, and cream coloured brocade …”

Wedding dresses are a significant point of discussion in T. Tembarom. In this novel of 1913, the hero finds his foothold as a cub reporter taking over the society page of a New York newspaper. Temple realizes that learning how to describe the wedding dresses accurately will win the favor of the socialites (and their dressmakers) who he needs to befriend for material. Therefore loving descriptions of him laboring to learn the nips and tucks of white peau de cyne trimmed with duchess [sic] lace and other fashionable wedding garb of the carriage trade ensues and descriptions of finery become his stock in trade. I share a photo of something like what he was talking about below, from the period and for sale online if  you are so inclined. (Clearly a bit worse for wear but only fair to consider it is over 100 years since it was sewn.)

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Worth gown circa 1913

 

Later in the same book, Temple’s fondness for his elderly relative is expressed through the wardrobe he has made for her in London. Below is a bit of an excerpt from the novel:

Mrs. Mellish became possessed of an “idea” To create the costume of an exquisite, early-Victorian old lady in a play done for the most fashionable and popular actor manager of the most “drawing-room” of West End theaters, where one saw royalty in the royal box, with bouquets on every side, the orchestra breaking off in the middle of a strain to play “God Save the Queen,” and the audience standing up as the royal party came in—that was her idea. She carried it out, steering Miss Alicia with finished tact through the shoals and rapids of her timidities. And the result was wonderful; color,—or, rather, shades,—textures, and forms were made subservient by real genius. Miss Alicia—as she was turned out when the wardrobe was complete—might have been an elderly little duchess of sweet and modest good taste in the dress of forty years earlier.

In the subsequent pages of the novel, the fragile and shy Miss Alicia is given confidence on several occasions by her extremely well conceived of and thoughtfully considered clothing. (This speaks to my own belief that women’s clothing – and jewelry – are like armor for battle. I urge – choose wisely!)

Like many of her characters, it is reported that Frances turned to her own sewing skills during leaner periods of her life and, among other things, sewed elaborate outfits for her sons – a la Little Lord Fauntleroy. Her writing is peppered with allusions to line and properly made clothes – dresses of old pillaged and remade resourcefully for deserving young, dewy, emerging impoverished belles. I believe I have mentioned the fact of me and sewing – which is that I can re-attached a credible button but not much beyond that. Therefore the idea of remaking dresses and whipping up new ones wholesale is utterly alien to me and vague notions of Project Runway is all I can summon.

In the novel, Vagabondia, published in 1884 we get a glimpse of even earlier fashion. (This is a slightly different type of book about a happy Bohemian family of artists and their salon of hangers on, both rich and not.) The description of a purple dress as trimmed with swan’s down (really?) gave me pause and sent me running to Google. Evidently swan’s down was used as a less expensive replacement for fur, primarily at the end of the 19th and early 20th century. I will spare you the description of how exactly this is extracted from the unfortunate fowl. It was so popular at one time that swans were in danger of extinction.

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Period blue silk vest trimmed in swans down, via i10.photobucket.com or Pinterest

 

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Victorian Edwardian child’s cape/coat trimmed with swan’s down, for sale on Etsy at the time of writing

 

The concept of a simple white muslin frock with a ribbon belt like the one below comes up in virtually every novel and short story – sometimes as a supporting character, sometimes a main event. In its own way this was the little black dress of its late 19th and early 20th century day – although of course it was the exact opposite as instead of sophistication a la Chanel, it was to show off simplicity and innocence. It was the dress that could be simply sewn and easily afforded, and theoretically allowed the native beauty of the wearer to shine. Burnett has wealthy women of the world who embrace the simple muslin gown as a way of showing their simple underlying beauty – while a clever poor good seamstress could whip one up for herself (or sometimes for a beloved sibling) and unusually beautiful this simple dress could let their beauty shine through – and perhaps even show up some catty, wealthier acquaintances.

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While Frances Hodgson Burnett probably would not have been willing to say that clothing makes the man. However, she had a deep understanding of how critical clothes were to how women defined themselves in the world and used it to a descriptive advantage in her stories. At a time when women didn’t have a lot of tools for defining themselves at their disposal, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s interest in them and use of them in her narrative was not coincidental nor casual. My guess is that she had given a lot of thought and understood it in a personal way.

Frances Hodgson Burnett, Part 3: The Women

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A still from A Lady of Quality, 1913, probably a lost film

 

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Back to my summer reading adventure and the third installment on the adult novels of Frances Hodgson Burnett. (If you have been on vacation and missed the first installments they can be found here and here.) Today I give you another favorite aspect of her writing, the women characters of her books. I have illustrated this post largely with film stills from the various movies made from her books, sadly mostly lost as of right now, as they started to turn up in my research. As an aside, it is worth noting that the first two books I mention below, were best sellers in the years they were published, plays (often adapted by her) as well as early films proliferated from Hodgson Burnett’s work. The books mentioned below are all available for download via Project Gutenberg for free.

Unlike Edna Ferber, who I have offered up as sort of an heir to Hodgson Burnett’s work (I fantasize about a meeting between them, and would be very curious to know if they ever did meet. I imagine the handing of a certain literary baton over lunch in a mutual city somewhere around 1917), Burnett writes about men more, fleshing them out further than Ferber when she did, although somehow a woman generally lurks around and is pivotal to the plot.

For example, T. Tembarom is a man (in fact the unfortunate name of the man) and the main character of the book by the same title. He is in every sense delightful and I loved the few weeks I spent in his head this July. It is hard to write about this book without spoiling the plot (and I urge you to read this book if you are the least interested), but suffice it to say it is a rags to riches story of a type – hard working orphaned boy who has both charm and grit and makes his way off the street and up onto the nascent rungs on the ladder of journalism. There are unexpected turns of event (and thoroughly, utterly, unlikely ones, but that didn’t bother me in the least), and he manages them and all quite adroitly. However, this character and the plot ultimately are entirely driven in his actions for the woman he loves who, by way of a refreshing literary change, is attractive although not beautiful and most of all very wise and, most interesting of all, has an excellent head for business.

Very smart women with good business sense are a theme in Burnett’s books. T. Tembarom notwithstanding, these women are generally unusually beautiful and frequently have a more or less unlimited pocketbook. This does not make them less interesting and in fact makes the most enjoyable plot points possible in The Shuttle. This, my second favorite novel to date, begins with a bit of melodrama concerning a young heiress marrying a rogue of a titled Englishman who more or less locks her away, abuses her and isolates her from her American family. Her younger and very different sister (who clearly today would cheerfully run multi-national corporations if not whole countries) comes to her rescue quite literally – while making an entire village love her and ultimately finds happiness with one of them. I would love to see the 1918 Constance Talmadge version, lobby card set shown below. It is not clear if it is a lost film or not however.

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While these books illustrate the first sort of independence for women of the early part of the last century (contrasting the much more liberated American woman against her British counterpart) they also do a splendid job of embracing that made dash toward the modernity of that period. In my mind this is a lovely race, especially in the United States, headlong into the future during this period. It is a moment when developments like photography give way to moving pictures, and train and liner ship travel becoming prevalent and widely available to a broader part of the population. Cars and bicycles also liberate, literally and figuratively, and everything happens, faster and faster, bigger and better, until about 1918 when the influenza epidemic and WWI knock everything for a loop and it all stops more or less on a dime – or at least this power morphs into war energy and a new period begins, infinitely less hopeful than the previous one.

I remember once standing in front of a Georgia O’Keeffe early charcoal drawing at the Whitney and thinking what it might have been like to be in New York City on a day in 1916, seeing this drawing at a gallery and perhaps later in the day hitting a movie theater later and seen Fatty and Mabel Adrift or perhaps The Mystery of the Leaping Fish (I had just been watching films from 1916 and I can’t remember exactly what film I was thinking of), and how you would have felt like you had indeed entered a new, great, modern age. You were thinking, We are so lucky to live right now! These books and their storylines try to capture some of that enthusiasm and energy. And yet, Frances Hodgson Burnett is careful not to ignore all reality in favor of the vision of a promise land. There are impoverished characters who cannot and will never rise from poverty, the facts of what money cannot buy are recognized, and all not cast aside as some honoring of the old ways and tradition is also embraced.

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Georgia O’Keeffe drawing from 1915, in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum and possibly the one I was looking at that day.

 

Also, Burnett’s world had not quite developed into the world of Edna Ferber (or even Georgia O’Keeffe for that matter) and while the stage is set, poised for the emancipation of women, it has not yet occurred. Women are still dependent on fathers and husband’s for their financial security and their role in society, all society really, is still circumspect. You might push the boundaries here and there but in the end you were still only where first your family money could get you, and then your husband’s fortune. If you were a smart woman with an excellent head for business you applied it via the men in your life and in your advice to them. Men were your only conduit into the broader world, especially that of business. Your choice of a husband being your most important decision about your future – the push and pull of love versus financial well-being is a frequent part of many of these plots.

Finally, I will round out with a mention of yet another female character which drives a narrative, that of a girl named Glad, the protagonist of the novella, The Dawn of a Tomorrow. This is a very different type of story and takes up the Spiritualism vein mentioned in last week’s post. (It can be found here.) While the narrative of the tale is told from the perspective of a middle aged man, it is Glad, a filthy street urchin, who drives the storyline forward. The man in question is saved from suicide by Glad (portrayed above at top and here below, by a much cleaner and more beautiful Mary Pickford in the 1915 film version; one still from the internet and the other from Mary Pickford Rediscovered, by Kevin Brownlow, from the Kim Deitch library) who eventually takes him to meet an equally poor elderly woman who lives in the same slum. However, this woman has a strange, spiritual and somewhat mystical sensibility which imbues all who meet her with a sense of well-being and hope for the future, despite their wretched living circumstances and this is the turning point of the entire plot.

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The Pickford film version (rumored to be extant in a Swedish archive) seems to somewhat bastardize the story, perhaps making Mary/Glad the only dominant female character, pushing everyone else (as to be expected) into secondary roles. The film was remade in 1924 with a different lead and that one appears lost. The Pickford film has glowing period reviews and I very much hope it becomes available.

If you have stuck with me through this third post about Frances Hodgson Burnett and her adult novels, perhaps you will not be entirely disappointed to hear that there will be another (final?) post. That one will tackle the love Burnett lavished on her descriptions of clothing and fashion of her day which has driven me to the internet for illustration and explanation more than once.