‘Such Friends’: Maxwell Perkins and Thomas Wolfe

Visiting my hometown of Pittsburgh, PA, this summer, I made a point of seeing the new film Genius, starring Colin Firth as Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins, and Jude Law as one of his most unruly writers, Thomas Wolfe. The Look Homeward, Angel Wolfe. Not the other one.

I have been waiting about 30 years for this movie—ever since I did my MBA thesis on Perkins and his work with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Wolfe. My major source was the excellent biography that the film is based on, Max Perkins: Editor of Genius, by A. Scott Berg. Who has also been waiting 30 years for this movie.

As a big fan of all involved, I wasn’t disappointed. When an alert reader first informed me that this movie was being planned a few years ago, Sean Penn was to play Perkins. Good choice.

But Englishman Colin Firth was an even better choice to play this quintessential American. Firth’s accent is not bad, but it is his understatement and even resignation which captures the Perkins I have come to know through my research.

Firth’s fellow Englishman Jude Law exudes the breadth of Wolfe, larger than life and ‘all over the shop,’ as the Irish would say. The best description I’ve read of the North Carolina-born writer was that he was the size of a door. I met the photographer who took a famous photo of Wolfe changing a light bulb without using a step ladder. Law might not be that physically imposing in real life, but he manages to look it here—Acting!

Wolfe with ms crate

Wolfe with the crates of his manuscripts

Genius also captures the time period, although the browns and greys and khakis are a bit underwhelming after a while. My friend who accompanied me also liked the film, but said that it was ‘depressing.’ Of course, all of it takes place during the Depression, so, not surprising.

The women in this ‘literary bromance,’ as it has been described, include Laura Linney [the only American in a major role] who does a good job as the long-suffering Louise Perkins, the editor’s wife. Australian Nicole Kidman plays Wolfe’s mistress, the short, stout, Jewish Mrs. Aline Bernstein. As few people except Wolfe addicts know much about her, Kidman’s portrayal fits well with the film, providing contrast and conflict.

And, in typical Hollywood fashion, most of the story takes place in Manhattan and suburban Connecticut. So it was filmed in London and Manchester, England.

Genius is not going to be in theatres for long, although I hope it comes to the UK—especially the Electric Cinema in Birmingham. The cast may pick up some acting nominations, but without any car chases or explosions, it’s won’t be the breakout hit of the summer.

There is one particular scene, where Perkins is reading the first draft of Wolfe’s book on his commuter train home, as the editor often did, and a very small, sweet, barely noticeable smile forms across Firth’s lips. He recognizes talent.

So if your superheroes are editors and writers—which is probably why you read my blog—I would recommend Genius.

And if you want to know more about Max, Tom, Scott and Ernie, order my book, Manager as Muse from Amazon, and/or have me come speak to your book club.

­­Here is a preview of the film: Genius trailer

To walk with me and the ‘Such Friends’ through Bloomsbury, download the Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group audio walking tour from VoiceMap. Look for our upcoming walking tour about the Paris ‘such friends.’

Next month, more about my work on the biography of John Quinn.

‘Such Friends’: The Quinn family, my brother and me

John Quinn was born in 1870, the first of eight children to Mary Quinlan, who had come to Ohio from Ireland as an orphan almost 20 years before, and James W. Quinn, whose family emigrated from County Limerick around the same time. Only five of the other children survived—a good percentage for those days—one younger boy, James, and four girls, Anne, Jessie, Clara and Julia. I haven’t been able to track down birth dates for any of them.

When my brother Patrick and I went searching for John Quinn in his hometown of Fostoria, Ohio, we naturally started with the graveyard, where we found a large Celtic cross and plain flat headstones for most of the family members.

Here’s me again with the Quinn cross:

Me and Quinn

I was particularly interested in the Quinn plot because family deaths are what sparked John’s first trip to Ireland, leading to all of his other international adventures.

Quinn’s father died in either 1896 or 1897,

James W Quinn

when Quinn would have been in his late twenties, a successful lawyer in New York City with law degrees from Georgetown and Harvard Universities. According to one report, he took his father’s death quite hard, perhaps because he spent most of his time in New York rather than with the family back in Fostoria.

Right after the turn of the century, his mother,

Mary Quinn

 

and one or two of his sisters,

Annie

Jessie

died within either ‘days’ or ‘months’ of each other, depending on which source you believe.

Clara became an Ursuline nun, so might be buried with her order, and Julia married a local druggist, Will Anderson.

Julia Quinn Anderson

Have no idea what happened to his brother, James, but it sure looks as though he died:

James

One thing Patrick and I noticed was that John Quinn’s headstone had been there a lot longer than the others:

John

So he was probably first in and the others, whether deceased before or after him in 1924, were moved there later.

The deaths of the women in his family so close together is what motivated John to travel to Ireland for the first time, in the summer of 1902, when he met William Butler Yeats, then 37, Lady Augusta Gregory, 50, and other members of the Irish Literary Renaissance. This was the beginning of his life as a supporter of the arts and friend to the artists of his time.

After my Dad died in 1992, I too went to Ireland in the summer, 90 years later. It was my second trip, and I took part in an archaeological dig. ‘To find out if your roots are brown or red,’ as one friend told me.

On that trip I met Tony and the Dixons, the beginning of my life as an international traveller and Irish wife.

After visiting the graveyard, Patrick and I stopped in the Foster’s Museum on Main Street:

Foster's museum

and picked up a DVD about Fostoria that I have yet to watch.

It was created by Leonard Skonecki, so my brilliant brother decided to Google ‘Fostoria Historical Society,’ and was able to leave a message that we were researching Quinn and wanted to talk to him.

After we had seen what we needed to in Fostoria, we headed down the road to Tiffin, Ohio, where the Quinn family lived when John was born. They moved soon after, but we figured we might find something.

Halfway there, Patrick’s in-car phone rang. It was Mr. Skonecki! He was very helpful and suggested that we forget Tiffin and high tail it over to the Fostoria library. He told us which librarians are in charge of the Quinn collection, and gave us his blessing to use his name. Thank you, Mr. Skonecki!

Patrick did a quick U-turn in the middle of OH State Route 18 East and back to Fostoria we went.

The Lovely Helpful Staff of the Fostoria library showed us binders filled with papers and clippings and letters and print outs of emails, all related to Quinn. And then pointed to the clock to emphasize that we only had about one hour to deal with it before they closed.

So Patrick and I spent an hour in a whirlwind of skimming, copying, collating, and stapling. I came home with a whole pile of stuff to go through at my leisure.

One of the most interesting finds was an article, ‘Quinn—Unsung Fostorian,’ in a publication dated July of 1972. With this picture. Seems as though something has happened to the Quinn Celtic cross since then:

Quinn celtic cross3

Next time I’ll tell you what I found thanks to the Lovely Helpful Staff in the New York Public Library. And after that, about Quinn’s relationship with Charles Foster’s daughter Annie…

This year I’ll be piecing together my planned biography of John Quinn (1870-1924). Read more about him on the link to your right: ‘I want to tell you about an amazing man.’

Manager as Muse explores Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins’ work with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe and is available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions.

To walk with me and the ‘Such Friends’ through Bloomsbury, download the Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group audio walking tour from VoiceMap.

‘Such Friends’: John Quinn, my brother and me

Last June, 2015, I visited the States with the express intention of researching John Quinn. This made my time with friends, family and the Lovely, Helpful Staff of the New York Public Library mostly deductible. [H & R Block agreed.]

My wonderful brother, Patrick, who has absolutely no interest in early 20th century writers and artists socializing in groups, generously volunteered to spend a day driving me around Fostoria, Ohio, a few hours north of where he lives in Columbus, and where Quinn grew up. God bless ya, Patrick.

Birthday boy with grandchildren

My brother celebrating his birthday with two of his gorgeous grandchildren, Avery and Finn. Beer and cake—Yum!

So we took off in the morning in his Ford Explorer, with a good map and a print out of my notes. We started at St. Wendelin church because Quinn’s mother and paternal grandparents were Irish Catholic immigrants. The Lovely, Helpful Staff pulled open an old index card drawer and dug out a typed card that showed where the Quinn plot is.

The graveyard is a few miles outside town, so–lunch first! We headed for the center of square, flat, sunny Fostoria, to pig out on burgers in a great diner.

Quinn’s father, James, was a baker in the town, and in the diner we found photos of a bakery from that time period.

Fostoria bakery 2

M & M Bakery and Restaurant, Fostoria, Ohio

We walked around the town, looking for buildings that would have been there when Quinn was growing up, and found quite a few. This ‘Andes block’ looked particularly promising:

Quinn block

Main Street, Fostoria, Ohio

Only later, when I was going through the pictures, did I notice that the building directly next to it says ‘Quinn Block’ on it. Crack detective work on my part!

In my notes for 1878, I found that Quinn’s father had indeed added two stories above their bakery and restaurant as living quarters for his family.

Quinn probably went to St. Wendelin’s school, a few years after the frame structure was built in 1873. But he graduated from the public school, Fostoria High School, in 1887. I did the same, switching from Catholic to public school as a teenager, because St. Elizabeth didn’t have lockers. Not sure if that was his reason.

In high school, Quinn was known as an ‘avid reader,’ like me. But he also started collecting first edition books, after he ‘gave my marbles and bicycle away,’ as he remembered later.

Fostoria was named after Charles Foster who helped to found the town in 1854, a few years after Quinn’s paternal grandparents and orphaned mother had moved to Ohio from Ireland. Foster’s son became Governor of the state twice, and, in 1888 was made Secretary of the Treasury in the administration of President Benjamin Harrison. Secretary Charles Foster, Jr., invited his young protégé, 18-year-old John Quinn, to leave the University of Michigan after just one year to become his private secretary in Washington, DC.

Quinn’s future was tightly entwined with the Foster family, starting with this move to the nation’s capital to embark on the legal career that supported him and his art collection for the rest of his life.

But we will see that Quinn always stayed in touch with his family in Fostoria and visited quite a few times. Although, according to the bicentennial history of the town,

He was remembered in town for his regal bearing and his unusual style of dress, often making him look out of place in a country town where clothing was largely homespun and overalls. He felt that the Midwest was very backward and provincial, and as a result found little in common with his old friends.’

johnquinn

John Quinn,  looking regal

After strolling around downtown Fostoria, Patrick and I drove to the St. Wendelin parish cemetery, a ways out of town, and it wasn’t hard to find the Quinn plot. There are markers for his parents and all his siblings. The deaths of his mother and sister so close together is what lead him to explore his Irish roots in his early thirties.

When he died in 1924, only 54 years old, he was brought back to St. Wendelin’s:

Me and Quinn

John Quinn and me in St. Wendelin cemetery

Next time, I’ll tell you more about Quinn’s relationships with his family—and Charles Foster’s daughter…

This year I’ll be piecing together my planned biography of John Quinn (1870-1924). Read more about him on the link to your right: I Want to Tell You About an Amazing Man.

Manager as Muse explores Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins’ work with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe and is available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions. Manager as Muse.

To walk with me and the ‘Such Friends’ through Bloomsbury, download the Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group audio walking tour from VoiceMap.

‘Such Friends’:  John Quinn and me

Some of you are familiar with my near-obsession with John Quinn (1870-1924), the Irish-American art collector [to put it mildly] who appeared Zelig-like in all my research into early 20th century writers’ salons [Cf. ‘I want to tell you about an amazing man,’ on the right].

Last summer, on my trip to the States, I spent a tax-deductible day with the helpful staff at the New York Public Library, going through his papers. And thanks to my wonderful brother, Patrick J. Donnelly, we spent a whole day driving around Ohio where Quinn was born and grew up.

I owe it to all those who helped me, and to John Quinn, to finally embark on my long-planned work on his life and his role in the birth of modernism.

For the past 15 months in this blog I’ve been chronicling ‘my writers’ with stories of what they were doing before and during their times as ‘such friends’ hanging out together in living rooms and cafes in Ireland, England, France and America. My original plan was to keep going and tell the stories of what happened to them after their time in these groups. Let me know if you are heartbroken that those blogs are now on hold.

Instead, I am going to chronicle my search for Quinn. I could just write and self-publish a standard biography of him on Amazon. But—why? He’s an interesting guy, but there is a bigger picture.

Quinn was both an observer of and participant in the Irish Literary Renaissance, the Armory Show and the publication of James Joyce’s Ulysses. He was in Dublin, London, Paris and New York when the salons were happening. What a point of view!

And, even more important, he supported the arts and the artists. In unusually creative ways. I think we can learn a lot from him that would help today’s WB Yeats, Virginia Woolf, Gertrude Stein and Dorothy Parker. And Joyce.

Come with me on my journey. John Quinn and me. We are ‘such friends.’

johnquinn

     John Quinn      1870-1924

 

 

 

At the New York World offices in midtown Manhattan, on August 5th, 1927…

 

…journalist Heywood Broun, 38, is working on his column for the next day. He knows what he has to write.

For the past few months Broun, along with some of his Algonquin Round Table lunch buddies, and other liberal writers, have been championing the cause of two Italian immigrants, Nicola Sacco, 36, and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, 39, who have been sentenced to death.

They were charged seven years ago with being involved in a Massachusetts robbery where a security guard and paymaster were murdered. As the case has dragged on, it has become a cause celebre for liberals in America and major European capitals, who feel the fishmonger and the cobbler are being prosecuted just for being foreigners living in the US.

Broun’s friend Robert Benchley, 38, has given a deposition stating that he had been told that the judge in the case had made prejudicial comments about the defendants. But it was inadmissible because it was hearsay.

Under public pressure, the judge put together a commission to review his judgment and death sentence, headed by the president of Harvard University, Broun and Benchley’s own alma mater. The commission gave in and supported the judge’s decision.

So the immigrants are scheduled for execution later this month, and Broun’s wife, journalist Ruth Hale, 40, and other Algonquin friends—including Benchley, Dorothy Parker, about to turn 34, poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, 35, and novelist John Dos Passos, 31–are planning to march in Boston next week.

Broun has kept Sacco and Vanzetti’s story alive in his column, but his bosses at the World are not happy. He should be very careful about what he writes now. Broun could lose his job, and, because of the three-year non-compete clause that he signed, he would be out of work for quite a while, with a wife and son, Heywood Hale, 9, to support.

He knows that. He writes,

 ‘It is not every prisoner who has the president of Harvard University throw on the switch for him…’

sacco-and-vanzetti Boston Globe

This is the last in this series about the writers before and during their times as ‘such friends.’ Check back soon for more stories from the early 20th century.

Manager as Muse explores Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins’ work with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe and is available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions.

To walk with me and the ‘Such Friends’ through Bloomsbury, download the Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group audio walking tour from VoiceMap. Look for our upcoming walking tour about the Paris ‘such friends.’

At the New York Tribune offices, West 40th Street, Manhattan, in the summer of 1920…

FPA [Franklin Pierce Adams, 40] is working on his column, The Conning Tower. Known as ‘the comma hunter of Park Row,’ FPA has been amazed at all the errors he has found in this year’s hit novel, This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald, 25, and he has been highlighting them regularly in his column since the book first came out in March.

Who edited this mess?! Scribners is usually known for more professional output.

FPA’s lunch buddy from the Algonquin Hotel, New York World columnist Heywood Broun, 33, has joined the party. Between the two of them they are turning the search for mistakes into a scavenger hunt for their Manhattan readers.

This_Side_of_Paradise_dust_jacket

Fitzgerald’s debut novel from Scribners, with all the mistakes

Again this year, we’ll be telling stories about these groups of ‘such friends,’ during and after their times together.

Manager as Muse explores Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins’ work with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe and is available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions.

To walk with me and the ‘Such Friends’ through Bloomsbury, download the Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group audio walking tour from VoiceMap. Look for our upcoming walking tour about the Paris ‘such friends.’

At the Lyric Theatre in the West 40s, Manhattan, November, 1925…

 

…playwright George S Kaufman, about to turn 36, thinks the new song for the musical, The Cocoanuts, he is writing with Morry Ryskind, just turned 30, is silly.

He has brought in Ryskind to help him tame the stars, the Marx Brothers. They are constantly late for rehearsal, and Kaufman has always found them to be totally unpredictable. Groucho, 35, has made it clear that he doesn’t like Kaufman’s wife, Bea, 31, and Chico, 38, is a disgusting compulsive gambler. Kaufman himself is a regular at his Round Table friends’ Thanatopsis Literary and Inside Straight Club poker game, but he certainly isn’t addicted to it like Chico.

Now the composer, Irving Berlin, 37, who Kaufman has enjoyed working with in the past, has brought them this song. Kaufman does not want to include it.

I’ll be loving you, always.’

How stupid is that for an opening line? No one is going to believe that lyric, thinks Kaufman. You might as well say,

I’ll be loving you, Thursday…’

The song is out.

marx-brothers-the-cocoanuts

Chico, Groucho, and Harpo Marx in The Cocoanuts

Again this year, we’ll be telling stories about these groups of ‘such friends,’ during and after their times together.

Manager as Muse explores Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins’ work with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe and is available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions.

To walk with me and the ‘Such Friends’ through Bloomsbury, download the Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group audio walking tour from VoiceMap. Look for our upcoming walking tour about the Paris ‘such friends.’

In mid-town Manhattan, fall, 1924…

Harold Ross, 31, is working on the prospectus for his new project, a weekly magazine for New Yorkers.

For the past year or so, he and his wife, reporter Jane Grant, 32, have been badgering everyone they know with a dummy of their proposed first issue, trying to scare up some funding. Finally, Harold’s friend from The Stars & Stripes newspaper in France during the war, New York World writer Alexander Woollcott, 37, has finally come through with an introduction to Raoul Fleischmann, 38, heir to the yeast fortune.

Now he’s got to pitch the idea. Really pitch it. Ross knows what he wants to say. But to give the project credibility, he has been advised to make use of the writers he lunches with at the Algonquin Hotel almost every day.

He can’t include Robert Benchley, just turned 34, because he is on contract to Life magazine. He really shouldn’t list his other Stars & Stripes buddies, columnist FPA [Franklin Pierce Adams, about to turn 43] and sports writer Heywood Broun, 35, because their employer the World newspaper, would not be happy.

Who’s left? Are they really his ‘advisors’? Can he claim that? Ross decides to take a risk:

Announcing a New Weekly Magazine:

The New Yorker:

The New Yorker will be a reflection in word and pictures of metropolitan life.

It will be human. Its general tenor will be one of gaiety, wit and satire,

but it will be more than a jester.

It will not be what is commonly called radical or highbrow.

It will be what is commonly called sophisticated,

in that it will assume a reasonable degree of enlightenment

on the part of its readers.

It will hate bunk…

The New Yorker will appear early in February.

The price will be:  $5 a yr.

15 cents a copy

Address:  25 West 45th Street, New York City

Advisory Editors,

Ralph Barton

George S. Kaufman [34]

Heywood Broun

Alice Duer Miller

Marc Connelly [34]

Dorothy Parker [31]

Edna Ferber

Laurence Stallings

Rea Irvin

Alexander Woollcott

HW Ross, Editor”

Original_New_Yorker_cover

The first cover of The New Yorker

Again this year, we’ll be telling stories about these groups of ‘such friends,’ during and after their times together.

Manager as Muse explores Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins’ work with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe and is available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions.

To walk with me and the ‘Such Friends’ through Bloomsbury, download the Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group audio walking tour from VoiceMap. Look for our upcoming walking tour about the Paris ‘such friends.’

At the Court Theatre in Chicago, February 20, 1921…

…playwright Marc Connelly, 30, is feeling excited.

Dulcy, his first collaboration with George S. Kaufman, 31, also from western Pennsylvania, is about to open in its tryout before Broadway.

They had written it at night, after working their day jobs on Manhattan newspapers, and based it on a character used in the column of their Algonquin Round Table lunch buddy, FPA [Franklin Pierce Adams, 39].

A week ago Dulcy had been a hit in Indianapolis. The lead Lynn Fontanne, 33, has star written all over her.

But his new writing partner, Kaufman, is a wreck. At dinner tonight he said to Connelly,

We’ve been kidding ourselves and might as well admit it.’

If Kaufmann is this nervous when things are going well, Connelly thinks, what is he going to be like to work with when they don’t have a hit?!

dulcy-poster Pgh playwrights co.

Poster for a recent production of Dulcy by the Pittsburgh Playwrights Co.

Again this year, we’ll be telling stories about these groups of ‘such friends,’ during and after their times together.

Manager as Muse explores Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins’ work with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe and is available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions.

To walk with me and the ‘Such Friends’ through Bloomsbury, download the Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group audio walking tour from VoiceMap. Look for our upcoming walking tour about the Paris ‘such friends.’

At 412 West 47th Street, ‘Hell’s Kitchen,’ in Manhattan, September 1922…

…New York Times drama critic Alexander Woollcott, 35, is looking forward to the big housewarming he has planned with his new roommates, Harold Ross, 29, and his wife, Jane Grant, 30.

Last year, Harold and Jane were going over blueprints for their new home, and Alex had burst in and said,

I’m joining this little intrigue.’

Since then he’s enjoyed the planning and remodelling. He owns 25% of the place, but likes making 100% of the decisions. Except the domestic part. That’s left to Jane.

All involved had agreed with Woollcott’s demand that any of the Algonquin Round Table would be welcome at any time for any meal. Why not?, he thought.

Their ‘Vicious Circle’ friends Dorothy Parker, 29, and Harpo Marx, 33—Alex just loves Harpo—have rented a carousel for the day, to keep the kids happy.

But Alex isn’t happy about some of the people Harold and Jane have included on the guest list. He’s thinking he just might boycott.

412-14_W_47th_Street

412 West 47th Street, which sold for $2.7 million in 2013

Again this year, we’ll be telling stories about these groups of ‘such friends,’ during and after their times together.

Manager as Muse explores Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins’ work with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe and is available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions.

To walk with me and the ‘Such Friends’ through Bloomsbury, download the Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group audio walking tour from VoiceMap. Look for our upcoming walking tour about the Paris ‘such friends.’