The ‘Such Friends’ 2016 American Tour

This past summer, when I went to Pittsburgh, PA, for family events, I was able to bring along ‘Such Friends’ as well.

Although I grew up in the ‘burgh, and lived there most of my life, I had never visited the home of my fellow Pittsburgher, Gertrude Stein. She was born in what was then Allegheny, PA, and now the North Side. Or ‘Nof Side’ as some burghers might say.

It wasn’t hard to find, and on a nice hot day, I first took the Number 16 bus over from town for a visit to the wonderful Andy Warhol Museum [well worth the visit] and then the Number 17 for the few blocks to Western Avenue. A lovely now-gentrified area of the city.

Here’s the house, with its plaque:

stein-house

Here’s a close up of the plaque:

stein-plaque

According to my notes, Daniel and Amelia moved here in 1862 and built two identical houses, one for them and one for his brother’s family. The Stein brothers owned a shop in downtown Pittsburgh, near Fourth and Wood Street, where I taught for years at Point Park University. Here’s the Stein house and the one next door:

stein-neighbors-2

About six months after Gertrude was born, the youngest of their five children, the families had a falling out. Amelia stopped speaking to her sister-in-law and the brothers broke up the business. Gertrude and family upped stakes and moved to San Francisco.

Unlike my students, I am not good at taking a selfie. I tried, but luckily two young women on bikes stopped a few feet away and they generously agreed to help:

me-at-stein-house

I am thrilled to report that the young ladies already knew who Gertrude was, probably because they live just a few doors down.

So, although her partner Alice B. Toklas said that Gertrude should have been born in San Francisco, she was definitely born in Pittsburgh and we are very proud.

The second half of the ‘Such Friends’ tour took me all the way to Shreveport, LA, to speak to the local chapter of the English Speaking Union [ESU]. I had given a talk during our Florida years to the Palm Beach chapter, and I’m now in the organization’s official directory of speakers. I was thrilled to get an email back in May from Mr. Delton Harrison inviting me to come to their first-ever summer meeting.

Their program committee was particularly interested in F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, and Mr. Harrison noticed that I had published a book about their Scribner’s editor, Maxwell Perkins, Manager as Muse. ‘You want to sell some books, don’t you?’ he said, encouragingly. ‘I like the way you think, Mr. Harrison,’ I told him.

So thanks to the Shreveport branch of the ESU, I was treated to two nights in their fair city. Over 100 people showed up at the Shreveport Club for dinner and drinks and me. Although I was without PowerPoint, I did have a grey fedora hat I had found in a Pittsburgh vintage shop, almost identical to the one Perkins wore all the time. No, really, all the time. If you have seen the recent movie, Genius, with Colin Firth portraying him, you may have thought that was odd. But it is indeed true.

Here is a photo of me and my new BFF, Delton Harrison. Thanks for the book plug, Delton:

delton-and-me

I really enjoyed my short stay in Shreveport, and would be delighted to come back next year with some more ‘Such Friends.’

While I was on holiday in Pittsburgh, I also managed to dig in to the biography of John Quinn, published back in the late 1960s. I had read parts of it when I first discovered Quinn during my research, and was disappointed in how the author made this fascinating man with an amazing life seem so boring. I’m almost through the full 662 pages and my opinion hasn’t changed. So don’t bother buying it—wait for mine.

More about Quinn next time.

­­Here is the trailer for Genius: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=89aQvamubxI

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’: 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.