July 2010


by Leslie H. Nicoll

The first cover in the Vintage series features the painting “Football Hero” by J.C. Leyendecker, completed in 1916. I thought readers might be interested in learning a bit more about the artist’s life and work on this, the anniversary of his death in 1951. Leyendecker was the pre-eminent illustrator of the early twentieth century, painting more than 400 magazine covers and hundreds of advertising images for diverse clients including Cluett, Peabody & Co. (Arrow Shirts), Interwoven Socks, and the US military. His paintings are iconic and instantly recognizable even now, a century after he first came to prominence.

J.C. Leyendecker in 1895

Joseph Christian Leyendecker—Joe to his friends and J.C. professionally—was born in Montabaur, Germany in 1874. He was the third of four children. In 1882 the family emigrated to the United States and chose to live in Chicago. His father worked in a brewery owned by a relative and from the limited information available, it sounds like they quickly settled into a comfortable, middle-class life

The three Leyendecker boys were all artistic. Older brother Adolph moved to Kansas City, Missouri, in 1894 and established himself as a stained glass artist. J.C.’s first commission came at age 11, when he designed a beer bottle label for his great-uncle’s brewery. At 15, he became an apprentice at J. Manz & Company, a Chicago engraving firm, eventually becoming a Staff Illustrator. He also enrolled in evening classes at the Art Institute of Chicago. He worked hard and saved his money and in 1896 traveled to Paris, with his younger brother Franz (more commonly known as Frank or F.X.), to study at the Académie Julian. They spent two years in France, refining their skills, rubbing shoulders with other artists, and, sadly for Frank, acquiring a serious drug and alcohol habit that would eventually kill him at the age of 45.

Vintage Leyendecker

J.C. and Frank returned to the US and set up shop as artists and illustrators, first in Chicago and then in New York, where they moved in 1900. They rented a shared studio on 32nd Street and a large townhouse in Washington Square. Their sister Mary lived with them and took on the role of hostess and housekeeper in lieu of a career or family of her own.

Charles Beach (cover image from the book by Cutler and Cutler)

Busy as they were with their advertising and cover commissions, J.C. and Frank needed models and a regular parade of good looking young men made their way to their studio door. In 1903, Charles A. Beach walked into the studio and into J.C.’s life—never to leave. Beach became J.C.’s model, business manager, lover, and life partner. They were inseparable from the moment they set eyes on each until Leyendecker’s death, forty-eight years later. J.C. was 29 when they met; Beach was 17.

Shortly after meeting the Leyendecker brothers, Beach moved into a small apartment on 31st Street, one block from the studio. In 1910, the Leyendeckers took a step up, renting a large studio in the Beaux Arts building at 40th Street and Sixth Avenue. Beach established his residence in the studio and became its manager. Joe, Frank, Mary and their father Peter had moved out of the city in 1905 and were living in New Rochelle, although from the sound of it, J.C. stayed most of the time at the studio with Beach. In 1914, J.C. and Beach designed and built a fourteen room home on a nine acre estate on Mount Tom Road in New Rochelle. Beach officially moved in in 1916, shortly after father Peter’s death.

Like his brother, Frank was also gay but there is no record of him having a regular lover or long-term relationship. Interestingly, he was the one who hired Beach but he probably came to regret that decision. He and Mary both resented the influence that Beach had over J.C. There was a family falling out in 1923 with both Frank and Mary moving out of the Mount Tom house; Mary’s final act of defiance was to spit in Charles Beach’s face. Frank was dead a year later; Mary spent the rest of her life at the Martha Washington Hotel in New York City, dying in 1957.

Brian Donlevy

While Beach was J.C.’s most frequent and favorite model, he did paint other men, including Brian Donlevy and Neil Hamilton, both of whom went on to careers in the movies and television. Donlevy appeared in numerous Arrow collar ads and although it is not documented, I think he may also be the model in “Football Hero.” Hamilton also was the model in several Arrow advertisements and was the Doughboy (World War I soldier) in the 1918 Thanksgiving cover for the Saturday Evening Post. Leyendecker later gave Hamilton the painting—an unusual and gracious gesture on his part. Leyendecker only gave away two Post cover paintings in his life and never sold any of his original paintings—just the images. As an aside, readers may remember Hamilton as Police Commissioner Gordon in the Batman TV series in the 1960s. He appeared in all 120 episodes.

Neil Hamilton as Police Commissioner Gordon

Leyendecker was friends with many fellow artists and illustrators, the most famous of whom is probably Norman Rockwell. Depending on which biography you read, Rockwell was either a conniving businessman who stole Leyendecker’s ideas and commissions or he was a lifelong friend who considered J.C. a mentor. I prefer to believe the latter. Rockwell lived near Leyendecker in New Rochelle; they collaborated professionally and Rockwell was a pall bearer at Leyendecker’s funeral. Why then is Rockwell better known and well remembered? Probably because he has wives, children, and grandchildren to perpetuate his memory and legacy. J.C., Frank, and Mary were all unmarried and childless; Adolph had two children who likely never met their famous uncle since there seems to have been a family rift that occurred when he moved to Kansas City. There is speculation that it was because both of his brothers were gay but there is no way to determine if this is true.

An elegant lifestyle depicted in art

While Leyendecker was successful from the minute of his first commission at age 11, probably the pinnacle of his career came during the 1920s. His pictures, and those of his contemporaries such as Cy ­­Phillips, were everywhere, and illustrated a lifestyle that was emulated by many and imagined for more. In an interesting intersection of life and art, Leyendecker and Beach became the “it” couple, attracting people to their New York City haunts and later their home. Beach became known for organizing popular and risqué parties at the Mount Tom estate that were de rigueur among the celebrity and social set. Walter Winchell, the gossip columnist, was a regular, and his reports of the goings-on helped set fashion trends, smoking and drinking fads, and even deigned which automobiles acceptable—J.C. drove a Pierce Arrow. No one reported about their relationship, however, even though J.C. and Charles were clearly lovers and affectionate with each other in front of friends. How were they able to maintain such media silence? Apparently the simple threat of, “You won’t be invited back” was sufficient.

Charles Beach

The Roaring Twenties ended with a crash and Leyendecker and Beach also began to scale back their opulent lifestyle. Changes in the entertainment and publishing industries also took a toll and by the late 1930s, commissions for illustrated magazine covers were dwindling—not because Leyendecker’s talent was diminishing (or Rockwell’s fame eclipsed his, as some have suggested) but rather, because photography had reached a point of being faster, easier, cheaper and most importantly: more popular. The golden age of illustration, which lasted from the turn of the century until the mid-thirties, had passed. Leyendecker still held the distinction of being its premier artist.

The Mount Tom Estate

Charles Beach, up close and personal

For the last decade of their lives together, J.C. and Charles lived a quiet, modest life—a radical change from the lavish Twenties but also a reflection of a nation struggling with a depression, war, and its aftermath. J.C. died on July 25, 1951, in his lover’s arms. The post-mortem diagnosis was an acute cerebral occlusion. Charles followed him in death six months later. J.C. is buried in the Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx. The location of Charles’ remains is unknown.

Upon his death, Leyendecker had instructed Beach to “destroy everything”; Charles began to do this, getting rid of letters, diaries, correspondence, and records. Fortunately, he realized that burning J.C.’s paintings and sketches would be a serious mistake and saved those from the bonfire. Later, he sold many at a yard sale with the most expensive painting fetching seven dollars. After Beach’s death, Mary inherited what was left—sixty paintings that were eventually donated to San Joaquin Pioneer and Historical Museum (now the Haggin Museum) in California.

I wonder how many of those yard sale paintings are tucked away in attics, waiting to be rediscovered. My attic has been well and thoroughly cleaned, but I can dream for others…

Joseph Christian Leyendecker
March 23, 1874 – July 25, 1951

Sources:

Cutler, L.S. & Cutler, J.C. (2008). J.C. Leyendecker: American Imagist. New York: Abrams.

Wikipedia entries on J.C. Leyendecker, Norman Rockwell, Brian Donlevy and Neil Hamilton

IMDb entries on Brian Donlevy and Neil Hamilton

Or – as some might say, not the Good Word.This post may be offensive to some, so don’t click below the link if a certain C word offends you.

There’s been an interesting discussion on one of the author’s groups I belong to. It’s about a well-oiled subject which is brought up from time to time and that’s the usage of slang/coarse/”insulting” words for genitalia to describe genitalia.

One of the words discussed was the big “C word”. Now, that’s not a word you’ll ever hear me say. I flinch when I hear someone say it, and I don’t know why exactly, conditioning, whatever. I don’t have a problem with many words, although I don’t swear a good deal unless very cross.

Someone asked where the word came from – so I duly popped along to the two bibles I use for etymology, namely etymology online and the Oxford English Dictionary.

Here’s what they said. (more…)

Last summer at a yard sale,  the corner of an old book caught my eye.  Old books always do.   To me, there are few things that tell more about a time than the facts and ideas that people saw fit put in print.  Buildings, maybe, as they’re even more lasting.   I dug the little volume out from under a bunch of plastic robots, saw 1907 on the cover, and bought it right away, but I didn’t actually look at until weeks later—the short Canadian summer is for gardening, not browsing century-old reference books.

 But when the weather started closing in toward autumn, the little book became a fascinating time capsule. Fact #1:   They liked long titles that told you exactly what to expect:  1907 C. Regenhardt International Guide for Merchants, Manufacturers, & Exporters:  A Directory of the best accredited and most reliable firms of Banks, Bankers, Commission and Forwarding Agents, Lawyers, Notaries, Solicitors and all the Consultants of the Globe, Containing also many commercial Statistics and indicating for each place of any importance a trustworthy firm that gives direct information.

 Yes.  That is all on the title page.

 This book has all kinds of businesses and brand names, also currency equivalents for European and US money, the various calendars (European, Greek/Russian, Jewish, and Muslim) various advertisements (it has a little pencil loop and an accordian-fold pocket on the back cover, that still has a bookmark-size slip advertises “CP Goerz prismatic binoculars, (theatre and miltary styles”).

 My favorite ads so far are for the “Ideal” type-bar typewriter–it “causes sensation!”  (Especially, I guess, if you get your finger caught in the type-bar…)  and the Frister & Rossmann Schnellschreibmaschine (quick-writing machine, sort of a high-rise typewriter.)  The technology really has evolved in the last 102 years. I look at these ads sitting here beside my notebook computer, and the mind boggles.    The F&R ad didn’t photograph well, but type-writing machines were a hot item–Blickensderfer has one, too:

Ja, das ist ein Schreibmaschine!

The foreign currency exchange table is wonderful.  One silver piaster in Arabia was worth 3 marks, 52 pfennigs, or 89 cents American, or 3 shillings sixpence.   One gold Balboa in Panama was worth 4 shillings, 2.5 cents, or $1 American, or 4 marks, 19 pfennigs.   In Siam—shades of Anna and the King–1 tikal was worth 60 cents, or 2 shillings sixpence.

 Worried about European taxes on your merchandise?  The rates are listed for all bills of exchange, for dozens of countries.  You can check the size of your market—for instance, Hungary’s population is listed at 19,254,559, with an area of 125,000 square miles.   The minutiae are amazing. 

In honor of Hercule Poirot--All About Belgium!

And it’s a business directory, so of course it took advertising.  Got a cold?  Try the Bath of Ems, Germany, best cure of catarrhs of the Respiratory organs, the digistive (sic) organs, the Female organs, Urinary Systems, & Rheumatism, Gout, Asthma. Season from 1st May to 15th October.. Drinking & Baths Cure, Inhalation, Pneumatic Chambers, &c.    Get on the road without a horse or carriage with a Brennabor bicycle, Germany’s best, from the Brennabor Works in Brandenburg, Berlin, or Hamburg.  Oldest and largest cycle works of the Continent!  Need Licht? You can find the most up-to-date modern gaslight systems installed by Louis Runge, whose business may be found on Landsbergerstrasse in Berlin. 

 The typefaces are old-fashioned, perfectly suited to the antique illustrations—which were up-to-the-minute modern at the time.  Even the owner’s name, in old browned-out ink, is in an elegant European script… Thank you, EJ Beammon.  He must have dealt with Germany quite a bit–the book falls open to those pages, and some are dog-eared.  Not surprising–this area was settled by German farmers; many old people still speak it as their preferred language, and until WWI the town was Berlin, Ontario.  There’s only one disappointment – Mr. Beammon never used the blank memo pages at the end of the book, so his name is all the record he left of his activities in 1907.

 I wish I’d had this when writing Gentleman’s Gentleman–lots of hotels all over the world, and unquestionable authenticity.  And.. yep, the Neil House Hotel in Columbus, Ohio is listed here.  I was there once, back in the 80’s, for a sci-fi convention.  The Neil is gone now, torn down a couple of years later.  In 1907 it was ritzy enough to get a listing in this book.

 It’s strange and wonderful to hold, in my own hands, a book that might have belonged to my Gents characters.  It would be just the thing for a traveler who might want to find a bank or an embassy in a hurry.   The only risk, I think, would be allowing my enthusiasm to create an info-dump.  Sherlock Holmes might ask Watson to check the train schedule in his Baedeker, but he’d hardly want to know what patent nostrums were advertised in the back pages.  

I’ve always loved historical fiction, but in school history was one of the most deadly boring subjects.  I think that was mainly due to how it was taught, all memorization of dates and battles, nothing about how people actually lived.   It’s a shame that so little has been done to bring the past alive, to make things real to students.  I’m probably excessively optimistic, but I have to hope that if people realized how many of the stupid mistakes we see today have been repeated over and over, there might be a chance of avoiding a few of them.

Or maybe not… still, I’m staying on the lookout for tattered old books—there are others I’ve snagged at library sales—and having looked at Regenhardt again  I may have to nudge Lord Robert and Jack Darling to get into trouble so I can use some of these interesting gadgets. 

If you’re working on something that needs info I may have here, feel free to drop me an email!

When people ask me what I write, I usually say: “Penny dreadfuls. But they cost more than a penny and aren’t dreadful.”

A historian might point out that this statement is not really correct (and some may argue that, indeed, my writing is quite dreadful), because penny dreadfuls firmly belong in the 19th century, while I aim for an 18th century feeling. Amandine de Villeneuve’s woodcut-like illustrations for my books are in the style of the 18th century, too. And in the 18th century, it was the chapbook that ruled the readership.

Penny dreadfuls were stories published in parts over a course of several weeks, costing one penny each. And for that, the 19th century teenager got Adventure! Drama! Swordfighting! Highwaymen! Pirates! Vampires! A damsel in distress! Spring-heeled Jack and Knights of the Road!

The Victorians did a pretty thorough job at cleaning up the act of the “Penny Merriments”. There was also a shift in the readership. While chapbooks had been read by all ages and classes, penny dreadfuls were mostly aimed at male teenagers with a working class background.

The origins of the chapbook can be tracked back as early as the 1600s, and it could be just about anything from religious pamphlet to printed gallows speech to folk tale to coverage of the Great Fire of London. The natural lifespan of a chapbook was short; due to its very poor paper- and print-quality, it usually ended as toilet paper. It was intended for quick consumption and disposal. As a consequence, much of our knowledge is guesswork. Luckily, Samuel Pepys was an avid collector, so at least a few copies survived the centuries. His collection is held at Magdalene College in Cambridge.

Given the nature of many chapbooks, it’s not surprising that Samuel Pepys, naval administrator, diarist and Lothario was so fond of them.  To quote Steve from “Coupling”:  “When man invented fire, he didn’t say, “Hey, let’s cook.”  He said, “Great, now we can see naked bottoms in the dark!” As soon as Caxton invented the printing press, we were using it to make pictures of, hey, naked bottoms!”

Some months ago, the national press reported of a rare and exciting find:

STASH OF ‘SAUCY’ LITERATURE UNCOVERED AT HISTORIC LAKE DISTRICT HOUSE

“They often contained rather saucy and even rude tales, which were found to be very amusing by their 18th century readers.”

Here’s an excerpt from “The Crafty Chambermaid”, dating back to 1770; the tale of a chambermaid who tricks a young man into marrying her/of a London merchant who tries to romantically pursue a chambermaid (it depends on one’s point of view, I suppose…)

The Merchant he softly crept into the room,
And on the bedside he then sat himself down,
Her knees through the Counterpane he did embrace,
Did Bess in the pillow did hide her sweet face.

He stript of his cloaths and leaped into bed
Saying now lovely creature for thy maidenhead,
She strug led and strove and seemed to be shy
He said divine beauty I pray now comply.

Love and lust, presented in a raunchy, saucy and rude manner – what sells today also sold back in the 18th century. From erotic to pornographic: the chapbook catered to a great variety of needs and interests. And as this is the Macaronis-blog, the question begs to be asked: were there chapbooks with gay, lesbian or bisexual content as well?

Answer: as with so many details in history, we can only guess. There are some indications that such content was published, but one has to read between the lines, and there’s a significant difference in the way same-sex experiences were portrayed: what might have been acceptable for women was absolutely taboo for men.

Sexuality between women often featured in heterosexual erotica and pornography. However, this wasn’t a portrayal of sexual orientation, it wasn’t about lesbian or bisexual women: the ladies would always end up with the dashing hero in the end. The stories left no doubt that they were 100% heterosexual, and any same-sex experience only served the purpose of preparing a woman for “the real thing”, as an introduction to sexuality and preparation for her future (male) lover, often with the help of a more experienced woman.

In her book “Lascivious Bodies – A Sexual History of the Eighteenth Century”***, Julie Peakman writes:

“Thus, in erotica, the reader is guided through the rules of sexual initiation in a three-stage process: masturbation, lesbian sex and, finally, heterosexual intercourse.”

Women were expected to be loving and affectionate, so being loving and affectionate in public was normal. Correspondence between women that we’d think to be “love letters” today were not unusual. Society would often turn a blind eye when it came to very close friendships which may or may not have been of a sexual nature as well, especially if the ladies were discrete. The case was different for women who tried to wear the breeches (especially if those were equipped with artificial “yards”!) and threatened the superior status of men in society, though. But that’s for another day and article.

Now, even if scenes of lesbian sex were written with the erotic imagination of male readers in mind, I think it’s pretty safe to assume that they were consumed and enjoyed by female readers as well. In any case it was much easier for a woman to get her hands on such content than for a man to find erotica involving male-male sex.

Homosexual men – “sodomites” – were almost universally despised. In the hierarchy of society, they were at the very bottom. Sodomy was a crime punishable by death, so it would have been very risky to publish erotic material which portrayed male-male love in a positive light.  “The most detestably sin of buggery” was sometimes brought up in a satirical way, but the connotation was always negative.

However – where there are customers, there are suppliers. Morals are good, but so is money. If a business could be made, it was very likely made, though not in public. An underground press for homosexual erotica – why not? After all, there was a potential audience. No matter how harsh the punishments and how determined the guardians of public virtue were in the prosecution of gay men: they still met, they still loved, they still had sex.

And if one looks at the professions of those “sodomites” who were brought to court, I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if we’d learn one day that, among the butchers and blacksmiths and clerks and furniture makers, there also were a typesetter and printer who weren’t caught…

*** Review to follow.

by Leslie H. Nicoll

Every time something new comes along, be it invention, fad, or changing social more, a backlash from those who resist the change immediately follows. From where I sit, it seems that the current “scourge on society” (at least US society) is same-sex marriage. Having lived through the (unfortunately) successful “Yes on 1” campaign that repealed our same-sex marriage law here in the great State of Maine, I can tell you firsthand that there is a very large group of folks who rabidly believe that if two men or two women are allowed to get married and set up housekeeping together, the Atlantic Ocean will rise up in fury and wash the entire state away, taking the whole lot of us, saints and sinners both, into its icy depths, never to be heard from again.

The sting of the election has worn off a bit so I can joke—albeit lamely—and hold fast to the mantra to “stay the course,” knowing that this is an issue whose time has come and we will prevail. But thinking about the moral degradation of society made me delve back into history a bit to see other issues that have inflamed the masses to overheated rhetoric.

Fifty years ago (May 11, 1960), Searle received FDA approval to sell the first birth control pill in the US: Enovid. Women had been taking the drug since 1957 for severe menstrual cramps; interestingly, there was a dramatic upsurge in the number of women suffering from this disorder when Enovid came on the market. Of course, it was an open secret that one of the side effects of the drug was that it prevented ovulation.

Once “the pill” was approved and sold legally as a contraceptive, sales boomed, climbing from 400,000 in 1961 to 3.6 million in 1965. Not unexpectedly, concerned citizens raised issues, ranging from “Is it safe?” to “Will we have an epidemic of insecurity and impotence?” in men confronted by a brigade of newly liberated and sexually empowered women. U.S. News and World Report had a cover story in 1966 that wondered if availability of the pill would lead to sexual anarchy, with “mating as casual and random as among the animals.” This obsession with animals intrigues me. Traditional marriage proponents like to argue that opening the door to same-sex marriage will inevitably lead to a plethora of non-normative marriage practices, including polygamy and bestiality. Last fall, in the heat of the No/Yes on 1 campaign, one blogger wrote, in all seriousness, that same-sex marriage might lead to a person who would choose to marry an asparagus plant and that we’d have no legal way to stop it. Asparagus?

You’d think we’d learn from history, wouldn’t you? The pill has been around for 50 years and last time I looked, people are still falling in love and staying with their beloveds, women are still having babies, and the Catholic Church is still standing.

Going back a little further, what are some other issues that have stoked the public’s passion? Of course there causes like Prohibition and Women’s Suffrage, but how about something really serious—men’s chests exposed on the beach!

Men’s swimwear was first commercially produced starting in the 1880s and from the start, their bathing ensembles were designed to be modest and reveal little of the wearer’s body and more importantly anatomy, particularly in the genital and gluteal areas. I found several references online to a document entitled “Men’s Bathing Suit Regulations” published on May 17, 1917, although I couldn’t determine what august body developed these rules. Still, they were quite clear, specifying, for example that men’s suits had to be worn with a skirt or have at least a skirt effect.  The skirt had to be worn outside of the trunks. By the late 1920s, newer style suits were made with synthetic rubber yarn that provided a slimming and trimming effect; however, the chest was still required to be covered and bare chests were frowned upon. By the 1930s, however, bold men began to take off their tops, inspired by Olympic swimmer Johnny Weismuller who played Tarzan as a bare-chested, scantily clad man in the movie of the same name. Weismuller was also the advertising model for B.V.D. swim trunks. Even so, change didn’t come easily or quickly and as late as 1936, numerous topless men were banned from the beach in Atlantic City for public indecency.

Going back even further in history, to 1890, I found an amusing anecdote in The Straight Dope about another new craze that threatened to rip apart the moral fabric of society: gum chewing! Chiclet gum was invented (by accident) in 1870 by Thomas Adams of Staten Island, NY. Adams was trying to come up with some sort of rubber or glue. In a moment of divine inspiration (or perhaps desperation) he put a square of the stuff in his mouth and voilà! Chewing gum was born. Business people and financial backers didn’t quite see the potential but Adams persevered and by 1890, had a six-story factory with 250 workers churning out a mountain of the stuff. A fad was born, leading the New York Sun to opine:

“The habit has reached such a stage now that makes it impossible for a New Yorker to go to the theater or the church, or enter the street cars or the railway train, or walk on a fashionable promenade without meeting men and women whose jaws are working with the activity of the gum chewing victim. And the spectacle is maintained in the face of frequent reminders that gum-chewing, especially in public, is an essentially vulgar indulgence that not only shows bad breeding, but spoils a pretty countenance and detracts from the dignity of those who practice the habit.”

My grandmother would never let me chew gum, calling it vulgar. Now I know where she got it from.

And so, as we gear up for the next election, with a pro-equality gubernatorial candidate who already has my vote, I hope we get to the day, sooner rather than later, when issues around same-sex marriage are found to be as silly as those surrounding oral contraceptives, men’s chests, and chewing gum.

Sources:

Nancy Gibbs. May 2010. Love, Sex, Freedom and the Paradox of The Pill. ebook, ISBN: 978-1-60320-369-2

Everything Swimwear. The Evolution of Men’s Swimwear.

From Swimwear to Himware, A History.

Cecil Adams. May 14, 1976. The Straight Dope: The Amazing History of Chewing Gum.

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