Category Archives: biographical (including posts with fragmentary but potentially useful biographical information about Dreiser, his family, or associates)

Roger W. Smith, “Dreiser’s Nephew Carl”

 

 

 

‘Dreiser’s nephew Carl’

 

 

This post is in the form of a downloadable Word document (above).

 

 

'Dawn' - first typescript - Chapter XLII, pg. 13

Theodore Dreiser, “Dawn,” first typescript, Chapter XLII, pg. 13

 

 

 

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Abstract

 

 

This article focuses on Theodore Dreiser’s nephew Carl Dresser, who was born out of wedlock in 1886 to Dreiser’s sister Cacilia (Sylvia) Dreiser. The article provides hitherto unknown details about Sylvia’s affair with Carl’s father — the pseudonymous “Don Ashley” — when Theodore Dreiser, his sister Sylvia, and other siblings were living in Warsaw, Indiana with their mother, as recounted by Dreiser, with some major modifications of facts, in his autobiographical work Dawn.

I have discovered the identity of Carl’s father and confirmed details of Carl’s death. It was “known” on scant evidence that he was a suicide. It has been said, which is inaccurate, that Carl died in his teens. I have found Carl’s death record, as well as his birth record.

Dreiser’s sister Sylvia abandoned Carl and did not raise him; he was raised by Dreiser’s parents and also by his aunt Mame (Theodore Dreiser’s sister) and her husband. As an unwanted child, Carl had a difficult life. Many details have remained sketchy or were never investigated by Dreiser biographers; there is scant mention of Carl in Dreiser biographies.

The story of Sylvia’s affair and pregnancy, a scandal at the time, is worth investigating, since Dreiser saw it as not insignificant in his family history and as contributing to ideas about sex and morality he had as a teenager — he used it as the subject matter of two chapters in Dawn. And, the story of Carl’s birth and his short, unhappy life throws some light on characters in Dreiser’s An American Tragedy and, to a lesser extent, in his novel Jennie Gerhardt.

 

 

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Theodore Dreiser, “The Return of the Genius,” Chicago Sunday Globe. October 23, 1892 (under byline Carl Dreiser)

 

 

Theodore Dreiser, ‘The Return of the Genius.’

 

 

 

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132 West 15th Street, NYC

+ 132 West 15th Street, Manhattan; photo by Roger W. Smith, May 2020. Carl Dreiser was born at this address, in the apartment of Theodore Dreiser’s sister, Emma, in 1886.

 

 

 

Carl's building

53 West Erie Street, Chicago; where Carl Dresser lived at the time of his death; photo by Tamie Dehler

 

 

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Addendum, August 16, 2020:

 

I received an email from Professor Emeritus Thomas Kranidas today which called my attention to something I had overlooked (italics): “Dreiser was surely influenced by memory of Carl’s bellhop days. And Carl was tragically influenced by Dreiser’s portrayal of Hurstwood’s suicide in “Sister Carrie.”

Note that Carl Dresser (as detailed in my essay ) died from “Asphixiation by illuminating gas.”

 

 

— posted by Roger W.  Smith

   May 2020; updated August 2020

Carl Van Vechten, “Theodore Dreiser As I Knew Him”

 

 

Carl Van Vechten, ‘Theodore Dreiser As I Knew Him’ – Yale U Library Gazette

 

 

Carl Van Vechten

“Theodore Dreiser As I Knew Him”

The Yale University Library Gazette, vol. 25, no. 3 (January 1951), pp. 87-92

 

posted here (above) as a donwloadable PDF file

 

 

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Carl Van Vechten (1880-1964) was an American writer and artistic photographer and the literary executor of Gertrude Stein. He was a patron of the Harlem Renaissance.

new article published regarding the real “My Gal Sal”

 

 

An important article, viewed from the perspective of Dreiser studies, has just been published. It provides new information about the possible, if not likely, identity of a lover of Theodore Dreiser’s older brother Paul Dresser, the songwriter.

 

“112-year-old mystery solved? Indiana madam may have inspired famous song”

by Domenica Bongiovanni

The Indianapolis Star

August 3, 2017

http://www.indystar.com/story/entertainment/music/2017/08/03/112-year-old-mystery-solved-indiana-madam-may-have-inspired-famous-song/497691001/

 

 

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Paul Dresser wrote a popular song, “My Gal Sal,” in 1905, which, with the exception of another one of his songs, “On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away,” is Paul’s best known song and which was a hit in its day. The song is about Paul’s lover, who was said to be the madam of a house of prostitution in Evansville, Indiana.

The article refers to ongoing research that has been pursued doggedly by New York Times Magazine writer John Jeremiah Sullivan and his research assistant Joel Finsel.

In his autobiogaphical work Dawn, Theodore Dreiser identified Sal, Paul’s lover, as Annie Brace, a madam whose working name was Sallie Walker.

Through painstaking sleuthing, Sullivan believes he has discovered the identity of the real Sal.

My thanks to Tamie Dehler for informing me about this article.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   August 3, 2017

George K. Nelson to Theodore Dreiser, June 8, 1933

 

 

George K. Nelson to Dreiser 6-8-1933

 

 

Posted here is a copy of a letter dated June 8, 1933 to Theodore Dreiser from his nephew George K. Nelson.

George Kates Nelson (1892-1955) was the son of Dreiser’s sister Emma Wilhelmina Dreiser by Lorenzo A. Hopkins. Mr. Nelson was the manager of a hotel in Manhattan.

Dreiser was close to George K. Nelson’s sister Gertrude A. Hopkins, his niece. But, the cold, businesslike letter posted here shows that there was no personal relationship between Dreiser and his nephew George. Nelson had had a relationship in his adolescence with his uncle Paul Dresser, the songwriter (Theodore Dreiser’s brother), this according to an interview with Gloria N. Vevante, George K. Nelson’s daughter, conducted by Roger W. Smith in 2007.

Nelson writes here: “It is understood that any such moneys received by me will be received as agent for Mary F. Brennan, Sylvia Kishima, Emma A. Nelson [George K. Nelson’s mother], Albert J. Dreiser and Rome M. Dresser. …” They were Dreiser’s siblings.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   May 2017

Ed Dreiser to brother Theodore, April 30, 1938

 

 

Edward Dreiser to brother Theodore 4-20-1938.jpg
Posted here is a copy of a letter dated April 30, 1938 from Theodore Dreiser’s younger brother Eduard Minerod Dreiser (1873-1958) to Dreiser

Mentioned in the letter:

“the Astoria family” —  Dreiser’s sisters Emma Wilhelmina Dreiser (1863-1936); Maria Franziska Dreiser (Mame; 1861-1944); and Cacilia Dreiser (ca. 1865-1945), all of whom lived in their later years in Astoria, Queens, New York City

“Mame” — Dreiser’s sister Maria Franziska Dreiser

“Mai” — Edward Dreiser’s wife Mai V. (Skelly) Dreiser (1878-1955)

“Vera” — Edward Dreiser’s daughter Vera Dreiser (1908-1998), Theodore Dreiser’s niece

“Paul” – Driers brother, the songwriter Paul Dresser (1856-1906)

“Dreiser Seriously Hurt in Mishap”

 

 

news item from unidentified newspaper, May 14, 1919

 

 

 

'Dreiser Seriously Hurt in Mishap' 5-14-1919

Roger W. Smith, “The Real Julia Hurstwood and the Lutz Murder Case”

 

 

‘The Real Julia Hurstwood and the Lutz Murder Case

 

 

 

Note – the Word document above containing the article by Roger W. Smith on which this post is based has been updated as of March 16, 2017 with some new content based upon news accounts appearing in Chicago newspapers in February 1886.

 

 

Theodore Dreiser drew heavily on real life incidents in writing his first novel, Sister Carrie. The main persons behind the story were his sister Emma and her lover, Lorenzo A. Hopkins.

I have done some investigating attempting to dig out more facts about Emma, about Hopkins, and about their relationship and children. There is much confusion despite what scholars have already managed to uncover. Dreiser himself gave sketchy accounts in his autobiographical writings.

I was aware that Hopkins’s wife, before he became involved with Emma Dreiser, was named Margaret and that they had one child, a daughter named Maria, who around 18 years old when Hopkins stole money from his employer in Chicago and absconded with Emma.

There was a Margaret Lutz, a married woman who seemed to be right age as Hopkins’s wife, who was murdered in 1900 — 14 years after her husband absconded — by her brother-in-law and who was, at the time, living just down the street (on the same block) from where she and Hopkins were previously living. Could this be the same woman as Margaret Hopkins, who had remarried a man surnamed Lutz?

It turned out that it indeed was. The key to proving this was that I recently found records of Margaret Hopkins’s divorce from her first husband, Lorenzo Hopkins, and her marriage to Alfred Lutz around eight years before she was murdered.

Attached below as a downloadable Word document is a new article of mine about the case and its relationship to the portrayal of Hurstwood and his wife Julia in Sister Carrie.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

     March 2017

 

 

 

 

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Addendum:

 

Also posted here below as a downloadable PDF document is a brief genealogical report for Margaret (Menkler Hopkins) Lutz.

 

 

Descendants of Margaret Menkler

 

 

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See also:

 

“Lorenzo A. Hopkins (the real George Hurstwood)”

https://dreiseronlinecom.wordpress.com/2017/02/26/lorenzo-a-hopkins-the-real-george-hurstwood/

Lorenzo A. Hopkins (the real George Hurstwood)

 

 

Please note.

 

This post partially reiterates and also amplifies upon material in a previous post of mine, namely: “Lorenzo A. Hopkins, Emma Wilhelmina Dreiser, and Family”

https://dreiseronlinecom.wordpress.com/2016/10/08/roger-w-smith-lorenzo-a-hopkins-emma-wilhelmina-dreiser-and-family/

 

 

 

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‘Lorenzo A. Hopkins, the real George Hurstwood’

 

 

Above is a downloadable Word document containing an article about Lorenzo A. Hopkins (1847-1897), who was the real life model for the character of George Hurstwood in Theodore Dreiser’s novel Sister Carrie. The article includes newly discovered factual information about Hopkins, including his death, information about which has not hitherto been found. It is a significant matter to investigate since, in real life, Hopkins, the model for Hurstwood, was left by his lover Emma Wilhelmina Dreiser (Dreiser’s sister), leading to the decline and death of Hurstwood, which concludes the novel.

Also provided here (see below) are images of Hopkins’s death certificate, his gravestone, and the cemetery (Mt.  Olivet Cemetery in Maspeth, Queens, NYC) where he is buried.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   February 2017

 

 

 

See also:

“The Real Julia Hurstwood and the Lutz Murder Case”

https://dreiseronlinecom.wordpress.com/2017/03/01/the-real-julia-hurstwood-and-the-lutz-murder-case/

 

 

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Lorenzo A. Hopkins death certificate

 

 

 

 

Lorenzo A. Hopkins gravestone (photograph by Roger W. Smith)

 

lorenzo-a-hopkins-gravestone-mt-olivet-cemetry-maspeth-queens-ny-roger

 

 

Mt. Olivet Cemetery, Maspeth, Queens, NYC (photograph by Roger W. Smith)

 

mt-olivet-cemetery-9-19-a-m-11-24-2016

excerpts from the autobiography of Harold James Dies

 

 

Posted here below as a downloadable PDF document are excerpts from the autobiography of Harold James Dies (1914-2012). Mr. Dies was related, on his mother’s side, to Theodore Dreiser’s second wife, Helen (Patges) (Richardson) Dreiser. He was Trustee of the Dreiser Trust.

The full title of the autobiography is “The Kingdom of God and the World’s Final Generation: The Life Story of Harold James Dies” (2010).

Included in the autobiography is anecdotal material related to Theodore Dreiser and his second wife Helen, as well as some information about Dreiser’s niece Gertrude Amelia Hopkins (1894-1963) that is not available elsewhere. Topics of interest discussed in the autobiography, and included in the excerpts posted below, include:

Mr. Dies’s relationship with Dreiser’s second wife Helen, whom he knew from his early years, and biographical information about her

his meeting Dreiser and some anecdotal material about Dreiser

mention of his cousin congressman Martin Dies, chairman of the House un-American Activities Committee

his relationship with Gertrude Amelia Hopkins, Dreiser’s favorite niece and the daughter of Dreiser’s sister Emma (“Sister Carrie”)

negotiations over the production of Tobias Picker’s opera “An American Tragedy”

I wish to thank Joann Crouch, Mr. Dies’s niece, who told me about this unique book and made it available to me for photocopying.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

      February 2017

 

 

 

the-life-story-of-harold-james-dies-excerpts

 

Bennett Cerf, “A Luncheon at the Ritz”

 

 

bennett-cerf-a-luncheon-at-the-ritz

 

 

 

Posted here is a downloadable PDF file of an article by publisher Bennett Cerf (1898–1971):

Bennett Cerf, “A Luncheon at the Ritz,” Playboy, vol. XIII, January 1969, pp. 179, 239.

Cerf describes a luncheon that Theodore Dreiser had at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Manhattan during which an oft recounted incident occurred. During the luncheon, Dreiser argued with publisher Horace Liveright over his share of the proceeds from the sale of film rights to his best selling novel An American Tragedy, and, outraged because he felt Liveright was cheating him out the share to which he was entitled, threw a cup of coffee at Liveright. (It was a huge sum, by any measure, for the 1920’s.)

The luncheon took place on March 19, 1926. It has been stated in other sources that it was attended by Dreiser, film producer Jesse L. Lasky, and Liveright.

Cerf claims in the article posted here that he was at the luncheon; he does not mention Lasky’s having been present. This has been questioned, as has been the accuracy of Cerf’s recollections of the luncheon.

Cerf states that the luncheon “involved exactly three people: …. Dreiser himself, … Horace Liveright, … and me. Despite other accounts to the contrary, that was the entire cast of characters. … .”

Cerf describes how he met Dreiser after joining the Liveright publishing firm in 1923. He describes Dreiser as an annoying visitor who would show up at the firm’s Manhattan offices periodically, would find fault with royalty statements, and would attempt to “make time” with a woman employee of the firm.

 

— Roger W. Smith

     November 2016
Note: This account was incorporated into Bennett Cerf, At Random: The Reminiscences of Bennett Cerf (New York: Random House, 1977), pp. 58-59.