New York Herald Tribune
probable date of publication, Wednesday, September 8, 1926
New York Herald Tribune
probable date of publication, Wednesday, September 8, 1926
This account by Bennett Cerf appeared in the January 1966 issue of Playboy. Cerf states therein that he was at the luncheon meeting at the Ritz Hotel in New York on March 19, 1926 when Theodore Dreiser threw a cup of lukewarm coffee into publisher Horace Liverights’s face.
Cerf’s account is problematic.
In his biography, Firebrand: The Life of Horace Liveright, Tom Dardis observes:
The account of Bennett Cerf in his memoirs [At Random: The Reminiscences of Bennett Cerf, not the account posted here] has no firsthand information, for Cerf was not present at the event and had left B&L [Boni & Liveright] a year before it happened. (pg. 200)
Cerf says that the only persons at the luncheon were Dreiser, Horace Liveright, and himself. He does not mention film producer Jesse L. Lasky, who was also there to discuss the sale of film rights to An American Tragedy.
THE TRUTH ABOUT THE DREISER CASE
When they first alighted from the smoky little train at the Pineville depot few people noticed a tall, slender blond who seemed to be swallowed up in the crowd and hurried to the hotel. Eyes were focused on the author of “An American Tragedy” – Theodore Dreiser – who had figured a few months earlier in an episode in which he slapped the face of Sinclair Lewis, another author, because of an open charge of plagiarism hurled by the author of Nobel prize winner in 1931.
That night when she came down to dinner at the Continental Hotel she immediately drew the attention of those sitting around the lobby. I sauntered over to the register and asked the clerk who this new member of the Dreiser party was. The various press releases failed to give her name or the name of any book she had written. That detail had been well taken care of by the publicity man of the Dreiser party who told how these investigators were coming down to old Kentucky to look into a reported “reign of terror” in the coal fields; that they were going to test the right of “free speech” at two carefully planned meetings in Bell and Harlan Counties.
Marie Pegain was her name, written in an even, flowing hand on the hotel register. By co-incidence, her name was written directly beneath that of Theodore Dreiser. I don’t know why, but there was something about the proximity of these names on the register that made me wonder, idly, as they passed into the dining room, just what they meant to one another. I afterward learned that she was one of the author’s numerous secretaries — girls he paid from $35 to $50 a week to assemble materials and help him in getting out his numerous literary offerings. He disclosed this while answering questions put to him by a newspaperman from Pineville whom he had put on the stand.
She wore a flaming red tam and a flaming red skirt that night in the dining room. Her blue eyes looked at the author steadily and while I did not catch any of the words spoken, one of the waiters did. Asked if they were discussing the plight of poor miners the party came down to help this negro waiter replied:
“They wasn’t worryin’ none ‘bout miners. They wus talkin’ ‘bout love”.
She was not a member of the committee, she confided to a questioner a few days later. She had just come along for the trip.
There have been so many stories told of the occurrences of the few days during which the Dreiser party remained in Pineville that I have endeavored to get at the true facts and here they are related for the first time. It is known everywhere that Dreiser and Marie Pergain were indicted on charges of adultery while at the Continental Hotel in Pineville and that both entered immediate denials. Dreiser went to [sic] far as to proclaim in the press that it was “utterly impossible” for him to be guilty of the charge made and asserted that he was “impotent” and had been for some time. Miss Pergain made no such statement but declared that the charges were a frame-up and that her life was her own to live as she chose. Dreiser placed the blame for the investigation on Circuit Judge D.C. Jones of the Kentucky Courts, and asserted numerous times that the whole affair was intended as a smoke screen to hide the real troubles in the coal fields. Now, for the first time, the real facts back of the charges are made known and the reader can draw his own conclusions.
It was Saturday night, the third night that the party had been in Pineville. At the head of the stairs on the second floor of the hotel was Dreiser’s room. Diagonally across from his room was a room occupied by Harry Isaacs and Harry Sikes, two traveling men who had noted some of the unusual occurrences of the evening and had heard some of the reports about Dreiser and his attractive blond secretary. Down the hall and around a turn thirty to fifty feet from Dreiser’s room, was the room of Marie Pergain. Two-twenty-six was her room number, while Dreiser’s was 217. The other room which figured in the story was 216.
About 10:30 o’clock Isaacs and Sikes were seated in their room when they saw, through the partly open door, the slender figure of the secretary entering the room of Dreiser. A few minutes before this they had ascertained the fact that Miss Pergain still occupied her own room. To see that she did not leave without leaving some sign of her departure the amateur sleuths, at the suggestion of one of the newspaper correspondents, propped a toothpick against her door. Another was propped against the door of Dreiser. And this is how the toothpick became famous in the Dreiser case. After the door closed on the Dreiser-Pergain meeting in the author’s room, Isaacs and Sikes went to the girl’s room and verified the fact that she had left – for the toothpick had fallen to the floor from its leaning posture against the door.
They called a bellboy, placed him in a darkened room across the hall from the Dreiser room and told him to stay there until they returned and to report any departure from the Dreiser room. They went out, swore to a search warrant for room 217, before City Judge Jo_ [illegible] Page, and returned with an officer. The bellboy reported that no one had left the room and no one had entered it. Toothpicks had been replaced at both doors before the pair departed for the warrant and these wooden witnesses still stood vertically on guard at the rooms of Dreiser and Pergain. Everything was set for the raid. The men told newspapermen to be on their guard that some “big news” was going to pop and pop soon. Tired re-write men were awakened on news association trunk lines and everything was set for the crash that would echo and re-echo around the literary word. But it didn’t come.
Before knocking on the door Isaacs and Sikes decided to take the matter up with the manager of the hotel. The manager, ill with an attack of tendinitis, asked the men not to stage the raid, declaring that such action, in the event of failure, might bring the hotel into disrepute. Acceding to his wishes the men decided to forego the plan of raiding the room and dismissed the officer. Trunk line re-write men were told to go home to bed and forget any hope of a big news headliner for the morning. This was at 2:30 o’clock Sunday morning, and, incidentally, the toothpicks still stood guard.
The men waited until 4 o’clock and all was quiet. Isaacs and Sikes wanted to be sure that there was no slipup in their plan and before calling the officer they went to Miss Pergains’s room. With a passkey they entered and found no one there. Baggage was still resting on the bed and no one had occupied it. They replaced the toothpick and left. Again at 6 o’clock they examined both rooms and the toothpick still stood silent guard.
A housekeeper the next morning saw Miss Pergain come out of the Dreiser room, carrying a bundle under her arm.
Sunday night the same men decided that they would carry out their plan regardless of the wishes of the hotel proprietor. They watched until after midnight but nothing transpired and they finally gave up and went home. But they failed to consult the night clerk who connected the rooms on tw0 occasion [sic] during the evening.
Dreiser, back in New York a few hours after his indictment on charges of adultery, ridiculed every charge. “Put me in the most beautiful budoir [sic]” with the most attractive woman, the writer declared, and you will “find us discussing literature or the fine arts.” So said the author of “An American Tragedy” after his indictment by a Bell County Grand Jury down in Pineville, Kentucky. The night clerk, Dan Johnson, tells another story and you can take it or leave it.
It is eleven o’clock. The Dreiser and Pergain rooms are connected
“Hello. Why don’t you come down?”
“I can’t, I’m not dressed,” came back a man’s voice from No. 217. “You come on up here.” The invitation was declined and the phones were hung up. This was at eleven o’clock.
Clerk Dan Johnson was aroused at 2:45 o’clock Monday morning by a tinkling of his telephone. Rom 217 was calling Room 226. He listened in and heard their conversation.
“Hello. What’s the matter with you?”
A feminine voice answered, “What’s the matter with you?”
A masculine voice said: “Get yourself up here.” The two phones clicked as one and Clerk Johnson heard a door open just above where he sat and softly close. This is all he knows. Perhaps they discussed literature and the fine arts, it is not for me to say.
Herndon J. Evans, “The Truth About the Dreiser Case,” Herndon J. Evans Collection, 1929-1982, 82M1, Special Collections and Digital Programs, University of Kentucky Libraries, Lexington, KY, November 1931, Box 1, Folder: 2; the article is available online at:
Herndon J. Evans (1895-1976) was editor of the Pineville (KY) Sun and local correspondent for the Associated Press (AP) during the early 1930’s.
Toronto Globe and Mail
December 22, 1942
Dreiser Not Needed Here
Excellent as Mr. Theodore Dreiser is as an author, he is not great enough to be able to insult British people in an interview and then expect them to listen to him as an exponent of democracy. Toronto is tolerant, but not stupid or crazy, and it certainly would be both stupid and crazy if it welcomed a public speaker who “would rather see the Germans in England than the damn’ snobs now there.” Perhaps he doesn’t know Canada has an army in England to help keep the Germans out, that many thousands of Canadians have given their lives to assist the “damn’ snobs” in destroying the most brutal thugs that ever resorted to arms – the people Mr. Dreiser admires and to whom he belongs by ancestry.”
Mr. Dreiser has no proper place on any public platform in Toronto or Canada. The sponsors of the Town Forum made a fatal mistake in bringing him here; the City Council did the right thing in acting to prevent him from speaking.
His subject was to have been “Democracy On the Offensive.” Whatever may be his ideas on democracy, he said enough to show they are contrary to those of this country. He is no morale builder for us. He had better tell his story to Hitler.
The Atlanta Constitution, November 7, 1931
Dreiser and Editor Exchange Jibes on Income and Service to Society
HARLAN, Ky., Nov 6 – (AP) – Theodore Dreiser, who came to Kentucky’s hills to investigate the sanguinary coal field controversy of the Harlan district, was transformed from prosecutor to witness today by a newspaperman who sought to learn if the famous novelist practiced what he advocated.
The newspaperman—Herndon Evans, publisher of the Pineville Sun—learned from the author of “An American Tragedy” that his annual income was approximately $35,000 and that he gave none of it to charity, but supported financially the Civil Liberties Union.
Mr. Dreiser and other New York writers were conducting the first session of their inquiry into conditions in the coal fields and were questioning Mr. Evans.
Dreiser questioned the Kentucky editor about his religion, income and other personal matters and asked Evans if he thought it fair to earn between $50 and $75 a week, while miners of the district worked for $30 and $40 a month. He had expressed the opinion the editor’s sympathies were with mine operators.
“May I ask you some questions?” Evans asked, and when Dreiser responded “Certainly,” he asked:
“What is your annual income?”
“Approximately $35,000,” said the author.
None for Charity.
“Do you give any of it to charity?”
“That’s all,” said the newspaperman.
Dreiser asked him not to stop, but “ask me some more questions.”
Evans then asked: “Do you give to any organization?”
To which Dreiser replied he contributed to the Civil Liberties Union and “other similar organizations.”
Dreiser recounted some personal matters and said there were 13 members of his family “and they were not very shrewd and couldn’t take care of themselves.”
“I am trying to take care of them,” he said, and estimated he spent between $5,000 and $6,000 a year on his family.
“You know,” he said, “I am a radical and interested in equality in government. I’m interested in social organization.”
Dreiser said he did not make any “real money until I wrote the ‘American Tragedy,’ at the age of 55.”
“Averaging my income over my life period,” he said, “I think you will find it to have been very moderate.”
Evans interrupted to say he believed he could show he had done more for charity of his income and along civic lines than Dreiser could on his earnings.
“Does that represent your theory of equality?” asked the Kentucky editor.
During Evans’ questioning, Dreiser denied he was a member of the communist party, but said he was in sympathy with some of its policies.
“I’m not a communist,” Dreiser said. “They wouldn’t take me, but I see an equity there, and that’s what I’m after. I believe we should let every country start on an equity basis and see what we get.”
“I don’t propose to import a Stalin or a Trotzky here, but there should be equity in all things.”
Both Evans and Dreiser were smiling when the session recessed after their exchange, which came at the end of a morning or routine questioning of miners and one miner’s wife.
[remainder of article not transcribed]
On September 7, 1926, the New York Herald Tribune printed a story concerning alleged plagiarism by Dreiser, including plagiarism in writing Sister Carrie whereby Dreiser lifted a story by George Ade.
Ade’s reply to these charges, the text of which follows below, was printed in the Herald Tribune of September 9, 1926:”George Ade Absolves Dreiser Of Lifting His ‘Swift Worker’ ”
— Roger W. Smith
You have asked if Theodore Dreiser in his novel ‘Sister Carrie’ incorporated in one of his early chapters part of a story which I had written for ‘The Chicago Record.’ Before I reply to your inquiry let it be understood that I am simply complying with your request. To get back. I am not stirring up any charge against Mr. Dreiser, not after all these years. Along about 1898 I wrote for ‘The Record’ a story in fable form called The Two Mandolin Players and the Willing Performer.
In that story I had a character shown as cousin Gus from St. Paul. He was of the type then known as a swift worker. Probably we would call him a sheik today, seeing that we have made such a tremendous advance in recent years. In my little story I detailed the tactics which would be employed by Gus if he spotted a good looker on the train between St. Paul and Chicago.
When the very large and important novel called Sister Carrie came out I read it, and I was much amused to discover that Theodore Dreiser had incorporated in a description of one of his important characters the word picture of Cousin Gus which I had outlined in my newspaper story and which later appeared in a volume called ‘Fables in Slang.’ It is true that for a few paragraphs Mr. Dreiser’s copy for the book tallied very closely with my copy for the little story. When I discovered the resemblance I was not horrified or indignant. I was simply flattered. It warmed me to discover that Mr. Dreiser has found my description suitable for the clothing of one of his characters. Many people came to me and called my attention to the fact that a portion of my little fable had been found imbedded in the very large novel of Mr. Dreiser.
I figured that he had read my fable was about like his character in the novel and that he absorbed the description and used it without any intent of taking something which belonged to someone else. Most certainly I do not accuse Mr. Dreiser of plagiarism even by implication or in a spirit of pleasantry. I have a genuine admiration for him. To me he is a very large and commanding figure in American letters. While some of us have been building chicken coops, or, possibly, bungalows, Mr. Dreiser has been erecting skyscrapers. He makes the three-decker novel look like a pamphlet. He is the only writer on our list who has the courage and the patience and the painstaking qualities of observation to get all of the one _____ [illegible word] into the story.
Theodore Dreiser was born in Indiana and the Hoosiers are very proud of him. I knew rather intimately his brother, Paul, who wrote many popular songs and one highly esteemed here at home, ‘The Banks of the Wabash.’ I was active in planning a memorial to Paul to be placed on the banks of the Wabash down near his old home. While we were planning the memorial I had some correspondence with Theodore Dreiser. I am rather sorry that some one has reminded the Herald Tribune, of which I an constant reader and regular subscriber, that Mr. Dreiser got into his novel something which I read like something written by one before his novel came out.
It all happened so many years ago. It seems to raise the absolutely preposterous suggestion that Mr. Dreiser needs help. Anybody who writes novels containing approximately one million words each doesn’t need any help from any one. As I said before, while most of our guild are at work on tiny structures which stay close to the ground, Mr. Dreiser is putting up skyscrapers. If, in building one of his massive structures he used a brick from my pile, goodness knows he was welcome to it and no questions were asked or will be asked. These are the facts in the case. Mr. Dreiser hasn’t hurt my feelings at any time. I don’t want to hurt his feelings now.
“did Dreiser plagiarize in writing his first novel?”