Category Archives: reminiscences by contemporaries, friends, and fellow writers

from Orrick Johns, “Time of Our Lives”

 

Orrick Johns, ‘Time of Our Lives’

 

Posted here is an excerpt from Orrick Johns, Time of Our Lives: The Story of My Father and Myself (New York: Stakcpole Sons, 1937).

Orrick Johns (1887-1946) was an American poet and playwright.

A native of St. Louis, Johns was the son of George Sibley Johns, editor of the St. Louis Post Dispatch. (In the 1890s, Dreiser was a reporter in St. Louis.) After graduating from the University of Missouri, Orrick Johns eventually landed a position at Reedy’s Mirror, a literary journal in St. Louis whose editor was William Marion Reedy. Reedy was an early champion of Dreiser when the latter’s critical reputation was far from secure. Reedy wrote a highly favorable review of The “Genius.

Johns moved to Greenwich Village in New York City around the time that Dreiser was writing The “Genius.” In 1912, Johns, a modernist free-verse poet, won The Lyric Year poetry contest for his poem “Second Avenue.” Competitors for the award included Edna St. Vincent Millay.

In the 1930s, Johns became a communist, briefly. He was supervisor of the WPA Writers’ Project in New York City. Johns’s Time of Our Lives: The Story of My Father and Myself was published in 1937.

The National Committee for the Defense of Political Prisoners was an organization founded in 1931 as an accompaniment to the International Labor Defense, led by the Communist Party USA. It was under the auspices of this organization that Dreiser, as de facto leader of the committee, became involved with the plight of striking miners in the Kentucky and Pennsylvania coal fields.

Dreiser’s involvement in the case of the imprisoned labor activist Tom Mooney is covered in my post

Roger W. Smith, “Theodore Dreiser in the US Communist Press”

 

San Francisco News, May 31, 1930

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

March 2022

Claude Bowers, “Memories of Theodore Dreiser”

 

Claude Bowers, ‘My Life’

 

Posted here (PDF file above) is Chapter XI of My Life: The Memoirs of Claude Bowers (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1962).

Claude Bowers (1878- 1958) was a newspaper columnist and editor, a Democratic Party politician, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s ambassador to Spain (1933–1939) and Chile (1939–1953). Bowers, like Dreiser, was born in Indiana. He worked for newspapers in Terre Haute and Fort Wayne, Indiana; and subsequently for the New York Evening World.

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   March 2022

from Homer Croy, “Country Cured”

 

Homer Croy, ‘Country Cured’

 

Posted here is Chapter XIV from Country Cured by Homer Croy (Harper and Brother, Publishers, 1943).

Reminiscences of Dreiser are on pp. 142-146

Homer Croy (1883-1965) was an American author and occasional screenwriter who wrote fiction and nonfiction books about life in the Midwestern United States. He also wrote several popular biographies, including books on Jesse James, the humorist Will Rogers and the film director D. W. Griffith. Croy was born on a farm in Missouri. He attended the University of Missouri from 1903 to 1907, but did not graduate after failing an English course in his senior year. After leaving college, Croy worked on the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and later for Dreiser at Butterick Publications.

 

posted by Roger W. Smith

   March 2022

Lester Cohen, “Theodore Dreiser: A Personal Memoir”

 

Lester Cohen, ‘Theodore Dreiser; A Personal Memoir’

lester-cohen-theodore-dreiser-a-personal-memoir

 

Posted here is the complete text of an article by Lester Cohen: “Theodore Dreiser: A Personal Memoir,” Discovery no. 4 (1954), pp. 99-126. It is an excellent source of biographical/anecdotal information, and Cohen writes perceptively and with insight about Dreiser the man and his works.

Lester Cohen (1901-1963) was an American novelist and screenwriter, He was a member of the Dreiser Committee which visited the Kentucky coal fields in 1931 to document the labor struggles of Harlan County coal miners.

A portion, about half, of Cohen’s Discovery article has been published in Theodore Dreiser Recalled, edited by Donald Pizer (Clemson University Press, 2017).

Cohen, in discussing extensively the activities of the Dreiser Committee in Harlan County, mentions that Dreiser had “a girl with him, a Miss X” and he alludes (without going into detail) to the “Toothpick trap” incident, which resulted in Dreiser and the woman being charged for adultery. The woman’s name was Marie Pergain.

“I am not at all sure [Dreiser] was interested in the girl he brought down to Kentucky, he never seemed interested in her, in fact he might have paid her a salary to come along, puzzle his compatriots and shock the natives,” Cohen wrote. Cohen may, at least in part, be right about Dreiser’s motives in bringing Marie Pergain with him, but she was more than a fleeting romantic interest for Dreiser. See my post on this site:

“Theodore Dreiser, Ervin Nyiregyházi, Helen Richardson, and Marie Pergain”

Roger W. Smith, “Theodore Dreiser, Ervin Nyiregyházi, Helen Richardson, and Marie Pergain”

The “Mr. K.” of Cohen’s article was Hyman Solomon (Hy) Kraft (1899-1975), who was credited as a collaborator on The Tobacco Men: A Novel Based on Notes by Theodore Dreiser and Hy Kraft, written by Borden Deal, published in 1965.

Cohen states, writing of Dreiser’s early days in New York City, and his composing, with his brother Paul. the song “On the Banks of the Wabash” (noting that Theodore was not looking to profit from the song): “Theodore took not the cash and let the credit go … and one day found himself down by the river, waiting to jump in. And the work he did to keep alive–he worked on one of the tunnels, under the waters of Manhattan, became partly deaf.” (italics added)

Did Dreiser work (briefly) as a sandhog on the North River Tunnel? The tunnel project began at a time commensurate with Dreiser’s experience of unemployment (as an editor/writer) and poverty which resulted in his working briefly as a laborer (as well as a clerk) in 1903 for the New York Central Railroad. Dreiser did write a well-known short story about sandhogs: “St. Columba and the River.”

As noted by Joseph Griffin in his The Small Canvas: An Introduction to Dreiser’s Short Stories (and by Scott Zaluda in his entry “St. Columba and the River” in A Theodore Dreiser Encyclopedia), the initial source for “St. Columba and the River” was an article by Dreiser published in the New York Daily News in 1904: “Just What Happened When the Waters of the Hudson Broke into the North River Tunnel.”

It is apparent from a reading of “St. Columba and the River” how well Dreiser had researched his subject matter — perhaps he had himself experienced it. (There is a feeling of immediacy and verisimilitude in the descriptive passages.) It seems likely (or at least possible) that he got his details from interviewing sandhogs.

None of Dreiser’s biographers appears to have mentioned anything about Dreiser working on the North River tunnel. This includes the introduction by Richard W. Dowell to the University of Pennsylvania Press edition of Dreiser’s An Amateur Laborer.

There seems to be verisimilitude to what Cohen writes — he got it from Dreiser. It sounds convincing what he says about Dreiser’s partial deafness. And an autobiographical fragment confirms what Cohen says about Dreiser once considering suicide by drowning in the months before he began working for the New York Central Railroad. But additional evidence would be required to prove the truth of Cohen’s statement that Dreiser worked as a sandhog.

It should be noted that in an unpublished retrospective account of that period by Dreiser, “Down Hill” (published in Dreiser Studies, vol. 19, no. 2, fall 1988, as Thomas P. Riggio, “Down Hill: A Chapter in Dreiser’s Story about Himself”), Dreiser does mention the period of despair when he was living in Brooklyn and contemplated suicide, but there is no mention by Dreiser of his working on the Hudson tubes.

 

— Roger W. Smith

   February 2020

Edward H. Smith, “Dreiser – After Twenty Years”

 

‘Dreiser after Twenty Years’- The Bookman, March 1921

 

Posted here (above) as a PDF file is an interesting article about Theodore Dreiser by Edward H. Smith:

“Dreiser — After Twenty Years”

The Bookman; a Review of Books and Life 53.1 (March 1921)

Smith knew Dreiser personally and includes many details derived from his acquaintance with Dreiser as well as his assessments of the man and author.

 

–Roger W. Smith

  May 2018

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.

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith