Tag Archives: Horace Liveright

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”

 

https://dreiseronlinecom.wordpress.com/2016/03/18/theodore-dreiser-ervin-nyiregyhazi-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

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.

 

Bennett Cerf, “A Luncheon at the Ritz”

 

 

Bennett Cerf, ‘A Luncheon at the Ritz’

 

This account by Bennett Cerf (see above downloadable PDF file) 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.

 

— Roger W. Smith