Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Riddle of Jessie Reed


(As anyone who has followed this blog knows, I am obsessed with the story of Jessie Reed, the ill-fated Ziegfeld Follies showgirl who married my grandfather Leonard Minor Reno. Two years ago, I published my account of her mysterious life HERE on this blog. I had to cut portions of it out in the interest of brevity, but I am still keen on finding out definitively when and where she was born and who her parents actually were. For that purpose, I am now posting this sidebar regarding her roots that I initially had left out. My hope is that somehow someone reading this online might hold the key to her origins.)

Perhaps the greatest mystery about Jessie Reed is who she really was. In past articles and books about her (many of them riddled with errors) her maiden name was given as Rogers. As previously mentioned, this was the name Ollie used when describing her during his court appearance in 1917. Or so I thought. It turns out that the source for this quote is a heavily redacted transcript of Ollie’s trial that Dan Caswell had used in his spurious memoirs which were serialized in 1922. Either Caswell had misquoted Ollie or perhaps the court stenographer had heard him wrong. Or maybe “Jessie Rogers” was simply Jessie’s stage name at the time. For there can be no doubt that on her first marriage license her name is clearly given as “Jessie May Richardson.” Likewise in the handwritten church ledger. But then just a year later her name is listed as “Jessie May Richards” on her daughter’s birth certificate. So which is it? Richards or Richardson? Adding to the confusion is the fact that Jessie’s death record gives her maiden name as “Richard.” 

One can easily go mad poring through Census records, as I have done, on microfilm or online, hoping to find Jessie Reed in one of them. Despite countless hours, I have not found one iota of evidence that Jessie in any of her guises appears in the 1900, 1910, 1920 or 1930 censuses. I have combed every record, using every possible variation of her name (Reed, Rogers, Richard, Richards, Richardson, and Reno) and followed every possible lead to no avail. This is surprising since almost always there is some record, no matter how off (a botched birth year, or a daughter incorrectly listed as a son, for instance). But in Jessie’s case every possible candidate I have researched has panned out as someone else and been eliminated. It also appears that the name “Jessie May” was the “Jennifer” of its day. Thousands of girls born between 1890 and 1900 had that name, making research all the more frustrating. It wasn’t until 1928 that Jessie Reed started to use the name Jessica. In fact, the name Jessica rarely appears in the 1900 or 1910 censuses anywhere in Texas and I’ve come to the conclusion that Jessie just made it up because it sounded more mature and perhaps in her mind glamorous.

Adding to the confusion of Jessie’s roots is her marriage license with Dan Caswell, the document that was of such interest to reporters back in 1920. That too should be a slam-dunk, at least in a normal, non-theatrical world, since most people rarely lie or misrepresent themselves on official documents during such happy (one assumes) circumstances. But in Jessie’s case, nothing is ever simple, and never cut-and-dried. She had a genius for disinformation. Jessie gives her birth date as July 3, 1898 on that document. And claims her birth name was Reed. She gives her parents’s names as James and Anna Reed. No doubt Jessie was reluctant to give her name as the former Mrs. Debrow (or Durburrow, as it were), and she had already divorced Ollie in 1917. She used the stage name Reed here since it was the name she was best known by and because she didn’t want Caswell to know she had been previously married. She also tweaked the birth year, perhaps because Dan was born in 1899 and she didn’t want him to think she was older than he was. 

But I think it is reasonable to assume that Jessie would not have needed to fabricate the day and month of her birthday. What advantage would there be in that, especially since others in her close-knit circle, the many showgirls Dan and she were traveling with, would have known what her birthday was? Nor would she have felt compelled to invent false first names for her parents. In an interview that occurred shortly after she wed Caswell, Jessie was asked if her maiden name was Reed and she insisted it was. The interviewer, perhaps hoping she’d slip up, asked her if her parents’ name was also Reed. Jessie said of course it was. But when asked about her previous marriage, and daughter, Jessie cut the interview short. 

I decided to try the Houston city directories. In the 1910/1911 edition, which was compiled in July 1910, there is a listing for a “Miss Jessie Richard,” “cash girl at Alkemeyer” living at 1505 Elysian. Alkemeyer was a dry goods store very similar to Levy’s (which Jessie had claimed to have worked at in one of her early Ziegfeld interviews.) Alkemeyer is also the store Ollie had once been caught breaking into. By using the street index that accompanies the directory, I found a woman named “Mrs. Willie McCorquodale” also living at that address. She lists herself as “Widow of Glenn.” A quick glance at the marriage index for Texas reveals a “Willie Richard” who married “G. McCorquodale” in 1907 in Orange, Texas. Richard, as I mentioned, is the maiden name given on Jessie’s death certificate. Could Willie have been this Jessie’s aunt or sister? It seemed unlikely she would be her mother since her marriage was only five years earlier than Jessie’s. 

It took some doing to find Glenn McCorquodale in the 1910 Census. His name was badly mangled. But he is there in Orange, listed as a plumber, but also as “widowed.” This is strange, but telling. Both Willie and Glenn are listed as “widowed” in the same year even though they are both still very much alive. I suspect that means they were separated or divorced and too ashamed to admit it. The Houston directory gave Mrs. Willie McCorquodale’s profession as “operator at the American Laundry.” This jibes nicely with the anecdote that Jessie was working at a laundry when she was younger. She could have been helping Willie at her job. I had no luck, however, finding any sign of Willie Richard in the census from 1900 or 1910 or later. Nor is she in any of the Texas death indexes. She simply vanishes from the records. (Her former husband, Glenn, however, does not. He was apparently killed by his second wife in Orange, Texas in 1942.)

The subsequent Houston Directory, from 1912, shows a “Jessie Richards” living at 2308 Rusk Avenue, working for Nabisco. I thought back to the published anecdote that said Jessie had worked there. But the more I pondered this entry the more it became clear that this has to be a male. All white women in the directory are listed either as Miss or Mrs, unless they were widowed. Strikingly, this was not true if the female was designated as “colored.” So this is probably not our Jessie, but it could be her father. On Jessie Reed’s death certificate, her father’s name is given as Jessie, although the informant —“hospital records” — may not be very reliable. 

That same year there is a “Miss Jessie Richardson” listed in the directory on Hardcastle Street. But that is all it says. There is no information to link it definitively to Jessie May Richardson except that it is the only time a lady with that name appears. There is also, however, a listing for a “James C. Richardson, paving contractor” at 709 Rusk Avenue. What’s interesting about this, besides the fact that Jessie gave her father’s name as James on her marriage license to Caswell, is that Ollie Debrow and his family are listed as living at that exact same address the year before. 

There is another “Miss Jessie Richards” living at 836 Arthur Street, who shows up frequently in these early city directories. But this Jessie killed herself in 1915 by drinking carbolic acid and has no connection to Jessie Reed.

The one fly in the ointment to these directory clues is the fact that Jessie was allegedly 14 when she married Ollie in 1912. She had claimed she was born July 3, 1898 on her marriage license to Caswell, but 1897 is the date most often ascribed to her. It also happens to be the birth year on her Social Security record where she is listed as “Jessie M. Reed.” 

But if we assume that Jessie is one of these people in the Houston directories, then I wonder if she really was born in 1897. Wouldn’t one have to be a few years older to be listed individually in a directory? It doesn’t make sense that a 13 year old girl, in 1910, would be listed in a street directory even if she were working at the time. So either these people are not our Jessie Reed, or Jessie was fudging her age all along. 

And then there’s the issue with her first marriage to Ollie Debrow. Looking at their marriage license poses new questions. According to state law at the time, a 14 year old girl could get married legally but only if she had consent from her parents. Jessie claimed that her parents had died before she got married, and that she was an only child. So without them, if she was in fact telling the truth, who would have been her legal guardian? Was it this fellow W. B. Kyle who acted as her witness? Looking closer, one notices that the section of the license where the spouses swear that they are legally of age is not filled out. It’s left blank. This would seem to indicate she wasn’t of legal age, but where then are the signatures of her legal guardians? 

Another reason I question her official birth year is that during his trial, Ollie had claimed to be roughly the same age as Jessie, meaning 14 or 15, when they got married, but according to the census of 1900 he was born around 1890 which would make him 21 years old at the time he married Jessie in 1912. (His WWI registration card in 1917 says he was born in 1892.) If Ollie was indeed 21, that was the legal age he would have had to be to get married without parental consent. But it also means he was stretching the truth on the witness stand. He might also have been exaggerating about Jessie being 14. An article published in 1920 when she married Dan Caswell insinuated that Jessie Reed was actually ten years older than she let on. The author gave no proof. But it is intriguing. And it might explain why it has been so difficult to find Jessie in the censuses. 

I did ultimately succeed in finding her in one census, the 1940 one, which was released in 2012. She’s listed in Chicago as “Jessie Reed,” divorced, “nite club hostess,” living at the Metropole. Her age is given as 42. But in the space where she was asked where she was born it says “Alabama” not Texas. Was Jessie trying to throw would-be snoops off the track? Or just having the last laugh? Or was she simply telling the truth? The Texan Cinderella may not have been from Texas after all. Hopefully as other vital records are digitized, more, as they say, shall be revealed.

(If anyone has more information about Jessie Reed’s origins or relatives, please feel free to email me at brooks/underscore/peters@AOL.)




Monday, October 9, 2017

Devil Ray


The other day while channel surfing, I stumbled upon an old film that I had never seen before: Ten North Frederick (1958), based on the popular John O’Hara novel. This A-list picture starred Gary Cooper and Geraldine Fitzgerald, as well as a young Diane Varsi. Suzy Parker played Cooper’s love interest. So how could I not watch? But the big surprise in the cast was a young actor that I vaguely recognized from other pictures named Ray Stricklyn. He was cast as Cooper’s tortured soldier son, battling a drinking problem and a massive chip on his shoulder due to his father’s highhanded negligence, and his mother’s firm hand.


Intense, trim and wiry, with dark, sultry good looks, Stricklyn oozed a dynamic sensuality that resonated with me. This was the epitome of juvenile angst that movies in the 50s thrived on.  Only here, it was obvious to me (and countless other like-minded souls, I'm sure) that there was something other than delinquency seething under this sad young man’s skin. Stricklyn gave off unmistakable gay vibes that served to enhance his performance rather than distract from it. He used his ambivalence to make the part stand out. For a youth to hold his own against the likes of Gary Cooper and Geraldine Fitzgerald was remarkable unto itself. But this young actor had something unique — a kind of feral rage — that I found instantly appealing and intriguing.


I looked up Ray Stricklyn’s IMDB record to find out where else I might have seen his face. One of his first roles jumped out at me. He had played the brother of Debbie Reynolds in the Paddy Chayefsky classic, A Catered Affair, one of my favorite of Bette Davis’s later films, above. Almost a cameo role, Stricklyn’s turn as a high-strung, but likable, teen had stuck in my mind. And apparently in Bette Davis’s too. She and Stricklyn, I learned, hit it off and remained close friends for many years.


Curious about his career, I tracked down some of his other roles, including the campy horror film The Return of Dracula (1958), above, co-starring Francis Lederer, in which Ray, somewhat less convincingly played the young starlet's love interest. He also appeared in a couple of westerns, such as Young Jesse James (1960), and played Billy the Kid on a Bronco TV episode, below



I also did a quick Google search. One link popped out at me and made my jaw drop. Ray Stricklyn had been on the notorious “Spy List” back in 1990, along with Milton Berle, Kevin Costner, Tommy Lee, Don Johnson, Mick Jagger, Tom Jones, and Rudolph Valentino.


One didn’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure out what these men all shared in common, especially since Tommy Lee would later show the world his credentials in explicit videos with Pamela Anderson. I certainly remembered Spy magazine’s list — which had created a sensation (this was before the days when things went viral online) — but had no memory of Ray Stricklyn, who it turned out, was the only one on the list who was openly gay. (Valentino was a bit more complicated.)

I decided to order the autobiography Stricklyn had written a few years before his death. Entitled Angels & Demons, One Actor’s Hollywood Journey (1999), the book is a fiercely candid, trenchant peek into the Hollywood studios's twilight years, and his struggles with his homosexuality. While many recent memoirs by gay actors have been informative and eye-opening — in particular Farley Granger’s Include Me Out, and Tab Hunter’s Confidential — Stricklyn’s autobiography goes far beyond theirs in terms of self-examination and soul-searching, and chronicles the highs and lows of a failed Hollywood career with an honesty that is at times painful to read.


While not the juicy homoerotic exposé one might expect (Tony Perkins’s bio, Split-Image, by Charles Winecoff, is much more rewarding in that regard), Stricklyn’s memoir does have its amusing kiss-and-tell moments, especially during an incident in which he and James Dean were lounging together in Central Park, with Dean’s head in Stricklyn’s lap. Dean suddenly pulled Stricklyn down and kissed him full on the lips. It’s a tender moment between two friends, nothing more. But that was the effect Stricklyn seemed to have on those around him, although he recounts a hilarious moment in Lee Marvin’s dressing room when the unpredictable actor pulled out a gigantic phallic-shaped dildo and nearly attacked him with it. Stricklyn didn’t stick around to find out what precisely Marvin had in mind.

While working with some of the hottest actors of his day (including Dee Pollock, Bill Smith, Ty Hardin, Paul Newman and “cocky actor” Nick Adams, with whom he did not get along), Stricklyn did not mix work with pleasure often. He lists among his lovers Tab Hunter (no surprise there); Tony Perkins (a quickie in Central Park); Craig Hill, a handsome TV idol (Whirlybirds) who went on to make westerns in Spain and later married; and his lifelong partner David Galligan, an antiques dealer who became a noted stage director. Stricklyn didn’t shy away from sex, but it was not his number one preoccupation. He tried to go straight (via psychotherapy) or at least to swing both ways for a while (flirting with Joan Collins), but that only exacerbated his already significant drinking problem. Ray Stricklyn had several demons struggling inside him.


But it’s clear that the perception of his homosexuality had a major impact on his career. While he landed good roles in important films such as The Proud and the Profane, The Remarkable Mr. Pennypacker (playing Clifton Webb’s son), The Big Fisherman, The Plunderers, and The Lost World, he struggled to find regular work. Despite garnering accolades in almost every role he took on, Stricklyn was not given the leading roles he needed to firmly establish himself in Hollywood. The demise of the studio system was a major factor since his contract was not renewed when Fox ran into financial problems.



But watching his performances, one can’t help but be struck by the almost androgynous appeal Stricklyn showed — sort of a cross between the angst-ridden rebel of James Dean and the sensual vulnerability of Sal Mineo — and wonder if he was not a victim of his times. He did do a lot of TV work and had significant success in several stage plays, including Compulsion and Capote’s The Grass Harp, below. But his career seemed to be a never-ending stream of hopeful fits and false starts.


Stricklyn gave up acting for a time, working with the legendary PR mogul, John Springer. Stricklyn’s memories of promoting Peggy Lee, Mae West, Henry Fonda and Bette Davis are some of the highpoints in the book. But he yearned to return to the stage. It was Bibi Andersson, of Ingmar Bergman fame, who spurred him on to give acting another try. After several potent parts in plays, including Vieux Carré, for which he won the Los Angeles Drama Critics award for best actor, Stricklyn wrote and starred in a one-man show about that work’s author, Tennessee Williams. The show, Confessions of a Nightingale, toured the country for years, opened on Broadway (even the irascible John Simon liked it) and made Ray Stricklyn a bona fide star.


It’s gratifying to see a man fulfill his dreams. But apparently from what I’ve read elsewhere, Stricklyn never was able to shake off his demons. He did get sober in AA, and settled down to a happy partnership with David Galligan. But he continued to be wracked with worries and anxieties, smoked four packs of Kools a day, which led to a severe case of emphysema that eventually killed him in 2002. One friend wrote that even as he approached death, Stricklyn never lost his edge. He greeted death with rage, not submission.


Just for the heck of it, I looked up Ray Stricklyn on YouTube to see if any of his old TV shows might be posted. And lo and behold, one was: an episode of the 1957 inspirational series, Crossroads, entitled “A Call for Help,” above, starring Richard Carlson and a young Michael Landon. Stricklyn plays a Mama’s Boy who is picked on by a local gang led by Landon.


To prove he is not the “sissy” they repeatedly call him, Stricklyn grabs his father’s gun and shoots Landon and another boy, killing the latter. He is put on trial and defended on the theory that he was fighting more substantial inner demons (which I presume to be 50s doublespeak for homosexuality).


It’s a fun episode to watch, and one that underscores all of Stricklyn’s strengths, weaknesses and ultimately his enormous potential. Of course, it was the sexy bully Michael Landon who became a superstar. One can’t help but wonder what might have happened had their roles been reversed. 

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Eyes of Taos



While exploring the vast contents of the Harry Ransom Center in Austin during a month-long sojourn one joyful March a few years ago, I was captivated by the diaries of a little-known writer named Spud Johnson. These journals document the Taos art scene, as well as American gay life in the 30s and 40s, in a way I had never come across before.

The collection includes hundreds of photographs documenting Spud's life in Taos. There are pictures of him posing with Frieda and D. H. Lawrence (anachronistically dressed in thick woolen suits in the desert); Mabel Dodge and Tony Luhan; young men like Haniel Long, Joel Lacey, Lucius Kutchin, artists Loren Mozley, John Goldmark, as well as local youths Rafael and Patricio who resemble models handpicked by Edward S. Curtiss.




I actually had first heard of Spud Johnson ages ago back when I was obsessed with anything to do with D. H. Lawrence, especially his days recovering from tuberculosis in Taos, New Mexico. As a college student, enthralled with Lady Chatterley's Lover and the like, I read all about Lawrence's life among the pueblos and his wacky circle of friends there, in particular Mabel Dodge Luhan, the heiress who had rocked the world with her torrid love affair with John Reed, then settled down with an American Indian in Taos.



One of her closest friends was a little known poet and publisher, Walter Willard Johnson, nicknamed Spud, who occasionally put out a much-admired journal called Laughing Horse. A recent book about that venture, Spud Johnson and Laughing Horse, by Sharyn Rohlfsen Udall, describes him as "the aesthetic and intellectual conscience of Taos." But it reveals very little about Spud Johnson's colorful personal life.

I found out more on my own. He was born on June 3, 1897 in Mount Vernon, Illinois but grew up in Greeley, Colorado. His father John Smith Johnson was from Fredonia, Kentucky and had built up a successful lumber business. His mother, (née) Susan Wiggington, was also originally from Kentucky. Spud had a brother Van Elbert and a sister Helen Gladys. His cousin Lila Wheeler was adopted by the family and raised as a sister. From an early age, Walter was dubbed "Spud" by his family. In fact, that is the name he used on his Social Security card. He studied at Colorado State Teacher's College in 1916, where he wrote for the school paper and worked as a cub reporter for the Greeley newspaper. He then attended the University of Colorado in Boulder, and found work at the Pueblo Chieftain where he apprenticed in journalism.

Eager to broaden his horizons, he moved to the University of California in Berkeley. There, with friends, he started up a small press pamphlet, Laughing Horse, known for its biting and flippant tone, which immediately raised the hackles of university authorities by opposing certain school programs. Spud became the companion of one of his poetry teachers, Witter Bynner (below), a noted writer who also taught at UCLA. Bynner helped Spud find a job as a secretary at the esteemed but highly secretive Bohemian Club.



By 1922 the two traveled to Santa Fe, NM, where Spud met D. H. Lawrence through Bynner and traveled with the storied author and his wife Frieda to Mexico. In a short time he had relocated with Bynner to Taos, the hub of a lively burgeoning literary scene, where he soon fell in with the indomitable Mabel Dodge Luhan, who'd first put Taos on the map. (Mabel, Frieda and Dorothy Brett, below.)



Spud became Mabel's private secretary and settled down there permanently. He eventually built a small adobe home, La Placita, where he lived for 40 years until his death in 1968. It later became a popular, if funky, bed and breakfast, The Laughing Horse Inn.



In those early years in the 20s, Spud wrote constantly and his work was published in Poetry, Pan, Echo, Palms, and The New Republic. Rydal Press published a selection of his works in 1935, entitled Horizontal Yellow. Later he would toil in Manhattan for a year at The New Yorker, penning pithy "Talk of the Town" pieces. He preferred the Southwest and hurried back to Taos.

But it was primarily as a friend of the famous that Spud achieved lasting notoriety. He appears sporadically as a character in books by Lawrence and Mabel Luhan and Dorothy Brett, and was frequently sought out by visitors who relished his connections as well as his hospitality. He was an enigma to many. Lady Dorothy Brett wrote of him: "There is something oddly Chinese in the narrow shape of the face, of the features, that are more chiseled bones than flesh. He might be a Chinese ascetic from some old, old Mandarin family: the dark, smooth hair should end in a pig-tail, I think to myself. And not only to look at, is he Chinese to me: he has also something of their reserve; he keeps his inner life hidden away, carefully guarded."

That inner life was not hidden in his date books and journals. These diaries, carefully preserved at the Harry Ransom Center, cover a wide turf, starting off in the 1910s, and contain a startling "Declaration of Independence" in 1918, which sounds oddly like a defiant statement of coming out. Several pages are torn out of the diary in those early years, but as they progress they become more confident and far more candid. Spud details his affair with Myron Brinig, the now nearly forgotten writer who at the time was ranked alongside Thomas Wolfe.



Brinig was living with his boyfriend, artist Cady Wells, at the time but that did not preclude several jumps in the hay with Spud which the latter described as "bedroom athletics." He seemed to genuinely love Myron, below, his "ape-like" "Roumanian Jew."



Spud's explicit diary entries are extremely daring for their day and an invaluable guide for any scholar of so-called "queer studies" looking into the mind-set of homosexual life at the time. Despite the prevailing prudishness, Spud pulls no punches and reveals all. Some of his observations are campy and self-revealing, primarily plaintive regrets that he wasn't promiscuous enough, and had failed to pick up a stray boy on the street. The picture he paints is one of a very active and amusing gay scene of transients and trend-setters, but also a lonely life of yearning and regret.

In August 1934 Spud describes vividly having sex in the lobby of the Sagebrush Inn with a young man who worked there. Not long after he reveals seducing one of Mabel's native American cowboys, "topping" him in a tepee during a camping trip. Lust became an obsession for him: he keeps thinking of "white-limbed boys and dark-skinned lads" and "muscles that get hard when you touch them." (Below, Bynner and two local youths, Patricio and Rafael, from New Mexico.)



The diaries reveal a world of endless intrigue, drunken debauches, and constant fights with female admirers such as Alexandra Fichen, but also of boredom. This was before television and evenings were usually devoted to listening to radio, or spent at local dances, in bars or playing games like Anagrams and Charades or Solitaire. Spud expends a great deal of energy trying to "vamp" the local boys. He compares his notes to a schoolgirl's diary, especially after a failed attempt to pick up a drunken pal at a dance. A few weeks later, he yearns for a friend who instead has "hot pants" for some "tramp".

What comes through most in these diaries is Spud's sweet sense of humor. He's provocative, such as the time he threw flowers at the feet of a native Indian boy he fancied as he passes by during a parade. Much of the time, Spud generously takes in strays and younger men who are just passing through town and treats them with respect and an almost maternal care. But he clearly relishes his privacy and few of them stay very long.

By the mid 30s, he asks why he has no lovers? "I know I'm no longer either young or attractive, and yet everyone seems to like me." But soon he is befriended and bedded by Forbes Cheston, a wealthy Englishman who would later become a dominant figure in AA. There's also the episode in 1937 when he picks up a "strangely Aztec" bar boy and has wild sex with him under the moonlight behind a chapel, adding characteristically, "He practically nailed me to the old church wall."

The diaries, when not revealing the gay subterranean set, also revel in the literary life in New York which he visits in 1934. He hangs out with Carl Van Vechten and Effie Stettheimer. He describes Virgil Thomson in unflattering terms as pudgy with pop eyes and a high voice. "Didn't like him very much." Driving back to Taos, he picks up a hitchhiker with such bad body odor that he has to drive with the windows wide open. All of his road trips are sagas of overheated water tanks, flat tires and blow-outs.



Patrick White, above, the noted Australian author, visited with Spud in the late 30s and began an intense romantic affair with him on the eve of World War II. Some of his love letters are quoted in Spud's diaries and are very touching. But ultimately White met the man he would spend the rest of his life with and moved on, never looking back. Spud was left once again alone.

Max Evans, the author of the recent novel Bluefeather Fellini, describes him: "Spud had a cadaverous face, even in his youth. This made his brownish black eyes prominent indeed. At first glance, Spud's eyes said they had seen too much and done too little about it. They could be interested, amused, and in agreement, with moods changing so fast that the projections could be lost on the viewer."

In time the diaries change tone and are less graphic. This is most likely due to Spud's advancing age and his busy work schedule. By 1948 he admits having no delusions about making a name for himself as a writer. By then he still had only published Horizontal Yellow. He seems to have accepted his fate as being a local "gadfly" and even published a local column under that name. Later diaries document trips he took to Mexico with Georgia O'Keeffe where they met Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, and a journey to Europe with the painter Earl Stroh in which he finally met Alice B. Toklas, below.



By the 60s, Spud talks ominously about the "hazards of fraternization." He is alone and seems to prefer it that way. In his later years, Spud, who wrote regularly on the arts and cultural life in New Mexico for El Crepusculo, became increasingly eccentric. He affected a series of obvious toupees, one of which looked like a dead skunk. Or he might sport a beret and smoke an elaborate pipe. He would sometimes dress as a monk in robes and ride a donkey through the streets, the "St. Francis of Taos."

His thin wizened features gave him the air of a Renaissance saint. He'd sit in the local square selling books out of a makeshift cart he designed out of an old bicycle. The townspeople adored him and treated him like a living monument. He took up painting and was often seen outside capturing landscapes with his brush. He used his columns to fight over-development and to decry the mindless tearing down of trees to build more parking lots. He was ahead of his time in that regard and no doubt the changes to Taos and Santa Fe must have been difficult to witness having seen what it was like when it was first discovered by the cognoscenti in the early 20s.


And yet Spud never lost his enthusiasm for the place and championed the arts until his last breath. In fact, an art show he was organizing at the time he died was turned into a retrospective celebrating his career. His obituary appeared prominently in numerous newspapers. He had outlived all his friends and achieved a measure of renown all his own. And luckily he left us his collection of photographs and diaries which are a revealing and priceless glimpse into a fascinating lost era.