IBID, page 10
11. Jonathan was no fan of Coolidge, whom he found to be far too “lazy faire.” Winny expressed similar distaste for the new president in letters she exchanged with Jonathan while on holiday in Cuba with her spinster aunts. Winny’s antipathy for Coolidge had formed a few months earlier when, as vice president, he had accused women’s colleges of being hotbeds of Bolshevism. One imagines that the following letter, written on the day after the president’s swearing in (August 3, 1923), was received with a nod and a smile. Jonathan Blashette to Winny Wieseler, Wieseler Estate.
The invisible vice president is now the invisible president. I understand he was at his father’s farm in Vermont when he got the news of Harding’s demise. He was supposedly roused from a deep sleep. (Which raises the question: how does one know the difference between Coolidge awake and Coolidge asleep?) Here is how I imagine the conversation went.
SHERIFF: Mr. Coolidge, Senior. I am sorry to disturb you at this hour.
OLD MAN COOLIDGE: What time is it?
SHERIFF (consulting his watch): 7:45.
OLD MAN COOLIDGE: Botheration! Well, we’re all up now. What brings you here, Sheriff?
SHERIFF: Is your son—?
COOLIDGE (coming down the stairs, rubbing his eyes like a groggy toddler): Yes, I’m here, Sheriff. What is it?
SHERIFF: I have some grave news, sir. The President is dead.
COOLIDGE: President Harding dead? It is unthinkable.
(A long pregnant silence passes as all parties contemplate what this means.)
OLD MAN COOLIDGE: I suppose we should make things legal, son. Where’s the family Bible?
(The father administers the oath of office to the son. The father is a notary public. The son is now officially the President of the United States.)
OLD MAN COOLIDGE: Will there be anything else, Sheriff?
SHERIFF: I suppose not.
OLD MAN COOLIDGE (glancing out the window): The secret service men are mashing my pansies.
SHERIFF: Yes, I see them. I will ask them to move. Goodnight, Mr. Coolidge. Goodnight, Mr. President.
COOLIDGE: Good night, Sheriff.
(The sheriff leaves. Father and son sit for a moment in silence.)
OLD MAN COOLIDGE: I forgot to mention: the vet came to see Bessie today.
COOLIDGE: Teat still inflamed?
OLD MAN COOLIDGE: Not so much as before.
(President Coolidge nods. Another silence)
OLD MAN COOLIDGE: Cup of Ovaltine?
(President Coolidge shakes his head.)
COOLIDGE: Best be getting back to bed, Pa.
OLD MAN COOLIDGE: Best you should. Long day tomorrow.
COOLIDGE: Ayah. Good night, Pa.
OLD MAN COOLIDGE: Good night, son.
It should be an interesting eighteen months…if I can stay awake. I miss you.
12. Jonathan postponed the road trip to follow the Scopes Trial. Incidentally, a second, less publicized “monkey trial” docketed to get under way in Dawes Forge, Tennessee, on August 1 was to have included a brief appearance by William Jennings Bryan dressed in an ape suit. Out of respect for the family of Bryan, who, having concluded his prosecution of the Scopes case, promptly dropped dead of a heart attack, the judge granted both sides a continuance and forbade any references to Bryan or to monkeys at the trial. The case, in fact, never came to trial. Charges were dropped against the town’s young evolution-teaching high school biology teacher Miss Clorinda Pernell who promised to leave all mention of apes out of her classroom lectures in exchange for either a black Alaskan seal fur coat or an ermine with sable collar. The school board called her bluff and delivered her first choice, tied up with a big pink bow. So attached was Miss Pernell to the coat, that she was known to wear it year-round even as it became threadbare and she a sad, heavily perspiring remnant of her former self. Tightly swagged in the thick coat, she died of heatstroke during the heat wave of 1937. Sporting a thick moustache from an untreated hormone imbalance, Miss Clorinda Pernell, in the end, evolved into a life-drained replica of those very apes to which she had linked us all. A family court order prevented the Dawes Forge Anthropological Museum and Arboretum from installing her embalmed body in its new Primate Display (Miss Clorinda Pernell having sold rights to her corpse to the museum in this last year of her life to feed an obsession for rose water parfum).
13. U.S.A.: Union of Simian Anarchy. Jonathan’s West Greenwich Village neighbor Cabe Knudsen errs when he decries “monkey trials all over the country.” I have found evidence of only these two, in addition to a somewhat heated exchange involving two divinity students in Normal, Illinois, which ended when one of the two young men tried to put out the eye of the other with the business end of a roasting fork. An interesting footnote to a footnote: Cabe Knudsen was deported three months after this conversation following another nationwide sweep for potential anarchists. He claimed Tahiti as his country of origin and happily spent the remainder of his life there, serving for a time as curator of the Gauguin Museum of Art. Knudsen may be familiar to some art scholars as the man who dared to answer Gauguin’s haunting “Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?” His responses respectively: “Stupid Little Monkeys. Stupid Little Monkeys. To the zoo.”
14. “There sat Aimee Semple McPherson, coifed in her signature bob.” If the event were true, it would have constituted one of the most bizarre in Jonathan’s life. I haven’t found evidence that a single contemporary of Jonathan’s assistant Davison believed his story, and Jonathan’s diary, tellingly, is silent on the alleged meeting. Davison was apparently acquainted with a female acolyte of the evangelist who committed suicide when McPherson disappeared and was originally feared drowned, a fact that could very well go to plausible motive for Davison’s concocting the story that clearly paints the popular revivalist as liar and schemer and fully disputes her claim that she had been kidnapped and tortured. (She was allegedly burned with a cigar on her knuckles.) I found the following account among the notes Davison had made for an unfinished memoir he was writing at the time of his death in 1971. HD.
I spied her in a dark corner of the hotel dining room. There she sat, coifed in her signature bob. I nudged Jonny and whispered, “The woman in the corner, do you see?”
Jonny peered and nodded. “It’s Aimee Semple McPherson. Perhaps her kidnappers allow her to come down to the dining room to take her meals.”
“What should we do?”
“Why don’t we go over and ask her what’s what?”
Jonny, like me, had little patience for women who pretend to be kidnapped and get everybody on the West Coast in a lather over it.
McPherson saw us coming and looked a little unnerved. We had her cornered.
“Excuse me,” Jonny says. “Are you the famous, allegedly kidnapped evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson?”
“No, I am not.”
She took out a compact and began to powder her nose, hoping, I would suppose, that we would simply go away.
“I must say that you bear a very strong resemblance to the woman,” Jonny pursued.
“People tell me that. Now if you don’t mind—”
To my surprise, Jonny sat down. Taking his lead, I pulled up a chair and did the same.
“Excuse me, but you are not welcome at this table. I wish to be alone.”
“Why did you do it?” Jonny asked, relentless.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said, nervously. The woman appeared quite undone by our visit. She had powdered her nose to such point that she now resembled a Geisha.
“What if I were to put it thusly?” Jonny replied. “Let’s suppose you were Aimee Semple McPherson, what would you guess would be the reason you would be sitting in this dining room eating—what is that?”
“It’s pâté of braunschweiger with capers. Would you like a nibble?”
It appeared that she was now attempting to win her release through forced
Jonny declined. I took a bite. It tasted like liver cheese.
“Let’s say that I am who you say I am—the world-famous founder of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel.”
“Throw out the lifeline,” Jonny sang.
Aimee smiled. “Yes, that Aimee Semple McPherson. Let us say that I were she. Well, wouldn’t you think I would be entitled to a vacation? It’s exhausting work healing cripples all day. Sometimes you think they’re totally healed and they start to walk toward you and then they fall flat onto their poor, generally homely faces, and you must return them to their wheelchairs or whatever jerry-rigged contraptions they have assembled to move them about because they’re too poor to afford a decent conveyance. Well, wouldn’t I be entitled to a few weeks rest and relaxation here in Carmel? If only for all those tens of thousands of passports I’ve stamped for entry into the kingdom of gold and myrrh?
Jonny was about to respond but I was too quick: “A young girl killed herself when she thought you had drowned.”
“I suppose the poor young thing wanted to join me at the Gates of Heaven.”
“But you aren’t there.”
“Well, I admit, she’d be in for a little bit of a wait.”
“Are you aware that two men also died — trying to ‘rescue’ you?”
“Yes, I do read the papers, but it must have been clear to most with some degree of common sense that I was not out there. Were there cries for help? Was I seen thrashing about in those waves? No, I was not. Because I was kidnapped. I was tied up and kept against my will in an undisclosed location, and at some point, I will have to escape and return to my flock with a fantastic story to tell. Yes, gentlemen, that is what I would say if I were Aimee Semple McPherson, but I am not. I merely favor her. Now, may I be left to finish my appetizer before my boyfriend comes down? I’d rather he not see you here. He is very jealous and what’s more, has himself been reported missing by his wife several weeks ago. The poor dear has enough to worry about right now.”
Jonny had been holding his tongue through all of this, but now spoke in angry sputters. “What makes you think that I won’t go to the police at this very moment and report your presence here?”
Aimee smiled, a caper lodged stubbornly between her upper two incisors. “This is why.” At that moment I felt a sharp blow to the back of my head and then I was out. Apparently, Jonny, too, was similarly rendered unconscious. When we both came to, Aimee was gone. All that was left was the faint whiff of her floral perfume and a smudge of pâté upon her plate.
Jonny decided that it would be best not to go to the authorities with our story. “She’ll resurface soon. Nobody will buy the story. She’ll convict herself the moment she opens her mouth.”
Two days later Aimee showed up at the Angelus Temple with one whopper to tell—swallowed hook, line, and sinker by her fawning followers. A story that had absolutely nothing to do with pâté.
15. Leopold and Loeb liked the scent. Nathan Leopold to Jonathan Blashette, 4 October1924. Attempting to expand the market for his men’s deodorant line, Jonathan and Davison sent free samples to as many celebrated Americans as he could think of—and a few whose celebrity was colored with all the dark hues of notoriety.
16. Calvin Coolidge wasn’t available that day. The reason that President Coolidge wasn’t able to see Davison, or anyone else on that day was because he had cleared his calendar to meet with “Ol’ Rip,” a horned toad that emerged alive during the razing of the old courthouse in Eastland, Texas, after thirty-one years of incarceration in the building’s cornerstone. Few details of the visit have survived with the exception of one transcribed account from The Amphibian Lovers’ Oral History Project: 100 Years of Frogs & their Friends (Chicago: S. Elliot and Company, 1982). Coolidge allegedly invited the toad and its human entourage to stay for lunch, during which he hand-fed the toad flies skewered on toothpicks. The legendarily laconic president is said to have remarked, “My, my. Hmm. Yum, huh?”
It was foolish of Davison to think that he could have gotten a product endorsement from the president in the first place.
17. “Didn’t James Joyce’s eye patch used to be over the other eye?” Jonathan Blashette to Harlan Davison, 1 November, 1924HD. Jonathan’s pub encounter with author James Joyce was the second in a long series of late-night celebrity convives. Many of the individuals whom Jonathan met during his many years of urban night-owling were, like Joyce, well established in their high-profile professions; others, such as Rodolfo Valentina d’Antonguolla, were soon to be famous. Most of the encounters, though friendly and even affectionate, never rose to anything sustaining, and generally didn’t extend beyond a single, isolated evening of convivial fraternity, soul-baring confession, and/or bathetic beer-basted blubbering.
Still, Jonathan’s pantheon of pub pals is impressive. Among those with whom he bonded over brews and spirits, both legal and il, were popular radio announcer Graham McNamee; at least one of the Dionne quintuplets (Jonathan was too drunk at the time to recall which, but did remember that the young woman imbibed only Shirley Temples, and so was the exception to the elevated blood-alcohol rule.); fashion designer Christian Dior (to whom, it is rumored, Jonathan suggested the sack dress); Betty Ford (during her tenure with the Martha Graham Concert Group); contract bridge expert Charles Henry Goren; murderess Winne Ruth Judd (during her years on the lam—“What saw? Oh, this saw. Why, Mr. Blashette, I carry this ol’ thing everywhere I go. It’s my lucky saw. Now—enough about the saw if you know what’s good for you.”); mobster Lucky Luciano; record-setting thoroughbred Man O’War (“Who the hell let that horse in here?”); government agent Eliot Ness; saxophonist Lester Young; German film director Leni Riefenstahl (“I’m going to live to be 101; just watch me, liebchen.”); entrepreneur Billy Rose (“Is Fanny Brice in here? She left something on the stove.”); crooner Rudy Vallee (“Where’s my megaphone? Did somebody pinch my megaphone?”); folksinger and composer Woody Guthrie (“So long. It’s been good to know you.”); jigsaw puzzle designer Jo LeGood; actor J. Carroll Naish; baseball player “Gorgeous George” Sisler; manufacturer William C. Procter (“I’m looking for a business associate of mine—Jimmy Gamble.”); and manufacturer Arde Bulova (“Do I have the time? Sure as tootin’ I’ve got the time.”). Incidentally, it was Bulova who originated spot advertising on the radio and convinced Jonathan to give the new medium a shot.
18. “Things are going well.” The full text of Jonathan’s letter to Bloor (10 November1924 AnB) follows:
Dear Dr. Bloor,
I thank you for your letter. I am happy to report that things are going well. Things, in fact, are going exceedingly well. Dandy-de-odor-o, Inc. has become more successful than I ever imagined. We cannot keep up with the orders that are flooding in; we are already making plans for expanding our plant and are taking on new employees on almost a weekly basis.
It has not been a difficult task. There, apparently, has always been a need for deodorizers for the male underarm. I suppose it was simply a matter of time before someone like me came along to find a way to fill that need. But is it, simultaneously, filling the need within me to make something of my life—something lasting? Something with which I can make a difference in this world? Perhaps not. Yet, I know that the money I make from this business can be put to good use in myriad ways. I would like to found an organization with some humanitarian aspect. I haven’t yet decided what that will be. I am still trying to figure out why I am here. You have told me that I have a life mission. I know that selling deodorants is not it. Dandy-de-odor-o, Inc. constitutes merely a rest stop along the highway of my life. To freshen up. To help others freshen up. I will be back on that highway soon—speeding toward my destiny, to be sure.
I have rented a very comfortable little apartment for my father on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. When I first moved him here he had a terrible aversion to the city. Almost daily he would remind me how much he wanted to get back to Arkansas. But now he seems to have settled
Doctor Bloor, I am in love. I will speak frankly. Her name is Winny Wieseler and she is smart and funny and beautiful. I cannot wait to see her each day. And when I am not with her, I am thinking about her—constantly. I do not think I dishonor the memory of Lucile by having such strong feelings for Winny. I have simply been blessed by God with the chance to meet and cultivate affection for two most extraordinary women. I cannot wait for you to meet my Winny. Will you be in New York some time soon?
19. She was dedicated to public service. Among the other causes to which Winny devoted herself was working to replace the name of the Dakota School for Crippled and Stumbling Children. Leggio, Winsome Winny, 123.
20. It was no Algonquin. Of decidedly less collective magnitude than the luminaries who congregated uptown at the Algonquin Hotel, was the literary demimonde that gathered twice each week at the Bowery Hotel “Round Table.” (Robert Benchley did wander in on one occasion to use the telephone and was corralled into sharing a drink with the group for a quarter of an hour. The experience included little conversation and much gawking.) And yet the conclave’s existence through the twenties and into the early thirties made enough of a ripple in the New York literary and theatrical pond to merit a book by Justin Dunigan, grandson of charter member New York Clarion columnist A. Deveer Dunigan. In his book, Justin assembles a number of the quasi-witticisms delivered by participants of the Bowery klatch, among them the effervescent and slightly cheeky Winny Wieseler. A sampling follows. Justin Dunigan, Wednesdays at Noon, Fridays at One: An Anecdotal History of the “Other” Round Table (New York: Tabitha Press, 1983).
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