IBID, page 12
In his lifetime Jennings also wrote fourteen novels, thirteen continuing the saga of the toothless Gum family which settled in central Nebraska and sold consommé. His fourteenth novel Things My Wife Did to Me was a very loosely veiled account of Jennings’s rocky marriage to silent screen actress Velma DeGraaf, apologist for and possible paramour of doomed comedic actor Fatty Arbuckle and coiner of the tag line “Take your grimy eyes off my sheen.”
Jennings’ last two books, both memoirs published posthumously and heavily revised by widow DeGraaf, sold fewer than two hundred copies in their only printings. In fact, existing copies of Things I Did to Myself and My Life as a Wife-slugging Bastard, with Afterword by Roscoe “Fatty”Arbuckle each now commands a high price in the rare book market. A copy of Things I Did to Myself was exhibit “A” in a lawsuit filed in 2001 by Mauvourneen Heyer, who, when told of the value of her mint condition copy by a book dealer on the television program Video Flea Market, lost consciousness and cracked her skull on a rare Queen Anne highboy being caressed at the time by both of the Keno twins.
16. Accidents and other odd happenings plagued the plant. No one has any idea how Elwin Lyster got inside the box. One moment he was observed by co-workers at his usual station in Section 17B on the assembly line. The next moment he was gone. Elwin was later found curled sleepily among packing material and deodorant sticks. A co-worker recalled that Lyster’s face was beatific, “as if he had been to a wonderful secret place mortals don’t generally get to visit.” For years thereafter Lyster would eagerly relate to those he’d meet all the details of his fifteen minutes in “a place difficult to describe without assistance from the clergy.” Unhappy with the adverse publicity generated by those who found such individuals socially menacing, Blashette would eventually be forced to fire the former game warden and butter-and-egg man without severance or apology, although Lyster was allowed to keep the box, which he nicknamed “My Portal to Paradise” and more informally “Roy.” Reinhold, The Story of Dandy-de-odor-o, 162-66.
17. Soon they were crawling out of the woodwork. Dandy-D seemed to attract individuals like Bucky and Mr. Scrum who must have assumed that factories run by men with three legs could be havens for their alternative approaches to life. Jonathan didn’t help matters by hiring many of these strange characters himself and without any form of background check. Among the other oddball workers whom Blashette found himself eventually cashiering or sending off for reorientation sessions at Miss Love’s School of Conformity was conveyor operator Chigger Farrow, who would hold his breath at random moments and occasionally lose consciousness, then topple off the milk stool his mother had given him for the express purpose of mitigating damage to his head and spine when he took his tumbles. Blashette also employed slow-talker Hoyt Spivak and horse-reviler Algernon Accola, Carmine “The Weeper” Morrow, as well as Dabney Whalen, Mormon father of twenty-three who was not only married to seven women simultaneously but who had troubled unions with each of them. Ibid., 166.
18. “Something’s got to be done with this company or we’re going under. All we need now is a major economic downturn and we’re sunk.” Memorandum from Charleton Caldwell to Jonathan Blashette, 15 April, 1929, Dandy-de-odor-o Corporate Records.
19. “Stocks Collapse in 16,410,030 Share Day” New York Times. 30 October, 1929.
20. “Wall Street Lays an Egg” Variety, 30 October, 1929.
BROTHER, CAN YOU SPARE A DAME?
1. “I’ve seen one blue tit before, but never two at the same time.” Jonathan would not realize until much later that his drinking companion for the evening was an amateur ornithologist who was referring to the old world titmouse Parus Caeruleus, distinguished by its cobalt-blue crown. Jonathan’s Diary, JBP, 2 November1929.
2. “It was a fabulous party.” The story is totally apocryphal. There is no evidence that T.E. Lawrence, Ted Shawn, E. M. Forster & Bill Tilden had ever met one another, let alone devised plans to gather at Jonathan’s home in his absence to look at magic lantern slides of wrestling Muybridge male nudes.
3. Oliver Hardy was one of the few well-known actors Jonathan never had the chance to meet. The closest he ever came was once mistaking the popular orchestra conductor Paul Whiteman for Hardy in the lobby of the Blackstone Hotel in Chicago. The two men strongly resembled each another and were often confused, especially when Whiteman did his Oliver Hardy impression.
A side note from a sideman: Jonathan was never a big fan of Paul Whiteman. He felt that the “King of Jazz” while embracing and exploiting the black jazz idiom, should have, at the same time, demonstrated his gratitude by racially integrating his orchestra. Jonathan sympathized with those African-American jazz musicians who felt that Whiteman was either a racist or too much the coward ever to make the attempt. One trumpeter whom I interviewed several years ago for a book I never completed about the Harlemphiliac author and photographer Carl Van Vechten (and whose name I withhold at the request of his family), passed along this story of his stage door confrontation with Whiteman after a performance by his orchestra in New York City: “I asked the fat lily white ass why he wouldn’t hire any of us Colored folk for his orchestra, especially since he’s always playing our music. He just giggled and did that funny flippy-doodle thing with his tie like Oliver Hardy always does in them Laurel and Hardy pictures. Then when he realized that I wasn’t digging this, he got real serious and said, ‘Look here, my Colored friend. I’m not in the business of losing money by putting any Negroes in my orchestra. Plain and simple. Besides, the name is Paul Whiteman, boy. That’s Whiteman, not Blackman. Now if you will kindly move aside, I have reservations at the Cotton Club.’” Furman, The Story of Jonathan Blash—[ette], 133-34.
4. “We can weather this storm.” Memorandum from Jonathan Blashette to Dandy-de-odor-o employees, 12 February, 1930. Corporate hatch battening began with the sale of the product itself. Jonathan, determined to keep Dandy-D afloat, slashed the wholesale price of the deodorant by half. Joked vice president for marketing Vinton Kalet, “We’ve got those damned deodorant sticks so cheap now, they’re probably using ’em for lard down in Appalachia.” (Reinhold, 175-77). Other means by which Jonathan hoped to tough out the hard economic times involved cutting employee salaries by 25 percent and significantly reducing overhead. “You won’t find this company going belly-up, no sirree,” he stated with resolve. “Even a guy with a hole in his sole and a soup kitchen crust in his hand’s got a right to smell like a swell. And knowing that fact, he’ll scrape up whatever he can to purchase our product.” With the exception of radio, advertising expenditures were also trimmed. Reinhold contends that it was the popularity of radio that saved the company.
5. “You won’t find a job if you smell like a slob.” The jingle reached its peak in popularity in the mid-1930s. However, as late as 1947, the slogan was ad-libbed by Bob Hope in the only Hope/Crosby “road” picture to be dubbed an inarguable “stinker” by American film critics. Road to Irkutsk was shelved after its premiere in Hollywood and all prints subsequently destroyed. According to co-star Dorothy Lamour in an interview with Sinematic Confessions Magazine (12, no.4 :34), Hope accused Bing Crosby of having never heard of deodorant, and Lamour came close to making an unkind comment or two herself, the heavy woolen uniform the comedic crooner wore unleashing wafts of male apocrine unpleasantness “to the detriment of all of us who value an unpolluted work environment.”
6. The new director of product planning limped to the easel and took the pointer. Reinhold, The Story of Dandy-de-odor-o, 184. Arnold Haverty’s left leg had been mangled in a childhood game of blindman’s bluff. After local toughs crashed the eleven-year-old boy’s birthday party, he was blindfolded and walked right off the small bluff that marked the boundary of the backyard meadow in which the game was played. The young bullies confessed that they were only tangentially familiar with the rules of the game. The same excuse was offered following an earlier game of Snap-the-Whip, which resulted in Haverty’s young cousin being flu
7. Haverty had a bit of the devil in him. Ibid. Among other popular pranks perpetrated by mischievous Arnie was sneaking into Sally Rand’s dressing room at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair and replacing the stripper’s body balloon with a dangerously smaller inflatable.
8. “I liked Haverty’s laugh. I wanted to emulate it.” Jonathan described it this way: “Homph, homph, heh, hickle, heh, homph.” Jonathan’s Diary, JBP, 1 March 1930.
9. “In the sum of it, a most delightful evening with the three-legged man.” Evelyn Waugh did, apparently, enjoy his late-night encounter with Jonathan at the Kensington Pub, taking the opportunity to unbosom himself of a number of deep-seated regrets and concerns. The satirical British novelist confessed profound disappointment over being forced by his publisher to excise most of the homosexual, pedophiliac, and incestuous references from his Decline and Fall, adding, as he became bolder in his admissions to Jonathan, that an earlier draft of the manuscript containing, as well, a scatologically-defiled tea party and an orgy involving several English schoolboys and two crippled milch cows, could have made for a much more controversial book. It was all, according to Waugh, simply a matter of “mores and taste. You see, I prefer a few more seasonings in my literary spice rack.” That evening Evelyn also expressed regret over having the same first name as his wife. It made for a number of confusing marital moments, especially on those occasions during which self-critical monologues were overheard and misunderstood by wife Evelyn, to the cruel delight of the hired help. Private notes, Waugh Papers, Cramlington University. U.K.
10. It was during his visit to England that Jonathan met Clara Gleason. Jonathan Blashette to Addicus Blashette, 15 March1930, JBP.
11. “I didn’t care for her at first, but she does have a way of growing on you.” Ibid., 19 March1930, JBP.
12. The old die young. Clara’s contempt for anyone over the age of fifty is best summed up in the poem which follows. Published by The Young Set, organ of the British Society for the Abolition of the Aged, “Buckie Biddle” caused an outcry at the time. Clara was sent hate mail from angry seniors throughout the world (including Jonathan’s father Addicus, who, exercising his new Yiddish vocabulary, pronounced it meshuga) and from every demographic subset, including a centenarian who mailed her his befouled bed sheets and called her a “snot-nosed ninny.” Harsh British reaction in particular was one of the reasons Clara ended her lengthy literary sojourn in England and returned to the States with Jonathan.
Buckie Biddle made a piddle
In her panties,
In the middle.
Down her leg, dribble dribble
While down her chin wind streams of spittle—
Droolly mewlly little
Dots and spots of spinky spittle.
Spitty splat and splatter spit,
Plinking pink and wrinkly tit—
Down bony chin, jutting brittle
To droopy tit, a splishy puddle.
Buckie blinks and squints and prattle
Blurts and spurts, a mumbly muddle.
Murmur Murmur reminisce.
Buckie’s life near to end—
Broken life, no hope of mend.
So fluids flow,
Recede and dry.
Then desiccated Buckie die.
13. “I love her because she’s dangerous.” Jonathan’s Diary, 18 March1930, JBP. The effusive entry continues:
“I love her because she grabs life by the horns, by the short hairs, by the ear lobes and doesn’t let go. She hangs on to life, wrestling with it, thrashing it about, flinging it from side to side like a terrier with a death-destined woodrat. She takes life in her hands as if it were some great sopping sponge from which she must wring out every last drop. She holds it over her beautiful upturned head and she squeezes the salty liquid from its pores and it spills into her open, thirsty mouth and she drinks of it in great happy gulps as it rivulets down her sweet, softly curved chin, from her gaping, grinning, giggling mouth. And I want to take her in my arms and celebrate her celebration of that celebratory instinct within us all. I want to lay tongue-active kisses on her winks, on her saucy secretive smirks, on her sloppy, full-barreled assaults on a world gone stale, gone dry on the vine, a world gone greedmad or complacent or afraid without cause. She stands back and whoopbelts: ’Why this? Why not? Why worry? What, me worry? Where is my life? Here it is! Splayed before you to be wholly engaged. To be put into gear. I will address the starter and watch it go. And I will adjust the setting to ‘high’ and I will fly!’ My Clara—climber of mountains and spinner of dreams, untempered, uncorralled, undeterred. My glorious free spirit. My ClaraDelicious.
I love her for all these things. I love her too, perhaps most of all, for waking me to my own potential”
14. “Doctor Bloor, Clara will show me how to bring purpose to my own life.” Jonathan Blashette to Andrew Bloor, 21 March1930, AnB.
15. “For heaven’s sake, Jonathan, don’t let her go to Boston.” Andrew Bloor to Jonathan Blashette, 4 April1930, JBP.
16. Clara came with baggage. In addition to her son Hunter and her niece Margreta whom she was raising following a burro collision in the Grand Canyon that permanently juggled the brains of her sister Ida, Clara brought with her four dogs, two cats, Clara’s Aunt Love, Clara’s Aunt Love’s iron lung, Clara’s Aunt Love’s nurse Miss Puntz, Nurse Puntz’s extensive collection of japonaiserie, a sheep named Orville (for the wool), a goat named Snickersnee (for the cheese), and the famed engineer and bridge designer Bascom Caruthers. Merry Mintz Figel. Research notes from unproduced stage production Clara! The Musical, c. 1965.
17. One of Bascom’s ears had been badly disfigured in a botched candling episode. Ibid.
18. Among the other habitués of Clara’s literary “salon” were Dorothy Musgrove and Carter Wendt. Carter was perhaps genetically predisposed to poetry and light prose as the grand-nephew of poet Damon Wendt who, befriended by Walt Whitman at a Camden dry goods store as the two men found themselves laying claim to the same flannel work shirt, was inspired to write in the style and spirit of the hoary celebrant of the common man. (With all correspondence between the two having been burned by Damon’s sister and Carter’s great aunt Edith Puggs, upon Damon’s death and her discovery that he had deliberately called her in order of frequency, “Pigg,” “Porker,” “Priggy Pig” and “Ham Hips”), we are left with only Damon’s clearly derivative poems as evidence that Carter’s great uncle not only shared Whitman’s “invert” nature, but sought to incorporate the predilection into his poetry in an even more overt manner than did his friend and fellow flannel-wearer. An example is the following, from his self-published collection, Blades with Stalks.
Paean to the Packing House
O men of meat!
With rippled sinew, with muscles spread thick and bared,
To push, to pull, to swell, sweat-moistened, to haul and heave and thrust—hips forward hips back, a rush of man-work,
This place of heft and husky, hirsute manhood.
This abattoir of dust and dank and blood.
Blood of beast, sweat of man.
O pageant of manhood!
I gaze upon the scene and within me a beast awakes, stretches, yawns, fisting his eyes and viewing carnage civilized by the muscular men of meat.
Hear the throaty cries of the barrelmen of beef and brawn who carry the weight of commerce upon their massive, undulating shoulders.
Throats that hunger for the taste of meat cut, meat uncut.
I sing my joy of the packing house.
I am singer in a place queer in its blood-lock, yet sustenance-sustaining,
Carnivorous, cacophonous cavern of the deep, the dark, the dangerous, the men of meat.
I brush the young one lightly, gently, my hand searching, tentative in its touch.
To touch the shoulder, the hocks, the lumber limbs of the one with the astral ey
He pushes me back, a look of warning, a look of one who becomes master even in his youth.
Hands unsuppled by the work of the trade.
His baritone cry, warm and felt-lined, deep in the timbre of youthful man-gruff: “Stop looking at me.
Stop touching me.
You’re standing in a blood pool, you old fool.”
Fool I am but fool I be.
I touch him again, softly, a gentle stroke across the sullied apron pulled taut against his, no-doubt, fur-tuft chest.
Another push in answer.
In furrowed scorn.
“I told you to stop touching me. Touch me again, and I’ll pop you with this calf carcass.”
I embrace the folly of my petulant spirit, and am again about the pursuit of this fine avatar of male youth who carves the meat with the sheer brawn of his musky man-paw.
My hand reaches out again…
And is met by the darkness of day-sleep, of sudden somnolent ensilencing.
The flame of consciousness doused.
Upon my back I enter the Packing House of Dreams.
Where men welcome my wandering touch.
These men of meat!
A side note about Dorothy Musgrove: the poet moved to Washington, D.C., in 1932 and soon became a permanent, albeit minor, fixture in the “den of power” as she liked to call the city. Trading Clara’s literary salon for a political one, she enjoyed frequent invitations to sup with D.C.’s “living monument” Alice Roosevelt Longworth and other capital celebrities. Her low profile generally kept her name out of the local press.
The one notable exception occurred in 1936 when Dorothy found herself the victim of Seattle Congressman Marion Zioncheck’s drunken joy ride through the streets (and sidewalks) of downtown Washington. Struck in the head by an airborne trash can lid, she declined medical attention and proceeded to the home of Mrs. Longworth where she was expected for an intimate dinner party. With her head bloodied from the accident, she launched into a send-up of Teddy Roosevelt’s legendary address following the nearly fatal attempt made upon his life during the 1912 Presidential campaign, parodying Teddy with precision: “I want you all to be very quiet. Perhaps you’re not aware that I have been hit in the head by the lid of a garbage can knocked skyward by a drunken Congressman.” According to Dorothy’s recollection of the evening, “fun-loving Alice was reduced to hysterics, dropping to the floor and pummeling the boards in a fit of apoplectic mirth.” (Dorothy Musgrove, Things I Remember, [Baltimore: Boysenberry Press, 1960], 137-40.)