Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Peeling the Onion, Part II: Daisy Bacon project

I've been busy with my nose to the grindstone over the past several weeks. When I'm not working on my day job, I'm writing and researching for the Daisy Bacon book. I've even been taking every Friday off to get more writing done. Which is wonderful, but alas, something I won't be able to do indefinitely. My vacation hours will only last so long.

I've been stuck in the 1930-1933 period for a long time. For one thing, if Daisy wrote in any diaries during that period, they did not survive. A few days ago I picked up her mother's journals which I hadn't read in a while. This is probably the third time that I've gone through these. But it has been very fruitful - while they haven't given up anything earth shattering this time around, they did clarify some confusion I had and also revealed a few nice tid bits. Which reiterates that it does help to re-read diaries after a while, once you know more about your subject. Here is Jesse, who was an avid horse lover and advocate for their well-being.

If this all sounds familiar, it's because about a year ago I posted a piece on how interesting it's been to read Daisy's journals, as well as her sister's and their mother's. Most of that piece was on reading her half-sister's Esther's journals.

Now I only have Mother Jessie's two diaries that span 1930 through 1934. Mother Jesse wrote only the very basic information. But as cryptic as they are, Jesse's diaries give us a window into the life and times of three well-to-do women in the early 1930s in New York City. In 1930 they were living on Lexington Avenue, but by 1934 they had moved to 51 Fifth Avenue, across the street from the First Presbyterian Church. It was and still is one of the most desirable neighborhoods in the city. This photo might have been from that living room.

Every entry started with the weather of that day. "Cold and windy." She wrote about the basic goings on in the household every day. "D and E did not come home for lunch." She wrote about who dropped by. "H came and picked Daisy up and they went to the country." None of this was new to me. H, which stands for Henry Miller, was seeing Daisy almost every day, frequently being there "in the morning." For all of their hard work at the office, and there was plenty of that, these two young women went out A LOT. Almost every night: to the theater, to restaurants, to nightclubs like the Stork Club, and to speakeasies. In addition, people were dropping by the apartment constantly. It rather reminds me of those movies from the 1930s in which "the gang" were always loitering about the salon, smoking and wise-cracking. Rarely did her mother mention the Depression, nor the dire conditions that many in New York were living under. Which doesn't mean that she wasn't aware or didn't care: she was house-bound almost all of the time due to her failing health.

Every single Memorial Day, like clockwork, the three got ready to go to "the country" (i.e. New Jersey) for the entire summer. They would have their trunks sent ahead of time, and then within the next few days drive out with their maid Nora in tow. For the summers of 1930, 1931, and 1932, the three women rented houses in the Boonton area or the Morristown area. It was not a coincidence that every single house they rented was in close proximity to Henry Miller's property in Kinnelon. In 1930, Daisy and family arrived on Memorial Day. Daisy barely had stayed in the house for a few hours before Henry arrived to whisk her away, and she stayed with him frequently throughout the summer. Here's a photo of her with Henry's English Setter.

Of course, it's not unusual for well-off families to rent a house outside of the city for the summer. They wanted to escape the heat. Jesse noted how often the girls complained of the heat in the Street & Smith office, with the temperature reaching 100 degrees inside on one day. (While air conditioning had already been developed at this point, it wouldn't have been installed in many office buildings.) They wanted to enjoy the summer weather in places where there is greenery and water that doesn't come out of a tap.

How did Daisy and Esther manage this and run LOVE STORY MAGAZINE at the same time, as well as REAL LOVE? They commuted. This I found surprising, because Kinnelon isn't exactly the next town over from Manhattan. It's 31 miles one way, and the road system back then weren't as developed as they are now. And while cars in 1930 could reach top speeds of 60 miles and hour, it still would have been a long drive each day to and from the city. I marvel at their energy - of course, Daisy was in her early 30s and Esther hadn't even hit 30 yet, so youth was in their favor.

Another revelation on rereading the diaries was the number of suitors Esther had. Always in her sister's shadow when it came to the business of LOVE STORY, Esther certainly paved her own way when it came to her social life. Esther was the total opposite to Daisy in looks and apparently demeanor. While Daisy seemed reserved and serious, Esther appeared to be vivacious and gay.

Over a few years, Esther saw men her mother identified as "W" (who I later determined to be a man named Bill Reidel), "Church," "Charles," "Ben," most of whom "dropped by" the summer houses frequently. One of Esther's more intriguing beaus was Lionel Houser, who would eventually move to Hollywood and become a successful Hollywood screenwriter with some 34 movies credited to him, including The Courage of Lassie and Christmas in Connecticut. In 1933, it wasn't unusual for Esther would see Reidel one night, Houser the next. One night, both of them showed up for dinner. Whether that was planned or not is a mystery, but I would have loved to have been there.

By sheer coincidence, last night I decided to see a movie that I had taped several weeks ago, Third Finger, Left Hand, starring Myrna Loy and Melvyn Douglas. Who should pop up as the screenwriter but Lionel Houser.

Esther would marry none of these men: by the time the journals pick up again in 1938, she was dating Clarke Robinson, who would eventually become her husband. Here they are, leaving Sardi's during World War II.

So the adventure continues, and I'm reminded continually that the learning never ends.

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Walker Martin said...

Thanks for this latest update and additional photos. Fascinating information on one of the most interesting woman editors.

Oscar said...

Too bad Henry Miller didn't use Daisy's journal for a novel. Would've been a scorcher, I think. Good luck with your research.

Laurie Powers said...

Thanks Walker. It really has been a joy to work on this. Oscar, Henry ended up writing a biography of his wife after she died. ("All Our Lives")He hints at his "discretions," but come on. During the 30s he spent more time with Daisy than with his wife.

Cap'n Bob said...

They were so sophisticated then.

Rick Hall said...

FACTS! Facts. I can never have too many facts, and suppositions about these people.

Next summer I hope I can travel to Michigan and work with the James Hendryx papers again.

Laurie Powers said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Laurie Powers said...

I'm not sure I understand what you're saying, Rick. You might want to clarify your statement. Are you implying that what I posted here is supposition? If so, what exactly are suppositions in this post? I made it very clear that these are based on their diaries, in fact the entire theme of the post is what I find in their diaries. Any other items are based on my research and I'll be glad to provide citations upon request.

Lim_fr said...

Hello. I have a strange question : could you tell me what is Esther's last name, the lady you manion in your post as living 51 Fifth Avenue ?
I happen to own a car that belonged to a lady with the same first name and same address on the original owner's card.
I was searching for her descendants (difficult) and this could be a lead.
Many thanks. Regards,

Laurie Powers said...

Hi Alexis - How wonderful that you own a car from that era. Esther's full maiden name was Esther Joa Ford. She married in 1943, after which her name was Esther Ford Robinson. She had no children so there would be no descendants. If your car is hers, I would love to get a photograph of it.

Lim_fr said...

Hi Laurie.
YES ! It is her car.
Can you give me your email, so I can reply with one or two documents ?
This is very funny, as I have been looking for info about her for several years.

Laurie Powers said...
This comment has been removed by the author.