Oct 302014
 

Portrait artist Betty Warren, later known as Betty Warren Herzog, was born in New York City on 6 January 1920. Her brightly colored portraits were in such demand that she became one of the highest paid female portraitists of the 20th century. In 1940, at age 20, she became the youngest woman in US History to hold a solo exhibit at a major US Museum (Berkshire Museum).

From the early 1980s, she spent winters in Ajijic, Mexico, and had her art studio there.

Betty Warren in Ajijic

Betty Warren in Ajijic

Betty Warren was the daughter of illustrator Jack A. Warren, cartoonist of Pecos Bill. She studied at the Art Students League in New York, the National Academy of Design, the Cape School of Art (summers, 1937-42) with Henry Hensche, Farnsworth School of Art, Sarasota, Florida, and the Reineke School in New Orleans. Warren was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts in 1991 by Hartwick College, Oneonta, New York.

Betty Warren taught at the Albany Institute of History and Art for seventeen years and co- founded The Palm Tree School of Art, in Sarasota, Florida, and The Malden Bridge School of Art, in Malden Bridge, New York.

She had more than 35 solo shows during her artistic career, and exhibited at Artists of the Mohawk-Hudson Region, Allied Artists of America, American Water-Color Society, National Arts Club, Knickerbocker Artists, New York, and the Grand Central Art Galleries. Her last formal portrait was of Governor Hugh Carey for the State of New York in 1991. She died in Albany on 8 November 1993.

She one of the six wives of actor Stuart Lancaster (1910-2000). She had two sons: potter Michael Dean Lancaster and landscape artist John Warren Lancaster. Following her divorce from Stuart Lancaster, Warren later married Jacob Herzog, a prominent attorney in upstate New York.

Betty Warren was a member of Grand Central Art Galleries, National Arts Club, American Artists Professional League,National League of American Pen Women, Pen & Brush.

Warren’s portraits can be found in the collections of the The University of Wisconsin; General Electric; University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Albany Institute of History and Art, New York; the Malden Bridge School of Art; Hartwick College, New York; the New York State Supreme Court in Albany; and the Grand Lodge of New York.

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Oct 272014
 

Leonora Baccante is an American novelist who had published two novels prior to living in Ajijic in the 1950s, at the same time as Eileen and Robert (Bob) Bassing. Baccante’s novels are not set in Ajijic, but Baccante herself was the basis for the character of novelist Victoria Beacon in Eileen Bassing‘s novel, Where’s Annie?

A 1928 Kingston, New York, newspaper account describes Baccante as a “former New York World staff writer” (The New York World ceased publication three years later.) Baccante worked at Woodstock, New York, for several years.

Baccante’s two novels are

  • Johnny Bogan: A Realistic Novel Of Violent Young Love (New York: Vanguard, 1931) and
  • Women Must Love (New York: Vanguard, 1932).

Baccante-JohnnyBoganJohnny Brogan is set in a small town and is a character study and love story rolled into one. The striking cover art by Puerto Rican artist Raphael Desoto shows a young brunette undressing in front of a handsome guy in a bedroom. The novel is about a ladies’ man Johnny Brogan, the son of a murderer, who falls in love with Cathy Willis, a girl who initiated their relationship at school. According to Baccante’s friends, the character of Cathy is autobiographical.

A short piece by Baccante, “Can’t we be Friends?”, with illustrations by Ty Mahon, was published in the October 1931 issue of the College Humor magazine. Baccante also wrote an unpublished play, Making the man; a play in 3 acts, recorded as written in 1929 when she was living in New York City.

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Oct 202014
 

Robert (“Bob”) Mitchell Bassing, born in Rhode Island in 1926, lived with his novelist wife Eileen and her two sons in Ajijic between 1950 and 1954. The Bassings, who had previously been living and working in Hollywood, where Bob had been assistant story editor at Colombia Pictures. In Ajijic, they were early members of Lake Chapala’s Lakeside Theatre”.

Bob Bassing wrote short stories, fiction screenplays, and worked on numerous television projects. As Michael Hargraves has pointed out, “Although none of his [Bob Bassing's] published works uses Ajijic or the Lake Chapala area as a locale, he nonetheless was influenced by his being there.”

Prior to living in Ajijic, Bassing had worked as a writer for the TV series Studio One in Hollywood (1948). While living in Ajijic, he had a short piece entitled “Lullaby” published in Discovery, No. 2 (New York; Pocket Books, 1953), edited by Vance Bourjaily. Bourjaily had also lived in Ajijic, albeit apparently briefly, during summer 1951.

Published short stories by Bassing include “The Trouble with Arabella” in Woman’s Home Companion, January 1955, and “Summer Evening,” in Mademoiselle, May 1955.

Bassing wrote several screenplays, including that for his wife’s novel Home Before Dark (1958) and for Evil Town (1977), as well as more than 120 scripts for episodes of numerous TV series including The Millionaire (1956), Ford Television Theater (1954-1957), Harbor Command (1958), Assignment: Underwater (1960), National Velvet (1960), My Three Sons (1961) and Shirley Temple’s Storybook (1961).

Bob Bassing also wrote a book, Dr. Hudson’s secret journal: The Denby story (Los Angeles: Authors Playhouse, 1955).

Bob Bassing was the basis for the minor character “Beau Blissing” in Willard Marsh’s Ajijic-based novel Week with No Friday (1965).  Marsh and his wife had earlier been used by Eileen Bassing for two minor characters in her own novel set in Ajijic, Where’s Annie?.

After Ajijic, the Bassings moved back to California. Eileen Bassing passed away in 1977 but Bob Bassing was still living in Los Angeles and writing about movies at least as recently as 2004.

Related posts:

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Oct 132014
 

The great food writer Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher is one of the many well-known non-fiction writers to have spent time in Chapala.

Fisher wrote more than 20 food-related works and was considered by contemporaries as “the greatest food writer of our time”. The revered English poet W. H. Auden extolled the quality of her writing, saying “I do not know of anyone in the United States today who writes better prose.”

fisher-mary-frances-kennedyFisher was born on 3 July 1908 in Albion, Michigan. Her first book, Serve it Forth, was published in 1937. Her books, with titles such as How to Cook a Wolf, Consider the Oyster, and An Alphabet for Gourmets, consider food from multiple perspectives, including preparation, natural history, culture, and philosophy.

Fisher spent three weeks in Chapala from mid-October into November 1941, shortly after her second husband Dillwyn had taken his own life. She visited Chapala to stay with her sister Norah and her brother David Holbrook Kennedy and his wife Sarah, who had rented a house there over the summer. David and Sarah were honeymooning in Chapala where David had a contract to paint murals in the municipal baths of Chapala, a task with which the others helped. The entire group (David, Sarah, Norah, and Mary Frances) helped paint the murals, working on them every day for several weeks. After the murals were finished toward the end of November 1941, Fisher and Norah flew back to Los Angeles, with David and Sarah following by car.

Many details and stories relating to Fisher’s visit are told in Reardon’s Poet of the Appetites and Fisher’s The Gastronomical  Me. According to Joan Reardon, her biographer, Fisher drafted some of The Gastronomical Me while staying in Chapala: “No doubt Mary Frances drafted those two chapters [of The Gastronomical Me] during the three weeks she stayed with Norah, David, and Sarah in their little rented house in the fishing village along the shore of Lake Chapala.” (Reardon, 141)

In The Gastronomical Me, Fisher describes what living in Chapala was like in 1941:

“Our house was about thirty steps from the little square, which was very correct, with a wooden bandstand in the middle and a double promenade around it under the thick green trees, so that the boys could walk one way to the music and the girls the other… until the boys found courage or centavos enough to buy flowers and join their loves.

The flower-women sat at one end of the plaza on concert nights, the dark end, and candles or little lamps shone like magic on the blossoms lying on clean cloths in front of them. There were camelias and tiny gardenias, and sometime spidery jewel-like orchids, and plainer garden flowers, all glowing in the soft light on the earth while the women crouched darkly behind, deep in their shawls, and the band wheezed bravely for the innocent concupiscent strollers on the paths.

There were two or three bars, with juke-boxes when the orchestra got tired, and a little kiosk sold bright pink and yellow ices and Coca-Cola.

In the other direction from our house, and around the corner was the market. It was a sprawling wandering collection of stands, some of them elaborate, with counters for eating and stoves in the center, and some of them a piece of cloth on the ground with two little heaps of dried peppers and a bruised yam or a pot of stew waiting to be bought. Of course there were serape merchants and sandal-makers on Sundays, and piles of thin pottery everywhere and always because it broke easily after it was bought.

There were hungry dogs and cats near the one meat-stand, where flies buzzed so thickly over the strange strips of hanging bony flesh that we could hear them before we even turned the corner.

Some days, and perhaps for a week at a time, there would be almost nothing to buy except one thing, like tomatoes, at every stand… little pungent tomatoes no bigger than pigeon eggs. It was the wrong season for avocados when I was there, but now and then we found string beans, or a rotting papaya.” (Fisher, 546)

In general, Fisher was not overly impressed with the quality of the food in Mexico, though she praised a meal in Mazatlán (where she had to overnight between flights on her way south to Guadalajara), brought from the “country” (non-American) kitchen where the waiters ate.

She was far less impressed with the culinary delights of Chapala where  “the meats were repulsive and poorly cooked; there were no salads and almost no vegetables; none of us liked the violently colored stiff sweet pastes that were called desserts.”

Even breakfast was an ordeal. She cooked scrambled eggs a few times, “but it was hard to find more than two or three at once, and there was no cream or cheese in the village.”

The family ate out most nights:

“At night we usually went to one of the little restaurants. They were very plain, and it was best to stop by in the afternoon and ask what there would be for four people. Most of the people ate in them or ordered food to be cooked there and taken home, even if they were quite poor. It was because the kitchens were so bad, I suppose, and charcoal and water and food so scarce. Always at meal times boys would be walking through the streets with food on their heads, from the little eating-places… pots of stew and beans, piles of tacos, sometimes a boiled chicken steaming naked on a platter if it was for a family feast-day.” (Fisher, 549)

Elsewhere, Fisher describes an evening spent in a bar run by a “fat widow”, “a white-faced woman with a shy flashing smile”. This description is almost certainly of the famous bar owned at that time by the Viuda Sánchez (Widow Sánchez), who popularized the tequila chaser known as sangrita.

Want to read more?

Sources:

  • Joan Reardon, 2005. Poet of the Appetites: The Lives And Loves of M.F.K. Fisher (North Point Press)
  • M. F. K. Fisher, 1943. The Gastronomical Me (Duell, Sloan and Pearce, New York), reprinted in The Art of Eating (Macmillan 1979).

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Oct 062014
 

Where’s Annie? (Random House, 1963) is a novel entirely set in Ajijic, and based, at least in part, on characters and events witnessed by author Eileen Bassing during her residence in Ajijic, with two sons and husband Bob, from 1950 to 1954. In many ways, Where’s Annie? is timeless, touching on so many themes that have recurred and continue to recur in the lives of Ajijic residents.

bassing-where-s-annieThe book opens with a description of the tensions created between a retired American naval officer and his much younger wife, the “Annie” of the title. All the main characters are expatriates from the United States. The cast of characters includes a middle-aged female novelist (Victoria Beacon) who has moved to Mexico in search of inspiration for her next novel; a cold, success-hungry young painter; a Negro guy hoping for self-fulfillment before his impending death from a brain tumor; and a group of young men addicted to jazz and drugs. As a contemporary review so aptly describes the Ajijic expatriate community “… most of them think of themselves as artists, and about half of them are.”

Where’s Annie? looks at some of the underlying tensions between local villagers and foreign incomers in Ajijic. Some expatriate residents choose to ignore such tensions and deny their existence, but this book proves that some things really have not changed much in the past fifty years!

The differences between the villagers and foreign settlers are bridged not only by maids and gardeners but also by the local medic, Dr. Obregón, who has to provide medical advice and comfort to both sides. The doctor, however, is torn between his love for his wife and his infatuation with Victoria Beacon.

There is an exciting array of characters and, as one reviewer put it, Eileen Bassing “writes with sympathy and insight–and without sentimentality or facile sensationalism.” The atmosphere is a heady mix of drink, drugs and intrigue, laced with jazz and attempts at literature, with all the forerunners of an A-set developing among the American residents.

Any hope of equilibrium is disturbed by a powerful rich newcomer who buys up properties, evicts some impoverished renters from their homes, and reports people to the authorities, hoping to get them deported. Money lending and shady real estate deals, such as those involving the use of borrowed names “prestanombres”, complete the picture. Betrayal, mayhem and even murder–nothing is too much for this motley crew of foreigners trying to escape from past memories and deeds.  As a reviewer in Harper’s put it, Victoria Beacon eventually becomes aware of “how deeply she has been drawn into their sordid maelstrom and how destructive their whole way of life is.”

Some of the book’s characters can readily be identified as based on real people living in Ajijic at the time. For example, the woman novelist Victoria Beacon was based on Leonora Baccante, a fiction writer, and the rather unflattering portraits of Willie Chester and his wife Sam in the book are based on Willard Marsh, author of Week with No Friday (published in 1965) and his actress-turned playwright wife George. Marsh retaliated against the Bassings in his own novel by describing the wife of a minor character, Beau Blissing, as “a lady novelist with a lousy memory”.

Despite various newspaper reports that Where’s Annie was to be turned into a movie, that never happened. For instance, the 11 February 1963 edition of Daily Notes, published in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, noted that “Robert Bassing will both write and produce the screen version of Eileen Bassing’s Book of the Month Club novel, “Where’s Annie?”. Eileen is Robert’s wife. This will be Bassing’s first effort as a producer and he has formed Robert Bassing Productions for the film, which will be shot in Technicolor on location near Guadalajara.”The following month, it was reported that “Bob Bassing is after Anne Bancroft to star in “Where’s Annie?” after she finishes “Mother Courage and Her Children” on Broadway… (Pasadena Independent, 9 April 1963). Perhaps financing proved to be the stumbling block? Whatever transpired, the movie was never made.

Sep 292014
 

Artist Robert Bateman Neathery and his wife Ellie moved from California to Jocotepec in February 1965, and lived there the remainder of their lives. Bob Neathery continued to paint until about 1983 when his health began to deteriorate. He painted mainly genre scenes of Mexican village life, as well as portraits, and is especially remembered for his “voluptuous golden nudes” (see image), which often rely on a palette of brown-beige colors.

Born in Muskogee, Oklahoma, on 8 September 1918, Bob Neathery died in Guadalajara on 15 Mar 1998. Eleanor “Ellie” Florence Schwindt, who would be his wife and best friend for almost 60 years, was born 23 Dec 1919 in Larimer County, Colorado, and died in Guadalajara on 8 Aug 2001.

Robert Neathery: Young Bather (1968)

Robert Neathery: Young Bather (1968)

Bob’s early life was spent partly in El Paso, Texas, (where the family resided when he was 12 years of age in 1930), partly in Muskogee (where they were living in 1935) and by age 19, Bob was living in Denver, Colorado, where he attended art school.

Bob supported his art by working at a series of jobs including telegraph operator for the Denver and Rio Grande Railway, a sign painter of giant ice cream cones, automobiles and ladies drinking milk, a technical illustrator for North American Aviation, a sculptor of lamps at Gumps in San Francisco, and as manager of a co-op art gallery in Redondo Beach.

Bob and Ellie married on 28 November 1939 in Denver, Colorado, but by 1946 had moved to San Diego in California.

In November of that year, an exhibit at La Jolla art center in San Diego featured two “arresting sculptures”, one the work of Bob Neathery and the other sculpted by his elder sister Paula Nethery Rohrer. The pieces are mentioned in a review of the exhibition in the San Diego Union.

Bob and Ellie Neathery continued to live in California (in Redondo Beach) until their decision to relocate to Jocotepec in 1965.

Bob Neathery’s work has been exhibited in Los Angeles County Museum, Downey Museum and Long Beach Museum.

Note: Bob Neathery’s elder sister Paula Neathery Hocks (1916-2003) visited him several times in Mexico, presumably staying in Jocotepec; she was a noted book artist, poet and photographer. As her obituary states, “Her artist books and photographs have been featured in shows internationally and are included in numerous collections such as the Tate Gallery and the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, U.K.; the Whitney Museum and the Museum of Modern Art in New York; contemporary book art collections at the Getty Museum in Santa Monica California, and the Ruth and Marvin Sackner Archive in Miami, Florida.; as well as special collections at the University of Iowa and the Bridwell Library at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.”

If you wish to add to or correct anything in this biography, then please use the comments feature or email us.

Sep 222014
 

The great American poet and dramatist Tennessee Williams (1911-1983) had visited Mexico several times in the five or six years preceding 1945, but had never been to Lake Chapala. He spent the summer of 1945 in Cuernavaca and Chapala, and it proved to be a productive period in his writing career.

A year earlier, in 1944, his first major success – The Glass Menagerie – had catapulted Williams from obscurity to literary stardom, giving him a steady income. However, in 1945, Williams wanted to refocus on his writing and escape the publicity accompanying his success. He had also just had a cataract operation and wanted somewhere pleasant to recuperate.

While in Chapala, Tennessee Williams stayed at the home of poet Witter Bynner. Bynner’s home, now numbered as Francisco I. Madero #441, is no longer a private residence. In Chapala, Williams wrote diligently for several hours every day, working not only on the new play provisionally called The Poker Night, but also on several poems and an essay entitled “A Playwright’s Statement“. In the words of Michael Hargraves [1], Williams spent his time, “Strolling along the borders of Mexico’s largest inland body of water (over four hundred square miles), swimming, drinking rum-cocos with native boys….”

In his essay, “On a Streetcar Named Success” (1947), Williams recalls that “I settled for a while at Chapala, Mexico, to work on a play called The Poker Night, which later became A Streetcar Named Desire. It is only in his work that an artist can find reality and satisfaction, for the actual world is less intense than the world of his invention, and consequently his life, without recourse to violent disorder, does not seem very substantial. The right condition for him is that in which his work is not only convenient but unavoidable….“

How long was Tennessee Williams in Chapala?

It surprised me to discover that Williams spent less than two months in Chapala. He arrived in Chapala in July 1945 and left in mid-August of the same year. This is the only time he is known to have visited the area.

Why exactly did Williams choose Lake Chapala?

As Williams explains in his essay “The Catastrophe of Success”, “For me a convenient place to work is a remote place among strangers where there is good swimming. But life should require a certain minimal effort. You should not have too many people waiting on you, you should have to do most things for yourself. Hotel service is embarrassing. Maids, waiters, bellhops, porters and so forth are the most embarrassing…”

It appears to be largely coincidental that Tennessee Williams, who was a great admirer of British author D. H. Lawrence, happened to spend the summer of 1945 in the town where Lawrence had penned The Plumed Serpent twenty years earlier.

Tennessee Williams quote on vintage postcard of Chapala

Tennessee Williams quote on vintage postcard of Chapala

Does The Poker Night have any connection to the (Old) Posada Ajijic?

There is no evidence that The Poker Night has any connection to the (Old) Posada Ajijic. In a letter written 23 March 1945 (a week before The Glass Menagerie opened in New York, and several weeks before he left for Mexico), Williams wrote that he was “about 55 or 60 pages into the first draft of a play… At the moment, it has four different titles, “The Moth”, “The Poker Night”, “The Primary Colors” and “Blanche’s Chair in the Moon”.” [2] Clearly, therefore, he had started writing The Poker Night several weeks before traveling to Chapala.

Claims that Williams was inspired to write The Poker Night on account of regular poker sessions in the Posada Ajijic are equally spurious. In the event, according to Williams himself, the idea for the play did not come from poker playing, but from an image in his mind of a woman, sitting with folded hands near a moonlit window, who was waiting in vain for the arrival of her boyfriend.

The early history of the (Old) Posada Ajijic is murky, but it appears to have first operated as an inn sometime between 1938 and 1946. However, in those early years, it was certainly not a hive of activity, and did not become the social center of Ajijic until much later. It is possible  (though I know of no supporting evidence) that Tennessee Williams may have played poker on one or more occasions in the Posada Ajijic but, even if he did, it was clearly not a formative experience in terms of his writing.

A Streetcar Named Desire

As noted above, this play had numerous working titles including “The Moth”, “The Poker Night”, “The Primary Colors” and “Blanche’s Chair in the Moon”. The eventual title was not used by Williams until some time after he had left Chapala.

According to a webpage written by Bert Cardullo of the University of Michigan, who cites Nancy M. Tischler’s book Tennessee Williams: Rebellious Puritan (New York: Citadel Press 1961), Williams “had begun writing Streetcar in Chapala, Mexico (near Guadalajara) convinced that he was dying, that this would be his last play, and that therefore he should put his all into it. (Williams thought that the agonizing abdominal pains he had been experiencing were the result of lethal stomach cancer, but in fact they were caused by a ruptured appendix.)”

Michael Hargraves writes that Tennessee Williams’ writing, in A Streetcar Named Desire (1947), “took on a fusion of sensuality and nostalgia and violence”, with the plot eventually centering on “a contest between the crude sensibilities of working-class poker players and the delicacies of two Southern women.” [1]

A Streetcar Named Desire is often considered Williams’ finest single work. It brought him renewed renown and won the 1948 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The movie version, won four Oscars, including three of the four categories for acting. Oscars were won by Vivien Leigh (Best Actress), Karl Malden (Best Supporting Actor) and Kim Hunter (Best Supporting Actress). In addition, Marlon Brando was nominated (but failed to win) the award for Best Actor.

Poems written at Lake Chapala

While spending the summer of 1945 in Chapala, Tennessee Williams also wrote several poems. “Recuerdo” (Spanish for “Memory”) is a poem in memory of his recently diseased grandmother and his interned sister Rose. Williams also reworked a poem previously titled “Idillio” (1944) as “Lady, Anemome”. This was first published in New Directions 9 (1946), pages 82-83, as the last in a sequence of three poems, followed by the dateline “Lake Chapala, Jalisco, Mexico, July 1945″. [3]

Other links between Tennessee Williams and Mexico

Later in his life, Tennessee Williams turned one of his short stories into the stage play The Night of the Iguana (1948), also set in Mexico. In The Night of the Iguana, a defrocked clergyman is leading a ladies’ bus tour around Mexico. The group is forced to take temporary refuge in a hotel whose owner proves to be especially sensual. The main characters become entangled in a web of relationships. They eventually manage to move on, but not before a captured iguana has been fattened for the dinner table.

The 1964 film adaptation of The Night of the Iguana, directed by John Huston, starred Richard Burton, Ava Gardner and Deborah Kerr. The movie set was built on Mismaloya Cove, a short distance south of Puerto Vallarta. The film won the Academy Award for Best Costume Design, and was also nominated for Best Supporting Actress, Cinematography and for Art Direction.

Sources:

[1] Michael Hargraves 1992. Lake Chapala: A Literary Survey (Los Angeles: Michael Hargraves).

[2] John Bak 2013. Tennessee Williams, a Literary Life (Palgrave Macmillan), p 114

[3] N Moschovakis, Tennessee Williams and David Roessel 2007. Collected Poems Of Tennessee Williams, p 231)

Sep 152014
 

Eileen and her second husband Robert (Bob) Bassing, both writers of some distinction, lived in Ajijic between 1950 and 1954.

bassing-eileen-photoEileen was born 6 March 1918 in Boston, Massachusetts, and educated in New York, Ohio and California. She married young, at age 16, and had two sons from her first marriage, before marrying Bob in 1948. She died aged 58 in February 1977 in Los Angeles, California.

In 1950, Eileen and Bob Bassing left their Hollywood careers and moved to Ajijic with her two sons from a previous marriage (then aged 11 and 14 respectively) to focus on their writing. The family struggled to survive financially in Mexico despite living in a $5 a month home in Ajijic, eventually resorting to selling home-made fudge and operating a small lending library, “Simple Pleasures”, of English-language books they had shipped from California.

Eileen Bassing, a brunette with green eyes, recalled in a 1957 newspaper interview that “It was an amazing success even though most of our books were texts on psychiatry and philosophy. We were only open three hours a day but out of our returns we supported our family, a maid, a cook, a laundress and a gardener. We rented everything—even the New York Times, section by section, at 15 centavos per section. And those who borrowed the crossword puzzle had to promise to erase it when the page was returned.” (The Marion Star, Ohio, 10 March 1957, p 18).

While in Ajijic. the Bassings were among the early members of the Lakeside Theater.

Home Before Dark

bassing-home-before-dark-movie

Movie poster for Home Before Dark

Eileen Bassing’s first novel, Home Before Dark (New York: Random House, 1957), was written in Ajijic and later made into a Warner Brothers movie (1958) based on a screenplay written by Eileen and her husband, and directed by Mervyn Le Roy.

Home Before Dark is the story of a young woman (Charlotte Bronn) suffering from bi-polar disorder who has been confined to a mental hospital. She leaves the Maraneck State Hospital after a year to resume her life at home with her emotionally repressed professor husband. Making her life even more difficult, they share their home with Charlotte’s attractive step-sister Joan and Joan’s mother, as well as a Jewish philosophy professor boarder and a servant.

With her marriage floundering, and suspecting her husband of being overly interested in Joan, Charlotte looks to be headed for another breakdown when she attends a faculty dinner dressed and made up to look like Joan. Her husband finally reveals his true feelings. Summarized as a study of “a mind and marriage at a crisis point”, both book and movie were generally well received and are still very readable today. The book was translated into French as Retour avant la nuit (1958) and into Italian.

Where’s Annie?

Eileen Bassing’s second novel, Where’s Annie? (Random House, New York, 1963) is set entirely in Ajijic at Lake Chapala, but was written after the couple’s return to California in 1954. It was chosen for the Book-of-the-Month Club; a French translation by France-Marie Watkins and Spanish translation appeared in 1964. This very interesting novel is looked at in more detail in this post. A screenplay for this novel was written by Eileen and Bob Bassing, but plans to realize the movie never worked out.

The dust jacket of Where’s Annie refers to a third novel “in progress” in Malibu at the time of publication of Where’s Annie, but this was apparently never published.

It may have met the same fate as some of her earlier unpublished works. An in-depth newspaper interview published in the 14 April 1963 edition of The Bridgeport Post in Connecticut, quotes Eileen Bassing as saying that, “My working habits are deplorable… I am not an organized writer. I work all the time, and I work very hard. It is impossible to measure the time I spend at the typewriter. There may be two days or so when I just stare and think. And those are the days when I really work.” The article goes on to say that “Several years ago. Mrs. Bassing did what some would consider a rash thing. She burned considerable unpublished work—short stories, three novels, including the first draft of “Home Before Dark,” and poetry written over a two-year period. “I wanted to have done with them so I wouldn’t go back and lean on them. I wanted to start anew.”

Excerpts of the first two chapters of Where’s Annie? appeared in The Saturday Evening Post in 1963. Bassing also had other short stories published, including “Our Strange Stay at Miss Pickering’s” in the 14 May 1955 issue of Maclean’s.

Children’s Books

Before embarking on her novels, Eileen Bassing had written four “Jamie” books for children, under the name Eileen Johnston: Jamie and The Fire Engine (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1940); Jamie and The Dump Truck (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1943) with pictures by Ora Brian Edwards; Jamie and The Tired Train (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1946), illustrated by Ora Brian Edwards; and Jamie and The Little Rubber Boat (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1951) with illustrations by Lys Cassal.

Sources:

  • “Eileen Bassing a “Bleeding” Type” by Jack Gaver. The Bridgeport Post, Connecticut, 14 April 1963, p44
  • “It Paid Them To Get Away From It All”, Cedar Rapids Gazette, Tuesday, March 19, 1957
  • “Couple Leaves Movie Capital and Finds Success in Mexico”, The Marion Star, Ohio, 10 March 1957, p 18
Sep 082014
 

Mrs. Clara Schafer Thorward, who was born in South Bend, Indiana, in 1887, lived and worked mainly in New York and Arizona.

Thorward was a painter, etcher and teacher who studied at the Art Institute of Chicago (AIC), the Cleveland School of Art, the Art Students League in New York, the Thurn School of Modern Art, and with Hans Hofmann (1880-1966) and Henry Keller (1869-1949).

Thorward-clara-Postcard-Watercolor057

This black and white postcard (date unknown – ca 1940s?) depicts a watercolor of Lake Chapala by Clara Thorward.

Her painting style ranged from realist to abstract; her works won numerous prizes and were widely exhibited, including at the Cleveland Museum of Art; Art League of Northern Indiana; Salons of America (1934); Montclair Art Museum; Ringling Art Museum; Hoosier salon; Lock Gallery, Sarasota; Morton Gallery, New York City; Plaza Hotel, New York City; Witte Memorial Museum; Palace of Fine Arts, Mexico City; Academy of Fine Arts, Guatemala; International Club, San Salvador; Oklahoma Art Club; and the National League of American Pen Women.

 

Sep 012014
 

The son of a physician, writer and poet R. Jere Black Jr. was born 27 June 1892 at McKeesport, Pennsylvania. He would also live at different times in Chautauqua, New York; Washington, D.C.; Long Beach and Santa Monica, California; and Byron Center in Michigan, as well as in Mexico.

R Jere Black's passport photo, 1922

R Jere Black’s passport photo, 1922

During World War I, Black served as a machine gunner with the American Expeditionary Force in France from May 1918 to May 1919. He was gassed by the Germans, which left him in ill health for the remainder of his life, with numerous spells in hospital. He married Josephine Elizabeth Best (1894-1976) in 1920. By 1937, the couple had divorced and his former wife had remarried.

It is unclear when he first visited Lake Chapala, but R. Jere Black died at the home of Paul “Pablo” Heuer, in the village of Ajijic, on 7 September 1953, and was buried in the Ajijic Municipal Cemetery the following day.

Black made his living from writing stories and short pieces for a number of popular magazines, both “slicks” and “pulps”, including The Smart Set, Life, The Saturday Evening Post, Breezy Stories, Battle Stories, Sweetheart Stories and College Life. His brother described him as “a brilliant, fascinating person.”

His most productive period in terms of published writings was the period 1928 to 1934. This period included three poems published in Weird Tales: “Lyonesse” (December 1928), “Masquerade” (March 1930) and “The Pirate” (August 1930), a non-fiction piece, “The Pseudo-Scientific Field,” for Author and Journalist (May 1930) which took a look at “science fiction” (a term still in its infancy at the time), and a novel, The Killing of the Golden Goose: A Christopher King Mystery Story (New York: Loring & Mussey, 1934).

Black’s wife, born as Josephine Elizabeth Best but better known as E. Best Black, was also a writer of genre fiction. Born in 1894 in Meadville, Pennsylvania, she and Jere Black married there in 1920, before traveling widely. Mrs Black wrote a story with the title “Flaming Ruth” (a pun) for Young’s Realistic Stories Magazine in February 1928 and also published two hardback novels featuring detective Peter Strangley: The Ravenelle Riddle (New York: Loring & Mussey, 1933) and The Crime of the Chromium Bowl (London: George Newnes, 1937). By 1937, however, she had divorced R. Jere Black and become the wife of Theron Lowden Kelley (1899-1967). Josephine Elizabeth Best Kelley died in 1976 in Monterey, California.

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