Sep 142015
 

George Rae Marsh (née Williams) was an actress, playwright and novelist who lived for many years in Ajijic in the 1950s and 1960s with her first husband, the novelist Willard Marsh. The couple were married in 1948 and were together until Willard died in Ajijic in 1970. Two years after her husband’s death, George Rae married the science fiction writer Theodore R. Cogswell.

George Rae Marsh has several published plays and short stores, and also wrote at least one novel. Piecing together her bibliography is complicated by the fact that she wrote under several different names. Her plays were written as George Rae Williams, her novel as Georgia Cogswell, and most of her stories appear to have been written as George Cogswell. She was also sometimes referred to as George Rae Marsh Cogswell. To the best of my knowledge, despite several of these works having been written while she was living in Ajijic, they have no textual connections to the village.

However, George Rae Marsh was the basis for the character Sam Chester, wife of Willie Chester, in Eileen Bassing’s Ajijic-based novel Where’s Annie? (1963). George Rae’s most substantial work set in Mexico was the novel Golden Obsession (1979).

marsh-george-as-georgia-cogswell-obsession

George Rae Williams was born in 1925. She graduated from the Wichita Falls High School in the early 1940s and became an actress at the Pasadena Playhouse.

Her brother John Williams (1922-1994) was a novelist, editor and professor of English whose 1972 novel “Augustus” won a National Book Award. He also wrote “Stoner” (1965), the tale of a professor of English at the University of Missouri. Williams’s work has seen something of a revival in recent years in Europe and he is the subject of a forthcoming biography by Charles J. Shields, who was kind enough to share with me the information that John Williams had started a novel about bohemians living in Mexico (presumably based on his visits to his sister and brother-in-law) but that it has since been lost.

Shortly after George Rae married Willard Marsh, they decided to move to Ajijic, so that they could concentrate on their writing. They lived on-and-off in the village from the early 1950s through to 1970, though with numerous intermissions elsewhere, including several spells in the U.S. where Willard taught English at Winthrop College in South Carolina (1959-1961), at the University of California, Los Angeles (1961-64) and at the North Texas State University, Denton (1968-70). They also spent some time in the literary and artistic circles of San Miguel de Allende.

Two years after Willard’s death, George Rae married Theodore Rose Cogswell (1918-1987) in San Miguel de Allende. Cogswell was an American professor of English and science fiction writer. After their marriage, the couple divided their time between Ajijic, San Miguel de Allende and the U.S.

The photo below, from the Megan Cogswell Collection, shows George and “Ted” Cogswell on their wedding day in 1972, in their matching leather safari suits.

marsh-george-marriage-to-ted-cogswell-1972

At the time, George Rae owned a discotheque in Ajijic, presumably one of the earliest discotheques, if not the earliest, in the village.

Jerry Murray, a writer who lived in Ajijic at the time, was invited to the wedding, and later recalled (e*I*43–(Vol. 8 No. 2) April 2009) how the couple had ended up spending the first night of their honeymoon in separate cells in the city police station:

George owned a discotheque in Ajijic, and like everyone else in the wedding party at the Episcopalian church, including the priest, she was an atheist. The ceremony was followed by the wettest reception I’ve ever attended, and that was followed by Ted and George getting into her Jeep and heading for their honeymoon suite in Puerto Vallarta.

An hour later the reception was winding down when the Jeep came roaring back, stopping between the plaza and the police station for Ted to shove his screaming, cursing bride out on the cobblestones, where bride and groom were immediately arrested for being drunk and very disorderly. Placed in separate cells, Ted made a pillow out of his boots and went to sleep on the thin mattress of the cell’s wooden cot. George propped her mattress against her cell’s door, set it on fire, and screamed bloody murder until the cops turned them loose at dawn to continue on their honeymoon. When the honeymoon ended, George sedately began serving tea at the Sunday seminars Ted hosted for his graduate students at Ball State Teacher’s College in Muncie, Indiana.”

As George Rae Williams, she wrote five published plays: Mind Over Mumps: A One-act Farce (Eldridge Publishing Company, 1951); Augie Evans: Private Eye: A One-act Farce (Eldredge Publishing Company, 1951); Leave it to Laurie: A Comedy in One Act (Northwestern Press, 1952); Keeping it in the Family: A Comedy in One Act (Northwestern Press, 1953) and A will and a way – A Three Act Comedy (Eldridge Publishing Company, 1962).

As George Rae Cogswell, she wrote (with her husband) the short story “Contact Point” (1975) and they contributed a joint story to Six Science Fiction Plays, (Pocket Books, 1975).

In 1979, as Georgia Cogswell, she published Golden Obsession (Zebra Books, 1979).

George Rae Williams Marsh Cogswell died in 1997 and was interred next to Theodore Cogswell in Arlington National Cemetery.

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

Aug 172015
 

While most sources list José Rafael Rubio as having been born in 1880 and dying in 1916, the available documentary evidence suggests that he was actually born on 4 September 1879 in Zamora, Michoacán, and died in San Antonio, Texas, on 7 January 1917.

Rubio worked for a time as a journalist in Guadalajara and subsequently won a national (El Imparcial) writing competition with a short story entitled, “El hombre doble” (“The Double Man”). He also wrote, sometimes using the pen name of Pepe Pérez Pereda, for Arte y Letras. Revista Mensual Ilustrada and Churubusco, In addition, he was editor in 1898 of a publication in Zamora, El Granuja: Seminario festivo ilustrado.

Rubio married Maria Luisa Dolores Alatorre Diaz (b. 1882). The couple’s daughter, Gloria Rubio Alatorre, was born in Veracruz, and became, as Gloria Guinness (1912–1980), a contributing editor to Harper’s Bazaar (1963-1971) as well as a prominent socialite and fashion icon of the twentieth century.

During the Mexican Revolution, Rubio fought against Victoriano Huerta, before leaving for the USA with his family.

Rubio’s published short stories include “Not Guilty”, set at Lake Chapala. Written originally in Spanish, an English translation was published in the 16 December 1911 issue of The Pacific Weekly, a San Francisco-based publication.

“Not Guilty” is the story of a man accused of murder who claims in a prison-cell conversation with his lawyer that he was merely a witness to the crime. In the first part of the story, the man relates how he first met the love of his life:

“I used to live near Chapala,” he [the prisoner] continued, “on a farm not far from Jamay. You have been there, have you not? You know what a beautiful country it is? Well, imagine a spacious garden of orange trees, and, nestling among them, a small house, as white as an orange blossom. One cannot live in such a place and believe that there is any wickedness in the world. Beginning in a spring near my house, a little stream of water trickles down the hillside, — water as clear and pure as that which falls from heaven to water my little paradise. On either side of this stream are my flower beds. I wish you could see them! Here are clustered myriads of jasmines; there, a gay little arm of violets; a little further down, on the right hand side, a whole regiment of red and white roses; to the left, a huge fragrant battalion of lilies of the valley. Further down are other flowers, of all imaginable varieties, with the limpid little streamlet  flowing between. How beautiful they are, and what perfumes come from them!

“My little farm supplied me with all I wished to eat. I sold most of my oranges to some gringos who lived near by; with the money I earned in this small business, I had sufficient to live happy and contented as a king. Do not think that I always wore rags like these. My suits rivaled the finest vestidos de chorro for miles around; the buttons were silver pesos. My sombreros were trimmed with gold braid, and cost me thirty pesos each. I owned two horses sixteen hands high, and the revolver at my side was of the best American make. But I must get on with my story.

“Have you ever attended any of the fiestas at La Barca? No? Well, they are festivals where masses and Te Deums are sung. Bull-fights and cock-fights form part of the program, and there are all sorts of gambling games, dancing, singing, wild carousing. There is music in every inn and park. The shouting of the vendedores and the noise of the fireworks, together with the uproar of the hilarious crowds, are almost enough to drive a sane man mad.

“Two years ago, as was my custom, I donned my finest attire, thrust in my belt a brace of forty-fours, and started, in my boat, The Dreamer, for La Barca. Besides the native rowers, I had no company except my guitar and a bottle of wine.

“It would have done your heart good to see me at that merry-making! Cock-fighters and gamblers besieged me from all sides; vendors of everything imaginable scrambled to get near me and when I entered a restaurant or inn, man and maid servants rushed to be the first to serve me. Even the — indeed, I’m not exaggerating, — even the ladies, dressed in silks of all the colors of the rainbow, made eyes and waved their fans at me.

“I bet two hundred on a cock, and lost in five minutes. The next match was a fight if there ever was one; in four minutes I had won three hundred! I treated a score of people to bottles of beer, and the uproar that ensued was as exciting as an attack on the gringos! I gave the man that served me a bright new peso for a tip. Suddenly I heard a voice. I turned and saw a girl singing. She was as beautiful as a dream and her great dark eyes were looking straight at me.

But if thou drain to its bitter lees.
In frantic frenzy, pleasure’s cup, —

“Those were the words that began her song. I threw my glass to the floor so violently that it crashed into a hundred pieces, and cried ‘Ole‘! Then I snatched off my hat. placed twenty pesos in it, and tossed it to her.

“Most of the men who had followed me to the bar left as soon as they had taken their beer, for the place was full of professional gamblers, loafers and, judging by their wild looks, criminals of the worst kind. I noticed that the singer to whom I had thrown my hat, had seated herself at the father end of the bar, where empty bottles and liquor kegs were piled in confusion. She caught my eye, and beckoned me to her side.

“‘If you are going to drink, why not drink here?’ she said, pointing to a seat near her. I sat down beside her, and ordered more beer.

Dios mio! How beautiful she was! I don’t think she could have been a day over seventeen years old, but she knew all the arts of making a man slave to her will; before ten minutes had passed, I worshiped her! To look at her was to love her. She was a brunette, and the delicate curves of her red lips reminded me of my finest, most crimson roses. Her hair, blacker than a raven’s wing, was held in place by a very thin black veil. Her eyes were the big, wondering, dreamy eyes of innocent childhood, half serious and half smiling, and the long black eyelashes shaded and deepened them. Her mouth would tempt a saint, — and her waist! — and her arms! I had never seen such a woman even in my wildest dreams!

“I can’t say exactly how many drinks we had that night, but toward morning we decided to be married. When we went out into the street, arm and arm, the music had ceased, and the display of fireworks was over. As she walked by my side, I felt that heaven itself had nothing further to offer me. I was madly, passionately in love with her!”

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.

Jul 302015
 

John Macarthur (“Jack”) Bateman was a painter, author and architect who was born on 9 October 1918 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and died on 15 March 1999. Bateman moved to Ajijic with his wife Laura Woodruff Bateman and three young children in 1952; the couple quickly became pillars of the local community, making exemplary contributions to the local social, cultural and artistic scene.

The Batemans were living in New York City prior to moving to Mexico. They responded to an advert in The New York Times which offered a home in Ajijic, together with five servants and a boat, for the princely sum of 150 dollars a month.

Jack Bateman studied architecture at the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University), prior to be called up for military service in January 1942. He served in the U.S. Navy from 21 January 1942 to 22 September 1945 at various Naval Air Stations, including a spell in North Africa flying submarine-hunting dirigibles. After the war, he completed his studies and then set up an industrial design studio in New York to produce, among other things, molded architectural elements made of plaster.

According to a blog post by Jack’s son-in-law Tom Vanderzyl, this led to Bateman having an unexpectedly significant impact on the work of the great German-born abstract expressionist artist Hans Hofmann who was living on the floor below:

…the painter/architect John MacArthur Bateman had a studio just above Hans Hoffmann (sic). In his studio, John poured large heavy 55-gallon drums of plaster into molds for architectural elements. It seems one day a plaster mold broke and sent 55 gallons of plaster pouring across his wooden plank floor that was also the ceiling of the studio under him, and the plaster dripped through the ceiling of the studio below. At the time, Hans had all of his paintings out looking them over for his upcoming show. Hans shouted upstairs in German for it to stop and that he needed help covering his work from the dripping plaster. Bateman along with his klutz brother-in-law, who had dropped the mold in the first place, came down to help. They used blankets and canvas in an attempt to cover the paintings, but it was too late. The plaster was setting up and the damage was done. Bateman put the best spin on it by telling Hans that his paintings needed that texture made by the pressed fabric and wet plaster and that the new tactile surface was in many ways more interesting. Now, he only needed to paint over the white plaster to get a far more interesting surface. Hans Hoffmann’s show was a success, and he would pop up to borrow plaster from time to time and talk with Bateman about materials.

bateman-book-coverFor the first few years in Mexico, Jack Bateman commuted back and forth to New York, spending about one week a month in the U.S. At home in Mexico, he spent time on his art and began to write. He authored five books including Loch Ness Conspiracy (New York: R. Speller & Sons, 1987), as well as a play, Caldo Michi, first performed in Ajijic in November 1998.

When the Lakeside Little Theater needed a new home in the mid-1980s, Bateman was a strong supporter of a plan to build a purpose-built facility on land donated by Ricardo O’Rourke, and acted as architect. The theater opened in 1987 and became the permanent home of Mexico’s most active English-language theater.

At various times sailor, artist, pilot, architect, writer and marketing consultant, whatever he turned his mind to, Jack Bateman made many unique contributions to the world.

For her part, Laura Bateman was a patron of the local arts scene in Ajijic, opening the village’s first purpose-built gallery, Rincón del Arte, at Hidalgo #41, Ajijic in about 1962. (For a couple of years prior to that, she had arranged shows in her own home). Rincón del Arte, which ran for many years, had monthly shows, featuring dozens and dozens of artists.For example, Whitford Carter exhibited at Rincón del Arte in both February 1967 and August 1968, while Peter Huf and his wife Eunice (Hunt) Huf held a joint exhibit there in December 1967 .

Jack and Laura Bateman’s eldest daughter, Alice M. Bateman, studied in Guadalajara, London (U.K.), New York and Italy before becoming a successful professional artist-sculptor based in Forth Worth, Texas.

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.

Apr 232015
 

Lorraine Vivian Hansberry was an African American playwright, artist and author of political speeches and essays. She studied art in Ajijic at Lake Chapala in the summer of 1949, mid-way through her studies at the University of Wisconsin, where she took classes in art, literature, drama and stage design.

Hansberry was born in Chicago on 19 May 1930 and died of cancer at the age of 34 in New York City on 12 January 1965.

Lorraine Hansberry (1959)

Her father, Carl Hansberry, was a prominent Chicago realtor who, in 1938, challenged the city’s racially segregated housing laws, by moving his family into a “restricted” area near the University of Chicago. The resulting violence, in which bricks and concrete slabs were thrown through their windows, prior to them losing their legal suit challenging the legality of restrictive covenants and being evicted from that home, subsequently inspired Lorraine Hansberry to write her best-known play, A Raisin in the Sun (1959).

A Raisin in the Sun was the first play written by an African American woman to be produced on Broadway. The 29-year-old author became the youngest American playwright to receive the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play over Tennessee Williams‘s Sweet Bird of Youth. The play was translated into 35 languages. A movie version of A Raisin in the Sun was released in 1961, starring Sidney Poitier, Claudia McNeil and Ruby Dee. The movie was nominated “Best Screenplay of the Year” by the Screen Writers Guild and won a special award at Cannes Film Festival. Raisin, a musical based on the play, opened in New York in 1973.

Lorraine Hansberry was only 15 years old in 1945, when her father, “in a final desperate act to escape racial oppression in the U.S.”, moved to a suburb of Mexico City. Carl Hansberry was making arrangements to relocate his family to Mexico when he died there the following year from a cerebral hemorrhage.

Lorraine Hansberry spent the summer of 1949 in Ajijic studying art, apparently first at a University of Guadalajara extension in Ajijic, and then afterwards at the Mexican Art Workshop run by Mrs. Irma Jonas. Teachers at the Mexican Art Workshop that year included Alexander Nicolas Muzenic, Ernesto Butterlin and Tobias Schneebaum.

The following summer she studied art at Roosevelt University in Chicago before moving to New York City, where she took courses in jewelry-making, photography and short story writing at the New School for Social Research. While living in New York, she became actively involved in peace and freedom movements.

Hansberry wrote several other plays, including The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window, which played for 101 performances on Broadway and closed the night she died.

Hansberry’s life and achievements inspired her close friend Nina Simone to write the song “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” (lyrics by Weldon Irvine), first recorded in 1969.

At Hansberry’s funeral, a tribute message from Martin Luther King Jr. praised “her commitment of spirit” and “her profound grasp of the deep social issues confronting the world today.”

Lorraine Vivian Hansberry was posthumously inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame in 1999, and the American Theatre Hall of Fame in 2013.

Reference:

Steven R. Carter. 1980. “Commitment amid Complexity: Lorraine Hansberry’s Life in Action”, in MELUS, Vol. 7, No. 3, Ethnic Women Writers I (Autumn, 1980), pp. 39-53.

Apr 162015
 

Robert Penn Warren, the great American poet, novelist and literary critic, was born in Kentucky on 24 April 1905 and died in Vermont on 15 September 1989. Warren lived and wrote in Chapala for several months in the summer of 1941.

Warren entered Vanderbilt University in 1921, where he became the youngest member of a group of Southern poets known as the Fugitives. Other members included John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, Donald Davidson and Merrill Moore. Warren’s first poems were published in The Fugitive, the magazine published by the group from 1922 to 1925.

From 1925 to 1927, Warren taught at the University of California, while earning his master’s degree. He also studied at New College, Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. After marrying Emma Brescia (nicknamed “Cinina”) and returning to the U.S. in 1930, he taught at Vanderbilt, Louisiana State, the University of Minnesota, and Yale University.

2005 U.S. stamp commemorating Robert Penn Warren

2005 U.S. stamp commemorating Robert Penn Warren

Warren was a charter member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers, and founded the influential literary journal The Southern Review with Cleanth Brooks in 1935. He and Brooks also co-wrote a textbook Understanding Poetry (1938), which would prove to have a profound influence on the study of poetry in American colleges.

Warren, accompanied by his wife Cinina, visited Chapala in 1941, two years after the publication of his acclaimed first novel Night Rider.

Relatively little is known about their stay at Chapala, or their motivation in choosing to go there. However, Warren did have a family connection to the nearby city of Guadalajara. In Portrait of a Father, published in 1988, the year before his death, Warren wrote about the similarities between his father’s life and his own. Among the family members recalled in the book is Warren’s uncle Sam, who had worked in mining and lived in Guadalajara. Warren adds that he had often been there “during a long stay at Chapala”.

A few tantalizing snippets of information can be gleaned from the correspondence between Warren and his colleague Cleanth Brooks, published by the University of Missouri Press in 1998.

In a letter dated 17 July 1941, and signed “Red” (Warren’s nickname on account of the color of his hair), he wrote, from the Hotel Nido in Chapala, that Chapala was “a tiny town on a lake, surrounded by mountains, with a fine climate”, before providing some details of his living arrangements:

We have rented a little house, new and verminless, for which we pay six dollars a month, though getting it screened raised the rent several dollars more. A cook is a dollar a week, and food is cheap. The place beautiful, smelly and picture-postcardy. There are some Americans about, including Witter Bynner – who, in fact was about, very much about, with a palatial establishment, but he left yesterday for Colorado. But we have led a pretty isolated life here. Cinina was pretty busy for a few days getting the domestic machinery in motion, and I’ve been working and studying Spanish and swimming and going to the can more often than usual. Not that I’ve got a bug in me yet, but the complaint seems to be usual here upon first arrival…” (Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren: A Literary Correspondence, p 55)

He bemoaned his lack of access to American magazines,

We’ve seen one copy of Time, Latin America edition, but you can’t buy it here at Chapala, and we don’t go to Guadalajara, thirty miles away, but once a week…”

Chapala did offer him, though, a good space in which to think and work:

I’ve got some ideas for new poems, but haven’t done anything on them since arrival. The novel occupies most of my thoughts.”

“The novel” is presumably his second novel, At Heaven’s Gate, first published in 1943.

The following month, August 1941, he wrote that he had mailed a manuscript from Guadalajara to The Southern Review, but had to go to the city by bus because he was temporarily without his car:

We still like Chapala, but are getting awfully anxious for Baton Rouge. It seems that our car may be ready within a few days–though one can’t be too sure. I saw the body work the other day in Guadalajara, and you can’t even tell that the thing had taken a beating. But it has shore [sic] God played hell with what passes for the Warren budget.”

warren-robert=penn-at-heavens-gate

Warren also referred in this letter to “the unexpected arrival of the Albrizios”, friends from the U.S., whom “Cinina just happened to see”, “on the street at Chapala”. He excused his relative lack of work progress as being due to “matters of weather, stubbing toes, catching colds, having hangovers, and such…”

By coincidence, the house rented by Warren was later the home in 1952/1953 of Willard Marsh, author of the novel Week With No Friday (set at Lake Chapala), and his wife George. The owner of the house remembered “Red” as “a nice person with “red” hair who drank a lot – and gave wonderful parties!”

Warren’s marriage to Cinina ended in 1951; the following year, he married Eleanor Clark. He received numerous awards for his work, including the 1947 Pulitzer Prize for The Novel for All the King’s Men (1946), as well as the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in both 1958 and 1979. Warren is the only person to have won Pulitzer Prizes for both fiction and poetry. He was appointed as the first poet laureate of the United States (1986 -1987).

Two of Warren’s works were subsequently turned into movies: All the King’s Men (1949) and Band of Angels (1957).

Source:

Mar 022015
 

American sculptor and art historian Mary Fuller (McChesney) and her husband Robert Pearson McChesney, also an artist, spent 1951-1952 in Mexico, living in Ajijic and San Miguel de Allende. Shortly afterwards, Mary Fuller wrote three detective novels, one of which was set in the Guadalajara art scene, using the pseudonym “Joe Rayter”.

She also wrote many short stories, poems, and articles, published in various prominent arts magazines including Art Digest, Artforum, Art in America, Craft Horizons, and American Craft. She was, at one time or another, a staff writer at Currant, a researcher for the Archives of American Art, a Ford Foundation Fellow and the recipient of the 1975 National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Art Critic’s Grant. Another of her books, A Period of Exploration (Oakland Museum 1973), was written to accompany an exhibition of ab-ex (abstract expressionism) works from the San Francisco art scene from 1945-50.

rayter-stab-in-the-dark-coverIn the 1950s, McChesney wrote several detective novels, three of which were published, using the pseudonym “Joe Rayter”.

These included The Victim Was Important (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1954) and Asking for Trouble (M. S. Mill / William Morrow, 1955), both of which featured Private Investigator Johnny Powers, and Stab in the Dark (M. S. Mill / William Morrow, 1955), a murder mystery set in Guadalajara, Mexico.

Stab in the Dark is about murder, infidelity, and dope-peddling among a group of oddball expatriate artists in Guadalajara. The Kirkus Review of the book describes how “An excess of loose libido-tossing, alcohol, sex and art accompanies the death of Mike Cowper, about to become a cocaine pusher, in  Guadalajara. The Mexican Inspector is not slow; young Madelene has to track down her  husband and escape attack; Payne, a painter, and his wife get free of their little daughter’s death; and Madelene looses the marriage bonds for another heart interest. An AWFUL lot of running around.”

While Stab in the Dark is hardly a masterpiece, it is a fun read even today. The characters seem two-dimensional and their actions are somewhat predictable, but the book describes several expatriate artists working in Guadalajara at the time, and makes various mentions of the 1950s art scene in Guadalajara, including the “Galeria Moderna”, as well as the famed restaurant La Copa de Leche. The book also has a few scenes set in the coastal resort of “Puerto Ortega”.

Feb 162015
 

Journalist and novelist Bart Spicer was born Albert Samuel Spicer on 13 April 1918 in Richmond, Virginia. He legally changed his name to Bart in 1964. He was married to Betty Coe, and died 15 February 1978 in Tucson, Arizona.

While the precise dates are unclear, Spicer certainly visited Ajijic several times, mainly in the early 1950s, and usually staying at the (old) Posada Ajijic. An author profile in a 1953 issue of Library Journal reported that Spicer was “holed up down in Mexico writing full-time.”

spicerdaySpicer incorporates scenes set in Chapala, Guadalajara and Mexico City into his 1955 spy novel The Day of the Dead.

Bart Spicer spent his early childhood “in various parts of the British Empire”, and would later claim to have lived in England, India, Africa, France, Spain, Mexico and many parts of the United States. He was a journalist and radio news writer, prior to enlisting in the US Army during World War II. After the war he worked for three years in public relations for Universal Military Training and a year for the World Affairs Council. His first book, The Dark Light, was published in 1949, at which point he became a full-time novelist.

By the late 1950s, the Spicers were living in New York City where Bart was a member of the Players Club (jazz). In the mid-1960s, they moved to Spain, where they lived in Torremolinos and Malaga. In 1977, medical reasons forced them to return to the U.S. They settled in Tucson, where Bart died the following year.

The cover design of the Dell imprint of The Day of the Dead

spicer-bart-DayOfTheDeadTThe striking cover design (left) of the 1956 Dell imprint of The Day of the Dead is attributed to Arthur Sussman (1927-2008). Sussman was born in Brooklyn, New York, and after completing a BFA at Syracuse University, worked in New York from 1951 to 1960 as a designer and illustrator. He spent the winter of 1960-1961 in Taxco, Mexico. After 1960, he devoted himself more to his fine art, and held numerous solo exhibitions in Mexico and the U.S. between 1961 and 1991.

Arthur Sussman settled with his family in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 1965, and taught at the University of Albuquerque and the University of New Mexico Community College. He was also a regular commentator on art and film for local radio and television stations. Several of Sussman’s paintings and prints are in the permanent collections of museums, including the New Mexico Museum of Fine Arts in Santa Fe and the Albuquerque Museum of Fine Arts.

Bart Spicer, ca 1949

Bart Spicer, ca 1949

Most of the early action in Spicer’s first spy novel The Day of the Dead (1955) is set in Guadalajara. The city’s Country Club, University, Parque Revolución, the U.S. Consulate, Hotel del Parque and fictional “Mercado Mexico” all feature in the novel.

The book is a tale of international intrigue and betrayed friendships. A retired spy and war-wounded Colonel Peregrine White (“Blanco”), who walks with a cane, is called back into service by a dour FBI agent Castle, to thwart a suspected Communist takeover of the Mexican government. Castle believes that one of the ringleaders is White’s best friend Paco Morado, a teacher at the university.

As the plot thickens, White attends a lively party at an expat-owned house on the lakeshore in Chapala, where the lake is fully “200 yards from its former shoreline”. (The lake was at its lowest ever level in 1954/55). One of the party-goers is looking for investors in a plan to “buy the old railway station, put in a pool and a nine-hole golf course and start a club.” (p 71). (In 1955, the old railway station became the clubhouse of the Chapala Country Club, with its nine-hole golf course in the adjacent grounds; the club was later relocated further east near San Nicolas de Ibarra. The former railway station is now a museum and cultural center.)

Most of the later scenes in the book play out in Mexico City. The language of The Day of the Dead now seems stilted at times, and the plot is dated, but the book was well received at the time, and still worth a read.

Bart Spicer also wrote: The Dark Light (1949); Blues for the Prince (1950); The Golden Door (1951); Black Sheep, Run (1951); Shadow of Fear (1953) aka The Long Green ; The Wild Ohio (1953); The Taming of Carney Wilde (1954); The Tall Captains (1957); Brother to the Enemy (1958]; Exit, Running (1959); The Day Before Thunder (1960); Act of Anger (1962);  The Burned Man (1966); Kellog Junction (1969); Festival (1970); and The Adversary (1973).

In addition, he has also co-authored four books with his wife Betty Coe Spicer under the joint pseudonym “Jay Barbette”: Final Copy (1952); Dear Dead Days (1953); Deadly Doll (1958); Look Behind You (1960).

His books were widely translated and several of his books were adopted for television.

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.

Feb 122015
 

American sculptor and art historian Mary Fuller (McChesney) and her husband Robert Pearson McChesney, also an artist, spent 1951-1952 in Mexico, living in Ajijic and San Miguel de Allende. They moved to Mexico as a direct result of losing their jobs during the McCarthy era.

Mary Fuller McChesney was born 20 October 1922 in Wichita, Kansas. She grew up in Stockton, California and studied with Paul Marhenke at the University of California at Berkeley. During the second world war, she was a welder in the Richmond, California shipyard. Later, she apprenticed in ceramics pottery at the California Faience Company in Berkeley. She began to exhibit in 1947, and won first  prize at both the 6th and 8th Annual Pacific Coast Ceramic Shows (1947 and 1949).

Mary Fuller: Frog and Owl

Mary Fuller Sculpture of Frog and Owl (Photo credit: Kurt Rogers, SFGate)

She married fellow artist Robert Pearson McChesney (1913-2008), in December 1949 and the couple lived initially in the North Bay subregion of San Francisco.

After deciding to head for Mexico in 1951, they sold Mary Fuller’s house, bought a Model A Ford mail truck, and headed south complete with all their belongings. Safely across the border, they decided to write “artistas” on the side of their vehicle. Robert McChesney later told a reporter that, “People on the side of the road would wave at us. Kids would come running out of their house to see us. It wasn’t until later that we learned that Mexicans used the word artista to mean ‘movie actor’.” (SFGate, 2002)

In a 1994 interview for the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art, Mary Fuller McChesney recalled that the artists’ hangout in Ajijic at the time they were there was the Scorpion Club, run by Ernest Alexander, a black American painter from Chicago. Some of the artists “were going to the University of Guadalajara on the G.I. Bill. So– And some of them lived in Ajijic and they would go into Guadalajara once a week to pick up their checks and go in to school and that was about it.” The Scorpion Club was the popular watering-hole for “a bunch of writers, too. Some of them from New York. Some people who ran a bookstore. And they were published writers. And there was a mystery writer down there.” (Oral history interview with Mary Fuller McChesney, 1994 Sept. 28, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution)

Best known as a sculptor, Mary Fuller McChesney was also a writer. Besides numerous short stories, poems and art history articles, she wrote several detective novels, including Stab in the Dark, set in the 1950s Guadalajara art scene.

On their return from Mexico in 1952, Mary Fuller and her husband began building their home on an acre of land near the top of the Sonoma Mountain in Petaluma. Largely self-taught as an artist, Mary Fuller McChesney had started to sculpt in the 1940s. She created many of her best-known projects in the grounds of their home on Sonoma Mountain. Many of her sculptures are made from a special mixture of vermiculite, sand, cement and water, which is then carved directly using a knife and rasp.

Much of her work is “reminiscent of pre-Columbian sculpture and African art, which profoundly influence her aesthetic and artistic guides.”

Her unique sculptures of enchanting animals and mythological women have been exhibited at numerous museums and galleries throughout the USA, and in Mexico. Her work can be seen in many public spaces, as well as in museums and private collections. Her public sculpture commissions in California include works for the Petaluma Library, the San Francisco Zoo, the San Francisco General Hospital, Portsmouth Square in San Francisco, Salinas Community Center, Andrew Hill High School in San Jose, Department of Motor Vehicles in Yuba City, and Squaw Valley.

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.

Feb 092015
 

Arthur H. Lewis was born in Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania, on 27 September 1906, and died in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 25 January 1995.

He spent about five weeks in Mexico, in Ajijic on Lake Chapala, in the spring of 1964, working on his book Lament for the Molly Maguires, published later that year. His wife Juliet Blum accompanied him. On that occasion he stated that he wished to return to Mexico to work on a novel, but it is unclear if he ever actually did so.

lews-arthur-molly-maguiresLament for the Molly Maguires tells the true story of the violence wrought by a secret society of Pennsylvania Irish coal miners and how they were eventually brought to justice by an undercover detective of the Pinkerton Detective Agency. The book was nominated in 1965 for an “Edgar” award by the Mystery Writers of America, and was made into a 1970 movie starring Sean Connery and Richard Harris.

Fellow journalist Andy Wallace described him as, “tall and slender, with close-cropped white hair, a shaggy mustache and bushy white eyebrows. Deep furrows crossed his forehead, slid down between his eyes, and dropped from beside his ample nose to the ends of his mouth. He wore glasses. His fingers were long and graceful and carefully manicured.”

Lewis, who disliked being called an author and preferred to be known as a journalist, attended Franklin and Marshall College, and Columbia University, from 1924-26, but never completed a degree. He left university to work as a reporter with The Philadelphia Inquirer, a position he held, with gaps, until 1938.

From 1939 to 1952 he was the press representative for four Pennsylvania governors: Arthur James, James Duff, Edward Martin and John S. Fine.

He also taught journalism at the University of Pittsburgh in 1950, and at Harcum Junior College, in Bryn Mawr, and had a weekly radio show in Pittsburgh.

In the early 1950s, he became a free-lance writer. He was a highly self-disciplined writer, beginning work every day at 5:30 am. He specialized in researching and writing non-fiction books based on people and events in Pennsylvania. Lewis, himself, in a 1980 interview admitted that, “Most of my people are eccentrics. Why? I think eccentrics are the only people who accomplish anything…. They’re the most fascinating.”

His first book, The Aaronsburg Story (1956) told the history of an inter-faith, inter-race program in a small Pennsylvania town. The Worlds of Chippy Patterson (1960) was the biography of a Philadelphia socialite and recovering alcoholic who was one of the city’s best-known criminal lawyers.

He also wrote Bill Scranton of Scranton, Pennsylvania (1962); The Day They Shook the Plum Tree (1963), about Hetty Green, reputed to be the richest and one of the most detested women in America; La Belle Otero (1967), the biography of a courtesan whose clients included the world’s wealthiest men; Hex (1969), a tale of witchcraft; Carnival (1970) which described life on the carnival circuit; Copper Beeches (1971), a mystery story involving The Philadelphia Sherlock Holmes Society; Childrens Party (1972), a suspense mystery; It Was Fun While It Lasted: A Lament for the Hollywood that Was (1973); Murder by contract: the people v. “Tough Tony” Boyle (1975); and Those Philadelphia Kellys: With a Touch of Grace (1977), the biography of the family of Princess Grace.

Lewis’ research materials, newspaper and magazine clippings, correspondence, photographs, notes and cassette recordings of interviews, are now held in a special collection at Temple University in Philadelphia.

Main source:

  • “Arthur H. Lewis, 89, Author Of Philadelphia Stories” By Andy Wallace, The Philadelphia Inquirer, 27 January 1995

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.

Dec 292014
 

Scottish writer Alexander Whitelaw Robertson Trocchi was born in Glasgow 30 July 1925 and died 15 April 1984 in London, England.

After graduating from the University of Glasgow, Trocchi lived in Paris, where in the early 1950s, he edited the literary magazine Merlin, which published the work of many noteworthy writers including Henry Miller, Samuel Beckett, Christopher Logue and Pablo Neruda. In the late 1950s, Trocchi lived for some time in Ajijic, on Lake Chapala, while he was writing his controversial novel Cain’s Book, first published in New York in 1960.

Alexander Trocchi in about 1967

Alexander Trocchi in about 1967

Trocchi had previously published an autobiographical book Young Adam (1955), made into a movie in 2003. In the preface to Cain’s Book, Trocchi reassured readers that the narrator’s heroin use and related adventures were unrelated to the author’s personal life or experiences. Joe Necchi, the heroin addict and writer in Cain’s Book, is living and working on a scow (barge) on the Hudson River in New York. Necchi has numerous flashbacks to his childhood/youth in Glasgow, London and Paris. The narrative of the book, including its sex and drugs scenes, becomes more and more fragmented as Necchi stuggles to reconcile his desire for creativity with the demands of his addiction.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERATrocchi’s own addiction would prevent him from attending the launch party for Cain’s Book in New York and indeed, from ever completing another book-length work. Shortly after the publication of Cain’s Book, Trocchi shot himself up with heroin, live on camera, during a television debate on drug abuse. He was already on bail for having supplied heroin to a minor, and a jail term seemed inevitable. Trocchi’s friends (including Norman Mailer) smuggled him across the border into Canada, where he was given refuge in Montreal by poet Irving Layton and met Leonard Cohen.

This short Youtube video – Alexander Trocchi – A Life in Pieces – features comments from William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg and Leonard Cohen.

When the U.K. edition of Cain’s Book was published in 1963, Trocchi was first “feted as a new star”. But, in February of the following year, the book “was seized, together with 48 other novels and 906 magazines in a series of police raids in Sheffield.” The police view was that the book was corrupting, since it “seems to advocate the use of drugs in school so that children should have a clearer conception of art.” (quotes from Green’s Encyclopaedia of Censorship). The publishers lost the case and Trocchi held a public bonfire to burn all unsold copies of Cain’s Book.

Most of Trocchi’s novels were published by Olympia Press, but many were originally published under pen names such as Frances Lengel and Carmencita de las Lunas. For example, the name Frances Lengel was used for several pornographic books including Helen and Desire (1954) and Carnal Days of Helen Seferis (1954).

Trocchi’s other novels include:

  • White Thighs (1955)
  • School for Wives (1955)
  • Thongs (1955)
  • Young Adam (1955)
  • My Life and Loves: Fifth Volume (1954)
  • Sappho of Lesbos (1960)
  • School for Sin (1960)
  • Cain’s Book (1960)

He also published a collection of poetry entitled Man at Leisure (1972).

John Ross (1938-2011), author of several books and a long-time resident of Mexico City, describes in Murdered by Capitalism : A Memoir of 150 Years of Life and Death on the American Left (Nation Books, 2004) how on one occasion (date unclear) he left Mexico City and met Alex Trocchi in Ajijic:

The road I was on took me west from Guadalajara out to Lake Chapala where Lawrence had set The Plumed Serpent. I kept staring at the dark surface, waiting for Quetzalcoatl to suddenly surge up from Chapala’s turgid, ancient depths.

Alex Trocchi, Scotland’s most accomplished junkie decades before Trainspotting, and a fellow barge captain whose Cain’s Book was one of Barney Rosset’s first titles at Evergreen, was hiding out in Ajijic. I bunked with Ned Polsky whose quibblings with Norman Mailer and his “White Negro” thesis were well-published on the Left. But heroin is a lethargic drug and weighty words did not spark much adventure. Ajijic, packed with dissipated gringos, seemed to me a kind of leper colony and I soon bid it adios and grabbed the puddle-jumper down to Puerto Vallarta, still a coastal backwater before Burton & Taylor filmed Night of the Iguana there, and caught a sail canoe out to the legendary Beatnik colony near the south cape of the bay at Yelapa.”

(Editor’s note: Richard Burton was in The Night of the Iguana (1964), but Elizabeth Taylor was not.)

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.

Dec 222014
 

Joan Van Every was born 28 Feb 1929 in Los Angeles, California, and died at age 83 in Santa Barbara, California, on 6 June 2012. She was survived by her husband John Frost, son John Frost and 3 grandchildren. Her father, Dale Van Every, was a famous writer and screenwriter most active in the 1920s and 1930s.

Joan was educated at the University of California at Santa Barbara and the University of California at Berkeley. She served as a librarian after the second world war on US military bases in France and Germany, and was later the Head Librarian of the Santa Monica Public Library for several years.

Joan Van Every (then 35) married artist and photographer John Frost (41) on 26 September 1964 in San Bernadino, California. In 1966, the couple relocated to Mexico, living for a short time in Uruapan in Michoacán, before establishing their permanent home and John’s photographic studio in Jocotepec on Lake Chapala. John maintained his commercial photography studio (specializing in aerial photographs) in their home for more than 40 years.Prior to finding their home in the village, the couple spent 6 weeks at the historic La Quinta inn in Jocotepec. The La Quinta  had been an inn ever since 1824. Sadly, the building was wantonly destroyed in the 1990s.

frost-joan-ca-2008Joan was an indefatigable supporter of numerous charitable organizations at Lakeside, including the pioneering Centro de Salud in Jocotepec, the Lakeside School for the Deaf. For many years, she helped coordinate medical consultations and surgeries for Chapala-area children via the Shriners organization. Joan  was also the co-founder in 1993 of Amigos de Salud (which later became the Programa Pro Niños Incapacitados del Lago), and was a co-founder of the Lakeside region’s major annual fund-raising event: the Ajijic Chili Cook-off.

I have read that Joan wrote two art books for children, but have failed to find any proof of this. However, she certainly did write six novels, several set in Mexico, and all using her married name of “Joan Van Every Frost”.

frost-joan-van-every-coversHer first novel, This Fiery Promise (Leisure Books, 1978), dedicated to Tam, is a historical romance set at the start of the Mexican Revolution. It tells the fiery adventures of a horse-loving American girl who marries a rich, much older Mexican hacienda-owner. Their lives become entangled in the Revolution, and she eventually flees by joining a circus. The novel covers lots of territory from Santa Barbara (California) to Nayarit, Guadalajara, Colima and the port of Manzanillo.

Lisa (New York: Leisure Books, 1979) is dedicated “For John, with all my love”. This historical romance set in 1880s Britain unravels the complex relationships of a dysfunctional family, in the midst of scenes involving horses, fires, medical doctors, and class differences.

Her third novel includes scenes set in Guadalajara and at Lake Chapala. A Masque of Chameleons (Fawcett 1981) looks at the adventures and misadventures befalling a troupe of traveling actors in mid-nineteenth century Mexico. The theater troupe withstands lots of internal intrigue and external pressures as it tours Mexico, from Veracruz, Puebla, Mexico City and Cuernavaca to Morelia, Zacatecas, Aguascalientes, Guadalajara and Lake Chapala. This novel displays a sound background knowledge of Mexican history and is engagingly written.

This is how Frost first describes the troupe’s arrival at Lake Chapala: “They finally came to a large body of water that stretched as far as they could see to the west, like an inland sea the color of a silver coin. Across the lake were green, brush-covered mountains, ancient dead volcanoes that had thrust themselves up when the world was still young to form this pocket cradling the endless lake.” ( p 228)

In Kings of the Sea (Fawcett, 1982), the publisher’s blurb claims that Gideon Hand is determined to endure all hardships as he struggles to forge a shipbuilding dynasty and to possess the woman he loves but cannot marry. Genius and passion hold sway in this sweeping saga of a shipbuilding dynasty.

Frost’s fifth novel, Portrait in Black (Fawcett 1985) has a Santa Barbara portrait painter Crystal Perry as its main protagonist. Perry not only paints portraits of Santa Barbara’s upper crust, but also paints horses, and she is quickly dragged into a web of extortion and murder.

Silvershine (Fawcett 1987) is set in Mexico, and looks at the drugs scene in the glittering Los Dorados hotel in Manzanillo, where swimwear designer Blaise Cory has opened a new boutique. A minor part of the action is set in Oaxaca (at Mitla). This is a tale of smuggling, money and corruption. The Los Dorados hotel is clearly based on Manzanillo’s famed Las Hadas hotel complex.

All of Joan Van Every Frost’s novels are well-crafted, and enjoyable light reading. They have long been out-of-print, but copies are readily available via used books sites such as http://abebooks.com.

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.

Dec 152014
 

Dale Byron Van Every was the author of more than 20 books and movie scripts and an Oscar-nominated screenwriter. He was born 23 July 1896 in Van, Michigan, served with the American Expeditionary Forces during World War 1 and died 28 May 1976 in Santa Barbara, California.

In about 1957, he spent at least six months living at what is now the Montecarlo Hotel in Chapala working on a novel (presumably The Voyagers). He was underwhelmed by the Chapala area, and afterwards described it as having “too many retired generals and admirals” for his liking!

van-every-dale-voyagersDale Van Every maintained indirect links to the Lake Chapala region for many years afterwards because his daughter Joan Van Every Frost, with her artist and photographer husband John Frost, settled in Jocotepec in 1966, and subsequently lived there for more than forty years. Joan inherited some of her father’s writing ability, publishing six novels of her own.

Dale Van Every’s first wife (mother of Joan and her elder brother David) was Ellen Calhoun. The couple filed for divorce in Los Angeles in 1935, with the mother being given custody of the two children. A few years later, certainly prior to 1940, Van Every married Florence Mason (1896-1969). Shortly before his death, Dale Van Every married Frances Robinson Hess, an actress singer, magician and TV pioneer better known by her stage name “Lady Francis R. Frances“. (In an interview late in her life, Joan referred to her, somewhat dismissively, as “a Mexican circus girl”, but it is interesting that in Joan’s own debut novel, This Fiery Promise (1978) the American horse-loving (like Joan) heroine marries a wealthy, much older Mexican hacienda owner but eventually flees the turmoil of the Mexican Revolution by becoming a Mexican circus girl!)

Dale Van Every was most active as a writer in the 1920s and 1930s, but continued screenwriting until 1957, the year he visited Chapala. His early screen writing credits (alone or in collaboration) included The Acquittal (1923), the film version of his Broadway play Telling the World (1928), following which Van Every moved to Hollywood. Later screen writing credits (alone or in collaboration) included Marianne (1929), Desert Nights (1929), The Duke Steps Out (1929), Navy Blues (1929), Those Three French Girls (1930), Trader Horn (1931), East of Borneo (1931), Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932), The All-American (1932) and Airmail (1932), Saturday’s Millions (1933), More Than a Secretary (1936), the Oscar-nominated Captains Courageous (1937), Souls at Sea (1937), Spawn of the North (1938), George Stevens’ The Talk of the Town (1942) and Sealed Cargo (1951).

van-eveery-captains-courageousIn 1934, Van Every added producing to his resume. His producer or associate producer credits include the Poor Rich (1934), Uncertain Lady (1934), I’ll Tell the World (1934), Dr. Cyclops (1940) and Rangers of Fortune (1940). In several of these projects he was also credited as writer or co-writer. He remained in screenwriting until 1957

Dale Van Every was co-author of Charles Lindbergh – His Life (1927) and author of several novels and historical works, including a four-part series of books entitled The Frontier People of America:

  • Forth to the Wilderness: The First American Frontier, 1754-1774 (1961);
  • A Company of Heroes: The American Frontier, 1775-1783 (1962);
  • Ark of Empire: The American Frontier, 1784-1803 (1964);
  • The Final Challenge: The American Frontier, 1804-1845 (1964);

Other books by Dale Van Every include The American Expeditionary Force in Battle (1928); Westward the River (1945);  The Shining Mountains (1948); Bridal Journey (1951); The Captive Witch (1951); The Trembling Earth (1952); The Voyagers (1957); Disinherited: The Lost Birthright of the American Indian (1966); The Day the Sun Died (1971).

Many of Dale Van Every’s original manuscripts, together with correspondence, reviews, biographical information and research notebooks, are held in the Special Collections and University Archives of the University of Oregon.

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.

Dec 082014
 

Bruce Buckingham (a pseudonym of Dane Chandos, the first pseudonym of the writing duo of Peter Lilley and Anthony Stansfeld) was the author of two detective mysteries set in Mexico:

  • Three Bad Nights (London: Michael Joseph, 1956; Penguin edition, 1961) and
  • Boiled Alive (London: Michael Joseph, 1957; Penguin edition, 1961)

Both novels feature a Mexican detective, Don Pancho (short for “Francisco de Torla Saavedra, Marqués de Langurén y Orandaín”), an eccentric, laid-back, huarache-wearing former federal detective who, with his manservant sidekick Crisanto, solves jewel thefts, murders and other glamorous international crimes. Both books also feature the British aristocrat Lady Kendal.

boiled-aliveThe cover design of the Penguin Crime edition of Boiled Alive is by acclaimed illustrator and book jacket designer Romek Marber.

Mike Grost, an American writer of detective stories, has published some interesting thoughts about the possible influence of Ngaio Marsh on Bruce Buckingham. For example, Grost cites the fact that both Boiled Alive and Marsh’s earlier Colour Scheme (1943) are “set in an exotic resort area centered around hot springs. Both novels mix international characters and visitors with members of the host country (New Zealand in Colour Scheme, Mexico in Boiled Alive). Both novels mix international intrigue with mystery fiction.” (For more, scroll down http://mikegrost.com/ngmarsh.htm to “Bruce Buckingham”).

According to Grost, Boiled Alive “is set in the apparently imaginary locale of Tuxpan, Mexico. There are at least four real-life cities in Mexico named Tuxpan; this book does not seem to be set in any one of them specifically.”

Actually, there can be no doubt that the setting of Boiled Alive is the hotel of San José Purua, once Mexico’s foremost spa-hotel, near the towns of Tuxpan and Jungapeo in Michoacán. The hotel is close to “La Curva de la Gringa (The American Woman’s Curve).”

Boiled Alive takes some liberties (as you would expect) with place names, but the hotel described in the book is undoubtedly San José Purua (see photo).

San José Purua spa hotel (from an early brochure)

San José Purua spa hotel (from an early brochure)

The plot of Boiled Alive is relatively straightforward, but the authors certainly show a keen eye for detail and for characterization, making this an enjoyable read. The group staying at the “Gran Hotel Balneario de Tuxpan” include an American millionaire John Belton, accompanied by his wife, daughter, mining engineer and chauffeur. Belton is staying at the hotel to negotiate the mining rights to the residual mercury left behind after silver refining in colonial-era mines. Hoping to outbid Belton is tall British aristocrat Sir Nigel Heathcote, who arrives with his son Tom. A couple of Hollywood starlets, a young American journalist and assorted other guests are also present.

Cover of first edition (published by Michael Joseph)

Cover of first edition (published by Michael Joseph)

Belton disappears and his body later turns up in one of the local hot springs. There is no shortage of action in this book with its mix of international intrigue, kidnapping, murder and subterfuge.

As Grost points out, two characters in Boiled Alive invite some gender-based speculation. The female friend of “the flighty Hollywood starlet” is nicknamed Butch, while the elderly spinster Miss Cloud is apparently an occasional cross-dresser.

It is tempting to suggest that this character may be a reference to the famous Mexico City “charwoman-businessman” Conchita Jurado, aka Don Carlos Balmori. It is quite probable that Peter Lilley would have been familiar with this sensational example of gender deception since it was featured in a 1945 issue of Time magazine.

Among those duped by Jurado was Mexico’s top detective of the day, Valente Quintana. Quintana had been invited by “Don Carlos Balmori” to a soiree because the host feared that someone there was actually an imposter. The detective assured Balmori that he was confident he would spot and unmask the trouble-maker before any mischief took place. However, when he was forced to admit defeat, Don Carlos revealed himself as Conchita, saying, as she always did in the denouement, “Nothing is exactly as it seems to be. Nothing is real. The truth is always hidden.” Despite his damaged pride, the detective saw the funny side, and subsequently joined the “Balmoris” in enthusiastically planning further adventures.

The San José Purua spa-hotel, world-famous in its day, opened in the early 1940s and was the epitome of luxury living, with European chefs and its own small night club for visiting cabaret and touring acts from all over the world. It was also the base for director John Huston in 1947 when he filmed The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, starring Humphrey Bogart, in the surrounding hills.

The hotel closed many years ago, but its grounds and pools can still be admired. Attempts to relaunch the hotel as a luxury resort have so far proved fruitless.

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.

Nov 242014
 

Bruce Buckingham is the pseudonym of Dane Chandos, in turn the pseudonym of the writing duo of Peter Lilley and Anthony Stansfeld. The pair used the Bruce Buckingham pseudonym for two detective mysteries set in Mexico.

James Gilbert Lilley, always known as ‘Peter Lilley’, lived from 1913 to 1980. He first visited the Lake Chapala region at the end of the 1930s. Lilley was a tennis-loving expatriate Englishman who built a beautiful home at San Antonio Tlayacapan on Lake Chapala and lived there for 40 years.

Prior to university, Lilley had attended Stowe School in the UK from 1927 to 1932. His first pseudonym, “Dane Chandos”, was on account of his schoolboy nickname “Dane” (referencing his Danish-looking square jaw) and the name of one of the school’s boarding houses. Stowe School is set in the picturesque market town of Buckingham which helps explain “Bruce Buckingham”, his second choice of pseudonym. “Dane Chandos” was first used by Peter Lilley and Nigel Stansbury Millett (1904-1946) for Village in the Sun.

Following Millet’s untimely death in 1946, Lilley’s writing partner became Anthony Stansfeld (1913-1998), a multilingual fellow Englishman who was professor of art history at Mercer University in Macon, Atlanta, Georgia. The two collaborated on a series of books, either as “Dane Chandos” (used for House in the Sun, the follow-up to Village in the Sun – and for several travelogues) or as “Bruce Buckingham” (reserved for their two detective  stories).

The two detective novels, both set in Mexico, are:

  • Three Bad Nights (London: Michael Joseph, 1956; Penguin edition, 1961) and
  • Boiled Alive (London: Michael Joseph, 1957; Penguin edition, 1961)

Both feature a Mexican detective, Don Pancho (short for “Francisco de Torla Saavedra, Marqués de Langurén y Orandaín”), an eccentric, laid-back, huarache-wearing former federal detective who, with his manservant sidekick Crisanto, solves jewel thefts, murders and other glamorous international crimes. Both books also feature the British aristocrat Lady Kendon.

Nov 172014
 

Fred Lape, born at Holland Patent, about 10 miles north of Utica, New York, in 1900, spent several months every winter from about 1966 until his death in 1985, in Jocotepec on Lake Chapala. He died in Jocotepec on 1 March 1985, aged 85, and was interred in the local cemetery the following day.

Fred Lape (Credit: Landis Arboretum website)

Fred Lape (Credit: Landis Arboretum website)

Lape attended Cornell University and received a degree in English literature in 1921. He then divided his time between teaching English as a university professor (at Cornell, Stanford and the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute), freelance writing, running his farm, developing his skills as a horticulturist, and functioning as the historian of the small town of Esperance (population 2000), his chosen place of residence in Schoharie County, New York.

In 1951 Lape, who never married, transformed the family farm into the non-profit George Landis Arboretum. The arboretum’s website states his mission: “He aimed to grow every species of woody plant from temperate regions around the world that would survive in the hills of Schoharie County.” Fred Lape served as its director until his death. The arboretum closed every year from 1 November to 1 April, allowing him ample time each winter in Jocotepec.

His great love was guiding visitors around the arboretum. His obituary in The Altamont Enterprise describes how, “The arboretum director, a tall, angular figure topped by a plain, undecorated wide-brimmed  straw hat shielding a craggy, deeply-tanned face, would lead visitors past that landmark on regular weekend woodlot tours.”

Lape’s published work included one novel, Roll On, Pioneers (1935), and three non-fiction works, A Garden of Trees and Shrubs (Cornell Univ. Press, 1965), Apples and Man (Van Nostrand, 1979); and A Farm and Village Boyhood (Syracuse Univ. Press, 1980).

He also authored at least 8 volumes of poetry and founded a quarterly poetry and prose magazine, Trails, which published local nature verse from 1932 to when it ceased publication in 1951. His poetry titles include Barnyard Year (Poems) (1950), A Bunch of Flowers (Poems) (1954), My word to you, J.Q.A: Seven scenes in the life of John Quincy Adams (1965), At the Zoo (1966), Along the Schoharie (poems) (1968), Poems from the Blue Beach (1976), and Hill Farm (1976).

Obituary:

  • The Altamont Enterprise, Thursday 14 March 1985
Oct 272014
 

Leonora Baccante had published two novels prior to living in Ajijic in the 1950s, at the same time as Eileen and Robert (Bob) Bassing.

Source: New York Evening Post, 7 March 1931

Source: New York Evening Post, 7 March 1931

Baccante’s novels are not set in Ajijic, but Baccante herself was the basis for the character of novelist Victoria Beacon, the central character in Eileen Bassing‘s novel, Where’s Annie?

Little is known about Baccante, who is reported to have hated publicity, children and pets.

According to a short profile of her by Selma Robinson in the New York Evening Post (7 March 1931),  “Mrs Baccante” was born in London, had dark eyes and dark hair, and had acquired the surname Baccante through marriage, and “has lived for the past few years in New York, part of the time in Woodstock, part of the time with her sister in Manhattan.”

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’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.

Baccante renewed the copyrights of her two novels in 1958 and 1960 respectively.

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 and Bob was active in civic affairs. For example he is mentioned in the 13 August 1953 issue of El Informador as one of the two foreigners on the “Junta de Mejoramiento Moral, Cívico y Material” of Ajijic, together with Carlos Moor (= Charles Moore).

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, a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, is still living in Los Angeles, writing about movies. In 2016, he threatened to sue the Academy for its alleged age discrimination in changing his membership category from active (voting) to emeritus. The change was apparently part of the Academy’s efforts to (finally) become more inclusive.

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.

Sep 222014
 

The great American poet and dramatist Thomas Lanier “Tennessee” Williams (26 March 1911 – 25 February 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. 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, Anemone”. 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).
  • [3] N Moschovakis, Tennessee Williams and David Roessel. 2007. Collected Poems Of Tennessee Williams.

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

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:

  • Jack Gaver. 1963. “Eileen Bassing a “Bleeding” Type”, in The Bridgeport Post, Connecticut, 14 April 1963, p 44
  • “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

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

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