Feb 272017
 

Famed Hollywood writer Lorenzo Semple Jr. lived at Lake Chapala in the 1950s and returned several times thereafter. While living in Ajijic, Semple wrote The Golden Fleecing, a play that was produced on Broadway and subsequently turned into a movie. Semple is best-known for creating the big-screen and TV character Batman.

Lorenzo Elliott Semple Jr., whose uncle Philip Barry wrote Holiday and The Philadelphia Story, was born in New Rochelle, New York, on 27 March 1923 and attended Yale University for two years. He dropped out of Yale in 1941 to join the Free French forces led by General de Gaulle. He won the Croix de Guerre for ambulance-driving in the Libyan desert. Semple later served in the U.S. Army and won a Bronze Star.

Credit: The Aspen Times

Credit: The Aspen Times

After the second world war, Semple finished his degree at Columbia University before starting his writing career in the early 1950s as a critic for Theater Arts magazine and contributor of short stories to The Saturday Evening Post, Collier’s, Women’s Home Companion and Ladies’ Home Journal.

Even though the precise dates when Semple lived in Ajijic remain unclear, before the 1950s had ended, he had written two Broadway plays – Tonight in Samarkand (1955) and The Golden Fleecing (1959), which was later adapted for the screen as The Honeymoon Machine, starring Steve McQueen – as well as several scripts for the small screen, including The Alcoa Hour (1955); Target (1958); and Pursuit (1958).

The strongest evidence that he wrote The Golden Fleecing in Ajijic comes from a short piece by Anita Lomax in the Guadalajara Reporter in 1967 in which she laments that Ajijic is losing its reputation as “sin city” and is becoming too respectable. She cites the case of a “Young playwright whose play, written here, was produced on Broadway and subsequently made a small fortune from the movie rights which he promptly spent. But he now lives in a Beverly Hills mansion with his beautiful wife and children since creating T.V.’s sensational Batman series.” The same newspaper reported in 1971 that Semple had returned to Lake Chapala for the first time in eight years, vacationing with his wife Joyce and their three children in Chula Vista, at the home of Dick Reiner. Semple told the Reporter correspondent that he thought people were getting tired of having to pay $3 to see a movie!

Semple married Joyce Miller in 1963. Their eldest daughter, Johanna, was born in Guadalajara in April 1963. A year later, they had their second daughter, Maria. The family moved to Spain in 1965. Following their return to Hollywood, they had a third child, Lorenzo (“Lo”), born in about 1967. Later, the family lived for more than two decades in Aspen, Colorado, before eventually moving back to Los Angeles.

It was while the family was living in Spain that Semple was asked by producer William Dozier to develop a television series based on the Batman comic books. The series was an immediate hit. Semple wrote the first four episodes, consulted on all the first season’s scripts and also wrote the screenplay for the feature film version, released in 1966.

After Batman, Semple completed numerous movie screenplays, often in association with other writers, including Pretty Poison (1968), which won best screenplay at the New York Film Critics Awards; Daddy’s Gone A-Hunting (1969); The Sporting Club (1971); The Marriage of a Young Stockbroker (1971); Papillon (1973); The Super Cops (1974); The Parallax View (1974); The Drowning Pool (1975); Three Days of the Condor (1975); King Kong (1976); Hurricane (1977); Flash Gordon (1980); Never Say Never Again (1983), in which Sean Connery reprised his former role as James Bond; Sheena (1984); and Never Too Young to Die (1986).

From 1984 to 1990, Semple taught graduate screenwriting at New York University. His students included John Fusco (Young Guns and Hidalgo), Susan Cartsonis (What Women Want) and Stan Seidel (One Night at McCool’s).

Lorenzo Semple Jr. died of natural causes at his Los Angeles home on 28 March 2014, one day after his 91st birthday.

Maria Semple (Semple’s middle child) is also a novelist and screenwriter. She has written several novels – including This One Is Mine (2008), the best-selling comedy novel Where’d You Go, Bernadette (2012), and Today Will Be Different (2016) – as well as TV scripts for Beverly Hills, 90210, Mad About You, Saturday Night Live, Arrested Development, Suddenly Susan and Ellen.

Sources:

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.

May 232016
 

In between writing hugely successful novels, Glendon Swarthout (1918-1992) wrote a short story entitled “Ixion”, set at Lake Chapala. This story was later turned into a screenplay by his son Miles Swarthout as Convictions of the Heart.

Swarthout spent six months in Ajijic in 1951, with his wife Kathryn and their young son, Miles, aged five. According to Miles, the draft of the novel his father was working on at that time, Doyle Dorado, “ended up in the stove, making hot water for Dad’s shower.”

Glendon Swarthout used the setting of Lake Chapala for a later short story, first published in 1958. “Ixion” is the “semi-autobiographical story of a young advertising man attempting to write his first novel in the little artist’s colony of Ajijic.”

New World Writing #13

New World Writing #13

It is a tale of the challenging romance between Johnson, a twenty-nine-year-old advertising copywriter from Cleveland attempting to write his first novel, and Irene Temple, aged 35, who left her husband in New York City almost two years ago and absconded to Mexico with their two young daughters, now aged 7 and 6 respectively.

Paraphrasing Miles, “the story’s naive hero” tries to rescue these “two wise-beyond-their-years little girls” from “the neglect of their alcoholic mother”. “The tragic irony in this tale builds to a heartbreaking conclusion as the young writer becomes trapped between his good intentions and his own ineptitude.”

The story is solidly constructed and totally believable, though I find myself agreeing with Miles that it would have been nice if his father had worked “some explanation of the title into the text for those of us who are mythologically uninformed.” In his afterword to Easterns and Westerns, his collection of his father’s stories, Miles succinctly summarized the myth:

Ixion was the mythical Greek king who sought , and imagined he had obtained, the love of Hera, queen of the Olympic deities and wife of Zeus, the father and king of gods and men. When he boasted of his romantic exploit, Ixion was hurled down into Tartarus, a dark abyss beneath the earth where the rebellious titans were punished, and bound to an eternally revolving wheel.”

The setting, Ajijic, is described in the short story as follows:

The name of the town was Ajijic, pronouncing the j’s like h’s. It was on the shore of the biggest lake in Mexico. There were mountains all around the lake, and the bell of the church rang purely during the day and through the night. He came to Ajijic because, being an artist’s colony according to the travel folders, it would have atmosphere.

The main characters in “Ixion” are staying in cottages at the village’s only hotel, the Casa Paraíso:

In the small lobby, a blossoming tree twisted up through a square in the roof into the air, and outside, spaced around a big patio, hidden from each other by banana palms and thickets of bamboo, were eight cottages girt with vines in which nested birds, red and blue, he had never before seen, while from the porch he could watch, through an eye in the vines, the heat of the sun and the high altitude evaporating the surface of the lake constantly into mist. It was easy to imagine monsters lifting hooded heads out of the mist, or the gods of the lake ancient Indians prayed to for fish.”

Among the other characters mentioned in the short story are two artists, Mr. Kahn and Mr. Radimersky, and a poetess named Dorothy Camilla Sugret.

“Ixion” was first published in New World Writing #13 in The New American Library (Mentor, 1958). A contemporary reviewer praised the story as being a “much worthier” work than Swarthout’s second novel, They Came to Cordura, which had been published only a few weeks before. “Ixion” was reprinted in Miles’ collection of his father’s stories, Easterns and Westerns (Michigan State University Press, 2001).

Other twentieth century novels set largely, or entirely, at Lake Chapala include:

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.

May 162016
 

Award-winning novelist Glendon Swarthout (1918-1992) wrote 16 novels, many turned into films, and numerous short stories. His short story entitled “Ixion”, set at Lake Chapala, was later turned into a screenplay by his son Miles Swarthout as Convictions of the Heart.

Glendon Fred Swarthout was born 8 April 1918 in Pinckney, Michigan, and died on 23 September 1992 in Scottsdale, Arizona. He attended the University of Michigan, where he majored in English and played the accordion for a four-piece band he formed. He married his childhood sweetheart Kathryn Vaughn on 28 December 1940, shortly after they both graduated.

After a year writing ad copy for Cadillac and Dow Chemical at the MacManus, John & Adams advertising agency in Detroit, Swarthout traveled with his wife to South America aboard a small freighter, sending a weekly column back home to various newspapers. After Pearl Harbor, they returned to the U.S. When Swarthout was denied entry to officer’s training for being underweight, the young couple both took jobs at Willow Run bomber plant near Ann Arbor. Within six months, and despite working long hours as a riveter on B-24s, Swarthout had written his his first novel Willow Run, a story about people working in a bomber factory.

In the latter stages of the war, Swarthout served briefly in the U.S. infantry in Europe, but ruptured a disc in his spine and was shipped home. He would be plagued by back problems for the rest of his life.

Glendon Swarthout. Credit: http://www.glendonswarthout.com

Glendon Swarthout. Credit: http://www.glendonswarthout.com

After the war, Swarthout earned a Master’s degree from the University of Michigan and began teaching college. His teaching career included spells at the University of Maryland, at Michigan State University, and at the University of Arizona.

In 1951, Swarthout spent six months in Ajijic with his wife and their young son, Miles, born in 1946. During this time, he worked on another novel, Doyle Dorado, which, in Miles’ words, later “ended up in the stove, making hot water for Dad’s shower.” Swarthout also wrote a short story set at Lake Chapala. Though not published until several years later, “Ixion” was the “semi-autobiographical story of a young advertising man attempting to write his first novel in the little artist’s colony of Ajijic.”

New World Writing #13

New World Writing #13

“Ixion” was first published in New World Writing #13 in The New American Library (Mentor, 1958). A contemporary reviewer praised “Ixion” as being a “much worthier” work than Swarthout’s second novel, They Came to Cordura, which had been published a few weeks previously. “Ixion” was later reprinted in Easterns and Westerns (Michigan State University Press, 2001), a collection of short stories, edited by son Miles, who later turned it into a screenplay, Convictions of the Heart.

According to Miles, the family might have remained much longer in Mexico in 1951 (despite his father’s failed attempt at writing Doyle Dorado) if the lake had been clean. “The real reason my parents left Mexico in a hurry was to seek emergency medical treatment in Brownsville, Texas, for five-year-old me, after I’d contracted para-typhoid fever from swallowing sewage water in Lake Chapala.”

Back in the U.S., in 1955 Glendon Swarthout gained his doctorate in English Literature (based on a study of Somerset Maugham, Ernest Hemingway, Joyce Cary and Charles Portis) and began to sell short stories to magazines such as Cosmopolitan and The Saturday Evening Post. One of the first stories he sold (for $2500), “A Horse for Mrs. Custer”, became the Columbia Pictures low-budget western 7th Cavalry, released in 1956.

Swarthout’s next novel established him as a professional writer. They Came To Cordura was published by Random House in 1958 and became a New York Times bestseller. The film rights were sold to Columbia Pictures, whose major movie, starring Gary Cooper and Rita Hayworth, entertained cinema audiences the following year. The book is set in 1916 Mexico during the Pershing Expedition to capture Pancho Villa.

Swarthout’s career took off. His next novel, Where The Boys Are (1960), the first lighthearted novel about the annual “spring break” invasion of southern Florida beaches by college students, was transformed by MGM into a low budget, high grossing movie.

In the early 1960s, Swarthout retired from teaching to become a full-time writer. His other novels, many of them optioned for movies, include: Welcome to Thebes (1962); The Cadillac Cowboys (1964); The Eagle and the Iron Cross (1966); Loveland (1968); Bless the Beasts and Children (1970); The Tin Lizzie Troop (1972); Luck and Pluck (1973); The Shootist (1975); A Christmas Gift (also known as The Melodeon) (1977); Skeletons (1979); The Old Colts (1985); The Homesman (1988); And Pinch Me, I Must Be Dreaming (published posthumously in 1994).

Swarthout was twice nominated by his publishers for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (for They Came To Cordura by Random House and Bless The Beasts & Children by Doubleday) and received numerous awards for his work.

He and his wife Kathryn Vaughn Swarthout (1919-2015) co-wrote six young adult novels, several of which were also published overseas. In 1962, the couple established the Swarthout Writing Prizes at Arizona State University, for poetry and fiction, which are among the highest annual financial awards given for undergraduate and graduate writing programs.

Glendon Swarthout died at his home in Scottsdale, Arizona, on 23 September 1992.

Acknowledgement

This piece is dedicated to the memory of Miles Swarthout (1946-2016) who graciously corresponded with me about his father, via e-mail at an early stage of this project.

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.

Mar 282016
 

Stephen Schneck was born 2 January 1933 in New York and died on 26 November 1996 in Palm Springs, California. He led a varied life, including stints as a novelist, author, actor and screenwriter, among other pursuits.

schneck-nightclerkSchneck studied at the Carnegie Institute of Technology, and then spent several years traveling around Mexico, where he lived in the Lake Chapala area from about 1954 to 1957) and Central America. According to Michael Hargraves in his 1992 booklet, Lake Chapala: A Literary Survey, Schneck claimed “to have written some of his best short stories and spent the better days of his youth while there”.

In 1960, Schneck apparently founded the American Beauty Studios, on 42nd Street, New York. It was during the 1960s that Schneck worked as a reporter for such “underground” periodicals as Ramparts and Mother Jones.

He subsequently moved to San Francisco, where he wrote his first, and best known, novel, “The Nightclerk” (Grove Press, 1965). The novel’s hero is an overweight hotel clerk (weighing 600 lbs), described by one reviewer as “the fattest man in American literature”. The hotel is a seedy San Francisco establishment. The clerk whiles away the long night hours reading erotic paperbacks, cutting up old magazines, and reminiscing about his beautiful and corrupt wife, Katy. The clerk’s real life lies in his “erotic, pornographic, sado-masochistic, orgiastic, unnameable” fantasies. This somewhat surrealistic novel became an international counterculture favorite, and won the $10,000 Formentor Novel Prize.

schneck-nocturnal-vaudevilleSchneck followed this with a second novel, Nocturnal Vaudeville (E. P. Dutton, 1971), but then turned to non-fiction works and screenplays.

In the second half of the 1970s, he wrote several non-fiction books for pet lovers, including The complete home medical guide for cats (Stein and Day, 1976) and, with Nigel Norris, The complete home medical guide for dogs (Stein and Day, 1976). The two authors co-wrote A. to Z. of Cat Care (Fontana Press, 1979) and A-Z of Dog Care (Fontana, 1979).

By that time, Schneck was gaining success as a screenwriter. He wrote or co-wrote Inside Out (1975); Welcome to Blood City (1977), which won first prize at the 1976 Paris Science Fiction Film Festival; High-Ballin’ (1978), which starred Peter Fonda; and Across the Moon (1995), in which he also played the part of a prison chaplain.

TV credits included two episodes of The Paper Chase (1985-1986), an episode of In the Heat of the Night (1992), as well as episodes of All in the Family, Archie Bunker’s Place, and Cheers.

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 222016
 

Elaine Gottlieb (1916-2004) was a novelist, author and teacher who lived for several months in Ajijic in the second half of 1946. She traveled to Mexico shortly after completing her first novel, Darkling, which was published the following year. She used her experiences in Ajijic as the basis for a short story, “Passage Through Stars”, published many years later, in Noonday #2, 1959.

Gottlieb’s decision to visit Mexico was apparently at the suggestion of Robert Motherwell, her art teacher one summer at Black Mountain College. (By coincidence, another former Black Mountain College art student, Nicolas Muzenic, lived in Ajijic shortly afterwards, from about 1948 to 1950).

noonday-2-coverIn Ajijic, Gottlieb stayed at the collection of small cottages on the water’s edge known as Casa Heuer, run by a German brother and sister (Pablo and Liesel), where communal dinner was the norm. At mealtimes, Gottlieb found herself drawn to a handsome, smartly-dressed, charismatic older man, Elliot Chess, a flying ace from the first world war whose stories and anecdotes kept his mealtime companions spellbound.

She was 30 years of age, he was 46; within two weeks they were engaged. To celebrate, on 15 September 1946, they caught a bus to Guadalajara. Gunmen attacked the bus and Gottlieb credited Chess with saving her life. Their precipitous, but short-lived, relationship led to the birth of Nola Elian Chess (her middle name is a combination of Elliot and Elaine) in New York in July 1947, which turned out to have life-changing consequences for Gottlieb and her future family.

[Nola, conceived in Mexico and born in New York, developed a brilliant mind, but died at the tragically-young age of twenty-five after a prolonged struggle with schizophrenia. Gottlieb’s younger son, Robin Hemley, has written an absorbing account of the life of his older half-sister: Nola: A Memoir of Faith, Art, and Madness.]

In Gottlieb’s “Passage Through Stars”, Casa Heuer is transformed into Casa Unger, with Elaine becoming Emma and Elliot renamed Claude. The fictional names of the inn’s owners are Don Ernesto and Donna [sic] Sophía. The autobiographical story is a powerfully-told and moving account of her brief fling with Chess, exploring her personal doubts before, during and after.

She recalls her lover’s daily ritual swim in the lake:

“She would see him in the mornings, going down to the lake for his pre-breakfast swim; a shiny maroon robe flapped around his narrow legs. He would walk briskly, towel in hand, remove his robe in two swift movements, step out of his slippers, and, chin erect, approach the lake. Deliberately, he would plunge his head in, shake it vigorously, stand waiting a moment, and then plunge boldly. A little later, he would return, hand passing through his wet, mahogany-colored hair. Frowning against the light, he would continue to walk, martially erect, his head high and handsome, the face still young, eyes like the eyes of tigers.” [Passage Through Stars,  82]

According to Gottlieb, she and Elliot Chess lived together as man and wife there for two months, from mid-September (following the attack on the bus) to mid-November, at which point Chess returned to El Paso, promising to sell some of the land he owned there and rejoin her in New York in two weeks. Gottlieb, meanwhile, traveled by train to Mexico City and then to New York. Chess never made it to New York, and the two never met again.

In “Passage Through Stars”, Gottlieb says that Emma (herself) had “come to the pension alone, a widow, and had never fully recovered from her widowhood. Claude had happened on the scene…” but I have yet to find any mention elsewhere of Gottlieb’s former spouse.

Elaine Gottlieb. Credit: Nola: A Memoir of Faith, Art, and Madness, by Robin Hemley

Photo credit: Nola: A Memoir of Faith, Art, and Madness, by Robin Hemley

Gottlieb was born in New York City in 1916. Her mother, Ida, was a teacher in the New York Public Schools and eventually established the family home on Long Island. She gained a degree in journalism from New York University and studied art at the Art Students League of New York and at Columbia University. When Gottlieb was 25 years of age, she moved to Manhattan, determined to become a successful writer. During the summer of 1941, she studied at the Cummington School for the Arts.

During the second world war, Gottlieb had a job inspecting radios for the Signal Corps and also trained to teach photography to Army Air Corps recruits in Denver, Colorado.

In 1946, her short story “The Norm”, about an affair between a couple of college students, was chosen for inclusion in Martha Foley’s annual anthology The Best American Short Stories. The biographies attached to that and later stories say she had once sold books at Macy’s and written cables for The Office of War Information, as well as written book reviews for The New Republic, the New York Herald Tribune, Poetry, Accent, and Decision.

Her first (and only) published novel, Darkling (1947), tells the story of Cristabel, a young woman who yearned to become an artist, but was alienated from family and peers, and “lost in her own insecurities”. The book’s subject matter was ahead of its time and contemporary reviews were generally not favorable.

Prior to marrying poet and novelist Cecil Hemley (1914-1966) in 1953, on Nola’s fifth birthday, Elaine Gottlieb had been raising her daughter as a single parent. Despite a succession of family tragedies, Gottlieb continued to write short stories for publications such as The Kenyon Review, Chimera, New Directions, Chelsea Review, Noonday and Commentary, and also wrote “The writer’s signature: idea” in Story and Essay (1972). By the time of her death in 2004, she had still not completed two more novels that she had started many years earlier, including a mystery story based on a trip to England.

The Hemleys socialized with a glittering array of literary and artistic friends (including Robert Motherwell, Joseph Heller, Louise Bogan, Weldon Kees, Conrad Aiken, John Crowe Ransom and Delmore Schwartz) and became particularly close friends with poet and novelist Isaac Bashevis Singer, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1978. The Hemleys helped translate and edit, several of Singer’s works from their original Yiddish, including The Manor (Penguin Books, 1975); Gimpel the Fool and Other Stories (Peter Owen Limited, 1958); The Magician of Lublin (Bantam Books 1965); and The Estate (Jonathan Ball, 1970).

Gottlieb taught creative writing, literature and film at Indiana University (South Bend) in the 1970s. Several former students of Gottlieb have acknowledged her role in helping them develop their craft. They include Gloria Anzaldúa, a foremost Chicano feminist thinker and activist, and author of This Bridge Called My Back (1981); Borderlands/La Frontera (1987); and Interviews/Entrevistas (2000).

Elaine Gottlieb was also known as Elaine S. Gottlieb, Elaine Gottlieb Hemley, Elaine S. Gottlieb Hemley and Elaine S. Hemley.

Sources:

  • Elaine Gottlieb, 1959. “Passage Through Stars”, in Noonday #2, edited by Cecil Hemley and Dwight W. Webb, p 80-93. (New York: the Noonday Press)
  • Robin Hemley, 1998. Nola: A Memoir of Faith, Art, and Madness. (Graywolf Press).

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.

Nov 232015
 

Author, playwright and flying ace Elliot William Chess was in his late-forties when he spent several months in Ajijic at the small hotel Casa Heuer in 1946, but had already experienced far more than most people can manage in twice as many years.

Born in El Paso, Texas, at the turn of the century, Chess left El Paso High School when the first world war broke out and emigrated to Toronto, Canada, to enlist in the Royal Flying Corps. His RFC papers give his birth date as 25 Oct 1898, though it is entirely possible that the teenage Chess inflated his age by a year or two to boost his chances of  acceptance.

He served overseas from age 18. After the end of the war (1918) he was the youngest American pilot to join the Kosciusko Squadron in Poland. He fought with them for two years in the Polish-Soviet War (1919-21), for which he was awarded the Virtuti Militari, Poland’s highest military award.

Chess-elliot-Koskiuszko-squadron-insigniaEarly on, when the Squadron still lacked suitable insignia, Chess suggested a design (see image), apparently first sketched on a menu of the Hotel George in Lwów. With only minor variations, this insignia remained in use until after the second world war. According to Lynne Olson and Stanley Cloud in A Question of Honor: The Kosciuszko Squadron: Forgotten Heroes of World War II, the insignia includes “the red, four-cornered military cap that Kosciuszko wore in the uprising of 1794, plus two crossed scythes, representing the Polish peasants who had followed him into battle… superimposed on a background of red, white and blue stars and stripes representing the U.S. flag.”

In the Second World War the “Kosciuszko” Polish Fighter Squadron No. 303 was the highest scoring of all RAF squadrons in the Battle of Britain.

Captain Elliot Chess, who served in WWII in the “A” Troop Carrier Group of the Ninth Air Force, was presented with his “Polish Pilot’s Wings” at a special ceremony in June 1944.

In the 1920s, after the end of the Polish-Soviet War, Chess returned to El Paso and worked as an advertising manager with the El Paso Times. The biography of him on his 1941 novel’s inside back cover says that, since the first world war, “he has been a miner, an editor, a newspaperman, an advertising copy writer, a professional wrestler, a stunt flyer, a short story writer and a dramatist.”

Chess had fulfilled a childhood dream by becoming a published writer. He wrote numerous short stories and novelettes, published between 1929 and 1932, in magazines such as Sky Birds, Sky Riders, Aces, War Birds, War Aces, Flying Aces and Air Stories. He also worked for Liberty magazine.

chess-coverIn 1941, his first and only novel, Walk Away From ‘Em, was published by Coward-McCann. Nick Wayne, the hero of his novel is (no real surprise here!) a transatlantic pilot, who “tangles with three women – his ex-wife, Jo, a neurotic dipsomaniac, Fran, and Toddy Fate, young and untouched”. (Kirkus Review, which summarized it as “pop stuff” but “better than usual of its kind”).

The Elliot Chess papers, in the C.L. Sonnichsen Special Collections Department of The University of Texas at El Paso Library, include drafts of two plays, Passport to Heaven, and Call it Comic Strip, as well as notes, photographs and other material.

It is unclear why Chess chose to spend the latter part of 1946 in Ajijic, but his sojourn there had several unexpected consequences. Already in residence at Casa Heuer (a small, rather primitive guest house on the lakefront run by a German brother and sister) was an attractive, more serious, younger writer, Elaine Gottlieb.

Despite their sixteen-year difference in age and their contrasting backgrounds (or maybe because of them?), the two hit it off almost immediately, with Gottlieb spellbound by Chess’s magnetism and captivating story-telling. According to Gottlieb, they lived together as man and wife for two months, from mid-September (when they were on a bus to Guadalajara that was attacked by gunmen) to mid-November, at which point Elliot Chess returned to El Paso, claiming he would sell some land he owned there and rejoin her in New York in two weeks. Gottlieb, meanwhile, traveled by train to Mexico City and then to New York. Chess never made it to New York, and the two never met again, but Gottlieb gave birth to their daughter, Nola Elian Chess, in New York City on 3 July 1947. (Nola’s middle name is a combination of Elliot and Elaine).

We can only speculate as to whether Elliot Chess’s aversion to moving to New York was in any way connected to his prior marriage there in 1930 to a “Jean B. Wallace”. It is equally plausible that Chess had no desire to be a father, having never known his own father.

chess-elliot-portrait-from-cover-2Chess died in El Paso, Texas, on 27 December 1962, at the age of 63, but left no will. When his aunt claimed to be the sole beneficiary, Elaine Gottlieb sought to establish that her daughter (whose birth certificate listed Elliot Chess as father) was entitled to a share of his estate. The case hinged on whether or not Nola was Chess’s legitimate child. Had Gottleb and Chess ever celebrated a legal marriage? In documents filed with the court, Gottlieb claimed that she believed they had been legally married, though she had no marriage certificate. The somewhat convoluted story is retold by Robin Hemley in  Nola: A Memoir of Faith, Art, and Madness. Gottlieb, who by then had married Cecil Hemley, failed to convince the court which concluded, even after an appeal in 1967, that Nola had no right whatsoever to any part of her father’s estate.

Elaine Gottlieb Hemley… testified substantially as follows:
“I married Elliot Chess September 15, 1946, in Ajijic, Mexico, and lived with
him until on or about November 16, 1946. Elliot did not make an application for a marriage license in the Republic of Mexico. I have no written evidence that I was married to Elliot. It wasn’t that kind of marriage. I said to him, ‘I take the Elliot to be my lawful wedded husband’ and he said to me, ‘I take Elaine to be my lawful wedded wife.’ I did not sign a civil registry of our marriage in the Republic of Mexico. Neither Elliot nor I appeared before any public official, by proxy or otherwise, to be married. On November 17th I boarded a train for Mexico City. Elliot kissed me goodbye at the hotel early that morning and that was the last time I saw him. I returned to New York and the appellant was born on July 3rd, 1947. Elliot Chess is the father of Nola Elian Chess.” (Court of Civil Appeals of Texas, Eastland.416 S.W.2d 492 (Tex. Civ. App. 1967) BUNTING V. CHESS).

Robin Hemley’s Nola: A Memoir of Faith, Art, and Madness is a detailed account of his older, and brilliant, step-sister Nola’s life and descent into schizophrenia, and how it affected the entire family, including Elaine Gottlieb. It is an uplifting, if at times harrowing, read.

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.

Jun 182014
 

José López Portillo y Rojas (1850-1923) was born in Guadalajara. He graduated as a lawyer in Guadalajara in 1871, before spending three years traveling in the U.S., Europe and the Middle East. On his return, he published his first book: Egypt and Palestine. Notes from a trip (1874).

portillo-y-rojas-jose-lopezHe began an illustrious political career as deputy for Jalisco to the national Congress from 1875-1877. Shortly after that first experience of national politics, he returned to Guadalajara and became a journalist, teacher of law, and member of that city’s literary circle.

The group included other young Jalisco writers such as Antonio Zaragoza and Manuel Álvarez del Castillo, one of whose sons, Jesús, would later start the El Informador newspaper in Guadalajara, which remains one of the city’s most important dailies.

In 1880, López Portillo y Rojas returned to Mexico City as a deputy. In 1882, he became a state senator. In 1886, he joined with Manuel Álvarez del Castillo and Esther Tapia de Castellanos to start a new publication in Guadalajara. La República Literaria, a magazine of science, art and literature quickly became nationally famous, but only lasted until 1890.

In 1891, López Portillo published the first transcription, albeit partial, of Father Antonio Tello’s invaluable 17th century account relating to Lake Chapala. In 1892, he published his only book of verse Transitory harmonies. By 1902, López Portillo was living in Mexico City and had joined the Partido Científico (Scientific Party). After the fall of Díaz, he held various federal government posts before becoming Governor of the State of Jalisco (1912-1914). For a brief period in 1914, he was appointed as Foreign Relations Secretary in the government of Victoriano Huerta, during the time when the U.S. invaded the port of Veracruz.

He left politics shortly afterwards and dedicated himself to teaching and writing. He left a vast body of work, ranging from travel accounts, poems, and literary criticism to historical and legal essays, short stories and novels. His best known collection of short stories is Stories, tales and short stories (1918). His best known novel, The parcel (1898), relates the fight between two hacienda owners for a worthless parcel of land.

At the time of his death in Mexico City on 22 of May, 1923, he was director of the Academia Mexicana de la Lengua (Mexican Academy of Language). One of López Portillo’s grandsons, José López Portillo y Pacheco (1920-2004), served as President of Mexico between 1976 and 1982. In Guadalajara, the Casa-Museo López Portillo, a museum and exhibition space honoring the family, can be visited at Calle Liceo #177.

A short story about Lake Chapala, entitled “José la garza morena” (“José the Great Blue Heron”) was published in Cosmos (a monthly magazine published in Mexico City) , in June 1912, pp. 401-405. It is a tale about someone finding a heron that has been shot and wounded, and trying in vain to cure it.

The story starts by remembering the times before Lake Chapala’s shores has been altered by civilization:

When I visited the lakeside hamlet of Chapala for the first time, now many years ago, I found everything in an almost primitive state, better than now from some points of view, but worse from others.

The author compares the Chapala of earlier times with the situation during the Porfiriato (when he was active in politics as a supporter of President Díaz):

Not a sign back then of the picturesque villas that today adorn and decorate these shores from the town to the Manglar, which is the house where Don Porfirio Díaz used to stay during the time, happy for him, of his all-embracing command; but everywhere was thick scrub, cheerful orchards with severe rocky places, which were in harmony with that rustic and unspoiled landscape.

The scene is set; the action begins with an evening trip in a rowboat on the lake. The beauty of the lake, as depicted by the author, creates an impression of decadence and morbidity, because there are no signs of life out on the water:

But that scene of glorification seemed dead and desolate, without any bird to make it cheerful; not a stork, nor a crane, nor a duck stained the burnished horizon with its graceful silhouette.

Further on, the author continues:

The lake appeared magnificent and solitary under that divine show, as if it were another asphalt lake, a new Dead Sea. But it was not always thus; and the recollections of better times engraved in my memory transformed this most unhappy spectacle, because before the rising tide of civilization invaded these places with platoons of armed hunters with shining rifles, flocks of ducks would rise suddenly into the air from the marshes as the boat approached.

The second part of the short story is about someone finding a heron that has been shot and wounded, and trying in vain to cure it.

Credit and reference:

My sincere thanks to Dr. Wolfgang Vogt of the University of Guadalajara for bringing this short story (and his analysis of it) to my attention. The extracts above are translations by Tony Burton.

Vogt, Wolfgang (1989) “El lago de Chapala en la literatura” in Estudios sociales: revista cuatrimestral del Instituto de Estudios Sociales. Universidad de Guadalajara: Year 2, Number 5: 1989, 37-47. Republished in 1994 as pp 163-176 of Vogt (1994) La cultura jalisciense desde la colonia hasta la Revolución (Guadalajara: H. Ayuntamiento).

error: Content is protected !!