Printing and Publishing in
(JPR title: My Life in Printing)
an interview for the Library at UCLA
PRINTING AND PUBLISHING IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
[an interview by] Ward Ritchie
Completed under the auspices
Oral History Program
University of California
Copyright @ 1969
The Regents of the University of California
In compliance with current copyright law,
U. C. Library Bindery produced this replacement volume on
paper that meets the ANSI Standard Z39 48-1984 to replace
the irreparably deteriorated original
This manuscript is hereby made available for research
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including the right to publication, are reserved to the
University Library of the University of California at
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University Librarian of the University of California
at Los Angeles
Ward Ritchie: UCLA Library Information
In: Oral History collection, Dept. of Special Collections, University Library, University of California, Los Angeles
Bibliographic Record Display
Author/Name:Ritchie, Ward, 1905-1996, interviewee.
Title:Printing and publishing in Southern California oral history transcript / Ward Ritchie ; interviewed by Elizabeth I. Dixon, [1964, 1965, and 1966].
Published/Distributed:[Los Angeles] : Oral History Program, University of California, Los Angeles, 1969.
Physical Description:xiii, 696 [i.e., 699] leaves, bound : port. ; 28 cm.
Holdings Record Display
Location:Clark Library Reference
Call Number: Z232.R61 R6
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Location:YRL Special Collections Stacks
Select items from collection
Call Number: 300/ 67
Number of Items:
Subject(s):Ritchie, Ward, 1905-1996 interviewee.
Powell, Lawrence Clark, 1906-2001.
Notes:Transcript of a 31.5-hour interview completed under the auspices of the UCLA Oral History Program.
Chronological bibliography of books and articles by Ward Ritchie / compiled by Elizabeth Angelico: leaves 673A-673D.
Ritchie reminisces about his career and discusses the state of fine printing and publishing in Southern California.
Audiotape recordings also may be accessed in the UCLA Dept. of Special Collections by special arrangement.
No quotation, publication or reproduction without written permission of interviewee.
Los Angeles fine printer and publisher.
Volume includes index.
The UCLA Oral History Program : catalog of the collection / compiled by Constance S. Bullock (Los Angeles : Oral History Program, University of California, Los Angeles, 1982) is available in the UCLA Dept. of Special Collections.
Forms part of: Oral History collection, Dept. of Special Collections, University Library, University of California, Los Angeles.
Other entries: Dixon, Elizabeth I., interviewer.
Angelico, Elizabeth. Chronological bibliography of books and articles by Ward Ritchie.
University of California, Los Angeles. Oral History Program.
In: Oral History collection, Dept. of Special Collections, University Library, University of California, Los Angeles
© 2014 Ex Libris Group and UCLA Library. All rights reserved.
Printing and publishing in Southern California
oral history transcript
textsPrinting and publishing in Southern California oral history transcript
by Ritchie, Ward, 1905-1996, interviewee; Dixon, Elizabeth I., interviewer; Angelico, Elizabeth. Chronological bibliography of books and articles by Ward Ritchie; University of California, Los Angeles. Oral History Program
Topics Ritchie, Ward, 1905-1996, Powell, Lawrence Clark, 1906-, Printers, Printing
Transcript of a 31.5-hour interview completed under the auspices of the UCLA Oral History Program
Chronological bibliography of books and articles by Ward Ritchie / compiled by Elizabeth Angelico: leaves 673A-673D
Ritchie reminisces about his career and discusses the state of fine printing and publishing in Southern California
The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley
Los Angeles fine printer and publisher
Volume includes index
The UCLA Oral History Program : catalog of the collection
compiled by Constance S. Bullock (Los Angeles : Oral History Program, University of California, Los Angeles, 1982) is available in the UCLA Dept. of Special Collections
Forms part of: Oral History collection, Dept. of Special Collections, University Library, University of California, Los Angeles
Publisher [Los Angeles] : Oral History Program, University of California, Los Angeles
Possible copyright status
Digitized with permission of the Regents of the University of California.
Call number SRLF_UCLAYRLSC:LAGE-2723109
Digitizing sponsor Internet Archive
Book contributor University of California Libraries
Collection oralhist; yrlsc; cdl; americana
Irregular pagination. Pages 337, 535, 546, 562, 655 do not exist. Pages 330A, 437A, 592A, 598A, 673A-673D exist to correct pagination.
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
Introduction … viii
Interview History … xii
Endnote links: If you click on the link that identifies the Tape Number, you will be taken back to the point in the text where the Tape Number anchor occurs; and vice versa.
[«»] Tape Number: Tape One, Side One (January 17, 1964) … [page] 1
Father — Mother — Family genealogy — Boyhood in South Pasadena — Elementary school education
[«»] Tape Number: Tape One, Side Two (January 17, 1964) … 25
South Pasadena High School — Occidental College — Carlyle F. MacIntyre
[«»] Tape Number: Tape Two, Side One (January 24, 1964) … 49 *
Stanford University — Sewanee College — Senior year at Occidental College
[Footnote to page 49: * Only one side of Tape Two was utilized.]
[«»] Tape Number: Tape Three, Side One (January 31, 1964) … 73
Introduction to The Journals of Thomas James Cobden-Sanderson — The Grabhorn Brothers and John Henry Nash — Bruce McCallister — Instruction in printing at Frank Wiggins Trade School
[«»] Tape Number: Tape Three, Side Two (January 31, 1964) … 99
Carl Sandburg’s Soo Line Sonata — Hildegarde Flanner — Working for Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena — Lawrence Clark Powell and Leslie Hood — Clyde Browne’s Abbey of San Encino — Initial printing endeavors — Mrs. George Madison Millard and introduction to the printing of François-Louis Schmied — Off to Europe
[«»] Tape Number: Tape Four, Side One (May 22, 1964) … 118
Sojurn [Sojourn] in Paris — Visit to François-Louis Schmied — Apprenticeship at Schmied’s Paris atelier
[«»] Tape Number: Tape Four, Side Two (May 22, 1964) … 143
Apprenticeship at Schmied’s Paris atelier (continued) — François-Louis Schmied — Visiting Lawrence Clark Powell at Dijon — Paris and its bookstores — William van Wyck — American students in Paris.
[«»] Tape Number: Tape Five, Side One (October 23, 1964) … 165
In Dijon with Lawrence Powell, Alfred Y. and Mary Frances K. Fisher — In Majorca with John Cage, Laura Riding and Robert Graves
[«»] Tape Number: Tape Five, Side Two (November 13, 1964) … 176
Alfred Young Fisher — Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher — In Paris again
[«»] Tape Number: Tape Six, Side One (January 15, 1965) … 195
Gustave Miklos — Francis Meynell and the Nonesuch Press — Penn Club in London — Richard Cobden-Sanderson — St. John Hornby — The Double Crown Club dinner
[«»] Tape Number: Tape Six, Side Two (January 15, 1965) … 195
Double Crown Club dinner (continued) — Bruce Rogers — John Johnson and the Oxford University Press — A visit to Bruce Rogers’ office
[«»] Tape Number: Tape Seven, Side One (January 23, 1965) … 229
Elmer Adler and The Colophon — Selling books for Jake Zeitlin — Beginnings of the Primavera Press — Visiting Gordon Newell and Robinson Jeffers in Carmel — Jeffers’ commission for The Colophon — Acquiring a press and type — Founding of the Ward Ritchie Press
[«»] Tape Number: Tape Seven, Side Two (March 11, 1965) … 249
Early struggles of the Ward Ritchie Press — First commissions and early products — Jake Zeitlin, Bookseller becomes Zeitlin & Ver Brugge — Writing and printing poetry
[«»] Tape Number: Tape Eight, Side One (March 30, 1965) … 272
Writing and printing poetry (continued) — Norman MacLeod — Lincoln Steffens — David Alfaro Siqueiros — Stanislaw Szukolski — Rockwell Kent — Los Angeles develops interest in fine printing
[«»] Tape Number: Tape Eight, Side Two (April 13, 1965) … 293
Bruce McCallister and Grant Dahlstrom — Saul Marks — Thomas Perry Stricker
[«»] Tape Number: Tape Nine, Side One (April 20, 1965) … 313
Thomas P. Stricker (continued) — William Cheney
[«»] Tape Number: Tape Nine, Side Two (April 27, 1965) … 331
Opinion, a Los Angeles intellectual magazine — Merle Armitage — Correspondence of Merle Armitage and George Macy concerning Leaves of Grass
[«»] Tape Number: Tape Ten, Side One (May 11, 1965) … 354
Armitage-Macy correspondence (continued) — Merle Armitage — George Macy and Millard Sheets
[«»] Tape Number: Tape Ten, Side Two (June 8, 1965) … 374
George Macy and the Limited Editions Club — Printing London’s Call of the Wild for the Limited Editions Club — Organizing the Rounce & Coffin Club — Early history of the Rounce & Coffin Club — Inception of the Western Book Show
[«»] Tape Number: Tape Eleven, Side One (June 22, 1965) … 395
Arthur Ellis and the formation of the Zamorano Club — Early Zamorano Club history — Zamorano-Roxburge Club relationships — The Primavera Press
[«»] Tape Number: Tape Eleven, Side Two (August 10, 1965) … 416
The Primavera Press (continued) — Ward Ritchie Press moves to Griffith Park Boulevard — Sarah Bixby Smith — Marriage to Janet Smith — The Smith Family
[«»] Tape Number: Tape Twelve, Side One (August 17, 1965) … 437
Paul Jordon-Smith — ‘The Club’ — Gordon Newell — Paul Landacre
[«»] Tape Number: Tape Twelve, Side Two (August 17, 1965) … 458
Paul Landacre (continued) — Archibald Garner — Fletcher Martin — Brase Miller — Tom Craig — Delmer Daves — Peter O’Crotty
[«»] Tape Number: Tape Thirteen, Side One (August 24, 1965) … 479
Efforts to locate a permanent hideaway for ‘The Club’ — J.D. Hicks — Teaching graphic arts at Occidental College — Summer School in graphic arts at the Ward Ritchie Press — Hartley Burr Alexander Press, Scripps College
[«»] Tape Number: Tape Thirteen, Side Two (September 7, 1965) … 500
More on Paul Jordan-Smith — Frederic Goudy — Teaching printing at Scripps College — Joseph Arnold Foster — Ned Sterling — Wilder Bentley
[«»] Tape Number: Tape Fourteen, Side One (December 16, 1965) … 520
Carl Wheat — E Clampus Vitus — Gregg Anderson
[«»] Tape Number: Tape Fourteen, Side Two (December 16, 1965) … 542
Gregg Anderson (continued) — Alvin Lustig
[«»] Tape Number: Tape Fifteen, Side One (December 21, 1965) … 551
Robinson Jeffers — Harvey Taylor — Melba Bennett — Patty Grant
[«»] Tape Number: Tape Fifteen, Side Two January 4, 1966) … 571
William Everson — The Untide Press — Redesigning the California Librarian — William Everson’s Equinox Press
[«»] Tape Number: Tape Sixteen, Side One (January 11, 1966) … 592
William Everson (Brother Antoninus) — Adrian Wilson of the Waldport group — The Interplayers — Adrian Wilson, printer to the Interplayers — Contemporary San Francisco printers
[«»] Tape Number: Tape Sixteen, Side Two (January 18, 1966) … 609
Southern California’s artist colony in the 1930s — Advent of World War II; its affect [effect] on the Ward Ritchie Press — Working for Douglas Aircraft Company in Santa Monica — Move to La Canada [Cañada] — Production Manager for Foote, Cone and Belding
[«»] Tape Number: Tape Seventeen, Side One (February 8, 1966) … 630
Foote, Cone and Belding (continued)
[«»] Tape Number: Tape Seventeen, Side Two (February 21, 1966) … [page not given]
Foote, Cone and Belding (continued) — Marriage to Marka Detrick — Return to printing — Helen Evans Brown and ventures in publishing cookbooks — National distribution through Lane Publishing Company
Appendix … 673A
Index … 674
A Chronological Bibliography of Books and Articles by
Ward Ritchie, compiled by Elizabeth Angelico, Assistant Cataloger, William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, University of California, Los Angeles
I N T R O D U C T I O N
Harry Ward Ritchie was born in Los Angeles, California on June 15, 1905, the son of Mossom George Ritchie and Effie Palmer Ritchie. He received his early education in South Pasadena, graduating from South Pasadena High School. In 1924 he entered Occidental College. After his freshman year, he was admitted to Stanford University. Following his sophomore year at Stanford, he attended the University of the South at Sewanee, Tennessee, but returned to Occidental College, where he received his BA degree in 1928.
Ward Ritchie early developed a keen interest in fine printing and the art of book production; however, at the time of his graduation from college he decided on a career in law. Accordingly, he matriculated at the University of Southern California’s School of Law in the summer of 1928. It took him less than a year to discover that he was not suited for the law, and he withdrew from the school, pondering the future course of his life. It was during this brief interlude that he discovered The Journals of Thomas James Cobden-Sanderson on sale in the book department of Robinson’s Los Angeles Department Store. As Ritchie began to absorb the mood and feelings of Cobden-Sanderson, the great nineteenth century English bookbinder who had given up law at age forty to pursue a career in the art of the book, he was intrigued by the philosophy of independent creativity which permeated this work. There and then he decided to follow a career in the graphic arts.
Initially, Ritchie sought advice on obtaining training in bookbinding. At the Huntington Library he was told that there was no place on the West Coast where one could learn the craft; in fact, there was little hand binding done in the United States. Next he broached the subject of printing and was told that the best printers on the Pacific Coast were John Henry Nash and the Grabhorn Brothers in San Francisco. With advice from these San Francisco printers and encouragement from Jake Zeitlin, a Los Angeles bookseller, and Bruce McCallister, the premier printer in Los Angeles, he decided to study printing at the Los Angeles Trade Technical School. During 1928 and 1929, Ritchie pursued courses at the school, learning the rudiments of printing, and there he was strongly encouraged by his immediate tutor and confidant, James Hallack.
The printing equipment of the L.A. Trade Technical School and Ritchie’s own press, installed in a rented studio at Clyde Browne’s Abbey San Encino in Highland Park, provided the resources for his first series of printing endeavors. These were: small booklets of poems by Carl Sandburg, Archibald MacLeish, Léonie Adams, Robinson Jeffers and several others. Most of them were little more than pamphlets that could be printed easily in a session or two. Ritchie considered them great fun, yet a true source of creative satisfaction.
Meanwhile, he started work at Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena and continued there until late spring of 1930. In his spare time he worked with his press and read widely in the
history of printing and the work of contemporary European and American printers. It was during this interlude that he became particularly interested in the work of the Paris printer and book designer, François-Louis Schmied. He had read Schmied in the Fleuron. His books were described as the books of the future. This appealed to Ritchie, and he set his heart on studying with Schmied at his Paris atelier. The chance came when his aunt in Michigan wrote to his mother that she was joining a European tour and desired her company. His mother easily persuaded him to join them, so he obtained a leave of absence from Vroman’s Bookstore and set out for Europe with his mother and aunt early in June of 1930.
When the tour returned to Paris after its round of Europe, Ritchie decided to remain. He had a letter of introduction to François-Louis Schmied and was determined to realize this ambition to become an apprentice at his atelier. This was not as easy as he had supposed, but he succeeded and soon found himself working at a variety of tasks, ranging from cutting woodblocks and pulling the handpress to teaching English to Schmied’s daughter and helping bottle the autumn wine.
Unquestionably Ritchie’s Paris experiences at Atelier Schmied strongly influenced the development of the Ward Ritchie Press, established in 1932. This eventually evolved into the commercial printing firm of Anderson, Ritchie & Simon.
This manuscript, a transcription of tape recordings made by the UCLA Oral History Program with Ward Ritchie, is an account in
his own words of the development of these enterprises and of the state of fine printing and publishing in Southern California.
Records relating to this series of interviews are located in the office of the UCLA Oral History Program.
I N T E R V I E W H I S T O R Y
INTERVIEWER: Elizabeth I. Dixon, Oral History Program, UCLA
Age 45, B.A., International Relations, USC; MLS, Library
TIME AND SETTING OF INTERVIEW: Place: Ward Ritchie’s home, 751 Linda Vista Avenue, Pasadena, California.
DATES: January 17, 1964 [the transcript shows 1954 here] to February 21, 1966.
Time of day, length of sessions and total number of recording hours: Recording sessions lasted from three to four hours, with an average of two hours of recording at each session.
The manuscript represents a total of thirty-one and one-half hours of recording time. The first few recording sessions were conducted late in the afternoon, but early in the interview series the schedule was changed to the morning hours.
CONDUCT OF INTERVIEW: The interviewer introduced topics and questions off tape, and the interviewee then prepared careful notes for use in recording. He frequently referred to manuscripts, correspondence and his diaries, from which he read passages onto the tape from time to time. Topical questions were introduced by the interviewer within the chronological framework of the series.
EDITING: Editor, Bernard Galm, Oral History Program, UCLA, B.A., English, St. John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota; M.A., Theater Arts, UCLA
Editing was completed September 23, 1967.
The edited manuscript represents a verbatim transcript of the taped interviews. Only minor emendations for spelling, punctuation and clarity were made. An audit-edit was done to check the accuracy of the tape transcript. The manuscript reflects the sequence in which the interveiws were conducted.
The edited manuscript was brought to the interviewee for his review in October 1967, which he completed in January 1969. He did not make significant changes in the original wording but did add considerably to the material recorded at the interviews. The use of brackets in the manuscript indicates words not actually spoken by the interviewee.
The photograph in the front of the volume was taken by Mr. Ritchie’s son, Jon Ritchie. The appended chronological bibliography of books and articles by Ward Ritchie was kindly prepared by Elizabeth Angelico.
THE INDEX was compiled by Mrs. Adelaide G. Schippers.
Errata: pp. 337, 535, 546, 562, 655 do not exist
pp. 330A, 437A, 592A, 598a, 673A-673D exist to correct the pagination
[«»] Tape Number: TAPE ONE, SIDE ONE
January 17, 1964
Ritchie: I was conceived, I believe, in Detroit, Michigan, but born in Los Angeles, California, on Fedora Street just a few houses north of Pico Boulevard. My father was a druggist by profession and most of the time he practiced it, but never for very long in the same location. It was the same with houses — our family was constantly moving. This was especially true before I was born. My older brothers were never able to count the number of different grammar schools they had attended before we settled semi-permanently in South Pasadena when I was three years old. Even so, I can remember nine different places we lived in before my father died when I was twenty-three years old.
In 1905, my father was a traveling salesman for the pharmaceutical firm of Parke-Davis in Detroit. Early in that year he traveled west to Los Angeles. It was his first trip out here. And while he was here he enjoyed the winter sunshine so much that when he was offered a job with the Brunswig Drug Company, he failed to return to Detroit. My pregnant mother had to gather all of their belongings, my two older brothers, and head out into this distant unknown West. She did it bravely, though I assume with great trepidation since her family was a very
close-knit one, and the brothers and sisters looked on this new adventure with some distaste. This was the first time, I believe, that she had ever been separated from her loving family, possibly the first time she had ever been out of the state of Michigan. She arrived in Los Angeles in April, and I was born on the 15th of June, 1905.
My father was a sweet and amiable man. He never became angry, would strike up an acquaintance with any stranger near enough to talk to him. He just plainly enjoyed life and living. He was born in Kincardine, Canada, in 1864. This was a little town on the banks of Lake Huron and I recall pictures of the house overlooking the lake and with the boats and piers in front, so I’m sure that he had an extremely pleasant childhood up there. As a boy he went west in Canada into Alberta with a surveying party, at one time, later coming back and attending Ontario School of Pharmacy at Toronto, Canada, which later became one of the schools of the University of Toronto. Here he got his pharmaceutical degree and later on came to the United States.
He owned a little drug store in the town of Imlay City and there it was that he met my mother, who had lived there for a good many years. They were married around 1890, I suspect, and lived in Imlay City for a few years when the urge to move once more caught up with my father. There are so many little towns around there that
I have heard them speak of — Metamora, for one. He had a drug store there and one in Mt. Clemans before he finally settled in Detroit. After coming to Los Angeles, he worked for the Brunswig Drug Company for awhile, later on ran a drug store called the Central Pharmacy on Spring Street, later on the Owl Drug Company on Sixth and Hill — I believe it was. There were a variety of companies.
I remember as a little boy he was president of the Southern California Lime and Cement Company, but it wasn’t really until I was eight or nine that he seemed to settle to one business of his own. A friend of his owned a drug store down at the corner of Eighth and Central Avenue — which was far out at that time — and he offered it to my father. My father was amazed, saying that there was more equipment and more drugs in this drug store than in any he had ever seen. The previous owner evidently bought anything that was ever offered to him. My father bought it and ran it for a few years. He divided the stock between another store on Vermont; he moved over there, sold the Central Avenue one. He still divided the stock with another store, and finally he had a store down on West Seventh Street, where I used to work during summers as a young boy learning the soda trade and enjoying the sweets that we had there.
My father’s family were completely Scotch and English. His father, James Beattie Ritchie, had come to Canada from
Ireland, where so many of the Scots had immigrated from their native highlands. His father, Thomas Ritchie, had settled in Ardara, Donegal County, in Ireland which is near Londonderry. His father, before that, James Ritchie, had come from a little town called Laugh Hill — which I presume is in Scotland and probably up in the highlands someplace — where the Ritchies were a sept [sept (as in ‘family’) n. : people descended from a common ancestor] of the Clan MacIntosh.
My father’s mother was Eliza Pitwood; she had been born in England in the town of Bideford in 1836. She had come to America some years later — living in Chicago before removing to Peterborough in Canada. It was there she met my grandfather James Ritchie, and they were married in 1854. They came to Kincardine in 1862 and resided there for the rest of their lives. It was there that my father and his six brothers and sister were born.
My mother and father met, as I mentioned, in the town of Imlay City, Michigan which is in Lapeer County, about fifty or sixty miles north of Detroit, Michigan. She was born on Lake St. Clair in the little town of St. Clair, Michigan and later moved on to Port Huron, the terminus of the Port Huron and Lake Michigan Railroad, for which my grandfather was the chief engineer. He was quite a remarkable man. He had been born in Stillwater, New York. As a boy he had been an apprentice to the local
printer in Stillwater and later had gone up to Troy, New York, also as a printer’s apprentice. But he was ambitious and restless, too, and ran away from his job and joined the railroad. Of course this was during the period in the forties and fifties when railroading was spreading all over the United States. He first went up to Vermont and worked on a little railroad there, and then, according to his diary, he went into Ohio and worked as an assistant engineer, building railroads there. Then on out to Wisconsin where he spent a good many years building various railroads from Milwaukee and other places over to the Mississippi. He also went to Iowa and there he bought a large tract of land and laid out Central City, Iowa as a promotion. I doubt whether he did very well with it, but occasionally a lot would be sold and there was jubilation in the family when the money came in.
He also, between working on the railroad, for two or three years with his brother Henry ran an advertising business. This was in 1858-59. He traveled over the United States selling the little poster ads that go into the railroad cars, about 6 inches x 12 inches. He would go to New York, to Philadelphia, to Cincinnati, to Cleveland, to Buffalo. He was on the road most of the time and it was a wonder that he ever saw his wife during those years. He was on his way to the South to incorporate that area into his territory when the Civil War started, and I
recall reading his contemporary accounts of how Buchanan must be a traitor to the United States to allow all of this to happen. Whether the war would start was a question at that particular time, but he said he had to cancel all of his arrangements to go South and was only hoping that his business would survive. Whether it did, I don’t know, because the next that I know of him, he was with the Grand Trunk Railway as chief engineer and with the Port Huron and Lake Michigan Railway. Along the route of this railway he found a spot in good farm land that seemed to need a city. So it was here that he bought more acreage and founded the town of Imlay City, Michigan, where he settled and remained the rest of his life.
I recall him as a fairly tall, heavy-set gentleman with a white well-trimmed beard. He was a most impressive man. In the town of Imlay City he was the great figure. During the early days he had an office in back of the house, and people would come in to make loans — which he would give — and eventually it became known as Charles Palmer’s Banking House. It grew in stature with the years and he finally put up a brick building on Main Street in Imlay City and changed the name to People’s State Bank. But even as a little boy going into the bank, I recall the great vault that was there, still having written on it — ‘Charles Palmer’s Banking House’
My mother was the oldest child of Charles Palmer’s
second wife. His first wife Emeline Westbrook had died, after two children, of tuberculosis and as was often the case in those days, the bereaved husband Immediately married a younger sister. My grandmother was Effie Westbrook. It wasn’t until recently in a genealogy that I discovered that Effie’s real name was Ephesus, and I was speaking of this to my seventy-five-year-old aunt, the youngest child of Effie, last year. And she said, ‘Well, you know, I always knew that Mother had a strange name, but I had never known what it was’ She had kept it completely secret all of these years.
I should mention in passing that my father had a rather strange name too. Where it came from I don’t know, because all of the other names in his family were strictly English and Scotch. But his name was Mossom. It has no meaning, it has no family connection, and where his mother or father discovered it I don’t know. He was always known as MG to all of his friends. I guess he early got rid of that name.
The Palmers were originally an English family. The first of the Palmers to come to America was Walter Palmer who arrived in Plymouth in 1621. He soon returned to England and came back in 1629. Eventually he settled in Stonington, Connecticut, which seems to be the hometown of the Palmers. Our particular branch of the Palmer family gradually went westward and ended up in New York State in
the town of Stillwater and the Walter Palmer’s great great grandson Ellis Palmer fought in the Civil War as an ensign — which was a rank in the army at that time. Now it is only a rank in the navy as I understand. His son was Ashbel Palmer who was my great grandfather. He was postmaster in the town of Stillwater and ran the bookstore — even in those early days. So we still have a little tinge of the bookish in the family that way.
Now I was born on June 15, not in a hospital but in this little house on Fedora Street. The nurse that took care of me was rather careless and the day or so after I was born, she scalded my leg with boiling water and made no mention of it. She carelessly wrapped it up, and it wasn’t until two or three days later that my father discovered it — my right leg with most of the flesh burned off. The nurse, I must say, fled in tears and fear and it was up to my father and the doctor to medicate it. But it worked out all right, although I still have a scar over the whole of my right leg where this burn was.
I doubt if we lived long in the Fedora house and there were probably two or three moves before I have any memory of a place. And this was a home which we had built on West Twenty-third Street in Los Angeles. I was probably three years old at the time. My first recollection in this life is on Halloween night of my third year when some neighborhood children came with a jack-
o-lantern and showed it through the window, and this hair-raising experience still remains indelible on my mind. I was extremely frightened by this strange creature that peered in at me. The only other memories of that house was that my older brother and the girl next door had a little trolley, like a clothesline, between the houses and they would send little messages back and forth.
When I was three, we moved to South Pasadena — which at that time was one vast orange grove. We lived just south of Huntington Drive on Fletcher Avenue. Huntington Drive was a very wide street with four trolley lines down the center and a little roadway on either side of the trolley lines. These cars went to Pasadena, to Sierra Madre, to Glendora, to Monrovia, and there were the rapid ones and the slow ones. It was the main part of our life. When the cars came by we were all down there, and at night the freight cars would bring in the oranges from the packing houses out in the valley.
When we moved on Fletcher Avenue, we were one of the few houses on the street. Next door to us there was a man living with his horses and plows who took care of most of the orange groves in the area. We moved in before the house was built so for a couple of months all of our family lived in the garage. It was a makeshift, but what fun we had living in practically one room there and watching the house go up!
Oranges and orange groves made up a tremendous part of my early life. The groves were our playground. We felt as if we owned all of this territory. The oranges were ours to eat when we wanted. So whenever we would feel hungry we would just pick an orange off a tree whether it was ours or others. It was our battleground as well. We would choose up sides and have orange fights. Nov; that I think of it — the huge waste of this — during all of the years that we lived there nobody said a thing about it. It was just common practice among all of the gangs around there. We would choose up sides and have big orange fights. Of course when you are hit by a green orange, it is a little painful. But, of course, being young we didn’t have too much power behind our throws. And of course our accuracy was none too good either.
There was a school about three quarters of a mile from us, the Marengo Avenue School and, of course, when I first went there in the first grade it fronted on Marengo Avenue, but in the back of the school there was the gully of San Pasqual Creek which came down from Pasadena by the Raymond Hotel and down what is now Stratford Avenue and then on down to Alhambra. They only covered up the Alhambra part which crossed Fremont close to the Braun plant, a couple of years ago. But gradually this has all been enclosed. As little kids it was great fun playing in this. There was always a trickle of water coming down
and on the steep sides we could make slides and wear out our shoes with impunity and great delight. The whole trip, to and from school, was through the orange groves. We never followed the streets, but made our own circuitous paths among the trees.
My dearest friend, in those days, was a boy named Karl Doerr. I should mention that from the home on Fletcher we had moved to Milan Avenue after a year or so, and then moved on up to the side of Fletcher Avenue north of Huntington Drive, where we probably lived for the longest period of any in our lives. All of the houses my father built seemed to have the same general arrangement. They were all two-story houses and all had three or four bedrooms. This particular one had one large room for the boys, and off it was a sleeping porch with each of us having a bed on the porch. In the large room there were closets for each of us and places to hang our clothes.
I had two older brothers. They were considerably older than I. My oldest brother, Palmer, was thirteen years older, and the next brother, Gerald, was eight years older, so that I entered grammar school, my next brother entered high school and my oldest brother entered college. So we never seemed to get to the same schools together. As a result of my being so far behind, I was always given preferential treatment by my mother — sort
of a ‘mother’s pet,’ which to a small child gives a great amount of satisfaction. You feel as if you are the great one in life when your mother pampers you and gives you that much attention.
My friend, Karl Doerr, was one year ahead of me in grammar school and as a result of his age and superior education, he kept me in great turmoil. I enjoyed school very much, but Karl would say, after the first grade, ‘Well, the first grade is fairly simple, but wait until you get into the second grade!’ He said, ‘It is almost impossible, I mean the work that you have to do’ And then when got into the third grade he had me terrified. He said, ‘Now, the third grade I don’t know how anybody could get through, and the awful ogre that is the teacher there. You have to be so careful and she is around there all the time after you.’
Well, when I got to the third grade, I found the most delightful woman teaching that I have ever known as a teacher. Her name was Miss Crabtree. She was not a particularly handsome woman. She was tall, a little ungainly, a queer-looking face, but she seemed to have all of the qualities that make for a good teacher. She could keep you interested all of the time, and especially for little boys she was so full of incidental information.
Now, for instance, she would ask you, ’If you happened to be out in a row boat and a shark knocked over
the boat, what would you do?’ She said, ‘All you have to do is hit him on the nose with your fist and he will swim away’ Well, this thing for a boy in the third grade who was nine years old was very important information. It was little bits like that that made Miss Crabtree so popular. She became one of my favorites and remained so all the days of her life.
While in the third grade, under Miss Crabtree, I had my first literary experience. The local South Pasadena paper offered a prize (I’ve forgotten the amount now, but it was probably five or ten dollars) for the best essay on ‘Why One Should Shop in South Pasadena’. Well, naturally for a nine-year-old boy this was a great challenge and especially with this tremendous prize. So I started out writing an essay. I got seventy-five words and was just about through — I couldn’t think of anything else. Now I wrote another short sentence and got up to seventy-eight words. Then it was impossible so I finished it up, saying, ‘In South Pasadena you can buy a great variety of things: eggs, potatoes, oranges, apples, chairs…’ and I finally reached my one hundred words, exactly, and sent it in. It was a great disappointment that I did not win the first prize. But it was mentioned in the press, at least, that I had submitted an essay.
Well, the third grade was a most interesting grade. It’s then that I remember beginning to read seriously
and earnestly. There was another boy in the third grade by the name of William Jackson, who was later to become Librarian of the Houghton Library at Harvard. He was about a half-head taller than I and seemed to be a little more advanced. I can visualize him now, sitting on the stairs of the kindergarten at South Pasadena with a stack of books which had curiously interested me at the time, and so I began to go up to the library where the librarian Miss Nellie Keith was in charge; she was extremely sympathetic to these young people who were becoming curious about books.
There was another chap who was slightly younger than I, a little more precocious, I think. I remember him as a sort of a roly-poly little chap, tougher than most, more aggressive. His name was Lawrence Clark Powell, later Librarian and Dean of the Library School at UCLA. Now Lawrence Clark Powell also joined our little coterie of eager bibliophiles and he would also wander up to the local library, which was a good mile from school and even more from where we lived. But we all had bicycles in those days, and at times, we would even walk to the library and it didn’t seem an impossible feat as it certainly would today. I won’t say that we read everything in the library when we were in the third grade, but the impetus which we got in those early years led to a continual interest in books through-
out grammar school and on through the rest of our lives
As I recall, the books which first interested me were the 0z books which seemed to stimulate my imagination — all of these strange make-believe countries. Even when I was young my great ambition was to create a country of my own, and I used to make maps of strange lands, and people them with odd characters such as I had read about in the Oz books. Also, I loved mythology. In those days, Gayley’s Classic Myths was one of the textbooks in high school. I found a copy of this around the house (it had belonged to one of my older brothers), and I went through it completely. After that, I was lead on to the Norse Myths, which I loved. The Book of Knowledge attracted me and though it was a formidable array of books, I would try to take a new volume home every two weeks. They too were full of myths which I enjoyed very much, together with much other incidental information which I liked.
Now, it wasn’t that I was completely introverted in those days, spending all of my time indoors perusing books. We in the neighborhood were quite athletic. Fletcher Avenue was a street with many children on it, and we had a continual ball game going on in the middle of the street. There was not much traffic. The occasional car that would come down didn’t bother us too much and we certainly didn’t make it too hazardous for
these people. Actually we probably had more horse-drawn traffic than gasoline-propelled. The postman came by in a little rig with a fringe around the top. Then there was the Chinese vegetable man in his rig who would sing of his wares and the housewives would come pouring out from the houses to buy. The poor Chinaman was a great friend to all of us, with his pigtail down his back, but he must have led a very unhappy life because the little kids were always taunting him and yelling ‘ching, chong, Chinaman’ and much worse things at him. But he took it very good naturedly and every day he came and satisfied the local needs because there wasn’t a grocery store very close to where we lived. And the Van de Kamp’s man came around every day with potato chips and pickles and peanut butter. So it was a pleasant life out in the country — we didn’t have to subsist on oranges alone.
But the games we played naturally lead into competition. My friend Karl Doerr, being a year older, was also more mature and a better athlete than I. But since I was known as his best friend, he always included me in all of the athletic contests; so when Karl became quarterback on the Marengo Avenue team (he was in the sixth grade at that time and I was only in the fifth — a puny little fellow), he insisted that I be on the first team. Now, in schoolboy football the best position is
quarterback and after that one of the other backfield positions, and then next in popularity comes the ends on down to center. So I was the center, which is probably the toughest of all positions that one could play because I had to remember the strange signals that we used to have. Besides I was always in the thick of the fray whenever there was any play, and I was also the smallest.
The great triumph of that school year, was in the game against El Centro School. El Centro had a man playing in the backfield who was not quite intelligent enough to be in the grade that he should have been in, but he had all of the physical attributes of a grown man. So they put him in the backfield and would give him the ball from time to time, and he could tromp through the slight opposition that he had almost at will. Well, I was playing center in this great game — this championship game against El Centro — and this big brute was given the ball and started right over the center. Well, I cringed and ducked a little and I didn’t tackle him, but he kicked me right in the top of the skull so hard that it tripped him and here I was — practically out on my feet — hailed as the great champion who had been able to stop this big brute right as he went through the center of the line. I didn’t feel very well for the next few weeks after that, but
still I lived on my honor; and when they gave out the golden ‘M’s’ for the football team, I was the proud possessor, the youngest one in South Pasadena history.
Well, school progressed. Subjects that I enjoyed most were geography and history. Music — I am afraid that I didn’t have the ear for. I didn’t realize it at the time, but when we first started music in school, I was allowed to join with the others when we sang a song but eventually I was eliminated from the singing group. The teacher very kindly and gently took two or three others and said, ‘Now you are to be the listeners. Whenever we have music we have to have some listeners.’ And so were set aside and didn’t actually participate in the singing of any of the songs from then on — that was great tact.
Another experience that I remember was in the sixth grade, and here again was a teacher whom I dearly loved. She was a beautiful young gal called Miss Cline. Miss Cline also seemed to like me; so I was full of affection for this woman. But evidently she preferred older men and during the year, she married and left, and we were given a substitute teacher. The substitute teacher had been pulled out of retirement after many years (she had taught at the South Pasadena High School when my older brother had been a student there). He had graduated in 1911, and then she had married the
principal of the school; he was a very intelligent man who had risen until he became County Superintendent of Schools here in Los Angeles. In the meantime when Miss Cline left, they had to call Mrs. Upjohn back into duty and she taught us for the rest of the year. She had a certain amount of feeling for me since I was my brother’s youngest, but on one occasion she caught me whispering in the back of the room, and as happened quite often in those days, she asked me to stay after school and write on the board one hundred times, ‘I will not whisper. I will not whisper.’ I did it methodically, slowly but very accurately
When I was through she came to me and she said, ‘Now, will you promise never to whisper in class again?’
I was very literal in my interpretation of this, and I thought it over and I said to myself, ‘This is a situation that I doubt if I can control. I will slip sometime, and if I give my word this will be a mortal sin upon my soul.’ I didn’t explain this to her. I merely said, ‘I don’t believe that I can give you that promise.’
She said, ‘All right, you will write, “I will not whisper,” another one hundred times.’ which I did as methodically and carefully as before.
This went on for three times and by that time the sun had set as it was getting a little late and she was quite annoyed. She had spent a good deal more time
than she had expected or anticipated. So she got me up there and she said, ‘You can’t be a Ritchie! Your older brothers would never tolerate anything like this.’ She said, ‘I cannot understand. You’ll never amount to anything.’
And she stalked off and I wended my way wearily home. Well, she forgave and forgot, and as the years went by we became extremely good friends. But she just didn’t realize at the time that extracting a promise in perpetuity from a young and serious person is not the way to achieve what she wanted.
The war came and both of my brothers went off and I was left at home, and then the flu came. We were given an assignment to make a list of the books that we had read. There was an old typewriter of my brother’s in the house, and with one finger I could manage the thing, and so I spent the whole weekend toiling over this because I wanted to have the longest list in the class. As I was finishing it up, I began to ache all over and finally I could hardly raise up — that was all. I was put into bed for what was called rheumatism. My mother and father, while not members of the Christian Science Church, did attend that church, so during my bout with the flu only a Christian Science reader attended me. I don’t know how long I was in bed, but it must have been a month at least. All I can tell now is from seeing pictures of myself before and after — from being a chubby, healthy little boy, I became a
skeleton with a mere clinging of skin around my bones. So it must have been quite a serious case of influenza that I had at that time. Fortunately, I didn’t miss the football season — which would have broken my heart — since, because of the flu epidemic, all sports were curtailed, I managed to get strong enough by the next year to again play on the varsity team. This time I had risen to the backfield. I was no longer the low man on the whole team.
During my fifth year in school, I guess, my next to oldest brother started at the University of Southern California, and for some reason or another, we moved to Los Angeles for a year to be close to USC. At that time I went to the Norwood School. When I came back to my old school — Marengo Avenue School — I was a little dismayed by the fact that they were teaching things that I didn’t understand. The curriculum was different, you see, and in losing a whole year I knew not how to parse nouns, didn’t know anything about multiplication, and many things which made it difficult. At that same time, when we came back, my grandfather was seriously ill in Michigan; my mother, feeling that she should go back, took me along and I lost another half year. When I came back to school (I didn’t talk to my parents about this), I just told the principal I thought that under the circumstances
I had better go back a half a year — which I did.
In this way I became better and closer acquainted with another group of people, which included Larry Powell and Pat Kelly and Roger Weldon and a few others. Roger, Pat, and Larry and myself formed an extremely closely linked group at that time. I had been reading James Willard Schultz, his Indian stories about the Blackfeet, and also Ernest Thompson Seton’s great books, and so we became interested in making bows and arrows, and lighting fires, and tracking through the woods. There was a section of South Pasadena, below Huntington Drive by the Southern Pacific Railroad, that was used as the breeding ground for the Rust Nursery. It was a gorgeous, beautiful spot. There were natural oaks and they were growing deodars and all sorts of plants and trees. It was our happy hunting ground. We had a spot by one of the great oaks which was our meeting place and for years, every afternoon after school, we would gather there and track one another, or shoot, or play. So even though I had officially gone back, the people that I eventually grew up with were more important to me than if I had continued in my own class.
The great thing is that it gave me Larry Powell who became the closest associate that I’ve had through my life, and this is one thing that I’ve appreciated very much.
In the fall of 1923, I was in the upper half of the eighth grade which was to graduate in February. I became literary inclined and using the old broken-down typewriter at home with my one-finger technique, I produced a newspaper which I circulated around the eighth grade. It was well received, and it excited me to the extent that some of us thought that we might as well make it a permanent publication. So Pat Kelly and I circulated among the shops in town and sought ads which I think we sold at 25$5 an inch, and we made arrangement with the local printing company In South Pasadena to print this little newspaper for us.
Then after much argument we decided upon a name for this newspaper. We called it the Marengo Literary Leader. Pat, I think, wanted the word ‘leader’ and I wanted the word ‘literary’ in it. So we compromised by including both. It continued to be published for the many years until Marengo Avenue School became only a six-grade school. At the time we were there, it was an eight-grade school and was for the next four or five years.
The first issues are extremely interesting. Pat and I survived as editors for only four issues. It became a little too heavy for us and in our editorial comments we joked about some of the teachers. However, by the time we had done this, the paper was important
enough to the Marengo Avenue School for the authorities to take it over as the official Marengo paper.
I note that in Number VII, which was issued on December 2, 1919, the pièce de résistance was a story by Lawrence Powell called ‘The Purple Dragon’.
It starts out, ‘Wang Fung was pleased. The steamer Princess Ch’en Liu arrived in the evening with a secret shipment of opium for him.’ Powell had been reading Fu Manchu at that time and you can see the influence.
[«»] Tape Number: TAPE ONE, SIDE TWO
January 17, 1964
Ritchie: After graduation from Marengo Avenue School in February, 1920, I went to South Pasadena High School which was located about a mile from our house over on the other side of Fair Oaks Avenue. It was the same high school that both of my brothers had gone to; so while I was much younger, there was still a certain memory of the Ritchie family there among the older teachers. I was greeted by a few of them when I came in. I was a mid-year graduate which made it a little difficult in getting certain subjects, and also the school life had progressed so that we didn’t get quite the hazing that students got when they started at the first of the year. In those days, hazing was one of the accepted hazards of starting school. I recall that the next year, when the freshmen came in, they were all herded into the tennis court and were asked to take their shoes off. All of their shoes were bundled together and put on the stage in the auditorium and we watched as they sought and fought for their shoes.
I went into high school without my closest friends who were still back at Marengo; it was a rather lonely half year I spent. I do recall that there was a strike of baseball players at South Pasadena High School. We had one of the finest teams that South Pasadena had
ever had; they had won all of their first games, but then the coach and the team had a little misunderstanding and the whole first team left. A new team was recruited but it was young, inexperienced and not too successful, and the first team never came back. In my eagerness, I went out for the baseball team. I was quiet and reticent and I was never given a zuniform — which was the one thing that I wanted most at that time — and I was never allowed to play in a game. But day after day through the spring, I was out there chasing balls. Of course, when the regular semester started the next fall, I had had the advantage of the half year in high school, and I was a little superior to those that were coming in. I was elected president of the Freshmen Class.
Sports seem to have taken up most of my free time because I went out for football, on the lightweight team, and for basketball, in the fall and winter, and for track and baseball in the spring, which took all of the afternoons. This pattern continued through my four years at South Pasadena. I went out for every sport. Though I never made varsity letters in basketball, I did make varsity letters in baseball, track and football, and was captain of the track team.
I got a good start scholasticly in high school which is, I believe, very important. If you get started right by the time you are a senior you can pretty well
float through. You have achieved the academic rating that is necessary, and you also know how to study and what to study and when to study. I took algebra and latin and English — I have forgotten what else — in my freshman year and got straight A’s. I didn’t seem to have to worry about grades at all; they just came.
By this time Powell and Kelly and the rest of my close friends had caught up with me, and we were all freshmen together and sophomores together, and we continued on through school that way. It is illegal in California to belong to a social fraternity or sorority in high school, but this didn’t seem to deter us. There was a small fraternity called Alpha Gamma Rho in South Pasadena High School at that time. It had been founded back in 1909 when the high school was only two years old. Through the years, it had traditionally pledged and initiated the top people in school. By the time that I was there, it had a substantial group of successful alumni, who had gone on to college and had been football captains and Phi Beta Kappa’s. It was a prestigious organization to belong to — though extremely secret. Now I know that the authorities knew more about it than we thought they did, but they never made any mention of it. I was pledged during my junior year. I believe that those in the fraternity at that time were looking for a candidate for a student political office.
I was more on the scholarly side than most of them and a little quieter and less flamboyant; I had held some student offices and I was occasionally called upon to speak in assemblys [assemblies], so in the Machiavellian minds of the fraternity leaders, they felt that I might be useful.
I was pledged and initiated, and the next semester I was able to pull in my other pals. Eventually we all belonged to this little fraternity which became quite an important part of our social life in those days. It was also quite a political machine. They thought of running me for president of the student body and had several skull sessions about the best way of doing it. The political leader of those on the outside of the fraternity was a boy by the name of Glenn Lembke, who was one of our finest debaters and is now Dr. Glenn Lembke, an educator. Glenn and I were always good friends. What we wanted to do was to get Glenn to sponsor me, and it was thought that ‘what we will do is to put up one of our members who has no possible chance and then Glenn will come in and say, “Well, I’ve got to have a strong candidate. Ritchie, you are it ”’ Well, it didn’t work out that way, and our candidate ran all the way through. Lembke chose Malcolm Archbald, who was a good friend of ours, and he was eventually elected.
In the meantime, I was nominated for Commissioner of Debating — which I lost handily. But later at a special
election, I was elected Commissioner of Boys as the head of the Boys League, and also I was elected editor of the Annual and editor of the paper, so that I wasn’t left out completely.
One of the projects of the Boys League was to pay for the injuries of athletes. We had a fund-raising drive called Injured Athlete Day, and we had various other promotions. Being president was a two-way job. I was responsible for raising the money and also I was responsible for giving it to Ritchie because I was the most injured athlete during that year. Practically all of the money was spent on my doctor bills. I started out early in the football season (this was during practice), when I was kicked in the eye and my eye was almost taken out. They had to stitch it back in. That was the first part of it, and I barely got back into uniform for the first league game that we had, which was against Glendale High School. In the meantime, I had not been practicing very much, but as a stalwart 135 pounder, I was put in as guard. Being out so long, I hadn’t been issued one of the regular jerseys for the game; instead I still wore a practice one which made me stand out in the line. Glendale had quite a good team that year. In the backfield were two boys by the name of Elliot, brothers, who went on to be great stars in the backfield
at USC in subsequent years. They were good players even then. Seeing me in a strange uniform, they decided that I must be a substitute — that I was taking somebody’s place — and I have never been run over and trampled as much in my life. Every play of the game came right over the guard. However, I managed to survive that.
A couple of games later, we were playing Covina High School out at Covina, and there was a rabid feeling between these out-of-town schools and the more metropolitan schools, as we considered ourselves. When they would come to South Pasadena, they would be escorted out with a barrage of oranges, and when we went out there, it was almost as bad. This was a rough and tough game, and during the course of it I broke my arm. I was rushed out and they asked one of the doctors on the stands, a Covina doctor, if he would come down and look at it. And he said, ‘Certainly not. I wouldn’t give a South Pasadena boy the time of the day’. So I stayed there and waited for the rest of the game. Then the team gathered, and we made the trek back to South Pasadena where I was put into traction and became the hero for the next few days until it was forgotten.
Those two experiences and later a sprained ankle which didn’t cost the Injured Athlete Fund anything was where the money went that year. Actually, the athletics that I played at South Pasadena High School caused several
cracked bones in my life. The most serious was my nose which was broken three times — twice in football (but, of course, the nose was never considered of great importance in those days) and once on the baseball diamond when I was playing third base and a ball was lined out and it hit a pebble just before it hit me and instead of hitting my glove it hit me right square in the nose.
I mentioned that the house in which we lived on Fletcher Avenue had kept us for the longest time of any, but during my junior year my father sold it and bought a house in Los Angeles, which had been the former home of Meredith Pinxton Snyder, who had been an early mayor of Los Angeles. It was a big old place. This happened to be a summer when my mother was in the East visiting her family. I had spent the summer working in a service station in South Pasadena; this service station had been robbed periodically about every month. Finally the owner decided that he would put a night watchman there, and, of course, boys of my age never think about the troubles that they can get in and I took the job as night watchman — my mother being away.
I had one day off a week. I worked from six o’clock at night and slept there all night until eight o’clock the next morning — every day except one. Then the day man would take over my time and I would take over his; therefore, he would have his evenings off except for one.
It was probably as uncomfortable a job as one could imagine. The roof of the service station was slanting with a space of about three feet between it and a platform. There was a ladder by which I could climb up onto this platform. I slept there at night with a rifle and a pistol at my side. People would come in… running out of gas… all times of night. I was down, opening up, and letting them in. I was fortunate in that nothing ever happened during that period.
While I was there and my mother was in the East, my father managed to sell our house and buy a new one. She came home quite unhappy about the move,and, of course, I was unhappy about transferring from South Pasadena High School to Los Angeles High School, especially in my junior year. My mother bought me a car; this was a little old red Buick roadster that I learned to love.
I should mention first that the money that I earned during my summer was spent on a 1914 Ford. There was a barber across the street from the service station who had come down from Canada, and for $90 I bought his beautiful Ford with brass lamps and a brass radiator. After I had finally paid for it, the cops came and took him away. It turned out he had been an embezzler in Canada. He had escaped to the United States, and under a guise of a barber had managed to stay here for some time.
This car was the first automobile on the campus of South Pasadena High School, and I drove it with great pride. Of course, it became the campus car, especially with the boys in the Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity. They knew that they could use it whenever they wanted to. It was all around, and its beautiful pristine condition finally disappeared. First, the top was smashed and we took that off. Then the body became a little battered, so we took that off. So here was the chassis, and the gasoline tank was where the seat is. We could sit on that, and then we would put an extra seat on the back across the frame and two or three boys could sit on that. One day we had been at a football game up at Pasadena High School and one of the other boys wanted to drive the car. I was sitting on this back seat which was just loosely placed across the frame, and Alonzo Cass was the other (now a well-known pediatrician, Dr. Alonzo Cass). We were going up an incline, getting out of the Pasadena High School parking lot, when the throttle stuck. We came to the street and had to turn one way or another. Cass, recognizing the situation, jumped off and the seat upended and I slid along what seemed to be the length of Hill Avenue on one ear until I stopped against the curbing. That was the end of that car for me. My father said, ‘Get rid of it.’
When we moved into Los Angeles, I had to have transportation; so we got a Buick roadster in which I went back and forth to school in South Pasadena. During my senior year, rather than doing all that driving, I boarded at the Powell house. Larry and I had the time of our lives! I don’t think we stayed home one night during the year. We would tour around, and drop in to visit nearly every girl we knew. When tired of talking to her we would wander on to see someone else
As editors of the Annual and of the school newspaper (Larry was sports editor) we were given a large camera and we took pictures of anybody and everybody. Miss Lora Evans, our English and journalism teacher, gave us almost complete freedom. We could always take time off to go up to see the printer which we did daily. How we survived that year I don’t know. Usually, we would be hungry and would go up to the bakery and get a cream puff and come back. We also were in the operetta together — Larry and Alonzo Cass and myself — and in the senior play. Larry had the lead and I was one of the sub-leads; there was little that we weren’t doing together.
And then time came to graduate and we did. I won the D.A.R. history prize that year, and Larry just managed to graduate. [Is the D.A.R. the Daughters of the American Revolution? See Wikipedia: ‘The Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) is a lineage-based membership service organization for women who are directly descended from a person involved in the United States’ struggle for independence. A non-profit group, they work to promote historic preservation, education, and patriotism. The organization’s membership is limited to direct lineal descendants of soldiers or others of the Revolutionary period who aided the cause of independence; applicants must have reached 18 years of age and are reviewed at the chapter level for admission. It currently has approximately 180,000 members in the United States and in several other countries. Its motto is “God, Home, and Country.” […] The DAR is a historically white organization with a record of excluding African American women. Since the late twentieth century, following the civil rights movement and changes in historic scholarship, the organization has expanded its membership, recognizing minority contributions and expanding the definition of those whose work is considered to have aided the Revolution, and recognizing more ways in which women and other people served.’] This was only because Larry
had never taken very much interest in the scholastic side of high school. He had been a cheerleader, and he had done all of these other things. It wasn’t until his senior year that he recognized the importance of grades. In part, I may have had some influence on him because I didn’t let other activities interfere with my studying; since we did everything together he got into the habit of studying when I was studying. He had a brilliant mind, and he read extremely fast and absorbed things much faster than I ever did. He could do with little time what took me a lot of time to do.
But we did graduate and made our decision where to go to college. I had originally planned to go to Stanford, but we were influenced toward Occidental. That was where Larry wanted to go, and through the influence of his mother and various other people, he finally was in Occidental though his grades hadn’t been good enough. Also our friend, Cornelis Groenewegen, went there with us. We had been a triumvirate — we all belonged to Alpha Gamma Rho and palled together. So the next fall we entered Occidental College together, and the three of us — Groenewegen, Powell and I — were so closely associated in everything that we did, taking the same classes, coming from the same school, that we were known as the Three Musketeers.
I had a car and we all lived at home in South
Pasadena. Every morning I would pick them up and we would come to school together. Inasmuch as we all had the same classes, we could talk over the problems and the solutions and study together. I was still the most methodic and the hardworking of all. When examination time came I would plod through all of the necessary material, make notes, and Larry and Groenewegen would pick my brains and I would have to give them the answers to the various questions which we thought might come up — which was good for all of us. In recalling Powell’s study habits I recall our studying Thomas Hardy’s Return of the Native. Larry read the whole book during class. He didn’t hear anything that was going on during that particular class, but while we were studying Return of the Native for the next six weeks he never gave the book another look but was able to retain the details enough to answer any questions about it.
Perhaps his was the best way of studying because he got the feeling of the whole novel where we were reading two chapters at a time and thinking of it more as a chore than as a delightful experience.
The freshman year in college is always the most exciting year, it seems to me, because it is the transition from one type of life to a completely different one. You are expected to be a mature person; you are
no longer taken care of by your curriculum. You make your own decisions. Also it’s a time when you meet so many new and different people, not only in the student body but in the faculty. We were most fortunate when we went to Occidental to find some of the most stimulating professors that I have ever known — it just happened at that time.
The head of the English Department was Benjamin Stelter, who was a large, articulate man who had a mind that never forgot anything. For a teacher, this was a great thing, but for Stelter as a creative man, it was a great shame. You would sit in Stelter’s class and somebody would bring up a question, and immediately Stelter saw all of the answers — this is what Byron had said, this is what Keats had said, this is what Coleridge had said — he visualized them all and he would quote from each of them. These were the answers. Seldom was he able to give his own solution. These were the solutions that everybody else had for this particular problem in writing. But it was wonderful because you would be sitting there and you would recognize that… here he is talking Plato for awhile and then he was talking Saint Thomas Aquinas and then on and on. I took every course that I could from him because of this great ability.
There was another young fellow just starting his teaching career who was more exciting and more stimulating; that was Carlyle Ferren MacIntyre. He had known Stelter at USC when MacIntyre was an undergraduate there. He had gone on to graduate school, graduating from the University of Marburg in Germany. He was always an iconoclast in college; he was always in trouble, primarily, because he was smarter than anyone else. He had a biting tongue and he had a tremendous ego; no one could challenge him without being destroyed by his terrific wit and sarcasm. He took a liking to the three of us — the Three Musketeers — and we were stimulated by him. His classes, and this goes for wherever he taught, were probably the toughest; he was never easy. He gave big assignments. He didn’t give good grades in general, but his wit prevaded everything. He made you read things that you would never think of reading.
He was flamboyant in many ways. He loved to drive in his Pierce-Arrow roadster, and he had rakish hats. He was always violently in love with some woman, and no girl on the campus was completely safe from him because he was exciting to them.
You might be walking across the campus and he would say, ‘What are you doing?’
You would answer, ‘Well, I was just walking down…’
He’d say, ‘Jump in the car!’
He would scoot you down to Sixth Street. You would go into the bookstores and he would look around. He would buy a stack for himself of things that he was interested in, and he would point at you and say, ’You should read that.’ Before you knew it, you had a stack, too, which you would take along with you
He wasn’t a book collector in the sense of one who buys and keeps and preserves first editions. He was interested in the contents of the books. His books were always interesting because he underlined and he made copious notes in them. Naturally, he kept a lot of them for himself but he also had an arrangement with the library at Occidental to buy his excess books. This was helpful to the library and allowed MacIntyre to continue buying and accumulating books.
This was his first year at Occidental, and there was what he considered a stuffy literary club there. He wanted a club that was more exciting. He gathered a few of us to meet with him every couple of weeks, to do creative writing. It never quite came off because we were always too shy before this man who was such a sharp critic. I know that I was always hesitant in even showing him anything that I had written,
especially before others. I didn’t want him to pick mine out and say, ‘It’s puerile. What are you trying to do? Your words are badly chosen.’
But by the time the year was over, I was reading different books. I became interested in Russian literature; in Baudelaire and the French poets, and a variety of literature which he had brought into my life; I think the same applied to Larry and to the others. We all have a great debt to MacIntyre in that he made us read and he made books exciting.
His classes were just as exciting. He didn’t care what he said. He would hurt people. He would excite them. He would stimulate his students and he would make them laugh. He made it so exciting to be in his classes that no one ever wanted to miss one not knowing what new was going to happen.
He did have an interest for many of the girls on the campus, and I wouldn’t be a bit surprised that it wasn’t quite professional. The president of Occidental College didn’t want to fire him, yet he didn’t want to keep him. He thought that as a small Christian college it wasn’t quite proper to have such a man around. At the same time, Dr. Moore over at UCLA had a little problem with one of his English professors, and they decided to make a trade. MacIntyre went to UCLA and for many years he followed a similar course at UCLA.
As I have heard, there developed a certain amount of ill feeling toward him within some members of the English Department because of his popularity with the students and his sometimes vitriolic tongue in faculty meetings. He made many enemies there, and when MacMillan published one of his books in which he satirized Lily Bess Campbell, she raised enough fuss to have MacMillan withdraw the first edition and remove that poem. Things like that led to unhappiness within the echelon that he should have been nice to.
Eventually there was another move and he was transferred to Berkeley, as UCLA wished to be rid of him. He went through the same process at Berkeley. The head of the department there was very talented — a fine man and a great teacher who was much admired. MacIntyre was intolerant, prejudiced and possibly jealous of this man’s accomplishments. The situation became intolerable enough that MacIntyre had to retire from the University on a pension, which he refused to accept for many years.
Immediately he got a Guggenheim scholarship and went to Europe where he did his translation of Faust, and during the following years he has made translations of Verlaine, Rilke, Baudelaire and others which have been published by the University of California Press.
He had a stroke a couple of years ago and this fall when I was in Paris I saw him. He is bedridden, paralized [paralysed] with a stroke, and immobilized, but his mind is still sharp. He still braggs about his conquests. He was a terrifically brilliant and interesting man. You really couldn’t stand to be with him for too long a time. There was so much talk going on and a man can never be that witty and brilliant for a long stretch without repeating himself. You got to know everything that he could say or would say, but every time you remet him or were with him for a short time, he was great company.
Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7149874 C.F.MacIntyre, Paris, 1956.
I had mentioned earlier that my mother had given me much affection during my early days, and with it a confidence and a compulsion to win at any contest. I had always striven for that at home and in a sense I had striven in that same way in school. In my freshman year at Occidental there were two things that I wanted — despite limitations I wanted to be the best scholar at Occidental and also the best athlete. I had been captain of the track team at South Pasadena High School. When I came to Occidental, I concentrated on track rather than spreading myself in the more rugged sports as I had in high school. Also I am sure that I looked at some of the towering brutes that were on the football team and decided that my little 135 pounds would not last very long.
It amuses me when I think back on those days… when I was in class, and realizing that I was not doing too well, I would go out on the field that afternoon and jump like mad trying to prove that I was at least a good athlete if I wasn’t a great scholar — and vice versa. Well, I eventually had to conclude that I was neither a great scholar nor a great athlete — a realization that comes with years.
But the very fact that I then had this ego has been Important in my life; I know that many of the things that I since have done I would never even have attempted had I not had this great confidence. Instead of having doubts, I always encountered a situation with the feeling that ‘certainly I can do this;’ there are many that I have gotten into which no smart person would ever have attempted. You walk in, accept a challenge, and people assume, ‘He knows what he is doing and can do it,’ and given the responsibility, you have to fulfill it
I have never been a group man; I have always worked as an individual. I have never been a good committeeman for that reason because I want to do it my way, and I want to do it as fast as I can and get the job out of the way. I’ve never comfortably been able to delegate power or jobs to other people. Yet I have found that I can delegate if I don’t try to tell
anyone what to do. I just tell them, ‘This is your job, and I want you to do it your way and I won’t interfere unless something goes wrong.’ When I’m on a committee I tend to do all of the work myself or nothing
The sophomore year in college is the toughest for most students. We have discovered this with our own children when they have gone to college. Always with their sophomore years, they are restless, most unhappy, and in speaking to college counselors [counsellors] about this, they agree that is the bad year. I returned to Occidental College and moved into the fraternity house. Larry Powell and Groenewegen and Gordon Newell, who became the fourth in our previous triumvirate, all joined the same fraternity. It was a local called Owl and Key, which later became Phi Gamma Delta, a national fraternity.
I moved into the fraternity house, and was ambitious to encompass all learning. Instead of taking a sensible course, I signed up not only for nineteen units but in addition several auditing courses including Latin which I had had in high school, but by now had mostly forgotten. At the fraternity house there always seems to be a tendency on the part of the older members, if they can find somebody who will work, to load things on. They began to pile on many
more duties than I could handle. For instance, they made me chairman of rushing which for a sophomore who had just gone through rushing himself was a little too much to expect to know how to handle and to organize a rushing campaign. I was given the editorship of the fraternity paper and a variety of other jobs. Living in the fraternity house was also a new and different experience. At home I had had a room of my own; I studied by myself. The fraternity houses at Occidental at that time were merely old houses around the campus that the fraternities had picked up; so you didn’t have separate rooms. There would be four or five beds in one room, and you were supposed to sleep and study and do all of your work there. So I was getting worried about so many things that I wasn’t doing — I wasn’t studying enough, I wasn’t having enough time to myself.
We had a football game with Stanford, and I drove my car to Palo Alto with two or three of the fellows, and had a glorious weekend. Here was the school to which I had originally planned to go, and it now seemed so great and mature and glamorous. We spent some time at one of the fraternity houses; and it seemed so much more mature and it was so much larger with each boy having his separate room with study possibilities. Also, my original intent was to go into
law, and when I talked to them up there, I learned they were going to change Law into a completely graduate school. At that time, you took three years undergraduate and then you went directly into law; so I would save a year. I came back and after a little soul-searching, I decided that I would go to Stanford. I sent up my application, but it was too late to get in that fall. They admitted me for the next quarter (they have a quarter system up there); I would start January 2nd or whenever it started. I reluctantly left Occidental. I had two or three months to wait and since I had become interested in books through MacIntyre and Stelter, I went over to Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena and asked if I might have a job. They put me on. Up through Christmas vacation I worked at Vroman’s and there I became interested in a new phase of books — that of collecting them — first editions and press books primarily. It wasn’t very profitable from the standpoint of take-home pay since Vroman’s allowed employees a substantial discount on books. Usually by the end of the month, there was no pay; there was just enough to take care of what I had bought during the period. But at least I was collecting a library.
I entered Stanford University the second quarter, which was January, 1926, and I stayed at Stanford for
four quarters — the balance of that year and two quarters of the next year. At Stanford I had some stimulating professors, too. When I was still in high school, I had written to various colleges I was interested in attending. I received a letter from the Dean at Yale, telling me that ‘much more important than the courses you take in college are the professors you select to teach them to you. In the long run you will get more from the stimulation of the man who teaches the course than anything you could possibly learn from it.’
While at Stanford I followed this advice. I had Shakespeare from Margery Bailey, who was an exciting and stimulating teacher. I took English from Edith Merrilees. I took a wonderful course in political science… I can’t remember his name now. After his retirement, he came down to Occidental to take care of their foreign relations program.
But the strange thing that I did… these are also the machinations of a mind who is trying to get through the best way possible… I hadn’t had any science at Occidental (this was my sophomore year), and in order to get my junior certificate I had to crowd in a lot of science. One quarter up there I took practically nothing but psychology. It was an easy way to get through because they all related. When you
were studying for one, you were learning something about the other. But what it did to my psyche was terrible.
I was reading about all of the diseases and possible aberrations of the mind all the time. Among others, I was taking Experimental Psychology, a lab course which kept me in the Psych Department most of the time, being included in so many of the experiments. The fellow who created the lie detector was a student then, and I was one of his subjects. There was also a graduate student, Miles Tinker, doing his first work on the speed of reading, and I was his subject that whole semester. Subsequently he devoted his career at the University of Minnesota to further research in this field and wrote many books on the subject. I remember taking one test which was given to all of the psych students to see whether they were extroverts [extraverts] or introverts. By this time, I was so introverted by my over-indulgence in psychology that my professor shook his head and said, ‘We’ve never had anyone who has appeared to be such an introvert as you have on this particular test.’
It was that quarter that really got me down.
[«»] Tape Number: TAPE TWO, SIDE ONE
January 24, 1964
Ritchie: The winter sun at Stanford in 1926 was overcast most of the time. Being used to bright sun, it affected my attitude and my personality and my thinking. I still notice it, as if blinders were put on me, when the day is dreary and dull. This is not true when the rain pours down or it is blustering with wind, but a dull bleak overcast day seems to tighten my mind and shrink my eyes until I can hardly think or see.
Arriving at a college, mid-year, and in one’s sophomore year is difficult. I lived in Encino Hall with a freshman, and while I was eager to try out for activities, I found that I was too late. One must sign up at the beginning of his sophomore year to be in many of these activities, such as the year book staff for which I was quite eager.
As a result, I wasn’t very active in Stanford affairs, but I did feed the inner man in me. Each Thursday night David Starr Jordon would hold an open house for us, and we would talk on various subjects.
At the gallery there were exhibits, and I discovered
[Footnote: * Only one side of Tape Two was utilized.]
the sharp clear photography of Edward Weston. I learned to play bridge, but most of all, I lived in the Stanford Library.
The librarian, at that time, was a grand chap by the name of Nathan Van Patten. I knew him not too intimately during undergraduate days, but later on I got to know him quite well. He came down to southern California quite often and would stop in and see me. We would chat about books, and in time he interested us in printing a book for him, called the Catalogue of the Memorial Library of Music at Stanford University. After he had retired as head librarian, he stayed on and taught there and was instrumental in exciting the imagination of one of the philanthropists in that area who allowed Van Patten to buy anything in the musical world at whatever price. As a result, although the musically-minded antiquarians were on Van Patten’s back most of the time, he did acquire a great number of rare manuscripts of Mozart, Bach, Beethoven — practically everybody in this field. He housed this superb collection in one little room in the Stanford Library.
He worked on it, and eventually he wrote this catalog. For some reason or other, he had us do it rather than Stanford University Press. While we were doing this, he also wanted to have a Christmas present
for his wife. He brought down, and we printed a very cute little book of only ten or fifteen copies, called the Favorite Recipes of Mabel Van Patten which he gave to her and surprised her certainly at Christmas.
As I mentioned, I spent a great deal of time reading in the library. Among other things, Stanford had a very nice way of intriguing people in current magazine articles. Each day, there was one table in the main library on which all the new magazines were placed. You could look over the many fields of your interest and keep abreast of current affairs. One of the magazines I read one day was the Sewanee Review. It had an article in it about the University of the South at Sewanee, Tennessee, and I was intrigued by this small cultural oasis in the Cumberland Mountains in Tennessee. It told of its being patterned after Magdalen College at Oxford. It was owned by the Episcopal diocese of the South and somewhat supported by it.
When toward the end of the winter semester I heard from my family that my mother was planning to drive east during the summer to visit relatives in Michigan, the bold idea came to me that it might be fun to go east to some college for the semester before the summer vacation. I immediately corralled
my grades and checked on the various colleges in the United States that had the quarter-system similar to Stanford. There weren1t too many. Sewanee happened to be one of the few — North Carolina and, I believe, Cornell.
I drove home at the beginning of the spring vacation. I sprung upon my mother my idea of spending the spring quarter in an eastern college, and being a good sport she packed, and the next day we started across the country. We had a little Chrysler coupe at that time, which sped with great rapidity across this country. It was March at the time. We took the southern route over the vast arid planes of west Texas, and as we continued east we heard more and more ominous threats of flooding. It was that year when there was one of the greatest floods of the Mississippi. We went faster and faster in an attempt to get to the Mississippi before we were stopped completely. The night we got to Texarkana, we came to a service station and we asked how the roads were ahead. The man said that according to the reports, by midnight everything would be closed, and there would be no possible way to get across the Mississippi. We made the decision to barrel ahead — which we did. It was quite an eerie night. In many places, we couldn’t
see the road on which we were traveling. All we could see were the fences on either side and we’d keep equal distance between them, knowing thereby that we would be on the road. We finally arrived on the bridge that took us across to Memphis and made it.
We stayed all night at Memphis and the next day made inquiry how we could get on to Sewanee. The roads from Memphis to Nashville were completely covered we couldn’t get through there. We had to start south down through Alabama and we made it through the most beautiful country — up in the mountains, little villages, narrow roads that were hardly ever used. Occasionally we got stuck because the humps in the middle of the road would catch the car, and I would have to get cut and pump up the tires more so that we could get over them. Then we had to come back and hit up the middle of Tennessee and make our way on up to Nashville — which was the long way around — and then come back on down to Sewanee.
This was the first of the colleges that I had put on my list and the first that we came to. The very sight of it was enough to cause one to fall in love with the place… the beautiful trees. It is on a spur of the Cumberland Mountains — quite high — looking out over the valley. The buildings remind you of those of an English college, covered with ivy. There
is a broad quadrangle of lawn and tall elms surrounded by limestone buildings that are delightful to see. The upperclassmen wore gowns to classes. At that time, there were only about 210 students. It was very intimate, and one could know everyone on campus within a very short time.
We stopped there for dinner and overnight. There were several students eating at the little inn where we had stopped, and they were very friendly.
We started chatting and I mentioned that fact that I was interested in going there. ‘When did the semester start?’ I asked. Before I knew it, they found out that I was a member of Phi Gamma Delta. They introduced me to some of the fraternity brothers there, and before the evening was over I was convinced that I’d like the place.
The next day I registered. Registration consisted of signing my name in a large and worn old book which contained the name, in rotation, of every student who had matriculated at the University since its beginning. I remember the stairs; they were old and worn with hollows by the footsteps of generations of students. The Library I loved dearly. The books were all on open shelves — old tomes with new tomes. The high walls on either side were covered with paintings
of various bishops and provosts. It reminds one very much of the eating halls in the colleges at Oxford or Cambridge.
There are fraternities, though none of them eat or live in their houses. It is most democratic that way. Each person lives in one of the fine dormitories, and the fraternities each have lodges. There are enough national fraternities for every person to belong to one, if he so wishes.
The academic standards of a school in the South — though I can’t say this is true today as it was then — were somewhat lower than the schools in California that I had attended. It was a most interesting experience going back there.
The men who went to Sewanee came mostly from the Southern States with a great many from Texas. They considered themselves to be gentlemen, and in all respects they acted like gentlemen. I was quite impressed with their manners when I first arrived. Each time a woman would pass the fraternity house or dormitory the boys would always rise at courteous attention until she had passed.
Classes were quite different. For instance, I had been taking French at Stanford, and continued
it at Sewanee. The boys seemed content to get by without study. Most of the studying was done in class. When they were called on, they would stutter, ‘ah’, and ‘oh’ until somebody would whisper the translation to them. Even with the smattering of French that I had, it went so very easily for me that I didn’t have to worry about French. I took a course in English poetry from William S. Knickerbocker, which was a most interesting course. He was editor of the Sewanee Review, which he continued to edit for a good number of years until Allen Tate took over.
Perhaps the best class I had, and this, unlike the others, an intellectual challenge, was given by Professor Eugene M. Kayden. He had come from Harvard and he had the Harvard desire to teach and have people study and learn. It was more of a seminar than a regular class. We sat in his book-lined study. There were only five of us; all of the rest of them were seniors, and most of them were eventually selected for Phi Beta Kappa. It was stimulating and most pleasant. We would sit around; we would talk; we would challenge one another. We would ask questions about books. We read extensively. In between times, Kayden would talk, scholarly and thought provoking.
Many years later, I read that he had translated and published some Russian poetry which received many accolades. He had retired at the time and was conferred an honorary degree by Sewanee, but I read that he refused to accept it until Southern institutions opened their doors to colored people.
A Southern accent has always been pleasing to the ears of us who live in the West. Down there it was just reversed. It was my accent that was pleasing to them, and I was always being asked to talk because they were intrigued by my slow California accent.
Sewanee, being a men’s school and isolated from any large city (it is about sixty or seventy miles from Chattanooga), had to have some outside diversion during the year, and this consisted of several dance sessions which would last for a week. There was one in the fall and there was one during the winter; the one which I participated in was the Spring Dance. The fellows invited girl guests from near and far to come to the dance. Some of them invited two or three, and others who came from as far away as I did had to be content with taking our chance. Two or three of the dormitories were emptied of boys and the girls were put into them with their chaperones.
There was a general dance the first night. Dancing in the South is sort of a ‘tap’ dance. You just don’t get a partner and dance the whole number with her. You get a girl in your arms and start opening your mouth to say something, and somebody taps you on the shoulder and it is his turn. If a girl is really popular, she never sees the same man for more than fifteen seconds at a time. However, the object of this first night was to look over the place and the girls. You would see somebody that you thought you would like and you would tap her partner and in those fifteen seconds she was in your arms you’d ask, ‘How about a late date on Thursday night at twelve’ or a ‘late late date at one?’
The day was broken up into date periods. There was a breakfast date which consisted of taking the girls to breakfast at about nine. Then you took her back, and she slept probably from ten to twelve. Then there was a luncheon date, after which you returned her to her dormitory for a little more snoozing. There was an afternoon date, and then a tea date. There was a dinner date, and there was the dance date, and then there was a late date which started at twelve after the dance and possible a late-late date at one or even a late-late-late date.
This went on for a week, and each of the fraternities had its functions with everybody going to every function. The fraternity parties were not just for their own members, but for any one who wished to come. Everyone had a grand, glorious and exhausting time. The grand finale was on the last night when the big formal took place, and by tradition, after the formal, there was a track meet. In the dark of midnight we went in our tuxes to the track field where we’d have a meet — 100-yard dash — broad jump, high jump, etc. We were quite messy when we got through, but it was fun.
Of course, the South at that time, especially in Tennessee, didn’t seem to recognize prohibition. These were Southern gentlemen — they were supposed to know how to drink. Being in the Cumberland Mountains, moonshine was available everywhere. The college was very lenient; they looked the other way when people were drinking. Almost everyone had a keg in his room into which he poured this white corn liquor. If he wanted to age it a bit, he would leave it in the keg for a couple of weeks until it would get sort of yellowish in color. But most drank the stuff white — and straight. The night after I arrived, I was invited up to one of the fellow’s room. I was very
conscious of being a Westerner and a Stanford man and felt that I had an image to protect. One of the boys got out a gallon jug of white corn and some big glass tumblers. He poured a generous glassful. I watched what was going on, and when they offered me one I took it, and as I had seen the first boy lift his up and sort of gurgle it down in one long swallow, I followed suit. The sudden shock of this liquid trying to flow down my throat closed it up completely. I thought I was going to die. I spewed it out over the assembled group — much to my embarrassment and discomfort. But in time I got to know how to handle this strange fluid. I must say I never saw a Sewanee man improperly drunk. They had a tradition of being men who could hold their liquor.
Dixon: What year was this?
Ritchie: This was in 1927 — the spring quarter of 1927.
Being a small school I was able to make friends and enter into many activities quickly. I worked on the college humor magazine, the Mountain Goat. In the twenties the humor magazines were an important activity in college, such as the Stanford Chaparall, the Harvard Lampoon and the national magazine, College Humor, which collected and published the jokes and cartoons from all schools. There was no art taught on the Sewanee campus, and as a result there was a
problem of getting any drawings for the magazine; so I was able to step in as the only available student artist for the magazine. They kept me quite busy.
I met many interesting students. Across the hall from me in the Sewanee Inn, which was the dormitory in which I lived, there was a boy by the name of Harry Cain, who later became the United States Senator from the State of Washington. Also in school there was Ellis Arnall, later Governor of Georgia. But the most interesting boy I met was John Whittaker, editor of the Mountain Goat, an intellectually stimulating man. We used to sit out on the highway under the trees in the evening(he living in one direction and I living in a dormitory in the other-direction), discussing the role of literature, and things to read and do. It was my first introduction to George Moore; he lent me the Confessions of a Young Man, which he thought to be one of the best books that he had read. Years later he became a noted correspondent. As with so many Southerners — their loyalty is so intense as soon as there is a war, they want to enlist. Whittaker had had a bad back for most of his life, and he was turned down when he tried to enlist for World War II. But he was so intent upon joining that he had his back operated on to get into the Army. He was killed during the war.
In June, after this pleasant interlude at the University of the South, my mother and I toured through the eastern United States. I was interested in colleges, and we visited numbers of them in the South and New England States before ending up in Michigan. We stayed with my mother’s brothers and sisters for the remainder of the summer.
During this semester away, I had many letters from my oldest friend, Lawrence Clark Powell. He was still at Occidental College, and he pled [pleaded] for me to return there for the next year. It seemed an interesting and sensible thing to do. For one thing — I had a variety of credits and it was going to be necessary for some college to assimilate them so I could graduate. And then I remembered the two professors there who had stimulated me the most, Carlyle MacIntyre and Benjamin Stelter, and I was eager to renew my early association with them. So I reentered Occidental in the fall of 1927.
I concentrated mostly on English — taking Chaucer and American Literature, the European Novel and a course in versification — this latter from MacIntyre. MacIntyre lived his life in verse. All his experiences he put into verse rather than in the form of a diary. They were not written in the form of ‘I did this today, I did that today ‘ but they were written as poems to
some girl he was infatuated with as of today or to one he might be interested in tomorrow. His experiences during each interlude were put in verse-form, and he was always letting us read them. We could analyze who they were for and what he was doing and why. All of this made us feel much older and more experienced than we really were.
MacIntyre lived in La Crescenta. He was the last house up New York Avenue, and it was a house that he had built himself of large boulders and mortar. Behind it was a vineyard and a winery which made it very handy for MacIntyre. He had few really intimate friends among the students, but Powell and I seemed to be his especial favorites. Anytime we wanted to be stimulated by MacIntyre conversation or wanted to partake of MacIntyre beer or the wine from the winery in back of his place, we would wander up to MacIntyre’s house. Many of the times, MacIntyre didn’t want to see us, and as we pounded on the door and announced our names, there would be no response inside. But usually he allowed us to come in, and we would sit around in his room that was filled with books of poetry and philosophy and the things that he was especially interested in. He had a wonderful collection of records of folk music from all over Europe, which he had collected
when he was in school there and others that he had picked up since. There was always music; there was always conversation; there was always something to drink when you went to MacIntyre’s. It became a favorite hangout for us and continued to be for many years until the whole place was destroyed in the Montrose flood of 1934. At that time the house and everything that he owned was washed away.
I did much less actual studying during this year than any other time during my high school or college days. Some people have said that ‘education is the only thing that people pay money for to be cheated,’ or however it should be worded, but it is true of so many people who go to college. It is hard to get it and it is expensive to go, and they don’t take advantage of the most vast opportunities that they have. In my case I was more interested in reading than in the exact prescribed work that was assigned to me. I kept busy at the library with a smattering of everything. I did enjoy the English courses that I had, and in the verse course, I wrote a lot for MacIntyre.
The social life was also very intriguing, and coming back to Occidental, after having been away for quite awhile [a while], presented a certain problem in getting
oriented, reaccepted and into activities. I still had many good friends there from my freshman year; and was elected chairman of the Rally Committee — to start out with. I was given an office in the fraternity house. I seemed to be able to get into many organizations which you can do in a small school, and which you can’t do in a large school such as Stanford or UCLA unless you have started from the very beginning to work towards these ends. The rallies were lots of fun this year. I had been to other schools and had watched some of the intriguing stunts that had been done there. I reworked some of these and brought them into Occidental and gave life to otherwise quite dull rally sessions. When we were playing UCLA at one time, I found an old bear rug and seemed to excite the students during the rally when everybody was allowed to jump up and down on this bear rug during the serpentine.
Unfortunately for the rally for the big game with Pomona, somebody showed up with an old early Pomona pennant which had been stolen thirty or forty years ago. It was brought in and this was a great rallying point. The president of the Pomona student body showed up for the event, and in the heat of the battle over the fray — once again, this old stomping on Pomona. Well, the poor Pomona president almost
died with this, and there were repercussions. They were going to call off the game; the president of Occidental and the president of Pomona had words across the phone. I was called in to the dean’s office; Robert Glass Cleland, that sweet, wonderful old man, sat me down and said, ‘Ward, I don’t know. I don’t know what’s ever going to become of you. This serious breach…’
I went out with my head hanging low, wondering whether this was the end of my career, so early in life. But all evidently was forgotten years later, because Cleland became one of my very dearest friends and a great admirer of the things that I had done.
Remsen Bird was president of Occidental at that time, and here was a man who had great enthusiasm and great vision. It was ever his thought to stimulate people into working out some of the projects he en-visioned — many of us must pay tribute to him and his encouragement. He was aware, even in those days — though he would be the last to have admitted it at that time — that the little group, consisting of Powell, myself, Gordon Newell, Robert Donaldson, and Cornelis Groenewegen, added a lot of interest to the daily routine of the college. We each seemed to aid the others in creating diversion for ourselves and the school. Powell had problems with the college authorities; he
was in trouble many times. Gordon Newell unfortunately pilfered one of the trustees’ coats during a trustees meeting; he was asked to remain out of school for a year. Despite the fact that Remsen Bird had these petty thorns to conjure with, he forgave us all, and many years later (it was only two or three years ago) he came back to speak to the student body at Occidental, after having been away for some fifteen years. He remarked, as he looked over the faces, that it would be hard for him to predict what would become of any of them. He said during his years in school the three worst miscreants that he had to deal with were Lawrence Powell, Ward Ritchie, and Gordon Newell. ’And yet,’ he said, ‘now of the students that I knew at Occidental they are three that I greatly admire for what they have subsequently accomplished.’
Gordon, of course has been quite successful as a sculptor; Lawrence Powell, the librarian at UCLA, and later Dean of the Library School there; and I, eventually got into the world of printing.
Another of the activities which took a bit of my time at that time was track. I had been on the track team as a freshman at Occidental. I had never quite become eligible at Stanford because you have to be in school for a year before you are eligible, and by the time that track season came I had gone to
Sewanee. Sewanee overlooked some of these things, and since I was newly entered, I did compete on their freshman track team, but it wasn’t until I got back to Occidental in my senior year that I was able to compete on the varsity. Coach Pipal was one of the best small-school coaches in the country. He had been at Occidental for a great many years, and as we arrived as freshman he told us that anyone who’d come out for track and work for it could almost be guaranteed to win a letter by his senior year. He had enough confidence in his training methods and the potential possibilities of almost any young man that he could confidently promise to develop in them an athletic ability. I had been doing some high jumping, but Pipal needed a broad jumper. He decided to have me concentrate on this. He had noticed that I had a natural spring in my legs which was why I could high jump, and he thought if he could develop some speed in me I’d be a fair broad jumper. He had me running the fifty-yard dash and concentrating on the starting blocks which seemed to develop speed.
The most important meet that we had was the meet with Pomona College, who had soundly trounced UCLA and was considered to have one of the best small college track teams in the West, if not in the United States. We came to this meet with a great deal of
trepidation because in practically every event their times had been much better than ours at Occidental.
Pipal said to me, ‘You probably don’t realize it, but you are going to surprise yourself in this broad jump.’
Well, I had never won a first place; I had managed to get a second or a third in some of the meets. All of a sudden I sailed out. It was a surprise to me, and even more of a surprise to the Los Angeles press. The next day when the account of the meet was printed in the paper I looked in vain for my name. Evidently the reporters couldn’t believe that Ritchie was capable of winning and so credited the win to another of Oxy’s jumpers. Anyway, that was my supreme athletic endeavor.
Dixon: How high did you jump, do you remember?
Ritchie: It was about twenty-two feet and a half.
It wasn’t a great jump by the current standards, but it was quite a hefty jump at that time. Unfortunately, that also ended my career because at the next meet I sprained my ankle and was unable to compete any further. I don’t know whether Pinal’s training would have brought me to greater lengths than that, but at least I did win the Pomona meet that year.
It was here, too, that I discovered Robinson Jeffers. Robinson Jeffers had graduated from Occidental
College in 1906, but they had yet to recognise him as the major poet he was. It was impossible to find a copy of his books in the library, though I understood from one graduate student that there were copies for restricted use. Jeffers’ early reputation was built on Tamar and the Roan Stallion. They were locally considered to be indecent books, and Occidental College, at that time, was still a very Christian college. Smoking was not permitted; dancing was not permitted, and Jeffers was not the kind of graduate about which they wished to boast.
Gordon Newell was desperately in love and he wanted to give a book of poetry to his girl. One day he asked me to suggest a book. I was quite interested in the poems of Edwin Arlington Robinson at that time, and I suggested that he get one of his books. In confusion he bought a Robinson Jeffers instead of E. A. Robinson. He brought it back to college, inscribed it, and mentioned to me that he was going to give it to his girl. I asked him which book he had bought, and he said, ‘Oh, that Roan Stallion’. It occurred to me that this wasn’t one of Robinson’s books and it might be one of Jeffers’, that taboo poet. We examined it, and distraught, Newell gave the book to me and went off to buy her another present.
It was through this that I discovered the great and magnificent poetry of Jeffers. I shared this discovery with Powell, and he too became an admirer of Jeffers. Jeffers has possibly affected both of our lives more than any other person. Powell’s interest in Jeffers led him to go to graduate school at the University of Dijon in France where he did his thesis on Jeffers. When I later got into printing, I cut my teeth on Jeffers’ poems and books about him, and have continued to print Jeffers’ material for almost forty years. But this was the original introduction for both of us to this great man.
After I returned from Sewanee to Occidental, I entered into the social whirl and the fraternity whirl. There was a young sophomore girl to whom I became quite attached by the name of Marion Carr. She was a tiny mite — hardly five feet tall — but a bundle of fire. I finally pinned her. It was soon after this, one day when we were sitting in my car on the bluffs in San Marino looking down over what was then Wilson Lake, that she told me that she had a bad heart and probably wouldn’t live for very many more years. It was a sad disclosure — frightening to realize that death was stalking early love. It probably brought us much closer together than other-wise — though I don’t know.
Her family, knowing the same, wanted to give her as much pleasure as they could, and only two or three months after we had become close, took her on a trip around the world. The second semester that year passed with her away. I was to graduate, of course, and was planning to go on to law school. I had hoped to attend Stanford, and while she was away, I put in an application for her to go to Stanford,too, at the same time. When she returned it was a little difficult for us to readjust. She did go up to Stanford, but she didn’t want me to go up because she thought that she wouldn’t get any studying done if the two of us were there together. Instead I matriculated at USC law school that summer.
Unfortunately, the school didn’t believe her parents’ warning that she had heart trouble and insisted that she take physical education. She was such a competitive little person that she went out for tennis as if it were the last game of her life and it practically was. She died not too long after returning from school.
[«»] Tape Number: TAPE THREE, SIDE ONE
January 31, 1964
Ritchie: The death of Marion Carr on October 27, 1928, was a most agonizing emotional experience to me. I assume that this is always true when one who’s so young dies, and it is also true when one hasn’t had much experience with death. In my own case, the only other time that I was intimately associated with death was when my grandfather had died in 1917 when I was eleven years old. My mother had been called east to Imlay City, Michigan, where he lived, and I was taken along.
It didn’t mean very much when we got back there because I didn’t really know what to expect, and I was quite excited about having the trip east and seeing all of my cousins again. The first impact was one day when we were playing in the yard, and my uncle came out and informed all of us that our grandfather had died. This was not too important at that particular moment, but the impact gradually grew on me and it was a rather terrifying summer for me.
The house in which my grandparents lived was an old and large Victorian house with gables and three stories. It always seemed to me hundreds of rooms and
many corridors that went to attics and beautiful places to play. The room in which I stayed was on a far wing away from everybody else in the house, and as I began to realize that my grandfather was no longer there, I spent many nights in great fear — the fear of nothingness. I just couldn’t comprehend at the age of eleven — how only yesterday he had been here with us and today he was nothing. Trying to grasp the significance of becoming nothing in so short a space was difficult for me. The fact that I was completely alone and isolated in that huge house turned it from an intriguing place into one of horrifying sounds and silences.
From the time of his death until that of Marion Carr I had had no other experiences, even though I was twenty-three at the time. This shock was quite different. It wasn’t so much one of fear as one of emotional frustration. Here was a girl to whom I was deeply attached. We had made plans, and while I knew that she was sick and had serious heart trouble, it had never really occurred to me that this could be the end of her. Certainly people had been sick before, but they got well and life continued. Part of all of your belief is that life is going to continue. But here again it stopped so suddenly.
I recall writing at that time, ‘Death and parting — they take the living spirit with them and there remains the struggle to get it back. I wonder, do we begrudge the end of this struggle? Yet, I often feel tempted to blot every vestige of memory out — to kill death with life.’
Later on I wrote, ‘A lovely black night and rain. Now it is so clear that I can nearly see God and touch beauty as I stand outside in the ice air and gaze at every star through the pattern of eucalyptus leaves. For what purpose is all this beauty made? Is it for us to neglect for gold and the drudgery of accumulating gold? I believe that no man can aspire for more than to be an artist and to interpret and preserve beauty through himself.’
During those days I was searching for what I wanted to become, with this phase of my life ended. I had been to law school and concluded that it wasn’t the life for me. I had had one other job as an efficiency expert in a furniture factory. This, too, frustrated me more because of the inactivity than anything else. The work that I was scheduled to do I finished and completed. There was nothing more, and sitting all day in any place is one of the most trying of all labors. It was at this time that Marion died, and left me free to decide what I wanted to do
from then on. I had always been a lone wolf in activity. When there was a job to be done, I wouldn’t ask help or appoint a committee; I would do it myself. I felt that I needed something in which I could create and finish the projects through my own initiative, my own time and with my own vision.
I had a fortunate purchase of a book about this time. Robinson’s Department Store, back in the twenties, had an extremely fine book department, which included at that time a selection of rare books which they sold to collectors. As still is the custom with the big stores in Los. Angeles, they have an end-of-the-month sale, and I used to go down to Robinson’s early on the last day of every month to see what choice items I could find. In August of 1928, I was there when the store opened, and among other books I found a set of two volumes, entitled. The Journals of Thomas James Cobden-Sanderson. It was a name vaguely familiar to me since I had seen examples of the work of the Doves Press, and I had seen some of his book-bindings at the Huntington Library, but I knew very little of the man.
The two volumes had originally been published at $25.00 but they had evidently been in an end-of-the-month sale previous to this where they had been offered at $12.50, and this time it was $6.25. The
bargain appealed to me, for one thing. I opened the book at random and read a few passages from Cobden-Sanderson, and I was intrigued. One of them, with an exclamation point, read, ‘Great God, souse me in literature!’ — which is a phrase that has appealed to me ever since because it seemed to me that this is one of the means of enjoying life the most.
By William Rothenstein – “Twenty-four portraits” by William Rothenstein; Archive.org – Also Hathi Trust Digital Library originally from University of California, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31896203
At any rate, I bought the book and gradually reading it, absorbed the moods and the feelings of this man who had been a lawyer too. He also had found it rather distasteful. He wanted to do something that was creative, something in which he could freely express himself. He had married the daughter of Richard Cobden, the great English statesman, hence his name Cobden-Sanderson. He had originally been James Sanderson, but in order to preserve the great name of his father-in-law, as is the English tradition, they had hyphenated it and had both of their names.
He had been in the socialist movement along with William Morris, and one night at a dinner at the Morris’ house he was talking about the problem of his future, and Mrs. Morris said, ‘Why don’t you become a bookbinder? We have all of the crafts now in our coterie, but we don’t have a
bookbinder, and it sounds as if it might be a fascinating work for you.’
On the way home that night, Cobden-Sanderson talked the matter over with his wife, and she warned him that it would be a different and a new life for him and also mentioned that because of the family connection, he was in line for a very important government job which he could take if he wanted, adding that it was his decision which way he would go. The decision was to become a bookbinder.
He took lessons from De Coverley, one of the good bookbinders of London at that time. Within a few weeks he had torn apart a great many volumes and was learning how to sew them back together again — to repair the pages. Within six months he was able to do a fairly passable job. Actually he became a great binder with almost his first work. He had a beautiful sense of design and was also quite capable in a mechanical way, although in his Journals you will find that he experienced as much agonizing frustration as anyone will who is a perfectionist. He was over forty years old at the time when he made this decision.
The first actual commission he received was from his friend William Morris, who gave him a huge
mutilated tome to bind, which he did with a great care and with a delicate arrangement of floral designs. He returned it to Morris who was delighted but was quite amused that this delicate treatment should be given to this copy of Karl Marx’s Das Kapital.
The bindings which Cobden-Sanderson created were beautiful — covered with delicate, floral arrangements or a sky of stars. He didn’t attempt to correlate the text with the binding itself. The binding was a separate and very precious thing, and the book itself was only something to put it around.
Yet nobody has ever made bindings of a more delicate beauty than Cobden-Sanderson. Later on, after William Morris had started his Kelmscott Press Cobden-Sanderson bound some of the books for Morris. Upon Morris’ death, Cobden-Sanderson took up printing with his Doves Press — around 1900 or so.
Reading all of this, began to interest me in such a career. I was intrigued especially by bookbindings. Here is something that a man does completely by himself. He makes it to please himself, and then it goes out into the world. He is not dependent upon the whims and wishes of other people. But the problem that presented itself was — how, at
my then advanced age, could I learn how to become a binder. Unlike England, there was little hand binding done in the United States.
The first place that I inquired was at the Huntington Library. I had earlier applied there for a job but there was no opening at the time. I knew them; there were several people on the staff that were very good friends of my family. I went over there and talked to Willard Waters, who was curator of the Americana Section at that time. He introduced me to several other people, including Robert Schad, the curator of rare books. The Huntington Library, at that time, had only recently opened its doors to the public. It was sometime in 1928 that I first went there, and I believe that it was the first year that it had been open to the public. The Huntington librarians didn’t know as much about the art of the book then as they do now. Huntington’s collections had been primarily in the field of English literature, incunabula, and they had been working on these classifications for a good many years. The books were still being sorted, pulled out of crates, organized and catalogued.
The job of handling the Fine Printing Section and checking and discovering the various items of
fine printing was left in the hands of a young high school boy by the name of Gregg Anderson, who had come there to work while still going to high school. He had recently graduated, and through this job had become extremely interested in printing. His uncle was a man by the name of Arnold, who had a small printing shop in Pasadena, and Gregg had also worked there during his spare time. Being a very inquisitive young fellow and a great reader, he had printed two or three small pamphlets and booklets while he was working with his uncle. These had been called to the attention of Mr. Schad at the Huntington Library, and it was through this relationship that he had been brought into the Huntington Library and also had been sent to search out the printing items which were housed there.
When I went over there seeking information about bookbinding, they said that as far as they knew there was no place here on the West Coast where one could learn anything of this craft. When I broached the fact about printing, they said that to their best knowledge the two best printers on the Pacific Coast were in San Francisco — John Henry Nash and the Grabhorn Brothers — and if I were interested in that phase of the graphic arts, it would best for me to go up there and make inquiries from either of those two.
(This all happened within the weeks following the death of Marion Carr.)
By the middle of November, I was in San Francisco to see these two men. I first went into the Grabhorn Press and met Bob Grabhorn, and when I made known my interest, he sent me over to Ed Grabhorn. This was right before Christmas and the Grabhorns were quite busy with the booklets which they were preparing for clients for Christmastime of which they have done a great many during the years. The Grabhorns have always been very ready and willing to help young people who are truly interested in getting into this field of printing, and over the years they have taken on any number of young apprentices this way. One reason — I have always suspected — is that Ed doesn’t like to pay very much in the way of salaries and you can get a young eager person to work for very little. He showed some interest in my application; he told me that if I would return after Christmas, he would try and work me in. He said that at the present time, he was so busy and Bob was so busy that having an extra hand around who knew nothing and who would have to be instructed in every move would be too difficult for them. This encouraged me somewhat.
I next went to see John Henry Nash. John
Henry Nash was the father of the fine printing in San Francisco. He made fine printing popular.
He was a rather pompous man who enjoyed knowing the wealthy people of San Francisco. He had not only made fine printing well-known, but he had been able to sell it to the Hearsts, the Clarks, and other-well-to-do and prominent people. He appeared to be quite well-off. He arrived in his great Cadillac each morning which was chauffeur-driven. He had built a fine and beautiful house. The building in which the press was located was called the John Henry Nash Building. He had a magnificent library of examples of the work of all of the great printers from early times.
When I went in to see Nash, I was announced to him. He was out in the shop setting type. He came in in his apron, and I explained what I was interested in. He immediately took time off to show me around and explain how much he had paid for each of his books. There was a huge portrait of himself on one of the walls, which he stood in front of and admired. He pointed out an illuminated letter from the Pope in which he sent greetings.
He was planning a Vulgate Bible, and the Pope had been very pleased with it. He was proud of this.
There was still a controversy in the area of printing between Grabhorn and Nash. They didn’t like one another personally, and their work was at the opposite ends of the spectrum of fine printing. Nash was the most meticulous printer I have ever-known. His books are so perfect that they are almost mechanical. His type-setting had no flaw in it. He didn’t do his own press work; it was down in the building by others, Lawton Kennedy among them. But here, too, he watched everything with great care. He was a proud man. He was sure of his place in the world of printers. He had special paper made abroad for his books with his name watermarked in it. He had great and wonderful commissions. He showed me one book which he had done for William Andrews Clark, and he told me that Clark had paid him $75,000 to do this book. He had gone abroad a couple of times. He had had the paper made especially for it; he had had the binding done in Vienna; he had the colorplates done some place else abroad. He had brought them all back.
Ed Grabhorn, on the other hand, was a true artist. The Grabhorns didn’t bother too much if an occasional error was found in the text of their books — that wasn’t their primary interest. Theirs were designs. Their books are not books in the sense
of those we buy to read; they are books to be looked at. It’s as if this were a fine art rather than just a means of reproduction. They put a great deal of warmth into their books which you will never find in the works of John Henry Nash. His are very cold-looking books. He wasn’t the artist that the Grabhorns were, and when he tries to get decorative, he overdoes it, often in very bad taste. When Nash is simple and straightforward and plain, his books have great quality, but as soon as he attempts to do something a little extraordinary, he falls down badly.
The Grabhorns, on the other hand, even in their selection of typefaces, seem to be able to get warmth and vigor. They made great use of artists, too. Valenti Angelo was with them for a good number of years. Valenti would follow the whims of the Grabhorns and alter his style to suit what they wanted in a particular book. It made a delightful combination of talents.
Nash, however, was a little more practical when I applied to him. He wanted to know my background. He wanted to know what I could do. When I asked him how long he thought it would take me to become a printer he thought for a moment and said, ‘At least forty years.’
But he concluded by saying that’s how long he had been in the printing business and he didn’t feel that he was a finished printer even at that time. But he
did tell me about a printer in Los Angeles, Bruce McCallister, whom he admired very much. He suggested that it would be foolish for me to come to San Francisco to learn the rudiments of the business when I could learn it just as well in Los Angeles and it wouldn’t cost me as much. So I was very grateful for this suggestion from him. He suggested that I see Bruce McCallister in Los Angeles, who might be able to help me in getting into printing.
I should conclude about John Henry Nash, while we’re talking about him. Two or three years after this, Carl Purington Rollins, the printer of Yale University, a very scholarly printer,came out to the University of California at Berkeley to give a summer course in the History of Printing. I went up for part of the lectures, and I was surprised when I got there, to find John Henry Nash sitting in the front row, because a few years previous to this when John Henry Nash’s best-known work Dante came out, Carl Rollins had given it a bad review in the Saturday Review of Literature. There had been little love lost between the two men. Many cudgels were flourished in Nash’s defense by many of the better-known printers, and others sided on the side of Rollins. So, it was surprising to see Nash at the foot of Rollins at this time.
But Rollins took it all in stride. Nash was a little tough on Rollins — I will say — because as he would be lecturing and would mention some book which was very important in the area of printing, Nash would pipe up and say, ‘Oh, yes, I have a copy of that. I got it in Florence in such-and-such a year and it cost me this much.’ He always added the cost onto every item.
During the course of Rollins’ lecture each day, he would be interrupted at least ten times by Nash, and in some instances Nash would continue on and tell more about his own collection. I talked to Rollins about this later and he said, ‘Well, it was a little unnerving but quite amusing. I didn’t believe all that he told us.’
But Nash did invite the whole class over to his printing shop at the end of the course, and at that time, Rollins said, ‘I would never have believed it, but it is one of the finest printing libraries that I have ever seen. Every word that Nash said in the class was perfectly true.’
With the Depression, the patrons that Nash had felt the pinch of the times, as most everybody else did. Nash was not able to do as Grabhorns did — trim their sales and trim the kind of books that they were doing down to what people could afford at that time. The large house which he had was probably not paid for, and he was not
getting the same kind of money any more.
He made several attempts to dispose of his library. I had a letter from him at one time asking me if it would be possible for me to intercede with Occidental College — if they would take the library.
He wanted a life income of $500 a month for the library which was a good buy if he wasn’t expected to live very long — a bad buy if he lived too long. The University of Oregon evidently was made some similar proposition, and Nash moved up to Oregon and conducted a course in printing up there. At the same time, the library was moved up with him. This lasted for only a couple of years, and I have never known why it wasn’t continued. Eventually the library did return to California and was bought by the University at Berkeley where it is at the present time.
Occasionally Nash would come down to southern California, and in later years he got into the hands of a man by the name of Sutton who was doing some publishing here in Los Angeles. The last time that I saw him was when he was maneuvering with Sutton, but Sutton eventually went bankrupt, too. I am doubtful whether Nash was too well-off at the time of his death.
Bruce McCallister was a fine, towering man, who was the premier printer of Los Angeles. His firm was
known as Young and McCallister and at that time it was located at the corner of Pico and Santee Street, a building which now houses one of the clothing manufacturers. It was built for Young and McCallister, and it had great light areas in the press room. It was a beautiful place for a printing plant.
McCallister had been a hockey player in college and had gone on to be a semipro. He lived in North Dakota and later worked in Minneapolis where the semipro teams’ companies would hire players and put them on the payroll so that they could play on the hockey team. Evidently, it was a most popular sport in that area. McCallister went into this printing firm as a salesman, and in addition to being a good hockey player he turned out to be a magnificent salesman. He was quite succesful and worked in this profession until he came west in 1906. He happened to hit San Francisco on the day of the earthquake.
He got out as fast as he could and settled in Los Angeles, where the firm which he worked for, eventually, became his own — with Fred Young.
The twenties were very good years for McCallister. There were great real estate developments going on. He did some very large and handsome brochures — they were more than brochures, they were bound books — for the Bel-Air Estates, for instance, and others, for which
he was paid handsomely. He was the printer who did so many things for the Sunkist growers at that time. His organization was practically an advertising agency within the printing business. He had a staff of artists; he had a staff of writers. They would create these things and McCallister himself was a great salesman.
When I went to see him, he and Jake Zeitlin, a bookseller, were ‘considering collaboration’ on a book which was to be called Los Angeles in the Sunny Seventies. It was a translation of the first book about Los Angeles, which had been printed in Austria — the year about 1878 — a translation of Los Angeles in Sudcalifornien: Eine Blume aus dem Goldenen Lande. It was by Ludwig Louis Salvator, who had been over here and taken notes and made a good many drawings of Los Angeles in 1878. The book was published abroad, and this was the first translation of it into English.
When I went to see McCallister and told him what I wanted to do, he asked me if I knew anything about type-setting. I said, ‘No, I didn’t know anything about printing. I just wanted to learn.’
He said, ‘Well, that’s a little difficult. If you did know anything, we’re going to do this book and I would like to have it hand set, and I thought possibly that I could put you on it. However, I’ll
tell you what I’ll do. I’ll call Frank Wiggins Trade School — I’m on the advisory board over there — and see if we can’t get you into their printing class which will give you the opportunity of learning how to set type. Possibly you will have the rudiments in time, so that I can put you to work on this book.’
Well, this was a very exciting thing to happen, and it looked as if I might be able to get my foot into the door soon. I went to Frank Wiggins and was admitted to the printing class, though this was in the middle of the semester. They thought it quite unusual for a college graduate to apply to go into a craft class such as this. I was extremely fortunate in the men who were then instructing at Frank Wiggins. John Murray, a fine craftsman, was the head of the department at that time. Instructing press work was a man by the name of John Faust, who later used to work for me during the summers during the off-school season. But the one who was my immediate tutor and confidant was a man by the name of James Hallack (after these years I can’t [always] remember his first name). When I started I explained what I wanted to do, and he threw away the instruction books and said, ‘Well, you make your own pattern. The first thing I will teach you is how to set type — these fundamental things — but you will not have to go through the series of lessons that we
have for the other boys.’
I was with fourteen-, fifteen-, and sixteen-year-old boys who had left grammar school and were going to trade school rather than to high school. During the time that I was there I read every possible book I could find on the history and art of printing. It’s the easiest way to learn because you see what everybody else is doing. You learn so much faster if you are reading, reading all the time, instead of just following the lesson as it is prescribed to you from day to day. It was interesting to see the reaction that I got from the other students. Here I was an older man who was intruding into their special little world. They looked at what I was doing with a certain amount of interest, I will say. Then all of a sudden they saw that I was taking some of the little lessons that they had learned and I was analyzing and trying to do something with them. Here was a project which they had done halfheartedly, and I had put just a little spark, a little ingenuity, into it. Some of the boys would come up and look and say, ‘You know, I think I could do something like that.’
And before the semester was over they were all vying with one another to see how they could develop some of these projects. Some extremely good things came out of what previously would have been just a
dull, routine thing for them.
I had been in this class with Hallack only a couple of days and while he was talking to me about something and he said, ‘Ritchie, Ritchie. I seem to remember that name. Did your family ever come from the East?’
And I said, ‘Yes, from Michigan. My mother grew up in a town called Imlay City.’
And he said, ‘That’s where I came from. My family was a farm family and quite isolated from the city, and when I was ready to come to school I had to come into Imlay City’ (it couldn’t have been a town of more then a thousand or twelve hundred people but to him it was a metropolis), ‘I arrived at school my first day, and, of course,I wore clothes a little different than these city children and they started teasing me. One little girl came up, and she looked at the rest of them and she said. ‘I like this boy. You stop teasing him or I’ll tell my father on you.’
It happened to be one of my aunts, and so he had always had an abiding affection for members of the Palmer family from that day. He had grown up in Imlay City and had learned his trade there. I recollected then, that as a little boy collecting stamps, I used to go down to the local paper because he also sold stamps. He had these little packets of stamps and I used to buy them from him. This was strange
coincidence meeting by chance after these many, many years. From then on he took a particular interest in me and made certain that I could do everything exactly as I wanted to.
I learned composition. After I had learned the rudiments of type-setting, rather than go on with the routine lessons, I wanted to start printing little booklets. About the same time that I was going to school at Frank Wiggins Trade School, I had a note from Willard Waters at the Huntington Library saying that there was a young man over there, Gregg Anderson, who was interested in meeting me because we both had this mutual interest in printing. We got together and this too was a great and enlightening experience. Gregg Anderson, as I had mentioned a few minutes earlier, had had this training in printing before he went to the Huntington Library. At the Huntington Library in selecting the books to go into this special section of the library, he had gotten to know the works of Bruce Rogers, of Daniel Berkeley Updike, of Kelmscott, of the Doves and all of the contemporary good printers of the time — as well as the Grabhorns and John Henry Nash and several other printers in San Francisco. He had found a compatible soul over there by the name of Roland Baughman, who was aspiring to be a poet. They decided on a joint project, and they
called it the Grey Bow Press, after Grey for Gregg, and Bow for Baughman. Baughman was to be the writer and collect the material to print, and Gregg was to do the actual work on it. They had a fine time. Gregg was experimenting with title pages, following the examples of Bruce Rogers primarily and another man that he admired very much, Porter Garnett.
Porter had left California to become the director of the Laboratory Press at Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh. He was a perfectionist too, and the Laboratory Press was a little operation within the printing school at Carnegie Tech. He chose five or six of the top students each year and put them to work on special ‘projects’. Everything was printed on a hand press. He had a magnificent selection of typefaces and of handmade papers to work with. The students would be given problems to solve; many of them were the same for several students. They would create, according to their own imagination, a format and a size and a shape and decorations for these things. They would then be printed on the hand press in an edition of fifty or one hundred copies, and Garnett would send examples of these out to a select few institutions and friends. The Huntington Library, of course, had a collection of these student projects, and Gregg had become very interested in this. He had written Porter Garnett, and Porter was glad to include him as one of the
recipients of these ‘projects.’
Porter Garnett was interested in type ornament as it differs from drawings and illustrations. These little pieces of type-flowers which you can arrange and rearrange in so many different ways intrigued Garnett. He imparted this love of this type of decoration to most of his students; the examples that came from them are perfect examples of this type of decoration. It is a wonderful way to teach because the student has an opportunity to decorate and learn at the same time. Gregg’s initial experiments were much in the same vein as those of Carnegie Tech.
When Gregg showed me all of these examples, he also told me of places to get free material — paper sample books and book catalogs — and he had a great list of the good booksellers in England and in France and in the United States. He said, ‘You must immediately write for their catalogs and get on their mailing lists because you will find books about printing that you will never hear of otherwise.’ And then he showed me the Fleuron, that magnificent book which Oliver Simon had started and of which Stanley Morison had become the subsequent editor. It had run for seven volumes only, but it’s a landmark in the history of printing publications. I immediately started buying
the Fleuron for myself. I, too, wrote Porter- Garnett and the kindly gentleman put me on the list, and I began receiving the ‘projects.’
Now these things all influenced me in my original designing and projects at Frank Wiggins Trade School. I had seen what Gregg had done; I eventually saw what the Laboratory Press was doing. I got Bruce Rogers’ Bibliography and I was looking at the things that he had done, and he also had worked extensively with type ornaments. It was quite natural that the first things I did were going to be in much that same tradition.
Jake Zeitlin, in the meantime, had become interested in me since I was another budding young printer, and Jake always had some idea that he wanted to be put into type. Carl Sandburg had written a foreword to a little book of Jake’s poems which the Grabhorn Press had published and also had sent Jake a poem in a manuscript called Soo Line Sonata. It is a most intriguing poem and Jake immediately decided that he would like to publish it. He asked me if I thought that I could do it, and I, naturally, was full of enthusiasm for this new opportunity and said, ‘Certainly!’
[«»] Tape Number: TAPE THREE, SIDE TWO
January 31, 1964
Ritchie: Incidentally, I had been introduced to Jake Zeitlin by Gregg Anderson. I had been buying books from most of the antiquarian booksellers in Los Angeles, but Jake’s shop was unique. At that time, he had mostly new books. He also had a great and enduring interest in art and artists. It was a tiny shop, about ten feet wide and fifteen feet deep, but in addition to books, he also had a gallery. He was interested in the fine printing of English printers and English graphic artists as well as the work of local artists. He always had a little show of one of the talented young people in Los Angeles at that time. For me, here was an opportunity to look at the books that were coming off the English presses, and there were a great many of them at that particular time — the Nonesuch Press, the Golden Cockerel Press, the Curwen Press and others. Through Gregg’s introduction, Jake had come to know that I, too, was in this small coterie of would-be printers.
This manuscript [Soo Line Sonata] was turned over to me. I set it in type at Frank Wiggins Trade School, and then was confronted by one of the toughest things that a young printer or designer is confronted with. There are so many alternatives in the way of design — page size, type size, decoration. One of the things that I have noticed
with young people is that they are sometimes stopped because there are so many problems even with a restricted design and with a relatively small page. Of course, this being my first job, I wanted it to be extremely impressive. I was going overboard trying to make it the finest — which is a great mistake in many cases because the quality can often be felt through simplicity rather than through overelaboration. I probably went through more struggle with this little job than any other I have ever done in my life. The first layouts I took down for Jake to see. The type, as I said, had been set and I was trying to arrange it so that it would have life, vitality and also please Jake. I had overdone the use of his little shop device, which at that time was a grasshopper. When I look back on it now, it was pretty dreadful what happened
In the meantime Jake had heard from Carl Sandburg. I suspect that he had mentioned in some letter that he would like to print this poem, and he got immediate letter back from Sandburg to the effect that if he ever found out that Jake had printed this material, he would sue him for every penny that he ever had. I was a little worried because I didn’t think Jake liked what I had done. I had taken it back and simplified it, and when I took it back and showed it to Jake again, he liked it. But, in the meantime, he had received the letter from Sandburg; so Jake was in
such a dilemma he didn’t know what to do. Here was all of this magnificent poetry in type. He whispered to me, ‘Let’s just do five or six copies for ourselves and let nobody know about it.’
Wikipedia: The Soo Line Railroad (reporting mark SOO) is the primary United States railroad subsidiary of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CP), controlled through the Soo Line Corporation, and one of seven U.S. Class I railroads. Although it is named for the Minneapolis, St. Paul and Sault Ste. Marie Railroad (MStP&SSM), which was commonly known as the Soo Line after the phonetic spelling of Sault, it was formed in 1961 by the consolidation of that company with two other CP subsidiaries, the Duluth, South Shore and Atlantic Railroad and Wisconsin Central Railroad. It is also the successor to other Class I railroads, including the Minneapolis, Northfield and Southern Railway (acquired 1982) and Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad (Milwaukee Road, acquired at bankruptcy in 1985). On the other hand, a large amount of mileage was spun off in 1987 to Wisconsin Central Ltd., now part of the Canadian National Railway. The Soo Line and the Delaware and Hudson Railway, the CP’s other major subsidiary (before the 2008 DM&E acquisition), presently do business as the Canadian Pacific Railway, and most equipment has been repainted into the CP’s scheme, but the U.S. Surface Transportation Board groups all CP’s U.S. subsidiaries under the Soo Line name for reporting purposes.
So that was the first actual printing job I ever did, and to this day I don’t think the poem has ever been printed in any of Sandburg’s works. It’s a very strange but an intriguing poem — most intriguing poem. There used to be one gentleman who would come occasionally to our house for our parties — he had read it once — and everytime he came, he insisted, after he had two or three drinks, that I get this out and read it. It has a rhythm, a lilt of feeling to it
Dixon: You have a very rare item.
Ritchie: It’s a very rare item. I gave three copies to Jake and kept two myself. Well, that was the first thing.
However, Carl Sandburg had sent Jake another poem which he said he could print, and Jake also commissioned me to do that. It was the second printed job that I had to do. The second booklet which I did was M’Liss and Louie also by Carl Sandburg. Then in order to continue my exercises at Frank Wiggins, I did a couple of little poems which I had written myself. One was called The Slough of Despond and I used the pseudonym James Beattie Pitwood for that one, and then I did another little one called Dream in a Garden for which I used the pseudonym
Betsy Ann Bristol.
In the meantime I had read in the paper that Hildegarde Flanner was giving a series of talks on poetry at the Pasadena Community Playhouse. I was intrigued with Hildegarde Flanner because she had been a student and protege of Porter Garnett’s when he was still in San Francisco and she was attending the University of California at Berkeley. He had printed two or three volumes of her poetry — one in San Francisco — and another a story called That Endeth Never which was a beautiful little book printed by the Laboratory Press in which he added one of the most dire and threatening postludes ever to appear in a book, telling all of the awful things that were going to happen to anybody who had a copy of this book and sold it, and this had intrigued me. When I read about Hildegarde Flanner’s lectures, I went over there and attended some of them. I wrote about it at the time:
I heard Hildegarde Flanner at her poetry section for the Pasadena Drama League. How I was attracted to her! And I wrote her asking her if I might help by publishing brochures to distribute free at her lectures. Yesterday, I went to see her. What a glorious day it was throughout. In the morning I saw Mrs. Millard’s William Morris Exhibit. I revelled and am going up to see her some evening. And then to spend the afternoon with Hildegarde Flanner. I was nearly frightened. She showed me her published works, beautifully done by Porter Garnett and the Laboratory Press and other items done by Mr. Garnett. And then tea in her garden. I made great sacrifice. I gave her one of my two Soo Line Sonata and a copy of Dream in a Garden.
She has a charming soft voice. Meticulous care in choice of words. Black hair with streaks of grey although she can be no more than thirty. Hildegarde, Hildegarde Flanner.
I was really intrigued with her; she suggested certain contemporary authors who she thought might fit well with her series of lectures. I immediately wrote a pleading letter to each of these authors — if I might reproduce one of their poems in a small pamphlet. In most cases I got an immediate response. In some, where the publishers were involved, they wanted a fee for this privilege, but I had enough to work on and to give one away at each of the lectures. These included one, of course, by Hildegarde. Louise Bogan let me do her poem Women and Archibald MacLeish let me do Interrogate the Stones and Léonie Adams, her poem Midsummer. Hildegarde’s own poem was called Valley Quail.
Now that ended the semester at Frank Wiggins Trade School, and summer was upon me. Of course, since I had first worked at Vroman’s Bookstore between my freshman and sophomore years in college, I had been a pretty good patron of that store, and to them had gone most of my spare moneys for books. This summer I was looking around for something to do, and I hit upon the idea of going back and applying for another job. Now, it was a situation for them of hiring an employee and losing a customer. But they took me on and I was put down in the basement of
Vroman’s where the books were unpacked and stored. It was my job, as the big crates of books came into the alley each day and were let down the chute, to unpack them, to arrange them by publisher and author on the shelves where they were stored and get rid of the packing boxes for the next one to come down. A store the size of Vroman’s has a lot of books coming in every day; it is practically a full-time job just unpacking and arranging. Vroman’s,in addition to having their retail store, also did a great deal of business with the libraries throughout southern California. Southern California, being isolated from the cultural centers of the United States and being a long way from the nearest big publishing house, always had the problem of not having certain books available. If a certain book proved to be popular, it would take two or three weeks to a month for Vroman’s to stock it again. There was an arrangement between the various bookstores in southern California to exchange these books; so, if Vroman’s had an order for such-and-such a book and they didn’t have it, perhaps Robinson’s ’would have it or Bullock’s or Fowler’s or one of the other bookstores in and around here, and from one of these they could more quickly fill the order for one of their customers. Twice a week Mr. Herbert Squire, who was my immediate boss, and I drove into Los Angeles. We would take along with us cards
of wants which we had accumulated during that time, and we would go from bookstore to bookstore. While we were there, they would also get out their lists of wants and we would take those along with us. As we went from store to store, we would fill their wants as well as our own; we would then come back to Pasadena and fill any of the wants that we could. The next trip we would return the cards that we couldn’t fill together with the books that we could supply them. In that way, the whole community traded with one another, and it worked out extremely well.
Also it gave me the opportunity to get to know all of the booksellers in Los Angeles, and also it fed my avaricious desire for collecting books because being an employee of Vroman’s,I was allowed a 33 per cent discount on everything I bought. As we were going around to the various stores, there was always a delay while they were checking what they had and I would have an hour in each store — to browse, look around, and see, and peer — and I got to know their stocks better than they knew them themselves. I was especially intrigued with Dawson’s Bookstore because here were the old books. The prices in many instances were lower and also they had the older press books… a store like Bullock’s would only have the brand new ones. Probably part of the intrigue and the educational value was in looking at so many books — seeing
how other designers had handled these problems. This wonderful world of books captured me at that time.
My old friend Lawrence Powell and I had started Occidental College the same year, but between our freshmen and sophomore years he had gotten a job on one of the President Line boats as a musician and had gone around the world. We were reunited in my senior year (it was only his junior year and he had continued on at Occidental until June of 1929 when he too graduated). The world was then his oyster to open, too. Since I was working over at Vroman’s, I induced him to apply for a job there. He was accepted which was a great boon to me because it meant that I was not the lowest man and he took the job in the cellar and I was moved upstairs as a salesman in the Nonfiction Department. I did continue doing the Los Angeles route though, and instead of Mr. Squire going with me, Powell went with me. I took over the gathering of the books, and he took over the buying of the stationery and various items like that.
We had a gay and wonderful time for the next six or eight months. We both lived in South Pasadena, and at lunchtime we would jump into the car and rush home. He would drop me and go onto his house; we would have lunch and come back to work again. We started work at seven-thirty in the morning and usually got out about seven at night. Those were the days when you really worked for
what you made. Also, I was the one who was designated to count the day’s receipts. So, after everybody else had gone, I had to go through and take all of the money out of each man’s cash box and count it up and make out the cash slips and put the money in the safe. So, it was a long day. We worked on Saturdays, too, until eight or nine, but for this amount of work I got the munificent sum of $80 a month. Eventually I was raised to $100, but that was the top I got. I’ve forgotten now what Powell’s was, but I suspect that it was somewhat lower than this.
Fortunately for Powell, he wasn’t cut out to be the cellar man in a bookstore. For one thing he was more interested in reading the books that came in rather than in sorting and putting them away.
Also the store next door to Vroman’s at that time was a music store. The basement that we occupied was under both stores, but Powell could sneak up from time to time and sit at the piano and play, or listen to records.
Powell became confused early in his stay at Vroman’s by Leslie Hood. Leslie Hood was one of the partners of Vroman’s Bookstore and the chief buyer. Here was a man with the most fantastic memory for book titles and authors that I have ever known in my life. He could take the big Wilson’s catalog and almost verbatim tell you about any book — the publisher, the author, the title of the book. He hardly had to look anything up; the book was mentioned and
he would know it right away. It’s one of the peculiar talents that only a few people must have. I’ve never known anyone else as gifted in this as was Hood. Well, the books began to pile up a little faster than Larry had the ability or inclination to sort them and shelve them. Leslie Hood came down one day and looked the whole situation over. He got his coat off and said, ‘Powell, this is the way we handle this situation.’ He unpacked all the books; he got them out and he organized them in his own way. When it was all done, he said, ‘Powell, from now on this is how I expect it to be done.’
Well, it didn’t quite always get done, and after three or four weeks, they couldn’t get all of the boxes in the cellar — there were so many of them. So Hood was down there again. He said, ‘What’s wrong, Powell? I thought I showed you how to do it.’ Hood got down there again, but despite his great memory, he had forgotten how he had told Powell how to do it the time before; so, this time it was an entirely new routine. In time, Powell became confused; Hood became exasperated. Christmas came. Powell had been there six months. We had a great Christmas celebration, but his last and final check contained a little notice that possibly it would be better for him to find some other means of making a living. Well, Vroman’s has always dearly loved Powell and felt that they were responsible for the success that he has had since in his
life, just because they fired him. Otherwise he might have made a miserable bookseller. Powell left Vroman’s in my fine hands and returned to Occidental College to go into graduate study.
For a period there, I had been so busy working at the bookstore that I hadn’t been able to devote any time to printing. When I left Frank Wiggins Trade School I had bought a couple of trays of type from them. I had that at home; so I did have the nucleus, but I didn’t have any way of printing what I could set. While we were at Occidental I had come to know a printer by the name of Clyde Browne, who had his press in a little gully off of Figueroa Street and York Boulevard. He had come there many, many years before and bought this unwanted bit of land. Over the years, he had built for himself a unique home and printing shop. He called it the Abbey of San Encino, and it looked like a miniature abbey with cloisters around an inner court. One wing of it was a printing shop and in this he had a stained glass window showing an Indian operating a hand press and a monk checking a sheet. He had made it out of glass which he had found in Los Angeles saloons when they were closed by prohibition. Underneath the house was a dungeon. In another wing, he had built himself an organ and he had a little chapel. The students of Occidental were always fascinated by this place. Some of the fraternities had their initiations
down in the dungeon. It was a favorite spot for marriages in the little chapel, but what intrigued me was the printing shop.
Clyde Browne did much of the printing for Occidental, including the campus newspaper; so, many of us who worked on it from time to time would have to go down there and see how it was done. Clyde was such a genial fellow; he’d sit with his guitar and strum some tunes as he talked about things medieval and early California.
He printed three or four little books he had written and he tried to capture a quaint medieval style with thy’s and thee’s. It was always printed at the Abbey in Garvanza, Old Town, as he designated his location.
In addition to the abbey, he had built a series of little stone studios that clambered up the hill from the abbey. He would rent these to artists or authors who wanted a hideaway. Larry and I rented one of these little studios from Clyde, and I moved in the few type cases that I had. I don’t know what Larry moved in, but he was there. In addition to the room which we had, I had the privilege for one dollar a Sunday of using the equipment in the pressroom down below. It meant that once more I could get back into printing those little things in which I was interested.
The first one I worked on was a little book by Robinson Jeffers called Stars. I had seen these two son-
nets of Jeffers’ in the Bookman, and I had written him soon after seeing them, saying that I’d enjoyed them very much and would he mind if I printed them. He was agreeable, so I went to work and set them up and printed them. When I got through, Clyde Browne helped me to bind it in black paper over boards. In the colophon, I printed:
At the Flame Press, Pasadena, February 3, 1930. Eighty copies printed by Harry Ward Ritchie. With the permission of Robinson Jeffers.
Then I had a little errata slip saying,
It was a great blunder to use an ‘a’ for an ‘i’ in incredible, far greater to have but seventy-two of eighty copies survive the printing.
With that I was ready to distribute. I took a copy over to the Occidental College Library; I gave another to Dr. Remsen Bird, the president of Occidental. I made a couple of other gestures, and finally gave one to a chap by the name of Eric Locke, who was a production man at Paramount Picture Company and had been quite interested in the printing that I was doing. He was the dirty soul who called me up and said, ‘You know, ‘incredible’ wasn’t the only word that you misspelled.’ And sure enough, with my unerring ability I had misspelled out of twenty-eight lines, at least five or six different words. The edition was withdrawn and I started over again. I changed the design of the title page and this time corrected the book and printed 110 copies. It was on March 10 that this was
finished, and I sent half of the edition to Jeffers, who was surprised at this generosity. I don’t know if he ever got rid of all the copies I gave him. But he was very kind and generous. Of course, this was all done in the evenings and on Sundays, and with the long hours I was spending at the bookstore, it didn’t leave much extra time.
But I did get some other work to do. One was a little book called Nut-Brown Beer, which Robert Cowan had suggested to me. This was a poem by George Arnold which Cowan liked a lot. I printed a small edition of twenty-four copies on imported paper and quite a number on news stocky which probably have all disintegrated by now. And this lead [led] Cowan to commission me to do a fairly large booklet for the Zamorano Club of Los Angeles. It was called The Booklover’s Litany by H. L. With an introduction and five supplications by R. E. C. who, of course; was Robert Cowan. This book I printed in May of 1930.
In the meantime; my aunt in Michigan had written to my mother that she was joining a tour through Europe during the next summer, and she was trying to persuade my mother to go along with her. And my mother tried to induce me to go along. Well, it sounded like a fairly interesting idea, and in May I got a leave of absence from Vroman’s Bookstore to go to Europe. In the meantime I had another
commission for a book, along with the Cowan. I spent the month of May setting these two books in type and printing them. The other one was The Brimming Cup by Carlyle MacIntyre, who had been my intriguing professor at Occidental College. This was the first time that he had appeared In print. We printed two hundred copies of this book and finished it on May 24, just before I left to go to Europe. In planning my trip abroad I naturally knew the itinerary that this group was going to take, but I also was interested in prolonging the stay in Europe — once I was over there.
According to the stipulations on the ticket, I could stay for a year without any extra cost by taking another boat home when we got through.
I had read of the many fine printers in England, but there was one in France that particularily interested me. In Volume three of The Fleuron, there was an article on the printing of the future, with illustrations of some of the most modern work then being done in Europe. One section was devoted to a French printer, François-Louis Schmied, who was originally a Swiss but was then living and working in Paris. It concluded that of all of the contemporary work being done in the world at the time, Schmied’s was the freshest, most vital and his were the most intriguing of the books. I had seen a copy of one of his books, The Song of Songs, in the hands of Mrs. [George Madison] Millard of Pasadena, a book which was subsequently bought
by Mrs. Estelle Doheny and it’s now lodged in the Doheny Library at Camarillo.
I made my plans very carefully. I didn’t know how to get to Schmied nor where he was, but Mrs. Millard, having had a copy of the book, knew that she had bought it from the firm of Seligmann’s in Paris. She gave me an introduction to that firm. In addition to that, she kindly gave me introductions to people all over Europe — to Richard Cobden-Sanderson, the son of Thomas James; to Sir Sydney Cockerell, who had worked with William Morris; to May Morris, the daughter of William Morris. She was very kind about that.
Mrs. Millard did a great deal to help me during the formative years. I first met her right after I graduated from college and was becoming interested in printing. An Occidental girl by the name of Josephine Hodges told me about her and asked me if I would like to go over to Mrs. Millard’s place and see her. We made the appointment and went over. And here I found — also in a little gully in Pasadena — one of the most intriguing houses I’ve ever been in. It had been designed for her by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Alice Millard was the wife of George Madison Millard, who for so many years had run the Saints and Sinners Corner of McClurg’s Bookstore in Chicago and had known intimately Eugene Field and all the others who used to sit around that exciting place and talk about literary affairs.
Wright was a young architect at the time, and the Millards, had had him build a house for them in Chicago. When Millard retired from McClurg’s and they had come west, he continued selling — in a private way in his own home and they had thought about having Wright do a house for them in California. Millard, in the meantime, died, but Mrs. Millard carried right on. When Wright was on his way to Japan to do the Imperial Hotel, he stopped by and saw her, and when he came back she commissioned him to do this house.
Now Wright had a great eye for a beautiful spot and as they looked around Pasadena he decried those people who built on the flat area and said, ‘Now here is a beautiful spot — with oak trees on each side and this little dry gulch going down here — and it’s a magnificent setting that we can take every advantage of.’ He started to work on the house, and he built it, but not within the estimate which Mrs. Millard had as to cost. Regardless of that shock she was very happy with it. It was made out of concrete blocks which he had cast with a design in them and in some of them he had put glass in the design so that the light would come through.
It was a perfectly beautiful, but completely impractical house. Mrs. Millard was a tiny, white-haired vivacious woman, and it was made just for her — it was just that small.
For instance, in going up the stairs if you were over four feet ten [inches], you would bump your head as you went up on these very hard concrete blocks. There was only one bedroom in this quite large house, and it was just her size too.
It was his conception of a modern house, and it was modern but with a medieval feeling about it, too. When Mrs. Millard started furnishing it, he threw his hands up aghast, because he wanted to design all modern furniture for it, but she furnished it with such magnificent antiques that he had to agree that nothing could be more perfect in the blend of these great old pieces with what he had done. And this is something that I have observed many times since — that if the design is good, it doesn’t matter what periods are combined — they will blend together.
Of course, Mrs. Millard was never able to make the house leak-proof. Regardless of her efforts, every time there was a rain, the flat roof would leak. Soon after she had moved into the house there was an excessively hard rain. The gullies in California are there because of these hard rains and can become torrents. Wright was not aware of this and the drain under the house was insufficient to carry all the water away. It rose up, damned by the house and came pouring through her kitchen. But she was always very happy about what she had there.
Her particular loves were the Kelmscott Press and the Doves Press. My early love for Cobden-Sanderson bought me to the right place. She insisted upon everything being immaculate; so,the only books that she ever bought from England were pristine copies — beautiful, beautiful things. And in addition to these, she had many other old and fine and beautiful books. She was constantly having little exhibits to which she would invite people. She was the one who gave me the best leads as to how I could get in touch with François-Louis Schmied.
Sometime early in June, we left California and drove to Michigan, where we picked up the group of people who were going on this tour of Europe. I have since thought that I would never want to go on this kind of tour again, but this particular one was great because if I had gone to Europe without knowing anything about it, I would have been completely lost. But for six or eight weeks, we were completely taken care of. We were shown all of the high spots of Europe. Of course, there were many tiresome times, too.
When we arrived back in Paris I had decided then that I was going to stay over and my mother agreed that she would like to stay over too. The rest of the tour went on home and here we were in Paris. While I was on this tour, Powell had decided that he would like to come to Europe too, and he made an application to go to the University of Dijon.
When I arrived in Paris, Powell arrived at approximately the same time. We enjoyed perhaps a month together before he went on to the University.
[«»] Tape Number: TAPE FOUR, SIDE ONE
May 22, 1964
Ritchie: It was very pleasant to be in Paris and relaxing after hopping around Europe all summer — tramping and sightseeing. My old friend Cornelis Groenewegen, whom we variously called Dutch, and Jim arrived and then Lawrence Powell and Larry’s girl Fay Shoemaker, whom he married many years later, was also there for a few days. It was a joyous reunion. Larry was staying in a little hotel on rue Jacob in which we learned Oscar Wilde had died. Since it was rumored that Wilde had literally exploded, we like to think that some of the spots on the walls of Powell’s room were remnants of Wilde.
After a riotous week. Fay and Dutch left for the United States and Larry and I got a room in the Hotel Crystal. It was on the left bank on rue St. Benoîit, just off St. Germain des Près. Its chief attraction was an outdoor elevator, a sort of cage that lifted one up through a tube of wire mesh to your floor. It was tricky and a little frightening but still better than walking. Our room was a riot of French wallpaper — a huge floral design in primitive pink and green. Paris was unbearably hot at that time, too. We groused, but we enjoyed ourselves. At our corner was the Café de Flore and up a block the Deux Magots, opposite the Church of St. Germain des Près. Lipps, the
Alsatian restaurant where we’d go for beer, was only across the boulevard. These were our haunts, though we’d sometimes sorti to Montparnasse or Montmartre, which in those days were more popular hangouts than this area where we lived.
One hot night at the Deux Magots we succumbed to the blandishments of an Algerian rug peddler, and each of us bought a shaggy fur rug. That night was probably the most stinking one we ever spent. The goats from which these rugs had come must have been still warm. Next morning early we packed them and shipped them off to friends in California, laughing ourselves into hysterics as we pictured their reception in the United States.
Larry was planning to go to the University. He had graduated from Occidental College, and after a stint at Vroman’s Bookstore, he had gone back for some graduate work towards his masters degree at Occidental. During the summer he had decided to join me in Paris and determine on a university over there. We had friends from the United States — Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher, better known in later-years as M.F.K. Fisher who has written so many gourmet books, and Alfred Young Fisher. M.F., as we called her, had gone to Occidental, where we knew her, together with her sister Anne. Alfred Fisher’s sister had also attended Occidental. The Fishers were attending Dijon, so we did have a contact there. And finally Larry decided to go there to get his
doctor’s degree. In the meantime, however, we had several more weeks during the summer in Paris and we lived it up beautifully.
At Lipps one night we found a couple of lonely California girls, Margery Schwartzel and Ruth Henderson. Margery was a fashion model in one of the couturier shops and Ruthie was an inhibited art student. They were both graduates of the University of California, who had succeeded in escaping from the State of California and were out to see the world. We toured the cafés during the next few weeks with these girls. Of course, our budget was quite small and theirs was small too. This particular area of Paris at the time was quite inexpensive. On the rue de St. Germain des Près, there were many small restaurants where we could eat for twenty-five cents at night — sometimes including a bottle of wine.
We were never quite sure whether it was beef or horse-meat that we were eating; we rather suspected the latter, but still it was nourishing. We had lots of fun, and being young we could take it very nicely.
One night, I recall with some vividness, was spent touring Paris. We ended up at the Dôme in Montparnasse — the four of us. It must have been two-thirty or three in the evening. There was an obnoxious Frenchman sitting a couple of tables from us, and Larry Powell was not one to take kindly to some of the remarks made. For a moment it looked as if the whole American colony was going to take on the French in this particular place. Sides were chosen, but
somehow or other calmness finally prevailed and we wandered on.
We decided to go up to Montmartre and on this beautiful night… it wasn’t so beautiful now that I recall it… at least it was an extremely interesting night to us. We arrived at the church, the Sacré-Coeur, and Margery and I wandered inside. Here it was, four, five in the morning, and the nuns and the monks were getting up and coming in, and we must have sat there for an hour or two just watching this parade of people and the music and the chants. Finally, we came out and we found Larry and Ruthie sitting on the steps of Sacré-Coeur, looking out over the city of Paris, oblivious of the fact that it was now raining.
When they got up, the only dry spot in that section of Paris was where they had been sitting.
Larry finally left for Dijon, and I moved over to the Hotel St. Germain des Près which was at 36 rue Bonaparte, only about a block from where we had been living. But the rooms were a little more interesting and I was eventually able to get the garret room which was particularly nice because it was large and it overlooked all of the rooftops of Paris. I felt finally that I was a real Parisian.
I find that in my diary I wrote about this time:
Stars for Paris in a California sky. I sit full in my window; it is near three. It’s breath to breathe in the coolness that seems to fall earthward, pass
the stars. Most Paris skies are not like tonight’s; they are watched by files of boisterous clouds and so carefully guarded that the billowy troopers take most of the glory. So I horde [hoard] my minute from sleep and gather in the grandeur. California skies have.
that They make one’s world seem larger and give a new sweet breath of energy that no man-made thing may offer. It is good to look into nature, especially when life seems about to stifle the fountain that the ego would have flow. I have felt it; I have felt it for these three weeks, the gradual clogging of the beauty facets of my thought. It may have been Paris or it may have been my separation from any material thought. Tonight’s sky has revived me somewhat and I’ll let its ions continue to fill me with a new vibrating desire to take my beauty pure. But I love a part of Paris, especially when I look out upon the midnight shading of its tumbled roofs and peer through the intricate undesign of a hundred tin-hooded smoke stems, the peering towers of the church St. Germain des Près. Soon now, it will sourly call another of my hours and jangle its own content with time. Down on St. Benoîit, old street lamps bravely afront unwanted darkness, though careful not to display too much of their neighbor building’s hooded antiquity which Paris gradually is throwing out. Even next door, noisy workmen tell of another gutted ancient building fortunately being remodeled behind the original front. Across the street is Lipps and the Deux Magots, insuring an ounce of forgetfulness when Paris tires.
It’s rather hard to read my old penciled notes of those days, but this was the Paris as it seemed to me in those days.
Now I had primarily come to Paris with the purpose of working for the printer François-Louis Schmied, who [whom] I had first heard of in reading an article in the English typographic book The Fleuron; it was Part Three of The Fleuron. There was an article on the
development of the book with a number of illustrations from the work of François-Louis Schmied of Paris. In it, he mentioned that few attempts had been made in the decorated book ‘to perfect typography along with the illustrations. None of these are more instructive than those of the Parisian artist, F. L. Schmied. Two of his Fastest books, The Climates by Comtesse de Noailles and Daphne by Alfred de Vigny, may be considered as the most exact anticipations that can be given up till now on the book of the future.’
There were some copies of Schmied’s books in California, chiefly in San Francisco libraries. Crocker had been very interested in him and several others had bought Schmied books. The only one that I was able to find in southern California was one owned by Mrs. Alice Millard, which was one of the most exciting experiences that I had in this new concept of bookmaking. It was a copy of the Song of Songs, which she had bought and was hoping to sell to one of her customers. Here was a designer who had done this book — with every page a new and exciting design with brilliant colors in it. Upon seeing this, I thought that this was the way I would like to develop and decided that eventually, if possible, I would go to Paris to work with Schmied. When it became possible, I went over there.
Now I didn’t forewarn Schmied of this; I didn’t know exactly how I was going to do it. But Mrs. Millard, who made a yearly trip to Europe to purchase books and furniture, had bought her copy of the Song of Songs from Seligmann and Son in Paris who were importers; they also had a branch in New York. She wrote me a letter to Seligmann, telling them that I was most interested in meeting Mr. Schmied. After Powell had left and I was on my own once more, I dropped a note to Seligmann and was asked to come over and meet Mr. Byk, who seemed to be the manager. I explained what I wanted to do and he said certainly, that they knew Schmied and he gave me a letter to Schmied which I promptly sent off. And I waited patiently there for sometime to get an answer back. Finally it came. It was dated September 17, 1930, and read:
Dear Mr. Ritchie:
Mr. Schmied has just passed through Paris and has received your letter. Please excuse him if he do not answer himself your kind letter, but he was in great hurry. I can say, on behalf of Mr. Schmied, that his technique and conception of the art of the book printing is, for him, absolutely personal. That it has needed thirty years, of researches and training to acquire it, that consecutively if you want to be introduced in his atelier and share his processes, Mr. Schmied would ask you in exchange, 6,000 francs per month.
I am, dear Mr. Ritchie,
Very sincerely yours
PS: Please give Messieurs Seligmann the kindest regards of Schmied and myself, same for Mr. P. Byk, too.
Well, this was rather a shock, and it changed my plans of procedure.
I had been in Paris a month and a half and decided that I would go over to Switzerland for a few weeks and then proceed on to London where there were other fine printers who might be a little more sympathetic to my desires and requirements. I proceeded to buy a ticket and packed my bags. My train was to leave’ Paris at 1:00 in the afternoon; my bags were packed in the morning and I had had breakfast — with nothing to do
As I was sitting there waiting, I thought to myself that it was rather foolish of me to have come all the way from California to Paris with the purpose of seeing and working with Schmied and to be so easily stopped. And so I decided that at least I would go and see where the shop of the famous Mr. Schmied was and what it looked like and possibly meet him if I could.
I would have some memories to take back of the great printer. I hopped on the underground — the Metro — and went down to the Porte d’Orléans and then in my feeble French I tried to find 74 a (bis) rue Hallé ,which was where the studio was located. The French could neither
comprehend me nor I them. But I could point to the address and they would mumble something and from their mumblings and their gestures I would make my way another block or two and then ask somebody else.
Finally I arrived and found this typical French building — twenty-five or thirty feet wide, five stories high — and knocked at the door. I waited awhile. A young Frenchman came, and I asked to see Monsieur Schmied. He ushered me in and took me up a flight of stairs into a studio. I sat down there and looked around, and it was a magnificent studio. On one side were the complete books that Schmied had printed, which I ogled with great awe. Also there were many pieces of startling modern sculpture which I later found to be the work of Gustave Miklos, a Hungarian who I later got to know and to admire very much for the work that he was doing.
After a while Schmied came in, and he seemed to me like a giant. Most Frenchmen are not too tall, and after being there for a month, to find this man who was well over six feet, stalking into the room, was somewhat of a shock. He was build like Atlas — with great, broad shoulders narrowing down to thin hips. He was very straight and erect. He wore glasses and a small short beard. He came in, with his eyes sparkling;
he looked at me and got very voluble in French. I hesitantly tried to get in a few words, and he threw up his hands and walked out of the room.
I sat there. Fifteen minutes passed. Half an hour passed, and I still sat there. Then I began to worry — was he coming back? I still had a train to catch. I began wondering what he had said when he had talked to me. Perhaps he had told me to get out. I had looked over all of his books; I had wandered around the room; I had peered out of the window down into the street and watched the people, but still in the studio I was alone.
Well, finally, after about three-quarters of an hour, the door opened and in came a young fellow about twenty or so, with Mr. Schmied. He said, ‘You don’t seem to understand or speak French very well, and Mr. Schmied had to send for me to find out what you wanted.’
I explained that I had come all the way from California expressly to work for Mr. Schmied. The two of them talked together for a minute or so and he turned to me and said, ‘Mr. Schmied would like to know where California is. ’
This baffled me for a moment, but I had a sudden inspiration and I said, ‘It’s near Hollywood,’ which was quite comprehensible to both of them — they immediately
knew where I had come from.
We had some conversation back and forth, and I noticed Mr. Schmied was looking at me very carefully. All of a sudden he threw up his hands in a typical French gesture, said something to the young man and walked out. He then turned to me and said, ‘Well, Mr. Schmied doesn’t know what to do. He said that since you’d come all the way from California to work for him, he can’t send you back. Come to work on Monday.’
So on Monday I started work in the atelier of François-Louis Schmied. The first day was a most interesting one for me. They took me in, gave me a manuscript of Goethe’s Faust in French and a case of type, and asked me to start setting the type
Well, I was somewhat of an amateur printer at that time, but I tackled it with an avid interest. Not knowing French too well, I couldn’t set it word for word — I had to pick out each letter, which I did carefully. I looked at the line that I had set to compare it with the text, and there were many errors in it. And it wasn’t until then that I realized that the French type case is arranged differently than the English type case. Type cases are arranged much as typewriter keys are so that the keys you use most or the type that you use most is the handiest.
In English, we have in the center the e’s, the a’s and the i’s and the r’s and the h’s and things like that, but the French have other letters which are more common and also, there are all of the French accents which we don’t have in the English case. I spent a good deal of time picking through the case, trying to find out where the various letters were. I eventually got through and got my first page of Faust set.
The next job he gave me, which was a little later that day, was a rush job. He hurried it over to me and it was a little announcement which he wanted set for a friend of his who was going to have a party.
And he thought perhaps I could whip it off in no time at all. I got the type set, but there was a rule border that went around it. I went over with some material to the mitering box, and I was mitering this down when somehow or other, I got my finger in the mitering machine.
So bang, there was blood all over the place. All the Frenchmen were scurrying around, wrapping my finger up, trying to stem the flow of blood. So my first day there was a rather complicated day, and I ended up being the hero of the shop — their wounded hero.
I set type for a while and then Schmied put me on the engraving stand. He thought he would like for me
to learn how to engrave the blocks which they used for the illustrations. This was a most interesting experience because there was a bank of about four or five young French engravers who sat looking into the north windows, with end grained blocks of wood in front of them and their engraving tools at hand. All day long, they would sit and engrave these blocks.
It might be interesting just to tell something about the studio and how the books were made there. The studio building, as I said, was four or five stories high. On the bottom was the shop itself. You went into the door and there was a hall, and turning right there was the room in which the engravers worked and in which the type was set. The engravers sat along a shelf or bank, with windows facing the street — giving them the north light for working. In back of them, was a hand press on which proofs were pulled of the illustrations as they were cut in wood, and in back of that — still part of the same room — was the composing room with a considerable amount of type in it. There was an open air courtyard where the workers would go out and smoke and rest when they got tired.
Beyond that there was another room with an all glass front in which there were four presses that we used for printing. These were presses — they were somewhat similar to the Laureate presses which we use here (I don’t recall the name of them, but they were German made). They were a heavy, clam-shell press, and they
were so arranged that after each impression they could be stopped. It would be open and a sheet of paper would be put in place on the platen. It would be started again and close [closed] to make the impression. It would then open again; the sheet would be taken out and carefully inspected, and if it wasn’t perfect it would be discarded. Instead of using guides such as we use, they had contrived a method similar to the old hand press — where you use a couple of pins. The sheet of paper is placed on these pins which stick right through the’ center fold. When you use as many color plates as they did, it was necessary to get exact register of the various colors and you can get exact register this way.
Upstairs there was the studio which I mentioned, and in back of that was the bindery. The books which Schmied did were always issued in sheets in a cardboard box or a slip case as most fine French books are, and the binding of them was done individually and to order by one of the great French binders — of which there are many. And, of course, Schmied considered himself to be one of the great binders, too. He bound some of the books ’which he did, and others were commissioned to him to bind. There was a very interesting Russian boy who worked in the bindery. He was stone deaf. He had
escaped during the Bolshevik Revolution, but he had been caught and his ears boxed to the extent that he had been totally deaf ever since.
On sort of a third floor, there was a dining room and a kitchen and several bedrooms and above that was Schmied’s own studio where he did all of the original drawings for his many books. His procedure of working was to lay out the pages and have some sample pages of type set. These pages of Faust which I set were preliminary pages because he was just in the process of conceiving the design and the layout for an edition of Faust, which would come out several years later. But he would take those up, and when he had his layout fairly well in mind, he would do water color drawings or wash drawings for the illustrations. They were actually paintings.
These were then sent down to the engraving department, and they were photographed onto a block of end-grained wood. I never exactly knew the process — how they did it — but evidently they would spread some sort of sensitive emulsion on the block and transfer the black-and-white photograph of one of his paintings onto this. This was given to one of the engravers who would make a master engraving of it. This was a black-and-white master engraving; he would have the original
painting in front of him all the time. They would then determine exactly how many different colors would be used in the printing of this particular illustration. From this master block, a proof would be pulled on the hand press, and the proof, while still wet, would be laid on another pristine clean block, and the hand press pulled down. You’d get an exact impression of the original block on the second block, and this was done for as many times as there were different colors to be printed. Then these blocks were taken and the engraver would set about cutting away all of the wood on the block, except where, say, the blue was going to be, if this was the blue block. He would have the original block there and he would keep the painting in front of him for constant comparison.
Numerous colors were used, unlike the process-method we ordinarily use where with four colors we can produce any variety of colors. Each shade of a color had to be printed separately, and while I was there, on some pages up to forty-five different printings were required — forty-five different tints and shades — forty-five different blocks.
I recall one page in which he had such slight variations of the gold tint that Schmied wanted, that we ran it through at least five times,just to get different variations of gold. But he was meticulous this way.
Now when all of these blocks were completed, they would go back to the pressroom and the procedure followed which I outlined.
In no instance were there more than a hundred and fifty copies of a book printed; usually it ran from fifty to a hundred and fifty; possibly, it ran up to two hundred. It was a long, slow process and it usually took from two to four years from the time that a book of Schmied’s was announced and subscriptions were taken until it was finally completed.
The usual method of selling books was rather interesting. Schmied, Paul Jouve, an artist, Jean Goulden, another artist, and Jean Dunand, a ceramist, had an exhibition once a year in Paris to which the public and their friends were invited. At this time the artists would show their new works and Schmied would show sample pages from the projected books for the next two or three years. The guests would look them over and subscribe for a copy of this or that book. He would usually sell out the edition at this time. It was quite a gala occasion and that year, 1930, was the tenth time they had successfully used this method of merchandising.
During the fall, we bottled wine in the courtyard. It seemed odd to me at the time that Mr. Schmied who
was living in France where the finest of wines came from would want to have Italian wine. But each year he had grapes sent up from Italy, and they were crushed.
I’ve forgotten whether the crushing was done in the courtyard or not, but I know that we bottled the wine there — the wine that he would use for the next year.
One day Schmied asked me where I ate and I said, ‘Well, at any restaurant that I could.’
And he said, ‘Well, why don’t you have lunch with us every day?’
This seemed like a very pleasant thing for me, and I agreed. The next thing I knew, he invited his daughter who lived out in the country to come and stay with him. As time went on, Schmied would discuss his daughter with me and the fact that she was engaged to be married and that he couldn’t stand the man to whom she was engaged. It didn’t dawn on me what was going on. Next he asked me if I would tutor her in English. That was half a day of my job, and she practically took over my life. Oh, she was a cute little gal, too! In my naiveté, it wasn’t until I had left Paris many months later that I realized what he had in mind.
I had a letter from one of my brothers who chortled with great glee because there had been this article in the Los Angeles Evening Herald about a ‘Mystery Death
of Beauty Probed’ And it seemed that a young French dancer’s body was found in an apartment in San Francisco, clad only in a flowered kimono, with her face down under a sink. The article read, ‘Known as Miss Suzanne Allen and various other names, she had come to California a few months ago from Paris and had been employed in Hollywood and San Francisco as a mannikin. Among a number of letters found in the woman’s apartment was one from a man who signed himself ’Le Gros Baboon,’ who begged for forgiveness for some unkindness he had done and asked for a rendevous for a little journey. Other letters were from ’August’ in San Diego, stating that he was coming to San Francisco and from ’Madeliene’ in Paris, expressing hope that Miss Allen was finding happiness in this country and inquiring for information concerning a young man from Hollywood known as Ward Ritchie.
“Madeliene said she was interested in Ritchie, said to be a banker’s son because he came to Paris from Hollywood, and she inquired concerning his social grade.”’ By that time, it was too late for me to do anything about wooing Miss Madeliene Schmied.
Before I left California, I had printed a little book Stars by Robinson Jeffers, and I had inquired of him if he had any other material it might be possible
for me to print. He mentioned that he had had many poems printed in an anthology of American poets which had never been separately done, and he said if I wanted to, that I was perfectly free to do these. I typed them out before I left and took them along with me. Now that I was in a printing shop in Paris, I had ample opportunity to play around with these. I set them in quite large type and in a typical Schmiedian manner; I printed this book and called it Apology for Bad Dreams, after one of the poems included in it in an edition of thirty copies, on the hand press which they had there. It took me several months to do this and I finished it up about Christmastime in 1930.
It turned out to be an important publication for me. It was an impressive looking book — quite modern in style, due to the help that Schmied gave me in laying it out. But it was important primarily because it was a first printing of some of Jeffers’ best poems in an extremely limited edition, and since it was limited to so few copies it became an expensive item. I don’t know what it would be worth today because I don’t think a copy has been on the market or available for twenty years now. The last time that I heard of a sale it went for around $125.00. At today’s prices I am certain it would bring at least $300. This is again, primarily, because of Jeffers.
Life with the Schmieds was extremely interesting. Soon after I had arrived, his son Théo [real name Thomas, though called Théo… ‘Thomas Schmied, son fils, dit «Théo»’], who was about my age, announced his engagement and plans to be married. This actually happened only a few weeks after I had arrived there so I was still unable to understand too much of what was going on, but I was invited to the wedding party out in the country. Schmied had this studio in town where he spent most of his time, but also his wife and his children lived in a charming country house. All of us who worked in the atelier were invited to this party which was an unusual one for me. The only person who spoke any English was this Monsieur Taskin who had answered my original letter to Schmied, and he spoke an awkward kind of English. At least we could communicate, and he was the one person to whom I could cling.
We went out there and it was a beautiful day with everybody flowing around. I’ve never seen as much food in my life. The dining room had tables all the way around the four sides. There were hams and there were turkeys and all of the French delicacies piled on these tables with a half dozen men waiting to serve you anything you’d wish. And there was champagne all over the place. There were cabinet ministers and generals there but I stuck close to the other workers from the shop. I could speak only a few words of French
which were generally not understood so I wandered around and looked at things, but it eventually got a little boring for me. During the afternoon Monsieur Taskin said that he was going back to Paris and I thought that under the circumstances I’d better go back with him. Whereupon Mr. Schmied came by and said, ‘No, never do this. Impossible.’
So Mr. Taskin left me and I was alone among all of these French-speaking people. I imagine that I had had a taste of champagne once or twice before in my life but not to any extent. I decided now under the circumstances I would enjoy myself. I started drinking champagne, and it’s amazing how it can change one’s outlook. I’m sure that I wasn’t boisterous, but I did become friendly and everybody else seemed to become so friendly to me. I began dancing with the girls, and I never had such a good time in my life from then on.
There were several parties after Théo’s marriage. Mr. Schmied gave a party at the studio in town. He loved parties. He loved to dance and he loved to mimic and he loved being with young people. At these parties, he always had an accordian player, and we would dance and sing and play and have just a great time.
In France, the great holiday is New Year’s rather than Christmas and that’s when presents are given. On New Year’s Day I was invited out to the country home. This was an intimate party. Schmied had a half-dozen or perhaps a dozen fairly close friends. Louis Barthou, who had been Premier of France , was there. And there was one of the actors from the Comedie Française, and, of course, there was Théo and Madeliene and myself and another young artist, Jacques Chesnais, who was a part of our intimate little group. Dinner probably took about five hours. A complete course would come on, and you would eat leisurely. There would be wine and various foods with it, and there would be much talk and chatter. And it would go on, and then another course would come on.
It was a large, old house with the charm that you find in the old houses on the continent. In this one the dining room, particularly, intrigued me because the table was large — about twenty feet long — around which we sat, and it was piled high with viands. And above it, was a great chandelier with thirty or forty candles on it. It was beautiful as it flickered, and it was bright enough so that you could see, but subdued to a romantic level. During this four or five hours of eating, the candles would occasionally have
to be replaced. The chandelier was hung from a rope through rungs to where it was tied on the opposite wall. When necessary the whole chandelier was lowered and the candles replaced and the room brightened up again.
After dinner it was up to the younger people to entertain the older ones who sat back while we put on pantomimes and skits. In closets there were just innumerable costumes which had been collected over the years, and the half-dozen of we younger ones gathered there costuming ourselves and deciding on what we would do to entertain the guests.
I don’t recall too clearly now what all of the skits were — except one which amused everybody very much which Théo and I did. We dressed up in some outlandish costumes and came in. Théo talked, the fastest French possible as I talked English at him. And neither of us knew what the other was really talking about, but evidently his part of it was amusing enough to keep everybody in stitches.
I also frequently gathered, with a group of Théo’s friends which consisted of Théo, myself, Jacques Chesnais, the young artist, Claude Laurens, a sculptor and the son of the well-known Henri Laurens, and two or three others. We would gather once every
three or four weeks in the studio of one of these boys and have discussions and make plans for rejuvenating the world of art — all of these things which young people dream of doing. We would sit around with a few bottles of wine and have these great discussions.
[«»] Tape Number: TAPE FOUR, SIDE TWO
May 22, 1964
Ritchie: Typical of these little meetings was one which I wrote about in my diary at the time:
It was at Claude Laurens’ studio. Théo Schmied and his wife were there and Jacques Chesnais and Claude’s little Algerian fiancé and myself. The fire burned in the wood stove, and food and fruit were on the table. I watched developments. First, Jacques read from Plato’s Apology and then Claude. Hunger beckoned and we dove into the food and coffee which the wee Algerian had made on the wood stove. Then they became eloquent. Théo and Jacques are writing a play, which one of their friends will produce. I could not gather enough of their explanation to know exactly what it is, but as Jacques said, ‘It is magnificent. It is revolutionary’ It has something to do with the vision, the mind, the soul of us all, and is to be treated symbolically and made especially effective by the rhythm of sets, ballets, costumes and lights which will be such a great part of it.
Théo keeps a score and seems to be the most serious and constructive. But Jacques is full of ideas; his imagination is playing at full strength all of the time. This little group has thrown the past to the winds in every respect and is struggling to carve something new in each of their lives. Not that they are wild, but within the bounds of taste they are turning, turning, turning for something away from the traditional. It seems that the influence of the great decades of French painting is stimulating these young artists to pull the other struggling arts up to the times.
Jacques stresses composition. He is always finding it and building it in his pictures.
Thus mere realism is not acceptable; it is an idea formulated on the canvass. Today everything may give back thought. In many cases, the mere mechanical, geometrical quality of the modern fashion forces art to become symbolic, as geometrical signs are symbolic. I think it is beauty for beauty’s sake, and then more of
the symbolic or of the thought element. Some of Schmied’s books offered this reaching out for something beyond the technical problem of presenting a readable book. It gives something of the spiritual commentary. Words are an imperfect way of expressing thought.
Jacques is full of a burning for poetry. He loves Whitman, Poe and Baudelaire especially, and runs off line after line from different things by rote. Théo, staggering with a stick as a staff, a broomstick dressed as a woman, and a book of Moliere in his hand, gave a serious interpretation of a scene from Moliere. Then Jacques read from Poe, from Rimbaud, from Baudelaire and then a few poems he composed himself.
All the while I sat comprehending hardly any of his French, but my mind racing with the stimulation of the scene, the circumstances and the serious yearning that was evident in the group.
I could not help but make a mental comparison with the American artist group in Paris.
Well, that gives you some idea of what was going on there.
Schmied, as I have so often said, was the great stimulant that I had come to see. But while I was in Paris I naturally wanted to know more of the other printers there. There was a great artist with woodcuts, Louis Jou, who also printed his own books and I got to know him. On the opposite end of the spectrum from Schmied was a printer by the name of Darantiére. Darantiére originally had his shop in Dijon and it was there that he had printed the first edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses.
He removed to Paris later on. His fame had spread. He was an extremely able craftsman. He was more interested in the typographical aspects than was
Schmied. He was more of a printer’s printer than an artist. Schmied, basically, was an artist who had become a printer because it was the only way he could get his designs done as he wanted them to be done.
I had some correspondence with Darantiére and finally I went out to see him:
After lunch (as I wrote at the time), I skipped out and took the tram for Epinay to see Darantiére. Interesting! His shop is in the middle of a little woods with a stream and sodden leaves. It is rather large and high, with a studio roof. On all the walls are old title pages snatched from books, and maps bought on the quay. In the middle is a Stanhope press, and around are presses and young men and women laboring away. It impressed me immediately as if I were visiting a medieval press. Here is the master wandering about in a stocking cap, correcting proofs, and musing. The workers seemed more of a journeyman type than at Schmied’s, where they are still playful boys. Here is a paternal attitude, pushing out the work, while Schmied is the artist who designs it and aloftly lets it spring forth under the careful guidance of Théo. Darantiére showed me the books he had been working on recently. The Cantique des Cantiques was very nice with its poetry lines centered, making their own design. He tries never to break a word at the end of a line. A nice psychological and interesting artistic case rose when he showed me the Odyssey, which Schmied is illustrating and he is printing for the Automobile Club. ‘I do not like it,’ he said, and showed me the illustrations. He said, ‘I do not think they are art, though they are clever.’ A few days ago Schmied told me that the typography was terrible. It is a Nash-Grabhorn situation again. At five we went into the house, which is up by the street wall, for tea. The walls of the hails we passed through are covered with the same kind of maps and title pages as in the print shop, but in the drawing room was a huge collection of china and antiques such as wooden heads of saints. At the side was a huge case of books from which, to my
inquiry, he took the first, presentation edition of Joyce’s Ulysses, which he had printed in Dijon. Tea and cookies while we talked. Twenty-seven books he has ordered for the future — five years work and he labors until eleven each night now. I questioned whether it was worth it, all this work. And he replied that he had the talent and it was his duty to put it into books for the future. The Cantique seemed to be his favorite. Also he said it was only one of a very few books that turned out good. It was difficult to follow art with money transactions and helpers who were mere hired men. I think he enjoyed our little interview and the interest I showed, since he told me that Frenchmen never took any interest in the man behind the book. Yesterday he dropped into my room and invited me out this afternoon and also invited me to work there as a student for two or three months. And I think I shall attempt it for two weeks or a month after I return from Switzerland. And then abruptly he rose and I was off on the tram for Paris.
Schmied was a most interesting man. During the months when I had lunch with him, I became increasingly more able to understand him, though I never became a very fluent French linguist. Lunch was quite interesting. In addition to Madie and myself, Théo would be there and an occasional guest. Schmied believed in eating well and his table was always — for a lunch — extremely ample.
We would usually start out with a salad. He loved to taunt me with the fact that dandelion salad — which was the favorite — is called pissenlit, which translated is something like a ‘wet bed.’ This was always one of his bits of humor. Another one of his great jokes — whenever he introduced me, he would pat me on the shoulder and say to the man, ‘This is the worst student I have ever
had,’ and then with a great big grin on his face he’d add, ‘also the finest because I’ve never had another one around here.’
He would start out with salad and invariably there was a chicken which Schmied would literally tear into bits. He would take a knife and his finger and pull off the whole breast with one yank and then pull off a leg and then the other breast would go. And after this, we would usually have a roast or a ham. These were each separate courses and this was lunch. In addition there were always ample servings of the Italian wine which he bottled, so that by the time lunch was over we were all so sleepy that it was but impossible to go back to work. Schmied, of course, could disappear up into his studio and he would be out for the rest of the afternoon. But the rest of us would have to prop up our eyes and saunter downstairs and try to pick up where we were before lunch. But it was such fun. Usually on these days, I would get Schmied interested in some subject and try to comprehend what he was talking about. He talked fast, but he acted out everything as he was speaking. Even if I didn’t quite comprehend what he was saying, I got the general gist of it.
As I wrote on January 13, 1931:
Today I had a good chat with Mr. Schmied. It was at two o’clock and he was having some tea
alone. I asked him what had Influenced his typography. He said it was mostly regarding the Latin work, the Latin temperament. He is Swiss himself. He said that they were impulsive creatures and their art followed them. Thus he was able to put these features under the restraint of organization. His pages are always organized with geometrical precision, which is his German heritage. He came to Paris in 1895 after having studied in Geneva, chiefly at the school or Bibliothèque, [the typesetter and publisher] Guillaume Le Bé. Here he spent most of his time copying the old woodcuts of the early printers of Switzerland, Lyons, and Paris. He says that he now has a great carnet filled with the old works he copied in school. (I suppose he cut them in wood.) In mere reminiscence, he told of an exhibition that he gave at thirteen years of age, and also of an exhibition of moderns after which there was a sale. How he wanted a [Ferdinand] Hodner at forty-five francs, but his family couldn’t see it. In Paris he earned a living cutting blocks for the little_journals. About 1900, he came into contact with Édouard Pelletan, the publisher and bookseller, and told how he used to go to the shop nearly every day to watch and to talk. Pelletan would often bring him the sheets and they would talk about them and criticize. But one of his chief teachers was the type-specimen book. He would sit before one of these and study for hours the decoration. The war took an eye and when he came back he printed L’Enfant a la Charrue in 1918, a little book of war stories a copy of which I found and bought in a Paris bookstore. ’It is terrible,’ he said, ’I could hardly see, and dug out all of that intricate stuff with only one eye’ The story he most delights in telling is of his New York visit. Seligmann held an exhibition of his work there in 1927. He and Monsieur Taskin accompanied the books over there. ‘There are no bibiophiles there as in Paris,’ he said, ‘here they come and peer over a book and gaze and touch and feel as if they are real connoisseurs.’ In America it was mainly professors and students who came. However, he did have a bit of fortune. Some wealthy collector asked the price of a certain bound volume. ‘Ten thousand dollars,’ said Mr. Schmied. ‘Ten thousand dollars,’ replied the collector, ‘And how much is it in France?’ ‘Ten thousand francs,’ Mr. Schmied responded, ‘But this is my own special
copy whose binding I designed and for whom my friend Dunand made a special lacquer plate.’ The collector pulled out his checkbook and took it. And Mr. Schmied chuckles and chuckles and chuckles. He sold two other books for a total of nine thousand dollars, so packed up and returned home to spend his nineteen thousand dollars for a boat. It is great sport to talk with him because he acts everything out with his big stern face, then bursts into a sunflower smile when it is finished. And I with him — it’s impossible to do otherwise.
This boat was extremely interesting because while Mr. Schmied was not a rich man, he was an important man in France. He was an officer of the Legion of Honor; he designed many sets and costumes for the Comedie Française and the other theatres. While I was there, he was having conferences with producers — many at times — and he wrote and illustrated many articles for the French magazines. His boat took an extremely important place in his life — this boat which he was able to buy with the proceeds of his American exhibit. I have seen pictures of it many times in illustrations, and it’s the type of gay boat that an artist would have or a peasant. The sails are as decorative and vividly colored as any I’ve ever seen, with great abstract squares, almost like patchwork. They are illustrated in his book Peau Brune. Among other trips, he wanted to take this boat around the world. He intimated that he might include me in the crew. I wasn’t exactly sure what I was expected to do, but since he was going to need a photographer and
being from Hollywood, he thought that I might fill that role. Well, it never worked out because of the Depression and problems which confronted him later on.
In France the printer is usually responsible for the success of a book, and at the auctions. It’s up to him to see that they don’t fall too far in price. Of course, this was the Depression and things were not doing well, and many more of these fine books came on the market than they would today. It behooved Schmied, when a copy of one of his books was offered at auction, to make sure that it didn’t sell for too low a price.
The result was that it was costing him more to buy back his books than he was getting for them. Finally it became impossible — as I understand from what I’ve subsequently heard — for him to continue to do this and as a result he lost the favor of the booksellers of France. He got so deep in debt that it became necessary for him to leave France. His friends in high position managed to get him a position in the colonies in Morocco. Here he created a new and different life for himself. He was located at one of the far outposts of Morocco and not very many people got to see him. But Lucie Weill, who is a bookbinder and runs a gallery in Paris and was a good friend of François-Louis Schmied, told me about visiting him — you go to the end of the railroad and then you travel for another hundred miles until you
finally find this little Arab outpost. She said that she was probably the last white person to have ever seen him. And she said he lived there like a Moroccan sheik. He had taken an old fortress building and had decorated it beautifully with murals on the white-washed walls. She said he administered everything. He was the doctor for the Arabs all over the territory, and they came to him as their father for advice and medication. Finally a year or so after she had seen him, he died of the fever or some disease around 1941. He had, evidently, been drawing, because before his death he had sent a group of paintings for an edition of Le Prométhée EnchainI233;, which his son subsequently printed in the Schmiedian elegance and manner of the earlier days.
I would occasionally take a week off and go up to visit my friends in Dijon, and these were always pleasant experiences too. Larry lived in the same pension in Dijon where M. F. [K.] and A. Fisher lived. It made it very convenient. When I’d go up there, I would stay at the same place occasionally and other times at the hotel. These three were the only boarders in the pension. It was run by a very pleasant French woman, whose father was the greatest pastry cook of France. He had a reputation all over France. He was retired by that time, but always on Sundays or on holidays he would create some fine concoction and bring it over. Her husband was a automobile dealer — but not too successful — and that, I believe, is why they had to take in a few roomers to help. But it was fun living right there because they ate extremely well, as you would in Dijon and drank even better, being right in the heart of the burgundy country.
I was there on one occasion when the great fair of Dijon, the Fiore Gastronomique, was being held. Larry and I went along with the head of the house (I can’t recall his name at the moment), and, of course, he knew everybody in Dijon.
All of the vintners and the growers had booths at the fair. It was customary for the men in Dijon and from all over France to go to the various places and sample the wines and buy their stock for the year. Larry and I went along, and at each of the booths, we would have a glass of wine. We would sip away and then our host would say, ‘Well, I would like a case of this and a case of that.’ Then we would go on to the next one and we would sip some more. We probably had a sampling of some of the finest wines of France, though to us it was just a great experience of imbibing.
This was Larry’s first year at the University of Dijon. He, too, had been most interested in Robinson Jeffers and he was fortunate in finding a professor, George Cannes, who encouraged him to do his thesis on Robinson Jeffers even though he was going to do it in English in a French university. It simplified it for him that way.
Larry grew a great, long beard and looked like a typical French American — or an American Frenchman — with his little beanie on top and his great big bush of beard.
On one other occasion (it was one night just before I was going back to Paris) we decided that we would investigate French liqueurs,and being novices, we didn’t know the effects of these drinks. We got along fine.
We tried one of every French liqueur. We sat and drank them one after the other. It didn’t seem to affect us — we were enjoying every moment of it — until the next morning when I got on the train to go back to Paris. I’ve never suffered as much in all of my life.
There was one favorite spot where the Fishers and Larry used to go every day; it was called the Café du Paris, right in the center of Dijon. After classes, we would all go down there and sit and have something to drink while we talked and discussed. We happened to be there on the evening of Armistice Day, and of course, everybody was celebrating. We were the only Americans in town, and the proprietor wanted to do something especial for the Americans who helped them win the war. Now this was some twelve or thirteen years after the Armistice, but he still had a sign on the back of the bar — ‘American cocktail’ And so, being Americans, he was going to give us an American cocktail. Well, he
hadn’t sold one in thirteen years, but he brought us this cocktail, and it almost did us in. We naturally had to drink it. We asked him how it was made and how he learned about it. He said, ‘Well, on Armistice Day during the war, some American soldiers came in here and they said they wanted a cocktail. Well, nobody here knew how to make a cocktail so they said, ’We will do it’ They came in back of the bar and they just poured a little of everything available into a shaker. ‘I’ve been proud of having served the first American cocktail in Dijon, and I’ve offered it ever since.’ I was back there again this year, hoping to find the ‘American cocktail’ sign, but the whole place has been modernized and it’s lost all of that old charm.
Fisher was working on a long poem which he called The Ghost in the Underblows, and a good part of it was written right on the tables at the Café du Paris, during the daily session down there. M. F. was also going to the University at that time. She had not started her career as a writer. It was not until later on, until after she and Fisher had separated, that her talent came forth. Her first book was mostly stories about these people and the events and all that happened in those years in Dijon. Since college, I had been writing a certain amount of bad poetry,too — of course, at that
time I didn’t feel that way about it.
We really had delightful sessions of an evening together — the four of us sitting around. Fisher would read from his Ghost in the Underblows, and I would get out a sheaf of the things that I had been writing. Larry himself was writing some poetry and a certain amount of prose. We would also discuss all of the problems of the world and what we were going to do. We liked it.
At least once every time that I was visiting Dijon, we would take a night off and have a really sumptuous feast. At that time there was a restaurant called Les Trois Faisans, which, according to the Michelin guide, was one of the three finest in the whole of France. We would save enough money to have one meal there. We would always have a carafe of their beautiful white chablis to start with, and we would end up with — a Romanée-Conti or a Chambertin — among the great wines of Burgundy, together with a delightful meal. We usually had chauteaubriand and string beans. This I don’t quite comprehend now but I guess, being Americans and not yet awakened to the glory of French cuisine, we considered the steak as the ultimate in good eating. That was the one thing that we craved, and that was what we had when we thought we were eating well.
Paris was lots of fun. Right underneath me in the little hotel where I stayed roomed Genet of the New
Yorker, whose real name is Janet Flanner. I had known her sister Hildegarde Flanner in Pasadena and, of course, when I went to France I looked Janet up and we saw quite a bit of one another. She had a very special room there because it was the only room in the hotel that had a separate toilet and bath, which she had put in at her own expense.
These little French hotels are delightful if you are young. When I was looking around for a place to stay, I was hoping to find something quite inexpensive with charm, because when you are in Paris, you want to feel Bohemian.
Some of the hotels didn’t even have a bath in the whole hotel. You would have to go down to the Seine to one of the bathhouse boats to bathe. Our particular hotel was one of the more elegant. There was one toilet to each floor for both male and female, and there was one bathroom in the whole hotel. That was on the top floor, and in order to take a bath you had to speak to the garçon and he would fill it with water for twenty-five cents which seemed exorbitant to a poor struggling young American used to bathing free. So, I don’t think we took as many baths as we probably should have, but even that — to a Frenchman — seemed a great extravagance.
I recall one time, he said, ‘My goodness, you Americans
take so many baths. I take one a year. Of course, we Frenchmen are a little smarter than you. Usually I get a girl to take one with me, so I can get two of us in for the price of one.’ And he intimated that if I were smart I would do the same.
The bookstores of Paris were an important part of my life there. There were a couple of American ones. Sylvia Beach had a tiny shop, but it was a hangout for American writers and would-be writers. She had published Joyce and befriended many authors. Titus had a larger and, I would say, a stuffier bookstore with stuffier American authors in his coterie. They both published and they both disliked one another very much, but I would go to see each of them from time to time. But it was the French bookstores that particularly intrigued me because, while I was in France, I wanted to absorb all of the knowledge of French bookmaking that I could.
And it is amazing when you study books — their designs — how you can almost pinpoint them to the year or the decade when they were done and the country in which they were printed because of the evolution of style.
Around the area where I was living — rue Jacob and St. Benoît and Bonaparte — there were dozens and dozens of small bookstores. I would go into one and start at the top shelves and go through every book all the way down to the bottom ones, looking at them carefully. As
I looked at them, I’d try to figure out when and where they had been printed — which was an intriguing game. I came away with many books which I enjoyed. I found books of some of the great printers that didn’t cost too much, books which Jean de Tournes, Simon de Colines and the Estiennes had printed.
The bookstalls along the quay were of great fascination and I spent many days tramping up and down the left banks searching the stalls for books. Usually we think of books as something warm and inviting, but they can be the coldest things — outside of an ice cube — that you’ve ever touched. During the winter months, Paris, to a Californian, is a very miserable place in which to live. You hardly ever see the blue sky, the clear sky.
I guess that’s the reason the expression in French for a nice day is, ‘c’est bleu,’ because it’s when you see the sky blue. It didn’t snow very often; only once or twice while I was there. It didn’t rain too hard, but there’s always just a drizzle corning down, just a constant grey, miserable drizzle. I walked everyplace, especially when I was out looking through the bookstalls and I found that the books were so cold that when I’d pick them up one after another my hands would soon be frozen white. I finally got chilblains in my feet too. I did have central heating in my hotel room,
but it was a sham because I could never feel more than a hint of heat in the hot-water radiator.
Since my room was on the top floor it is possible that the heat never got up there. So, usually, when I was writing, I would sit in my overcoat and just try to enjoy the cold of Paris.
I had a letter given to me when I went to Paris to a Mr. Willian van Wyck, who had been a friend of Dr. Benjamin Shelter and Carlyle MacIntyre, my professors at Occidental College. Van Wyck proved to be one of the delights of Paris. His father or grandfather had been one of the political bigwigs of Brooklyn or New York City during the days when it was easy for a politician to accumulate money. So, van Wyck had never had to work. He had started out as a playboy — I imagine he got through prep school and then had gone to France to live for several years. He suddenly decided that this life was leading him nowhere. He returned to the United States and enrolled at USC (this was back around 1917). Possibly, it was the war that drove him out of France.
When he arrived at USC he looked over the courses that were being given and, having been a great reader during all of these years he thought to himself, ‘These would be simple. I don’t have to take these courses.’ So, he petitioned for credits for a multitude of courses.
Of course, French was a cinch for him and there was no problem there, but there was a question about the others
It was brought up before the committee and there was one professor, a sardonic fellow, who looked at this request for credits and said, ‘Well, Mr. van Wyck has practically petitioned himself into graduation this year. This is the most amazing thing that’s ever come to my attention in thirty years of teaching. But if Mr. Wyck thinks he is this smart, I suggest, gentlemen, that we give him a chance to prove it. And if he can pass all of these tests that he says he can pass, I suggest that we graduate him.’
And van Wyck did it. He took his Master’s, and I’m not sure whether he got his Ph.D., (he was Dr. van Wyck but it may have been an honorary Ph.D.). But he was always happy to say that he got his AB, Master’s and-or his Ph.D., in one year at USC. Once he had done this and proved it, the questioning professor was his greatest admirer.
Van Wyck was, in a way, a frustrated author; he wanted to be one of the great writers of our time. He had returned to France to live, and he lived extremely well. He had a beautiful apartment on Montparnasse, and he invited me there for lunch occasionally. He also belonged to some posh clubs where he took me on several occasions. He had had several books published;
Darantiére had done a couple of then subsidized by van Wyck.
He was one of the gustiest men I have ever known. He was a large man who loved his food, loved his liquor and loved verbiage. His was a picturesque language. He had a fertile mind. He interspersed almost every five words with bawdiness. It might bother many, but it was like listening to Chaucer when you heard him talk.
At the time he was working on a translation of the Canterbury Tales, and Rockwell Kent was doing the illustrations for it. This edition was subsequently printed at about a hundred dollars a set; it came in two volumes.
It practically broke van Wyck’s heart when the reviews came out. The scholars jumped on it.
Taking Chaucer and trying to translate it into modern English is bad enough, but especially if you take certain liberties with the text — which van Wyck did. He was esentially trying to get the meaning, the feel of Chaucer. Most of the reviews came from professors at ‘such-and-such’ college, or somebody who in addition to an original resentment, enjoyed very much taking apart a non-academician. This hurt van Wyck but didn’t stop his continuing output.
When I got back to the United States, I printed several of his translations over the years — including Sonnets of Helen, by Ronsard, The Sinister Shepherd, Cyrano de Bergerac and Chanticleer and a book about Robinson Jeffers.
There were several American students who came to Paris when I was there. One extremely interesting boy was John Goheen, who had graduated from Pomona College.
He was interested in art, and he was working with Professor [Joseph] Pijoan on his vast history of art. He lived in an apartment around the corner from the little hotel in which I lived, and I was fascinated because he had been the model for many of the Orozco figures in the mural which Orozco did in the dining hall at Pomona College.
Among other things that he had with him were some of the sketches that this great Mexican painter had made of him for this mural.
Once when he was going to Spain to meet Pijoan, who was there at the time, he offered to let me use his apartment while he was gone. I thought this would be a fine way of saving a little dough as well as living in a real native habitat. The rooms were many floors up through a cold and refuse-cluttered central court. It was much rougher than the little hotel on Rue Bonaparte where I had been living. The apartment had much charm and so I moved in, but the first night I was there it was like a convention of the rat population of Paris running all over me and the bed. I spent only the one night there and decided to return to the sanctuary of my little hotel on rue Bonaparte.
Another boy from Pomona College was John Cage. Now John had been a roommate of Gregg Anderson (who subsequently was my partner) as freshmen at Pomona College. Both of them had quit after the first year. John’s chief interest was in music, and he had come to Paris to study it. But he was still a youngster at that time — wide-eyed and eager. He studied for a couple of months and when Professor Pijoan came through and suggested that he take up architecture he threw over his music and started to study architecture. When I met him, he was tired of architecture. He didn’t know what he was wanted to do. So, he decided he’d go to England. He applied for a visa to England, and they asked him what he was going to do when he got to England. And he said, ‘Oh, I’ll probably get a job and work,’ which was exactly the wrong thing to say.
So they refused him a visa.
He came back that night and we sat around with him wondering what to do. I had always been fascinated by the islands of the Mediterranean. Earlier I had been on Capri, but there were so many of them — Cyprus, Crete and Majorca that offered romantic prospects.
I said, ‘Well, if you haven’t anything else to do and if you have enough money to make it, I would just go island hopping.’ That struck him great. The next thing
I knew he decided that he was going to start with Capri and then he was going on from there. He has had an interesting career since returning to the United States, after some time in Europe. He lived in a little house about a block from my printing shop, in 1934. He and another chap who was writing lived there, and John was back in the music again. He had a grand piano in the middle of our printing shop, and as the presses were pounding John would come and thump away on the piano. He was composing even at that time.
Now he’s an avant-garde composer.
[«»] Tape Number: TAPE FIVE, SIDE ONE
October 23, 1964
Ritchie: Paris — even beautiful Paris — can become a dismal place to live to a stranger who has lived all of his life in the warm sunshine of southern California. I loved to walk the streets on the damp pavements that never seemed to get dry, week after week. My feet became thoroughly chilblained; I’d walk along the quays of the Seine on my daily hunt for books in the stalls, and my hands would freeze with their handling. I had finished printing Apology For Bad Dreams and I was restless. The winter weather of Paris that year had been a constant drizzle. I’d never known real snow and the image of Switzerland lured me. So, I took off in the latter-part of January, 1931. I stayed a few days in Dijon with Lawrence Powell and Alfred and M. F. K. Fisher, and then took the train to Montreux. We entered a snowstorm passing over the border into Switzerland and my first sight of a vast panorama of white snow was a most exciting experience. But a few weeks of it satisfied my curiosity, and I was more interested in finding a nice warm spot in which to thaw out.
Majorca was the magic name that lured me, and on third-class coaches I hopped across France to Barcelona and took the steamer to Palma de Majorca. Alphonso XIII
had recently been deposed and the country was still technically in revolution, though the only evidence I saw of it was in the continual devaluation of the peseta, which made living economically delightful. My first experience in arriving at Palma was a little discouraging. I hadn’t been astute enough to make any reservations in the hotels there, and it took almost my first day to find a room. But then it was so very inexpensive that I decided I could almost afford to stay there for the rest of my days.
Dixon: Did you speak any Spanish?
Ritchie: I had taken a year of Spanish in college which was enough, with a dictionary, to get by, but not enough to converse.
Within a relatively short time I was out seeing the island and I wrote:
Now I’ve found the one place yet in Europe where I should like a home. Not here in Palma but upon the point above the lighthouse where the school or monastery of the Port of Soller stands. I had finished a bottle of wine with a picnic lunch. I wandered up there and looked out upon the sea. It was wild by the shore — as at Carmel — and made me feel strong, and looking the other way, I saw the bay with the fishing boats, and the small town. It made me feel secure and warm and I smiled. The town is clean and the houses, rising one above another as they step up the hill, shine blue and red and yellow; colored tiles set about their doors. Tiles look so clean and so happy. I asked at the hotel where we lunched how much room and pension would be. Ten pesetas, which at the present low rate of exchange, is only one dollar a day. Also, the world suddenly became smaller
and at the Palma bookstore I ran into various old friends — Joe Urmsten, with whom I had gone to grammar school; Fran Wright, a girl from Occidental College; and John Cage, whom I had left only a few months before in Paris, on his way to Capri. He told me of an English press in the town of Deyá, on the other side of the island, and we decided to go and see it. He was living with a Harvard boy, who he had met in Capri, by the name of Don Sample. They had a fine house, twenty or thirty minutes by tram from Palma, looking out over the whole blueness of the Mediterranean. As I recall, they paid $25:00 a month for the two-story house, and a kind gentle cook and housekeeper by the name of Montserrat cost an additional $7.50 per month, which shows how inexpensive living in paradise was in 1931. We arranged with Montserrat’s brother who had a car to drive us to Deyá and arrived there at about 1:30. We saw a man in a blue sweatsuit, walking down a street. We stopped and John jumped out to question him. ‘A print shop? English?’ He was German or Swedish, but spoke French. ‘Yes, Mr. Graves place.’ He gave the chauffeur directions. An old man with a bad eye crowded in to get a word with us. He followed us down to a fonda where we were to eat, and sat on a stone along the road while we waited to eat for an hour or so. He was very patient and expected a tip, I suppose. Scores of big cars came by with two or three tourists sitting stiffly back in each. They all looked the same. A big French boat and a big German boat is in today. Lunch was charming. When we arrived, the senora asked us if we’d like such-and-such. Then she laid the cloth on the porch and started preparing the meal from the beginning. It took a long time. We watched the tourists pass. A young, thin whippet was bounding lazily and we were waiting. Montserrat’s brother was an eager, affable person. He ate with us, finishing all that remained after the first serving. He had stopped us at every by-path to see the ‘buena vista’ as he called it. We would walk a bit and peer-down upon some lovely panorama of the Mediterranean. He would have been very happy, had we spoken Spanish. Montserrat hovers over us at the meals, talking, eager for good words, smiles gushing from her. She is a happy and beamingly kind person of about thirty-five.
But then we started for Senor-Graves’ house, Robert Graves. I told John a bit about him and about Laura Riding — that we might be thrown out.
The old man followed us up the road, along with the driver. First we were misdirected and that man who misdirected us joined the cavalcade. It was ludicrous and we were frightened by it, advancing toward Robert Graves’ house with all of this motley group following us. We made another wrong house and then the correct one. It was rather nice. There was no answer to our pounding. And then from the side a woman’s voice, ‘Qué es?’ We hurried around, and there standing on the embankment and looking down upon us was a woman in a short khaki skirt and wild hair, fair and sturdy of skin. I spoke in English meekly. ‘We are looking for a small English press’
‘Who told you? Where did you hear about it?’ she asked. This curiosity is all that apparently saved us from being driven out. She let us inside and the old man followed. She had much to divert herself. The old man was incomprehensible. His wife did the laundry, but here he was on the wrong day and without his basket. It was incomprehensible. Finally she gave him a drink of Cointreau and ridded the place of him with a magic ‘manana’. I’d given him a peseta earlier in an attempt to lose him. Now she turned to us and led us back to her study. She had been there writing when we disturbed her. Everything was in immaculate order and much manuscript seemed to be around. We sat down and she started to cross-examine us. Where, how and why, had we learned of this place and gotten there. John explained something about hearing it in the snack bar in Palma. She was furious. Said Liam O’Flaherty had found out in the same way and had come stomping up with some hussy. They had never even known Liam O’Flaherty she said. He asked for Robert and said he wanted to talk. Laura said she gave him a talking to all right. For one thing she told him he might take off his overcoat, because there might be something underneath after all. But evidently he didn’t have much of a welcome and went down to sit in the car while they served tea to the woman, who was very much surprised to find such famous authors live like people and didn’t have great gatherings around them. Yes, she dislikes Irishmen. I said that we didn’t know that it was their press until we arrived in Deyá; thought perhaps it might be Irish, having heard vaguely of O’Flaherty’s connection with it. To which she replied, that if it were she would tear up every book from it. And so now
she had another grievance against the Snack Bar and will send Robert down to reprimand them more severely.
And so she royally railed people who came to spy upon the great man. Said that they were writing a pamphlet on just such a thing now. And then, rather naively, she asked, ‘Do you know who I am?’
’Laura Riding,’ I replied.
And she wanted to know if we’d read any of her books. ‘No, they aren’t printed anymore in the United States,’ she said. ‘Of which I’m rather proud’ But Cape would take anything she offered in England. Of course, he didn’t make any money, was fortunate to break even. I had mentioned something about knowing Nancy Cunard. But she said they weren’t on good terms anymore. That Nancy had bound one of Laura’s books without sending her the proof sheets. A bit of trouble followed and then coolness. Later, she added, that Nancy was very sweet and was leading a very difficult life. ‘She thought that all of us, being different, should stick together. But we didn’t feel that way about it.’
After Laura had cross-examined us, which she did rather nicely, though very bluntly, with many smiles and laughs, she said she’d show us the press and then we’d go. This led us back into the house and into the library. There was a small hand press set in the middle of the room, with a title page set up, and very spongy make ready on it. I peered and questioned. They had the type set in Palma and do the printing themselves. She doesn’t think it’s fun but hard work. And then she showed us the books that they’d printed thus far and Nancy Cunard’s book of their poetry. We were both so meek and modest and John so naive that she couldn’t be angry with us. She asked us if we’d read any of her poems, to which we replied, ‘No.’ John, shyly asking, ‘Would you like us to?’ She thought this a difficult question. Probably thinking there was a hint of book begging in it.
What to do now. ‘Well, I guess we’d better go,’ I said. She thought so too. We headed out by way of the kitchen. She nicely asked us if we’d like tea. Replying negatively, we rather paused and waited while she went over to feel the hot water kettle upon the embers. We were won to tea. So she told us to send our chauffeur to town for a drink, while we had tea. This done, she wrestled with the gasoline stove. It would not work for her, so she gave up, sorry she had asked
us to send off the chauffeur. we sat down to sherry (she does not drink liquor) and she attempted to entertain us. She questioned us about everything we’d done.
A big creature came up the path and peered in the door. She brought him in and introduced Robert Graves. He was fine — a big smile and boyish as could be. He had on an old pair of white striped trousers, shoes that were patched on the top, and seemed perfectly contented with life as it was. It took him no time to have the tea ready. Again, Laura did not drink, sufficing herself on hot water. This time we went over the same talk, she explaining it all to him. They got out some of the Spanish paper they were using and wondered if it were handmade. They gave me the address for Batchelor, the paper makers in England, from where they got their paper, saying that by buying outside sheets they had it for half price.
They were really very nice to us and the big scare was for effect only. Laura is a queer, psychological study. She evidently knows her own ability and yet is overshadowed by Graves. Thus, all of the adulators seek him rather than her and as a result she attacks these hero-worshipers. She is American, ‘technically American,’ she told me. She’d been a member of the John Crowe Ransom group before she came to Europe. She doesn’t like Paris. In fact, she doesn’t like any place except perhaps London. She is a vital little animal and though she’s not pretty, though her legs are somewhat like cones, I could envy Graves. They asked me if I liked Paris. I said, ‘Yes, some of the people and the books.’ They looked sour at this, so I added, ‘Fifteenth and sixteenth century books, de Colines, de Tournes and so forth.’ They said that that was all right, as I was interested in the printing of the past. They had owned some valuable books including Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom, but they had sold them.
Finally our chauffeur came back. They had me take a glass of Sherry out to him and followed us out to bid us farewell. Said that perhaps they’d see us some day on the streets in Palma.
And the final admonition, if we told anybody about coming to see them, say that we’d been thrown out. Laura had told us before that what had saved us was asking for the press. It seemed something concrete to be looked at, more than a famous man. Yes, it was fortune that led us that day into the lives of Laura Riding and Robert Graves.
[Here ends the first quarter of the interview with Ward Ritchie, titled
Printing and Publishing in Southern California (My Life in Printing)]