Wednesday, February 8, 2023

SSW: John D. MacDonald, Kurt Vonnegut, "Oliver Wyman" (Olive & Wyman Holmes), Cyril Hume, Leon Ware: COSMOPOLITAN, July 1958, edited by John J. O'Connell; fiction editor Kathryn Bourne

 From the FictionMags Index, the fiction content:

illustration for "Fast Loose Money"
Unsurprisingly, the juxtaposi0n of unfamiliar-seeming MacDonald and Vonnegut stories in this late '50s issue of Cosmopolitan, still a more-0r-less not-gender-specific magazine at this point, was what caught my it happens, I had read the Vonnegut, but about forty years ago while first going through his collection Welcome to the Monkey House, among better short stories by him but few as unironic and heartfelt; the MacDonald was collected in his 1966 volume End of the Tiger and Other Stories (which I haven't yet read), apparently under JDM's preferred title "The Fast Loose Money" rather than the article-free version that Cosmo gave it. It, too, isn't the most memorable of MacDonald stories, but it's more than clever enough, and while the protagonist and his old war-buddy and partner in crime aren't quite the true "mean furniture" MacDonald would refer to in his work, extremely unsavory people who won't shrink from violence to get their ends, they aren't far from it, not particularly noble at all. In fact, their WW2 service in the US Army, in the Quartermasters Corps in India, was essentially one long set of scams, which has allowed for a civilian life of considerable comfort, driven in part by continued skimming in the small businesses they run, initiated with their GI nest eggs. Well-drawn characterization of the two married couples at the heart of the story (as is typical of MacDonald), and a deft resolution to the various plot turns (likewise). Bob Byrne, writing in the Black Gate blog, notes that MacDonald spent some WW2 Army time in the procurement service setting he describes here, and didn't love it, before reassignment to the OSS (Byrne also breaks down every detail of the story, so you might want to read "The Fast Loose Money", in the book or in the magazine issue online, before reading Byrne's article). 

The Vonnegut story, "The Manned Missiles", has very little that's surreal nor particularly ironic about it, in telling a simple near-future (for 1958) science fiction story in the form of a Russian father's exchange of letters, his translated into English by his student son, with those of the US father of another cosmonaut/astronaut, both with sons who died in an accident while in single-person craft in orbit, the American sent to try to determine what sort of observation/surveillance the Soviet was up to. A graceful and humane account, which reminded me a bit of the likes of Edmond Hamilton's "What's It Like Out There?" in slightly less melodramatic terms. Vonnegut's note in his introduction to Welcome to the Monkey House, that the large-circulation slick-paper magazines would take stories about almost anything, as long as they celebrated the Middle Class, doesn't quite apply here, as this one has a somewhat more universal appeal (I'd say, even given that both fathers are clearly of their respective countries' essential middle I have been of mine).

"Oliver Wyman" (the married writing team of Olive and Wyman Holmes) has another epistolary story which follows, but one of an utterly different stripe, a comic piece about a young woman with dreams of becoming an investing "angel" in a mildly distant cousin's Broadway production...if only she can pry some of her trust fund from her starchy, disapproving Bostonian aunt. The cousin, a young man who (as it turns out) fled the stultifying effect of Beacon Hill family, initially for a financial-industry job but soon becoming a producer, is not sure he wants anything to do with supportive young Kathy, much less the family money or its stern guardians. Amusing, if slight. Wyman Holmes was very briefly a professional actor, in one of Clare Boothe Luce's less successful B'way productions, Kiss the Boys Goodbye; Olive and Wyman, formerly Harvard students together, married during the short run of the play, and went on to at least a mildly productive writing career together. Wyman presumably knew from blue-blood Bostonian families, as likely the son of Henry Wyman Holmes, the founding Dean, in 1920, of the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Olive Holmes seems to have been a dance student and perhaps briefly a professional dancer, who would eventually edit a volume of Henry Taylor Parker's dance columns for The Boston Evening Transcript titled Motion Arrested (Wesleyan University Press/Harper & Row 1982), among other work solo and with her husband, including what look like culture studies for the likes of the US Information Agency. Was Cosmopolitan almost as clandestinely tied up with the 1950s CIA as, say, The Paris Review?
illustration for "El Greco and Mrs. London"
Cyril Hume had an interesting career...and seemingly one of many starts and stops, including an abbreviated hitch in the US Army, followed by some time at Yale (possibly without graduating, as online biographies disagree about this), though a dark fantasy story he placed with The Yale Review in 1930, "Forrester", would be included the O. Henry Awards volume for 1931 (his work was given the arguable plaudit of a limited edition collection, issued after his first with a regular press run, by Doubleday/Doran in 1932, Myself and the Young Bowman and Other Fantasies). He soon made his way to Hollywood, where he would script (either completely or through adaptation) a number of crime dramas and fantastica among other work for film and eventually television, including several in the Tarzan film series, the film Ransom! (later remade, without exclamation point, with Mel Gibson in the Glenn Ford role), and writing the script, from another writer's treatment (which in turn owed something to The Tempest), for the notable sf film Forbidden Planet. "El Greco and Mrs. London" is almost a casually tossed-off story by a writer who clearly knows what he's doing, and probably has more than a little in common with his protagonist, an artist of some talent but little application who is somewhat bitterly teaching painting to an adult education class in a small high school. Some sharp observation of the kinds of students this kind of class could attract, as well as of the degree of self-loathing the instructor can turn outward, only to find that he's actually falling for a talented young widow among his students. Hume would die rather young, not too long after this story's publication, in 1966.

Finally, for the purposes of this SSW entry (though I might read Finlay McDermid's novella for a later one), we turn to Leon Ware's "Sea Barrier", easily the worst of the short stories in this issue. Ware picked up an Edgar Award in 1966 for best young-readers' novel, The Mystery of 22 East, like this story one with a nautical setting, and if this story had been less simple-minded, I might be more willing to go dig up that or other work. This story posits, as one might in the late '50s with less likelihood of deserved mockery than today, that All Men Must Go Risk Their Lives in some pursuit, and All Women Will Do Better When They Just Accept This, No Matter How Little They Understand It Or Ever Will. Basically, a youngish lawyer and father of small children spends most of his weekends essentially stunt-sailing; his wife grows vexed at how little she and the kids see of him between work and his obsession with his hobby; she notes, a bit fretfully, his obvious itch to return to the wind in his face, and she learns, finally, from some shared wisdom from another "sailing widow" as both await their husbands' return (or worse) from at best a stupid attempt at a sailing run in a hurricane. But what are you going to do, Boys with Responsibilities will still be Boys, and that's All Men, and All Us Women just have to take it, and love them for it (and No Women clearly Ever Need Risk Nor Adventure in their lives, not even a little!  Says so right here!). Reductionist propaganda for irresponsibility and selfishness Rules OK. Remember, All Men are like this and All Women are like that. Hacks of various sorts still run these lines today, of course.

Meanwhile, here's this (touched on in the discussion of the Holmeses, above--see also in the comments below, for a bit more about Olive Holmes): In the July 1958 COSMO, in the editorial/in this issue column "What Goes on at Cosmopolitan" as signed by Associate Editor Harriet La Barre, this is the last item:

Write-where-you-are Twosome
Television buys a startling number of Cosmopolitan stories. But not the short story “Yankee Angel,” page 89. Any TV producer would run screaming from it; but everyone else will love it.

Oliver Wyman, who wrote the story, is really a couple of other people: the husband-and-wife writing team of Olive Holmes and Wyman Holmes. This Boston-born pair met at Harvard, where John Mason Brown was trying to teach them how to write plays. In the strange game of becoming a writer, Wyman first became a Broadway actor and was playing in Clare Boothe Luce’s “Kiss the Boys Goodbye” when he married Olive. The show promptly folded; no connection.

Unlike lots of writers of our acquaintance who can write only in a particular room or setting, this team can write anywhere—even in their two-room shack on a ten-acre island off the Maine coast. If too many guests turn up by motorboat, they retreat to a nearby tent and keep batting it out while sitting on an Army cot, their typewriter on an orange crate. Cosmopolitan, so far, has published four Oliver Wyman stories, mostly about the rich and stubborn Yankees that this Boston pair knows to a fare-thee-well.

—H. La B.

For more of today's Short Story Wednesday reviews, 


George said...

My sisters used to read COSMO but it never held much interest for me.

I read and enjoyed both the Vonnegut and the JDM when they were first published.

Todd Mason said...

Cosmopolitan in 1958 was a lot more like today's Vanity Fair with copious (admitted) fiction content added than the women's magazine it would become under Helen Gurley Brown shortly thereafter...about the same period that Redbook was selling itself as a magazine for young(ish heterosexual) couples--with short stories tagged as for women readers or men readers!, and not becoming a women's service magazine for a few years, albeit one which continued to run fiction longer than nearly any other.

In a sense, George, you'd need this issue to have read the stories when they first came out!

Todd Mason said...

MOTION ARRESTED Dance Reviews of H.T. Parker. Edited by Olive Holmes. Illustrated. 325 pp. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press. $29.95.

HENRY TAYLOR PARKER (1867-l934) was one of those American originals now in increasingly short supply. He is best remembered as the distinguished drama critic of The Boston Evening Transcript from 1905 until his death 29 years later. In his preface to Motion Arrested: Dance Reviews of H.T. Parker, Brooks Atkinson, the theater critic who served his apprenticeship under Parker, calls him ''the finest critic we have ever had.''

Parker's reputation rests upon his drama criticism, and to some extent upon his music reviews, so, as Mr. Atkinson suggests, his pioneering role as a dance critic will come as a surprise to many. It might also have remained neglected had not Olive Holmes (a Denishawn dancer in the 1930's and, more recently, chief editor at Harvard's Fairbank Center for East Asian Research) been inspired to compile and edit, with lucid connecting texts, an invaluable selection of Parker's dance criticism from The Transcript.

Parker emerges as a man more astonishing than his devoted admirers could previously claim. To write about serious dance in America in 1908 or 19l2 was to write about a nearly unknown art in a wasteland of public ignorance. But unlike his fellow music critics who were impressed into dance reviewing, Parker knew exactly what he was looking at.

He was a cultured, cultivated man in the true meaning of those words, and he had assiduously acquired the background that allowed him to locate an alien art form within a general artistic context. As these reviews testify, he was familiar with all the isms, from Classicism to Constructivism and beyond. That he could spot a Constructivist stage set in a 1920's dance program is not all that surprising in a theater man up on his European avant-garde. It is more amazing that in 1908 he could admiringly identify Adeline Genee, the Danish-British ballerina, even in a tawdry musical comedy, as an authentic exponent of ballet classicism - and that he could use words such as ''classic technique, in the true sense.''

By comparison, other contemporary American dance reviewers, including perceptive ones such as Carl Van Vechten, founder in naive descriptiveness. It is impossible to suggest that Van Vechten is on the level of sophisticated European dance critics such as Andre Levinson. But Parker, the generalist, stands up uncommonly well to Levinson, the specialist.

He shares, in fact, Levinson's principled stand. Dancing is beautiful in itself and requires technique. The old is a bridge to the new. Genee and Anna Pavlova are exponents of tradition and technique to Parker. Unlike Levinson, Parker warmed quickly to Serge Diaghilev's innovative Ballets Russes, which he reviewed on the troupe's 19l6 American tour.


Todd Mason said...

This book's most sensational entry is Parker's interview with Vaslav Nijinsky done at that time. Anything but dim, Nijinsky is seen as a ''keen and meditative mind'' and ''ready to link the present with the future.'' Alone among American critics, Parker recognized the avant-garde nature of Till Eulenspiegel, the controversial ballet Nijinsky created in the United States with the designer Robert Edmond Jones. Nijinsky, Parker perceived, had moved from the ''restricted virtuosity'' of traditional ballet technique to distillation and reductionism. With brilliant insight, Parker focused on the stripping away to essence in Nijinsky that he would later define as the modernist direction in dance.

The proper Bostonian in him surfaced only when a code was broken. There is no more famous dance-related incident in Boston history than the 1922 concert at which Isadora Duncan bared a breast at a curtain call. Parker supported Duncan's claim that the incident was not deliberate, at the same time recounting it in typical Parkerese. The dancer was swathed in transparent fabrics, bathed in light. ''The outcome,'' he wrote, ''especially when Isadora answered recalls or stretched a congratulatory hand to the conductor, was a degree of bodily revelation unbecoming to a middle-aged woman, too obviously high in flesh.''

As this quote suggests, Parker was not a contemporary stylist; indeed, his allergy to verbs can be disturbing even to today's readers. Mr. Atkinson himself admits, ''I never understood his writings about music clearly.'' Yet he created an elevated tone consistent with the loftiness of his ideas. His insistence that dance movement has meaning in itself is a very modern idea. Repeatedly, he cut through the sentimentalism of an image: Pavlova's Gavotte, he said, has an underlying ''formalism'' and succeeds because it is ''an abstraction of elegance.''

He rejected virtuosity for its own sake, wanted dance to ''spiritualize'' the physical and yet was moved by Pavlova's sensuality, writing that ''the spectator's throat caught at the new beauty of each instant.'' He recognized in the young Isadora Duncan ''an exquisite innocence'' rather than an intent to shock. She had ''widened the expressive scope and vividness of the dance...and increased its humanity,'' he wrote in 1912. Even after his disillusionment with the ''soiled spongy creature'' of Isadora's middle age, he saw her legacy as a ''vernal freshness to the dancing stage.''

He was, then, open to the new--as his few but deep reviews of the pioneering German dancer, Mary Wigman, and Martha Graham testify. He classed Wigman with Eugene O'Neill and Virginia Woolf, calling the dancer ''a body stripped to muscle and sinew, plastic and controlled, instantly responsive to the will within.'' Parker accorded no less to Graham, ''whose face is that of a woman who visions, reflects, then wills and accomplishes.'' Her works, he wrote with prescience, were ''the promise of an American dance'' and ''for the while, they are also its fulfillment.''

Anna Kisselgoff is chief dance critic of The New York Times.

A version of this article appears in print on May 15, 1983, Section 7, Page 14 of the National edition with the headline: A PIONEER DANCE CRITIC

TracyK said...

Very interesting to see an issue of Cosmopolitan in 1958. The articles all look very interesting too.

Todd Mason said...

Some definitely better than others, but that's all but inevitable with a "generalist" magazine, aiming for Something, at least, for Everyone.

Todd Mason said...

And further material related to Olive Holmes, as a Denishawn dancer:
The Denishawn School of Dancing and Related Arts, founded in 1915 by Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn in Los Angeles, California, helped many perfect their dancing talents and became the first dance academy in the United States to produce a professional dance company.[1] Some of the school's more notable pupils include Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, Lillian Powell, Charles Weidman, Jack Cole, and silent film star Louise Brooks. The school was especially renowned for its influence on ballet and experimental modern dance. In time, Denishawn teachings reached another school location as well - Studio 61 at the Carnegie Hall Studios.