November 9, 2012
When he was born he had such a sleepy disposition his parents named him Goyahkla—He Who Yawns. He lived the life of an Apache tribesman in relative quiet for three decades, until he led a trading expedition from the Mogollon Mountains south into Mexico in 1858. He left the Apache camp to do some business in Casa Grandes and returned to find that Mexican soldiers had slaughtered the women and children who had been left behind, including his wife, mother and three small children. “I stood until all had passed, hardly knowing what I would do,” he would recall. “I had no weapon, nor did I hardly wish to fight, neither did I contemplate recovering the bodies of my loved ones, for that was forbidden. I did not pray, nor did I resolve to do anything in particular, for I had no purpose left.”
He returned home and burned his tepee and his family’s possessions. Then he led an assault on a group of Mexicans in Sonora. It would be said that after one of his victims screamed for mercy in the name of Saint Jerome—Jeronimo in Spanish—the Apaches had a new name for Goyahkla. Soon the name provoked fear throughout the West. As immigrants encroached on Native American lands, forcing indigenous people onto reservations, the warrior Geronimo refused to yield.
Born and raised in an area along the Gila River that is now on the Arizona-New Mexico border, Geronimo would spend the next quarter-century attacking and evading both Mexican and U.S. troops, vowing to kill as many white men as he could. He targeted immigrants and their trains, and tormented white settlers in the American West were known to frighten their misbehaving children with the threat that Geronimo would come for them.
By 1874, after white immigrants demanded federal military intervention, the Apaches were forced onto a reservation in Arizona. Geronimo and a band of followers escaped, and U.S. troops tracked him relentlessly across the deserts and mountains of the West. Badly outnumbered and exhausted by a pursuit that had gone on for 3,000 miles—and which included help from Apache scouts—he finally surrendered to General Nelson A. Miles at Skeleton Canyon, Arizona in 1886 and turned over his Winchester rifle and Sheffield Bowie knife. He was “anxious to make the best terms possible,” Miles noted. Geronimo and his “renegades” agreed to a two-year exile and subsequent return to the reservation.
In New York, President Grover Cleveland fretted over the terms. In a telegram to his secretary of war, Cleveland wrote, “I hope nothing will be done with Geronimo which will prevent our treating him as a prisoner of war, if we cannot hang him, which I would much prefer.”
Geronimo avoided execution, but dispute over the terms of surrender ensured that he would spend the rest of his life as a prisoner of the Army, subject to betrayal and indignity. The Apache leader and his men were sent by boxcar, under heavy guard, to Fort Pickens in Pensacola, Florida, where they performed hard labor. In that alien climate, the Washington Post reported, the Apache died “like flies at frost time.” Businessmen there soon had the idea to have Geronimo serve as a tourist attraction, and hundreds of visitors daily were let into the fort to lay eyes on the “bloodthirsty” Indian in his cell.
While the POWs were in Florida, the government relocated hundreds of their children from their Arizona reservation to the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania. More than a third of the students quickly perished from tuberculosis, “died as though smitten with the plague,” the Post reported. Apaches lived in constant terror that more of their children would be taken from them and sent east.
Geronimo and his fellow POWs were reunited with their families in 1888, when the Chiricahua Apaches were moved to Mount Vernon Barracks in Alabama. But there, too, the Apaches began to perish—a quarter of them from tuberculosis— until Geronimo and more than 300 others were brought to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, in 1894. Though still captive, they were allowed to live in villages around the post. In 1904, Geronimo was given permission to appear at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, which included an “Apache Village” exhibit on the midway.
He was presented as a living museum piece in an exhibit intended as a “monument to the progress of civilization.” Under guard, he made bows and arrows while Pueblo women seated beside him pounded corn and made pottery, and he was a popular draw. He sold autographs and posed for pictures with those willing to part with a few dollars for the privilege.
Geronimo seemed to enjoy the fair. Many of the exhibits fascinated him, such as a magic show during which a woman sat in a basket covered in cloth and a man proceeded to plunge the swords through the basket. “I would like to know how she was so quickly healed and why the wounds did not kill her,” Geronimo told one writer. He also saw a “white bear” that seemed to be “as intelligent as a man” and could do whatever his keeper instructed. “I am sure that no grizzly bear could be trained to do these things,” he observed. He took his first ride on a Ferris wheel, where the people below “looked no larger than ants.”
In his dictated memoirs, Geronimo said that he was glad he had gone to the fair, and that white people were “a kind and peaceful people.” He added, “During all the time I was at the fair no one tried to harm me in any way. Had this been among the Mexicans I am sure I should have been compelled to defend myself often.”
After the fair, Pawnee Bill’s Wild West show brokered an agreement with the government to have Geronimo join the show, again under Army guard. The Indians in Pawnee Bill’s show were depicted as “lying, thieving, treacherous, murderous” monsters who had killed hundreds of men, women and children and would think nothing of taking a scalp from any member of the audience, given the chance. Visitors came to see how the “savage” had been “tamed,” and they paid Geronimo to take a button from the coat of the vicious Apache “chief.” Never mind that he had never been a chief and, in fact, bristled when he was referred to as one.
The shows put a good deal of money in his pockets and allowed him to travel, though never without government guards. If Pawnee Bill wanted him to shoot a buffalo from a moving car, or bill him as “the Worst Indian That Ever Lived,” Geronimo was willing to play along. “The Indian,” one magazine noted at the time, “will always be a fascinating object.”
In March 1905, Geronimo was invited to President Theodore Roosevelt’s inaugural parade; he and five real Indian chiefs, who wore full headgear and painted faces, rode horses down Pennsylvania Avenue. The intent, one newspaper stated, was to show Americans “that they have buried the hatchet forever.”
After the parade, Geronimo met with Roosevelt in what the New York Tribune reported was a “pathetic appeal” to allow him to return to Arizona. “Take the ropes from our hands,” Geronimo begged, with tears “running down his bullet-scarred cheeks.” Through an interpreter, Roosevelt told Geronimo that the Indian had a “bad heart.” “You killed many of my people; you burned villages…and were not good Indians.” The president would have to wait a while “and see how you and your people act” on their reservation.
Geronimo gesticulated “wildly” and the meeting was cut short. “The Great Father is very busy,” a staff member told him, ushering Roosevelt away and urging Geronimo to put his concerns in writing. Roosevelt was told that the Apache warrior would be safer on the reservation in Oklahoma than in Arizona: “If he went back there he’d be very likely to find a rope awaiting him, for a great many people in the Territory are spoiling for a chance to kill him.”
Geronimo returned to Fort Sill, where newspapers continued to depict him as a “bloodthirsty Apache chief,” living with the “fierce restlessness of a caged beast.” It had cost Uncle Sam more than a million dollars and hundreds of lives to keep him behind lock and key, the Boston Globe reported. But the Hartford Courant had Geronimo “getting square with the palefaces,” as he was so crafty at poker that he kept the soldiers “broke nearly all the time.” His winnings, the paper noted, were used to help pay the cost of educating Apache children.
Journalists who visited him depicted Geronimo as “crazy,” sometimes chasing sightseers on horseback while drinking to excess. His eighth wife, it was reported, had deserted him, and only a small daughter was watching after him.
In 1903, however, Geronimo converted to Christianity and joined the Dutch Reformed Church—Roosevelt’s church—hoping to please the president and obtain a pardon. “My body is sick and my friends have thrown me away,” Geronimo told church members. “I have been a very wicked man, and my heart is not happy. I see that white people have found a way that makes them good and their hearts happy. I want you to show me that way.” Asked to abandon all Indian “superstitions,” as well as gambling and whiskey, Geronimo agreed and was baptized, but the church would later expel him over his inability to stay away from the card tables.
He thanked Roosevelt (“chief of a great people”) profusely in his memoirs for giving him permission to tell his story, but Geronimo never was permitted to return to his homeland. In February 1909, he was thrown from his horse one night and lay on the cold ground before he was discovered after daybreak. He died of pneumonia on February 17.
The Chicago Daily Tribune ran the headline, “Geronimo Now a Good Indian,” alluding to a quote widely and mistakenly attributed to General Philip Sheridan. Roosevelt himself would sum up his feelings this way: “I don’t go so far as to think that the only good Indians are dead Indians, but I believe nine out of ten are, and I shouldn’t like to inquire too closely into the case of the tenth.”
After a Christian service and a large funeral procession made up of both whites and Native Americans, Geronimo was buried at Fort Sill. Only then did he cease to be a prisoner of the United States.
Articles: “Geronimo Getting Square With the Palefaces,” The Hartford Courant, June 6, 1900.” “Geronimo Has Cost Uncle Sam $1,000,000,” Boston Daily Globe, April 25, 1900. “Geronimo Has Gone Mad,” New York Times, July 25, 1900. “Geronimo in Prayer,” The Washington Post, November 29. 1903. “Geronimo Seems Crazy,” New York Tribune, May 19, 1907. “Geronimo at the World’s Fair,” Scientific American Supplement, August 27, 1904. “Prisoner 18 Years,” Boston Daily Globe, September 18, 1904. “Chiefs in the Parade,” Washington Post, February 3, 1905. “Indians at White House,” New York Tribune, March 10, 1905. “Savage Indian Chiefs,” The Washington Post, March 5, 1905. “Indians on the Inaugural March,” by Jesse Rhodes, Smithsonian, January 14, 2009. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/specialsections/heritage/Indians-on-the-Inaugural-March.html “Geronimo Wants His Freedom,” Boston Daily Globe, January 28, 1906. “Geronimo Joins the Church, Hoping to Please Roosevelt,” The Atlanta Constitution, July 10, 1907. “A Bad Indian,” The Washington Post, August 24, 1907. “Geronimo Now Good Indian,” Chicago Daily Tribune, February 18, 1909. “Chief Geronimo Buried,” New York Times, February 19, 1909. “Chief Geronimo Dead,” New York Tribune, February 19, 1909. “Native America Prisoners of War: Chircahua Apaches 1886-1914, The Museum of the American Indian, http://www.chiricahua-apache.com/ “’A Very Kind and Peaceful People’: Geronimo and the World’s Fair,” by Mark Sample, May 3, 2011, http://www.samplereality.com/2011/05/03/a-very-kind-and-peaceful-people-geronimo-and-the-worlds-fair/ “Geronimo: Finding Peace,” by Alan MacIver, Vision.org, http://www.vision.org/visionmedia/article.aspx?id=12778
Books: Geronimo, Geronimo’s Story of His Life, Taken Down and Edited by S. M. Barrett, Superintendent of Education, Lawton, Oklahoma, Duffield & Company, 1915.
September 26, 2012
In February 1957, Chairman Mao Zedong rose to speak to a packed session of China’s Supreme State Conference in Beijing. The architect and founding father of the People’s Republic of China was about to deliver what one scholar described as “the most important speech on politics that he or anyone else had made since the creation of the communist regime” eight years before.
Mao’s speech, titled, “On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People,” began with a broad explanation of socialism and the relationship between China’s bourgeoisie and working class. Joseph Stalin, he said, had “made a mess of” unifying the classes in the Soviet Union. In a section of his speech that the Communist Party would delete before publishing the text in the Peoples Daily, he claimed that China had learned “from the mistakes” of the Soviets, who had killed too many people they should not have killed, as well as from those of the Hungarian communists, who had not executed enough. He acknowledged that the Chinese government had killed 700,000 “counterrevolutionaries” between 1950 and 1952, but said, “Now there are no more killings.” If the government had not carried out those executions, he claimed, “the people would not have been able to lift their heads. The people demanded their execution and the liberation of the productive forces.”
Yet Mao’s speech may be best known for marking the beginning of the Hundred Flowers Movement—a brief campaign that ended in the betrayal of the principle on which it was based and the people he had invited to take part. A few months earlier, as anti-Soviet demonstrations erupted in Eastern Europe, Zhou Enlai, China’s popular and highly influential premier, had emphasized a greater need for China’s intellectuals to participate in governmental policy-making. “The government needs criticism from its people,” Zhou proclaimed in a speech. “Without this criticism the government will not be able to function as the People’s Democratic Dictatorship. Thus the basis of a healthy government lost.…We must learn from old mistakes, take all forms of healthy criticism, and do what we can to answer these criticisms.”
Mao, in his speech before the Supreme State Conference, declared his support for a policy of allowing criticism of the bureaucracy, provided that writers and intellectuals put forth competing ideologies and opinion and did not engage in “destructive acts.” “Let a hundred flowers bloom” Mao declared, borrowing a line from a Chinese poem, “let a hundred schools of thought contend.” Such a campaign, he said, would allow truth to emerge from a sea of falsehoods. He even mentioned the Chinese writer Hu Feng, who had been detained in 1955 for publishing his “three-hundred-thousand-word letter,” which accused Mao of politicizing art and literature:
Among these hundred flowers blooming forth there are…all kinds of different flowers. They include flowers of different types. For example, among the hundred schools contending, idealism is present. Let a hundred flowers bloom. It may be that Hu Feng is locked up in his cell, but his spirit still roams the country, and we might still see some more works like his appear. It is all right if [people] don’t engage in destructive acts. What was it about Hu Feng? He organized a secret group; and that was something he should not have done. If only he had not organized a secret group…. What do a few flowers matter in a land of our size—nine million square kilometers? What’s so upsetting about a few flowers? Let them bloom for people to look at, and perhaps criticize. Let them say, “I don’t like those flowers of yours!”
At first, Zhou told Mao, writers and intellectuals were wary and skeptical of what would be called the Hundred Flowers Movement. He advised Mao to encourage the central government to help create an exuberant response to the policy, reassuring intellectuals that their criticism was not only welcome but necessary for reform. Soon, writers, lawyers, academics and scientists began speaking out, criticizing party cadres for meddling and obstructing important work. Students began protesting low standards of living, pointing out the hypocrisy of corrupt party members enjoying privileges at the expense of the workers.
By the summer of 1957, millions of letters began to arrive at Zhou’s office. Some of them adhered to the constructive criticism he envisioned, but many rose to what Mao later described as a “harmful and uncontrollable” pitch. A “Democratic Wall” had been erected at Beijing University, with posters criticizing the Communist Party. There were calls for the Party to give up power through transitional governments, claims that communism and intellectualism could not co-exist, and demands for more freedoms. Some posters attacked Mao himself.
Mao began to sense that the movement was spiraling out of control, and in July, he quashed it. The “fragrant flowers,” he announced, must be distinguished from the “poisonous weeds”; criticism would no longer be tolerated. In the Anti-Rightist Campaign of 1957, critics and detractors were rounded up by the hundreds of thousands and shipped off for execution or re-education through labor. The Hundred Flowers Movement, Mao would later say, had “enticed the snakes out of their lairs.”
The government’s treatment of Ai Qing, one of China’s first modern poets, was typical. He had joined the Chinese Communist Party in 1941, and after the party took power in 1949, Ai Qing consulted with Mao on China’s literary policies and traveled the world representing the government. But in 1957, after he defended the writer Ding Ling against accusations that she was a “rightist,” Ai Qing was denounced and stripped of his writer’s association membership and his possessions. He and his family were exiled to the new city of Shihezi, in the remote region of Xinjiang in northwest China, where they lived amid squalor and hunger. Among hundreds of thousands of “Reform through Labor” convicts, he was assigned to cleaning public toilets seven days a week. After he and his family were relocated to a farm on the edge of the Gobi Desert, they lived in a “pithouse,” a cave-like structure that had been built for the birthing of livestock.
Ai Qing performed backbreaking work until he was in his 60s, moving heavy stones in construction assignments at labor camps. At times, he was paraded in public, forced to wear humiliating signs while villagers taunted him and threw paint in his face. Prohibited from writing, the poet attempted suicide several times.
By the end of the Cultural Revolution, in 1976, Ai Qing was deemed “rehabilitated,” and after nearly twenty years in exile, he was allowed to return to Beijing with his family. His son Ai Weiwei remembers one advantage he had as a child: when he wasn’t working in a factory, he was going to schools where the teachers were exiled intellectuals. He may have grown up in a remote land known as “Little Siberia,” but the exposure to writers and artists living in exile, and the indelible stamp of a government’s suppression of ideas and free speech have all played a vital role in Ai Weiwei’s work today, and helped him become China’s best-known contemporary artist and highest-profile government critic.
The tragedy of the Hundred Flowers Movement was compounded by its timing: critics of the government were silenced just as Mao tried, with the Great Leap Forward, to transform China quickly into a modern industrialized state. The social plan, which lasted from 1958 to 1960 and mandated collective farming, led to catastrophic grain shortages and a famine that killed tens of millions of Chinese. Mao ensured that no one dare speak out about the potential for catastrophe.
Books: Robert MacFarquhar, The Origins of the Cultural Revolution, Volume 1, Contradictions Among the People, 1956-1957, Oxford University Press, 1974. Mao Tse-tung, Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung, On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People, February 27, 1957, [Speech at the Eleventh Session (Enlarged) of the Supreme State Conference. Comrade Mao Tsetung went over the verbatim record and made certain additions before its publication in the People's Daily on June 19, 1957.] http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/mao/selected-works/volume-5/mswv5_58.htm Robert Weatherley, Politics in China Since 1949: Legitimizing Authoritarian Rule, Routledge, 2006.
Articles: “Original Contradictions on the Unrevised Text of Mao Zedong’s ‘On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People’,” by Michael Schoenhals, The Australian Journal of Chinese Affairs, No. 16, July, 1986. ”An Early Spring: Mau Tse-tung, the Chinese Intellectuals and the Hundred Flowers Campaign,” by John M. Jackson, 2004. http://filebox.vt.edu/users/jojacks2/words/hundredflowers.htm
Film: Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry: A film by Alison Klayman, MUSE Film and Television, 2012.
July 10, 2012
At the end of the 19thcentury, William Butler Yeats was a given a bedroom at Lissadell House, the majestic estate of Sir Henry Gore-Booth on the shores of Drumcliff Bay, not far from Yeats’ birthplace in Sligo County. For two years, Yeats stayed in the house amid the enchanted landscape of Ireland’s West Coast, the guest of a “very pleasant, kindly, inflammable family.” But it was clear that Yeats, who was entering his 30s, was also enchanted by the beauty of the Gore-Booth sisters, Constance and Eva. Decades later he would write:
The light of evening, Lissadell,
Great windows open to the south,
Two girls in silk kimonos, both
Beautiful, one a gazelle.
In 1887, Constance and Eva Gore-Booth were presented at the court of Queen Victoria, with Constance, 19 at the time and older than Eva by two years, described by some in Victorian England as “the new Irish beauty.” Moving in the aristocratic circle of the Protestant Ascendancy, under which Ireland was dominated politically and economically by great landowners like their father, the Gore-Booth sisters were seemingly destined to live lives replete with the comforts and privileges of the landed class. But both women eventually broke from their background, rejected their wealth and dedicated their lives to confrontation and the cause of the poor.
Less than two decades after she sat at Lissadell for a portrait by Yeats, Constance would be sitting in a Dublin jail cell, listening to the volleys of firing squads as she awaited her own execution for her involvement in the Easter Rising. And Eva, the “gazelle” in Yeats’ poem, would become an acclaimed poet herself, as well as a prominent voice for women’s suffrage and the leading figure in an attempt to get her sister a reprieve.
Born in London in 1868 but raised in the Irish wilderness, Constance Gore-Booth had captured the attentions of Yeats, her Sligo neighbor, at a young age. Something of a timid horseman himself, Yeats “respected and admired” the girl who was on her way to becoming known as one of the best horsewomen in all of Ireland—unmatched, it was said, at riding to hounds. She was, according to Yeats, often in trouble around the estate for “some tomboyish feat or reckless riding.”
The sisters also gained a deep appreciation for art while living at Lissadell. The noted Irish portraitist Sarah Purser, also a guest, was inspired to do an iconic painting of the Gore-Booth girls in the woods around the estate. While Constance took after her father, Sir Henry Gore-Booth, an Arctic explorer and avid hunter in Africa, both girls clearly reflected another facet of his character. Sir Henry was reported to have suspended the collection of rents and made sure his tenants had food during 1879-80 famine, and his daughters were brought up with genuine concern for the poor.
Neither Constance nor Eva was interested in marrying within their class. Instead, Constance traveled to London in 1892 to study at the Slade School of Fine Art, then to Paris, where she continued to paint and study at Académie Julian. She claimed she was “married to art” and wore a ring to show it, smoked cigarettes, made a range of friends and earned the nickname “Velo” for riding her bicycle to the studio each day. When a Parisian girl teased about her about her funny-sounding English, Constance marched her to a faucet and held her head under running water.
By 1893, the Gore-Booth sisters had begun to occupy themselves with the cause of women’s suffrage—stirrings that did not sit well with Sir Henry and Lady Gore-Booth. Constance became the president of a suffrage committee and made a rousing speech in Drumcliff, noting that the number of women who signed petitions had been dramatically increasing over recent years. One man heckled, “If my wife went to vote she might never come back!”
“She must think very little of you, then,” Constance shot back to a crowd cheering in delight.
Eva became an accomplished poet and one of Yeats’ circle, and fell in love with the English suffragist and pacifist Esther Roper. The two women would spend the rest of their lives together, working on social issues ranging from workers’ rights to capital punishment.
Constance, too, would pursue a political life. Back in Paris, after her family had given up on the prospects of her ever marrying, she met Count Casimir Markievicz, a Polish artist from a wealthy family. They married and had a daughter, Maeve, in 1901, but they left her at Lissadell to be raised by her grandparents while they moved to Dublin to pursue their art.
By 1908, Constance had turned to the movement for Irish independence from British rule. She joined Sinn Fein, the Irish republican party, as well as the Daughters of Ireland—a revolutionary women’s movement—and teamed up with Eva to oppose the election of Winston Churchill to the British parliament. As the nationalist cause gained momentum, Constance founded the Warriors of Ireland (Fianna Éireann), which trained teenagers in the use of firearms. Speaking at a rally of 30,000 people opposed to King George V’s visit to Ireland in 1911, Countess Constance experienced her first arrest, after she helped stone the likeness of the King and Queen and tried to burn the British flag.
She took out loans and sold her jewelry to feed the poor and started a soup kitchen for children, around the same time she joined the Irish Citizen Army, led by James Connolly, the socialist and Irish republican leader. In 1913, her husband left Ireland to live in Ukraine—separate from Constance but not estranged, as the two would correspond for the remainder of her life.
In April 1916, Irish republicans staged an insurrection; Constance was appointed staff lieutenant, second in command at St. Stephen’s Green, the park in central Dublin. With her troops responsible for barricading the park, fighting flared after Connolly shot a policeman who had tried to prevent him from entering City Hall. Rumor had Constance shooting a British army sniper in the head, but she was never charged in such a death. Pinned down by British fire at St. Stephen’s Green, she pulled her troops back to the Royal College of Surgeons, where they held out for nearly a week before surrendering.
Taken to Kilmainham jail, Constance Markievicz was isolated from her comrades and court-martialed for “causing disaffection among the civilian population of His Majesty”; she was convicted and sentenced to death, but the sentence was commuted to life in prison because of her sex.
A few days later, she heard a volley from a firing squad at dawn and was informed that her mentor, James Connolly, had been executed.
“Why don’t they let me die with my friends?” she asked.
Transferred to a prison in England, she was sentenced to hard labor and fed limited rations. Eva Gore-Booth, a highly skilled activist, saw her sister’s failing health, lobbied for more humane treatment of prisoners, and in 1917 helped to get her sister included in an amnesty for participants in the Easter Rising.
Constance returned to Ireland a hero and was practically carried by a welcoming crowd to Liberty Hall in Dublin, where she declared herself back in politics. As Sinn Fein’s new leader, Eamon de Valera saw Constance Markievicz elected to the 24-member executive council. But in 1918, she was back in jail after the British arrested Sinn Fein’s leaders for working against the conscription of troops for World War I, yet she managed, from prison, to become the first woman elected to the British House of Commons.
Then she announced that she would refuse to take her seat, in accordance with Sinn Fein’s abstentionist policy. After all, she declared, she was “imprisoned by the foreign enemy.” She was then elected to the Dáil Éireann, the parliament established by unilateral declaration in the drive for Irish independence. After the drive secured freedom for 26 of Ireland’s 32 counties, she was re-elected to the Dáil—but then jailed in 1923, during the Irish Civil War, which was fought over the degree of independence Ireland had achieved. In prison Constance organized a hunger strike with nearly 100 female prisoners and was released a month later.
Constance remained in touch with Eva and even managed to reunite with Casimir in London. He was said to have been shocked by the sight on his bride, now in her mid-50s, gaunt from the hardships of incarceration. Eva, frail from cancer, died in June of 1926. Constance, heartbroken, did not attend the funeral. “I simply cannot face the family,” she said.
Re-elected in the Irish General Election along with de Valera in June of 1927, Constance, too, was quite ill, possibly with tuberculosis. She was hospitalized the next month in a public ward in Sir Patrick Dun’s Hospital. Casimir arrived, with roses, for a deathbed visit that Constance would describe as the happiest day of her life. She’d been long estranged from her daughter, and there would be no reunion before Constance died, on July 15.
De Valera spoke at her funeral and carried her coffin; thousands lined the streets to see the procession. And though she is remembered fondly in Ireland, both politically and with a bust at St. Stephen’s Green, the words of her old friend Yeats were less than kind. In “In Memory of Eva Gore-Booth and Con Markievicz,” the poet famously observed, “The innocent and the beautiful/have no enemy but time” and continued:
The older is condemned to death,
Pardoned, drags out lonely years
Conspiring among the ignorant.
I know not what the younger dreams—
Some vague Utopia—and she seems,
When withered old and skeleton-gaunt,
An image of such politics.
Books: Anne M. Haverty, Constance Markievicz: Irish Revolutionary, New York University Press, 1988. Marian Broderick, Wild Irish Women: Extraordinary Lives From History, University of Wisconsin Press, 2004.
Articles: Constance Marcievicz (nee Gore-Booth) and the Easter Rising, Sligo Heritage, http://www.sligoheritage.com/archmark2.htm
Lissadell House and Gardens, Sligo, Ireland, Lissadel Online, http://www.lissadellhouse.com/index.html A St. Pat’s Toast: The Rebel Countess, by Aphra Behn, Daily Kos, March 17, 2007, http://www.dailykos.com/story/2007/03/17/312918/-A-St-Pat-s-Toast-The-Rebel-Countess#comments Constance Georgine Gore Booth, Countess Markievicz, The Lissadell Estate, http://www.constancemarkievicz.ie/home.php Constance Markievicz: The Countess of Irish Freedom, The Wild Geese Today, http://www.thewildgeese.com/pages/ireland.html#Part1
June 13, 2012
With the Roaring Twenties in full swing and the first talkies on the horizon, Hollywood’s booming film industry already had its share of bankable stars—Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo, Douglas Fairbanks, Buster Keaton. But in the summer of 1926, an Italian immigrant named Rodolfo Alfonso Rafaello Pierre Filibert Guglielmi di Valentina D’Antonguolla would join them. Known as the “Latin Lover,” Rudolph Valentino would, by summer’s end, single-handedly change the way generations of men and women thought about sex and seduction.
It’s sad Valentino never live to see that autumn. And it’s sadder that he spent his final weeks engaged in an indecorous feud with an anonymous editorialist who had questioned his masculinity and blamed him for America’s “degeneration into effeminacy.”
Born in Castellaneta, Italy, in 1895, Valentino arrived at Ellis Island in 1913, at the age of 18. He lived on the streets and in Central Park until he picked up work as a taxi dancer at Maxim’s Restaurant-Caberet, becoming a “tango pirate” and spending time on the dance floor with wealthy women who were willing to pay for the company of exotic young men.
Valentino quickly befriended a Chilean heiress, which might have seemed like a good idea, but she was unhappily married to a well-connected businessman named John de Saulles. When Blanca de Saulles divorced her husband in 1915, Valentino testified that he had evidence that John de Saulles had been having multiple affairs, including one with a dance partner of Valentino’s. But his refined, European and youthful appearance at the trial had some reporters questioning his masculinity in print, and John de Saulles used his clout to have the young dancer jailed for a few days on a trumped-up vice charge. Not long after the trial, Blanca de Saulles shot her husband to death over custody of their son, and Valentino, unwilling to stick around for another round of testimony and unfavorable press, fled for the West Coast, shedding the name Rodolpho Guglielmi forever.
In California, Valentino began landing bit parts in films and, as he did in New York, building a clientele of older wealthy women who would pay for dance instruction. So charming was the young Italian that he would often show up at movie auditions driving fancy cars his clients had lent him. Impulsively, he married actress Jean Acker, but a regretful (and lesbian) Acker locked him out of their hotel room on their wedding night. She quickly sued for divorce.
By 1921, Valentino was starring in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, which became one of the highest-grossing films of the silent era. Also that year, he was cast as Sheik Ahmed Ben Hassan in The Sheik—another wildly successful film, which would define Valentino’s image as a brooding but irresistible lover. It was an image he would despise.
In 1922, a writer named Dick Dorgan opined, in Photoplay magazine, opined that , “the Sheik is a bum Arab, that he is really an Englishman whose mother was a wop or something like that.” Valentino was infuriated by the insult to his mother and tried to have Dorgan banned from the studio. He also swore he would kill the writer if he saw him. The magazine apologized and promised some favorable pieces in the future, but a few months later, it published Dorgan’s “A Song of Hate,” in which he railed against Valentino’s “Roman face,” his “patent leather hair,” and his ability to make women dizzy. The article was somewhat good-natured—a common man’s jeremiad against a guy who danced too well and was too good-looking—but Valentino resented its references to his long eyelashes and the earrings he wore in films.
Valentino’s next few films performed erratically at the box office, and contract disputes with various studios forced him out of the movie business for a time. In 1922, he married Natacha Rambova, a costume designer, artistic director and occasional actress, but stood trial on bigamy charges because he hadn’t yet divorced Acker. He and Rambova had to have their marriage annulled; in March 1923 they remarried legally.
To make money until he was free to sign a new studio deal (and to pay off Acker), Valentino joined a dance tour throughout the U.S. and Canada. Sponsored by Mineralava beauty products, Valentino and Rambova performed as dancers and spokespersons, and Valentino judged beauty contests. He returned to films with the title role in Monsieur Beaucaire in 1924, under a new contract with Ritz-Carlton Pictures. Although the Louis XV drama was fairly successful, Valentino had to wear heavy makeup and ruffled costumes in an overtly feminized role. The actor, ever sensitive about his masculinity, was determined to be more careful about the roles he chose. He and Rambova would divorce in 1925, leading to public speculation that Valentino was a homosexual and that he had been engaged in “lavender marriages” of convenience to hide it. There is no definitive evidence in any credible biographies written of the two that either Valentino or Rambova was gay; rather, the speculation reflected contemporary sterotypes and prejudices, and was no doubt inspired by Valentino’s personal style and refined European tastes. Simply put, the man dubbed the “Latin lover” by the studios seems to have sought long-term relationships with women.
In early 1926, Valentino joined United Artists at the urging of Chaplin and Fairbanks. Mired in debt, he was practically forced into making a sequel to The Sheik. Though women continued to swoon over him, and some men imitated his mannerisms and slick-backed hair (they became known as “Vaselinos”), many more men grew skeptical of the foreign-born actor. Fairbanks was dashing and unquestionably masculine, but Valentino, with his dandy clothes, his wristwatch and a slave bracelet?
Photoplay published yet another piece, this one by Herbert Howe, that described Valentino’s his influence on leading men after his stellar tango in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse like this: “The movie boys haven’t been the same,” Howe wrote. “They’re all racing around wearing spit curls, bobbed hair and silk panties.… This can’t keep up. The public can stand just so many ruffles and no more.”
But it was the Chicago Tribune that really set Valentino off. On July 18, 1926, the paper ran an unsigned editorial under the headline “Pink Powder Puffs” that blamed Valentino for the installation of a face-powder dispenser in a new public men’s room on the city’s North Side:
A powder vending machine! In a men’s washroom! Homo Americanus! Why didn’t someone quietly drown Rudolph Guglielmo [sic], alias Valentino, years ago?… Do women like the type of “man” who pats pink powder on his face in a public washroom and arranges his coiffure in a public elevator?… Hollywood is the national school of masculinity. Rudy, the beautiful gardener’s boy, is the prototype of the American male.
Valentino seethed at the editorial’s insinuations and ridicule. Since The Son of the Sheik was about to open, Oscar Doob, the film’s press agent, suggested that Valentino challenge the “Pink Powder Puffs” writer to a duel. Valentino sent his dare to the Chicago Herald-Examiner, the Tribune’s competitor: “To the man (?) who wrote the editorial headed ‘Pink Powder Puffs’ in Sunday’s Tribune, I call you in return, a contemptible coward and to prove which of us is a better man, challenge you to a personal test.” Noting that a duel would be illegal, Valentino said he would be happy to settle things in a boxing ring. And while Doob was immensely pleased with the publicity, he had no doubt that Valentino was “burned up” about the editorial.
“It’s so unfair. They can say I’m a terrible actor if they like, but it’s cowardly and low to hold me up as a laughing stock and make fun of my personal tastes and my private life,” Valentino told a Herald Examiner reporter. “This man calls me a ‘spaghetti-gargling gardener’s helper.’… As for being a gardener’s helper, I specialized in college in landscape gardening because in Italy, that is as fine an art as architecture or painting.”
The Tribune editorial writer did not come forward, but the actor traveled to New York and arranged to have boxing lessons from his friend Jack Dempsey, the heavyweight champion. Valentino was actually quite fit, and Dempsey tried to help, getting in touch with sportswriter Frank “Buck” O’Neil. “Listen, O’Neil,” Dempsey told him, “Valentino’s no sissy, believe me…. He packs a pretty mean punch.”
“Cut the crap,” O’Neil told him. “I don’t buy it, and neither does anyone else.” O’Neil then volunteered to take on Valentino in the ring, and the actor quickly agreed to fight him the following afternoon on the roof of the Ambassador Hotel. The next morning, reporters arrived at Valentino’s suite, only to see him decked out in an “orchid bathing suit and lavender lounging robe.”
“I’m going back to Chicago and I’ll have satisfaction,” Valentino told them, still incensed over the “Pink Powder Puffs” editorial. Privately, reporters marveled at Valentino’s bulging biceps and wondered what the star would do if he found out the editorial writer was a woman.
Valentino and O’Neil met on the roof, with reporters and photographers attending, and despite O’Neil’s promise that he would not hurt the star, he popped Valentino on the chin with a left. The actor responded by dropping his larger opponent with a left of his own. Somewhat stunned, Valentino apologized and helped the writer to his feet.
“Next time Jack Dempsey tells me something, I’ll believe him,” O’Neil told reporters. “That boy has a punch like a mule’s kick. I’d sure hate to have him sore at me.”
Still, the match proved nothing, and in the coming days, Valentino continued to fume about pink powder puffs. The more he mentioned the editorial to reporters, the more he invited the judgment that he must be hiding something. Valentino even met with the writer H.L. Mencken for advice, but when Mencken told him to ignore the taunts, the actor ignored him instead. Mencken would later write, “Here was a young man who was living daily the dream of millions of other young men. Here was one who was catnip to women. Here was one who had wealth and fame. And here was one who was very unhappy.”
In late July, Valentino attended the New York premiere of The Son of the Sheik. The temperature was close to one hundred degrees, but a mob of thousands formed around the theater, and as Valentino tried to make his way out of Times Square they ripped at his clothes. He escaped sufficiently intact to read about the melee in the next morning’s New York Times review of his film. More important to Valentino, however, was that the review said the film was full of “desert rough stuff and bully fights” and “leaves no doubt” about his masculinity. Referring to the “Pink Powder Puff” editorial, the reviewer warned any writer to think twice before accepting Valentino’s challenge, as “the sheik has an arm that would do credit to a pugilist and a most careless way of hurling himself off balconies and on and off horses. One leap from a balcony to a swinging chandelier is as good as anything Douglas Fairbanks ever did.”
The film was a hit, and the whispering about the star’s masculinity began to fade. As the sheik, he still appeared to be wearing eye shadow, and perhaps his lips bore a slightly darker stain of rouge, but after all, he was in show business.
Two weeks later, Valentino collapsed in his suite at the Ambassador and was taken to a hospital. After emergency surgery for a ruptured appendix, his doctors were hopeful he would recover. Then he developed pleuritis in his left lung and was in severe pain. At one point, he asked a doctor, “Am I still a pink powder puff?” Some reporters and readers were convinced that the actor’s hospitalization and the daily updates on his condition amounted to yet another publicity stunt. But on August 23, Rudolph Valentino slipped into a coma and died just hours later, surrounded by hospital staff.
On the news of his death, more than 100,000 people gathered on the streets in chaos outside the Frank Campbell Funeral Home. Flappers tore at their own clothes, clutched at their chests and collapsed in the heat. The New York Police Department tried to bring the order to the mob, and there were reports of despondent fans committing suicide. Inside the funeral home, four Black Shirt honor guards, supposedly sent by Benito Mussolini, stood nearby in stark tribute to the fallen star. (It was later learned that the men were actors, hired by the funeral home in, yes, a publicity stunt.)
The Polish actress Pola Negri, who had been having an affair with Valentino, fainted over his coffin. Upon reviving, she announced that she was to have been his third wife and quickly claimed the role of the dead star’s “widow.” For the funeral, she sent a massive floral display with thousands of blood-red roses surrounding white blooms that spelled out “POLA.” His body traveled back to the West Coast on a funeral train, and he was laid to rest in Hollywood.
The hysteria following Valentino’s death did not abate, and when The Son of the Sheik was released nationally months later, it was acclaimed as one of his best movies—a swan song of masculinity. Rumors that he actually died by the gun of a jealous husband or scorned lover kept the tabloids in business. And for decades, a veiled woman in black arrived at Valentino’s Hollywood tomb on the anniversary of his death to place twelve red roses and one white one on his grave. Once it was learned to be yet another press agent’s stunt, competing ladies in black began arriving at the tomb, knocking roses to the ground as they scuffled for position in front of newspaper photographers.
Whether the quality of Valentino’s voice would have killed his career in talkies is a subject of endless debate. Some say his accent was too thick, others who knew him well say his rich, husky baritone would only have helped him reach even greater heights of fame. But nearly a century after he arrived on these shores, his very name remains tantamount to a male seducer of women. In that sense, his work outlasted the biases of his time.
Books: Allan R. Ellenberger, The Valentino Mystique: The Death and Afterlife of the Silent Film Idol, McFarland & Co. Inc. Pub, 2005. Jeanine Basinger, Silent Stars, Knopf, 1999. Michael Ferguson, Idol Worship: A Shameless Celebration of Male Beauty in the Movies, StarBooks Press, 2005.
Articles: “Valentino Still Irate,” New York Times, July 20, 1926. “Why Wasn’t He Drowned Years Ago, Asks Article,” Boston Globe, July 21, 1926. “Valentino Challenges Editor to Fight Duel,” Hartford Courant, July 21, 1926. “Pola Sobs Out Grief During Studio Rests,” Boston Globe, August 22, 1926. “Sheik of the Movies, Wearing Hospital Nightshirt, Beseiged by Worshipping Fans and Press Agents, Even in Grave Illness,” Boston Globe, August 22, 1926. “Many Hurt in Mad Fight to Pass Valentino Bier,” Boston Globe, August 25, 1926. “Pola Negri Prostrated by News of Valentino’s Death,” Boston Globe, August 25, 1926. “Valentino Passes with No Kin At Side; Throngs in Street,” New York Times, August 24, 1926. The Rudolph Valentino Society, http://rudolphvalentino.org/index.html. “Celebrities of the 20s: Rudolph Valentino,: by Anthony Ehlers, http://raesummers.wordpress.com/2011/01/10/celebrities-of-the-20s-rudolf-valentino/.
May 23, 2012
By the start of World War II, they were two of the most accomplished talents in Hollywood. Leading lady Hedy Lamarr was known as “the most beautiful woman in the world,” and composer George Antheil had earned a reputation as “the bad boy of music.” What brought them together in 1940 was that timeless urge to preserve one’s youth and enhance one’s natural beauty, but what emerged from their work was a secret communications system that Lamarr and Antheil hoped would defeat the Nazis.
It didn’t work out that way: The patent they received—No. 2292387—simply gathered dust in the U.S. Patent Office until it expired in 1959. But three years later, the U.S. military put their concept to use during the Cuban Missile Crisis. And ultimately, the two unlikely pioneers’ work on “frequency hopping” would be recognized as a precursor to the “spread-spectrum” wireless communications used in cellular phones, global positioning systems and Wi-Fi technology today.
She was born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler on November 9, 1913, in Vienna; her father was a well-to-do Jewish banker and her mother was a concert pianist. Sent to finishing school in Switzerland, she grew into a strikingly beautiful teen and began making small German and Austrian films. In 1932, she starred in the Czechoslovakian film Ecstasy—which was quickly banned in Austria for the starlet’s nudity and for a scene in which her facial expressions, in closeup, suggested that she was experiencing something akin to the film’s title.
In 1933, she married Friedrich Mandl, a wealthy Jewish arms manufacturer 13 years her senior who converted to Catholicism so he could do business with Nazi industrialists and other fascist regimes. Mandl hosted grand parties at the couple’s home, where, she would later note, both Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini were guests. Lamarr would later claim that Mandl kept her virtually locked away in their castle home, only bringing her to business meetings because of her skill at mathematics. In these meetings, she said, she learned about military and radio technologies. After four years of marriage, Lamarr escaped Austria and fled to Paris, where she obtained a divorce and eventually met Louis B. Mayer, the American film producer with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
Mayer signed the young Austrian beauty and helped her find the screen name Hedy Lamarr. She immediately began starring in films such as Algiers, Boom Town and White Cargo, cast opposite the biggest actors of the day, including Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy and John Garfield. MGM was in what became known as its Golden Age, and Mayer promoted Lamarr as “the most beautiful woman in the world.”
Yet despite her unquestionable beauty, Lamarr thought there was room for improvement. At a dinner party in Hollywood, she met George Antheil, a dashing and diminutive composer renowned in both classical and avant-garde music. Born in 1900 and raised in Trenton, New Jersey, Antheil had been a child prodigy. After studying piano both in the United States and Europe, he spent the early 1920s in Paris, where he counted Ezra Pound, James Joyce and Ernest Hemingway as friends.
By the mid-1930s, Antheil had landed in Hollywood, composing dozens of scores for some of the great filmmakers of the time, including Cecil B. DeMille. He’d also written a mystery novel, Death in the Dark, as well as a series of articles for Esquire magazine. In one of those articles, “The Glandbook for the Questing Male,” he wrote that a woman’s healthy pituitary gland might enhance the size and shape of her breasts. Lamarr was taken with the idea, and after meeting Antheil, she went to him for advice on enlarging her bust without surgery, Richard Rhodes writes in his recent book, Hedy’s Folly: The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr, the Most Beautiful Woman in the World.
At some point, their conversation veered from breast enlargement to torpedoes, and the use of radio control to guide them toward their targets. (At the time, torpedoes were generally free-running devices.) Clearly, Lamarr had gained some understanding of weaponry during her first marriage. She was aware that radio transmission on one frequency could be easily jammed or intercepted—but she reasoned that if homing signals could be sent over multiple radio frequencies between the transmitter and the receiver, the enemy would perceive them only as a random series of blips on any one frequency. The actress had envisioned a system of “frequency hopping.” The challenge was how to synchronize the pattern of frequencies between transmitter and receiver.
Anthiel was no stranger to weaponry himself; he had worked as a United States munitions inspector. Moreover, he had written Ballet Mecanique, which called for the synchronization of 16 player pianos. With radio signals hopping about different frequencies like notes on a piano, Lamarr and Anthiel believed they could create a jam-proof homing system for torpedoes. Their system involved two motor-driven rolls, like those on a player piano, installed in the transmitter and aboard the torpedo and synchronized through 88 frequencies—matching the number of keys on a piano.
Consulting with an electrical engineering professor at the California Institute of Technology, the two inventors worked out the details of their invention in their spare time. Antheil continued to compose film scores, and Lamarr, at 26, was acting in Ziegfeld Girl alongside Jimmy Stewart and Judy Garland. They submitted their patent proposal for a “Secret Communication System” in 1941, and that October the New York Times reported that Lamarr (using her married name at the time, Hedy Kiesler Markey) had invented a device that was so “red hot” and vital to national defense “that government officials will not allow publication of its details,” only that it was related to “remote control of apparatus employed in warfare.”
After they were awarded their patent on August 11, 1942, they donated it to the U.S. Navy—a patriotic gesture to help win the war. But Navy researchers, believing that a piano-like mechanism would be too cumbersome to install in a torpedo, didn’t take their frequency-hopping concept very seriously. Instead, Lamarr was encouraged to support the war effort by helping to sell war bonds, and she did: Under an arrangement in which she would kiss anyone who purchased $25,000 worth of bonds, she sold $7 million worth in one night.
It wasn’t until the 1950s that engineers from Sylvania Electronics Systems Division began experimenting with ideas documented in Lamarr and Antheil’s system. Instead of a mechanical device for frequency-hopping, engineers developed electronic means for use in the spread-spectrum technology deployed during the U.S. naval blockade of Cuba in 1962. By then, Lamarr and Antheil’s patent had expired and he had died of a heart attack.
It is impossible to know exactly how much Lamarr and Antheil’s invention influenced the development of the spread-spectrum technology that forms the backbone of wireless communications today. What can be said is that the actress and the composer never received a dime from their patent, they had developed an idea that was ahead of its time.
Later years would not be so kind to Hedy Lamarr. “Any girl can be glamorous,” she once said. “All you have to do is stand still and look stupid.” She was married and divorced six times, and as movie offers began to dwindle, her finances did, too. She was arrested in 1966 for shoplifting at a Los Angeles department store. She had plastic surgery that her son, Anthony Loder, said left her looking like “a Frankenstein.” She became angry, reclusive and litigious. She once sued Mel Brooks and the producers of Blazing Saddles for naming a character in that film “Hedley Lamarr,” and she sued the Corel Corporation for using an image of her on its software packaging. Both suits were settled out of court. She ended up living in a modest house in Orlando, Florida, where she died in 2000, at the age of 86.
Hedy Lamarr has a star on the Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, but in 1998, she received an award uncommon for stars of the silver screen. The Electronic Frontier Foundation named her and George Antheil the winners of that year’s Pioneer Award, recognizing their “significant and influential contributions to the development of computer-based communications.”
“It’s about time,” she was reported to have said.
Books: Richard Rhodes, Hedy’s Folly: The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr, the Most Beautiful Woman in the World, Doubleday, 2011. Hedy Lamarr, Ecstasy and Me: My Life as a Woman, Fawcett, 1967. Asoke K. Talukder, Hasan Ahmed, Roopa R. Yavagal, Mobile Computing: Technology, Applications and Service Creation, Tata McGraw Hill, 2010. Steve Silverman, Einstein’s Refrigerator and Other Stories From the Flip Side of History, Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2001. Rob Walters, Spread Spectrum: Hedy Lamarr and the Mobile Phone,” ebook published by Satin via Rob’s Book Shop, 2010. Stephen Michael Shearer, Beautiful: The Life of Hedy Lamarr, Macmillan ebook, 2010.
Articles: “Hedy Lamarr Inventor,” New York Times, October 1, 1941. “Hop, Skip and a Jump: Remembering Hedy Lamar” (sic) by Jennifer Ouelette, Scientific American, January 9, 2012. “From Film Star to Frequency-Hopping Inventor,” by Donald Christiansen, Today’s Engineer, April, 2012, http://www.todaysengineer.org/2012/Apr/backscatter.asp “Secret Communications System: The Fascinating Story of the Lamarr/Antheil Spread-Spectrum Patent,” by Chris Beaumont, http://people.seas.harvard.edu/~jones/cscie129/nu_lectures/lecture7/hedy/pat2/index.html “The Birth of Spread Spectrum,” by Anna Couey, http://people.seas.harvard.edu/~jones/cscie129/nu_lectures/lecture7/hedy/lemarr.htm “Hedy Lamarr Biography: Hedy’s Folly by Richard Rhodes (Review), by Liesl Schillinger, The Daily Beast, November 21, 2011. “Glamour and Munitions: A Screen Siren’s Wartime Ingenuity,” by Dwight Garner, New York Times, December 13, 2011. “Unlikely Characters,” by Terry K., http://terry-kidd.blogspot.com/2009_10_01_archive.html “Mechanical Dreams Come True,” by Anthony Tommasini, New York Times, June 9, 2008. “Secret Communication System, Patent 2,292,387, United States Patent Office, http://www.google.com/patents?id=R4BYAAAAEBAJ&printsec=abstract&zoom=4#v=onepage&q&f=false