July 2, 2012

Diversity before Diversity: Vice President Charles Curtis

In the 1928 election, Herbert Hoover's running mate was Charles Curtis, the Senate Majority Leader (R-KS), who had been one of his rivals for the nomination. Curtis was famous for being part American Indian, although how much he was Indian by nature appears vague to the casual researcher. Wikipedia implies his mother was 3/4ths Indian, making him 3/8th, while USA Today quotes a boilerplate part of his speeches as proclaiming himself "one-eighth Kaw Indian and 100% Republican." 

By nurture, he had been surprisingly Indian: he could speak Kaw before he could speak English and spent a number of his formative years on a reservation.

In general, his Indian ties added a bit of glamor to his image with the public. Also, other politicians tended to defer to his judgment on Indian policy questions.


Anonymous said...

The good old diverse USA:

"Sadakichi Hartmann fried eggs with Walt Whitman, discussed poetry with Stephane Mallarme, and drank with John Barrymore, who described him as "a living freak... sired by Mephistopheles out of Madame Butterfly." W.C. Fields said the critic was "a no-good bum." But though Hartmann might lift your watch (he was an accomplished pickpocket), his opinion was not for sale.

Born in Japan to a German merchant and his Japanese wife in 1867, he was disowned at 14 and shipped to a Philadelphia great-uncle, an incident that, as Hartmann said, was "...not apt to foster filial piety." Largely self-educated, he published his first newspaper articles as an adolescent. After meeting Whitman, he wrote an article for the New York Herald quoting the poet's opinions of other writers. Whitman denounced him for misquotation; Hartmann responded by expanding the article to a pamphlet. At 23, he wrote his first play, "Christ," which was banned in Boston and publicly burned after Hartmann's arrest for obscenity. A critic from the original New York Sun, James Gibbons Huneker, called "Christ" "the most daring of all decadent productions."

Hartmann lost a clerical job with architect Stanford White after publicly describing his employer's drawings as "to be improved upon only by the pigeons, after the drawings become buildings." He survived by writing for the New Yorker Staats-Zeitung. His "History of American Art" (1901), a standard textbook still worth reading, analyzed then-unknown painters Thomas Eakins, Winslow Homer, and Albert Pinkham Ryder, and included America's first serious discussion of photography as an art form."

Part 1


Anonymous said...

More on Sadakichi Hatmann:"He apparently published the first American criticism of Japanese verse in 1904, 20 years before the Nouvelle Revue Francaise's famous haiku competition.

But exhibitionism undermined achievement: When pianist Moriz Rosenthal, who had studied under Liszt, added a series of rapid scales to the Hungarian Rhapsodies at Carnegie Hall, Hartmann roared from the gallery, "Is this necessary?" As ushers tossed him out, Hartmann shouted, "I am a man needed but not wanted." Hartmann also let himself be crowned King of the Bohemians by charlatan Guido Bruno, the flamboyantly self-promoting proprietor of Bruno's Garret, a tourist trap at 58 Washington Square South.

In 1916, Hartmann moved to California. He continued writing and played the Court Magician in Douglas Fairbanks Sr.'s "The Thief of Bagdad" (1924) for $250 and a weekly case of whiskey. A memorable visit to the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science and Art was marked by his loud complaints: van Eyck's "Virgin and Child" was "painted on his day off" and as for a Rembrandt portrait of his wife Saskia,"...he had begun to lose his mind when he painted it." The curator bustled up. Hartmann asked, "Where is the washroom?"

"Past that door and to the left."

"Bring it to me."

But by World War II, Hartmann was surviving on handouts from admirers. In 1939, New York American editor turned-Hollywood script doctor Gene Fowler was at his office when a studio policeman telephoned that a crazy old man was asking for him. "When I told him he smelled of whisky, he said I ought to be smelling his genius." Fowler, who knew of Hartmann, went to the studio gates. The shabbily dressed critic, nearly 6 feet tall and weighing 132 pounds, announced, "Where I come from and where I go doesn't matter. For I am Sadakichi Hartmann...You may live another century, Fowler, but you will never meet another son of the gods like me. You have something to drink?"

Fowler stammered, "As a matter of fact, I'm not drinking and -"

"What have your personal habits to do with my destiny?""

Part 2


Anonymous said...

More on Sadakichi Hartmann:

"Hartmann talked Fowler into writing his biography, advising him,"...do not fall in love with your subject - in love with my wonderful character and genius. It will blind you, and your writing will suffer." When an accident interrupted the work (Fowler wrote, "The car, with me folded inside it, turned over three times... I suffered two split vertebrae, three cracked ribs, a skull injury, and wrenched knees. Otherwise I was as good as new"), Hartmann complained, "Fowler is using this ... to avoid becoming famous. He suddenly realizes that I am much too big a subject for his limited talents."

After Hartmann collapsed on a bus (he said, "I have symptoms of immortality"), Fowler had him examined. Among other things, the doctor suggested relieving the old man's hernia, which then required orchiectomy. One friend urged Hartmann to say farewell to the glands. "They have served their purpose," he said, "and undoubtedly merit an honorable retirement."

"Ghouls!" cried Hartmann. He turned on the doctor. "Why don't you men of medicine do something worthwhile instead of castrating a genius?"

Barrymore agreed. "After all," he said, "it is hard to cast aside comrades of happier times."

"Other people," said Hartmann, "talk and talk about dying. I'm doing it!"

So he did, in 1944."


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Is it fair to say that by the time American settlers came to the Frontier, the French Canadian fur trappers had made the Native tribes of the West virtually mestizos?

Anonymous said...

Why no pic? I'd like to see the diversity we're talking about.


Anonymous said...

I'm surprised you didn't mention that Curtis was also the last POTUS/VP who had facial hair. Perhaps he was trying to show he was white enough to grow a moustache.

pat said...

I blame it on Hollywood.

For decades Hollywood mythologized Indians. John Wayne and actors of that period were constantly lecturing the largely white movie-going audience on screen about the how noble the red man was. There were a few exceptions like The Searchers that told the fate of white settlers on the frontier and the terrible cruelty of the Indians. But by the sixties the movie ideology was decidedly anti-white. Wounded Knee was a popular theme in those days.

Fortunately for world civilization Old World diseases decimated New World peoples and with them their dreadful cultures.

White people seem to be entertained by depictions of themselves as villains. (See "The Matrix") They also like to romanticize primitive native peoples. Rousseau lives.

We've gone from the attitude of people who were there and who knew real Indians - "The only good Indian is a dead Indian" to Elizabeth Warren's attitude of mythic reverence.

Real Indians seldom do well on the screen. Iron Eyes Cody the most iconic Indian ever was of course a Sicilian. The pretty young Indian girls in Little Big Man were Chinese. Real Indian girls weren't pretty enough to be sympathetic. The first real Indian actor of any note was Chief Dan George who played a one dimensional buffoon in a series of big Westerns.

Burt Lancaster, Jeff Chandler and Charles Bronson played Indians in major films. All during the reign of the Western there never was to emerge a genuine Indian movie star.

Blacks were portrayed unsympathetically at first in films and often by whites in black face but soon real blacks were seen on screen playing black characters. At first they were Stepin Fetchit and Rochester clowns but soon there emerged Sydney Poitier.

The first Charlie Chans and all the Mongols and Chinese in the sixties Genghis Khan movie were anything except orientals. But that soon changed with Bruce Lee. Yul Brenner (a white man) was the first king in The King and I. When it was remade the king was Chow Yun Fat.

There never was an Indian Bruce Lee or Sydney Poitier. Hollywood loved Indians but never could find any good enough to put on screen in a lead.


Steve Sailer said...

Graham Greene (the part-Indian actor, not the British novelist) had screen presence. He stole his scenes in "Maverick" from Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, and James Garner. But, I gather, he had a drinking problem that hurt his career. He still pops up, fortunately.

Anonymous said...

more diversity before diversity: Martin Van Buren's VP was married to a black woman.
-- panjoomby

Anonymous said...

Re: Rochester, played by Eddie Anderson on the Jack Benny shows

If you listen to the old Jack Benny radio shows, which are widely available on the internet, Rochester isn't really any more of a clown than the other characters on the show, like Phil Harris, a drunken Southern imbecile, Kenny Baker and Dennis Day, who played naive and stupid mamma's boys, or Benny himself, a vain, cowardly and cheap Jew who couldn't get any girls.

Anonymous said...

The classic Son of the Morning Star: Custer and The Little Bighorn has a lot of material about how the various segments of the white American population viewed American Indians around the time of the battle.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous:"or Benny himself, a vain, cowardly and cheap Jew who couldn't get any girls."

RE:Jack Benny,

I don't think that the Jack Benny persona (the guy that he played on radio and TV, as opposed to the man himself) was meant to be Jewish.


beowulf said...

Adam Beach was pretty good in Flags of Our Fathers. And per wiki, seems to keep busy.

beowulf said...

So Steve, what's your verdict on Warren Harding and J. Edgar Hoover?

Diverse or counter-diverse?


Vinteuil said...

SS - While you're pursuing this theme, you might want to check out the career of Amy Beach (a.k.a. Mrs. H.H.A. Beach, 1867-1944).

Despite being born in a time when musically talented women supposedly suffered from appalling discrimination, she seems to have done quite well for herself, and enjoyed pretty much exactly the career that her abilities deserved.

Dennis Dale said...

Re Van Buren's VP's mistress, the late Undercover Blackman:

"She was the hostess at his Kentucky home when [French aristocrat] the Marquis de Lafayette visited,” wrote Lindsey Apple, a retired Georgetown College history professor, in answer to questions from me.

Evidently Julia Chinn was one-eighths black (i.e., she had one black great-grandparent). She was described as a “mulatto” but she was, more precisely, an “octoroon.”

Anonymous said...

For decades Hollywood mythologized Indians. John Wayne and actors of that period were constantly lecturing the largely white movie-going audience on screen about the how noble the red man was.

Y'all need to check out Longmire.

It's like Breaking-Bad-Lite for all of MacWhiskey's nice white ladies who aren't quite yet ready for exploding tortoises.