Jul 182016
 

John Lee (1931-2013) and his second wife, novelist Barbara Moore, spent a freelance year in Ajijic in 1962-63 and then returned for three months almost every summer for the next decade.

Lee was a prolific writer, photographer and educator who penned thousands of newspaper articles, several non-fiction books and a dozen novels, including two NY Times best-sellers, and a Book-of-the-Month Club choice. During the 1950s, his award-winning photographs were published in most of the major newspapers and magazines of the time. The portrait of Willard Marsh on the dust jacket of his novel Week with No Friday, set at Lake Chapala, was taken by Lee.

John Lee, painting near Lake Chapala

John Lee, painting near Lake Chapala

Lee and his wife thoroughly enjoyed their visits to Lake Chapala. In retirement, using the name Bestjonbon, he compiled several YouTube videos about his trips to Mexico, the most interesting of which, for our purposes, is Ajijic Artists 50 years ago, a video which includes photographs related to the life and work of the following authors and/or artists: Gina Dessart Hildreth, Willard Marsh, James Kelly, Tink Strother, Carlos López-Ruíz, Ernesto Linares [Ernesto Butterlin], Eric ____, a former USAF pilot, John Lee, and Barbara Moore.

Other short YouTube videos compiled by Lee include Ajijic 50 years ago; Small Town Bullfight I; Small Town Bullfight II; and Fiesta Ajijic – 45 Years Ago.

Born in Oklahoma on 12 March 1931, Lee was raised and educated in Brownsville, Texas. After earning a B.A. at Texas Tech in 1952, he immediately began work as a journalist. While at Texas Tech, he married fellow student Jeane Womack; the couple had a daughter, but the marriage ended in 1956.

The following year, Lee married a fellow reporter, Barbara Moore, who later became a novelist. The couple lived in Spain for a year, and then worked in Denver and Ohio before moving to Mexico in 1962 to focus on writing fiction. Lee earned a masters in Journalism at West Virginia University with a thesis about English-language newspapers around the world.

John Lee at a book-signing

John Lee at a book-signing

Lee’s teaching career included stints at West Virginia University; the American University in Washington, D.C., where his students included Tom Shales, who later won a Pulitzer for TV criticism; the University of Arizona (1968-1972); New York University; California State University in Long Beach (where he undertook work towards a PhD); the University of Idaho; and at the University of Memphis (then known as Memphis State). He retired from teaching in 1997.

Lee wrote or co-wrote several non-fiction books including two for journalism students: Feature Writing for Newspapers and Magazines (1988) and Modern Mass Media (1990). Both books enjoyed several editions, and the latter was translated into Spanish in 1993.

Earlier works include The Diplomatic Persuaders: New Role of the Mass Media in International Relations (1968); and (with wife Barbara Moore Lee) Monsters Among Us: Journey to the Unexplained (1975) and Learning to Judge the Doberman Pinscher (1982).

John Lee’s first novel was Caught in the Act (1968) set in Spain. He followed this with Assignation in Algeria (1971); The Ninth Man (1976); The Thirteenth Hour (1979); Lago (1980); Stalag Texas (1990); Olympia ’36 (2011); and Old Spies Never Die (2011).

In The Ninth Man, his best-known book, a Nazi spy enters the White House and attempts to assassinate President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Lee also used the pen names of “James Lake” for stories in men’s magazines and “Joy Beverlin” for two romance novels: Whisper the Wind (Createspace 2011) and Bells of San Blas, which was never published. In later life, Lee also dabbled in art, and held several one-man shows in Texas.

Following the death in 2002 of Barbara Moore, Lee married Shirley Miller in 2004. The couple lived on a ranch in Texas, painting, writing and raising racehorses, until Lee’s own death in 2013.

Sources and acknowledgment:

  • I am very grateful for having had the opportunity to talk and correspond with John Lee several times in his final years. He was an enthusiastic supporter of this project to document the authors and artists associated with Lake Chapala.

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please email us or use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts.

Jan 182016
 

Emma-Lindsay Squier (1892-1941) was a nature and travel writer who lived much of her life in California. She visited and wrote about Lake Chapala in the 1920s, while spending several months in Guadalajara.

Known as “Emily” to family and friends, she was born in Marion, Indiana, on 1 Dec 1892. Her father, Russell Lafayette Squier, was a salesman, and her mother, Helen Ada Lindsay (Squier) was a teacher and an elocutionist. The family was not well off but Emily became a significant source of income at a very early age. At four years of age, Emily proved to have a natural talent for reciting poems and readings from memory and began making public appearances on the Chautauqua circuit, promotional materials billing her as “Baby Squier”.

Recalling her first visit to Mexico, at age ten, to give a dramatic recital in English in Ciudad Porfirio Diaz (now Piedras Negras), across the border from Eagle Pass, Texas, she later wrote, “I fell in love with Mexico when I was ten years old. It was love at first sight.” (Gringa, 3)

After classes in the Sacred Heart Academy in Salem (Oregon) and Bremerton High School (Washington), Emily studied journalism for two years at the University of Washington. She dropped out of university when the family moved to Glendale (California) in 1915, where she became a reporter for the Los Angeles Times. She was later appointed an assistant editor of California Life, a monthly periodical published in Pasadena.

She became a prolific writer of short pieces, published in magazines such as Good Housekeeping, Collier’s, Ladies Home Journal, McCall’s, Cosmopolitan, Hearst’s and The American Girl. A series of articles about wildlife interacting with people, often with a degree of fantasy, proved especially successful with readers, and a collection of such stories was published as The Wild Heart (1922),with illustrations and decorations by Paul Bransom. The book “captured the imagination of readers from coast to coast…”

Emma-Lindsay Squier, ca 1923 (California Life, 1923)

Emma-Lindsay Squier (then Mrs George Mark), ca 1923 (California Life, 1923)

She spent the latter part of 1919 in Nova Scotia, Canada, collecting stories for a future book, and then in 1920 and 1921, she attended Columbia University in New York, studying drama and literature. She returned to the Seattle area to collect the legends of the Indians of the Puget Sound tribes.

Her writing fame and fortune continued to grow, Emily’s second collected work about animals, On Autumn Trails and Adventures in Captivity (1922) was heralded as “a grown-up book for children and a children’s book for grown-ups”. Squier’s other book-length works included The Red Palanquin (1924); Children of the Twilight: Folk-Tales on Indian Tribes (1926); and The bride of the sacred well, and other tales of Ancient Mexico (1928).

Her first marriage was to a distant cousin George Mark, whom she had met in New York. After their marriage in 1922, they initially lived in New York, but soon relocated to San Diego, where Emily joined the San Diego Players and first met John Bransby. They quickly became a couple and by 1926 Emily had separated from George and decided to fulfill a life-long ambition to travel in Mexico.

In 1926, Squier was offered the opportunity to spend several months in Mexico collecting local folk stories and legends. Her many adventures from this and subsequent trips are told with color and relish in Gringa: An American Woman in Mexico (1934). She traveled on a freighter, the S.S. Washington, down the west coast, met and danced with ex-President Obregón in Culiacán, and then spent several months at the Hotel Cosmopolita in Guadalajara. In Guadalajara, she became such good friends with poet Idella Purnell and her father that he lent her his car whenever she wanted.

On one occasion, the car had a flat tire in the middle of nowhere and Emily was helped by the unexpected arrival of a man on a black horse:

“He was wearing an elaborate charro suit. The black, tight fitting trousers glinted with silver ornaments from thigh to ankle. His silken blouse was embroidered in festive colors, and his sombrero was the fanciest I had yet seen. It was of white felt, richly embroidered with silver, and had a painted medallion of the Virgin ornamenting the exaggerated crown. A sarape of the diamond-shaped Saltillo pattern was strapped across his saddle”. (Gringa, 131)

Safely back at the Purnells, she discovered his picture was on wanted posters and that she had been helped by the notorious ‘El Catorce’, “the bloodthirsty bandit who had attacked and set fire to a passenger train!” (More than 100 people were killed in this incident which took place in April 1927).

She also relates the story told by Idella’s father, Dr. George Purnell, about being kidnapped by bandits and released only after a ransom of $200 was paid. (This event actually occurred in April 1930).

Squier and Idella Purnell befriended a group of Huichol Indians in Guadalajara and after much confusion successfully bartered some ribbons and jewelry for Huichol arrows and woven bags. In a letter back home to her then fiance John Bransby, Squier wrote,

“We noticed that two of the Indians carried tiny, crudely made violins. The strings were of wire, the bow was of gut. Upon these weird little instruments they sawed with primitive vigor, and drew forth unmusical wailings as of cats on back-yard fences.”

The violins were home-made, but Squier never did find out how the Indians had first come into contact with the instrument. She did, however, have the opportunity to learn more about some of their stories and legends.

Among the legends she collected on this trip was one related to Lake Chapala. Her version, “The Little Lost Stars of Chapala”, was published in the August 1928 issue of Good Housekeeping.

The introduction makes for very interesting reading…

We had spent the day at Lake Chapala, that lovely blue body of water that is set like a jewel into the barren ring of Mexico’s mountains. It is a gay place, a meeting place for the old world as represented by the primitive Indian life about it, and the new world with its motor boats and motor cars and its air of naive sophistication. A curious place in a way, for you will find there that mingling of childlike simplicity and vague menace that is the essence of all things Mexican. Quaint little stucco castles shaded by palms and mangoes dot the shores of the lake, and are pointed out zestfully as being the homes of millionaire, and poets, and artists – this being the order of their importance. There is a plaza where the band plays on Sunday afternoons, and the sophisticates sit at tables and sip “refrescos“, watching with tolerant amusement the paseo of the Indians and humbler folk, who walk round and round in couples, enjoying themselves in solemn, aloof silence. Out upon the blue waters of the lake long black canoes come gliding, their sales huge and square-cut like those of Chinese sampans. Sometimes the sails are made of colored cloth, and make bright patches of blue or red or orange against the vivid background of sky and shore. They thread their way serenely through scattered flotillas of trim white modern craft, and there is always a drifting confusion of laughter and song mingled with the splash of oars and the subdued chugging of motor-boat engines.

In the center of the lake, a long, scorpion-shaped island lies. It is seldom visited, for there is little to be seen upon it, and the menace of the alacran for which it is named, and which it resembles, is not to be lightly disregarded.

Across the lake the mountains rise up sharp and grim, like the upturned teeth of some great prehistoric monster. And in these mountains, only a short journey from civilization as represented by the florid gaiety of Lake Chapala, are tribes of Indians among whom no white man would dare to venture unless under the specific protection of some priest of padre known to them, and capable of speaking their barbarous tongue. It is said that these savage Indios are the remnants of the once powerful Alcohuas, whose king, Cozoc, held in bondage the mighty tribe of Azteca for a long and irksome period.”

Portrait of Emma-Lindsay Squier

Gordon Coutts: Portrait of Emma-Lindsay Squier, ca 1925

In Gringa: An American Woman in Mexico (1934), Squier describes visiting Lake Chapala and, in particular, Jocotepec, an account we will look at in a separate post.

In 1928, Squier divorced George Mark and married John Ransome Bransby (1901-1998), an actor and movie producer, whose fine photos illustrate Gringa: An American Woman in Mexico (1934). The couple were living in New York, but within a week of marriage were traveling in opposite directions: Bransby was starting a theatrical tour while his wife was headed to Guatemala to collect legends for a new series. In 1929, Bransby was still touring when Squier was sailing even further south, to Peru.

Squier had taken a movie camera with her during her trip to Mexico in 1926 and the resulting reels helped Squier and Bransby win the opportunity (in 1930) to film an educational travelogue entitled Mexico (finally released in 1937). This trip is described in some detail in the second half of Gringa: An American Woman in Mexico.

The Bransbys spent time in southern Mexico before returning via Veracruz to Mexico City (where they socialized with Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and Frances Toor, among other notables). They also spent six weeks in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, where they filmed a traditional wedding ceremony, before returning to New York by October 1930.

Their resulting 60-minute film was divided into three 20-minute “episodes”: “Modern Mexico,” “Mexico of yesterday” and “Land of chewing gum.” The highlights included Diego Rivera painting murals, the “floating gardens” of Xochimilco, the Passion Play in Ixtapalapa, and some of the earliest known footage of chewing gum (chicle) production.

Squier and Bransby later spent time touring the Caribbean, and Squier also visited Africa, always looking for more legends and animal stories. Squier’s work became the basis for two motion pictures: the Academy Award-nominated Dancing Pirate (Pioneer Pictures, 1936), based on her story “Glorious Buccaneer” (Colliers, December 1930) and billed as “The first dancing musical in 100% new Technicolor”, and The Angry God (1948), based on a story by Squier about how the god Colima tries to win the love of a beautiful young Indian maiden, who won’t betray the man she loves.

After being diagnosed with tuberculosis, Emma-Lindsay Squier was forced to slow down in her final years. Her incredibly productive life came to an end on 16 September 1941 in Saranac Lake, New York.

Sources:

  • Aileen Block. 1995. Emma-Lindsay’s Scrapbook: A Biography of Emma-Lindsay Squier (Privately printed)
  • Emma-Lindsay Squier. 1934. Gringa: An American Woman in Mexico (Houghton Mifflin Co.)

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Dec 072015
 

English novelist, poet and essayist David Herbert Lawrence (1885-1930) was 37 years of age in summer 1923 when he spent three months in Chapala writing the first draft of the work that eventually became The Plumed Serpent (1926).

Early years

Lawrence was born in Eastwood, Nottinghamshire, England, on 11 September 1885, and died in France on 2 March 1930. He studied at Nottingham High School and University College, Nottingham, where he gained a teaching certificate, and then taught for three years, but left the profession in 1911, following a bout of pneumonia, to concentrate full-time on his writing career. In 1914, he married Frieda Weekley (née von Richthofen) (1879-1956), the former wife of one of his university French teachers.

Lawrence was deemed medically unfit to serve in the first world war (1914-18). During the war, the couple lived in near destitution on account of suspicion engendered by Lawrence’s anti-war sentiments and Frieda’s German background. Accused of espionage while living at Zennor, on a secluded part of the Cornish coast, they were forced to move to London.

As soon as was practical after the war, they left the U.K. to live abroad. Lawrence only ever returned to the U.K. on two occasions after that, each time staying for as short a time as possible. Lawrence and Frieda began an itinerant existence as the novelist sought the perfect place to live and work; this quest took them to Australia, Italy (where he acquired the nickname Lorenzo, used by wife Frieda and others from that time), Sri Lanka, the U.S., Mexico and France, but no single location ever satisfied Lawrence for long.

From New Mexico to Mexico City and Chapala

In September 1922, Lawrence and Frieda were invited by Mabel Dodge Luhan, to spend the winter in New Mexico. En route to her ranch near Taos, they spent a night in Santa Fe at the home of Witter Bynner the poet. Bynner and his secretary (and lover) Willard (“Spud”) Johnson would travel with the Lawrences to Mexico the following year. (We look at them in relation to Lake Chapala in separate posts).

In March 1923, Lawrence, Frieda, Bynner and Johnson arrived in Mexico City and took rooms in the Hotel Monte Carlo, close to the city center. This hotel became the basis for the Hotel San Remo in The Plumed Serpent.

By the end of April, Lawrence was getting restless again, and still looking for somewhere to write. The party had an open invitation to visit Idella Purnell, a former student of Bynner, in Guadalajara. Lawrence read about Chapala in Terry’s Guide to Mexico and, taking into account its proximity to Guadalajara, decided to explore the village for himself.

Curiously, there is some uncertainty among biographers as to how (and precisely when) Lawrence first arrived in Chapala. Some claim that he left the Mexico City-Guadalajara train at Ocotlán, and then took a boat to Chapala. While this was possible (and this manner of arrival was clearly the basis for the trip to “Lake Sayula” described in chapters V and VI of The Plumed Serpent), it seems unlikely, given that the house he subsequently rented in Chapala was recommended by a consular official in Guadalajara.

More likely, Lawrence stayed in Guadalajara and met the official face-to-face. He then had several alternative means of traveling to Chapala: train back to Ocotlán, followed by boat, or train to La Capilla and then the La Capilla-Chapala railway (which operated on a limited schedule), or bus (camion) all the way from Guadalajara.

D. H. Lawrence and his wife Frieda, Chapala, 1923

D. H. Lawrence and his wife Frieda, Chapala, 1923

However he arrived, Lawrence liked what he saw and, within hours of arriving in Chapala, had sent an urgent telegram back to Mexico City pronouncing Chapala “paradise” and urging the others to join him there immediately.

Frieda, Bynner and Johnson narrowly caught the overnight train and met the Purnells in Guadalajara the following morning. According to Bynner, Frieda then caught a camion (bus) to Chapala to join her husband, who had already rented a house in Chapala, on Calle Zaragoza. Bynner and Johnson opted to stay a few days in the city before joining the Lawrences at the lake. When they did arrive, they chose to enjoy the comforts of the nearby Hotel Arzapalo.

Lawrence sets up home in Chapala

Lawrence and Frieda soon established their home for the summer in Chapala, at Calle Zaragoza #4 (later renumbered #307). In a letter back to two Danish friends in Taos, Lawrence described both the house and the village:

“Here we are, in our own house—a long house with no upstairs—shut in by trees on two sides.—We live on a wide verandah, flowers round—it is fairly hot—I spend the day in trousers and shirt, barefoot—have a Mexican woman, Isabel, to look after us—very nice. Just outside the gate the big Lake of Chapala—40 miles long, 20 miles wide. We can’t see the lake, because the trees shut us in. But we walk out in a wrap to bathe.—There are camions—Ford omnibuses—to Guadalajara—2 hours. Chapala village is small with a market place with trees and Indians in big hats. Also three hotels, because this is a tiny holiday place for Guadalajara. I hope you’ll get down, I’m sure you’d like painting here.—It may be that even yet I’ll have my little hacienda and grow bananas and oranges.” – (letter dated 3 May 1923, to Kai Gotzsche and Knud Merrild, quoted in Merrild.)

Lawrence’s stay at Lake Chapala proved to be a highly productive one. His major achievement at Chapala was to write the entire first draft of a new novel set in Mexico. Initially called Quetzocaoatl (after the feathered serpent of Mexican mythology), the draft was completely rewritten the following year in Oaxaca as The Plumed Serpent.

Writing beside the beach

After a couple of false starts, Lawrence began his novel on 10 May and, writing at a furious pace, completed ten chapters by the end of the month. Within two months, the first draft was essentially complete.

Lawrence did not do very much writing in the house, but preferred to sit under a tree on the edge of the lake. Willard “Spud” Johnson recalled that:

Mornings we all worked, Lawrence generally down towards a little peninsula where tall trees grew near the water. He sat there, back against a tree, eyes often looking over the scene that was to be the background for his novel, and wrote in tiny, fast words in a thick, blue-bound blank book, the tale which he called Quetzalcoatl. Here also he read Mexican history and folklore and observed, almost unconsciously, the life that went on about him, and somehow got the spirit of the place. There were the little boys who sold idols from the lake; the women who washed clothes at the waters’ edge and dried them on the sands; there were lone fisherman, white calzones pulled to their hips, bronze legs wading deep in the waters, fine nets catching the hundreds of tiny charales: boatmen steering their clumsy, beautiful craft around the peninsula; men and women going to market with baskets of pitahayas on their heads; lovers, even, wandering along the windy shore; goatherds; mothers bathing babies; sometimes a group of Mexican boys swimming nude off-shore instead of renting ugly bathing-suits further down by the hotel. ..Afternoons we often had tea together or Lawrence and I walked along the mud flats below the village or along the cobbled country road around the Japanese hill—or up the hill itself. We discovered that botany had been a favorite study of both of us at school and took a friendly though more or less ignorant interest in the flora as we walked and talked. Lawrence talked most, of course. (quoted in Udall)

Seeking a permanent home

For much of their stay in Chapala, Lawrence was hoping to find a property suitable for long-term residence, as evidenced by this letter, dated 17 June 1923, from Frieda to their Danish artist friends Knud Merrild and Kai Gøtzsche back in Taos, New Mexico:

“We are still not sure of our fate–but if we see a place we really like, we will have it and plant bananas–I am already very tired of not doing my own work.–Lawrence does not want to go to Europe, but he is not sure of what he wants.  –The common people are also very nice but of course really wild–And I think we could have a good time, Merrild would love the lake and swimming, we could have natives to spin and weave and make pottery and I am sure this has never been painted—–” (quoted in Merrild)

It is unclear whether or not Frieda intended the last comment, about the lake never having been painted, to be taken literally. The truth is that many artists had painted Lake Chapala long before the Lawrences ever stayed there, including Johann Moritz Rugendas (who painted there in 1834), Ferdinand Schmoll (1879-1950), watercolorist Paul Fischer, and August Löhr (1843-1919). Moreover, only days after the Lawrences left their home in Chapala, it was rented by two young American artists, Everett Gee Jackson and Lowell Houser.

Late in June, Lawrence himself writes to Merrild, explaining that despite looking for a new home, they have now given up hope of finding somewhere suitable:

“We were away two days travelling on the lake and looking at haciendas. One could easily get a little place. But now they are expecting more revolution, & it is so risky. Besides, why should one work to build a place & make it nice, only to have it destroyed.

So, for the present at least, I give it up. It’s no good. Mankind is too unkind.” (quoted in Merrild)

In July 1923, a few days before Lawrence and Frieda left Chapala, they arranged an extended four-day boat trip around the lake with friends including Idella Purnell and her father, Dr. George Purnell. The trip, aboard the Esmeralda, began on 4 July. Two of the party returned early, but the others endured some very rough weather, before their return to port.

The Esmeralda boat trip, 1923

The Esmeralda boat trip, 1923. Photo credit: Willard Johnson

Lawrence returns to Chapala (briefly) in October 1923

On 9 July, the Lawrences left Chapala for New York via Guadalajara, Laredo, San Antonio, New Orleans and Washington D.C. The following month, Frieda went to Europe, leaving Lawrence behind in the U.S. In October, Lawrence returned to Mexico, traveling with the Danish painter Kai Gotzsche down the west coast, with plenty of unanticipated adventures, to spend a month in Guadalajara. They stayed most of the time in the Hotel García (where Winfield Scott, former manager of the Hotel Arzapalo in Chapala, was now in charge). From Guadalajara, they visited Chapala for a single day on 21 October 1923, before traveling to Mexico City in mid-November, before sailing from Veracruz for England.

The following year (1924), Lawrence and Frieda came back across the Atlantic to New Mexico in March, bringing with them the painter, the Hon. Dorothy Brett (who later wrote her own memoir of Lawrence). The Lawrences spent the Fall of 1924 in Oaxaca, where Lawrence focused on reworking Quetzacoatl into the manuscript for The Plumed Serpent.

The lake looks like urine?

Did Lawrence really like Lake Chapala? That remains an open question, and no doubt depended on his mood when asked. Playwright Christopher Isherwood, when interviewed by David Lambourne, credited D. H Lawrence with having taught him that for best effect you don’t need to describe things as they are, but as you saw them:

“Lawrence… was so intensely subjective. I mean his wonder at the mountains above Taos, you know, and then his rage at Lake Chapala. And the characteristic methods of his attack were so marvelous. I mean, he was in a bad temper about Lake Chapala, so he just said, ‘The lake looks like urine.’ He meant, ‘It looks like urine to me,’ you see…”

Lawrence Myths

Inevitably, many misconceptions have arisen about Lawrence’s time in Chapala. It is often assumed, for instance, that he spent far more time in Chapala than just ten weeks. It is sometimes claimed that he spent “one winter” there, whereas in fact he visited from May to July, witnessing the very end of the dry season and the start of the rainy season.

Nor was Lawrence the first Anglophone writer to find inspiration at Lake Chapala, though he was quite possibly the most illustrious. The honor of writing the earliest full-length novel set at the lake in English goes to Charles Embree (1874-1905), who spent eight months in Chapala in 1898, and wrote A Dream of a Throne, the Story of a Mexican Revolt (1900).

Chapala remains a place of pilgrimage for Lawrence fans

Since 1923, many Lawrence fans have made their own pilgrimage to Chapala to see first-hand what inspired their great hero. Perhaps the most famous of these admirers is the Canadian poet Al Purdy, who visited Chapala several times in the 1970s and 1980s. Purdy was a huge fan of Lawrence, even to having a bust of Lawrence on his hall table back in Canada and wrote a limited edition book, The D.H. Lawrence House at Chapala (The Paget Press, 1980).

Sources / Further reading:

  • David Bidini. 2009. “Visit to poet Al Purdy’s home stirs up more than a few old ghosts”, National Post, Friday 30 October 2009.
  • Witter Bynner. 1951. Journey with Genius (New York: John Day)
  • David Ellis. 1998. D. H. Lawrence: Dying Game 1922-1930; The Cambridge Biography of D. H. Lawrence, Volume 3. Cambridge University Press.
  • David Lambourne. 1975. “A kind of Left-Wing Direction”, an interview with
    Christopher Isherwood” in Poetry Nation No. 4, 1975. [accessed 2 Feb 2005]
  • D. H. Lawrence. 1926. The Plumed Serpent.
  • Frieda Lawrence (Frieda von Richthofen). 1934. Not I, But the Wind… (New York: Viking Press)
  • Knud Merrild. A Poet and Two Painters: A Memoir of D. H. Lawrence.
  • Harry T. Moore(ed). 1962. The Collected Letters of D. H. Lawrence (Two volumes)
  • Harry T. Moore and Warren Roberts. 1966. D. H. Lawrence and his world. (London: Thames & Hudson)
  • Edward Nehls (ed). 1958. D. H. Lawrence: A Composite Biography. Volume Two, 1919-1925. (University of Wisconsin Press).
  • Vilma Potter. 1994. “Idella Purnell’s PALMS and Godfather Witter Bynner.” American Periodicals, Vol 4 (1994), pp 47-64, published by Ohio State University.
  • Sharyn Udall. 1994. Spud Johnson & Laughing Horse. (Univ. New Mexico)

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Nov 022015
 

Willard Marsh wrote one of only a handful of novels to have been set entirely at Lake Chapala.

Owing to the unauthorized and uncredited use of material from this post on a third-party website, this article has been removed from public view.

If you have a genuine interest in the subject matter, please contact us via the comments section and we can discuss terms and conditions.

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please email us or use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts.

Oct 262015
 

Willard Marsh, known to his friends as “Butch”, was one of the pivotal figures in the Ajijic literary scene in the 1950s and 1960s, and one of the first to write a novel set in the village…

Owing to the unauthorized and uncredited use of material from this post on a third-party website, this article has been removed from public view.

If you have a genuine interest in the subject matter, please contact us via the comments section and we can discuss terms and conditions.

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please email us or use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts.

Sep 142015
 

George Rae Marsh (née Williams) was an actress, playwright and novelist who lived for many years in Ajijic in the 1950s and 1960s with her first husband, the novelist Willard Marsh. The couple were married in 1948 and were together until Willard died in Ajijic in 1970. Two years after her husband’s death, George Rae married the science fiction writer Theodore R. Cogswell.

George Rae Marsh has several published plays and short stores, and also wrote at least one novel. Piecing together her bibliography is complicated by the fact that she wrote under several different names. Her plays were written as George Rae Williams, her novel as Georgia Cogswell, and most of her stories appear to have been written as George Cogswell. She was also sometimes referred to as George Rae Marsh Cogswell. To the best of my knowledge, despite several of these works having been written while she was living in Ajijic, they have no textual connections to the village.

However, George Rae Marsh was the basis for the character Sam Chester, wife of Willie Chester, in Eileen Bassing’s Ajijic-based novel Where’s Annie? (1963). George Rae’s most substantial work set in Mexico was the novel Golden Obsession (1979).

marsh-george-as-georgia-cogswell-obsession

George Rae Williams was born in 1925. She graduated from the Wichita Falls High School in the early 1940s and became an actress at the Pasadena Playhouse.

Her brother John Williams (1922-1994) was a novelist, editor and professor of English whose 1972 novel “Augustus” won a National Book Award. He also wrote “Stoner” (1965), the tale of a professor of English at the University of Missouri. Williams’s work has seen something of a revival in recent years in Europe and he is the subject of a forthcoming biography by Charles J. Shields, who was kind enough to share with me the information that John Williams had started a novel about bohemians living in Mexico (presumably based on his visits to his sister and brother-in-law) but that it has since been lost.

Shortly after George Rae married Willard Marsh, they decided to move to Ajijic, so that they could concentrate on their writing. They lived on-and-off in the village from the early 1950s through to 1970, though with numerous intermissions elsewhere, including several spells in the U.S. where Willard taught English at Winthrop College in South Carolina (1959-1961), at the University of California, Los Angeles (1961-64) and at the North Texas State University, Denton (1968-70). They also spent some time in the literary and artistic circles of San Miguel de Allende.

Two years after Willard’s death, George Rae married Theodore Rose Cogswell (1918-1987) in San Miguel de Allende. Cogswell was an American professor of English and science fiction writer. After their marriage, the couple divided their time between Ajijic, San Miguel de Allende and the U.S.

The photo below, from the Megan Cogswell Collection, shows George and “Ted” Cogswell on their wedding day in 1972, in their matching leather safari suits.

marsh-george-marriage-to-ted-cogswell-1972

At the time, George Rae owned a discotheque in Ajijic, presumably one of the earliest discotheques, if not the earliest, in the village.

Jerry Murray, a writer who lived in Ajijic at the time, was invited to the wedding, and later recalled (e*I*43–(Vol. 8 No. 2) April 2009) how the couple had ended up spending the first night of their honeymoon in separate cells in the city police station:

George owned a discotheque in Ajijic, and like everyone else in the wedding party at the Episcopalian church, including the priest, she was an atheist. The ceremony was followed by the wettest reception I’ve ever attended, and that was followed by Ted and George getting into her Jeep and heading for their honeymoon suite in Puerto Vallarta.

An hour later the reception was winding down when the Jeep came roaring back, stopping between the plaza and the police station for Ted to shove his screaming, cursing bride out on the cobblestones, where bride and groom were immediately arrested for being drunk and very disorderly. Placed in separate cells, Ted made a pillow out of his boots and went to sleep on the thin mattress of the cell’s wooden cot. George propped her mattress against her cell’s door, set it on fire, and screamed bloody murder until the cops turned them loose at dawn to continue on their honeymoon. When the honeymoon ended, George sedately began serving tea at the Sunday seminars Ted hosted for his graduate students at Ball State Teacher’s College in Muncie, Indiana.”

As George Rae Williams, she wrote five published plays: Mind Over Mumps: A One-act Farce (Eldridge Publishing Company, 1951); Augie Evans: Private Eye: A One-act Farce (Eldredge Publishing Company, 1951); Leave it to Laurie: A Comedy in One Act (Northwestern Press, 1952); Keeping it in the Family: A Comedy in One Act (Northwestern Press, 1953) and A will and a way – A Three Act Comedy (Eldridge Publishing Company, 1962).

As George Rae Cogswell, she wrote (with her husband) the short story “Contact Point” (1975) and they contributed a joint story to Six Science Fiction Plays, (Pocket Books, 1975).

In 1979, as Georgia Cogswell, she published Golden Obsession (Zebra Books, 1979).

George Rae Williams Marsh Cogswell died in 1997 and was interred next to Theodore Cogswell in Arlington National Cemetery.

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please email us or use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts.

Aug 172015
 

While most sources list José Rafael Rubio as having been born in 1880 and dying in 1916, the available documentary evidence suggests that he was actually born on 4 September 1879 in Zamora, Michoacán, and died in San Antonio, Texas, on 7 January 1917.

Rubio worked for a time as a journalist in Guadalajara and subsequently won a national (El Imparcial) writing competition with a short story entitled, “El hombre doble” (“The Double Man”). He also wrote, sometimes using the pen name of Pepe Pérez Pereda, for Arte y Letras. Revista Mensual Ilustrada and Churubusco, In addition, he was editor in 1898 of a publication in Zamora, El Granuja: Seminario festivo ilustrado.

Rubio married Maria Luisa Dolores Alatorre Diaz (b. 1882). The couple’s daughter, Gloria Rubio Alatorre, was born in Veracruz, and became, as Gloria Guinness (1912–1980), a contributing editor to Harper’s Bazaar (1963-1971) as well as a prominent socialite and fashion icon of the twentieth century.

During the Mexican Revolution, Rubio fought against Victoriano Huerta, before leaving for the USA with his family.

Rubio’s published short stories include “Not Guilty”, set at Lake Chapala. Written originally in Spanish, an English translation was published in the 16 December 1911 issue of The Pacific Weekly, a San Francisco-based publication.

“Not Guilty” is the story of a man accused of murder who claims in a prison-cell conversation with his lawyer that he was merely a witness to the crime. In the first part of the story, the man relates how he first met the love of his life:

“I used to live near Chapala,” he [the prisoner] continued, “on a farm not far from Jamay. You have been there, have you not? You know what a beautiful country it is? Well, imagine a spacious garden of orange trees, and, nestling among them, a small house, as white as an orange blossom. One cannot live in such a place and believe that there is any wickedness in the world. Beginning in a spring near my house, a little stream of water trickles down the hillside, — water as clear and pure as that which falls from heaven to water my little paradise. On either side of this stream are my flower beds. I wish you could see them! Here are clustered myriads of jasmines; there, a gay little arm of violets; a little further down, on the right hand side, a whole regiment of red and white roses; to the left, a huge fragrant battalion of lilies of the valley. Further down are other flowers, of all imaginable varieties, with the limpid little streamlet  flowing between. How beautiful they are, and what perfumes come from them!

“My little farm supplied me with all I wished to eat. I sold most of my oranges to some gringos who lived near by; with the money I earned in this small business, I had sufficient to live happy and contented as a king. Do not think that I always wore rags like these. My suits rivaled the finest vestidos de chorro for miles around; the buttons were silver pesos. My sombreros were trimmed with gold braid, and cost me thirty pesos each. I owned two horses sixteen hands high, and the revolver at my side was of the best American make. But I must get on with my story.

“Have you ever attended any of the fiestas at La Barca? No? Well, they are festivals where masses and Te Deums are sung. Bull-fights and cock-fights form part of the program, and there are all sorts of gambling games, dancing, singing, wild carousing. There is music in every inn and park. The shouting of the vendedores and the noise of the fireworks, together with the uproar of the hilarious crowds, are almost enough to drive a sane man mad.

“Two years ago, as was my custom, I donned my finest attire, thrust in my belt a brace of forty-fours, and started, in my boat, The Dreamer, for La Barca. Besides the native rowers, I had no company except my guitar and a bottle of wine.

“It would have done your heart good to see me at that merry-making! Cock-fighters and gamblers besieged me from all sides; vendors of everything imaginable scrambled to get near me and when I entered a restaurant or inn, man and maid servants rushed to be the first to serve me. Even the — indeed, I’m not exaggerating, — even the ladies, dressed in silks of all the colors of the rainbow, made eyes and waved their fans at me.

“I bet two hundred on a cock, and lost in five minutes. The next match was a fight if there ever was one; in four minutes I had won three hundred! I treated a score of people to bottles of beer, and the uproar that ensued was as exciting as an attack on the gringos! I gave the man that served me a bright new peso for a tip. Suddenly I heard a voice. I turned and saw a girl singing. She was as beautiful as a dream and her great dark eyes were looking straight at me.

But if thou drain to its bitter lees.
In frantic frenzy, pleasure’s cup, —

“Those were the words that began her song. I threw my glass to the floor so violently that it crashed into a hundred pieces, and cried ‘Ole‘! Then I snatched off my hat. placed twenty pesos in it, and tossed it to her.

“Most of the men who had followed me to the bar left as soon as they had taken their beer, for the place was full of professional gamblers, loafers and, judging by their wild looks, criminals of the worst kind. I noticed that the singer to whom I had thrown my hat, had seated herself at the father end of the bar, where empty bottles and liquor kegs were piled in confusion. She caught my eye, and beckoned me to her side.

“‘If you are going to drink, why not drink here?’ she said, pointing to a seat near her. I sat down beside her, and ordered more beer.

Dios mio! How beautiful she was! I don’t think she could have been a day over seventeen years old, but she knew all the arts of making a man slave to her will; before ten minutes had passed, I worshiped her! To look at her was to love her. She was a brunette, and the delicate curves of her red lips reminded me of my finest, most crimson roses. Her hair, blacker than a raven’s wing, was held in place by a very thin black veil. Her eyes were the big, wondering, dreamy eyes of innocent childhood, half serious and half smiling, and the long black eyelashes shaded and deepened them. Her mouth would tempt a saint, — and her waist! — and her arms! I had never seen such a woman even in my wildest dreams!

“I can’t say exactly how many drinks we had that night, but toward morning we decided to be married. When we went out into the street, arm and arm, the music had ceased, and the display of fireworks was over. As she walked by my side, I felt that heaven itself had nothing further to offer me. I was madly, passionately in love with her!”

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Jul 302015
 

John Macarthur (“Jack”) Bateman was a painter, author and architect who was born on 9 October 1918 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and died on 15 March 1999. Bateman moved to Ajijic with his wife Laura Woodruff Bateman and three young children in 1952; the couple quickly became pillars of the local community, making exemplary contributions to the local social, cultural and artistic scene.

The Batemans were living in New York City prior to moving to Mexico. They responded to an advert in The New York Times which offered a home in Ajijic, together with five servants and a boat, for the princely sum of 150 dollars a month.

Jack Bateman studied architecture at the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University), prior to be called up for military service in January 1942. He served in the U.S. Navy from 21 January 1942 to 22 September 1945 at various Naval Air Stations, including a spell in North Africa flying submarine-hunting dirigibles. After the war, he completed his studies and then set up an industrial design studio in New York to produce, among other things, molded architectural elements made of plaster.

According to a blog post by Jack’s son-in-law Tom Vanderzyl, this led to Bateman having an unexpectedly significant impact on the work of the great German-born abstract expressionist artist Hans Hofmann who was living on the floor below:

…the painter/architect John MacArthur Bateman had a studio just above Hans Hoffmann (sic). In his studio, John poured large heavy 55-gallon drums of plaster into molds for architectural elements. It seems one day a plaster mold broke and sent 55 gallons of plaster pouring across his wooden plank floor that was also the ceiling of the studio under him, and the plaster dripped through the ceiling of the studio below. At the time, Hans had all of his paintings out looking them over for his upcoming show. Hans shouted upstairs in German for it to stop and that he needed help covering his work from the dripping plaster. Bateman along with his klutz brother-in-law, who had dropped the mold in the first place, came down to help. They used blankets and canvas in an attempt to cover the paintings, but it was too late. The plaster was setting up and the damage was done. Bateman put the best spin on it by telling Hans that his paintings needed that texture made by the pressed fabric and wet plaster and that the new tactile surface was in many ways more interesting. Now, he only needed to paint over the white plaster to get a far more interesting surface. Hans Hoffmann’s show was a success, and he would pop up to borrow plaster from time to time and talk with Bateman about materials.

bateman-book-coverFor the first few years in Mexico, Jack Bateman commuted back and forth to New York, spending about one week a month in the U.S. At home in Mexico, he spent time on his art and began to write. He authored five books including Loch Ness Conspiracy (New York: R. Speller & Sons, 1987), as well as a play, Caldo Michi, first performed in Ajijic in November 1998.

When the Lakeside Little Theater needed a new home in the mid-1980s, Bateman was a strong supporter of a plan to build a purpose-built facility on land donated by Ricardo O’Rourke, and acted as architect. The theater opened in 1987 and became the permanent home of Mexico’s most active English-language theater.

At various times sailor, artist, pilot, architect, writer and marketing consultant, whatever he turned his mind to, Jack Bateman made many unique contributions to the world.

For her part, Laura Bateman was a patron of the local arts scene in Ajijic, opening the village’s first purpose-built gallery, Rincón del Arte, at Hidalgo #41, Ajijic in about 1962. (For a couple of years prior to that, she had arranged shows in her own home). Rincón del Arte, which ran for many years, had monthly shows, featuring dozens and dozens of artists.For example, Whitford Carter exhibited at Rincón del Arte in both February 1967 and August 1968, while Peter Huf and his wife Eunice (Hunt) Huf held a joint exhibit there in December 1967 .

Jack and Laura Bateman’s eldest daughter, Alice M. Bateman, studied in Guadalajara, London (U.K.), New York and Italy before becoming a successful professional artist-sculptor based in Forth Worth, Texas.

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Apr 232015
 

Lorraine Vivian Hansberry was an African American playwright, artist and author of political speeches and essays. She studied art in Ajijic at Lake Chapala in the summer of 1949, mid-way through her studies at the University of Wisconsin, where she took classes in art, literature, drama and stage design.

Hansberry was born in Chicago on 19 May 1930 and died of cancer at the age of 34 in New York City on 12 January 1965.

Lorraine Hansberry (1959)

Her father, Carl Hansberry, was a prominent Chicago realtor who, in 1938, challenged the city’s racially segregated housing laws, by moving his family into a “restricted” area near the University of Chicago. The resulting violence, in which bricks and concrete slabs were thrown through their windows, prior to them losing their legal suit challenging the legality of restrictive covenants and being evicted from that home, subsequently inspired Lorraine Hansberry to write her best-known play, A Raisin in the Sun (1959).

A Raisin in the Sun was the first play written by an African American woman to be produced on Broadway. The 29-year-old author became the youngest American playwright to receive the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play over Tennessee Williams‘s Sweet Bird of Youth. The play was translated into 35 languages. A movie version of A Raisin in the Sun was released in 1961, starring Sidney Poitier, Claudia McNeil and Ruby Dee. The movie was nominated “Best Screenplay of the Year” by the Screen Writers Guild and won a special award at Cannes Film Festival. Raisin, a musical based on the play, opened in New York in 1973.

Lorraine Hansberry was only 15 years old in 1945, when her father, “in a final desperate act to escape racial oppression in the U.S.”, moved to a suburb of Mexico City. Carl Hansberry was making arrangements to relocate his family to Mexico when he died there the following year from a cerebral hemorrhage.

Lorraine Hansberry spent the summer of 1949 in Ajijic studying art, apparently first at a University of Guadalajara extension in Ajijic, and then afterwards at the Mexican Art Workshop run by Mrs. Irma Jonas. Teachers at the Mexican Art Workshop that year included Alexander Nicolas Muzenic, Ernesto Butterlin and Tobias Schneebaum.

The following summer she studied art at Roosevelt University in Chicago before moving to New York City, where she took courses in jewelry-making, photography and short story writing at the New School for Social Research. While living in New York, she became actively involved in peace and freedom movements.

Hansberry wrote several other plays, including The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window, which played for 101 performances on Broadway and closed the night she died.

Hansberry’s life and achievements inspired her close friend Nina Simone to write the song “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” (lyrics by Weldon Irvine), first recorded in 1969.

At Hansberry’s funeral, a tribute message from Martin Luther King Jr. praised “her commitment of spirit” and “her profound grasp of the deep social issues confronting the world today.”

Lorraine Vivian Hansberry was posthumously inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame in 1999, and the American Theatre Hall of Fame in 2013.

Reference:

Steven R. Carter. 1980. “Commitment amid Complexity: Lorraine Hansberry’s Life in Action”, in MELUS, Vol. 7, No. 3, Ethnic Women Writers I (Autumn, 1980), pp. 39-53.

Apr 162015
 

Robert Penn Warren, the great American poet, novelist and literary critic, was born in Kentucky on 24 April 1905 and died in Vermont on 15 September 1989. Warren lived and wrote in Chapala for several months in the summer of 1941.

Owing to the unauthorized and uncredited use of material from this post on a third-party website, this article has been removed from public view.

If you have a genuine interest in the subject matter, please contact us via the comments section and we can discuss terms and conditions.

Comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios are welcomed. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Mar 022015
 

American sculptor and art historian Mary Fuller (McChesney) and her husband Robert Pearson McChesney, also an artist, spent 1951-1952 in Mexico, living in Ajijic and San Miguel de Allende. Shortly afterwards, Mary Fuller wrote three detective novels, one of which was set in the Guadalajara art scene, using the pseudonym “Joe Rayter”.

She also wrote many short stories, poems, and articles, published in various prominent arts magazines including Art Digest, Artforum, Art in America, Craft Horizons, and American Craft. She was, at one time or another, a staff writer at Currant, a researcher for the Archives of American Art, a Ford Foundation Fellow and the recipient of the 1975 National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Art Critic’s Grant. Another of her books, A Period of Exploration (Oakland Museum 1973), was written to accompany an exhibition of ab-ex (abstract expressionism) works from the San Francisco art scene from 1945-50.

rayter-stab-in-the-dark-coverIn the 1950s, McChesney wrote several detective novels, three of which were published, using the pseudonym “Joe Rayter”.

These included The Victim Was Important (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1954) and Asking for Trouble (M. S. Mill / William Morrow, 1955), both of which featured Private Investigator Johnny Powers, and Stab in the Dark (M. S. Mill / William Morrow, 1955), a murder mystery set in Guadalajara, Mexico.

Stab in the Dark is about murder, infidelity, and dope-peddling among a group of oddball expatriate artists in Guadalajara. The Kirkus Review of the book describes how “An excess of loose libido-tossing, alcohol, sex and art accompanies the death of Mike Cowper, about to become a cocaine pusher, in  Guadalajara. The Mexican Inspector is not slow; young Madelene has to track down her  husband and escape attack; Payne, a painter, and his wife get free of their little daughter’s death; and Madelene looses the marriage bonds for another heart interest. An AWFUL lot of running around.”

While Stab in the Dark is hardly a masterpiece, it is a fun read even today. The characters seem two-dimensional and their actions are somewhat predictable, but the book describes several expatriate artists working in Guadalajara at the time, and makes various mentions of the 1950s art scene in Guadalajara, including the “Galeria Moderna”, as well as the famed restaurant La Copa de Leche. The book also has a few scenes set in the coastal resort of “Puerto Ortega”.

Feb 162015
 

Journalist and novelist Bart Spicer was born Albert Samuel Spicer on 13 April 1918 in Richmond, Virginia. He legally changed his name to Bart in 1964. He was married to Betty Coe, and died 15 February 1978 in Tucson, Arizona.

While the precise dates are unclear, Spicer certainly visited Ajijic several times, mainly in the early 1950s, and usually staying at the (old) Posada Ajijic. An author profile in a 1953 issue of Library Journal reported that Spicer was “holed up down in Mexico writing full-time.”

spicerdaySpicer incorporates scenes set in Chapala, Guadalajara and Mexico City into his 1955 spy novel The Day of the Dead.

Bart Spicer spent his early childhood “in various parts of the British Empire”, and would later claim to have lived in England, India, Africa, France, Spain, Mexico and many parts of the United States. He was a journalist and radio news writer, prior to enlisting in the US Army during World War II. After the war he worked for three years in public relations for Universal Military Training and a year for the World Affairs Council. His first book, The Dark Light, was published in 1949, at which point he became a full-time novelist.

By the late 1950s, the Spicers were living in New York City where Bart was a member of the Players Club (jazz). In the mid-1960s, they moved to Spain, where they lived in Torremolinos and Malaga. In 1977, medical reasons forced them to return to the U.S. They settled in Tucson, where Bart died the following year.

The cover design of the Dell imprint of The Day of the Dead

spicer-bart-DayOfTheDeadTThe striking cover design (left) of the 1956 Dell imprint of The Day of the Dead is attributed to Arthur Sussman (1927-2008). Sussman was born in Brooklyn, New York, and after completing a BFA at Syracuse University, worked in New York from 1951 to 1960 as a designer and illustrator. He spent the winter of 1960-1961 in Taxco, Mexico. After 1960, he devoted himself more to his fine art, and held numerous solo exhibitions in Mexico and the U.S. between 1961 and 1991.

Arthur Sussman settled with his family in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 1965, and taught at the University of Albuquerque and the University of New Mexico Community College. He was also a regular commentator on art and film for local radio and television stations. Several of Sussman’s paintings and prints are in the permanent collections of museums, including the New Mexico Museum of Fine Arts in Santa Fe and the Albuquerque Museum of Fine Arts.

Bart Spicer, ca 1949

Bart Spicer, ca 1949

Most of the early action in Spicer’s first spy novel The Day of the Dead (1955) is set in Guadalajara. The city’s Country Club, University, Parque Revolución, the U.S. Consulate, Hotel del Parque and fictional “Mercado Mexico” all feature in the novel.

The book is a tale of international intrigue and betrayed friendships. A retired spy and war-wounded Colonel Peregrine White (“Blanco”), who walks with a cane, is called back into service by a dour FBI agent Castle, to thwart a suspected Communist takeover of the Mexican government. Castle believes that one of the ringleaders is White’s best friend Paco Morado, a teacher at the university.

As the plot thickens, White attends a lively party at an expat-owned house on the lakeshore in Chapala, where the lake is fully “200 yards from its former shoreline”. (The lake was at its lowest ever level in 1954/55). One of the party-goers is looking for investors in a plan to “buy the old railway station, put in a pool and a nine-hole golf course and start a club.” (p 71). (In 1955, the old railway station became the clubhouse of the Chapala Country Club, with its nine-hole golf course in the adjacent grounds; the club was later relocated further east near San Nicolas de Ibarra. The former railway station is now a museum and cultural center.)

Most of the later scenes in the book play out in Mexico City. The language of The Day of the Dead now seems stilted at times, and the plot is dated, but the book was well received at the time, and still worth a read.

Bart Spicer also wrote: The Dark Light (1949); Blues for the Prince (1950); The Golden Door (1951); Black Sheep, Run (1951); Shadow of Fear (1953) aka The Long Green ; The Wild Ohio (1953); The Taming of Carney Wilde (1954); The Tall Captains (1957); Brother to the Enemy (1958]; Exit, Running (1959); The Day Before Thunder (1960); Act of Anger (1962);  The Burned Man (1966); Kellog Junction (1969); Festival (1970); and The Adversary (1973).

In addition, he has also co-authored four books with his wife Betty Coe Spicer under the joint pseudonym “Jay Barbette”: Final Copy (1952); Dear Dead Days (1953); Deadly Doll (1958); Look Behind You (1960).

His books were widely translated and several of his books were adopted for television.

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Feb 122015
 

American sculptor and art historian Mary Fuller (McChesney) and her husband Robert Pearson McChesney, also an artist, spent 1951-1952 in Mexico, living in Ajijic and San Miguel de Allende. They moved to Mexico as a direct result of losing their jobs during the McCarthy era.

Mary Fuller McChesney was born 20 October 1922 in Wichita, Kansas. She grew up in Stockton, California and studied with Paul Marhenke at the University of California at Berkeley. During the second world war, she was a welder in the Richmond, California shipyard. Later, she apprenticed in ceramics pottery at the California Faience Company in Berkeley. She began to exhibit in 1947, and won first  prize at both the 6th and 8th Annual Pacific Coast Ceramic Shows (1947 and 1949).

Mary Fuller: Frog and Owl

Mary Fuller Sculpture of Frog and Owl (Photo credit: Kurt Rogers, SFGate)

She married fellow artist Robert Pearson McChesney (1913-2008), in December 1949 and the couple lived initially in the North Bay subregion of San Francisco.

After deciding to head for Mexico in 1951, they sold Mary Fuller’s house, bought a Model A Ford mail truck, and headed south complete with all their belongings. Safely across the border, they decided to write “artistas” on the side of their vehicle. Robert McChesney later told a reporter that, “People on the side of the road would wave at us. Kids would come running out of their house to see us. It wasn’t until later that we learned that Mexicans used the word artista to mean ‘movie actor’.” (SFGate, 2002)

In a 1994 interview for the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art, Mary Fuller McChesney recalled that the artists’ hangout in Ajijic at the time they were there was the Scorpion Club, run by Ernest Alexander, a black American painter from Chicago. Some of the artists “were going to the University of Guadalajara on the G.I. Bill. So– And some of them lived in Ajijic and they would go into Guadalajara once a week to pick up their checks and go in to school and that was about it.” The Scorpion Club was the popular watering-hole for “a bunch of writers, too. Some of them from New York. Some people who ran a bookstore. And they were published writers. And there was a mystery writer down there.” (Oral history interview with Mary Fuller McChesney, 1994 Sept. 28, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution)

Best known as a sculptor, Mary Fuller McChesney was also a writer. Besides numerous short stories, poems and art history articles, she wrote several detective novels, including Stab in the Dark, set in the 1950s Guadalajara art scene.

On their return from Mexico in 1952, Mary Fuller and her husband began building their home on an acre of land near the top of the Sonoma Mountain in Petaluma. Largely self-taught as an artist, Mary Fuller McChesney had started to sculpt in the 1940s. She created many of her best-known projects in the grounds of their home on Sonoma Mountain. Many of her sculptures are made from a special mixture of vermiculite, sand, cement and water, which is then carved directly using a knife and rasp.

Much of her work is “reminiscent of pre-Columbian sculpture and African art, which profoundly influence her aesthetic and artistic guides.”

Her unique sculptures of enchanting animals and mythological women have been exhibited at numerous museums and galleries throughout the USA, and in Mexico. Her work can be seen in many public spaces, as well as in museums and private collections. Her public sculpture commissions in California include works for the Petaluma Library, the San Francisco Zoo, the San Francisco General Hospital, Portsmouth Square in San Francisco, Salinas Community Center, Andrew Hill High School in San Jose, Department of Motor Vehicles in Yuba City, and Squaw Valley.

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Feb 092015
 

Arthur H. Lewis was born in Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania, on 27 September 1906, and died in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 25 January 1995.

He spent about five weeks in Mexico, in Ajijic on Lake Chapala, in the spring of 1964, working on his book Lament for the Molly Maguires, published later that year. His wife Juliet Blum accompanied him. On that occasion he stated that he wished to return to Mexico to work on a novel, but it is unclear if he ever actually did so.

lews-arthur-molly-maguiresLament for the Molly Maguires tells the true story of the violence wrought by a secret society of Pennsylvania Irish coal miners and how they were eventually brought to justice by an undercover detective of the Pinkerton Detective Agency. The book was nominated in 1965 for an “Edgar” award by the Mystery Writers of America, and was made into a 1970 movie starring Sean Connery and Richard Harris.

Fellow journalist Andy Wallace described him as, “tall and slender, with close-cropped white hair, a shaggy mustache and bushy white eyebrows. Deep furrows crossed his forehead, slid down between his eyes, and dropped from beside his ample nose to the ends of his mouth. He wore glasses. His fingers were long and graceful and carefully manicured.”

Lewis, who disliked being called an author and preferred to be known as a journalist, attended Franklin and Marshall College, and Columbia University, from 1924-26, but never completed a degree. He left university to work as a reporter with The Philadelphia Inquirer, a position he held, with gaps, until 1938.

From 1939 to 1952 he was the press representative for four Pennsylvania governors: Arthur James, James Duff, Edward Martin and John S. Fine.

He also taught journalism at the University of Pittsburgh in 1950, and at Harcum Junior College, in Bryn Mawr, and had a weekly radio show in Pittsburgh.

In the early 1950s, he became a free-lance writer. He was a highly self-disciplined writer, beginning work every day at 5:30 am. He specialized in researching and writing non-fiction books based on people and events in Pennsylvania. Lewis, himself, in a 1980 interview admitted that, “Most of my people are eccentrics. Why? I think eccentrics are the only people who accomplish anything…. They’re the most fascinating.”

His first book, The Aaronsburg Story (1956) told the history of an inter-faith, inter-race program in a small Pennsylvania town. The Worlds of Chippy Patterson (1960) was the biography of a Philadelphia socialite and recovering alcoholic who was one of the city’s best-known criminal lawyers.

He also wrote Bill Scranton of Scranton, Pennsylvania (1962); The Day They Shook the Plum Tree (1963), about Hetty Green, reputed to be the richest and one of the most detested women in America; La Belle Otero (1967), the biography of a courtesan whose clients included the world’s wealthiest men; Hex (1969), a tale of witchcraft; Carnival (1970) which described life on the carnival circuit; Copper Beeches (1971), a mystery story involving The Philadelphia Sherlock Holmes Society; Childrens Party (1972), a suspense mystery; It Was Fun While It Lasted: A Lament for the Hollywood that Was (1973); Murder by contract: the people v. “Tough Tony” Boyle (1975); and Those Philadelphia Kellys: With a Touch of Grace (1977), the biography of the family of Princess Grace.

Lewis’ research materials, newspaper and magazine clippings, correspondence, photographs, notes and cassette recordings of interviews, are now held in a special collection at Temple University in Philadelphia.

Main source:

  • “Arthur H. Lewis, 89, Author Of Philadelphia Stories” By Andy Wallace, The Philadelphia Inquirer, 27 January 1995

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Dec 292014
 

Scottish writer Alexander Whitelaw Robertson Trocchi was born in Glasgow 30 July 1925 and died 15 April 1984 in London, England.

After graduating from the University of Glasgow, Trocchi lived in Paris, where in the early 1950s, he edited the literary magazine Merlin, which published the work of many noteworthy writers including Henry Miller, Samuel Beckett, Christopher Logue and Pablo Neruda. In the late 1950s, Trocchi lived for some time in Ajijic, on Lake Chapala, while he was writing his controversial novel Cain’s Book, first published in New York in 1960.

Alexander Trocchi in about 1967

Alexander Trocchi in about 1967

Trocchi had previously published an autobiographical book Young Adam (1955), made into a movie in 2003. In the preface to Cain’s Book, Trocchi reassured readers that the narrator’s heroin use and related adventures were unrelated to the author’s personal life or experiences. Joe Necchi, the heroin addict and writer in Cain’s Book, is living and working on a scow (barge) on the Hudson River in New York. Necchi has numerous flashbacks to his childhood/youth in Glasgow, London and Paris. The narrative of the book, including its sex and drugs scenes, becomes more and more fragmented as Necchi stuggles to reconcile his desire for creativity with the demands of his addiction.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERATrocchi’s own addiction would prevent him from attending the launch party for Cain’s Book in New York and indeed, from ever completing another book-length work. Shortly after the publication of Cain’s Book, Trocchi shot himself up with heroin, live on camera, during a television debate on drug abuse. He was already on bail for having supplied heroin to a minor, and a jail term seemed inevitable. Trocchi’s friends (including Norman Mailer) smuggled him across the border into Canada, where he was given refuge in Montreal by poet Irving Layton and met Leonard Cohen.

This short Youtube video – Alexander Trocchi – A Life in Pieces – features comments from William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg and Leonard Cohen.

When the U.K. edition of Cain’s Book was published in 1963, Trocchi was first “feted as a new star”. But, in February of the following year, the book “was seized, together with 48 other novels and 906 magazines in a series of police raids in Sheffield.” The police view was that the book was corrupting, since it “seems to advocate the use of drugs in school so that children should have a clearer conception of art.” (quotes from Green’s Encyclopaedia of Censorship). The publishers lost the case and Trocchi held a public bonfire to burn all unsold copies of Cain’s Book.

Most of Trocchi’s novels were published by Olympia Press, but many were originally published under pen names such as Frances Lengel and Carmencita de las Lunas. For example, the name Frances Lengel was used for several pornographic books including Helen and Desire (1954) and Carnal Days of Helen Seferis (1954).

Trocchi’s other novels include:

  • White Thighs (1955)
  • School for Wives (1955)
  • Thongs (1955)
  • Young Adam (1955)
  • My Life and Loves: Fifth Volume (1954)
  • Sappho of Lesbos (1960)
  • School for Sin (1960)
  • Cain’s Book (1960)

He also published a collection of poetry entitled Man at Leisure (1972).

John Ross (1938-2011), author of several books and a long-time resident of Mexico City, describes in Murdered by Capitalism : A Memoir of 150 Years of Life and Death on the American Left (Nation Books, 2004) how on one occasion (date unclear) he left Mexico City and met Alex Trocchi in Ajijic:

The road I was on took me west from Guadalajara out to Lake Chapala where Lawrence had set The Plumed Serpent. I kept staring at the dark surface, waiting for Quetzalcoatl to suddenly surge up from Chapala’s turgid, ancient depths.

Alex Trocchi, Scotland’s most accomplished junkie decades before Trainspotting, and a fellow barge captain whose Cain’s Book was one of Barney Rosset’s first titles at Evergreen, was hiding out in Ajijic. I bunked with Ned Polsky whose quibblings with Norman Mailer and his “White Negro” thesis were well-published on the Left. But heroin is a lethargic drug and weighty words did not spark much adventure. Ajijic, packed with dissipated gringos, seemed to me a kind of leper colony and I soon bid it adios and grabbed the puddle-jumper down to Puerto Vallarta, still a coastal backwater before Burton & Taylor filmed Night of the Iguana there, and caught a sail canoe out to the legendary Beatnik colony near the south cape of the bay at Yelapa.”

(Editor’s note: Richard Burton was in The Night of the Iguana (1964), but Elizabeth Taylor was not.)

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Dec 222014
 

Joan Van Every was born 28 Feb 1929 in Los Angeles, California, and died at age 83 in Santa Barbara, California, on 6 June 2012. She was survived by her husband John Frost, son John Frost and 3 grandchildren. Her father, Dale Van Every, was a famous writer and screenwriter most active in the 1920s and 1930s.

Joan was educated at the University of California at Santa Barbara and the University of California at Berkeley. She served as a librarian after the second world war on US military bases in France and Germany, and was later the Head Librarian of the Santa Monica Public Library for several years.

Joan Van Every (then 35) married artist and photographer John Frost (41) on 26 September 1964 in San Bernadino, California. In 1966, the couple relocated to Mexico, living for a short time in Uruapan in Michoacán, before establishing their permanent home and John’s photographic studio in Jocotepec on Lake Chapala. John maintained his commercial photography studio (specializing in aerial photographs) in their home for more than 40 years.Prior to finding their home in the village, the couple spent 6 weeks at the historic La Quinta inn in Jocotepec. The La Quinta  had been an inn ever since 1824. Sadly, the building was wantonly destroyed in the 1990s.

frost-joan-ca-2008Joan was an indefatigable supporter of numerous charitable organizations at Lakeside, including the pioneering Centro de Salud in Jocotepec, the Lakeside School for the Deaf. For many years, she helped coordinate medical consultations and surgeries for Chapala-area children via the Shriners organization. Joan  was also the co-founder in the 1970s of Amigos de Salud (which in 1993 became the Programa Pro Niños Incapacitados del Lago), and was a co-founder of the Lakeside region’s major annual fund-raising event: the Ajijic Chili Cook-off.

I have read that Joan wrote two art books for children, but have failed to find any proof of this. However, she certainly did write six novels, several set in Mexico, and all using her married name of “Joan Van Every Frost”.

frost-joan-van-every-coversHer first novel, This Fiery Promise (Leisure Books, 1978), dedicated to Tam, is a historical romance set at the start of the Mexican Revolution. It tells the fiery adventures of a horse-loving American girl who marries a rich, much older Mexican hacienda-owner. Their lives become entangled in the Revolution, and she eventually flees by joining a circus. The novel covers lots of territory from Santa Barbara (California) to Nayarit, Guadalajara, Colima and the port of Manzanillo.

Lisa (New York: Leisure Books, 1979) is dedicated “For John, with all my love”. This historical romance set in 1880s Britain unravels the complex relationships of a dysfunctional family, in the midst of scenes involving horses, fires, medical doctors, and class differences.

Her third novel includes scenes set in Guadalajara and at Lake Chapala. A Masque of Chameleons (Fawcett 1981) looks at the adventures and misadventures befalling a troupe of traveling actors in mid-nineteenth century Mexico. The theater troupe withstands lots of internal intrigue and external pressures as it tours Mexico, from Veracruz, Puebla, Mexico City and Cuernavaca to Morelia, Zacatecas, Aguascalientes, Guadalajara and Lake Chapala. This novel displays a sound background knowledge of Mexican history and is engagingly written.

This is how Frost first describes the troupe’s arrival at Lake Chapala: “They finally came to a large body of water that stretched as far as they could see to the west, like an inland sea the color of a silver coin. Across the lake were green, brush-covered mountains, ancient dead volcanoes that had thrust themselves up when the world was still young to form this pocket cradling the endless lake.” ( p 228)

In Kings of the Sea (Fawcett, 1982), the publisher’s blurb claims that Gideon Hand is determined to endure all hardships as he struggles to forge a shipbuilding dynasty and to possess the woman he loves but cannot marry. Genius and passion hold sway in this sweeping saga of a shipbuilding dynasty.

Frost’s fifth novel, Portrait in Black (Fawcett 1985) has a Santa Barbara portrait painter Crystal Perry as its main protagonist. Perry not only paints portraits of Santa Barbara’s upper crust, but also paints horses, and she is quickly dragged into a web of extortion and murder.

Silvershine (Fawcett 1987) is set in Mexico, and looks at the drugs scene in the glittering Los Dorados hotel in Manzanillo, where swimwear designer Blaise Cory has opened a new boutique. A minor part of the action is set in Oaxaca (at Mitla). This is a tale of smuggling, money and corruption. The Los Dorados hotel is clearly based on Manzanillo’s famed Las Hadas hotel complex.

All of Joan Van Every Frost’s novels are well-crafted, and enjoyable light reading. They have long been out-of-print, but copies are readily available via used books sites such as http://abebooks.com.

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Dec 152014
 

Dale Byron Van Every was the author of more than 20 books and movie scripts and an Oscar-nominated screenwriter. He was born 23 July 1896 in Van, Michigan, served with the American Expeditionary Forces during World War 1 and died 28 May 1976 in Santa Barbara, California.

In about 1957, he spent at least six months living at what is now the Montecarlo Hotel in Chapala working on a novel (presumably The Voyagers). He was underwhelmed by the Chapala area, and afterwards described it as having “too many retired generals and admirals” for his liking!

van-every-dale-voyagersDale Van Every maintained indirect links to the Lake Chapala region for many years afterwards because his daughter Joan Van Every Frost, with her artist and photographer husband John Frost, settled in Jocotepec in 1966, and subsequently lived there for more than forty years. Joan inherited some of her father’s writing ability, publishing six novels of her own.

Dale Van Every’s first wife (mother of Joan and her elder brother David) was Ellen Calhoun. The couple filed for divorce in Los Angeles in 1935, with the mother being given custody of the two children. A few years later, certainly prior to 1940, Van Every married Florence Mason (1896-1969). Shortly before his death, Dale Van Every married Frances Robinson Hess, an actress singer, magician and TV pioneer better known by her stage name “Lady Francis R. Frances“. (In an interview late in her life, Joan referred to her, somewhat dismissively, as “a Mexican circus girl”, but it is interesting that in Joan’s own debut novel, This Fiery Promise (1978) the American horse-loving (like Joan) heroine marries a wealthy, much older Mexican hacienda owner but eventually flees the turmoil of the Mexican Revolution by becoming a Mexican circus girl!)

Dale Van Every was most active as a writer in the 1920s and 1930s, but continued screenwriting until 1957, the year he visited Chapala. His early screen writing credits (alone or in collaboration) included The Acquittal (1923), the film version of his Broadway play Telling the World (1928), following which Van Every moved to Hollywood. Later screen writing credits (alone or in collaboration) included Marianne (1929), Desert Nights (1929), The Duke Steps Out (1929), Navy Blues (1929), Those Three French Girls (1930), Trader Horn (1931), East of Borneo (1931), Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932), The All-American (1932) and Airmail (1932), Saturday’s Millions (1933), More Than a Secretary (1936), the Oscar-nominated Captains Courageous (1937), Souls at Sea (1937), Spawn of the North (1938), George Stevens’ The Talk of the Town (1942) and Sealed Cargo (1951).

van-eveery-captains-courageousIn 1934, Van Every added producing to his resume. His producer or associate producer credits include the Poor Rich (1934), Uncertain Lady (1934), I’ll Tell the World (1934), Dr. Cyclops (1940) and Rangers of Fortune (1940). In several of these projects he was also credited as writer or co-writer. He remained in screenwriting until 1957

Dale Van Every was co-author of Charles Lindbergh – His Life (1927) and author of several novels and historical works, including a four-part series of books entitled The Frontier People of America:

  • Forth to the Wilderness: The First American Frontier, 1754-1774 (1961);
  • A Company of Heroes: The American Frontier, 1775-1783 (1962);
  • Ark of Empire: The American Frontier, 1784-1803 (1964);
  • The Final Challenge: The American Frontier, 1804-1845 (1964);

Other books by Dale Van Every include The American Expeditionary Force in Battle (1928); Westward the River (1945);  The Shining Mountains (1948); Bridal Journey (1951); The Captive Witch (1951); The Trembling Earth (1952); The Voyagers (1957); Disinherited: The Lost Birthright of the American Indian (1966); The Day the Sun Died (1971).

Many of Dale Van Every’s original manuscripts, together with correspondence, reviews, biographical information and research notebooks, are held in the Special Collections and University Archives of the University of Oregon.

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Dec 082014
 

Bruce Buckingham (a pseudonym of Dane Chandos, the first pseudonym of the writing duo of Peter Lilley and Anthony Stansfeld) was the author of two detective mysteries set in Mexico:

  • Three Bad Nights(London: Michael Joseph, 1956; Penguin edition, 1961) and
  • Boiled Alive (London: Michael Joseph, 1957; Penguin edition, 1961)

Both novels feature a Mexican detective, Don Pancho (short for “Francisco de Torla Saavedra, Marqués de Langurén y Orandaín”), an eccentric, laid-back, huarache-wearing former federal detective who, with his manservant sidekick Crisanto, solves jewel thefts, murders and other glamorous international crimes. Both books also feature the British aristocrat Lady Kendal.

boiled-aliveThe cover design of the Penguin Crime edition of Boiled Alive is by acclaimed illustrator and book jacket designer Romek Marber.

Mike Grost, an American writer of detective stories, has published some interesting thoughts about the possible influence of Ngaio Marsh on Bruce Buckingham. For example, Grost cites the fact that both Boiled Alive and Marsh’s earlier Colour Scheme (1943) are “set in an exotic resort area centered around hot springs. Both novels mix international characters and visitors with members of the host country (New Zealand in Colour Scheme, Mexico in Boiled Alive). Both novels mix international intrigue with mystery fiction.” (For more, scroll down http://mikegrost.com/ngmarsh.htm to “Bruce Buckingham”).

According to Grost, Boiled Alive “is set in the apparently imaginary locale of Tuxpan, Mexico. There are at least four real-life cities in Mexico named Tuxpan; this book does not seem to be set in any one of them specifically.”

Actually, there can be no doubt that the setting of Boiled Alive is the hotel of San José Purua, once Mexico’s foremost spa-hotel, near the towns of Tuxpan and Jungapeo in Michoacán. The hotel is close to “La Curva de la Gringa (The American Woman’s Curve).”

Boiled Alive takes some liberties (as you would expect) with place names, but the hotel described in the book is undoubtedly San José Purua (see photo).

San José Purua spa hotel (from an early brochure)

San José Purua spa hotel (from an early brochure)

The plot of Boiled Alive is relatively straightforward, but the authors certainly show a keen eye for detail and for characterization, making this an enjoyable read. The group staying at the “Gran Hotel Balneario de Tuxpan” include an American millionaire John Belton, accompanied by his wife, daughter, mining engineer and chauffeur. Belton is staying at the hotel to negotiate the mining rights to the residual mercury left behind after silver refining in colonial-era mines. Hoping to outbid Belton is tall British aristocrat Sir Nigel Heathcote, who arrives with his son Tom. A couple of Hollywood starlets, a young American journalist and assorted other guests are also present.

Cover of first edition (published by Michael Joseph)

Cover of first edition (published by Michael Joseph)

Belton disappears and his body later turns up in one of the local hot springs. There is no shortage of action in this book with its mix of international intrigue, kidnapping, murder and subterfuge.

As Grost points out, two characters in Boiled Alive invite some gender-based speculation. The female friend of “the flighty Hollywood starlet” is nicknamed Butch, while the elderly spinster Miss Cloud is apparently an occasional cross-dresser.

It is tempting to suggest that this character may be a reference to the famous Mexico City “charwoman-businessman” Conchita Jurado, aka Don Carlos Balmori. It is quite probable that Peter Lilley would have been familiar with this sensational example of gender deception since it was featured in a 1945 issue of Time magazine.

Among those duped by Jurado was Mexico’s top detective of the day, Valente Quintana. Quintana had been invited by “Don Carlos Balmori” to a soiree because the host feared that someone there was actually an imposter. The detective assured Balmori that he was confident he would spot and unmask the trouble-maker before any mischief took place. However, when he was forced to admit defeat, Don Carlos revealed himself as Conchita, saying, as she always did in the denouement, “Nothing is exactly as it seems to be. Nothing is real. The truth is always hidden.” Despite his damaged pride, the detective saw the funny side, and subsequently joined the “Balmoris” in enthusiastically planning further adventures.

The San José Purua spa-hotel, world-famous in its day, opened in the early 1940s and was the epitome of luxury living, with European chefs and its own small night club for visiting cabaret and touring acts from all over the world. It was also the base for director John Huston in 1947 when he filmed The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, starring Humphrey Bogart, in the surrounding hills.

The hotel closed many years ago, but its grounds and pools can still be admired. Attempts to relaunch the hotel as a luxury resort have so far proved fruitless.

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Nov 242014
 

Bruce Buckingham is the pseudonym of Dane Chandos, in turn the pseudonym of the writing duo of Peter Lilley and Anthony Stansfeld. The pair used the Bruce Buckingham pseudonym for two detective mysteries set in Mexico.

James Gilbert Lilley, always known as ‘Peter Lilley’, lived from 1913 to 1980. He first visited the Lake Chapala region at the end of the 1930s. Lilley was a tennis-loving expatriate Englishman who built a beautiful home at San Antonio Tlayacapan on Lake Chapala and lived there for 40 years.

Prior to university, Lilley had attended Stowe School in the UK from 1927 to 1932. His first pseudonym, “Dane Chandos”, was on account of his schoolboy nickname “Dane” (referencing his Danish-looking square jaw) and the name of one of the school’s boarding houses. Stowe School is set in the picturesque market town of Buckingham which helps explain “Bruce Buckingham”, his second choice of pseudonym. “Dane Chandos” was first used by Peter Lilley and Nigel Stansbury Millett (1904-1946) for Village in the Sun.

Following Millett’s untimely death in 1946, Lilley’s writing partner became Anthony Stansfeld (1913-1998), a multilingual fellow Englishman who was professor of art history at Mercer University in Macon, Atlanta, Georgia. The two collaborated on a series of books, either as “Dane Chandos” (used for House in the Sun, the follow-up to Village in the Sun – and for several travelogues) or as “Bruce Buckingham” (reserved for their two detective  stories).

The two detective novels, both set in Mexico, are:

  • Three Bad Nights (London: Michael Joseph, 1956; Penguin edition, 1961) and
  • Boiled Alive (London: Michael Joseph, 1957; Penguin edition, 1961)

Both feature a Mexican detective, Don Pancho (short for “Francisco de Torla Saavedra, Marqués de Langurén y Orandaín”), an eccentric, laid-back, huarache-wearing former federal detective who, with his manservant sidekick Crisanto, solves jewel thefts, murders and other glamorous international crimes. Both books also feature the British aristocrat Lady Kendon.

error: Alert: Content is protected !!