Oct 012020
 

A lakefront home in Ajijic was the setting in 1949 for the marriage of a Canadian author and an English nurse. The story of how they met and fell in love is one of the most endearing tales to emerge from my research into the authors and artists associated with Lake Chapala.

The venue for the wedding was Quinta Johnson, the home built by Herbert and Georgette Johnson, a British couple who had left France just as the second world war broke out and who first arrived in Mexico in 1939. The magnificent garden they created separating their residence from the lake was sufficiently famous that it featured, years later, in Elizabeth Schuler’s Gardens of the World (1962).

The groom at the ceremony in Ajijic was Harold Walter Masson, who was born in St. Raphael’s in South Glengarry County, Ontario, Canada, on 29 June 1915 and died in Hawaii at age 95 on 26 March 2011.

Prior to joining the Royal Canadian Air Force in October 1939 at the outbreak of the second world war, Masson had lived in Toronto and worked for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. In 1945, at the end of the war, “Hal” Masson, as he was known, joined the staff of Maclean’s magazine as the magazine’s assignments editor, with special responsibility for short fiction.

Over the next eighteen months the magazine published several of his short stories, starting with “These thy gifts” in November 1945 which has the memorable opening, “Black Joe and Little Joe sat at the worn kitchen table, elbows resting on the scrubbed pine boards, their faces shining in the uncertain light of the flickering kerosene lamp.”

By 1947, tired of the extreme winters in Ontario, Masson decided to emigrate to sunnier climes in the US. He crossed the border at Niagara Falls in June 1947 and, after a brief stay in California in September that year, continued driving south in pursuit of a warm winter.

Masson eventually landed in Ajijic where, in 1949, he rented the guest bungalow at Quinta Johnson and continued to write. A short story entitled “He knew what was wrong with her, and how to cure it” appeared in Collier’s Weekly in 1948, and another story—”The Worm’s Eye View”—was published in Argosy.

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Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, Herbert Johnson’s 29-year-old niece was making plans to visit her uncle in Ajijic. Helen Eunice Riggall (pronounced “Regal”), born in Langton, Spilsby, Lincolnshire, on 24 April 1919, was the daughter of Herbert’s younger sister. During the war, Helen studied for three years at St. Thomas’s Hospital in London, where she passed her exams to become a registered nurse in 1942. By the time the war ended, like many of her contemporaries, she longed to forget the worst of her war-time nursing experiences and begin a new chapter in her life in new surroundings.

She left Southampton for New York on 20 January 1949 aboard the SS America of the United States Lines. According to her US immigration form, Helen was unaccompanied and named the US as her country of “intended future permanent residence,” indicating that she had little or no intention of returning to the UK. However, before settling in the US, she wanted to visit her uncle and his wife in Ajijic.

While some details remain unclear, it appears most likely that from New York she traveled first by train across to California and then took a steamer south, to disembark in Mexico at either Manzanillo or (less likely) Mazatlán.

At this point, it is best if Helen’s daughter takes up her mother’s story:

Her uncle and his chiropractic friend met her… and planned to drive her to Lake Chapala. Unfortunately, the sun was setting and uncle Herbert was not able to see the road well and ended up driving over a cliff. My mother’s back was broken to the point the doctors fused it. Poor thing, she spoke no Spanish [and] was in a Mexican hospital [presumably in Guadalajara] sharing a room with a woman bullfighter! It was there that my father met her and began spending time with her while she recovered. As he had been there awhile he had picked up some Spanish, while she had none. The day she was released from the hospital, he proposed.”

Ann Medalie. Ajijic Landscape (oil). ca 1945

Ann Medalie. c. 1945. Ajijic Landscape (oil). The Quinta Johnson garden.

Harold Walter Masson and Helen Eunice Riggall were married in the Quinta Johnson garden on 31 August 1949. Guests at their wedding included the Langley, Riggall, Masson, Butterlin, Johnson, Bauer and Stephens families, as well as Mrs Grace Wilcox, Miss Neill James and Miss Madeline Miedema. The witnesses to their union were Herbert B. Johnson and Guillermo Gonzalez Hermosillo (owner of the Villa Montecarlo in Chapala) for the bride and, for the groom, German businessman Kurt Weinmann and Peter Lilley, the English writer behind the “Dane Chandos” books.

Interestingly, the formal registration of the wedding states that Hal was in Mexico as a tourist (normally valid for no longer than six months) while Helen was in possession of a “tarjeta especial para turistas forma 5B.” Never having heard of this category previously, I assume that her regular tourist card had expired while she was in hospital and that this was an “exceptional case” extension for a period of time—perhaps three months—which would have been about to expire by the time the newlyweds left Mexico for California in November.

When the couple crossed the border at Laredo, Helen stated her intention to become a permanent resident. Her entry paper lists a large scar on her left palm as a distinguishing feature.

The Massons revisited Mexico briefly in 1951.

While residing in Laguna Beach, Masson joined the staff of the Indian Valley Record in Greenville. When he contributed “The Sea Raiders” to that paper in 1951, it reported proudly that their new contributor had “recently crashed the American “big time” with a story in the Saturday Evening Post.” That story was entitled “Trouble Below the Border.”

Masson published several more short stories over the next few years, including “Fat Man’s Doom” in Cavalier (June 1953), “Señor, It Is a Pump”, in Bluebook Magazine (November 1953), which appeared alongside stories by John D. MacDonald, Leslie Charteris, Philip Ketchum and similarly famous writers; “The Last Quarrel” in Cosmopolitan, and “The Love Trap” in Canadian magazine Liberty.

Harold became a naturalized US citizen in April 1953; a few years later, Helen also took US citizenship. In 1958, they visited relatives in the UK to show off their young daughter. The family subsequently settled in Hawaii, where Helen died in May 1986 and Hal in 2011.

The Masson-Riggall wedding was not the first marriage between two foreign tourists in Ajijic, and certainly not the last. That between David Holbrook Kennedy and Sarah Shearer—who had married in Ajijic in 1941—sadly ended in tragedy within months.

The stars were better aligned for the union of Hal and Helen, who shared their lives and their happiness for more than 36 years. The romance of Lake Chapala and “The Love Trap” of Ajijic had struck again.

Acknowledgments

My sincere thanks to Colette Hirata for helping me piece together this profile of her parents, and to Katie Goodridge Ingram for an email sharing her memories of Hal and Helen, and of the Johnsons.

Sources

  • El Informador, 9 September 1949.
  • The Glengarry News. 1939. “Other Enlistments”, The Glengarry News, 6 October 1939, 1.
  • The Glengarry News. 1945. “On Editorial Staff of Maclean’s”, reprinted in The Glengarry News, 23 November 1955, 1.
  • Indian Valley Record (Greenville, California), 30 August 1951, 10.
  • Hal Masson, 1951. “For Sale Cheap – One Snow Shovel” Oakdale Leader (Oakdale, California), 27 September 1951, 21.

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

Sep 172020
 

José López Portillo y Rojas (1850-1923) was born in Guadalajara. He graduated as a lawyer in Guadalajara in 1871, before spending three years traveling in the U.S., Europe and the Middle East. On his return, he published his first book: Egypt and Palestine. Notes from a trip (1874).

portillo-y-rojas-jose-lopezHe began an illustrious political career as deputy for Jalisco to the national Congress from 1875-1877. Shortly after that first experience of national politics, he returned to Guadalajara and became a journalist, teacher of law, and member of that city’s literary circle.

The group included other young Jalisco writers such as Antonio Zaragoza and Manuel Álvarez del Castillo, one of whose relatives, Jesús, would later start the El Informador newspaper in Guadalajara, which remains one of the city’s most important dailies.

In 1880, López Portillo y Rojas returned to Mexico City as a deputy. In 1882, he became a state senator. In 1886, he joined with Manuel Álvarez del Castillo and Esther Tapia de Castellanos to start a new publication in Guadalajara. La República Literaria, a magazine of science, art and literature quickly became nationally famous, but only lasted until 1890.

In 1891, López Portillo published the first transcription, albeit partial, of Father Antonio Tello’s invaluable 17th century account relating to Lake Chapala. In 1892, he published his only book of verse Transitory harmonies. By 1902, López Portillo was living in Mexico City and had joined the Partido Científico (Scientific Party). After the fall of Díaz, he held various federal government posts before becoming Governor of the State of Jalisco (1912-1914). For a brief period in 1914, he was appointed as Foreign Relations Secretary in the government of Victoriano Huerta, during the time when the U.S. invaded the port of Veracruz.

He left politics shortly afterwards and dedicated himself to teaching and writing. He left a vast body of work, ranging from travel accounts, poems, and literary criticism to historical and legal essays, short stories and novels. His best known collection of short stories is Stories, tales and short stories (1918). His best known novel, The parcel (1898), relates the fight between two hacienda owners for a worthless parcel of land.

At the time of his death in Mexico City on 22 of May, 1923, he was director of the Academia Mexicana de la Lengua (Mexican Academy of Language). One of López Portillo’s grandsons, José López Portillo y Pacheco (1920-2004), served as President of Mexico between 1976 and 1982. In Guadalajara, the Casa-Museo López Portillo, a museum and exhibition space honoring the family, can be visited at Calle Liceo #177.

A short story about Lake Chapala, entitled “José la garza morena” (“José the Great Blue Heron”) was published in Cosmos (a monthly magazine published in Mexico City) in June 1912. It is a tale about someone finding a heron that has been shot and wounded, and trying in vain to cure it.

The story starts by remembering the times before Lake Chapala’s shores has been altered by civilization:

When I visited the lakeside hamlet of Chapala for the first time, now many years ago, I found everything in an almost primitive state, better than now from some points of view, but worse from others.

The author compares the Chapala of earlier times with the situation during the Porfiriato (when he was active in politics as a supporter of President Díaz):

Not a sign back then of the picturesque villas that today adorn and decorate these shores from the town to El Manglar, which is the house where Don Porfirio Díaz used to stay during the time, happy for him, of his all-embracing command; but everywhere was thick scrub, cheerful orchards with severe rocky places, which were in harmony with that rustic and unspoiled landscape.

The scene is set; the action begins with an evening trip in a rowboat on the lake. The beauty of the lake, as depicted by the author, creates an impression of decadence and morbidity, because there are no signs of life out on the water:

But that scene of glorification seemed dead and desolate, without any bird to make it cheerful; not a stork, nor a crane, nor a duck stained the burnished horizon with its graceful silhouette.

Further on, the author continues:

The lake appeared magnificent and solitary under that divine show, as if it were another asphalt lake, a new Dead Sea. But it was not always thus; and the recollections of better times engraved in my memory transformed this most unhappy spectacle because, before the rising tide of civilization invaded these places with platoons of armed hunters with shining rifles, flocks of ducks would rise suddenly into the air from the marshes as the boat approached.

The second part of the short story is about someone finding a heron that has been shot and wounded, and trying in vain to cure it.

Note: The translations included above are by the author of this post, which was first published 18 June 2014.

Credit and reference:

My sincere thanks to Dr. Wolfgang Vogt of the University of Guadalajara for bringing this short story (and his analysis of it) to my attention.

Vogt, Wolfgang (1989) “El lago de Chapala en la literatura” in Estudios sociales: revista cuatrimestral del Instituto de Estudios Sociales. Universidad de Guadalajara: Year 2, Number 5: 1989, 37-47. Republished in 1994 as pp 163-176 of Vogt (1994) La cultura jalisciense desde la colonia hasta la Revolución (Guadalajara: H. Ayuntamiento).

Please feel free to comment or suggest corrections or additional material related to any post via our comments feature or email.

May 142020
 

Thomas Philip Terry (1864-1945) was born in Georgetown, Kentucky. Terry first visited Mexico in his early twenties and spent 5 years working for The Mexican Financier, a Mexico City weekly, while writing a series of short stories and news reports for U.S. newspapers and completing a popular Spanish-English phrase book. Terry then lived briefly in New York before moving to Japan for a decade.

He had a flair for languages and this inveterate traveler and reporter witnessed first-hand the China-Japanese War, the Boxer outbreak, the Russo-Japanese war, and the Spanish-American war in the Philippines. He returned to Mexico, with his wife and their two young sons, in 1905 as manager (administrator) of the Sonora News Company, a position he held until 1910.

The Sonora News Company was a prominent publishing house, founded in Nogales, Arizona, in about 1884 by W. F. Layer. Layer established the company in order to control the news business along the Sonora railroad which ran from Guaymas to Nogales. In 1888, not long after the company opened a Mexico City office, it won the contract for supplying periodicals and other items on the Mexican National Railway (linking Mexico City to Nuevo Laredo), and for running news agents on its trains. As more and more railroad lines were built, the company continued to expand; by 1891 it had contracts with the Sonora, Central, International, National, Monterrey, and Mexican Gulf railroads.

In addition to its regular news gathering and disseminating activities, the Sonora News Company published two seminal guide books about Mexico. The first was Campbell’s new revised complete guide and descriptive book of Mexico, by Reau Campbell, published in 1899, and the second was Terry’s Mexico handbook for travellers, first published in 1909. This encyclopedic guide, thoroughly good reading, covers lots of ground that was, and still is, hard to find elsewhere.

Terry-map-Chapala

This map in Terry’s handbook, which helped persuade D. H. Lawrence to visit Chapala, shows the lake larger than it really was in 1909—the eastern swamps had been drained and reclaimed as farmland by that time.

Terry’s Mexico handbook was so well-received by President Díaz and his cabinet members that they ordered copies to be sent to every Mexican embassy, legation and trade office across the world. The guide quickly became the travel bible for Thomas Cook and Sons and other travel agencies and tourist organizations, and remained the tourist “bible” for decades.

Its description of Chapala is credited with convincing the English novelist D. H. Lawrence that he simply had to see the town and its eponymous lake for himself. During his residence at Lake Chapala, Lawrence wrote the first draft of The Plumed Serpent, using local settings and characters for inspiration.

Terry’s research was meticulous and his informative guide delves into the details of everything from history to hotels, and from shopping to excursions. It was expanded in numerous subsequent editions as Terry’s Guide to Mexico, with later editions revised by James Norman.

In 1914, Terry produced a second book on Mexico: Mexico: an outline sketch of the country, its people and their history from the earliest times to the present.

Thomas Philip Terry died in Hingham, Massachusetts in 1945.

In a curious twist of fate, Terry also has a much more recent connection to Lake Chapala in that Robert C. Terry (his grandson) retired with his wife, Judith, to Ajijic in 2007.

For more about Terry and his description of Lake Chapala, see chapter 53 of my Lake Chapala Through the Ages, an anthology of travelers’ tales.

Sources include

  • Reau Campbell. 1899. Campbell’s new revised complete guide and descriptive book of Mexico. Mexico City: Sonora News Company, 1899.
  • The Jalisco Times, 22 August 1908.
  • The Mexican Herald, 31 March 1910, 3.
  • The Rock Island Argus (Rock Island, Illinois), 26 Mar 1910, 4.
  • Thomas Philip Terry. 1909. Terry’s Mexico Handbook for Travellers. México City: Sonora News Company and Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.
  • James Tipton. 2011. “Peace Corps couple retire to their Mexico paradise.” Article on MexConnect.com
  • The Two Republics, 2 Sep 1888, 4; 2 Nov 1888, 4.

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

Apr 302020
 

Given its underlying theme, it seems eerily appropriate—given the current Covid-19 lockdown at Lake Chapala—to take a quick look at William S. Stone’s short story entitled “La Soñadora” (“The Dreamer), published in Mexican Life in 1947.

Stone-story

The illustration is by Valentín Vidaurreta, better known as one of the greatest silver designers in 20th century Mexico

The protagonist is a young doctor who has arrived with a group of American miners looking for gold in the hills behind the village:

It was in the year 1918 that a group of Americans came to the Mexican village of Ajijic to mine gold in the mountains a bare two kilometers away. A truly white face had rarely before been seen and now, all at once, there was a score of them. It came nearer to stirring the village from its apathy than any other event of the last half century. But, after a brief period of mutely staring inspection, the foreigners would have been forgotten, would have aroused no more interest that the lizards which swarmed the adobe walls or the porkers wandering the muddy lanes, had it not been for the young doctor who came with them.

Dr Mason had a way of going into their hovels where he could not be entirely ignored. For that was the year of the plague. Dog-tired after ministering to those who were sick among his own party at the mine, he would stumble down the trail to the village. There, without being told, he seemed to know in which houses were the stricken and without a word he would stalk almost as though sleep-walking to the mat-side, with his medicine case in hand.

During the early days of the epidemic, before fatigue had dulled his faculties, he had been surprised and curious at the reception that his visit met. The circle of silent watchers about the afflicted one would part reluctantly. Eyes which had been fixed in sodden helplessness on the victim would turn upon him, burning dully with hostility. And, so he thought, with fear.”

As the epidemic rages around him, Mason continues trying to help the local people but becomes more and more pulled in to the villagers’ world of intrigue, sorcery, and witchcraft. Mason repeatedly overhears them repeating three names in particular:

Carlota, the bruja, the ancient village witch and healer. María, the young cantinera, the operator of a small saloon—she who was literate, her head raised nearly free above the others, but her feet still enmeshed in rank weeds of superstition. Finally Juan, the medico, the outsider who had laughed at witches’ spells and cured with white man’s magic.”

Before long, Mason is drawn back into events that happened eighteen years earlier, in 1900, and his imagination works overtime as the present becomes blurred with the past.

Stone had an enviable talent with words and wrote dozens of short stories and, in a lengthy career, several books, mostly set in Hawaii. These include Teri Taro from Bora Bora (1940); Thunder island (1942); Pépé was the saddest bird (1944); The ship of flame, a saga of the South seas (1945); Tahiti landfall (1948); Two came by sea (1953); Castles in the sand (1955); The coral tower (1959) and Idylls of the South Seas (1970).

William Standish Stone was born to Captain Arthur W. Stone, a US naval officer, and his wife in Santa Barbara, California, in 1905 and died in Hawaii on 13 January 1970.

While completing a liberal arts degree at Harvard, Stone became very familiar with Mexico, making numerous trips into the interior during vacations before living and traveling there for several years, learning Spanish and “nursing an ambition to write.” When he returned to the US, Stone settled in Tucson and completed a law degree at the University of Arizona. He continued his writing career alongside learning to fly and running a legal practice in Tucson for many years. Stone married Virginia Moss Haydon (1909-1972) in May 1931.

If you know more about William Standish Stone’s time in Mexico, please get in touch!

I’m sure that Dr. Mason’s dreamy spirit lives on in Ajijic and fully expect to see him sitting on his bench in the plaza next time I visit…

Sources

  • Arizona Daily Star, 24 Dec 1935.
  • Honolulu Advertiser, 16 Jan 1970, 49.
  • William S. Stone. “La Soñadora,” Mexican Life, March 1947, p 13-14, 74-84.
  • Vanity Fair, January 1936.

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

Aug 102017
 

Artist and writer Allyn Hunt has lived in the Lake Chapala area since the mid-1960s. Hunt was the owner and editor for many years of the weekly English-language newspaper, the Guadalajara Reporter. His weekly columns for the newspaper quickly became legendary. (Hunt’s wife, Beverly, also worked at the Guadalajara Reporter and later ran a real estate office and Bed and Breakfast in Ajijic.)

Hugh Allyn Hunt was born in Nebraska in 1931. His mother, Ann, was granted a divorce from her husband J. Carroll Hunt, the following year. Allyn Hunt grew up in Nebraska before moving to Los Angeles as a teenager.

He studied advertising and journalism at the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles, where he took a creative writing class under novelist and short story writer Willard Marsh. Marsh had known Ajijic since the early 1950s and later wrote a novel set in the village.

At USC, Hunt was associate editor of Wampus, the USC student humor magazine, and according to later bios he also became managing editor of the university newspaper, the Daily Trojan.

After graduating, Hunt worked as public relations representative for Southern Pacific Railroad, and edited its “house organ”, before becoming publicity director and assistant to director of advertising for KFWB radio in Los Angeles. Hunt also worked, at one time or another, as a stevedore, photographer’s model, riding instructor and technical writer in the space industry.

Living in Los Angeles gave Hunt the opportunity to explore Tijuana and the Baja California Peninsula. As he later described it, he became a frequent inhabitant of Tijuana’s bars and an aficionado of Baja California’s beaches and bullfights.

Hunt and his wife, Beverly, moved to Mexico in 1963, living first in Ajijic and then later in the mountainside house they built in Jocotepec. They would remain in Mexico, apart from two and a half years in New York from 1970 to 1972.

Winnie Godfrey. Portrait of Allyn & Beverly Hunt, (oil, ca 1970)

Winnie Godfrey. Portrait of Allyn & Beverly Hunt, (oil, ca 1970)

This portrait of Allyn and Beverly Hunt was painted by Winnie Godfrey who subsequently became one of America’s top floral painters.

In their New York interlude, Hunt wrote for the New York Herald and the New York Village Voice, and apparently also shared the writing, production and direction of a short film, released in 1972, which won a prize at the Oberhausen Short Film Festival in Germany and was shown on European television. (If anyone knows the title of this film, or any additional details about it, please get in touch!)

When the Hunts returned from New York, they decided to build a house in Nextipac, in Jocotepec. They moved into their house, “Las Graciadas”, towards the end of 1973. The following year, they agreed to purchase the Guadalajara Reporter. They became owners and editors of the weekly newspaper in 1975 and Hunt would be editor and publisher of the Guadalajara (Colony) Reporter for more than 20 years. Hunt’s numerous erudite columns on local art exhibitions have been exceedingly useful in my research into the history of the artistic community at Lake Chapala.

As a journalist, Hunt also contributed opinion columns to the Mexico City News for 15 years, and to Cox News Service and The Los Angeles Magazine.

As an artist, Hunt exhibited numerous times in group shows in Ajijic and in Guadalajara. For example, in April 1966, he participated in a show at the Posada Ajijic that also featured works by Jack Rutherford; Carl Kerr; Sid Adler; Gail Michel; Franz Duyz; Margarite Tibo; Elva Dodge (wife of author David Dodge); Mr and Mrs Moriaty and Marigold Wandell.

The following year Hunt’s work was shown alongside works by several Guadalajara-based artists in a show that opened on 15 March 1967 at “Ruta 66”, a gallery at the traffic circle intersection of Niños Héroes and Avenida Chapultepec in Guadalajara.

In March-April 1968, Hunt’s “hard-edged paintings and two found object sculptures” were included in an exhibit at the Galería Ajijic Bellas Artes, A.C., at Marcos Castellanos #15 in Ajijic. (The gallery was administered at that time by Hudson and Mary Rose).

Later that year – in June 1968 – Hunt showed eight drawings in a collective exhibit, the First Annual Graphic Arts Show, at La Galeria (Ocho de Julio #878) in Guadalajara. That show also included works by Tom Brudenell, John Frost, Paul Hachten, Peter Huf, Eunice Hunt, John K. Peterson, Eugenio Quesada and Tully Judson Petty.

The following year, two acrylics by Hunt were chosen for inclusion in the Semana Cultural Americana – American Artists’ Exhibit at the Instituto Cultural Mexicano Norteamericano de Jalisco in Guadalajara (at Tolsa #300). That show, which opened in June 1969, featured 94 works by 42 U.S. artists from Guadalajara, the Lake area and San Miguel de Allende.

The details of any one-person art shows of Hunt’s works in the U.S. or Mexico remain elusive. (Please get in touch if you can supply details of any other shows in which Allyn Hunt’s art was represented!)

In the early-1960s, Hunt was at least as keen to become an artist as a writer. Rex Oppenheimer later recalled in an article for Steel Notes Magazine that when he visited his father in Zapopan (on the outskirts of Guadalajara) in 1965,

“Among the first of my father’s friends that I met were Allen and his wife Beverly. Allen was an artist. He looked like a beatnik or incipient Hippie and had a very cool house out in Ajijic near Lake Chapala. After touring the house and taking in his artwork, we went up on the roof. I don’t remember the conversation, but there was a great view out over the lake, and I got totally smashed on Ponche made from fresh strawberries and 190 proof pure cane alcohol.”

Despite his early artistic endeavors, Hunt is much better known today as a writer of short stories. His “Acme Rooms and Sweet Marjorie Russell” was one of several stories accepted for publication in the prestigious literary journal Transatlantic Review. It appeared in the Spring 1966 issue and explores the topic of adolescent sexual awakening in small-town U.S.A. It won the Transatlantic’s Third Annual Short Story Contest and was reprinted in The Best American Short Stories 1967 & the Yearbook of the American short story, edited by Martha Foley and David Burnett. Many years later, Adam Watstein wrote, directed and produced an independent movie of the same name. The movie, based closely on the story and shot in New York, was released in 1994.

One curiosity about that Spring 1966 issue of Transatlantic Review is that it also contained a second story by Hunt, entitled “The Answer Obviously is No”, written under the pen name “B. E. Evans” (close to his wife’s maiden name of Beverly Jane Evans). The author’s notes claim that “B. E. Evans was born in the Mid-West and lived in Los Angeles for many years where he studied creative writing under Willard Marsh. He has lived in Mexico for the past year and a half. This is his first published story.”

Later stories by Hunt in the Transatlantic Review include “Ciji’s Gone” (Autumn 1968); “A Mole’s Coat” (Summer 1969), which is set at Lake Chapala and is about doing acid “jaunts”; “A Kind of Recovery” (Autumn-Winter 1970-71); “Goodnight, Goodbye, Thank You” (Spring-Summer 1972); and “Accident” (Spring 1973).

Hunt was in exceptionally illustrious company in having so many stories published in the Transatlantic Review since his work appeared alongside contributions from C. Day Lewis, Robert Graves, Alan Sillitoe, Malcolm Bradbury, V. S. Pritchett, Anthony Burgess, John Updike, Ted Hughes, Joyce Carol Oates, and his former teacher Willard Marsh.

Hunt also had short stories published in The Saturday Evening Post, Perspective and Coatl, a Spanish literary review.

At different times in his writing career, Hunt has been reported to be working on “a novel set in Mexico”, “a book of poems”, and to be “currently completing two novels, one of which is set in what he calls the “youth route” of Mexico-Lake Chapala, the Mexico City area, Veracruz, Oaxaca and the area north and south of Acapulco”, but it seems that none of these works was ever formally published.

Very few of Hunt’s original short stories can be found online, but one noteworthy exception is “Suspicious stranger visits a rural tacos al vapor stand“, a story that first appeared in the Guadalajara Reporter in 1995 and was reprinted, with the author’s permission, on Mexconnect.com in 2008.

Sources:

  • Broadcasting (The Business Weekly of Radio and Television), May 1961.
  • Daily Trojan (University of Southern California), Vol. 43, No. 117, 21 April 1952.
  • Martha Foley and David Burnett (eds). The Best American Short Stories 1967 & the Yearbook of the American short story.
  • Guadalajara Reporter. 2 April 1966; 12 March 1967; 27 April 1968; 15 June 1968; 27 July 1968; 5 April 1975
  • The Lincoln Star (Nebraska). 15 August 1932.
  • Rex Maurice Oppenheimer. 2016. “Gunplay in Guadalajara“. Steel Notes Magazine.

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.

Feb 272017
 

Famed Hollywood writer Lorenzo Semple Jr. lived at Lake Chapala in the 1950s and returned several times thereafter. While living in Ajijic, Semple wrote The Golden Fleecing, a play that was produced on Broadway and subsequently turned into a movie. Semple is best-known for creating the big-screen and TV character Batman.

Lorenzo Elliott Semple Jr., whose uncle Philip Barry wrote Holiday and The Philadelphia Story, was born in New Rochelle, New York, on 27 March 1923 and attended Yale University for two years. He dropped out of Yale in 1941 to join the Free French forces led by General de Gaulle. He won the Croix de Guerre for ambulance-driving in the Libyan desert. Semple later served in the U.S. Army and won a Bronze Star.

Credit: The Aspen Times

Credit: The Aspen Times

After the second world war, Semple finished his degree at Columbia University before starting his writing career in the early 1950s as a critic for Theater Arts magazine and contributor of short stories to The Saturday Evening Post, Collier’s, Women’s Home Companion and Ladies’ Home Journal.

Even though the precise dates when Semple lived in Ajijic remain unclear, before the 1950s had ended, he had written two Broadway plays – Tonight in Samarkand (1955) and The Golden Fleecing (1959), which was later adapted for the screen as The Honeymoon Machine, starring Steve McQueen – as well as several scripts for the small screen, including The Alcoa Hour (1955); Target (1958); and Pursuit (1958).

The strongest evidence that he wrote The Golden Fleecing in Ajijic comes from a short piece by Anita Lomax in the Guadalajara Reporter in 1967 in which she laments that Ajijic is losing its reputation as “sin city” and is becoming too respectable. She cites the case of a “Young playwright whose play, written here, was produced on Broadway and subsequently made a small fortune from the movie rights which he promptly spent. But he now lives in a Beverly Hills mansion with his beautiful wife and children since creating T.V.’s sensational Batman series.” The same newspaper reported in 1971 that Semple had returned to Lake Chapala for the first time in eight years, vacationing with his wife Joyce and their three children in Chula Vista, at the home of Dick Reiner. Semple told the Reporter correspondent that he thought people were getting tired of having to pay $3 to see a movie!

Semple married Joyce Miller in 1963. Their eldest daughter, Johanna, was born in Guadalajara in April 1963. A year later, they had their second daughter, Maria. The family moved to Spain in 1965. Following their return to Hollywood, they had a third child, Lorenzo (“Lo”), born in about 1967. Later, the family lived for more than two decades in Aspen, Colorado, before eventually moving back to Los Angeles.

It was while the family was living in Spain (1965-66) that Semple was asked by producer William Dozier to develop a television series based on the Batman comic books. The series was an immediate hit. Semple wrote the first four episodes, consulted on all the first season’s scripts and also wrote the screenplay for the feature film version, released in 1966.

After Batman, Semple completed numerous movie screenplays, often in association with other writers, including Pretty Poison (1968), which won best screenplay at the New York Film Critics Awards; Daddy’s Gone A-Hunting (1969); The Sporting Club (1971); The Marriage of a Young Stockbroker (1971); Papillon (1973); The Super Cops (1974); The Parallax View (1974); The Drowning Pool (1975); Three Days of the Condor (1975); King Kong (1976); Hurricane (1977); Flash Gordon (1980); Never Say Never Again (1983), in which Sean Connery reprised his former role as James Bond; Sheena (1984); and Never Too Young to Die (1986).

From 1984 to 1990, Semple taught graduate screenwriting at New York University. His students included John Fusco (Young Guns and Hidalgo), Susan Cartsonis (What Women Want) and Stan Seidel (One Night at McCool’s).

Lorenzo Semple Jr. died of natural causes at his Los Angeles home on 28 March 2014, one day after his 91st birthday.

Maria Semple (Semple’s middle child) is also a novelist and screenwriter. She has written several novels – including This One Is Mine (2008), the best-selling comedy novel Where’d You Go, Bernadette (2012), and Today Will Be Different (2016) – as well as TV scripts for Beverly Hills, 90210, Mad About You, Saturday Night Live, Arrested Development, Suddenly Susan and Ellen.

Sources:

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May 232016
 

In between writing hugely successful novels, Glendon Swarthout (1918-1992) wrote a short story entitled “Ixion”, set at Lake Chapala..

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New World Writing #13

New World Writing #13

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May 162016
 

Award-winning novelist Glendon Swarthout (1918-1992) wrote 16 novels, many turned into films, and numerous short stories. His short story entitled “Ixion”, set at Lake Chapala, was later turned into a screenplay by his son Miles Swarthout as Convictions of the Heart.

Glendon Fred Swarthout was born 8 April 1918 in Pinckney, Michigan, and died on 23 September 1992 in Scottsdale, Arizona. He attended the University of Michigan, where he majored in English and played the accordion for a four-piece band he formed. He married his childhood sweetheart Kathryn Vaughn on 28 December 1940, shortly after they both graduated.

After a year writing ad copy for Cadillac and Dow Chemical at the MacManus, John & Adams advertising agency in Detroit, Swarthout traveled with his wife to South America aboard a small freighter, sending a weekly column back home to various newspapers. After Pearl Harbor, they returned to the U.S. When Swarthout was denied entry to officer’s training for being underweight, the young couple both took jobs at Willow Run bomber plant near Ann Arbor. Within six months, and despite working long hours as a riveter on B-24s, Swarthout had written his his first novel Willow Run, a story about people working in a bomber factory.

In the latter stages of the war, Swarthout served briefly in the U.S. infantry in Europe, but ruptured a disc in his spine and was shipped home. He would be plagued by back problems for the rest of his life.

Glendon Swarthout. Credit: http://www.glendonswarthout.com

Glendon Swarthout. Credit: http://www.glendonswarthout.com

After the war, Swarthout earned a Master’s degree from the University of Michigan and began teaching college. His teaching career included spells at the University of Maryland, at Michigan State University, and at the University of Arizona.

In 1951, Swarthout spent six months in Ajijic with his wife and their young son, Miles, born in 1946. During this time, he worked on another novel, Doyle Dorado, which, in Miles’ words, later “ended up in the stove, making hot water for Dad’s shower.” Swarthout also wrote a short story set at Lake Chapala. Though not published until several years later, “Ixion” was the “semi-autobiographical story of a young advertising man attempting to write his first novel in the little artist’s colony of Ajijic.”

New World Writing #13

New World Writing #13

“Ixion” was first published in New World Writing #13 in The New American Library (Mentor, 1958). A contemporary reviewer praised “Ixion” as being a “much worthier” work than Swarthout’s second novel, They Came to Cordura, which had been published a few weeks previously. “Ixion” was later reprinted in Easterns and Westerns (Michigan State University Press, 2001), a collection of short stories, edited by son Miles, who later turned it into a screenplay, Convictions of the Heart.

According to Miles, the family might have remained much longer in Mexico in 1951 (despite his father’s failed attempt at writing Doyle Dorado) if the lake had been clean. “The real reason my parents left Mexico in a hurry was to seek emergency medical treatment in Brownsville, Texas, for five-year-old me, after I’d contracted para-typhoid fever from swallowing sewage water in Lake Chapala.”

Back in the U.S., in 1955 Glendon Swarthout gained his doctorate in English Literature (based on a study of Somerset Maugham, Ernest Hemingway, Joyce Cary and Charles Portis) and began to sell short stories to magazines such as Cosmopolitan and The Saturday Evening Post. One of the first stories he sold (for $2500), “A Horse for Mrs. Custer”, became the Columbia Pictures low-budget western 7th Cavalry, released in 1956.

Swarthout’s next novel established him as a professional writer. They Came To Cordura was published by Random House in 1958 and became a New York Times bestseller. The film rights were sold to Columbia Pictures, whose major movie, starring Gary Cooper and Rita Hayworth, entertained cinema audiences the following year. The book is set in 1916 Mexico during the Pershing Expedition to capture Pancho Villa.

Swarthout’s career took off. His next novel, Where The Boys Are (1960), the first lighthearted novel about the annual “spring break” invasion of southern Florida beaches by college students, was transformed by MGM into a low budget, high grossing movie.

In the early 1960s, Swarthout retired from teaching to become a full-time writer. His other novels, many of them optioned for movies, include: Welcome to Thebes (1962); The Cadillac Cowboys (1964); The Eagle and the Iron Cross (1966); Loveland (1968); Bless the Beasts and Children (1970); The Tin Lizzie Troop (1972); Luck and Pluck (1973); The Shootist (1975); A Christmas Gift (also known as The Melodeon) (1977); Skeletons (1979); The Old Colts (1985); The Homesman (1988); And Pinch Me, I Must Be Dreaming (published posthumously in 1994).

Swarthout was twice nominated by his publishers for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (for They Came To Cordura by Random House and Bless The Beasts & Children by Doubleday) and received numerous awards for his work.

He and his wife Kathryn Vaughn Swarthout (1919-2015) co-wrote six young adult novels, several of which were also published overseas. In 1962, the couple established the Swarthout Writing Prizes at Arizona State University, for poetry and fiction, which are among the highest annual financial awards given for undergraduate and graduate writing programs.

Glendon Swarthout died at his home in Scottsdale, Arizona, on 23 September 1992.

Acknowledgement

This piece is dedicated to the memory of Miles Swarthout (1946-2016) who graciously corresponded with me about his father, via e-mail at an early stage of this project.

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.

Mar 282016
 

Stephen Schneck was born 2 January 1933 in New York and died on 26 November 1996 in Palm Springs, California. He led a varied life, including stints as a novelist, author, actor and screenwriter, among other pursuits.

schneck-nightclerkSchneck studied at the Carnegie Institute of Technology, and then spent several years traveling around Mexico, where he lived in the Lake Chapala area from about 1954 to 1957) and Central America. According to Michael Hargraves in his 1992 booklet, Lake Chapala: A Literary Survey, Schneck claimed “to have written some of his best short stories and spent the better days of his youth while there”.

In 1960, Schneck apparently founded the American Beauty Studios, on 42nd Street, New York. It was during the 1960s that Schneck worked as a reporter for such “underground” periodicals as Ramparts and Mother Jones.

He subsequently moved to San Francisco, where he wrote his first, and best known, novel, “The Nightclerk” (Grove Press, 1965). The novel’s hero is an overweight hotel clerk (weighing 600 lbs), described by one reviewer as “the fattest man in American literature”. The hotel is a seedy San Francisco establishment. The clerk whiles away the long night hours reading erotic paperbacks, cutting up old magazines, and reminiscing about his beautiful and corrupt wife, Katy. The clerk’s real life lies in his “erotic, pornographic, sado-masochistic, orgiastic, unnameable” fantasies. This somewhat surrealistic novel became an international counterculture favorite, and won the $10,000 Formentor Novel Prize.

schneck-nocturnal-vaudevilleSchneck followed this with a second novel, Nocturnal Vaudeville (E. P. Dutton, 1971), but then turned to non-fiction works and screenplays.

In the second half of the 1970s, he wrote several non-fiction books for pet lovers, including The complete home medical guide for cats (Stein and Day, 1976) and, with Nigel Norris, The complete home medical guide for dogs (Stein and Day, 1976). The two authors co-wrote A. to Z. of Cat Care (Fontana Press, 1979) and A-Z of Dog Care (Fontana, 1979).

By that time, Schneck was gaining success as a screenwriter. He wrote or co-wrote Inside Out (1975); Welcome to Blood City (1977), which won first prize at the 1976 Paris Science Fiction Film Festival; High-Ballin’ (1978), which starred Peter Fonda; and Across the Moon (1995), in which he also played the part of a prison chaplain.

TV credits included two episodes of The Paper Chase (1985-1986), an episode of In the Heat of the Night (1992), as well as episodes of All in the Family, Archie Bunker’s Place, and Cheers.

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 222016
 

Elaine Gottlieb (1916-2004) was a novelist, author and teacher who lived for several months in Ajijic in the second half of 1946. She traveled to Mexico shortly after completing her first novel, Darkling, which was published the following year. She used her experiences in Ajijic as the basis for a short story, “Passage Through Stars”, published many years later, in Noonday #2, 1959.

Gottlieb’s decision to visit Mexico was apparently at the suggestion of Robert Motherwell, her art teacher one summer at Black Mountain College. (By coincidence, another former Black Mountain College art student, Nicolas Muzenic, lived in Ajijic shortly afterwards, from about 1948 to 1950).

noonday-2-coverIn Ajijic, Gottlieb stayed at the collection of small cottages on the water’s edge known as Casa Heuer, run by a German brother and sister (Pablo and Liesel), where communal dinner was the norm. At mealtimes, Gottlieb found herself drawn to a handsome, smartly-dressed, charismatic older man, Elliot Chess, a flying ace from the first world war whose stories and anecdotes kept his mealtime companions spellbound.

She was 30 years of age, he was 46; within two weeks they were engaged. To celebrate, on 15 September 1946, they caught a bus to Guadalajara. Gunmen attacked the bus and Gottlieb credited Chess with saving her life. Their precipitous, but short-lived, relationship led to the birth of Nola Elian Chess (her middle name is a combination of Elliot and Elaine) in New York in July 1947, which turned out to have life-changing consequences for Gottlieb and her future family.

[Nola, conceived in Mexico and born in New York, developed a brilliant mind, but died at the tragically-young age of twenty-five after a prolonged struggle with schizophrenia. Gottlieb’s younger son, Robin Hemley, has written an absorbing account of the life of his older half-sister: Nola: A Memoir of Faith, Art, and Madness.]

In Gottlieb’s “Passage Through Stars”, Casa Heuer is transformed into Casa Unger, with Elaine becoming Emma and Elliot renamed Claude. The fictional names of the inn’s owners are Don Ernesto and Donna [sic] Sophía. The autobiographical story is a powerfully-told and moving account of her brief fling with Chess, exploring her personal doubts before, during and after.

She recalls her lover’s daily ritual swim in the lake:

“She would see him in the mornings, going down to the lake for his pre-breakfast swim; a shiny maroon robe flapped around his narrow legs. He would walk briskly, towel in hand, remove his robe in two swift movements, step out of his slippers, and, chin erect, approach the lake. Deliberately, he would plunge his head in, shake it vigorously, stand waiting a moment, and then plunge boldly. A little later, he would return, hand passing through his wet, mahogany-colored hair. Frowning against the light, he would continue to walk, martially erect, his head high and handsome, the face still young, eyes like the eyes of tigers.” [Passage Through Stars,  82]

According to Gottlieb, she and Elliot Chess lived together as man and wife there for two months, from mid-September (following the attack on the bus) to mid-November, at which point Chess returned to El Paso, promising to sell some of the land he owned there and rejoin her in New York in two weeks. Gottlieb, meanwhile, traveled by train to Mexico City and then to New York. Chess never made it to New York, and the two never met again.

In “Passage Through Stars”, Gottlieb says that Emma (herself) had “come to the pension alone, a widow, and had never fully recovered from her widowhood. Claude had happened on the scene…” but I have yet to find any mention elsewhere of Gottlieb’s former spouse.

Elaine Gottlieb. Credit: Nola: A Memoir of Faith, Art, and Madness, by Robin Hemley

Photo credit: Nola: A Memoir of Faith, Art, and Madness, by Robin Hemley

Gottlieb was born in New York City in 1916. Her mother, Ida, was a teacher in the New York Public Schools and eventually established the family home on Long Island. She gained a degree in journalism from New York University and studied art at the Art Students League of New York and at Columbia University. When Gottlieb was 25 years of age, she moved to Manhattan, determined to become a successful writer. During the summer of 1941, she studied at the Cummington School for the Arts.

During the second world war, Gottlieb had a job inspecting radios for the Signal Corps and also trained to teach photography to Army Air Corps recruits in Denver, Colorado.

In 1946, her short story “The Norm”, about an affair between a couple of college students, was chosen for inclusion in Martha Foley’s annual anthology The Best American Short Stories. The biographies attached to that and later stories say she had once sold books at Macy’s and written cables for The Office of War Information, as well as written book reviews for The New Republic, the New York Herald Tribune, Poetry, Accent, and Decision.

Her first (and only) published novel, Darkling (1947), tells the story of Cristabel, a young woman who yearned to become an artist, but was alienated from family and peers, and “lost in her own insecurities”. The book’s subject matter was ahead of its time and contemporary reviews were generally not favorable.

Prior to marrying poet and novelist Cecil Hemley (1914-1966) in 1953, on Nola’s fifth birthday, Elaine Gottlieb had been raising her daughter as a single parent. Despite a succession of family tragedies, Gottlieb continued to write short stories for publications such as The Kenyon Review, Chimera, New Directions, Chelsea Review, Noonday and Commentary, and also wrote “The writer’s signature: idea” in Story and Essay (1972). By the time of her death in 2004, she had still not completed two more novels that she had started many years earlier, including a mystery story based on a trip to England.

The Hemleys socialized with a glittering array of literary and artistic friends (including Robert Motherwell, Joseph Heller, Louise Bogan, Weldon Kees, Conrad Aiken, John Crowe Ransom and Delmore Schwartz) and became particularly close friends with poet and novelist Isaac Bashevis Singer, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1978. The Hemleys helped translate and edit, several of Singer’s works from their original Yiddish, including The Manor (Penguin Books, 1975); Gimpel the Fool and Other Stories (Peter Owen Limited, 1958); The Magician of Lublin (Bantam Books 1965); and The Estate (Jonathan Ball, 1970).

Gottlieb taught creative writing, literature and film at Indiana University (South Bend) in the 1970s. Several former students of Gottlieb have acknowledged her role in helping them develop their craft. They include Gloria Anzaldúa, a foremost Chicano feminist thinker and activist, and author of This Bridge Called My Back (1981); Borderlands/La Frontera (1987); and Interviews/Entrevistas (2000).

Elaine Gottlieb was also known as Elaine S. Gottlieb, Elaine Gottlieb Hemley, Elaine S. Gottlieb Hemley and Elaine S. Hemley.

Sources:

  • Elaine Gottlieb, 1959. “Passage Through Stars”, in Noonday #2, edited by Cecil Hemley and Dwight W. Webb, p 80-93. (New York: the Noonday Press)
  • Robin Hemley, 1998. Nola: A Memoir of Faith, Art, and Madness. (Graywolf Press).

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.

Nov 232015
 

Author, playwright and flying ace Elliot William Chess was in his late-forties when he spent several months in Ajijic at the small hotel Casa Heuer in 1946, but had already experienced far more than most people can manage in twice as many years.

Born in El Paso, Texas, at the turn of the century, Chess left El Paso High School when the first world war broke out and emigrated to Toronto, Canada, to enlist in the Royal Flying Corps. His RFC papers give his birth date as 25 Oct 1898, though it is entirely possible that the teenage Chess inflated his age by a year or two to boost his chances of  acceptance.

He served overseas from age 18. After the end of the war (1918) he was the youngest American pilot to join the Kosciusko Squadron in Poland. He fought with them for two years in the Polish-Soviet War (1919-21), for which he was awarded the Virtuti Militari, Poland’s highest military award.

Chess-elliot-Koskiuszko-squadron-insigniaEarly on, when the Squadron still lacked suitable insignia, Chess suggested a design (see image), apparently first sketched on a menu of the Hotel George in Lwów. With only minor variations, this insignia remained in use until after the second world war. According to Lynne Olson and Stanley Cloud in A Question of Honor: The Kosciuszko Squadron: Forgotten Heroes of World War II, the insignia includes “the red, four-cornered military cap that Kosciuszko wore in the uprising of 1794, plus two crossed scythes, representing the Polish peasants who had followed him into battle… superimposed on a background of red, white and blue stars and stripes representing the U.S. flag.”

In the Second World War the “Kosciuszko” Polish Fighter Squadron No. 303 was the highest scoring of all RAF squadrons in the Battle of Britain.

Captain Elliot Chess, who served in WWII in the “A” Troop Carrier Group of the Ninth Air Force, was presented with his “Polish Pilot’s Wings” at a special ceremony in June 1944.

In the 1920s, after the end of the Polish-Soviet War, Chess returned to El Paso and worked as an advertising manager with the El Paso Times. The biography of him on his 1941 novel’s inside back cover says that, since the first world war, “he has been a miner, an editor, a newspaperman, an advertising copy writer, a professional wrestler, a stunt flyer, a short story writer and a dramatist.”

Chess had fulfilled a childhood dream by becoming a published writer. He wrote numerous short stories and novelettes, published between 1929 and 1932, in magazines such as Sky Birds, Sky Riders, Aces, War Birds, War Aces, Flying Aces and Air Stories. He also worked for Liberty magazine.

chess-coverIn 1941, his first and only novel, Walk Away From ‘Em, was published by Coward-McCann. Nick Wayne, the hero of his novel is (no real surprise here!) a transatlantic pilot, who “tangles with three women – his ex-wife, Jo, a neurotic dipsomaniac, Fran, and Toddy Fate, young and untouched”. (Kirkus Review, which summarized it as “pop stuff” but “better than usual of its kind”).

The Elliot Chess papers, in the C.L. Sonnichsen Special Collections Department of The University of Texas at El Paso Library, include drafts of two plays, Passport to Heaven, and Call it Comic Strip, as well as notes, photographs and other material.

It is unclear why Chess chose to spend the latter part of 1946 in Ajijic, but his sojourn there had several unexpected consequences. Already in residence at Casa Heuer (a small, rather primitive guest house on the lakefront run by a German brother and sister) was an attractive, more serious, younger writer, Elaine Gottlieb.

Despite their sixteen-year difference in age and their contrasting backgrounds (or maybe because of them?), the two hit it off almost immediately, with Gottlieb spellbound by Chess’s magnetism and captivating story-telling. According to Gottlieb, they lived together as man and wife for two months, from mid-September (when they were on a bus to Guadalajara that was attacked by gunmen) to mid-November, at which point Elliot Chess returned to El Paso, claiming he would sell some land he owned there and rejoin her in New York in two weeks. Gottlieb, meanwhile, traveled by train to Mexico City and then to New York. Chess never made it to New York, and the two never met again, but Gottlieb gave birth to their daughter, Nola Elian Chess, in New York City on 3 July 1947. (Nola’s middle name is a combination of Elliot and Elaine).

We can only speculate as to whether Elliot Chess’s aversion to moving to New York was in any way connected to his prior marriage there in 1930 to a “Jean B. Wallace”. It is equally plausible that Chess had no desire to be a father, having never known his own father.

chess-elliot-portrait-from-cover-2Chess died in El Paso, Texas, on 27 December 1962, at the age of 63, but left no will. When his aunt claimed to be the sole beneficiary, Elaine Gottlieb sought to establish that her daughter (whose birth certificate listed Elliot Chess as father) was entitled to a share of his estate. The case hinged on whether or not Nola was Chess’s legitimate child. Had Gottlieb and Chess ever celebrated a legal marriage? In documents filed with the court, Gottlieb claimed that she believed they had been legally married, though she had no marriage certificate. The somewhat convoluted story is retold by Robin Hemley in  Nola: A Memoir of Faith, Art, and Madness. Gottlieb, who by then had married Cecil Hemley, failed to convince the court which concluded, even after an appeal in 1967, that Nola had no right whatsoever to any part of her father’s estate.

Elaine Gottlieb Hemley… testified substantially as follows:
“I married Elliot Chess September 15, 1946, in Ajijic, Mexico, and lived with
him until on or about November 16, 1946. Elliot did not make an application for a marriage license in the Republic of Mexico. I have no written evidence that I was married to Elliot. It wasn’t that kind of marriage. I said to him, ‘I take the Elliot to be my lawful wedded husband’ and he said to me, ‘I take Elaine to be my lawful wedded wife.’ I did not sign a civil registry of our marriage in the Republic of Mexico. Neither Elliot nor I appeared before any public official, by proxy or otherwise, to be married. On November 17th I boarded a train for Mexico City. Elliot kissed me goodbye at the hotel early that morning and that was the last time I saw him. I returned to New York and the appellant was born on July 3rd, 1947. Elliot Chess is the father of Nola Elian Chess.” (Court of Civil Appeals of Texas, Eastland.416 S.W.2d 492 (Tex. Civ. App. 1967) BUNTING V. CHESS).

Robin Hemley’s Nola: A Memoir of Faith, Art, and Madness is a detailed account of his older, and brilliant, step-sister Nola’s life and descent into schizophrenia, and how it affected the entire family, including Elaine Gottlieb. It is an uplifting, if at times harrowing, read.

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 Town Talk (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 charro 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!”

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