Sunday, December 30, 2012

Dorothy Thompson and Sinclair Lewis Celebrate Christmas in Semmering (Austria), 1932

Dorothy Thompson and Sinclair Lewis from
Cover of Dorothy and Red by Vincent Sheean
In 1932, journalist Dorothy Thompson and writer Sinclair "Red" Lewis celebrated Christmas by inviting 40 or so guests to join them for ten days on Semmering, a winter-sport resort in Lower Austria, less than 50 miles from Vienna. According to Vincent Sheean, a friend of the couple, their plan was to have "a really fabulous holiday party...full of English and Americans and snow and sleds and skis and music and dancing and beer and wine and conversation." (Sheean, Dorothy and Red, p. 212)

The extended party, Thompson biographer Peter Kurth, (American Cassandra, p. 176) wrote, was "one of the great parties of the 1930s, a fabulous, week-long bash that went on through New Years." One of the guests, M. W. Fodor, a foreign correspondent based in Vienna, described the party as "a week of unadulterated pleasure enlivened by witty companions and his lovely [wife] Marta's gypsy songs performed nightly to her own guitar accompaniment." (quoted in Sanders, Dorothy Thompson: A Legend in Her Time, p. 179).
Others had less positive memories of the party. Lilian Mowrer, a journalist who attended the party with her husband , said it "was accursed at the very outset, by the weather." According to her, because of a lack of snow and inclement weather, guests preferred to stay indoors "where there was approximately nothing to do and both the conversation and the nerves wore thin." Also, drinking was excessive. (Sheean, p. 213)

Though people who attended the party had different recollections about it, this extended celebration was certainly memorable. From accounts of the party written by the biographers of Thompson (Sanders 1973, Kurth 1990, and Hertog 2011), Lewis (Grebstein 1962 and Shorer 1961), and the couple (Sheehan 1963), we can piece together a good, though sometimes contradictory, picture of the event.  

The Christmas Party Guests

This list of people attending the party is incomplete. According to Hertog (p 198), a Thompson biographer, "On most days, there would be as many as thirty or more people in residence in the hotel or their villa. In addition, there were others who were day guests."  

From Inside: The Biography of John Gunther,
by Ken Cuthbertson, 1992
Among those at the party were three family members, including their son Michael (2 1/2 years old) and Dorothy's sister (Margaret Wilson) and young niece (Pamela Wilson).  Also, three of Dorothy's former journalist colleagues with their with their wives:  M.W. and Martha Fodor (in 1932, he was the Vienna correspondent for the Manchester Guardian); John and Frances Gunther (he was the Vienna correspondent for the Chicago Daily News and Frances wrote for an English newspaper); and Edgar Ansel and Lilian Mower (he was the Chicago Daily News correspondent in Germany; she was also a writer, publishing often in American magazines). Each of these three couples had brought their only child with them to the Semmering Christmas celebration (Denis Fodor, Johnny Gunther, and Diane Jane Mowrer).

John and Frances Gunther, From Cuthbertson,
Inside the Biography of John Gunther
At the Semmering Christmas Party, From Right: Edgar Mowrer, Baron Hatvany,
Baronness Christa Hatvany (Winsloe), and Sinclair Lewis. From Vincent
Sheean, Dorothy and Red. 
The largest group of guests was comprised of writers and others working in the arts. Among them were Adolphe Manjour (an American actors whose career began in the 1920's and lasted until the 1950's); Robert Nichols and his wife Norah Nichols (he was a English poet well know for his war poems); Baron Lajos von Hatvany and Baroness Christa Hatvany Winsloe (he was a liberal Jewish Hungarian landowner, a writer, and a literary scholar; she was a sculpturess and writer); Virginia Peterson and Prince Paul Sapieha of Poland (they got engaged at the end of party and married in 1933; she was an American writer and critic); Alexander Frere Reeves and Patricia Wallace (they were married soon after the party; he was a publisher and she was the daughter of writer Edgar Wallace); Russell and Marcia Davenport (he was on the editorial staff of Fortune Magazine; she had worked on the staff of the New Yorker, and was launching a successful career as a novelist); Phillip and Lily Goodman (he was a successful Broadway producer); and Nicholas Roosevelt (he was the American minister in Hungary in 1932; he left that post in 1933 and had a long career as a journalist and writer). 

The Party Accommodations

Hotel Panhans, the Vlla Sauerbrunn was located closeby
A few guests stayed in Villa Sauerbrunn. Thompson and Lewis had leased this luxurious house for several months, starting September 1, 1933. She described it in a letter to journalist and friend H. R. Knickerbocker as being "as thick with comfort as a coffee cake is with sugar." (quoted in Kurth 176). Lewis also liked it initially, though later it had no appeal for him. He described it, soon after his arrival, as "a cuckoo-clock house in aspect with Ritz comfort in beds and bathroom and kitchens and chairs and lights." The villa was set in a large garden. It looked down a deep valley and then to a pastoral upland and the slopes of the Rax and Schneeberg mountains. (Schorer, 576)

For other guests, the hosts rented the entire annex (dépendance) of a neighboring hotel. According to Denis Fodor, who was at the party as a child, this hotel was the Grand Hotel Panhans, a modern, luxury hotel. The original Hotel Panhans opened in 1888; in 1913, a new 400-room Grand Hotel Panhans first welcome guests. After some bad times following World War I, the hotel was refurbished and revitalized beginning in 1930. One of its additions was a large indoor swimming pool with retractable glass walls. (For a history of the hotel, see

The Ten Days of Christmas Party

The plan was for a party with skiing and tobogganing; tea-dances at the hotel; and most meals together (Kurth 177). Dorothy saw the party as "a kind of winter festival in which everybody would be out of doors all day long, all healthy and sportive and not needing lunch. She had planned breakfast and dinner only, with plenty of time for the servants to clean out both the villa and the dépendance. 

Unfortunately, the plans were frustrated by the weather. There was little or no snow on Semmering during the Christmas holiday. Sheean (p. 213) wrote that the weather "thwarted Dorothy's plans for extensive outdoor activities." Because of the conditions, including a lack of snow and very cold weather, guests preferred to stay indoors. They had little to do there and [according to Lilian Mowrer] grew tired of each other. 

Tobogganing on Semmering. At left foreground is Lewis, Fodor is partially visible
to the right of him, next to him is Virgilia Peterson, then Christa Winsloe (with slouch hat);
Dorothy Thompson is second on the sled. Behind her is Lilian Mowrer. The man in the beret,
near the front of the sled is Edgar Mowrer. The picture is from American Cassandra
by Kurth; a similar picture is in Sheean's Dorothy and Red.

With rain, fog, and unpleasant cold, wrote Kurth (p. 177), the outdoor celebration planned by Dorothy, was not possible and there was not much to do "except eat, sleep, and drink." At the hotel annex, every night the guests "repaired to dance and talk and booze until dawn." According to Sanders (p. 179), "By mid afternoon under gray skies, there was nothing to do but huddle indoors and begin serious drinking."

According to Hertog (p. 198), because of rain, the party participants were stuck indoors for the ten days of the party. He wrote, "What was to be a winter festival with skiing, sleight riding, and fresh, crisp mountain air became of Dionysian brawl."

In his account of the party Sheean (p 213) wrote that with guests spending most of their time indoors, "The drinking that went on was excessive." Hertog (p. 198) described the situation like this: The children went wild and the adults grew bored, drunk, and argumentative. According to Kurth (p. 177), "The children started to hit each other with shovels and snowshoes."

Sinclair Lewis with a friend in front of Villa Sauerbrunn in Simmering;
from Vincent Sheean, Dorothy and Red. 
Some of the guests found the atmosphere at the entended Christmas party to be tense. The main source of the tension was that Sinclair Lewis was not drinking alcoholic beverages. Kurth (p. 177) described the situation thusly: The atmosphere was tense because, despite Lewis' history of drinking, he was "the only one at the Semmering party who abstained from alcohol. He went to bed at eleven o'clock each night and left his guests to get drunk by themselves....It actually made for tension in the house, because everybody present, knowing his record, had to wonder just when he would fall off the wagon. They were expecting Red to take a drink at any moment...."

None of the accounts of party suggests that Lewis was not a good host. In fact, Sanders (p. 179) maintained that he was "at his best playing host." However, it was not easy. According to Sheean (p. 213), "Red was for the greater part of the time in a mood of desperate depression." Hertog (p. 198) explained, that while Dorothy talked politics in German with her friends, Hal [as Sinclair was called by some friends], sick of what he called "the situation," and not knowing a word of German, withdrew into a deep depression." Part of the problem, Peggy -- Dorothy's sister -- explained to Sheean, was that "Red couldn't stand Dorothy's friends." (Sheean 213).

Fortunately, Lewis made it to the last hours of the party before getting into a tiff  with Dorothy. When the Dorothy and the remaining group of guests took off to visit  Budapest, Lewis left with Dorothy's sister to visit Italy. (Shorer p. 579)

The Party Aftermath

The 1932 Semmering Christmas, while memorable, exposed the growing rift between Thompson and Lewis. It likely added to the growing grievances felt by each. They saw each other less and less in the years that followed and officially separated in 1937, followed by a divorce in January 1942.

Christina Winsloe
Of course, it should also be mentioned that the most remarkable occurrence of the Christmas party was that Dorothy fell in love with Christa Winsloe, though the proclaimed that she did not love Lewis any less because of it.

Thompson wrote in her diary (which became available to researchers a few years after her death) on December 28, 1932: "So it has happened to me again, after all these years....There is something weak in it and, even, ridiculous. To love a woman is somehow ridiculous. Mir auch passt es nicht. Ich bin doch heterosexuel. [Anyway it doesn't suit me. I am heterosexual]...Well, then, how to account for this which has happened again....? (Kurth 178)

Thompson spent a few months in 1933 traveling in Europe with her new love, and the two spent much time together in the United States during the following couple of years. By 1935, they had drifted apart. In the meanwhile, Thompson's fame as a columnist and political commentator had continued to grow. 

(The story of the Semmering Christmas, with more information on the guests, can be found in this document:


Grebstein, Sheldon. 1962. Sinclair Lewis. Twayne Publishers

Hertog, Susan. 2011. Dangerous Ambition: Rebecca West and Dorothy Thompson: New Women in Search of Love and Power. Ballantine (pp. 197-198)

Kurth, Peter. 1990. American Cassandra: The Life of Dorothy Thompson. Little, Brown, and Co. (pp. 176-178)

Sanders, Marion. 1973. Dorothy Thompson: A Legend in Her Time. Houghton Mifflin Co (pp. 178-181)

Sheean, Vincent. 1963. Dorothy and Red. Houghton Mifflin Co (pp. 212 - 213)

Shorer, Mark. 1961. Sinclair Lewis: An American Life. McGraw-Hill. (pp. 576-579)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

HATE AND SELF-DOUBT IN AMERICAN POLITICS: Sen. J. W. Fulbright’s 1963 Examination of The American Character

Years ago I viewed elections as competitive sporting events in which political teams gave their all, sometimes winning and sometimes losing.  I supposed that when an election was over, the teams shook hands, and the winners celebrated while the losers dusted themselves off and plotted to win the next match. No hard feelings.

Of course such a view was naive and over time I came to realize that elections are not a sport and they create hard feelings.  Unlike sporting events, elections have consequence that can be immense because they enable government actions to take things, such as money and status, from some people and give those things to others.

The Role of Hate in Politics

My view of politics-as-sport ignored much of what was going on around me in the late ‘50s and early 60s.  While the political scene seemed placid to a casual teenage observer, plenty of hate was at work.  Men and women wearing the mantle of anti-communist, Christian crusader, or die-hard segregationist spread their raw hatred of people and public officials whose ideas differed from theirs.  But they were not the only ones to do so. As I came to understand, both hate and love are common elements in politics.

While most of the extremist groups from the ‘50s and ‘60s have faded to irrelevancy or disappeared, they have been replaced by others with equally twisted views.  More importantly, the hate that inspired these groups has, to some extent, been mainstreamed, often encouraged by ideological movements and their propagandists. These movements use all available media to spread outrage, anger, fear, and hate among their followers.  These emotions fuel political battles with cultural or social or racial enemies.    

In truth, I never fully understood the power of hate in politics until the election of George W. Bush as president. Before him, I had disliked some politicians, but had never hated them.  However, by the end of Bush’s third year in office, I deeply loathed him and what he was doing.  Given such feelings about Bush, his re-election was not only incomprehensible to me, but also deeply disappointing and scary. 

Accepting the Undesirable Results of an Election: Humility and Self-Doubt

When the 2004 election was over, I (presumably like millions of other people) had to reconcile myself to its outcome.  I had to accept that my views did not prevail this time. Reconciliation with an undesired election result requires a bit of humility (the collective decision has been made and I am part of this collective) and a dollop of self-doubt (maybe Bush is not as bad as I believe).

As someone who had dipped his toes into the pool of political hate, I had some understanding of the nasty noises of Pres. Obama’s detractors, although it seemed strange that they started even before he took office. I certainly did not agree with most of the critics, found the willful miscomprehensions of some to be detestable, and quickly tired of the flow of lies from the true haters. Over time, I was appalled by the bitter, personal nature of the attacks on Obama and by the insane name calling: the names of Hitler and Stain were invoked by some of the most rabid extremists. (Of course, many people simply disliked Obama’s policies and decisions, and strongly stated their views, as they should have. Their criticism and opposition are part of the functioning of a normal democracy.)

By November 2012, Obama opponents, including the haters, had had four years to state their opinions and do their upmost to convince voters to remove Obama from office.  They failed.            

I hoped, but not really expected, that the failure to defeat Obama would lead some extreme anti-Obama zealots, through self reflection, to find a measure of political humility and self doubt and reconcile themselves to the results.  Perhaps for some, the election results did cause a questioning of the certitude of their views. However, Obama’s decisive victory clearly had little impact on others: the election results gave them more things to hate, including the millions of people who voted for him.

A good example of this response can be found in the messages of a Facebook “friend” who, starting many months before the election, had posted a generous flow of anti-Obama propagated created by groups who despise him.  After the election results were known, he wrote (or copied from someone; I don’t know which) the following into Facebook comments:

The danger to America is not Barack Obama, but a citizenry capable of entrusting a man like him to the Presidency. It will be far easier to limit and undo the follies of an Obama presidency that to restore the necessary common sense and good judgment to a depraved electorate willing to have such a man for their president. The problem is deeper and far more serious than Mr. Obama, who is a mere symptom of what ails America. Blaming the prince of fools should not blind anyone to the vast confederacy of fools that made him the prince. The Republic can survive a Barack Obama, who is, after all, merely a fool. It is less likely to survive a multitude of fools such as those who made him president.

A related message from this person conveyed this nonsensical statement:  “We the people can blame the people who voted for Obama for 4 more years.”  He also wrote, “A lot of people are buying guns. I’m buying food. If you want to eat it’s going to cost a lot more.”

From these messages, we see a person who has gone beyond his hatred of Obama to deep contempt for the 61 million fellow Americans who voted for him in the 201 election.  According to him, they (we) are members of the “depraved electorate” and a “confederacy of fools.” They (we) are people who are a threat to the Republic.

Messages with similar sentiments, usually oozing with the venom, can be found in un-moderated comments on news stories, on far-right web sites, and in the opinion columns of rabidly conservative magazines.  Also, extremist public figures, public officials and preachers have chimed in with the latest manifestations of their deep hatred of Obama and, now, the voters who favored him.

Sen. J.W. Fulbright Talks about “The American Character”

As I thought about the new flow of invective from anti-Obama extremists, I ran across a speech related to the topic in Senator J. W. Fulbright’s papers at the University of Arkansas Special Collections library. It reminded me that hate manifested by extremists is not a recent phenomenon.  Fulbright knew all about them. Right wing zealots had often attacked him during his three decades in public office. Fulbright’s files are full of letters from people charging that he was an unpatriotic traitor, a communist, and worse.    

Fulbright gave this speech on December 5, 1963, just a couple of weeks after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, which gave it an emotional edge.  It was titled “The American Character,” and was delivered at a ceremony bestowing the 1963 Rockefeller Public Service Award on five distinguished recipients. 

Apparently the speech struck a chord across the nation. According to a letter Fulbright wrote in April 1964 to R. B. McCallum, his former Pembroke College instructor at Oxford, his office had been swamped with over 10,000 letters responding to it, most of them favorable to his views.  (The letter to McCallum is in the Fulbright Papers, Series 88 Subseries 11 Box 19 at the University of Arkansas Special Collections Library; the complete speech, which was published in the Congressional Record a few days after it was delivered, can be found at this Scribd link:

Fulbright Examines the Dark Side of the American Character

Sen. Fulbright began his speech by suggesting that Americans in most respect are “decent, civilized, and humane” people. In most ways, our values reflect the dominant values of Western Civilization including  “tolerance and moderation” and “empiricism and practicality.”

However, United States society is also influenced by a darker strand of Western Civilization, a strand that manifests intolerance and violence among some people. Fulbright noted that this strain is easy to see:

It is in evidence all around us. It is in evidence in the senseless and widespread crime that makes the streets of our great cities unsafe. It is in evidence in the malice and hatred of extremist political movements. And it is in evidence in the cruel bigotry of race that lends to such tragedies as the killing of Negro children in a church in Alabama.
Fulbright pointed to “moral absolutism” as the force in Western Civilization that has contributed to “righteous crusading and intolerance.” He told his audience:

Whether religious or political in form, movements of crusading moralism have played a significant, and usually destructive, role in the evolution of Western societies. Such movements, regardless of the content of their doctrines, have all been marked by a single characteristic: the absolute certainty of their own truth and virtue. Each has regarded itself as having an exclusive pipeline to heaven, to God or to a deified concept of History – or to whatever is regarded as the ultimate source of truth. Each has regarded itself as the chosen repository of truth and virtue and each has regarded all nonbelievers as purveyors or falsehood and evil.

These movements are free from any element of doubt as to their own truth and virtue. Their zeal and certitude has led “in the name of noble purpose” to “unspeakable acts” dating back to the burning live of heretics in medieval times.

The moral absolutism was brought to the United States by Puritans. According to Fulbright:

Their religion was Calvinism, an absolutist faith with a stern moral code promising salvation for the few, damnation for the many. The intolerant, witch-hunting Puritanism of seventeenth century Massachusetts was not a major religious movement in America. It eventually became modified and as a source of ethical standards made a worthy contribution to American life. But the Puritan way of thinking, harsh and intolerant, permeated the political and economic life of the country and became a major secular force in America. Coexisting uneasily with our English heritage of tolerance and moderation, the Puritan way of thinking has injected an absolutist strand into American thought – a strand of stern moralism in our public policy and in our standard of personal behavior (emphasis in original speech).

Another factor shaping American character was “the experience of the frontier.” Fulbright described its influence this way:

The frontier experience taught us the great value of individual initiative and self-reliance in the development of our resources and of our national economy. But the individualism of the frontier, largely untempered by social and legal restraints, has also had an important influence on our political life and on our personal relations. It has generated impatience with the complex and tedious procedures of law and glorified the virtues of direct individual action. It has instilled in us an easy familiarity with violence and vigilante justice. In the romanticized form in which it permeates the television and other mass media, the mythology of the frontier conveys the message that killing a man is not as long as you don’t shoot him in the back, that violence is only reprehensible when its purpose is bad and that in fact it is commendable and glorious when it is perpetuated by good men for a good purpose.

Moral absolutism, the negative aspects of the frontier mentality, and other factors had a negative influence on post-World War II politics. According to Fulbright:

The voices of suspicion and hate have been heard throughout the land. They were heard a decade ago when statesmen, private citizens, and even high ranking members of the armed forces were charged with treason, subversion, and communism, because they had disagreed with or somehow displeased the Senator from Wisconsin, Mr. McCarthy. They are heard today when extremist groups do not hesitate to call a former President or the Chief Justice of the United States a traitor and a Communist. They are heard in the mail which United States Senators receive almost daily charging them with communism and treason because they voted for the foreign aid bill or for the nuclear test ban treaty.

This malice and hatred which have become part of our politics cannot be dismissed as the normal excesses of a basically healthy society. They have become far too common. They are beyond the pale of normal political controversy in which honest men challenge each other’s judgment and opinions but not each other’s motives and integrity. The excesses of the extremists in our country have created an intolerable situation in which we must all guard our words and the expression of an unorthodox point of view is an extraordinary act of courage.

Fulbright suggested that the “prevailing atmosphere of suspicion and hate” found in the United States “spawned” the assassination of President Kennedy, even if it was not a direct cause. He hoped that the death could be redeemed by actions to reduce or eliminate the poisoned atmosphere.

He urged calling forth “the basic decency of America,” which might be possible because of the “national revulsion against extremism and violence” following the assassination. He sensed that there was a desire among Americans to heal of the wounds of “divisiveness and hate.” Above all, he suggested efforts to reshape the character of controversies to conduct them “as the honest differences of honest men in the quest for a consensus.” He said:

We can come to recognize that those who disagree with us are not necessarily attacking us but only our opinions and ideas. Above all, we must maintain the element of doubt as to our convictions, recognizing that it was not given to any man to perceive ultimate truth and that, however unlikely it may seem, there may in fact be truth or merit in the views of those who disagree with us. (Emphasis in the original.)

Fulbright concluded his speech with a plea to “revive and strengthen the central core of our national heritage, which is the legacy of liberty, tolerance, and moderation that come to us from the ancient world through a thousand years of English history and three hundred centuries of democratic evolution in North American.”  According to Fulbright,

It is this historic legacy which is the best and the strongest of our endowments. It is our proper task to strengthen and cultivate it in the years ahead. If we do so, patiently and faithfully, we may arrive before too long at a time when the voices of hate will no longer be heard in our land and the death of our President will be redeemed.

Fulbright’s Hope Unrealized

Unfortunately, based on recent experiences with governing and elections in the United States, it is clear that Fulbright’s prescriptions either were not implemented or they did not work. We failed to redeem the murder of President Kennedy and to realize the hopes of Senator Fulbright for an American political system characterized by self-doubt, toleration, and moderation that permit civil discourse about our most difficult problems.  The politics of hate thrives among a portion of our citizens who believe they possess knowledge of absolute truth that is either unavailable to or ignored by people who do not agree with them. In 2012, as in 1963, the American Character – fine, generous, and admirable in many ways – still has its dark elements that stain democracy.

But, of course, I could be wrong.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Olly and Her Modern Dance Group in early 1930's Vienna

Last Spring, while visiting Vienna, I bought a large box full of post cards at the Saturday flea market located by the Naschmarkt. Sorting through them, I came across several real picture post cards (which are, in fact, photographs printed as post cards) of a group of women who apparently were part of a modern dance group. Nothing is written on the fronts or backs of the postcards, except a few of them bear the word "Tichelka."

Doing a little detective work using all of the cards that came in the box, I was able to figure out that Tichelka was the last name of one of the young women shown with the dance group. It appears that many of the postcards in the box I purchased had belonged to her or her family.

Olly Tichelka lived until with her family at Staudgasse 67, located in District 18, until about 1935 (her mother's name was Julianne Tichelka). Likely the dance pictures were taken in the early 1930s.  Here is a picture of Olly Tichelka which has the date May 1, 1928 written on its back.

Olly Tichelka, May 1, 1928

The following pictures show a group of women practicing what is clearly some type of modern dance. They have some colorful costumes, but it seems likely that the group was a local or district amateur dance troupe.

In these two pictures, Olly Tichelka is second from the left

I am not sure if Olly Tichelka is in this picture

Below are a couple other pictures with Olly Tichelka practicing her dance with another member of the group:

In these pictures, Olly Tichelka is on the right.

Apparently, the dance troupe did shows. The following pictures seem to be performance, or at least, rehearsals for a performance. 

Olly is the one standing the tallest with her hand touching
the top of the picture

According to information on the post cards, Olly married Karl Oertel, apparently in 1935. A postcard dated September 6, 1938 is addressed to Karl Oertel at Rechte Weinzeile 71, in the 5th district, a short walk from the Naschmarkt. That post card was the last one in the collection bearing the name of either Karl or Olly Oertel.

Olly Tichelka is on the extreme left, with face toward the camera

I have no information about what happened to Olly and Karl Oertel in the terrible years following the date on the last post card.  

Friday, October 26, 2012

The 1972 Viennale Film Festival: Propaganda in the 1930s and 1940s

For eight days in March 1972, I spent several hours a day sitting in a movie theater underneath the Albertina Museum, less than a block away from the Vienna Staatsoper, watching propaganda films made from 1933 to 1945. In all, I saw over eighty of these films, some short, others full length, made in Germany, Great Britain, Austria, and the United States.
These propaganda films were part of the 1972 Viennale, the film festival of the Ősterrichische Filmmuseum. They attracted me because they offered a unique history lesson — the chance to see how different governments tried to influence the opinions of their citizens and the world in the 1930s and 1940s. Also, they offered the opportunity to gather further understanding of the inexplicable: why many of the people around me in Vienna supported a monstrous Nazi regime.

In watching the films, the political scientist in me paid attention to how the different governments manipulated symbols and myths to stir passions and inspire actions. In normal times, political leaders (in both dictatorships and democracies) know the words and gestures to use to reassure the mass public or the arouse its fears. They are skilled in using symbols linked to deeply held beliefs to evoke strong emotions that make people willing to sacrifice or take actions against their self interest.
In times of radical change and war, the manipulation of public and world opinion becomes even more important than in peacetime. Then, the state employs propaganda to strengthen the resolve of its own people and weaken the resolve of the enemies. During these times, propaganda is an important weapon of war.

From a less academic viewpoint, I was particularly interested in the Nazi propaganda, mainly because the ability of this repugnant group to seize power and its catastrophic use of power are beyond my understanding. I had never had the previous opportunity to see Nazi propaganda films, so I was curious about why it was, apparently, so successful.
As part of the retrospective, the Ősterreichisches Filmmuseum published a small book of essays titled, Propaganda and Counterpropaganda in Film, 1933-45. It included essays by Hans Barkhausen and Karl Friedrich Reimers (Erste Weihnachsfeier Der Reichsbahndirektion Berlim in Dritten Reich), Clive Coultass (British War Propaganda, US War Propaganda), Friedrich Geyrhofer (Die Demagogische Phantasie), Gerhard Jagschitz (Filmpropaganda im Dritten Reich), Reinhard Prießnitz (Die Endlösung Der Meinungsfreiheit), and Michael Siegert (Fritz Hippler -- Goebbels' Reichsfilmintendant, "Der Ewige Jude). 

The many hours spent watching these propaganda films were well invested. These films provided a great learning experience, and long offered food for thought. Twenty years after watching these films, when working on a Ph.D. in public policy, my memory of them stirred an interest in a "symbolic politics" model of understanding policy formation. Borrowing from Harold Lasswell (whose University of Chicago dissertation in the 1920s was about the use of propaganda in World War I) and Murray Edelman, I explored how symbols and myths are used in the political process of democratic policy making.  
The propaganda films shown at the 1972 Viennale Retrospective included these:
Aus der Tiefe Empor (GER); Die Erste Weihnachtsfeier der Reichsbahndirektion Berlin im Dritten Reich (GER)

Metall des Himmels (GER); Triumph des Willens (GER); Bueckeberg (GER); Das Erbe (GER)

Ewiger Wald (GER); Ewige Wache (GER); Das Buch des Deustchen (GER)

Mussolini in Deutschland (GER); Einberufung der 10 Jahriger zur HJ Durch von Schirich (GER)

Gestern u. Heute (GER); Wort und Tat (GER); Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Fuehrer (GER); Gesunde Frau, Gesundes Volk (GER); Unsere Kinder, Unsere Zukunft (GER); Adolf Hitler Bauten (GER)

Bauten in Neuen Deutschlands (GER); Das Wort aus Stein (GER); Einsatz der Jugend (GER); Die Englishe Krankheit (GER)

The Rape of Czechoslovakia (GB); Dangerous Comment (GB); Now You Are Talking (GB); Hitler Listens (GB)

Feuertaufe (GER); Gentlemen (GER); Der Ewige Jude (GER)

The First Days (GB); Britain Can Take It (GB); Miss Grant Goes to the Door (GB); The Curse of the Swastika (GB)

Deutsche Panzer (GER); Sieg im Westen (GER); Soldaten von Morgen (GER); In Wald von Katyn (Swedish version)

America Speaker Her Mind (US)

Yellow Caesar (GB); Lambeth Walk (Germany Calling) (GB); The Battle of the Books (GB); Mr. Proudfoot Shows a Light (GB)
Rund um die Freiheitsstatute (GER); Neues Leben in Paris (GER); Dr. Todt --Berufung und Werke (GER)
Battle of Midway (US); Fellow Americans (US)
Listen to Britain (GB); Salute to the Red Army (GB); Killed or Be Killed (GB)
Das Sowjetparadies (GER); Herr Roosevelt Plaudert (GER); Die Grosse Deutsche Kunstausstellung Muenchen (GER)
Why We Fight #1: Prelude to War (US); Why We Fight #2: The Nazis Strike (US); Why We Fight #3: Divide and Conquer (US); Why We Fight #4: The Battle of Britain (US)

Warwork News Nr. 43 (GB); Invincible (GB); These are the Men (GB); The Silent Village (GB)
Rundfunk im Kriege (GER); Scharfschutenschule (GER); Der Fuhrer schenkt den Juden ein Stadt (GER)
Why We Fight #5: The Battle of Russia (US); San Pietro (US); Memphis Belle (US); With the Marines at Tarawa (US); The Town (US); Brought to Action (US); The Negro Soldier (US)
The True Story of Lili Marlene (GB); Cameramen at War (GB); A Soviet Village (GB); Nazi Atrocities in Poland (GB)
Window Cleaner (US); To the Shores of Iwo Jima (US); Why We Fight #7:  War Comes to America (US); Two Down and One to Go (US)
A Barrel Polka (GB)
GER = Germany, GB = Great Britain, US (United States)
A review that I wrote of the film festival shortly after it ended in March 1972, plus other materials related to it, can be found at this Scribd link:

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Arkansas' Frontier History through the Eyes of Friedrich Gerstäcker: The Conference

The University of Arkansas conference on The Legacy of Friedrich Gerstäcker: Arkansas and the Wild West provided several scholarly perspectives on his work as a writer of adventure stories and travelogues. It included a keynote lecture, ten papers by literary scholars and historians, and a visit to some sites in the Ozarks that Gerstäcker visited in the early 1840s.

I attended the conference because my interest in Gerstäcker (1816-1872) dates back almost forty years. I discovered him when I began to do research on German immigration into Arkansas. (I wanted through the research to use and, I hoped, improve my German language skills.) One of my first projects was a history of the George family, Germans who immigrated to Little Rock in 1833. This family, which included parents and several brothers, prospered as local merchants and became prominent citizens of the city. Some members of the George family were among the people Gerstäcker met when he visited Arkansas between 1838 and 1842. (My paper on the George family, published in the Pulaski County Historical Review, can be found at this link:

Gerstäcker's travels in Arkansas are described in his book, Streif- und Jagdzuege durch die Vereinigten Staaten Nord-Amerikas (in English the title is Wild Sports in the Far West), published in Germany in 1844. In this book, Gerstäcker described, among the other things he did during his visit to the United States from November 1837 to July 1843, his two years in Arkansas. During his time in Arkansas, he met and befriended many German immigrants living in Little Rock, Perry County, and elsewhere.

Gerstäcker's experiences and observations in Arkansas provided material for several of his novels and short stories. For example, his 1846 novel, Die Regulatoren in Arkansas: Aus Dem Waldleben Amerikas (The Regulators of Arkansas), is set in and around Perry County. A good sample of his short stories set in Arkansas can be found in the 1991 book, In the Arkansas Backwoods: Tales and Sketches by Friedrich Gerstäcker, edited and translated by James William Miller. 

From my perspective, Gerstäcker is a valuable historical resource for understanding how people lived in Arkansas in the late 1830s and early 1840s, and he provided valuable insights into the lives of early immigrants into the state. His descriptions and stories enliven and illuminate the early years of the state.

A good portion of this conference was less about the value of Gerstäcker as a source for understanding Arkansas history and more about him as an important literary figure in Germany. The conference papers focused mainly on him as a writer rather than on his contributions to Arkansas history.

The keynote lecture, on Thursday night, October 11th, by Jeffrey Sammons, Leavenworth Professor Emeritus of German Language and Literature at Yale University, discussed Gerstäcker as a preeminent author of adventure novels. According to Sammons, adventure novels were very popular in the 1840s and 1850s because stories of Indians and bandits helped enliven boring lives and regimented work of the times. Gerstäcker’s books were very popular in Germany, especially with juveniles. They served to introduce the American continent to Germans and, when translated, German-Americans to readers in the United States. Sammon’s plea was that Gerstäcker be taken more seriously in Germany as a author of first rank, not just a specialized writer of adventure books for juveniles.

Wolfgang Hochbruck presents his conference paper
Most of the papers of the conference on Friday, Oct. 12th, continued a literary analysis of Gerstäcker’s work as an author. Wolfgang Hochbruck (American Studies, University of Freiburg) explored some influences on two of Gerstäcker’s adventure novels, The Regulators of Arkansas and Flusspiraten des Mississippi (Mississippi Pirates). In his paper, "River Pirates and Leather Stockings: Gerstäcker and the Adventure Novel", Hochbruck suggested that the two books were inspired by stories about John Murrell and his notorious gang. Also, he traced the influence of James Fenimore Cooper and other American adventure writers on Gerstäcker.

Charles Adams (Department of English, University of Arkansas) and Christoph Irmscher (Department of English, Indiana University) began their presentation with some good news: together they are preparing a new translation of Die Regulatoren in Arkansas. They have a contract with a publisher and the manuscript is due in January 2014. They noted that no good translation of the novel is readily available in print or out-of-print. This new translation will make this novel, based on frontier life in Arkansas, easily available in English for the first time.

Because I am more interested in history than in literary studies, I especially enjoyed the paper by Michael Pierce, a labor historian at the University of Arkansas, with the title "C. O. Haller and the Rise of Negrophobia among Gerstäcker’s Arkansas Friends." The focus of the paper is Charles Haller, one of the early German pioneers that Gerstäcker encountered during his first visits to Little Rock and Perry County. When Gerstäcker returned to Arkansas in the late 1860s, after the end of the Civil War, he was saddened to learn that Haller was dead.

Pierce’s paper tells the story of Haller in the 1840s and 1850s when Haller became a spokesman for the “mechanics” — the skilled laborers (e.g. craftsmen, artisans) — of Little Rock. In that role, he was active in state and local government to oppose letting prisoners, slaves, and freed slaves do the work of mechanics. Allowing such things, he argued, lowered the wages and status of skilled laborers. He urged legislation to keep slaves on farms, to expel free slaves, and to create more farms by breaking up large tracts of unused farm land. (For background on the mechanics movement in Arkansas, see this link

Pierce suggested that because many Germans in Arkansas were skilled laborers, plus because of other factors, they had attitudes toward slavery and Negroes that differed greatly from those of Germans in Missouri. In Arkansas, Pierce maintained, German immigrants supported slavery and secession, and they willingly fought on the Confederate side of the war.

I am not sure how much I accept Pierce’s broad assertions about the attitudes of Germans in Arkansas toward slavery and the Confederate cause. It is my understanding (based on some reading about the Civil War in Arkansas) that many Germans (especially those living in the northern part of the state) left Arkansas because they did not support the Confederate cause. However, I have not seen any good research that empirically explores the attitudes of Germans in Arkansas about the Civil War, so I think there is more work to be done to document how German immigrants in Arkansas in 1860 reacted to secession

Another paper that interested the historian in me was entitled “Friedrich Gerstäcker’s Arkansas German Friends” by Shirley Schuette, who works at the Butler Center in Little Rock. I am familiar with much of her topic, which included the story of a group of Germans who traveled together as part of a Immigration Society to Arkansas, arriving in Little Rock in 1833. The story of this group of immigrants, several of whom Gerstäcker met when he came to Arkansas, was expertly researched by Ruth Yingling Rector, whose papers are in the Butler Center archives. The story of these immigrants is a fascinating one. (For more on this topic, see this blog post: )

In all, the conference provided an intellectually rich experience with the opportunity to learn from the research of a broad range of international scholars.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Jerry Climer for Arkansas Secretary of State

FORTY YEARS AGO, in October 1972, I was driving around the state of Arkansas in the Climermobile, a large motor home whose use had been donated to the “Jerry Climer for Secretary of State” campaign by one of his supporters.  Jerry had hired me to work for his campaign against incumbent Kelly Bryant.  Jerry lost, but the campaign was an adventure.

The 1972 Election in Arkansas

The 1972 election was the first in the post-Rockefeller era for state Republicans. Before 1964, the party had offered only hapless, futile opposition to the dominant Democratic Party. However, by 1964, Winthrop Rockefeller and his supporters had taken control of the party, and that year WR ran for governor against Orval Faubus, the long-time incumbent.  Losing to Orval Faubus in 1964, WR ran again in 1966, beating Jim Johnson to become the first Republican governor since Reconstruction. He was re-elected in 1968, then lost to Dale Bumpers in 1970. In all of these campaigns, WR and other Republican candidates for state-wide office had plenty of resources to be competitive.

Following the 1970 election, the Republican Party had ignored Rockefeller’s recommendation to elect William T. Kelly to be chairman of the Party, voting for Charles Bernard, the unsuccessful Republican Senate candidate in 1968, instead. WR, who supported Kelly and apparently was not too fond of Bernard, was not pleased.

Without WR on the ballot and lacking the funding of the previous four elections, the 1972 election was a test of the strength of the state’s two-party system. The Republican Party recruited four credible candidates for state office: Len Blaylock (governor), Ken Coon (lt. governor), Ed Bethune (attorney general), and Jerry Climer (secretary of state). Also, Wayne Babbitt was selected as the Party’s candidate for the Senate. In addition, of course, that year Richard Nixon was the Republican candidate for president.

WR (who had pancreatic cancer that would kill him in February 1973) limited his contributions for the 1972 campaigns to a fixed amount given to the Republican Party, and the Party and its candidates were expected to raise additional funds to have enough to be competitive. The lavish campaign spending of the previous eight years had ended. 

Going to work for Jerry Climer

I had not been following state politics too closely since the 1970 election when Bumpers had crushed Rockefeller. I had been finished up my studies, then spent a miserable six weeks at an ROTC training camp.  Following that, I went to Vienna for a year.
Arriving back in Arkansas in June 1972, I had six months to occupy before reporting to a training camp for artillery officers. I was happy to read that Jerry Climer was running for secretary of state. Apparently, he had made a good impression as Pulaski County Clerk after being appointed by WR to that position in late 1970 to fill a vacancy. I had known Jerry at the University of Arkansas and thought highly of him, viewing  him as a serious guy, very intelligent and ambitious.  

Visiting Little Rock, I gave him a call and found out that he was looking for a campaign assistant.  I quickly signed on. The adventure began.

I viewed the job as much more than a way to occupy a few months and get a paycheck:  I believed strongly that Jerry would make an excellent secretary of state and would be far superior to the incumbent. As required when working in any serious political campaign, I threw myself into the job and spent four months absorbed in the task of getting my candidate elected to office.

The Climer Campaign

The chair of Climer’s campaign was Phyllis McGinley (if I remember correctly), a nice middle-aged woman who was dedicated to Jerry’s candidacy.  She worked with him to create his schedule, managed the budget, directed volunteers, and operated the campaign headquarters on Capitol Avenue in Little Rock. She initially viewed me with some suspicion, probably because I had longish hair and mutton chops. She was not sure it was wise to have hippy- looking guy traveling with the candidate. Fortunately, we got along and she warmed to my involvement in the campaign.

My job was to travel with the candidate in the Climermobile, help write press releases and other campaign material, assist with correspondence, and help out with ideas to advance the campaign. Most of the travel was done in the large motor home which enabled us to avoid spending money on hotels and provided us with a moving bill board. We put about 14,000 miles on it during the months of driving around the state.

The actual days spent campaigning are a bit of a blur.  A typical day included driving, shaking hands, speaking, writing, calling, and schmoozing. We did our best to generate stories for both newspapers and radio. We were keen to see what was being published in newspapers about Climer and Bryant, and to hear what was broadcast on radio.  So we monitored both closely.  The Republican Party had hired a clipping service that passed clippings about the race to us each week. When driving, we kept tuned to local stations to hear what they were saying.

Free media was important because the campaign budget was quite limited, with only a small amount of funds for paid television and newspaper advertising. Climer’s biggest challenge was to increase his name recognition outside of Pulaski County, and without a substantial media budget, that was almost impossible.

Climer gave it his best, and I was impressed with his campaign skills and his dedication to the task. Though I am moderately cynical by nature, Climer was not. He seemed driven by the conviction that he could do a much better job as secretary of state than the man he was running against. Though the odds were against him winning the election, Climer spent time near the end the campaign discussing with me what steps he should take immediately after taking office to improve its operations.

I am not sure how much of an asset I was to Climer. He was understandably reluctant to have me too visible when he was out shaking hands. In 1972, longish hair apparently put off small town voters. In Harrison, the chairman of the county party organization pointedly invited me to stay in the Climermobile when Jerry went to meet with Party supporters to make a brief speech.

What I did well, I think, was write press releases and position papers that were used to get campaign coverage by newspapers and other media.  The journalism courses that I took at the University of Arkansas paid off when I was doing this work.

The Lost Election and Its Aftermath

Of course, Climer lost, as did all of the other Republican candidates for state-wide office in 1972. While he received only 40.6 percent of the total vote, he got 62.4 percent of the vote in Pulaski County. Also, polls showed that he received a majority of the votes of voters with post-graduate degrees. His name recognition never reached 50 percent. 

Probably unwisely, I wrote an article the following year about the Climer campaign for a local alternative newspaper in Little Rock, the Arkansas Advocate, in which I said nasty things about Kelly Bryant, his wife, Nixon’s campaign in Arkansas, the Arkansas Gazette, the AFL-CIO, state radio stations, state newspapers, and voters in general. The article was a bit sophomoric and ill-advised, but still provides a perspective of what it was like to campaign in Arkansas in 1972. It can be found here: 

I mentioned in this article my disappointment that the Arkansas Gazette did not publish a series of investigative articles on the malfeasance of the Secretary of State's office until after the election. The reporter who wrote those articles called to yell at me and suggest he was going to sue me. A few weeks later, when I got an entry level job at the Arkansas Department of Planning, he tried to sabotage me by writing a Gazette story about me getting a state job. The article prompted a call from the governor’s office to Charles Crow, the director of the department. Fortunately, he apparently convinced the caller that my academic credentials were sufficient to justify hiring me for this $9,000 a year entry level position.

Jerry Climer never again ran for office, but had a stellar career in Republican-related jobs. After completing his term as Pulaski County Clerk, he worked as the chief legislative assistant to Congressman Tom Coleman (R-MO), and then was executive assistant to Ed Bethune for six years after he was elected to the House of Representatives in 1978.  From 1985 to 1990, Climer was on the leadership staff of Congressman Guy Vander Jagt (R-MI).  (See

Climer helped set up and lead two non-profit organizations that worked with Republicans in Congress. The first, the Congressional Institute, has sponsored travel and retreats for Republican Representatives and Senators, but its website ( indicates that it has a broader bipartisan mission:

From the Congressional Institute Web Page
Founded in 1987, the Congressional Institute is a not-for-profit corporation dedicated to helping Members of Congress better serve their constituents and helping their constituents better understand the operations of the national legislature. The Institute sponsors major conferences for the benefit of Members of the U.S. Congress as well as a number of smaller gatherings, all devoted to an examination of important policy issues and strategic planning. The Institute also conducts important research projects consistent with its mission, develops resources such as a House Floor Procedures Manual and sponsors Oxford-style bipartisan Congressional debates.

The Public Governance Institute is a policy training and research organization. According to its website ( "The Public Governance Institute is a research, education and training group. Founded in 2001, the Institute assists public leaders and institutions in their effort to lead public-sector change." This institute, at this point, does not appear to be actively involved in projects -- or at least its website does not show much activity. 

Climer retired in 2007 and lives in Edenton, North Carolina. He was co-author of a book, Surviving Inside Congress that was published in 2009, with a second edition in 2011.  It is available both as a regular book and in a kindle edition (

I saw Jerry only a couple of times in passing after the 1972 campaign. 

Other related links: