A Bit of Fun From The Sun Dial

Academics and social critics take note of Don Marquis for his wry commentary and biting satire, but many of us love his writing simply for its good fun. Take, for example, this brief exchange in one of Don’s Sun Dial columns:

ANTONY (To Cleopatra’s lady-in-waiting): Please tell your mistress I am here and would like to see her.
LADY-IN-WAITING: Not today, good sir.
ANTONY: Why not?
LADY-IN-WAITING: She’s in bed with tonsilitis.
ANTONY: Wait till I get hold of that dirty Greek!

Edward Anthony, author of the biography “O Rare Don Marquis,” said this gag got Don in hot water with his publisher, the renowned crank Frank Munsey, who thought it inappropriate for a family newspaper. Munsey never understood Don, and such opprobrium probably only inspired him to further bits of cheap and eminently enjoyable fun.

Meet Barbara Marquis, Newspaper Editor

Like father, like daughter: Click on the news clipping at right — from the Aug. 19, 1931, edition of the Los Angeles Times — to read about 13-year-old Barbara Marquis, editor of the California Sun.

Don Marquis’ daughter wrote and edited the mimeographed newspaper, and the clipping from the Times says she had a paid circulation of 140 subscribers, including “many folk prominent in motion-picture and society circles, whose activities are recorded with unerring accuracy in the Sun’s columns.”

Barbara was a sickly child, and Don brought her from New York to Southern California on the advice of doctors, who hoped the warm weather would help her grow strong. Don was working on screenplays for Hollywood studios at the time, and he lived with Barbara and his wife Marjorie in Beverly Hills.

Sadly, the photo in the Times clipping may be the last one taken of Barbara. She developed bronchial pneumonia and died two months later, on Oct. 24, 1931. Her death sent Don into an emotional tailspin from which he never fully recovered. Check out the earlier blog post “A Photo From the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1920” for more on that.

A New Anthology: ‘The Best of Archy and Mehitabel’

Alfred A. Knopf today published “The Best of Archy and Mehitabel,” a new anthology of Don Marquis’ popular Archy and Mehitabel poems and sketches.

The new hardback is an abridged version of “the lives and times of archy and mehitabel,” first published in 1940 by Doubleday, Doran, Marquis’ longtime publisher. Doubleday and Knopf are both part of the Random House publishing group.

“The Best of Archy and Mehitabel”sells for $13.50 ($15.95 in Canada) and is part of the Pocket Poets series from Knopf’s Everyman’s Library imprint. The book has 256 pages, measures 4 1/8 by 6 1/4 inches, and includes George Herriman’s beloved cartoon illustrations and E.B. White’s introduction to the 1950 edition of “the lives and times of archy and mehitabel.” Continue Reading →

Welcome to the New DonMarquis.com

Hello world.

You’re looking at a redesigned and expanded DonMarquis.com web site, which goes live today, Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2011. The site has a fresh new look and lots of new content, including a scrolling display of aphorisms on the home page and a blog that will be updated frequently with stories from Don’s rich life and extraordinary imagination. Most of the photos and drawings added to the site are making their first appearance online; some haven’t been published in more than 100 years.

DonMarquis.com homepage, 2002-2011.

DonMarquis.com homepage, 2002-2011.

The blog is a handy vehicle for sharing some fascinating tidbits that were lost to history until now. It draws on 10 years of research incidental to my work on a full, descriptive bibliography of Don’s publishing history — an effort (still ongoing) that has taken me to research libraries across the United States and countless web pages hidden in the far corners of the Internet. But these aren’t dusty stories fit for an encyclopedia entry. They are flashes of wit and warmth and life from a clever man who, in the words of Christopher Morley, “was, in his own circle, the best loved man of his time.”

This marks the third version of this web site, which first appeared online in October 1995. Many thanks to web programmer Kai Christiansen, who designed this version and engineered its construction using open-source WordPress software.

Christopher Morley Pens a Paean to a Cockroach

Christopher Morley

The essayist and novelist Christopher Morley (1890-1957) was one of Don Marquis’ dearest friends. As a young writer Morley was an unabashed fan of Don’s breezy, brilliant humor, and Morley looked to him as a mentor. They became frequent lunch companions (the Three Hours for Lunch Club), fellow collaborators (“Pandora Lifts the Lid,” 1924) and lifelong boosters of each other’s works.

It’s no surprise that Morley would dedicate a poem to Marquis, but the subject matter makes the poem copied here a special treat. It first appeared in Morley’s Bowling Green column in the New York Evening Post and was reprinted in his 1920 book of light poetry, “Hide and Seek.” Enjoy.

By Christopher Morley
From “Hide and Seek,” 1920

Dedicated to Don Marquis

Scuttle, scuttle, little roach —
How you run when I approach:
Up above the pantry shelf,
Hastening to secrete yourself.

Most adventurous of vermin,
How I wish I could determine
How you spend your hours of ease,
Perhaps reclining on the cheese.

Cook has gone, and all is dark —
Then the kitchen is your park:
In the garbage heap that she leaves
Do you browse among the tea leaves?

How delightful to suspect
All the places you have trekked:
Does your long antenna whisk its
Gentle tip across the biscuits?

Do you linger, little soul,
Drowsing in our sugar bowl?
Or, abandonment most utter,
Shake a shimmy on the butter?

Do you chant your simple tunes
Swimming in the baby’s prunes?
Then, when dawn comes, do you slink
Homeward to the kitchen sink?

Timid roach, why be so shy?
We are brothers, thou and I.
In the midnight, like yourself,
I explore the pantry shelf!

Don Marquis (Disambiguation)

“Don Marquis and Rosita Alvarado in a pulsing dance of Spanish blood.” — photo caption on the cover of the Los Angeles Times’ Rotogravure section, May 1, 1927.

An online search for the name “Don Marquis” can yield some surprising results.

Perhaps you’ve seen links to those strident anti-abortion essays Don wrote. And maybe you’ve been tempted to read what Don had to say on the history of jazz since, after all, he wrote that biography of jazz pioneer Buddy Bolden. But if what you wanted was new insight into the life and times of the creator of “archy and mehitabel,” you would have been mistaken.

“Disambiguation” is the term used by Wikipedia, the online reference site, to distinguish among various entries bearing the same title or keyword. And it might be useful here, near the start of this blog, to disambiguate among the several Don Marquises who have made a name for themselves in disparate endeavors.

Don Marquis is indeed an opponent of abortion rights. He is a philosophy professor and medical ethicist at the University of Kansas, and his 1989 essay “Why Abortion Is Immoral” is widely quoted by adherents.

Don Marquis is also the author of “In Search of Buddy Bolden: First Man of Jazz,” a 1978 biography of the cornet player who, in the words of Wikipedia, “is regarded by contemporaries as a key figure in the development of a New Orleans style of rag-time music which later came to be known as jazz.”

Confusing Don Marquis the columnist and humor writer with other men of the same name is nothing new. Don himself once wrote, with perhaps just a bit of exaggeration, that he had been inundated with angry letters from women in California claiming that he had promised them love and marriage and then abandoned them at the altar. In fact, at least two other Don Marquises are known to have lived in California during the 1920s and ’30s, one of them a Latin dancer in Los Angeles and the other a Stanford grad and car dealer in Oakland.

And then there is Don Marquis the director of the 1923 silent movie “Blood Test.”

Except for his name in the credits of that one movie, virtually nothing is known today about the director of “Blood Test,” itself a forgettable Western melodrama that was released in April 1923. Yet IMDb, a leading Internet movie database, has linked “Blood Test” director Marquis to the writer responsible for the 1926 silent movie “The Old Soak,” the 1937 talkie “Good Old Soak” and the 1971 animated movie “Shinbone Alley” based on the Archy and Mehitabel stories.

Other online movie databases have followed IMDb’s lead, further compounding the confusion, even though a look at Don’s life in 1922 and early 1923 makes it clear that he had no time to dabble in silent movies.

Besides writing six newspaper columns every week, Don was busy at the time shepherding his first play, “The Old Soak,” through a successful 10-month run on Broadway. The comedy opened August 22, 1922, and a few weeks later Don took a new job writing a daily column for the New York Tribune. That Tribune job was a big, big deal for Don, and he certainly wouldn’t have risked it, or the success of his play, by tackling a whole new undertaking — a silent movie, and a guns-blazing Western, at that.

(Apologies, by the way, to all you other Don Marquises whose accomplishments haven’t been acknowledged!)

A Photo From the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1920

Here’s a bittersweet photo from the pages of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, published January 11, 1920, showing proud papa Don Marquis and his two young children. Daughter Barbara, on Don’s knee, is just 16 months old, and Bobby, standing, is 4 years old.

The photo appeared on a feature page of the Eagle that Sunday under the headline “Brooklyn Kiddies Smile at the Camera-Man.” Among other celebrities smiling for the camera that day was former President Theodore Roosevelt, holding his Brooklyn granddaughter Edith Derby.

Don was a famous columnist by 1920, and the Eagle — where he had worked for a year before moving to the New York Evening Sun in 1911 — took pleasure in tracking his career and also his exploits as a Brooklyn resident. (More on that in a few days.)

The bittersweet aspect to this photo comes from events looming in the future. Bobby, always a sickly child, would die barely a year later, on February 15, 1921. Barbara also suffered from a frail constitution and died of pneumonia on October 24, 1931, at the age of 13.

Absent from this photo is Don’s wife and the children’s mother, Reina Marquis. Her story only adds to the impending gloom. On the evening of Dec. 2, 1923, just a few weeks after she and Don and Barbara returned from a three-month trip to Paris and London, Reina became violently ill and died within an hour from myocarditis, an inflammation of heart muscle.

Don, who would live to also see his second wife die, somehow endured these tragedies while wearing the mantle of a funny man. One can only imagine the heartache that lived inside.