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!)