Brilliant Writing, High Living And Wild Times In the 1920s
Fun and Craziness with Ties to Easton Then and Now
Late last summer, my sister sent me three books that she had read, which she enjoyed.
(Suzy didn’t send me the actual physical books she read; she ordered copies of them for me online and had them sent to me.)
Among the books she sent me was Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin: Writers Running Wild In The Twenties — Edna St. Vincent Millay, Dorothy Parker, Zelda Fitzgerald, and Edna Ferber, by Marion Meade.
I am almost done with the book, which was published in 2004. I tell you, this book is good.
Yes, Ms. Millay, Ms. Parker, Ms. Fitzgerald, and Ms. Ferber could all write — indeed they all wrote brilliantly.
Their lives were beyond accomplished and adventurous.
Their lives were also — in total — a confusion of brilliant literary output, partying, drugs, booze, sex, exhilaration, despair — and sometimes hospitalization and breakdown.
These women did some living. Yes they did.
Also, this book has strong ties to Easton, and a character and a giant of the early American theater.
But we will get to that.
Interesting, I enjoy reading outdoors tremendously. But reading outdoors is really fun only if you are able to sit back in a chair lie back in hammock — or find yourself some other comparable recline and comfort.
It just doesn’t work well lying back in the grass with no support and taking in your sentences.
So yesterday I drove up to Target near the intersection of Foundry Street/Rte. 123/Rte. 106 and I bought myself what is called a “man pillow” — you know, one of those glorified stuffed combo backrest and armrest pillows.
It works great. On Saturday afternoon, I stopped off with my man pillow at New Pond up in Furnace Village — and while lying back and facing the pond I read me some nice Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin.
Yesterday afternoon I stopped off at Sheep Pasture — and off to the side of of the foundation of the mansion (long gone), I leaned back against my man pillow and read me some more Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin.
In Chapter Five of the book, the chapter which covers the year 1924, Ms. Meade discusses a man for whom Edna Ferber had immense respect — and whose company Ms. Ferber enjoyed immensely; he was the man who was producing the play, Minick, which she wrote; here is an excerpt from Chapter Five:
After returning from Europe in August, she [Ferber] boycotted her typewriter and began spending her time at Minick rehearsals. The producer, Winthrop Ames, was a Boston Brahmin millionaire who used his family’s hand-tool fortune to back Broadway shows. Edna knew of no classier person in show business than Ames. who talked business on the top floor of a theater he owned on West Forty-fourth, in an apartment decorated with priceless tapestries where a butler in white coat served cocktails and canapes on silver trays. Rehearsals were conducted with equal style. Every day at one, Ames’s chauffeur and butler marched through the stage door and bearing picnic baskets full of the most delicious salads, gourmet sandwiches, fruit, and hot coffee.
Yes — Winthrop Ames is Ames as in Easton Ames.
Ms. Ferber was a good pal of Winthrop Ames and his wife Lucy.
Winthrop Ames was a major player in the New York theater scene. He was even a pioneer in the motion picture industry.
Here is a link to a Wikipedia entry on Mr. Ames.
Winthrop Ames split his time between New York City and Europe, and Easton, where he lived in Queset House — that gorgeous English style cottage framed in wood that sits to the rear of the Ames Free Library.
The cottage was built in 1854 by Winthrop Ames’s father, the industrialist Oakes Angier Ames.
Back in 2007, the Ames Free Library purchased Queset House. Smart move.
And in 2009, the Ames Free Library signed a 99-year lease of Queset Gardens, an Italian style garden – a showpiece of its time – which adjacent to and on the south side of Queset House.
As I wrote in this space previously, it was Winthrop Ames who designed and commissioned the construction of the gardens which were completed in 1911.
And it was in the gardens where Winthrop Ames oversaw high drama; here is an excerpt from my column, Lights, Camera ... Easton!!, which ran on Easton Patch on February 21, 2011:
Winthrop Ames is also rightfully considered a pioneer in motion pictures in that he was commissioned by the Famous Players Lasky-Corporation to write the screenplays for their 1916 films Oliver Twist and Snow White.
Winthrop Ames and his friends held plays and dramatic performances in the Queset Gardens behind Ames Free Library when those Italian style gardens were in their heyday. Now, that the gardens are on the cusp of a complete return to their former grandeur, there are plans in place for the arts to return to the site.
Winthrop Ames is enshrined in the American Theater Hall of Fame.
Winthrop Ames died in 1937, and soon the gardens started their descent into neglect. That decline continued for almost 70 years.
In 2010, with the long-term lease for Queset Gardens signed, Ames Free Library started getting hands on in reclaiming and renovating that beautiful space.
James Thomas, the library's restoration architect, oversees the project.
Private donations and a CPA grant have provided the financing for the garden restoration — which is ongoing. Local volunteers, including horticulturists, historians, and garden designers — along with hired tradesmen — have brought back the garden.
Soon it will be returned to its original grandeur and majesty.
I am more than excited about the future of Queset Gardens and the entire Ames Free Library campus — and its nexus with the Ames Shovel Shops which are being rehabilitated.
I am so happy that drama and plays have come back to Queset Gardens — with more planned.
“It is hard to resist using that space - it is so magical!” wrote Ames Free Library executive director Uma Hiremath in an email to me.
Uma also noted that “The most recent production was a re-staging of A Midsummer's Night Dream by high school students led by 16-year old student-director, Morgan Capodilupo, from the Oliver Ames Drama Club, on June 17.”
This is all so good.
I wonder if some charged dramatic karma — all tied to that explosively creative society and highly charged living of the 1920s courses through Queset Gardens.
Something though of which I am confident.
Winthrop Ames would be happy as all get out about what is now going in those gardens.