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Letter in Sunwise Turn collection sheds light on forgotten artist/daredevil

By Bob Taylor

Among the papers of Mary Mowbray Clarke included in the Sunwise Turn archive is Ms. Mowbray Clarke’s personal correspondence. The major portion of these letters span the years 1905–1917, from about the time she married John Mowbray Clarke up to the opening of the Sunwise Turn bookshop in partnership with Madge Jenison. A large portion of this correspondence was with her friends in the artistic and cultural community of New York in those early years of the twentieth century. A good number of these correspondents were public figures whose names are still recognized—Vachel Lindsay, Jerome Myers, Ezra Pound, Beatrice Wood—but others are essentially forgotten. One such person was the artist Howard Kretz Coluzzi.

 

Kretz Coluzzi was born in New York in 1876 or 1877 to Dr. F. Henry and Thekla Kretz. He was brought up in a cultured household in comfortable circumstances and first came to public attention in May 1899 when he jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge into the East River. Fished from the water by the crew of a passing boat, the 22- year-old National Academy of Design student told the magistrate at his hearing the following day that he couldn’t explain his jump but that he “felt sure I would not be injured and that I would come out all right.” He added that he’d previously made high jumps into Schroon Lake in the Adirondacks that had seemed more dangerous to him than this leap.

 

While Kretz Coluzzi continued to display eccentricities, along with, apparently, considerable artistic ability and a fair measure of ordinary human sociability, he never again attempted a feat of such bravado. Howard Kretz’s acquaintance with Mary Mowbray Clarke was probably a result of her husband’s role in presenting the 1913 Armory Show, at which Kretz Coluzzi exhibited. With the Mowbray Clarkes and Madge Jenison hard at work readying their shop for its late 1915 opening, Kretz Coluzzi pitched in with freely offered decorating ideas and practical woodworking skills.

 

The Sunwise Turn quickly became a springboard for another creative venture for the artist: the Lewisohn sisters’ Neighborhood Playhouse. Alice and Irene Lewisohn had been pupils, and eventually good friends, of Mary Mowbray Clarke, so Howard Kretz’s artistic association with the playhouse was, if not inevitable, at least not surprising. Kretz Coluzzi produced ideas for set designs for several productions at the playhouse between 1915 and 1919.

 

His theatrical work was significant and appreciated, notwithstanding his notable absence at a critical juncture during the preproduction of Lord Dunsany’s The Queen’s Enemies in 1916. When he finally showed up just before dress rehearsals, he explained his absence as having been provoked by the cutting down of his favorite tree on his mother’s estate. Years later Alice Lewisohn Crowley wrote, “This was the way Howard functioned. Still, this uncertain source contributed a spark to the family spirit and was as indefatigable in work as in mourning.”

 

At some point in the 1920s Kretz Coluzzi forsook New York, where he’d spent years commuting between Manhattan, with its cultural excitement, and the Adirondacks’ green solitude, for northern New Mexico. In Santa Fe he spent his last years drawing and painting, teaching (at least some of the time at the Santa Fe Art School), and engaging in various hijinks. He died on March 27, 1942 from an infected cat scratch.

 

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A note from James Purdy cheers up “Wicked Witch of the West” actress Margaret Hamilton

By Bob Taylor

The papers of American author James Purdy (1914–2009) at the Ransom Center include a missive written to Purdy in the spring of 1971 by the actress Margaret Hamilton (1902–1985). Hamilton is, of course, best known for her role as the Wicked Witch of the West in the 1939 film version of L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz.

 

The communication fills three pages of a whimsical Rosalind Welcher greeting card and continues onto both sides of a sheet of the actress’s personalized note stationery. From internal evidence in Hamilton’s letter, as well as from an earlier one in the collection from playwright Neal Du Brock to Purdy, it’s evident she had starred in Du Brock’s dramatization of Purdy’s novel The Nephew. The production was presented by the Studio Arena Theatre in Buffalo, New York in early 1971.

 

Du Brock’s adaptation wasn’t particularly well received and closed with considerable gloom among the play’s company. Purdy evidently wrote a consoling note to Du Brock, which led Du Brock to suggest that Miss Hamilton, who had clearly felt stung by the reviews, might be cheered by a positive word from the original author.

 

Purdy’s ensuing note to Hamilton seemingly helped lift the actress’s spirits, and she responded in her letter of April 23, 1971, “how very dear of you to write me…and perk up such a dismal Easter.” She went on to say she was then in Boston at her alma mater, Wheelock College, recovering from the flu and looking forward, upon her recovery, to appearing in a play with the school’s drama department.

 

After recounting the hectic events surrounding the production of The Nephew and its treatment in the press, the scarcely wicked witch continued with the observation that “it is amazing how vulnerable we all are—to negative criticism—we remember each phrase—do we remember the kind or approving phrases? No! It really boils down to one man’s opinion. And we do ask for it!” Hamilton closed with an invitation to Purdy to “come & have tea or a drink… sometime this summer if you are in New York.”

 

The James Purdy papers are currently being processed and will be available to scholars once cataloging is complete.

 

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“The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”: A children’s classic lives on though many editions and sequels

 

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Texas collection of comedias sueltas and Spanish theater available for research and in online database

By Jennifer Tisdale

The Texas Collection of Comedias Sueltas and Spanish Theater is available for research. Individual records for each suelta are also available in an online database, providing extensive information about the collection.

The collection includes more than 15,000 “comedias sueltas,” a generic term for plays published in small pamphlet format in Spain from the early seventeenth century through the early twentieth century. The materials at the Ransom Center have been described as one of the major collections of Spanish dramatic literature in suelta form in North America.

Within the collection, more than 2,500 authors were identified of sueltas and related works published between 1603 and late 1930s. Nearly 600 sueltas at the Cushing Library at Texas A&M University were also cataloged as part of the project.

The Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) funded the cataloging project “Revealing Texas Collections of Comedias Sueltas” under its “Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives” initiative. CLIR is a nonprofit organization that works with libraries, cultural institutions, and communities of higher learning to enhance research and teaching.

On September 29-30, the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at The University of Texas at Austin, the Department of Hispanic Studies at Texas A&M University and the Ransom Center will host the conference “The State of the Comedia Suelta: Celebrating the Texas Collections.” Held at the Ransom Center, the conference will highlight writers and/or works represented in the collection. Researchers from a variety of fields — including Hispanic literature and culture, history of the book, music, theater, bibliography, conservation, and library science — are expected to attend.

Read more information about the project. The news is also available in Spanish.

Cataloging project reveals previously unknown copy of a comedia suelta

By Paloma Graciani Picardo

The cataloging of the Texas collection of comedias sueltas at the Harry Ransom Center—funded by the Council on Library and Information Resources, Cataloguing Hidden Special Collections and Archives program—has proven to be a great success in revealing unknown jewels of early printed theater in Spain. One such jewel is Juan de la Cueva’s Comedia de la muerte del rey don Sancho y reto de Zamora, printed in Barcelona by Sebastian Cormellas in 1603.

 

This recently discovered suelta, not included in Mildred Boyer’s Texas Collection of Comedias Suelta: a Descriptive Bibliography (1978), broadens the date range of the collection and provides a unique example of the earliest suelta format. Although a suelta with the same title and imprint had been recorded by Spanish bibliographers, Golden Age theater researchers had considered it a lost edition. Before this find, the only Juan de la Cueva play confirmed to have been printed as a suelta was the Comedia del saco de Roma y muerte de Borbón. It was also published by Cormellas in 1603, and the only known surviving copy is held at the Hispanic Society of America in New York.

 

The Comedia de la muerte del rey don Sancho was performed for the first time in 1579 at the Corral de Comedias de doña Elvira, sixteenth-century Seville’s most popular theater. It adapted a medieval ballad, introducing for the first time on stage one of Spain’s most beloved national heroes, El Cid. With this Comedia, Juan de la Cueva (1543–1612) pioneered the merging of popular legendary themes with the Spanish classicist theater in an attempt to promote national patriotism.

 

Between 1579 and 1581, Cueva staged 14 plays in Seville that he eventually published as a compilation in 1583. A second edition appeared in 1588. His plays showed signs of some of the key characteristics that Lope de Vega later introduced, and Golden Age scholars consider him a forerunner in the renewal of Spanish theater. Current researchers agree, however, that his major accomplishment lies in the fact that he had the vision to publish his work at a time when it was uncommon for dramatists to do so.

 

With his publishing endeavor, Cueva aspired to reach a wider audience than the one attending the performances and ultimately preserved his work for the present day. The lack of stage directions within the text and the inclusion of a plot abstract for each of the acts reveal an underlying motive of addressing his work to the private reader. By the beginning of the seventeenth century, printed dramatic works had achieved considerable popularity, and printers soon realized the consequent benefits. The suelta format is clearly product of this demand.

 

Sebastian Cormellas’s print shop, located at Carrer del Cal, was one of the most productive in seventeenth-century Barcelona. Cervantes himself visited the shop in the summer of 1610, making it famous when it was later described in the second part of his immortal novel Don Quixote as one of the few nonfictional locations of the book. Cormellas was known to be a savvy businessman who printed on demand, many times without the author’s consent. Whether Cueva was an author ahead of his time or just one of the many writing in Seville in that period, the publication of at least two of his titles in the suelta format and in Barcelona is a reflection of the greater acceptance that Cueva’s theater may have had with its contemporary audience.

 

Little is known about the history of this copy held in the Ransom Center’s sueltas collection. Ownership marks include illegible marginalia and a Latin inscription of the opening verse from the Lamentations of Jeremiah (1:12). This biblical sentence was widely quoted in the late Middle Ages, especially in Gregorian liturgical psalms. No exlibris, stamps, or signatures are provided. The fact that it was not mentioned by Boyer in her bibliography could be a clue to date its acquisition sometime after 1978. Even so, no record has been found relating to the acquisition or the provenance of this suelta. Most likely, it was acquired as part of a bulk purchase of Spanish theater materials and joined the rest of the sueltas collection in the Ransom Center stacks until it was cataloged.

Image: Cover of Juan de la Cueva’s Comedia de la muerte del rey don Sancho y reto de Zamora.

 

Related content:

Stories from the Sueltas: Cataloger sheds light on gems in the Spanish comedias sueltas collection

Illustrating the Sueltas

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