Remembrance Day, 2018

Very little of Dresden was left after the city was fire bombed in 1945. The Soviet GDR re-built many of the structures that had been destroyed, but had to raze others. A monument to Mozart, in the Bürgerwiese Park, depicted three Graces dancing around an altar dedicated to the composer. Two of the statues survived with relatively minor damage, but only half of one statue remained and that was removed to the Zionskirche ruins “lapidarium” where fragments of the ruined city are stored to await possible restoration.

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Dresden, 1945

Hermann Kurt Hosaeus won the commission to design the Mozart memorial in 1904. He was not yet thirty years old. There was a bit of a scandal about this: Hosaeus was young, unknown, and there was little in the way of completed works for the jury to examine. In 1907, the monument was revealed. Again there was some grumbling, but most accepted the baroque vivacity of Hosaeus‘ work.

Dresden-Mozartdenkmal

The reconstructed Mozart memorial. Ernst is the right-hand figure that appears very serious, indeed. [Wikimedia, photo: Kolossos]

The three Graces on the monument are not the ones we normally think of — Aglaiea et al — but “Anmut, Heitigkeit, Ernst”, or Grace, Joy, Seriousness (or, you might prefer, Grace, Glee, and Gravitas). After the 1945 bombing, the first two Graces were more or less intact, but Ernst was very battered.

dresden_hos_1926

War memorial near Bünde. Sculpted in 1926. Hosaeus often used a wounded soldier motif. [ photo: Vova Pomortzeff from The Woe of the Vanquished]

Hosaeus went on to become a favored monument sculptor. Born in 1891, he enlisted and was wounded in the War. His first monument sketches were made while in service. Following World War I, there was a great demand for war memorials and Hosaeus was ready to provide them. Great artists such as Kathe Kollwitz and Ernest Barlach created works that were later denounced by the Nazis.  The memorials designed by Hosaeus were non-controversial. He became a Nazi Party member and headed the architecture division of Berlin’s Technical Institute from 1932 – 1945. He may have fled to Argentina in 1945, but, if so, he did not stay long. Hosaeus died in 1958.

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Statue of Hindenburg by Hosaeus, unearthed near the Kyffhäuser Memorial. Sculpture was created 1939, discovered in 2009. [Wikimedia, photo by Andreas Vogel] (News photo showing Hitler at this statue’s unveiling and curious story of the work’s burial on this page.)

In 1991, a copy of the destroyed Mozart monument was constructed by Eberhard Wolf. He added missing pieces to the two damaged Graces and recast a new Ernst. Also in the ’90s, neo-Nazi groups began assembling in Dresden on the February 13 anniversary of the bombing, and from 1999, their protests became very noticeable. It may be that this created a desire on the part of Dresdeners to restore their reputation as Germany’s Art City, a place for reflection, rather than reaction.

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Ernst in the Zionskirche lapidarium. [Wikiwand]

In 2010, the Friends of Dresden awarded the first annual Dresden Peace Prize:

…it was clear what it should represent: To learn from the city’s fate, to intervene before everything is held for disposal, as it was done in the art city Dresden. That was and remains to be the message. Remembering that Dresden’s fate was not a singular one, not then and certainly not now. Adding to the continual state of mourning, Dresden’s message about all that was lost, transcends remembrance: War is not the means of last resort it is the wrong means.

Sculptor Konstanze Feindt Eißner designed the Peace Prize. It is a replica of the Ernst statue as it exists now: riddled with bullet holes and a gaping wound in the abdomen, but Eißner has restored the statue’s legs and drapery. The parts replaced are the same gilt color as the replica in the Bürgerwiese; the areas above are weathered and grey.

Recipients of the Dresden Peace Prize have included Mikhail Gorbachev, Stanislav Petrov, Daniel Ellsberg, and war child Emmanuel Jal.

[A tip of the hat to Klaus who told me about the Dresden prize.]

Notes: Russian photographer Vova Pomortzeff toured Germany seeking out war memorials and published his photos and impressions as The Woe of the VanquishedThis is a very interesting book that raises questions about what the artist meant and what the audience understood.

Dresden Peace Prize site (in English)

Konstanze Feindt Eißner (in German)

German Art page on Hosaeus with many pictures.

The r/Place Experiment In Internet Community

Reddit is a place where anyone can find or create a group about anything. It is very loosely moderated and, consequently, has developed a reputation as a hangout for neo-Nazis, anti-Social Justice Warriors, misogynists, and assholes in general. But on the April first weekend, reddit.com created an experiment that will be the focus of discussion and debate for years to come — or at least as long as people are interested in the Internet.

Reddit created a space, r/place, where any Reddit member (and there are legions of them) could contribute to an art project. The Place was 1000 X 1000 pixels in size. Participants were invited to place a pixel, in any one of 16 colors, anywhere on the space. Users could place more than one pixel, but had to wait five minutes in between placements. After a few individual attempts at making a picture, groups formed to make team projects. Penis pics proliferated. Soon the entire one million pixel grid was covered and pictures both created and destroyed by users. There were attempts to grief the project, including the creation of a black blot that spread like a malignant virus from the center of the page. Teams began utilizing their time and energy to protecting what they had done, and this was the final result at the end of three days:

via sudoscript.com/reddit-place

Pretty impressive, right? Let’s check out a few highlights. First, that block of text is a Reddit tale inspired by the Star Wars prequel. The national flags show an interesting progression over the weekend — someone extended the German flag over the French one. The French retaliated by going vertical and, finally, the flag overlap was replaced by the European Union banner. Canada began with a suitably modest maple leaf that was replaced by one that was somewhat larger but perhaps more significantly, hockey logos abound in the grand scheme. The entire design is strung together (sort of) by a rainbow highway.

Here is the final version of Place on Reddit.

Here is a time lapse of the Place being created. (You can search “r/place timelapse” on YouTube and get others of varying lengths.)

Here is a time lapse of small (but interesting) sections.

Fall of the Void (black blot).

There are several heat map breakdowns, showing most-changed pixel sites over time. A fully browsable map done in Minecraft.

Already major critiques and interpretations of the project have appeared on-line. Here’s Ars Technika being sort of thoughtful, for instance. But my favorite is this post by sudoscript, who comes up with a Hindu exegesis: Creators, Preservers, Destroyers = Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva. (If you don’t look at any other site about this, you should click on sudoscript, which has some fine graphic excerpts.)

Andy Baio has a swell collection of links, but by the time you read this, it’s already obsolete.

[discovered via Metafilter]

Pictures I Like: John Decker

The other night I watched a 1940s crime movie, Scarlet Street, on TCM. Edward G. Robinson plays a hen-pecked husband who holds down a stultifying job as cashier/bookkeeper at some sort of company. His only joy is painting, which he does in the bathroom of his run-down apartment. His wife hates his painting — doesn’t like the smell. One day, Edward G. Robinson meets Joan Bennett and is enraptured. Dan Duryea plays the heel who Joan loves (she likes to be smacked around). He persuades her to seduce the old guy. Things lead to a murderous climax. Okay, pretty much standard noir fare, but…

The paintings that Edward G. Robinson’s character creates are derided by his wife and others, but the first one I glimpsed made me sit up. The subject matter is a nondescript white flower in a glass, the painting looks like the artist was using hallucinogenic drugs. This was something special! In the movie, critics and dealers agree. Leaving aside the movie plot, I had to know more about the flower, some street scenes, and an incredible portrait of Joan Bennett, with eyelashes spiky as a psychedelic flower!

Screengrabs from Scarlet Street: the flower, portrait of Joan Bennett, closeup of portrait. The movie is in black-and-white, of course. I don’t know if any color was used in these paintings or not. (At least one of the paintings — that features a snake wrapped around an elevated train support — was in color). Decker has deliberately aimed at a primitive, untrained style — look at the dead-on composition of the Bennett portrait, for instance.

It didn’t take much digging to discover that the paintings had been made by John Decker. I researched him and that’s where things got really interesting, because John Decker was an artist, art forger, and drinking companion of W.C. Fields, John Barrymore, and other famous boozers. He may or may not have been a spy. He may or may not have forged the Head of Christ attributed to Rembrandt that hangs in Harvard’s Fogg Museum. He certainly did a famous portrait of W.C. Fields as Queen Victoria. Any of these accomplishments are enough to make a man interesting.

John Decker probably about 1935. [Wikipedia]

John Decker was born Leopold von Decken in Berlin. Or possibly in London. Or Greenwich. One story had his aristocrat father eloping with an English opera singer and the young couple fleeing social scandal to England. An art gallery bio has him born in San Francisco before being abandoned in England. Wikipedia has the more conventional tale: that the child was two when his parents moved to London.

Graf Ernst August von der Decken, son of an artist, worked as a reporter and married Maria Anna Avenarius, an opera singer, in Greenwich in 1898. Their son was born in 1895. Hence the scandal. Maria abandoned the household at some point in what was, apparently, a stormy marriage. Ernst left his son alone in 1908. Decker despised his mother, “That red-headed whore!” “I like John Decker,” John Barrymore once said, “He hates sunsets and his mother.” Sunsets, possibly, because they reminded him of his mother’s red hair. At least that is the legend as recalled by one of Decker’s cronies. It does appear that Decker hated the natural auburn shade of his own hair. Maria died in 1918. Ernst in 1934.

Legend has it (meaning John Decker told a drunken story that was recalled later by someone who had heard it while drunk) that, at the age of thirteen, the young lad began to work for an art forger, whose specialty was conning tourists. During World War I, some of these paintings were shipped back to the continent and some had writing on the back of the canvas that may have been coded espionage messages. And that, according to legend, got the young man interned on the Isle of Man in 1917 or 1918. Later, Decker said that it was a terrible experience; that he had witnessed scenes of depravity too horrible now to relate. One that he did relate had to do with an internee who committed suicide by immolating himself on an electric fence. Since there is no record of electric fences at the Man internment camp, that seems unlikely. Decker also claimed that internees had to eat the corpses to keep from starving.

Internee art for one of the four newspapers published at the Isle of Man camp at Knockaloe. [via bbc.com, copyright Manx National Heritage, knockaloe.im]

Most likely Decker was interned because he had been born in Germany and was still a German citizen. His father may have left him in 1908, but someone seemed to support him, and it probably wasn’t an art forger. Decker was studying art at the Slade School of Art in London (where Barrymore also studied) before his internment, but that factoid was later embellished by naming his teacher as Walter Sickert, who, both legend and Patricia Cornwall claim, was Jack the Ripper.

Released at the War’s end, the young man may have travelled to Europe (or not) but did shift his name from von Decken to John Decker. Using phony papers, at some point he sailed to America, probably in 1921. He hung around New York for a while, working as a newspaper caricaturist and set decorator for stage productions. He tried acting, but, legend has it, he was already a heavy drinker and passed out on stage during a scene with Jeanette MacDonald. In 1928, or possibly 1930, Decker emigrated to Hollywood, where anybody can be anyone they want to be. He left his first wife, Helen, in New York, along with his baby daughter. When he arrived in California, Decker had a second wife, Judith. He never divorced Helen, not even after marrying a third time.

Decker had met John Barrymore in New York (in a bar, of course, where they discovered they had the same taste in beer, the legend says) and soon became part of a drunken crew known as the Bundy Drive Boys. Bundy Drive was the location of Decker’s studio and the boys included, besides Barrymore and W.C. Fields: Ben Hecht, who wrote the dramatic sketch that Decker performed in New York; Gene Fowler, journalist turned script-writer; Sadakichi Hartmann, art critic and poet; and actors Errol Flynn, John Carradine, Thomas Mitchell, Alan Mowbray, and others who drifted in and out. Toward the end of the group’s existence, a few younger men, such as Anthony Quinn and Vincent Price, tagged along. Members of the original group had achieved some success in New York, where several of them first met, and had trekked out to Hollywood where the money was. Most of them hated the place and the film industry. All wanted to be a different kind of artist than they were — the screenwriters wanted to be novelists, the actors wanted to be painters, and so on. Decker was very clear about his art and his motivation: he wanted to make money and he would paint anything, anytime for a fee.

Decker was very gifted and could draw well and paint quickly. Somehow, though, he could not become wealthy, or at least, not wealthy enough. Mind you, he was living the high life through the 1930s, but there was an air of dissatisfaction about him that was revealed in the coat-of-arms that he hung on the Bundy Drive door. It shows his initials on a shield flanked by unicorns and bears the motto: “Useless. Insignificant. Poetic.”

Decker portrait of Henry Hull as Jeeter Lester, 1935. [photo from eBay sale of painting. It went for $3250.]

For a time, Decker produced caricatures, the same kind of work he had done in New York. Occasionally, he did a portrait and, one auspicious day, someone — legend varies as to who — requested a portrait in old master style, or as a knight or royalty or something, and Decker obliged. Soon, many of Hollywood’s most recognizable stars had paintings that showed them as a lead character in some historical fantasy. Decker’s forte turned out to be satire and most of his clients understood his work. There were some dissatisfied customers, though — Clark Gable is said to have refused to pay for a portrait that made his ears look big — and there were lawsuits. When one client refused a portrait, Decker painted prison bars over his face and was sued for defamation. Decker counter-sued and the case was dropped.

Jimmy Durante and Buster Keaton admire paintings of Cyrano de Bergerac and Hamlet. Note the Army outfit on Durante who was probably on his way to or from a USO gig.

Sometimes Decker worked for himself and not a contracted customer. So he produced a portrait of W.C. Fields as Queen Victoria. Her Majesty, recognizable both as herself and as Fields, frowns at a picture of Johnny Walker. Fields pretended outrage: “Decker has kicked history in the groin.”  Dave Chasen, owner of the restaurant where the Bundy Drive Boys hung out, demanded a copy. Decker dashed one off for him. He claimed to have done many others in various sizes, small copies going for $50 a picture. One would think that there would be more examples on the Internet, but surprisingly few examples of this famous image can be found on line.

 

Fields/Victoria hanging. [via Movies from the 20’s – 60’s]

Decker continued to create other works besides the caricatures. A few items can be found by googling. A painting of the Normandie on fire in New York harbor is interesting, but a study of black singers is not. Recent auction prices have Decker’s portraits going for $10000 and up, depending on who is the subject, and his “serious” work selling for $2 – 5000.

Harpo Marx as Gainsborough’s “Blue Boy”. Dave Chasen liked this painting so much that he commissioned one with his face on it. The Chasen picture actually was blue and not green.

In 1941, Decker did a series of murals depicting the history of Hollywood for the Wilshire Bowl nightclub. The murals have disappeared, but Decker’s preliminary drawings are in the Smithsonian. Then, in 1942, Decker produced a great piece: a drawing of John Barrymore on his deathbed.

Barrymore on his deathbed. He had eczema and clawed at his skin as he died. Decker turns this into a theatrical gesture.

Barrymore was Decker’s closest friend. The actor’s self-destruction was mirrored in that of the painter. Both were very aware of the damage that they were doing to themselves. Later, Decker worked up some finished, sentimental, death-of-Barrymore pieces, but it is the drawing that strikes home. It may have hung over Barrymore’s coffin at his funeral, or that may have been one of the more sentimental pieces that Decker did at the time. Errol Flynn once claimed to have abducted Barrymore’s body and, with some other Bundy Boys, transported it from bar to bar, feeding it booze. Later, Flynn admitted that he made up the story (which has also been told of other dead drinkers).

Hartmann was the next of the group to die. He was also the oldest, 78 at the time of his death in 1944. In some ways. Sadakichi Hartmann was a model for the other Bundy Drive Boys. Born to a German father and Japanese mother in Japan, Hartmann was thrown out of the family (he said) at the age of fourteen and later adopted a Bohemian lifestyle in New York. He met Walt Whitman, quarreled with him, it is said, and eventually moved west to California. He is more known now for his criticism, which took photography seriously, than his other work, which included poetry, painting, and a brief turn as an actor (he appeared in Douglas Fairbanks’ Thief of Baghdad).  Alcohol and other drugs fueled his poetry. He had the habit of pissing himself while drunk. Decker’s daughter found Hartmann repellant and steered clear of him because he smelled so bad. Alcoholics may be fun to read about but aren’t so nice to live with. [pictures by or of Hartmann may be seen here. And here.]

Decker portrait of Sadakichi Hartmann, 1946 [via Laguna Art Museum ]

Born in Japan with two Axis parents meant that, during World War II, Hartmann was a person of interest to the FBI. He escaped internment because of age and infirmity, but was visited several times by federal agents, just to make certain he wasn’t passing information back to the Motherland. Gene Fowler was working on a biography of Hartmann that was never finished. In 1952 Fowler published a book of Bundy Drive tall tales about attempting to write the bio. Hartmann’s daughter was incensed by the fact that her father’s life had been reduced to a bunch of drunken anecdotes, but that was the fate of others of the Bundy Drive Gang as well, including Decker.

At the end of 1946, W.C. Fields died. Six months later, suffering from diabetes and cirrhosis, Decker passed away. His then-wife, Phyllis, had an open bar at his funeral. She also darkened his red moustache with mascara. The drawing of Barrymore on his deathbed was placed on Decker’s casket and a Decker portrait of Barrymore hung on the wall. Legend has it that, when the minister recited the words, “Let us pray”, the flower wreath fell from Barrymore’s portrait into the coffin. John Decker was 51 at the time of his death.

Van Gogh or Decker?

But that’s not the end of the story. In 1949, a Van Gogh self-portrait purchased by William Goetz, Louis B. Mayer’s son-in-law, was pronounced a fake by experts. Goetz angrily defended the work, which he had bought from a dealer in 1946. The dealer, said to be reputable, withheld the painting’s provenance for “business reasons”. The authenticity of the picture is still being debated and one name that keeps coming up is that of John Decker. According to a drinking buddy, Decker loved Van Gogh’s work and claimed that the Dutch artist sometimes used his penis to apply paint. No one has examined the disputed painting looking for traces of Decker’s organ, but legend has it…

The Fogg Museum says this is a Rembrandt study. Legend has it that the painting was done by Decker.

And in 2003, Stephen Jordan published a biography of Decker in which he claimed that Decker faked a Rembrandt study at the behest of Thomas Mitchell. Whether Mitchell was part of the con or its victim is unclear. According to the story related to Jordan, Mitchell, who was an art collector, bemoaned the fact that he could not afford a Rembrandt. Decker said that he could locate one that only cost $2000. Then Decker bought a piece of 17th Century furniture and pulled out a drawer bottom that he used as a surface. After painting the piece, Decker then cracked it along the back and sent it to Holland for repairs. When the piece returned to the US, it bore Dutch customs papers, which helped provide some provenance. Mitchell may or may not have paid $45000 for it, but it seems to have been part of his estate. That painting is now in Harvard’s Fogg Museum (which bought it for $35000). Harvard and the Fogg maintain that the work is genuine. Some testing was done a few years ago which showed that the wood panel was, indeed, Baltic oak from the 17th Century.

Finally, although not as valuable as Rembrandts or Van Goghs, Decker’s paintings have been a target for thieves.

Notes:

Bohemian Rogue: The Life of John Decker by Stephen C. Jordan, so far as I know the only full-length biography. The paperback now sells for $90

Hollywood’s Original Rat Pack: The Bards of Bundy Drive by Stephen C. Jordan. Out of print.

Hollywood’s Hellfire Club by Gregory William Mank. Was out of print, now seems to be back in stock.

The books above recycle all the legends and anecdotes that might better be read in:

Minutes of the Last Meeting by Gene Fowler. Fowler’s account of trying to write Sadakichi Hartmann’s biography. Mostly anecdotes about the Bundy Drive Crew.

Good Night, Sweet Prince by Gene Fowler. Bio of John Barrymore with lots of anecdota.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Good Books: Granfa’ Grig Had A Pig by Wallace Tripp

Back when our children were small, we picked up two books by Wallace Tripp: Granfa’ Grig Had A Pig and A Great Big Ugly Man came Up And Tied His Horse To Me . These immediately became family favorites, books still remembered as those once-small children advance into their forties.

A Great Big Ugly Man disintegrated long ago, but I did discover the dilapidated remnants  of Granfa’ Grig a little while back. The graphics from here on are scans of that particular piece of family culture. And let me just stave off those who would say that our children should have been more careful with these books. No! You do not stop a child from reading; you do not make them wash their hands before opening the cover. These are some of the myriad ways  in which people destroy a child’s interest in reading. Little children are messy and heedless of consequence, and so is their love, whether of books or anything else. Would you demand your child wash their hands before hugging you?

Ah well, another day, another rant. That’s done. Here’s the wraparound cover for Granfa’ Grig:

Tripp_cover

And the double title page:

Tripp_inscover

Is this getting through yet? This is a book of nursery rhymes, some quite obscure, illustrated by a very fine artist.

Wallace Tripp quit his day job and sought to find work illustrating children’s books in the mid-1960s. After a time, he established himself and worked on many books including the Amelia Bedelia series. Soon he discovered his forte: exquisitely rendered anthropomorphic animals. This genre lends to satire, and Tripp embraced a very gentle and humane satire that infuses all his work. Look at this silly rhyme:

Tripp_bearpin

Look at the marvelous expression on the bear’s face. And check out the children in these two rhymes:

Tripp_ale

But it’s not all animals. This rhyme was a family favorite:

Tripp_bony

“Beat you! Beat you! Beat you!” my kids would joyously shout. God knows what images were swimming in their partly-formed consciousness. And, speaking of family favorites, here is my wife’s:

Tripp_anne

She really enjoys scenes of pomposity being slapsticked.

Here’s some other Tripp work not in Granfa’ Grig:

Tripp_attila

Tripp had a company, Pawprints, that distributed his drawings in various formats. Now you should look to eBay for those calendars and greeting cards.

Tripp_ sword

In the 1990s, Tripp began to have physical problems that were diagnosed as Parkinson’s Disease. He has been retired for twenty years now.

Tripp_feet

Here is the rhyme and illustration that ends Granfa’ Grig:

Tripp_end

There are numerous collections of Wallace Tripp art reproduced on-line. For instance:

Flickriver, My Delineated Life, Michael Sporn: Some Pawprints cards

Tripp has a website but it appears moribund.

Remembrance Day: The Unknown Deserter

During the Second World War, Germany executed many 0f its own citizens — the exact number is hard to come by, but at least 23,000 military members were put to death. They were executed for crimes such as treason, failure to follow orders, and desertion. Various categories of condemned men have received posthumous pardons for their actions. In 2002 a general pardon was issued for those who had deserted the Wehrmacht during the War. But already, monuments had been erected in their memory.

Possibly the first was set up in Bremen in 1986 by a veteran’s group opposed to NATO’s First Strike policy. The statue may wear a NATO helmet.

Sculpture by Mehmet Aksoy. Photo Via.

Sculpture in Potsdam by Mehmet Aksoy. Photo Via.

The first official memorial for the Unknown Deserter was meant to be placed in Bonn, capital of West Germany, but was finished just after the Wall came down and was set up in Potsdam. Since then, at least twenty memorials have been erected all over Germany and Austria.

Sculpture in Stuttgart by Nicholas Kernbach. Wikimedia Commons.

Sculpture in Stuttgart by Nicholas Kernbach. Wikimedia Commons.

Some 400,000 soldiers attempted to desert during World War II and 30,000 or so were caught and sentenced to death, though only 23,000 of these sentences were carried out before the War’s end. In 1998, the Bundestag pardoned those convicted of refusing to join the Nazi armed forces. Over the next few years other categories of resisters were also pardoned. Deserters joined the list in 2002.

Memorial in Ulm by Hannah Stuetz Menzel . Via.

Memorial in Ulm by Hannah Stuetz Menzel . Via.

The last category of resister to finally receive pardons was that of Treason. Some of those convicted of treason included men who had criticized the Hitler regime. One — an unnamed soldier — attempted in 1944 to transport thirteen Jews from Hungary to save them from the sweep that was sending Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz. There was some opposition to pardoning this last group by Bundestag members who protested that traitors put the lives of others in danger, but investigation has shown that claim to be false.

In 1925, when monument building for World War I veterans became a national industry, Kurt Tucholsky wrote:

Of all the missing plaques, we specially miss this one:
This is for a man who refused to kill his fellow men.

Looking up at Ruedi Baur's shelter in Cologne. Wikimedia Commons.

Looking up at Ruedi Baur’s shelter in Cologne. Wikimedia Commons.

In 2009, architect Ruedi Baur constructed such a memorial in Cologne. It is a transit shelter with these words on the roof:

Homage to the soldiers who refused to shoot at the soldiers, who refused to shoot at the people, who refused to torture the people, who refused to give information against the people, who refused to brutalise the people, who refused to discriminate against the people, who refused to ridicule the people, who showed civil courage while the majority kept silent and toed the line.

 

Good Books: Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson; Good Movies: Treasure Island, 1950

Sometime around 1951, I saw Treasure Island  and was delighted. What a great movie, I thought, and the hero was a kid! Like me! About a year ago I got a DVD that promised to be a copy of the original film. I am fully aware that memories tarnish over time and did not expect Treasure Island to hold up after more than sixty years. But it did! I read Treasure Island as a kid and several times since, it is a fine novel. And I have seen a number of illustrations for the book done by different artists, and read the Classics Illustrated comic. Anyway, I want to review the movie (as it exists on DVD) and take a look at the book with an eye to plot differences. Along the way, I’ll mention some of the illustrators who worked on this title. (This post is image-heavy and may take a while to load. Many of the illustrations will embiggen if you click on them.)

Stevenson claimed to have been inspired by a map, possibly of one of the Scottish isles re-imagined as a pirate treasure location, by his step-son. (The map is reproduced in many editions of the book.) He also says that he set out to write a book for boys. And although it is true there are no girls in the book — the only female character is Jim’s mother, who does not appear in the Disney film at all — many young women read this novel or watch this movie with enjoyment. (One woman who was enthralled by Treasure Island was J.M.Barrie’s mother, who tried to hide her enjoyment from her novelist son for fear she would be seen as disloyal.)

The map (from the Swanston Collected R.L.Stevenson, available at gutenburg.org)

The map (from the Swanston Collected R.L.Stevenson, available at gutenburg.org) The Disney film map shows only the islet in the bottom right corner, which is where the treasure is buried.

The book begins with Jim Hawkins saying that all these events occurred years before, which is taken by cranky critics to be a spoiler, because that means the reader knows that Jim will survive. That just shows how little these critics understand literature. Anyway, Jim’s recollections begin with the wasting away of his father who dies leaving Jim and his mom to look after the Admiral Benbow Inn, located in coastal Devon. A guest named Billy Bones takes up residence at the inn during the period of Mr. Hawkins’ decline, and he is a thoroughly disagreeable mean drunk. He promises various payments to Jim’s parents and Jim himself, and cheats all three. He threatens the guests, has nasty drunken fits, and is generally a blight on the landscape. Here we might note that Stevenson never romanticizes his pirate characters — they are all scum and you don’t want to turn your back on any of them. Bones enlists Jim as lookout: the boy is to watch for seamen inquiring about him and, in particular, he is to watch for a one-legged man, who is to be feared.

Finlay Currie as Billy Bones, getting ready to take his last drink.

Finlay Currie as Billy Bones, getting ready to take his last drink.

One day, a man with a nasty scar on his face does turn up at the Admiral Benbow, looking for Billy Bones. This is where the Disney movie begins. Jim lies and says he knows no such man but the scarred man notices a sea-trunk, marked “WB” and knows that this means “William Bones”. Jim reports to Bones (played by Finlay Currie, who I believe, never, ever played a thoroughly unlikeable character) who immediately identifies the scarred man as Black Dog, which is not a name associated with Goodness and Mercy. In the book, Bones and Black Dog clash and Billy Bones drives the other pirate away.

Billy Bones: catches his sword in the inn sign when he swings at Black Dog by John Cameron; gets the Black Spot by Derek Eyles; is found dead by Louis Rhead

Billy Bones: catches his sword in the inn sign when he swings at Black Dog by John Cameron; gets the Black Spot by Derek Eyles; is found dead by Louis Rhead

Soon enough, another visitor arrives at the Admiral Benbow: Blind Pew, an uncanny figure who latches onto Jim with a vulture grip and demands to be guided to Billy Bones. This scene is handled much the same way in both book and movie. Pew makes Jim guide his hand to that of Bones and drops something into it. “Now that’s done!” he cackles and scuttles away. Bones opens his hand to reveal the Black Spot! A piece of paper with a black circle on it and the words, “after dark”, in the movie. The book has it after ten o’clock. “We have time,” shouts Bones, “We’ll do them yet!” But he collapses and dies. In the book, Jim informs us that this is the second person he has seen die, the first being his father. Now, memory of the first being “fresh in his heart”, he bursts into tears, though he never liked Billy Bones. What he doesn’t say is that he will witness quite a few more deaths over the next year or so.

Pew grabs Jim,left to right: by Frank Godwin, a comics artist whose masterful pen and ink illustrations are some of the best for Treasure Island; Roberto Innocenti, for a 2012 Italian translation of the novel.; Mervyn Peake, from 1947m still in print.

Pew grabs Jim,left to right: by Frank Godwin, a comics artist whose masterful pen and ink illustrations are some of the best for Treasure Island; Roberto Innocenti, for a 2012 Italian translation of the novel.; Mervyn Peake, from 1947 still in print.

In the movie, the dying Bones gives Jim a packet. In the book, he finds it in Billy Bones’ sea-chest which he and his mother are pillaging for the money owed them. Jim’s mother refuses to take a nickel more than her debt but the coins are all manner of issues and denominations and it takes a while to calculate. Jim urges her to take the lot, but she won’t because that is not the Right thing to do. So they are almost caught when the pirates suddenly swarm around the Admiral Benbow, not waiting until the appointed hour at all, those scurvy swabs. Jim and his mother hide outside while he ponders that they might be killed because of his mother’s “greed”. But, of course, it was not just greed, but righteousness, that caused her to delay. Jim is not quite what moderns call an unreliable narrator, but Stevenson makes it clear that he does not always see things the way others — including the reader — might. Later, Jim demonstrates a rather cavalier attitude toward doing the Right Thing. Have I made it clear yet that I admire Stevenson’s writing?

Now the cavalry arrives in the form of a posse of revenue agents called by Jim through the local lord, Squire Trelawney. The details and differences between book and movie aren’t important. What is important is that, during the confusion when the armed guard arrives and the pirates scatter, Blind Pew falls under their horses and is killed. In the book, that is; on the DVD nary a trace of Pew amongst the pirates. I thought I remembered… but possibly that’s an illustration I recall. Maybe Disney couldn’t bear to kill a blind man, even if that same blind man is one of the nastiest villains ever imagined. “It’s that boy,” says Pew, when the pirates can’t find the map, “I wish I had put his eyes out.” There’s echoes of fairy tales and myth in that declaration.

Top: Classics Illustrated #84 by Alex Blum. The face in the chopped-off panel at right is that of Billy Bones. Bottom: Pew seeking the aid of his shipmates, who have fled, by N.C. Wyeth, possibly the most famous illustrator for this story; Pew is ridden down by Edmond Dulac. Dulac was a great illustrator, but chose to see everything in Treasure Island from a distance. There is little of characters in his illustrations.

Top: Classics Illustrated #84 by Alex Blum. The face in the chopped-off panel at right is that of Billy Bones. Bottom: Pew seeking the aid of his shipmates, who have fled, by N.C. Wyeth. Wyeth’s colors are often very similar to those of the Technicolor Disney film; Pew is ridden down, by Edmund Dulac. Dulac was a great illustrator, but chose to see everything in Treasure Island from a distance. There is little of characters in his illustrations.

Jim turns the map over to Squire Trelawney and Doctor Livesey. The doctor, who had ministered to Billy Bones and tried to get him to stop drinking, is very upright, courageous, and, for Disney, a sort of father figure to Jim. In fact, the movie turns on which dad Jim will choose: the upright Livesey or the scoundrel Silver — but that’s yet to come. The Squire is a bluff gentleman, thick as a post, who cannot keep from blathering every thought that winks into his head. The Doctor tries to rein him in, but Squire Trelawney is a fool. Not that Doctor Livesey would allow you to say that, because he is as loyal as he is upright. At any rate, these two and Jim decide to sail after the treasure on the map.

The Squire sets out to Bristol where he finds a ship, the Hispaniola, and Captain Smollett to command her. He also runs his mouth about a treasure map and all the wrong type of seaman are attracted to him. All this is much the same in book and movie, except that Disney leaves out Jim taking leave of his mother and his old home. The lad setting out on his life adventure with both joy and apprehension, and the leavetaking of home, is older than fairy tales and the beginning of many great stories. Stevenson glosses this device. When Jim sees the boy who has been apprenticed to take over his work, he has an attack of tears. Then:

I am afraid I led that boy a dog’s life; for as he was new to the work, I had a hundred opportunities of setting him right and putting him down, and I was not slow to profit from them.

Jim is, you see, not a stainless hero but a genuine human being with both good and bad traits.

Jim leaves home, by N.C.Wyeth. Wyeth’s illustrations are perhaps the best-known. The original paintings are three feet by four and cost Wyeth an enormous effort but one that he felt was worth it. He called the Treasure Island illustrations “far better in every quality than anything I ever did.” Wyeth’s version has remained in print since 1911. (See end notes for more details on this edition.)

In Bristol, Jim finally meets the Old Sea-Cook, as an alternate title of Stevenson’s novel calls him. Long John Silver is a charming fellow. Although Jim remembers Billy Bones’ warning and is alarmed to meet a one-legged man, Silver soon charms him. In the movie, Silver gives Jim a pistol, which will figure in the later action; in the book, he simply talks Jim around. At one point, Jim spots Black Dog and gives the alarm. Silver sets men after the pirate, but, of course, they don’t catch him.

A bit more about Long John Silver from the book: He is now fifty years old. The men call him Barbecue. They say he has education and could have been something more than an ordinary seaman. And he is powerfully strong. Even with only one leg, the other seamen fear him. Silver has a wife, partner in his Bristol inn. She is a woman of color, a “negress” in the novel. The Squire has some casually racist things to say about her that Stevenson later exposes as gas when Silver explains to the other pirates that, the instant the Hispaniola sailed, his wife had sold up the inn and all their belongings, and now awaits his return with Flint’s treasure at a certain secret place in England. Silver also explains compound interest to his pirate buddies and says if they have any sense (which he knows they don’t) they will invest their loot, a little here, a little there, so as not to arose suspicion.

Long John Silver by Frank Schoonover, as played by Robert Newton, by Edward A. Wilson

Long John Silver by Frank Schoonover, as played by Robert Newton, by Edward A. Wilson

Both book and movie describe Silver’s outer trappings, the one leg, his parrot named Captain Flint that squawks “Pieces of eight! Pieces of eight!” Both present him as a charming, scheming rogue — but he is also a murderous villain, more so in book than movie.

Perhaps here is the place to talk about Robert Newton’s wonderful performance as Long John Silver. It is said that Newton, who had been a major star in English film, was a complete alcoholic. The director, Byron Haskin, kept him working by continually asking his advice on how to do scenes and treating him with the respect due a legendary actor. If so, we owe Haskin a debt of gratitude for eliciting this great performance. (Haskin says that he simply let Newton rip and chew all the scenery he wished.) And it is a performance that everyone remembers. Every time someone goes “Arrrr” on Talk Like A Pirate Day, he is quoting Robert Newton, who adapted his native West Country dialect to the role. But kids in 1951 were the people who really appreciated the Newton performance. Robert Crumb has written about his older brother, Charles, who tied up a leg and crutched around the neighborhood so much that he actually damaged his ability to walk for a while. Others may speak of Wallace Beery or Charlton Heston (haven’t seen that one myself) but Robert Newton’s is The Great Portrayal of Long John Silver for ever. So I say.

From Robert Crumb, Treasure Island Days and from an early comic scripted by Charles, drawn by Robert. (The Complete Crumb Comics vol. 13 and vol. 1, respectively.)

From Robert Crumb, Treasure Island Days and from an early comic scripted by Charles, drawn by Robert. (The Complete Crumb Comics vol. 13 and vol. 1, respectively.)

The Hispaniola sails and the voyage is uneventful except for the death of the first mate, Arrow. He is drunk when he goes on deck in a storm and is swept away. In the book, Jim learns later that Silver has been feeding rum to Arrow; in the movie, Jim is made accomplice to Arrow’s killing by bringing the rum to Silver. That’s pretty heavy and something Stevenson would have made more of. As it stands, Jim winds up his adventure with PTSD — but that’s yet to come.

“Here ye are, Mister Harrow. Sweeten the plum duff to yer taste.” Arrow chugs at the bottle before lurching on deck. Silver pushes him above with his crutch.

Jim goes to fetch an apple from the barrel that stands where every man can help himself. Doctor Livesey thinks this a good health measure, Captain Smollett (in the book) believes it will make the men soft. Smollett is a brave commander, set in his ways. Some time or other I expect some grad student has written a thesis or a dissertation on Stevenson’s approach to class — his characters simply accept it as part of the world they live in, often they are ruled by assholes and that’s the way of it — but someone else can look that paper up. Where was I? Oh, yes! The apple barrel.

The barrel is almost empty and Jim climbs inside to get an apple. Then several men group outside. One is John Silver, another is one of the non-pirate seamen, Dick. Silver (in the book) talks of days sailing with Flint, how he lost his leg and Pew his eyes in the same battle. It was an educated surgeon that amputated his leg, “knew Latin by the bucket”, but that didn’t save him: “He was hanged like a dog, and sun-dried like the rest, at Corso Castle.” Dick declares he will join the pirates — in the book, they call themselves “gentlemen of fortune”. Then both in book and movie, Silver speaks of his plans. Israel Hands wants to move now and take the ship, but Silver reminds him that, although they can steer a course, none of the seamen can set one. He bids them wait until all the treasure is aboard. In the book, he says that he would have them sail halfway back to England, to at least the trade winds region, but he knows that that the impatient pirates won’t hold out that long. He says that when they reach the island and the ship is loaded with treasure, then they will kill the others. One thing, says Silver, “I claim Trelawney. I’ll wring his calf’s head off his body with these hands.”

A pirate approaches the apple barrel and Jim fears he will be discovered — the movie does this well, with a pirate knife descending to pierce either an apple or Jim — when the cry is heard: “Land ho!” And everyone rushes to see.

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Jim calls a council in the Captain’s cabin. There, he tells Smollett, Squire Trelawney, and Doctor Livesey of what he has heard. Everyone recognizes that only Silver keeps the crew from open mutiny. Aside from the four in the cabin, only three brought from Trelawney’s estate can be counted on (says the book). So they are seven against nineteen, nine against twenty in the movie. Now comes a key moment.

In the book, Jim is told to keep his ears open. He is worried but agrees. In the movie, Doctor Livesey tells Jim to stay friends with Silver, something that causes him some dismay — “Stay friends with him?”. (Bobby Driscoll was a good actor.) One surrogate father tells Jim to spy on the other, who is not made out to be quite the villain that Stevenson created. Here is the setup for the drama of the movie’s final scene.

Robert Newton and Bobby Driscoll on the way to the island, before Jim gets away. Good old charming Long John Silver. Even the movie can't completely whitewash him.

Robert Newton and Bobby Driscoll on the way to the island, before Jim gets away. Good old charming Long John Silver. Even the movie can’t completely whitewash him.

Action in the book is compressed in the film, but the effect of both is that Jim is ashore on the island when the pirates aboard the Hispaniola try to take the ship, against Long John Silver’s orders. Then occurs perhaps the most horrifying event in the book, so chilling that Disney left it out of the movie.

Jim has scampered ashore and hides from the pirates. After a while he hears Silver arguing with Tom, who refuses to join the pirates. Their argument is interrupted by a scream from another part of the island. Someone else who refused to join the pirates has been murdered. Tom walks away from Silver who hoists himself on a tree branch and hurls his crutch so that it strikes Tom’s spine with bone-breaking force:

Silver, agile as a monkey, even without leg or crutch, was on top of him next moment, and had twice buried his knife up to the hilt in that defenceless body. From my place of ambush, I could hear him pant aloud as he struck the blows.

Death of Tom: by Frank Godwin, Louis Rhead -- Rhead worked in black and white, then colored a few pages for the publisher. Both B/w and color versions may be seen in the Gutenberg.org edition ; Mervyn Peake

Death of Tom: by Frank Godwin; Louis Rhead — Rhead worked in black and white, then colored a few pages for the publisher. Both b/w and color versions may be seen in the Gutenberg.org edition ; Mervyn Peake.

Jim falls into a swoon and lies senseless, overwhelmed by the sight. And, when I read this part, I lost any liking whatsoever for Long John Silver. But you may differ. After all, there were many folks who found Ted Bundy charming. And I do not intend this as an off-hand comparison. It seems to me that Stevenson has created a character who is a model sociopath — not that Stevenson knew the term — charming, manipulative, ruthless, and completely without remorse. I can visualize Silver ruling a gang or a prison block. Stevenson has described a particular kind of villain that now has a label.

Now the situation is: the pirates have taken the ship, Captain Smollett, Doctor Livesey, Squire Trelawney, and three loyal men are barricaded in an old stockade. Jim runs into Ben Gunn, marooned for three years and dreaming of cheese, toasted mostly, who guides him to the stockade and asks for a meeting later with someone of that party. Jim delivers his message to the stockade and the Doctor says he will speak with Ben Gunn. In the book, he mentions that he has a piece of Parmesan cheese in his snuffbox, “very nutritious”, and will give it to old Ben. But first the pirates attack the stockade with the ship’s cannon.

Ben Gunn by Ralph Steadman.

Ben Gunn by Ralph Steadman.

The cannonade failing, Long John Silver arrives under a flag of truce. Captain Smollett refuses to treat with him, offering instead to take back any pirate who surrenders to a fair trial in England. Their parley finished, no one offers a hand to help Silver up. In the movie, we can see Jim feeling sorry for Silver, but not in the book.

The pirates attack the stockade in earnest. There is fierce fighting and, when it is over, the Captain’s party has five men left (one wounded), the pirates, eight. So the odds have improved, but the situation is desperate. In the movie, Doctor Livesey gives Jim the map and tells him to buy his life with it if necessary. In the book, this comes later.

Attack on the Stockade. Top: N.C.Wyeth; Abraham Gray kills the big boatswain, by Bohuslav Mikes (Czech edition, 1967). Gray left the pirates to join Jim's party. He makes it back to England; Mervyn Peake. Bottom: Ralph Steadman

Attack on the Stockade. Top: N.C.Wyeth; Abraham Gray kills the big boatswain, by Bohuslav Mikes (Czech edition, 1967). Gray left the pirates to join Jim’s party. He makes it back to England; Mervyn Peake. Bottom: Ralph Steadman.

That night, the Doctor leaves to meet with Ben Gunn and Jim goes on his own excursion. Jim knows that if he can cut the Hispaniola free from her anchorage, she will drift into the beach. He determines to bring this about. He does not ask permission or advise anyone of his plan, he just leaves. At the end of the novel, Captain Smollett tells Jim that he won’t sail with him again. “You’re too much of the born favorite for me,” he says, which is an interesting observation. In the book, Jim grabs a brace of pistols from the common armory as he leaves; in the movie, he has the weapon given him by John Silver.

Jim boards the Hispaniola: Edmond Dulac;George Varian; Lyle Justis

Jim boards the Hispaniola: Edmond Dulac; George Varian; Lyle Justis

Jim locates Ben Gunn’s goat-skin coracle and paddles out to the Hispaniola. He cuts the hawser and climbs up a rope while the coracle is demolished by the larger vessel. Along the way, he witnesses a fight to the death between Israel Hands and another pirate. Hands, who is injured and drunk, staggers topside and collapses by the rail. Jim surveys the fallen pirate, then sets to steering the Hispaniola so that it grounds on the beach. Meanwhile, Israel Hands recovers and tries to get Jim to help him. But it is a ruse! Hands tries to grab Jim. In the book, Jim pulls out a pistol and pulls the trigger, but the powder is wet and Jim clambers aloft to recharge his pistols. In the movie, he simply climbs the rigging. Hands follows, knife in teeth, and here is a great scene in both book and movie. “One more step, Mister Hands, and I’ll blow your brains out!” Hands throws a knife that catches Jim in the shoulder as he fires his pistol(s). Hands falls to the deck. Now Jim can chalk up a killing to his credit.

“One more step, Mister Hands, and I’ll blow your brains out.” Left to Right: Frank Merril; Bobby Driscoll in the Disney version; Frank Godwin; Bohuslav Mikes.

Jim contemplates the two corpses in the water, by Zdenek Burian from a Polish edition of 1947. These deaths take a toll on Jim, in the book.

Jim contemplates the two corpses in the water, by Zdenek Burian from a Polish edition of 1947. These deaths take a toll on Jim, in the book.

The ship is beached and Jim makes his way ashore. He struggles through the jungle to the stockade where he collapses on the floor and discovers that the place has been taken over by pirates! In the book, Doctor Livesey wants to get away from the stockade, which is located in a malarial swamp, and he knows that the treasure has been moved to Ben Gunn’s cave, so he wants to go there to protect it. The Doctor later explains that it bothered him to leave Jim, but “I did what I thought best for those who had stood by their duty; and if you were not one of these, whose fault was it?” The movie is not so clear on why the stockade is given over to the pirates.

Long John Silver takes him in hand and says that the minute he spied the Hispaniola on the beach, he knew the game was up. Now he wants Jim to help keep him from hanging and, in return, he’ll keep the pirates from murdering Jim. Jim also discovers, in the book, that Doctor Livesey has given Silver the treasure map along with the stockade, something that neither Jim nor Silver understand. “There’s something under that,” says Silver, “Something, surely, under that, Jim — bad or good.” In the movie, Silver finds the map in Jim’s shirt when he tends to him.

Doctor Livesey comes to the stockade next day to tend the wounded. Jim gives his promise not to attempt escape and, when he has the opportunity to bolt, doesn’t take it. In the movie, Jim bites on a musket ball as the doctor does something unseen but painful to his knife wound. I can’t tell you how much that impressed me when I first saw the film. The doctor leaves and the pirates confer amongst themselves, finally giving Silver the Black Spot. There is a wonderful bit when Silver sees that the paper has been cut from a Bible.  He shakes his head; the pirates have brought disaster on their heads with that blasphemy.  Then he uses the treasure map to regain leadership of  the gang. This is where the treasure lies, he says, and the pirates examine the map and pronounce it genuine. The other thing is, Jim Hawkins is a hostage to prevent treachery from Smollett’s group. So, the Black Spot is rescinded and Jim will live yet a while.

“I had a line about my waist, and followed obediently after the sea-cook, who held the loose end of the rope, now in his free hand, now between his powerful teeth. For all the world, I was led like a dancing bear.” Jim complains about his indignity. A chapter later, he is afraid: “Now and again I stumbled; and it was then that Silver plucked so roughly at the rope and launched at me his murderous glances.” Left to Right: Frank Merrill, Louis Rhead, Mervyn Peake.

The pirates — only six left now — set out to get the treasure. Jim is tied up and dragged along by Silver. “It’s only for show,” Silver says in the movie, but in the book, as they get closer to the treasure, Jim senses that Silver is switching sides again and may knife him the instant he is of no value as a hostage.

They locate the spot where the treasure is supposed to be and it’s gone! Now, once again, George Merry tries to take leadership from Silver. Long John, meanwhile, has backed away from the pirates and is on the other side of the empty treasure pit when Merry threatens him. Then shots ring out from the trees! One pirate drops dead, George Merry is wounded and Silver takes the opportunity to kill him. “‘George’, said he, ‘I reckon I’ve settled you.'”

Finding the treasure: magazine illustration by Douglas Crockwell. Silver settles with George Merry, Michael Foreman, from an edition still in print

Finding the treasure: magazine illustration by Douglass Crockwell. Silver settles with George Merry: Michael Foreman, from an edition still in print

It transpires that Ben Gunn has removed all the treasure (except the bar silver) to his cave. Captain Smollett’s party, six men including Ben Gunn, seven counting the captive Long John Silver, use the only unwrecked boat to transfer wealth to the Hispaniola. There are still three pirates (besides Silver) on the island, but they seem unable to concoct a plan. Now, book and movie become very different.

In the film, Silver seizes an opportunity to grab Jim’s pistol — the one he had given the boy — forcing the others to leave him with the boat. He rows, and Jim is supposed to steer, but the boy purposely runs the boat aground. Silver jumps out to shove the craft free. He asks Jim for help, and, when that isn’t given, points a gun at his head. But Silver hasn’t the will to shoot Jim and he lowers the pistol. He tries desperately, on his one leg, to free the craft. The Doctor leads a party that is closing in. Earlier, Silver had made a little speech about giving Captain Flint to Jim as a trinket, because creatures don’t take well to prison. Now Jim jumps up and pushes the boat free. Silver waves good-bye, raises a sail, and is away. The Doctor lays a hand on Jim’s shoulder and admits to some liking for Long John Silver himself. End of movie.

In the book, the skeleton crew of the Doctor, the Squire, Jim, Abraham Gray (the only seaman to survive, he came over from the pirates), Ben Gunn, Silver, and Captain Smollett (who is wounded and unable to do anything heavy) maroon the three surviving pirates, then sail the Hispaniola to the nearest port in Spanish America and there pick up a crew. While in port, Ben Gunn helps Silver to escape so that he cannot disturb their homeward voyage, Silver has stolen a sack of gold worth perhaps £400. Everyone thinks that is a cheap price to pay for getting rid of the old pirate. Jim fills us in on what happens to some of the others: Ben Gunn runs through a thousand pounds in less than three weeks, but finds a place; Captain Smollett retires from the sea; Abraham Gray buys his own ship and becomes a master; nothing is said of the Squire or the Doctor. Nothing is known of Silver’s fate. (Nor the marooned pirates, one of whom has malaria.) As for Jim:

The bar silver and the arms still lie, for all that I know, where Flint buried them; and certainly they shall lie there for me. Oxen and wain-ropes would not bring me again to that accursed island; and the worst dreams that ever I have are when I hear the surf booming about its coasts, or start upright in bed, with the sharp voice of Captain Flint ringing in my ears: “Pieces of eight! Pieces of eight!”

Stevenson was criticized for the violence in Treasure Island, but I think he is honest about its effects. Just as he is honest about every character in the book: the upright Doctor who would abandon Jim in favor of those who had done their duty; the gasbag Squire who happens to be the best shot of the party and does some damage to the pirates; the wicked Long John Silver who would only slit your throat if it meant profit to him; and Jim Hawkins, who would disobey any order if he took a notion, who saved the expedition, and who now finds his dreams haunted.

None of this is to disdain the movie. Disney, too, was criticized for too much violence and bowdlerized this film when it was released to television in the 1970s. (The DVD has been restored.) The Disney narrative is a bit different, what with the father/son overtones instead of the boy’s brush with psychopaths, but it is still a great movie.

And a great book. Stevenson was a straight-forward storyteller, but he always understood the ramifications of his narrative and the personalities of his characters. And look at the details! The map. The description of the island (it has rattlesnakes). The careful consideration of 18th Century sailing. The wonderful names: Israel Hands, Benjamin Gunn, George Merry — every one of them sings out England! An England of yeomen and sailors, a vanished vision perhaps, but still… Vladimir Nabokov was one critic who recognized Stevenson’s genius and wrote/lectured about Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde in his Lectures on Literature. Enough. You get it or you don’t.

More On The Movie:

Disney had money tied up in Britain, where post-WWII currency restrictions meant that he couldn’t remove it. So he decided to film this, his first movie not to include animation, in England, where the money he was owed could go into production. He had been thinking about an animated version of Stevenson’s book and had the rights so it seemed a natural project.

Young Bobby Driscoll had starred in Song Of The South and So Dear To My Heart, films that combined animation with live action. He received a special juvenile Oscar for his work in So Dear To My Heart. But, in England, legal problems arose with Disney using a foreign juvenile lead. Disney’s lawyers managed a one-month delay in court proceedings, which Disney used to film all of Driscoll’s parts, then shipped him back to America. The English courts were not amused and Disney paid a modest fine. But Driscoll could no longer work in England.

Some filming was done around England, some on a set with painted backdrops, and some on the ship. The Hispaniola was a re-fitted cargo ship (used to transport coal) that was a hundred years old. After the Disney movie, it was moored as a tourist attraction, then used again as a set for the 1956 production of Moby Dick.

Robert Newton returned in Long John Silver, directed by Byron Haskin in 1954. He had a few other movies but died from alcohol-related problems in 1956 at the age of 50.

Bobby Driscoll was slated to play in other Disney films, but there were problems. Disney could not clear the rights to Tom Sawyer, which was to star Driscoll, for instance, and a role in Robin Hood was axed because he could not work in England. He did the voice of Peter Pan for Disney and also served as reference model for Peter’s facial expressions in that movie. As puberty set in, Disney could not find a role for Driscoll. The young man had acne which was covered over with heavy makeup. The teen-ager turned to drugs, and did a stint in prison in 1961. In 1965, he cleaned up and went to New York where he became involved with an arty crowd, including Andy Warhol. He got back into heroin and OD’d in 1967 or ’68. His body was not identified for a year and a half until his parents, who had been searching for him, sent his fingerprints to the New York police. He was a fine actor who deserved better.

The DVD released in 2002 is serviceable, but do not try to load the player software on the disc. I could not play the DVD in DVI or Microsoft Media Player, but James River Media Player did okay. Technicolor is saturated and rich. Particularly in the opening sections at the Admiral Benbow Inn, everything has a sheen, as though some kind of weird dew was falling everywhere. If it doesn’t look that way on your TV, then adjust that machine!

The Book:

The 1911 Scribner’s edition of Treasure Island illustrated by N.C. Wyeth is the one to get if you are looking to buy a copy. Scribner’s re-photographed the Wyeth paintings and the illustrations are first rate. I cannot tell if Scribner’s is still reprinting this book or not, but copies of this edition are available. You can also read the Scribner’s edition with thumbnail versions of Wyeth’s paintings on the Net.

A better internet version is that of 1915 illustrated by Louis Rhead. (The credits state Rhead and Frank Schoonover, but Schoonover only did the 1922 dust jacket/frontispiece.) Or you can read the one illustrated by John Cameron. An edition made for Spanish-speaking people with troublesome English terms linked to their definition includes illustrations by George Roux (the original illustrator), Milo Winter, Wyeth, and Rhead, as well as  pictures of other 18th Century maritime objects.  The 1924 edition illustrated by Frank Godwin is available on-line if you are a Questia or Playster member.

Although nineteen illustrators (plus Robert Crumb) have been referenced in this post, that only scratches the surface. Early illustrations by George Roux and Frank Merrill may be seen here. The University of Minnesota has 450 illustrated editions collected by Lionel Johnson as of the year 2000. And there is a partial list at the Robert Louis Stevenson Archive. Possibly no book except Alice In Wonderland has had more good illustrators work on it, and this is still happening. In 2015 the V & A Award for book illustration went to Sterling Hundley for the Folio Society edition of Treasure Island. (None of those illos are reproduced here.) Most of the illustrated editions mentioned in the post are out of print. I have avoided more recent English illustrated editions — Michael Foreman’s 2009 version is, I think, the only exception. In-print editions besides the Hundley and Michael Foreman’s include those of Mervyn Peake, John Lawrence, Matthew Cruikshank, Robert Ingpen, and many others. Condensed or edited editions abound and are to be avoided.

Non-illustrated editions of interest include the 1905 “Biographical” edition with essays by Stevenson and his wife, and a 1909 annotated edition.

Remembrance Day: The War Memorials of Ernst Barlach

When war broke out in 1914, Ernst Barlach decided to enlist. He believed the romantic nonsense of the day — that war was a revitalizing, renewing force — but these beliefs were confounded by the casualty rates that were soon reported. Even so, Barlach wanted to see for himself and was finally pronounced fit for service in 1915, even though he was 44 years old and had a heart condition. By 1916, Barlach had seen enough and obtained his release from the armed forces. He was now a committed pacifist. The Christmas issue of der Bildermann has a Barlach lithograph on the cover. The Virgin Mary is depicted with hands to her face surrounded by seven swords, medieval symbols for the Seven Sorrows of Mary. “Give Us Peace” the picture pleads.

At the War’s end, there was tremendous demand for memorial cenotaphs and Barlach was approached about designing several. He finally accepted a commission from the Nicolai Church at Kiel and reworked his Bildermann design into a large wood sculpture with the aggrieved figure of Mary thrusting forward from a panel that included the seven swords. “My heart bleeds with grief but You give me strength” read the inscription. This memorial was destroyed during World War II.

Barlach’s next commission was for the church in Güstrow where he lived in seclusion most of his life. Finally installed in 1927, the sculpture is a bronze casting more than two meters long and is suspended over the baptismal. It depicts an angel, arms folded and eyes closed hovering above the heads of humanity. The expression on the angel’s face is one of deep compassion felt by this other-worldly being for the human beings below who are inflicting so much pain on one another. “Recollection and inner reflection” was the proper attitude for a war memorial to inspire, said Barlach.

[Wikimedia Commons photo: Jens Burkhardt-Plückhahn]

[Wikimedia Commons photo: Jens Burkhardt-Plückhahn]

While modeling the angel’s head, Barlach became aware that it resembled fellow artist, Käthe Kollwitz. Kollwitz was three years older than Barlach and was, like him, associated with the Secession Movement, though neither was particularly interested in being described as a Movement artist. Even though she was opposed to war, Kollwitz had given permission for her youngest son, who was under age, to join the Army. Ten days after he enlisted, the boy was killed. Kollwitz was devastated by grief and guilt. She began designing a memorial for her son, destroying several versions before finally creating the bereft couple that kneel in mute agony among the graves of the fallen at Vladslo.

Left, Kathe Kollwitz, 1919 [Wikimedia Commons], Right, Head of Gustrow angel[Barlach Museum, Wedel

Left, Kathe Kollwitz, 1919 [Wikimedia Commons], Right, Head of Gustrow angel[Barlach Museum, Wedel]

For the 1929 memorial at Magdeburg, Barlach returned to wood sculpture, a favored medium. A large panel features three German soldiers at top, possibly meant to show a young recruit, a junior officer with bandaged head, and an older reservist. The central figure embraces a large cross inscribed with the dates “1914 1915 1916 1917 1918”.  At the bottom are the heads of a weeping woman, a rotted corpse wearing a helmet, and a self-portrait of Barlach, hands to his horrified face, gas mask hanging from his neck.

[Wikimedia Commons photo: Chris 73]

[Wikimedia Commons photo: Chris 73]

The memorial was attacked by Nazi ideologue Julius Rosenberg who claimed that the soldier on the right was a Russian. (Strangely,  this concept has persisted with some people still believing that the figures are German, French, and Russian, respectively.) The attempt to link Barlach with Russia was part of a campaign to paint him as a non-German. Barlach was also called a Jew and a Communist.

The grieving mother has been a theme in Western art at least since the Mater Dolorosa of the medieval era and developed into the Pieta of the Renaissance. Barlach had begun his memorials with this image, now he returned to it for the 1931 cenotaph at Hamburg. A grieving pregnant woman comforts a younger girl. This bas-relief was carved on one side of a large stele which had these words carved on the other side: “40,000 sons of the city gave their lives for you”. Barlach did not write the inscription and was not overly pleased with it.

Hamburger Ehrenmal [ via Bilder Blog

Hamburger Ehrenmal [ via Bilder Blog]

The memorial was seen by Nazis as an insult to soldiers and the nation. The mother’s features were described as Slavic and accusations about Barlach’s racial affinities and politics were published. The 76ers, a Hamburg veterans group, lobbied to have the stele removed. But Barlach’s international reputation made Hamburg afraid of embarrassing itself. Louis Mumford, for instance, praised the work and described its opponents as “Ku Klux Klansmen”. “What really troubles the Nazis is that the whole monument is so free of pomp and bluster..,” he wrote. In 1933, the city compromised by allotting space for the 76ers own memorial which depicts a group of more than eighty heroic soldiers and bears the inscription: “Germany must live even if we must die.”

Barlach was working on another memorial that featured a Pieta design of a woman holding a dead soldier in her lap, but the political atmosphere had become so poisonous that he gave it up. Barlach was disdainful of the Nazis and was open about this with his friends. Although he was careful about not allowing his letters to fall into government hands, Barlach’s attitude was well-known in official circles. One by one, his war memorials were taken down. The relief on the Hamburg stele was replaced with an eagle. Friends spirited away the Magdeburg carving before it was seized by the authorities. In 1938, the Kiel angel was removed and was later melted down to be turned into war materials. Some of Barlach’s friends rescued the plaster mold that he used to form the sculpture and cast a new copy which they kept hidden.

Die Klage: Memorial for Ernst Barlach by Kathe Kollwitz, 1938 Casting is about 27 X 25 cm. [via Christie's Auction House ]

Die Klage: Memorial for Ernst Barlach by Kathe Kollwitz, 1938 Casting is about 27 X 25 cm. [via Christie’s Auction House ]

By now, Barlach’s work was officially declared “degenerate” and non-German, a silly accusation to make about wood sculpture that so obviously is derived from medieval German forms. In 1938, authorities seized works exhibited by Barlach and Kollwitz. Later that year, Barlach’s heart finally gave out.

After the Second World War ended, Barlach’s work was brought out of hiding. The Magdeburg panel was remounted. The Hamburg stele was repaired and a controversy now rose about whether the 76er memorial should be removed. Eventually, it was decided to let it stay but with various disclaimers attached to it (including counter-sculptures) by the city. The Güstrow angel was placed in Cologne. Güstrow asked for its return but that city was in the East and the angel became a Cold War issue. In 1953, Cologne made another casting, this time from a mold prepared from their copy, and presented it to Güstrow where it regained its place over the baptismal font. Every year, on the anniversary of the angel’s removal, the church observes a ceremony where members silently recollect and reflect on the past.