IRREGULAR CRISES OF THE LATE ’FORTIES


Published 1999 by the Baker Street Irregulars, 508 pp.


In print, and available for order at

www.bakerstreetjournal.com/itemsforsale/bsihistoryseries.html.


This volume was dedicated to the memory of Robert G. Harris of Detroit (“The Creeping Man,” BSI), who entered the BSI in the 1940s and left us many priceless memories and insights along with companionship in his later years. It was he who defined the spirit of the Murray Hill Hotel and Cavanagh’s eras of the BSI’s annual dinners as “disputation, confrontation, and dialectical hullabaloo” explaining how the BSI lost it when growing numbers forced a move into large banquet halls at the Regency Hotel, 24 Fifth Avenue, the Union League Club, and now the Yale Club of New York, to the loss of all Irregulars.


Few chapters in these chronological volumes have pleased me as much as the one in his volume about The Trained Cormorants of Los Angeles by Donald Hardenbrook (“Huret, the Boulevard Assassin,” BSI). He was invested as long ago as 1955, and was an old man when he wrote for me about his boyhood devotion to Sherlock Holmes, and his learning about the BSI and founding a scion society with another youngster, Robert Pattrick (“The Politician, the Lighthouse, and the Trained Cormorant,” 1954). Yet he captured the experience perfectly. I had never met him in person, and he had perhaps never attended a BSI dinner in New York, as he had been confined to a wheelchair for many years. Yet dipping into his memories to write this chapter made him decide to come to the next one, and we laid plans to sit together at it. And only when I arrived in New York that next January did I learn that Don had died a few days before.



CONTENTS


INTRODUCTION:  “THERE SHALL BE NO ANNUAL DINNER”


1. THE REST OF 1947: “NOTHING TO DO BUT CUT CABLE”

A snapshot of the cult. — “Brooding in a time of hyperjangle.” — Death of H. W. Bell. — Lunch with Rathbone. — Exciting discoveries in a hat-box. — The Norwegian Explorers. Pope Hill: contribution or gallimaufry? — Morley in England. — BSIncorportion. — To dine, or not to dine. —

“Once the Impossibles are excluded—”


2. HELENE YUHASOVA: FACT OR FICTION? by Bliss Austin

     Poetess Laureata. — “Spy, their side.” — Hoaxmanship?

— A three-pipe problem. — The temper of the times.


3. THE CARE AND FEEDING OF IRREGULARS

New accommodations wanted. — Not the Algonquin. —

Not the Chelsea either! — The Racquet and Tennis Club. —

No Woman at The Dinner. — The Creeping Man.


4. THE FIRST HALF OF 1948: “INCORPORATED”

“Committee-in-Camera.” — Scandalous Bohemians hit town. —

The BSJ in trouble. — Purchased memberships? Irregular uprising! — Adder bites Adrian. — Polishing up The Blue Carbuncle. —

New York Scion Societies.


5. THE TRAINED CORMORANTS by Don Hardenbrook

The author meets Robert Pattrick. The Solitary Tricyclist.

Dean Dickensheet joins in. — Stuart Palmer and John Ball. —

“Stranded on the Pacific Slope.”


6. LOUIS GREENFIELD:

UNPAID, UNRECOGNIZED, AND UNREMEMBERED

Mr. Morley’s dogsbody. — Unpaid Business Agent of the BSI, Inc.

— Two schmoes. — Greenfield goes West.


7. THE REST OF 1948: “500 OXEN TO TREAD”

     “The Man Who Was Wanted.” — Ben Abramson hangs onto

the BSJ. — The Baritsu Chapter. — The Blue Carbuncle shines forth.

— A visit to the White House. — No publicity for the BSI, Inc. — The Diogenes Club of New York. — James Montgomery makes a discovery.


8. SONS OF THE COPPER BEECHES by Thomas Hart

Bill Starr and Irregular stardom. — The Philadelphia scion. —

“Our scion society feels very close to its parent.” — The Headmastiff’s Manual (confidential). — Paths of glory, and Remembrance.


9. PURSUING AN IRREGULAR CANON:

THE LIMITED EDITIONS CLUB AND THE BSI

     Stuart Rand pursues Frederic Dorr Steele. — H. W. Bell teaches

Edgar W. Smith. — “Dear Mr. Macy:” — The commission comes

through! — Doubleday, Doran and Harper’s say yes. —

But the Conan Doyle Estate says no.


10. “THOSE DREADFUL BOYS”

     The Children of Greed. — Sherlock Holmes goes out of print.

“I have been struggling with them for years.” — Adrian meets the

honorary mascot (by Jeff Decker). 


11. 1949: “THE STANDARD DOYLE COMPANY”

Red ink. — The annual dinner. — “We Never Mention Aunt Clara.” — The Irregular Shilling. — Carr’s Life of Sir Arthur. — Morley’s mood. — Missing Three Quarters. — “The Man Who Was (Not) Wanted.” —

Pope Hill fulminates, Morley explodes. — The Estate’s obstacle course.

— European Societies. — Life at Mohegan Lake. — Gunga Smith.

— No bureaucratics!


12.THE ORIGINAL SERIES BSJ by Philip A. Shreffler

     “An intellectual Camelot.” — Education, culture, and craft.

— Images frozen in time. — “An Age Passes.”


13. HUGO’S COMPANIONS by Matthew R. Fairlie

Irregularity in the Windy City. — Vincent Starrett convenes a

Committee of Five. — “Hugo’s Companions Exist! — Organizational girdings-up and impedimenta. — A certain tone of pleasant excess.


14.1950: “NO MARTLANDS”

     The annual dinner. — “Another War, and World Berserk.” —

Mr. Macy’s Limited Edition. — Songs of Baker Street. — The

BSI Edition of the Canon. — College Societies. — No Sherlock Holmes Exhibition, eh? — To revive the BSJ. — On to the Irregular ‘Fifties.

— “Erudition or mere zeal?”


INDEX


(Click on no. 12 above to read Mr. Shreffler’s awardwinning chapter.)



“THERE SHALL BE NO ANNUAL DINNER”


New York in the years after World War II was the richest, liveliest, most glittering city in the world. Undamaged by the war, capital of financial power unmatched in history, a cultural mecca for America and Europe, New York was now both O. Henry’s Baghdad-on-the-Subway and Superman’s Metropolis. Each day a hundred passenger trains came and went, a dozen ocean liners docked and sailed, a growing fleet of airlines landed and took off. Theaters were full, restaurants were busy, couples spooned in Central Park, and a dozen newspapers vied for attention. In the “American Century” Henry Luce had proclaimed, New York was its rightful capital. Young people, out of the service, or at the outset of their careers, were flooding into New York seeking the fresh, new world awaiting them. E. B. White of The New Yorker captured its sense in Here Is New York, a thin book written “in the summer of 1948 during a hot spell.”


    There are roughly three New Yorks. There is, first, the New York of the man or woman who was born here, who takes the city for granted and accepts its size and its turbulence as natural and inevitable. Second, there is the New York of the commuter the city that is de-voured by locusts each day and spat out each night. Third, there is the New York of the person who was born somewhere else and came to New York in quest of something. Of these three tremendous cities the greatest is the last the city of final destination, the city that is a goal. It is this third city that accounts for New York’s high-strung disposition, its poetical deportment, its dedication to the arts, and its incomparable achievements. Commuters give the city its tidal restlessness; natives give it solidity and continuity; but the settlers give it passion. And whether it is a farmer arriving from Italy to set up a small grocery store in a slum, or a young girl arriving from a small town in Mississippi to escape the indignity of being observed by her neighbors, or a boy arriving from the Corn Belt with a manuscript in his suitcase and a pain in his heart, it makes no difference: each embraces New York with the intense excitement of first love, each absorbs New York with the fresh eyes of an adventurer, each generates heat and light to dwarf the Consolidated Edison Company.


Although a good deal of the talent went into television and Madison Avenue, two burgeoning phenomena despaired over by postwar New York intellectuals, theater was particularly right now, with plays like Death of a Salesman and A Streetcar Named Desire. Lee Strasberg’s Actor’s Studio was training newcomers like Marlon Brando, Paul Newman, and Joanne Woodward. Culturally and socially, it was a more democratic New York than it had been. The war had taken the starch out of the old arbiters of taste and status.


    There was also an attractively personal side to New York in the Late ’Forties which White, a poet in prose, caught as well:


    It is seven o’clock and I re-examine an ex-speakeasy in East 53rd Street, with dinner in mind. A thin crowd, a summer-night buzz of fans interrupted by an occasional drink being shaken at the small bar. It is dark in here (the proprietor sees no reason for boosting his light bill just because the liquor laws have changed). How dark, how pleasing; and how miraculously beautiful the murals showing Italian lake scenes probably executed by a cousin of the owner. The owner himself mixes. The fans intone the prayer for cool salvation. From the next booth drifts the conversation of radio executives; from the green salad comes the little taste of garlic. Behind me (eighteen inches again) a young intel-lectual is trying to persuade a girl to come live with him and be his love. She has her guard up, but he is extremely reasonable, careful not to overplay his hand. A combination of intellectual companionship and sexuality is what they have to offer each other, he feels. In the mirror over the bar I can see the ritual of the second drink. Then he has to go to the men’s room and she has to go to the ladies’ room, and when they return, the argument has lost its tone. And the fan takes over again, and the heat and the relaxed air and the memory of so many good little dinners in so many good little illegal places, with the theme of love, the sound of ventilation, the brief medicinal illusion of gin.


    But, at the same time, the mood was different from before the war. The old sense of immunity, of being protected from Old World strife by two great oceans, was gone. New engines of destruction could span them in hours, bombs could incinerate entire cities in a single blast, and the wartime alliance had broken down. Bad things were still happening in the world; 1947 gave the American vernacular disturbing new ex-pressions like “blacklist,” “chain reaction,” and “police state.” You could feel a tenseness beneath the surface of the skin that had not been there before. Christopher Morley registered it in The Old Mandarin, a collection of verse:


                                     History, impartial and empiric,

                                         Pays off, on average, as man deserves;

                                     We have, for being weary and hysteric,

                                        Pax neurotica, the Peace of Nerves.


The New Yorker devoted an entire numbing issue of the effects of the atom bomb in John Hersey’s “Hiroshima.” Leonard Bernstein, the brilliant young conductor of the New York Philharmonic, dubbed his Second Symphony the “Age of Anxiety.” Smoking peaked in 1949, with forty-four percent of Americans having the cigarette habit.


    Bliss Austin, an Irregular with a scientific education, gave it a Holmesian spin in a letter to the October 1947 Baker Street Journal:


Sirs:

    Judging from personal comments, as well as from published writings, a number of aficionados share the prevailing apprehension over the appalling possibilities latent in the atomic bomb, which the world must now face though it is no better prepared than it was for the Giant Rat of Sumatra. I therefore offer a suggestion which, if adopted, should deliver us from the Valley of Fear into which we hav been thrust by this fantastic Oppenheimer creation. I propose that control of the bomb be entrusted to the Brothers Holmes: Mycroft to be responsible for the complex and delicate questions of policy and diplomacy, and Sherlock for all investigations into illicit production and for the removal of any would-be Moriarty who may seek to reduce our planet to the size of an asteroid in order to study its dynamics.

    All agree, I am sure, that this is a work worthy of the talents of these two men, which otherwise may some day have to be devoted to preparing a monograph upon “The Distinction Between the Ashes of One Hundred and Forty Cities.” It is my earnest hope that this proposal will win the approval of, and be supported by, every true believer and true man.


However lively culturally, the Late ‘Forties were ill-at-ease years of crisis. Labor discontent was sharp, prices were high, there was a great deal of civil rights ferment, and a new Red Scare got underway as the Cold War broke out. Nothing riveted the public more than the Alger Hiss case. In August 1947, before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, a Time Magazine editor named Whittaker Chambers identified himself as a member of the Communist Party underground in the 1930s, and named a number of former and current U.S. Government officials as secret communists. One of them was Alger Hiss, a former State Department official now president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in New York.


    Hiss came before the Committee to deny the allegations. His poise was perfect, and his credentials impeccable: Johns Hopkins, Harvard Law, clerking for Oliver Wendell Holmes before entering government in the early ‘30s. He was the epitome of the bright young men called to Washington by FDR’s New Deal, and he made a far better impression on even the New Deal-haters on the House Committee than the slovenly Chambers did. Only one hesitated to drop the matter, a young California congressman named Richard Nixon. He arranged for a private confrontation between the two men at the Commodore Hotel in New York. Hiss challenged Chambers to repeat his allegations outside the privilege of a Congressional hearing. Chambers promptly did so, on “Meet the Press” live on the new medium of television, as several million people watched.


    Because Alger Hiss seemed so much an exemplar of the New Deal Eleanor Roosevelt and other icons rallied to his support the case was fiercely argued be-tween FDR’s critics and adherents. Alastair Cooke, in his 1950 book, called it A Generation on Trial:


Those who were for Hiss or against him felt their own pride and past political judgment to be at stake. Many Democrats and old New Dealers felt that Hiss was a gallant protagonist of the younger liberal crowd that went to Washington in the New Deal’s first crusade. They feared, as the others hoped, that a verdict against Hiss would be a verdict against the New Deal. Whatever Hiss or his lawyers might say later, the House Committee thus succeeded, before he ever came to trial, in making a large and very mixed public identify Hiss with what was characteristic of the New Deal.


The President “condemned the investigation as a ‘red herring,’” his daughter Marg-aret recalled in her memoir Harry S. Truman: “He detested the methods of the House Un-American Activities Committee, and had no hesitation about blasting their claim that there was a Communist spy ring operating in the capital.” But in December, pressed to prove his new allegations of espionage, Chambers handed investigators copies of classified State Department documents he had concealed in a pumpkin on his farm. They had been typed on a machine later proved to have been owned by Alger Hiss. And more evidence emerged in 1949, as first one, then a second trial took place. In January 1950, His was convicted and sent to prison. It was a pro-longed trauma for America, and the outcome licensed, if illicitly, the exploitation of fear embarked upon the following month by a whisky-soaked Senator from Wisconsin named Joe McCarthy.


    It did not make Harry Truman more popular. The Democrats were almost desperate to have Dwight Eisenhower, the most popular man in America, but when he disavowed any political intentions, they re-nominated Truman and steeled themselves for sure defeat in ’48. He was opposed not only by Republican Tom Dewey, but by Progressive Party breakaway candidate Henry Wallace and Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond as well. “Meanwhile the Truman Doctrine,” wrote BSI Elmer Davis in 1949’s Information Please Almanac, “proved to be one of the rare issues on which Henry Wallace and the Chicago Tribune were in substantial agreement. It would, said its opponents, mean war.”


    Certainly peace looked shaky overseas. In eastern Europe one land after another fell behind the Iron Curtain. The Kremlin said the secret of the atom bomb had “long ceased to exist,” and proved it in 1949, three years ahead of American predictions convincing Truman to proceed with a vastly more destructive hydrogen bomb. In June 1948, to squeeze the Allies out of Berlin, the Red Army blockaded it. Truman responded with an “airlift” to supply the Western half of the city, something experts said was impossible. The first permanent draft in U.S. history was installed in 1948. In the Middle East, Israel’s birth was followed immediately by war with the Arab states. In Asia, Indian independence led to partition, horrifying bloodshed, and the Mahatma Ghandi’s assassination. China was also plunged in civil war, to be won in 1949 by the communists.


    Undaunted, “Give ‘em hell Harry” launched a whistle-stop campaign across America against the “do-nothing” GOP Congress, surprising everyone, especially Vincent Starrett’s Chicago Tribune by winning the election. “It was roses, roses all the way for Harry Truman when he rose in bright sunshine to be inaugurated,” wrote Elmer Davis. But the crises persisted, and “a good deal of the rest of the way, in his first year, it was poison ivy.” Still, the Marshall Plan was proceeding, and in May 1949 the Soviets abandoned their blockade of Berlin. America did something it never had before, commit itself to the security of nations across the sea, by ratifying the North Atlantic Treaty. And the dollar was supreme around the world.


    But in June 1950, war broke out in divided Korea, with U.S. soldiers under fire again only five years after World War II. Douglas MacArthur took command with one of the great coups in history, his amphibious landing behind enemy lines at Inchon. The Reds were sent hurtling into reverse. When they retreated across the 38th parallel, U.S. troops moved north in pursuit. China would not enter the war, MacArthur declared — but in November it did. “It seemed like a nightmare beginning to repeat itself,” said Information Please Almanac: “Once again the draft boards were calling up boys; the war factories were humming; our men were fighting and dying — this time in Korea. Were we embarking on World War III?” The decade closed with prospects in Asia gloomy, U.S. troops headed to Europe as well, and General Eisenhower recalled to active duty and appointed NATO’s first Supreme Commander.



For every crisis at home or abroad, there seemed to be another just for the Baker Street Irregulars. Christopher Morley declared that the BSI would never hold an an-nual dinner again. To save it, Edgar W. Smith slashed the invitation list. Ben Abram-son’s crises imperiled the Baker Street Journal, which, despite its brilliant beginning, died before the decade was over. The Red Scare swallowed up one of Irregularity’s most eloquent voices, and death took some of its finest contributors. The BSI incor-porated, then badly miscalculated the market for its products. Each time the Gasogene-cum-Tantalus and Buttons-cum-Commissionaire had a new idea, they en-countered the Conan Doyle Estate’s hostility — to the BSI, to the BSI, Inc.’s modest ambitions, to a new edition of the Canon edited for the Limited Editions Club, even to its traditional American publisher.


    Morley, approaching sixty, was finding himself less inspired as a writer than in the past, and opportunities fewer than they had been. He had done a lot of radio in past years, on the “Transatlantic Quiz” and “Information, Please,” but both shows came to an end in these years. The market for his kind of writing was drying up, and his work as a Book of the Month Club judge was becoming his main source of income. By 1948 he was coming into Manhattan from home only once a week or so, even less as the ‘Forties wore on. A trip to England in 1947 brought home to him how much his place as a man of letters had slipped in America. When the Colophon surveyed subscribers in 1949 as to which ten contemporary American writers would be thought great in fifty years, Morley was not among them. He might have been had the survey been taken in 1929.


    Edgar W. Smith simply grew busier. Few office buildings hummed more than the General Motors Building at 1775 Broadway, where the Overseas Division of the world’s largest corporation was rebuilding operations in Europe, South America, and the Far East. Smith’s responsibilities were for institutional relationships, public af-fairs, and analysis of world economic trends. These years saw the 100,000,000th American car roll off the assembly line, and General Motors was the industry leader by far. These were glory years for GM, which announced for 1949 the largest annual profit ever made by an American company — despite people griping that postwar cars were too long to park, too big for garages, and too much money. They weren’t all wet, either; the ’49 Cadillac Fleetwood was nearly nineteen feet long, and cost $4,779, a good deal more than most American families earned in a year. 1949 saw the first great GM “Motorama” at the Waldorf-Astoria, an automotive extravaganza in which Smith was immersed. Production could not keep up with demand, and there was a waiting list for new cars. (There were ways around it, though; Smith helped Morley get a new Pontiac.)


    Despite well over four million bucks in prizes to keep people listening to radio in 1948, about a quarter of the country was watching television. By 1950, there were eight million sets in the land. Stars like Jack Benny and Burns & Allen moved their radio shows to television, and it revived careers for other veterans of vaudeville, like Milton Berle. Some new programming was charming, like “Kukla, Fran and Ollie,” some was simply kidfare, like “Hopalong Cassidy” and “Howdy Doody,” but intel-lectuals took alarm at all of it. At Boston University’s 1950 commencement, its president solemnly predicted that “If the television craze continues with the present level of programs, we are destined to have a nation of morons.”


    Television also brought the world into American living-rooms in news shows like “The Camel News Caravan” with John Cameron Swayze. Thanks to the G.I. Bill, a million more Americans started college in 1947 than before the war. A Miss America improbably named BeBe Shopp denounced the French bikini, but American males liked it anyway; what they didn’t care for were the dropped hemlines of 1947’s “New Look,” Jimmy Stewart wryly noting that “long dresses are going to interfere with a very fine hobby.” In 1948, the Kinsey Report discussed American sexual practices with a directness few dreamed possible. The long dry statistical treatise became a bestseller, was sniggered over on the airwaves daily, and inspired a rash of popular songs. As Americans’ love affair with the car on the road deepened, drive-in movie theaters began to multiply like rabbits — “passion pits with pix,” Variety called them in 1949. Moralists wondered what was happening to America.


    Technology was producing wonders. International Business Machines, Inc., demonstrated a computer about the size of a tugboat, and at MIT, a member of The Speckled Band of Boston, Norbert Wiener, coined a prophetic new term, Cyber-netics. The Polaroid camera went on the market, frozen concentrate orange juice was introduced, 45rpm and LP records began to replace ‘78s, and the transistor was demonstrated. TheArmy, experimenting with V-2 rockets in the New Mexico desert, was sending them higher and higher into the stratosphere. The new 200-inch reflector telescope at Mt. Palomar observatory began peering farther out into the universe than astronomers ever had before. Science-fiction seemed less far-fetched now, what with the scientific marvels, and reports of flying saucers. Television shows like “Space Patrol” were popular, and new names like Ray Bradbury and Robert Heinlein wrote for new magazines like BSI Anthony Boucher’s Fantasy & Science Fiction.


    War movies and Westerns still lit up movie screens, comedy sparkled in Born Yesterday and Harvey, and drama kept its grip in All the King’s Men and Sunset Boulevard, but detective fare had changed. Gone were cozy Sherlock Holmes, Thin Man, and Charlie Chan movies. The form took on tones of realism and pessimism in film noir like Out of the Past, starring newcomer Robert Mitchum as a new kind of cool in private eyes, and in brutal depictions of urban police work like The Naked City and The Asphalt Jungle. The FBI released its first “Ten Most Wanted” list in 1950, and Senator Estes Keefauver’s organized-crime hearings on television mad millions aware of the reality in a way they had never been before.


    Baker Street Irregulars had their own taste in these things, of course; in fact, one who’d presented too much realism about crime and violence at the 1947 BSI dinner was “blacklisted” in 1948. The greatest crisis the BSI faced, however, was not changing taste on the public’s part, nor from the outside at all. Far more dangerous than Adrian Conan Doyle’s glower of disapproval was the one directed at the BSI by its own founder and moving spirit. Adrian could frustrate its plans, but Christopher Morley, if he wished, could turn it once more into a small circle of just his own cronies, meeting far from the world’s gaze in the back room of some modern-day speakeasy — especially if the faltering Baker Street Journal failed, and was no longer there to connect a parent body with adherents elsewhere.


    The challenges were grim, and principally Edgar W. Smith’s to deal with. Even-tually he would succeed in steering the sodality past most if not all of the Irregular crisess. But in the meantime — well, as Bette Davis warned in 1950’s Oscar-winning All About Eve:


“Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.”





from the Preface and Acknowledgments:


This is the fifth volume of the BSI Archival History, covering mid-1947 through 1950, or more or less precisely the Irregular events of fifty years ago. It was a time when many of the great early figures in Baker Street Irregularity were beginning to anticipate the culmination of their careers in letters, the professions, or (in Edgar W. Smith’s case) business. It was also the time when I and my own generation of Irregu-lars were being born or starting elementary school. It was, in other words, a long time ago, longer than some of is today like to think.


    Yet it was recent enough that many young men embarking upon Baker Street Irregularity at the time are amongst us today, and providing a growing volume of personal recollections to the history. This effort was triggered by the death of Bliss Austin, “The Engineer’s Thumb” (a posthumous contributor to this volume) in 1989, when we realized how much we had lost in institutional memory. The Archival His-tories began as an omnium gatherum of the published accounts and previously un-published correspondence by the early Fathers of the Church, but have become with this installment a record of the memories of living Irregulars as well.


    Perhaps the most wondrous of all for me have been the memories of Miriam Alex-ander, Edgar W. Smith’s secretary at General Motors at the time, and the original secretary-treasurer of the Baker Street Irregulars, Inc. Miss Alexander provides a unique and very welcome independent perspective on her old bosss, his professional and Irregular activities, and some of his closest associates in the BSI, and I am ex-tremely grateful for her help and encouragement.*


*           *          *          *          *

    Many others besides Miss Alexander have been of great help where this volume is concerned, and I hope I overlook no one in thanking them very sincerely here: Hy Adler, Marvin Aronson, Michael Baldyga, Ray Betzner, Peter Blau, Monika Bolino, Vinnie Brosnan, Robert Clyne, Saul Cohen, Catherine Cooke, Ralph Earle, George Fletcher, Richard Foster, Ted Friedman, Andrew Fusco, David Galerstein, Robert S. Gellerstedt, Jr., Paul Gitlin, William Goodrich, Douglas Greene, Robert Hahn, Hugh Harrington, Jamie Hubbs, James Jewell, Edwin King, Leslie Klinger, Daniel Knight, Jack Koelle, Arthur Levine, Ely and Phoebe Liebow, Allen Mackler, Robert Mangler, Ronald Mansbridge, Jerry Margolin, Donovan McClain, George McCormack, Anne Hutchins McCormick, E. W. McDiarmid, Glen Miranker, Bjarne Nielsen, Daniel  Posnansky, Susan Rice, Tony Ring, Edgar Rosenberger, Albert and Julia Rosenblatt, Steven Rothman, Peter Ruber, Henry Shalet, Jack Siegel, Paul Singleton, Bruce Southworth, John Soutter, James de Stefano, Enola Stewart, Thomas L. Stix, Jr., Frederica Harris Thompsett, Patricia Ward, and David Weiss.


     Also greatly appreciated for their resources, drawn upon by me and others men-tioned above, are the Library of Congress, the Harry S. Truman Library in Indepen-dence, Mo., the Sherlock Holmes Collections at the University of Minnesota, the New-York Historical Society, the Marylebone Library in London, the Lilly Library at Indiana University, the Army & Navy Club Library of Washington, D.C., and the Pentagon Library. Some anonymous heroes of the Hampshire, England, county library system were kind enough to seek a needle in the haystack for this volume, and found it.


      Special recognition is due to Jeff Decker, Don Hardenbrook, and Philip Shreffler, and to the late Bliss Austin and the late Robert G. Harris, for their original contributions to this volume, and to Bill Vande Water for his invaluable assistance with both the illustrations and many little nagging items of research. Donald K. Pollock, Jr., the current editor of The Baker Street Journal, and Michael F. Whelan, the BSI’s chairman, facilitated the preparation and publication of this volume in invaluable ways.


    Once again at my elbow throughout this effort have been Ronald De Waal’s World Bibliography of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson and the late Bill Rabe’s Sherlockian Who’s Who & What’s What. Some future historian of the BSI’s most recent decades will certainly find himself handicapped, compared to me, for lack of a Who’s Who & What’s What picking up where Bill Rabe left off in the 1960s. For anyone wishing to be a benefactor of the race, here is fertile ground for a most welcome contribution.



  1. *Dee Alexander died in January 2001, and I published the following obituary in a subsequent issue of the Baker Street Journal:


Dee Alexander of Bronxville, N.Y., died in January at the age of 81. She was the second of Edgar W. Smith’s Irregular secretaries at General Motors Overseas Operations in New York, working for him from the end of 1946 until early 1949. She was the first secretary-treasurer of the Baker Street Irregulars, Inc., and a shareholder in it. She contributed a “First Meeting with Sherlock Holmes” article to the January 1948 BSJ, which described going to work for Edgar W. Smith and wondering about his sanity the first time she took dictation from him, since all his letters that day were to Irregulars. In 1998 she became a valuable source of information about Smith, Christopher Morley, and other members of the BSI, the BSI, Inc., and the Original Series BSJ — enriching the Late ’Forties volume of the BSI History, where she is pictured on vacation in 1947 on p. 62. She described Edgar W. Smith as a self-made man of tremendous energy and ability, and — despite all the time spent on Sherlock Holmes at the office — an outstanding GM man: “an amazing intellect,” she said, who “loved to write, loved words, loved people, and was always learning. He was marvelous to work for because besides being so erudite he was also witty and charming, with a keen sense of humor. . . . universally liked — a kind man with a towering brain.”



________________________________________



From the book:


    Ch. 2, “The Rest of 1947: ‘Nothing to Do But Cut Cable’



Roslyn Heights, N.Y.


            Sunday 30 Nov. 1947

Noble Thorny!


    Just back, 2 days ago, from wonderful trip; which will take a long time to digest, longer still to enunciate. As you see, I swiped a few sheets paper from Undershaw. I find quite a mass of sherlockian correspondence, which I will pass on to you from time to time. Meanwhile here are some enclosures wh seem to me worth print.


    I got yr letter and appeal for help just before leaving Londres, I was too throng with doings to make any prompt comment. My considered opinion remains, that the demise of the Murray Hill gives perfect alibi for omitting any Public meeting this yr; I think Jan 9 wd be perfect date for a meeting of only the Solid Core, in secret; to make any formal designation of scionists-zionists or riff and raff or Jews and Street Arabs would be painful in extremis. Briefly, unless everyone is notified no one shd be notified. One must be cruel to be kind?? In the old days of simplicity, no one wailed when we went some 4 yrs without a Stated Occasion.


    I suggest (but knowing you have undoubtedly already gone

out on some kind of a Limb, I cd only wish it were Irene Adler's) that a postcard be sent to the whole Mailing List, saying The Murray Hill is dissolved, & committee will meet in camera to discuss future plans.


    You know how it is when one gets home and finds two months' mail piled high. But we shall have lunch very shortly and pick a Beaune together.


(Christopher Morley)


With this letter from Morley, half of Smith’s battle was won. There would be some kind of dinner; the question now was how large, and who was to be included. In his letter of November 13th, Smith had spoken of five categories of those who had attended the previous three dinners. From the letter below, four of the categories appear to have been Solid Core, Scionists, Apocryphals, and Riff-Raff. Perhaps the fifth was Impossibles. Smith strove to include both Solid Core and Scionists in the reconstitution of the annual dinner, and was prepared to take January’s down in size even further, to a proposed invitation list of 31 aiming at a dinner of only 25.


    Morley’s view was alarmingly different: Scionists along with Apocryphals and Riff-Raff should all be swept into the category of Impossibles, and once the Impossibles were eliminated, whatever remained (however improbable) would be the BSI.


    Each had his own idea of who should be saved. Edgar W. Smith, the scion-society circuit rider, was determined to save The Five Orange Pips, plus the central figures in scion societies close enough to New York to attend the dinner each year. Morley tended to disdain Scionists, without bothering to attend their meetings — I have many examples of his shrugging off invitations to scion society meetings, but not one, I think, of his accepting an invitation — and he was prepared to discard even luminous personalities like James Montgomery while retaining dubious eccentrics from his Grillparzer days like Charlie Goodman.


    It all makes the mind boggle. What is exceptional about the Solid Core as defined by Smith below is not who is there, but who isn’t. Missing are New Yorkers (or so close to town as to be) like Bliss Austin, Basil Davenport, Peter Greig, Richard Hoffman, and Earle Walbridge. Excluding them was not cutting close to the bone, but removing parts of it. But Smith appears to have been prepared to do so, at least on this occasion, to preserve an out-of-town Scionist presence. His list of scion society representatives is a sound, even daring one, for he surely knew that it was Allen Robertson who, at the 1947 dinner, had sent Morley into this tizzy in the first place. One can nitpick Smith’s list of Scionists, and say a few things like why not Laurence Dodge from Boston, but not many.


    New Yorker though he might be, Edgar W. Smith fought hard to preserve the BSI on a national, not merely Manhattan, basis.



_______________________________


The Racquet & Tennis Club

The 1951 BSI dinner


Many places where the BSI met in its Golden Age are gone: Christ Cella’s speakeasy on East 45th Street, the Murray Hill Hotel on Park Avenue a couple of blocks below Grand Central Station, and Cavanagh’s in Chelsea. The Racquet & Tennis Club at 370 Park Avenue persists. The BSI met there from 1948 through 1951 after the Murray Hill was torn down, it being Edgar W. Smith’s club in New York. It was, as Old Irregular Bob Harris put it in chapter three of Irregular Crises of the Late ‘Forties, St. James’s Street but not really Baker Street: the most elegant of all BSI dinner venues, then or since. The following are my notes from a tour of it on Wednesday, October 9, 1996, by its then president, John D. Soutter:


              THE RACQUET AND TENNIS CLUB


Club is >100 years old.  Moved to Park Avenue from West 44th Street be/en Fifth and Sixth Avenues in 1917. When the New York Central tracks out of Grand Central Station were paved over, upper Park Avenue became a much more attractive neighborhood. The new building, which resembles the older one, was designed after a Florentine palace by the firm of McKim Mead & White, and built for the Club by a member who leased it to the Club for 30 years, when it became the owner.


The membership in Edgar Smith's day, as now, were men who played sports: court tennis, racquets, squash, polo, etc. The Club was for sport and for socializing. No pursuit of business was permitted in the Club, no business papers were allowed out.


No women have ever been members, nor are any likely ever to be. In that day, no women were allowed inside the club; now wives of members are now permitted to attend certain social functions with their husbands at the club. When the law made it impossible for any club at which any business events took place to exclude women, the Racquet Club stopped permitting business meetings over lunch and dinner to be held there, rather than change its membership policy. There are about 1900 members today, with the average age in the forties. Helping to make up for the lost income are rents from the bank and the American Express office which occupy space at the Park Avenue corners of the Club.


First floor contains the reception area and, off to the left, the Club's very spacious lounge including a cigar stand in the corridor outside. The second floor has a spacious dining room overlooking Park Avenue, a large, magnificent, very masculine bar, a billiard room holding about six tables, and a library which is one of the best (maybe the best) sports libraries in the world. Third floor has the athletic facilities: squash and racquets courts, two of the ten court tennis courts in the USA, swimming pool, gym, plus a "dressing room" larger and better appointed than most clubs' lounges.


Edgar W. Smith "was elected to membership" in 1946. The BSI dinners were held in "the private rooms," which are on the ground floor, down a short corridor to the right of the lobby, and down a few steps. The room itself is a fairly large one, perhaps 20 x 30 feet, all paneled in walnut with very fine woodworking, inset scalloped shelves on the left, and a green marble fireplace on the right at you look in from the anteroom toward where the head table was. The lighting is from eleven sconces of four bulbs apiece around the walls.


The antechamber, a small square room, opens up via folding doors into another one of comparable size, which separately is the anteroom for a second, narrower private dining room. The anterooms and the smaller dining room are painted hunt green with chair rails painted white or, in the case of the smaller dining room, stained. The walls of the anteroom and the smaller dining room have framed sporting prints hanging on them, coaching, hunting, racing and similar scenes.






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