Thursday, June 29, 2017

Birthday Book of the Day: Don Marquis said, “Ours is a world where people don't know what they want and are willing to go through hell to get it.”


oh i should worry and fret
death and i will coquette
there’s a dance in the old dame yet
toujours gai toujours gai
the song of mehitabel

Donald Robert Perry Marquis (1878-1937) was born 139 years ago today. He blazed an antic path across American life for twenty-five years, and was so famous that, during World War II, a Liberty Ship was named for him.
After five years writing editorials for The Atlanta Journal, Marquis landed a gig with New York’s Evening Sun in 1912. He spent ten years writing “The Sun Dial” column, then jumped to The Herald Tribune in 1922. His short stories appeared in Harper’s Scribner’s, Cosmopolitan, and nearly all the other leading general-circulation magazines of the day. His columns turned into successful books, and, later, movies and plays.
Marquis even wrote a play about the crucifixion of Christ, The Dark Hours, in 1924. Presented by the University Players, it starred a young Henry Fonda as Peter (revived on Broadway in 1932, it ran for eight performances, a rare Marquis flop).
Marquis lived a Roaring Twenties lifestyle that contributed to the series of strokes that finally silenced him at 58. He was quick with a quip when those were ten-a-penny in American journalism:

Procrastination is the art of keeping up with yesterday. When a man tells you that he got rich through hard work, ask him: 'Whose?' An idea isn't responsible for the people who believe in it. Middle age is the time when a man is always thinking that in a week or two he will feel as good as ever. Writing a book of poetry is like dropping a rose petal down the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo. Fishing is a delusion entirely surrounded by liars in old clothes. If you make people think they're thinking, they'll love you; But if you really make them think, they'll hate you. Ideas pull the trigger, but instinct loads the gun. An optimist is a man who has never had much experience. A pessimist is a person who has had to listen to too many optimists.

His lasting memory is in the characters archy and mehitabel, who began appearing in his newspaper columns in 1916. archy, a cockroach who was a vers libre poet in a previous life, tapped out unpunctuated, uncapitalized notes on Marquis typewriter at night, leaping from the carriage return to hit the keys, one at a time (the caps lock and period keys were too hard to manage).
archy’s pal, Mehitabel, was an alley cat who was, in truth, a real party animal. The Writer’s Almanac notes,
archy was a former free verse poet who "sees life from the underside now." He wasn't able to reach the shift key so everything he wrote was in lower case. And Mehitabel was an alley cat with questionable morals who insisted that she was Cleopatra in one of her former lives.

Marquis was a champion of the underdog and not a fan of pretension. His columns were humorous, but had political undertones. His character archy said once, "a louse i used to know told me that millionaires and bums tasted about alike to him." And, "what is all this mystery about the sphinx that has troubled so many illustrious men no doubt the very same thoughts she thinks are thought every day by some obscure hen."
Part of their lasting appeal was that, like Tenniel’s Alice and Shepherd’s Pooh, they were brilliantly illustrated- in their case, by George Herriman, creator of Krazy Kat.

We celebrate this American original with his biography:

Edward Anthony, O Rare Don Marquis: Author of archy and mehitabel and other hilarities (Doubleday, 1962, 1st ed., 1962). LOC 62-7596. A fine, entertaining biography of the creator of that immortal pair, archy and mehitabel. Hardcover, 8.5” x 6”, unclipped dust jacket with some wear. Yellowing and some spotting on the edges. Overall good condition; eminently readable. HBB price: $17.95.


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