Category Archives: Biography

Darwin Porter, Those Glamorous Gabors: Bombshells from Budapest

2017-01-21-025Title: Those Glamorous Gabors: Bombshells from Budapest

Author: Darwin Porter

Publication Information: [United States?]: Blood Moon Productions, c2013

ISBN: 978-1-936003-35-8

Library of Congress Classification:
PN2285

Library of Congress Subject Headings:
Gabor, Zsa Zsa, 1917-2016
Gabor, Eva, 1921-1995
Gabor, Magda, 1915-1997

The caption on the cover is, “Great courtesans of the 20th century,” which should give you an idea of what type of book this is.

Darwin Porter writes tomes, big ones, hundreds of pages long. I’ve read one other book of his, Hollywood’s Silent Closet: a Novel, and this book is as big as the one on the Gabors.

Porter primarily centers on Zsa Zsa, but covers all three Gabor sisters and their mother, Jolie. All three sisters took chances with the men they were allowing to woo them. All three were raped at one point in their lives, Magda by Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi in control of Budapest, even though she was married to the Portuguese attaché at the time.

This is a tell-all book about who slept with who, who was lying about their bedroom partners in their autobiographies, who was passed between the sisters, and who got away. The information about their movies and their interactions with the stars at the time is gossipy, but nonetheless entertaining. Porter primarily spends most of the time in the 40s, 50s, and 60s, when the Gabors were young and vibrant. It is interesting to read about the competitiveness of the Gabor sisters, particularly Zsa Zsa and Eva.

What does emerge is how these sisters were shaped by the desires of their mother, who wanted them to make rich marriages. Zsa Zsa was married more times (9) than her two sisters (Eva, 5; Magda, 6). At the time the book was written (2013), Zsa Zsa was still alive, and Porter dedicated the book to her.

Like I said, it’s a big book at 752 pages (including the index). If you were a Gabor watcher or if you like the gossip of old Hollywood, you might want to read this book.

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Carlo Ginzburg, The Cheese and the Worms: the Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller

(2015-09-23 001)Title: The Cheese and the Worms: the Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller

Italian Title: Il formaggio e i vermi: Il cosmo di un mugnaio del ‘500

Author: Carlo Ginzburg; translated by John and Anne Tedeschi

Publication Information: Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992, c1980

ISBN: 0-8018-4387-1

Library of Congress Classification: BR877.F74

Library of Congress Subject Headings:
Friuli (Italy)—Religious life and customs
Friuli (Italy)—Civilization
Peasantry—Italy—Friuli
Heresies and heretics—Italy—Friuli
Heresies and heretics—Modern period, 1500-
Scandella, Domenico, 1532-1601
Friuli (Italy)—Church history

Ginzburg’s book was published in 1976 in Italian and translated and published in English in 1980. He was one of the founders of “microhistory,” the analysis of one small part of a larger area, event, or individual—in this case, the life of a miller living in 16th century Fruili, Italy—that can tell us about what was going at that particular time.

Domenico Scandella, known as Menocchio, would have been yet another faceless and nameless person from the period if not for one important thing: he was put on trial for heresy during the Inquisition. The records of the court, in unusually good detail, gives quite a bit of information about Menocchio. He was married, had several children, owned a mill and rented two plots of land to farm. And he could read; the books that he either owned or borrowed that were seized from his house when arrested are listed. This is not so remarkable, since Ginzburg proves that there were schools at that time that taught elementary reading and writing, but not much. What is remarkable is what Menocchio did with these skills. He created his own cosmology.

Menocchio got into trouble because he talked about what he read which, in some cases, he didn’t fully understand because of his limited education. Nonetheless, he had his own interpretation of the world and God. His “preaching” was what got him into trouble with the Inquisition. (Ginzburg believed that Menocchio’s parish priest turned him in.) It is here that Menocchio, against the advice of his son and two of his friends, gives the inquisitor his version of the creation (which sounds closer to the Greek mythological creation than the Judeo-Christian) and theology.

All inquisitorial courts had a recorder whose job it was to write down everything that was said in the court. Thus, Menocchio’s voice is heard centuries after his death. The major problem was that Menocchio did not understand the questions being asked of him about Catholic theology, since he only had a rudimentary education. Also, he did not understand many of the parts of the books he had read and completely misinterpreted the points being illustrated. Ginzburg traces how the inquisitors caught Menocchio in traps of their invention, which caused him to become confused and then he had to try and redefine what he really meant when his understanding of the questions was limited.

Menocchio finally realized how dangerous his thinking was and, in the end, recanted everything. He first said that he thought up the ideas himself, then it was a voice inside his head and, finally, the Devil made him do it. He had been led astray. The court gave him mercy, and released him, but he was not to leave his home town and he had to wear a special garment that marked him for a heretic who had returned to the church. Both these conditions were for life. We know this because of the court records where we learn that Menocchio had been given special permission to leave the village for business, but he was never allowed to stop wearing the special insignia of a heretic reunited to the Church.

The Reformation had exploded across Europe and the Counter-Reformation was attempting to stem the tide of religious change. Two decades before Menocchio’s trial, a peasants’ uprising had brought ruin to the common people as they took sides between two nobles that led to war. No threats to the established order would be tolerated by the dominant classes. Menocchio’s recanting got him mercy once. The second time he was sentenced to death and executed after once again discussing his beliefs, which can be summarized to a “live and let live” mentality of tolerance for everyone of all faiths—Christian heresy.

The court records also talk about Menocchio’s background. He had served the local parish in charge of finances not once but twice, once before his trial and again after. He also served the town in some official capacity, so he wasn’t treated as a pariah. On the contrary, the town seemed to accept him back. He continued to function as the miller in the area until his second arrest and execution. Old, sickly, his wife and supportive son dead, and his other children estranged from him, Menocchio no longer cared what happened to himself and admitted that he was still a heretic.

One central theme Ginzburg argues is wrong is that the idea of the dominate classes’ culture “filtering down” to the lower classes (like trickledown economics), the members of which absorb it, reject it, or adapt it in some way. Ginzburg sees cultural exchange as more circular, with the lower classes having a culture that can affect the culture of the dominant classes and vice-versa. This he proves.

Ginzburg also analyzes the books that Menocchio either owned or borrowed. He goes further to discuss what other books that Menocchio might have seen, by drawing in evidence of other “heretical” books circulating in Italy at the time. Though Ginzburg cannot completely prove that Menocchio read these books, he discusses how their influence might have affected his thinking. One of those is the Koran, which had already been translated into Italian; it is not clear if Menocchio owned a copy or might have seen a copy. In any case, Ginzburg believes that the Koran would have been, for Menocchio, so far beyond his comprehension that he would not have understood most of it.

For me, the most important aspect of this book is that Menocchio is heard, centuries after his death. How many more men—and many more women—were never given the chance to be fully educated, and their voices will never be heard? Had Menocchio been from the ruling classes he would have been educated and probably become a theologian. It is only because of his extensive testimony at trial that Menocchio emerges from the darkness of the ages to become known.

The book is well-written, and is an excellent example of how microhistory can be used to help illuminate specific periods of history.

 

 

Jeffrey Meyers, Inherited Risk: Errol and Sean Flynn in Hollywood and Vietnam

41PQVT4BJHLTitle: Inherited Risk: Errol and Sean Flynn in Hollywood and Vietnam

Author: Jeffrey Meyers

Publication Information: New York, N.Y.: Simon & Schuster, 2002

ISBN: 0-7432-1090-5

Library of Congress Classification: PN2287.F55

Library of Congress Subject Headings:
Flynn, Errol, 1909-1959
Flynn, Sean, 1941-
Motion picture actors and actresses–United States–Biography
War photographers–United States–Biography

This is a biography of a father and son who spent more time apart than they did together. The first 56 and the last 17 pages are about Sean Flynn; the rest of the book is about his father, Errol. Errol died at the age of 50; Sean was killed at 28 or 29, depending on when he was murdered by the Khmer Rouge.

I’ve always found it interesting when men say, “I like women,” which usually means “I like sleeping with women,” which is not the same thing. Errol Flynn liked to sleep with women, but he did not like women. This becomes evident as one reads the book. Meyers mentions in several places where Errol called his mother the C-word regularly. She really had nothing to do with him when he was growing up, and even pushed him away. This did scar him, and he even admitted it. Nonetheless, this did not inhibit his pursuit of women.

Sean’s problem was that he was trying to live up to his father’s reputation. He also had the devil-may-care attitude of his father, only this was more extreme in him. He was, for all intents and purposes, a playboy. He tried his hand at acting, but got bored with it; he moved on to something else. In Sean’s case his mother was the constant in his life, not Errol. Actress Lili Damita was Errol’s first wife, and she grew to hate him as he continued to cheat on her and spend time away from her. Her pregnancy was revenge on Errol, who did not want children, and she was constantly after him for money. She smothered Sean and kept him very close to her. As a result, he rarely spent time with his father.

My reading suggests that neither father or son was much different from each other. Meyers comments that Sean wasn’t so much interested in women as what they could do for him: sex companion, cleaning house, etc. It seems that Errol did not really see women as people. He did have a few female friends, and he slept with just about all his leading ladies (Bette Davis being an exception), but for the most part he was a man’s man, looking for the comfort of spending time with other men doing manly things. Sean ended up in Vietnam voluntarily, seeking fame and male companionship, and doing manly things like photographing the war.

Sean had no children that are known. In one letter, he told his mother that he was tempted to settle down in East Indies with a “brown” girl. Meyers reports that he came very close to marrying one young woman, but she was still in school and her father did not think that he would be a good husband and son-in-law, so Sean moved on and she ended up having an abortion; the fetus was a boy. Meyers doesn’t say if Sean knew about this or not. Grandchildren was one thing that Sean could not give his mother.

There’s more to say about this book, but I’ll end it here. Father and son were the same in so many ways, particularly in their shared death wish. Errol drank himself into an early grave, still chasing young women, and Sean ended up being captured by the Viet Cong in Cambodia, who then turned their captives over to the Khmer Rouge who, as history has shown, were in no way compassionate to their own people let alone outsiders. It is believed that Sean Flynn was executed a year or so after he was captured.

Fascinating character study.

Vicki Myron with Bret Witter, Dewey’s Nine Lives: the Legacy of the Small-Town Library Cat Who Inspired Millions

(2014-10-31 001)Title: Dewey’s Nine Lives: the Legacy of the Small-Town Library Cat Who Inspired Millions

Author: Vicki Myron, with Bret Witter

Publication Information: New York, N.Y.: Dutton, published by Penguin Group (USA), 2010

ISBN: 978-0-525-95186-5

Library of Congress Classification: SF445.5

Library of Congress Subject Headings:
Cats–Anecdotes
Human-animal relationships–Anecdotes
Dewey (Cat)–Anecdotes

This book is and is not a sequel to Dewey, Vicki Myron’s first book that chronicled the life of Dewey, the cat she found in her library’s book return. It is the stories of those who share their lives with cats, and how those cats affect their lives and the lives of others around them.

Dewey interacted with the visitors in the library on a regular basis: the homeless man who always visited Dewey daily, and Yvonne, a woman from out of town who was always quiet but who came to see Dewey. We then learn about the life of Yvonne and of Myron’s Snowball, a cat from her childhood whose back legs had been cut off in a plow accident, and how that cat learned to manage quite well without them. At six, Yvonne’s mother took pictures of her children with their favorite cats, except Yvonne couldn’t find her cat and the photo was taken without her holding the cat. Yvonne used to buy toys for Dewey and play with him when she visited the library. Yvonne also had Tobi, her cat, whom she loved.

There’s stories about Mr. Sir Bob Kittens; Spooky and his human, Bill, the Vietnam vet who once made friends with a raccoon; the cats of Sanibel Island, Florida; Christmas Cat; Cookie; Marshmallow; Church Cat; and Rusty. It would probably be more accurate to describe this book as biographies of humans and how the animals they had effected their lives. Myron talks about the life of her husband, Glenn, who was tied to a variety of different animals throughout his life.

This can be a tear-jerker for many, but it’s a good set of life stories about humans and their cats–and the ways that animals can change our lives.

 

Greg King and Sue Woolmans, The Assassination of the Archduke: Sarajevo 1914 and the Romance that Changed the World

(2014-12-29 001)Title: The Assassination of the Archduke: Sarajevo 1914 and the Romance that Changed the World

Author: Greg King and Sue Woolmans

Publication Information: New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-250-05546-0

Library of Congress Classification: DB89.F7

Library of Congress Subject Headings:
Franz Ferdinand, Archduke of Austria, 1863-1914—Assassination
Sophie, Archduchess of Austria, 1866-1914
Austria—History–Franz Joseph I, 1848-1916
Princes—Austria—Biography
Princesses–Austria—Biography
World War, 1914-1918—Causes

This was a very good book.

I bought it from Amazon on what was basically a whim. The Hapsburg monarchy was something that I had taken an interest in years ago, and even took a class in the empire as an undergrad. I’ve dabbled in the history, but I knew little, if anything, about Franz Ferdinand, the assassinated heir to the throne whose death set off the First World War. And what did I learn?

It seems that most historians never really took the time to know the man behind the facade. History books dismissed Franz Ferdinand as a reactionary, morose, stubborn, unenlightened man whose death started a century of wars. In reality, Franz Ferdinand was a well-educated, intelligent individual who may well have saved the monarchy had he succeeded to the throne. He knew that there was no way the empire could continue under its present organization. Surprisingly, he thought that the federal structure of the United States was the perfect model for a restructured Austria-Hungary. A federated empire of ten states with some self-autonomy and under the rule of a Hapsburg emperor. Ironically, after his death and World War I, many expressed the idea that Franz Ferdinand could have saved the empire had he succeeded to the throne.

Franz Joseph, the reigning monarch since 1848, does not appear in any sympathetic light. His wife had been assassinated, and his son, Crown Prince Rudolph, had committed suicide. He saw his nephew, Franz Ferdinand, as a dangerous element; he wasn’t sorry to see him removed from the succession. He did not like his relatives in general, and tried to keep everything as it had always was; protocol was everything, and the emperor occupied his time with trivial matters. His chamberlain, Prince Alfred de Montenuovo, was also responsible for protocol and Montenuovo used his position to tyrannize the aristocracy. However, it is made quite clear that Franz Joseph was always in charge and allowed Montenuovo his excesses. This included attempting to stop Franz Ferdinand’s marriage to Countess Sophie Chotek, since she came from a family that was not good enough to marry into the Hapsburgs.

Sophie’s family had served the Hapsburgs for at least three centuries; they were never recognized as one of the families that was “equal” to the Hapsburgs and therefore able to marry into the ruling family. The only way Franz Ferdinand could marry Sophie was to remove his children from the succession, which he did. Their morganatic marriage (a marriage of unequals) was used by Montenuovo to humiliate Franz Ferdinand by placing restrictions on how Sophie could appear and accompany him. For example, she could not sit in any of the imperial boxes at the theater and had to be seated alone, far from her husband. She could not be on the arm of her husband in any processions, and had to enter last after every Hapsburg of every rank had already processed; she was escorted into functions by one of the court’s minor officials. Twice no one was there to escort her into the function; the first time Sophie fled in shame, but the second time she walked in alone, her head held high. In horror, one of the Hapsburg archdukes rushed forward and offered her his arm–and created a scandal. But this was typical court life for Franz Ferdinand and Sophie, which is why they eventually shunned it. (Ironically, Montenuovo was the descendant of a morganatic marriage himself, but unlike Sophie Chotek, he was elevated.)

Franz Ferdinand and Sophie were devoted parents, spending far more time with their children than most aristocrats. Instead of only seeing them for a short time daily, they would spend hours with their children at a time when aristocrats allowed their nannies to raise the children. The sons, Max and Ernst, were the first aristocrats to be sent to concentration camps for their anti-Nazi, pro-Hapsburg feelings. The wars robbed the children of their inheritance; to add insult to injury, the new Austrian republican government recognized them as Hapsburgs just to confiscate their landholdings.

The assassination and how lax Austrian security was suggests that there was some conspiracy from Vienna, but there’s no evidence. What is evident is how Franz Ferdinand and Sophie loved each other and their children. He was loyal to an uncle who did not like him, and would have made a good emperor who might have saved the monarchy from ruin.

Look What’s in the Warner Library!

Warner Library serves Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow. Inter-Library Loan allows the borrowing of materials from other Westchester County libraries, thereby increasing the resources made available.

(2014-07-06 001)Author: Jean Zimmerman

Title: Women of the House: How a Colonial She-Merchant built a Mansion, a Fortune, and a Dynasty

Publication Information: Orlando, Fla. : Harcourt, c2006 (1st ed.)

ISBN: 0-15-101065-X (i.e. 978-0-15-101065-3)

Library of Congress Classification: F122.1.P48

Dewey Decimal Classification: 974.7

Library of Congress Subject Headings:
Philipse, Margaret Hardenbroeck.
Philipse, Margaret Hardenbroeck–Family
Phillips family
Women merchants–New Netherland–Biography
New Netherland–Biography
New Netherland–Commerce–History
New Netherland–Social conditions
New York (State)–History–Colonial period, ca. 1600-1775–Biography

The world of New Netherland, the colony founded by the Dutch that would later become New York City, comes alive through the life of Margaret Hardenbroeck, an immigrant from the Netherlands who comes to the New World (at age 22) as an agent of her cousin, but who stays and becomes a merchant and a magnate in her own right.

The term “she-merchant” had a legal recognition in Dutch law. Margaret, like all women, could represent herself in a Dutch court of law, write her own will and bequeath her worldly goods to anyone she wished. The Dutch Reformed Church was quite progressive: it advocated for the education of men and women. Women were expected to be as literate as men. The Netherlands was a mercantile republic, meaning that the merchants ran the country. Women were allowed to represent themselves in any business adventures that they undertook.

The New Netherland colony is a perfect example of a “turning back of the clock,” which all minorities fear. It’s the taking away of privileges and rights earned over time by those in the least powerful positions. When the English conquered New Netherland in 1664, they agreed not to take any of the rights away from the Dutch that they had previously held under the former government. Almost immediately, this began to erode. Zimmerman discusses the various attempts by the British to limit the powers of the Dutch merchants, but what is even more alarming is how the she-merchants, as with all women, lost their rights as citizens. Under British law, a woman could only be represented in court by her father or her husband; Margaret found it increasingly difficult to undertake any business activity by herself. The old Dutch custom of women keeping their own names even after marriage was also abandoned. Women were no longer treated as partners in a marriage, but as their husbands’ chattel.

This loss extended to education as well. As Britain tightened the grip on the colony, the Dutch found it increasingly difficult to hire teachers to educate their children in the Dutch language, customs and law. Women were expected to be good wives and mothers; they had no reason to be educated. Thus, as the British eliminated the Dutch customs, women became uneducated, just as the British expected wives and mothers to be. They were taught how to darn socks and embroider and the other necessary skills a good wife and mother would expect to know, but to women like Margaret this was death.

Margaret married twice. First, she married Pieter Rudolphus de Vries. Margaret, at 22, married Pieter, 57, probably because she was already pregnant with their child. Maria was born, but she would never get to know her father, since Pieter died at 58 of an unknown ailment. Margaret then married Frederick Philipse, a carpenter who arrived 6 years before Margaret in New Amsterdam. Like Margaret, Frederick was on his way to creating a business empire. After swearing that Eva–the name Maria was adopted under–would be raised as his own child, Frederick was permitted to marry Margaret in the Dutch Reformed Church.

They had Philip, Adolph, Annetje, and Rombout as well as Eva. The Philipses expanded their trading empire as well as the lands that they owned. From Spuyten Duyvil Creek in the Bronx up to the Croton River in Westchester County, the Philipses carved out what would become known as Philipse Manor–or Philipsburg Manor. This huge track of land bordered the Hudson and Bronx Rivers. The Philipses had tenant farmers working on this land. They had manor houses in Yonkers, where the “lower mills” was located, and one in Sleepy Hollow, known as the “upper mills.” Both manor houses still survive as historic landmarks.

The Old Dutch Church, made famous in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, was planned by Margaret but never built. Her successor Catherine, who married Frederick after her death, built the church. The bell, cast in Holland with the date 1685 and made for Margaret, still hangs in the belfry. Catherine and Frederick are buried in the church.

The book ends with the successors of Margaret, Catherine and Frederick leaving the new United States in 1783. The Philipses had supported the Crown during the Revolutionary War and paid for it. All their lands, the vast manor, was confiscated. Other Tories, such as the Van Cortlandts, were forgiven by the new nation, but none of these families had the best lands on the Hudson and in Westchester. The former Philipse Manor was divided up into parcels and sold off.

For anyone who enjoys learning about local colonial and Revolutionary history. An enjoyable, informative book. It had been selected by the Historical Society‘s book club.

 

 

 

 

 

Tony Thorne, Countess Dracula: the Life and Times of Elisabeth Bathory, the Blood Countess

(2014-05-28 001)Title: Countess Dracula: the Life and Times of Elisabeth Bathory, the Blood Countess

Author: Tony Thorne

Publication Information: London: Bloomsbury, 1998, c1997

ISBN: 0-747536414 (978-0747-53641-3)

Library of Congress Classification: DB999.S283

Library of Congress Subject Headings:
Báthory, Erzsébet, 1560-1614
Countesses–Hungary–Sávár–Biography
Judicial error–Hungary
Hungary–History–Turkish occupation, 1526-1699
Sávár (Hungary)–History
Transylvania (Romania)–History

There are times that I will write a review for a book that I read years ago. This is one of them. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

I had to order this book from England. It cost me $62.70 for a paperback through Alibris. To the best of my knowledge, this book was never released in the United States. Here’s an example of why scholars and researchers need to go beyond what is published in their native countries and languages when exploring their interests. And what is so great about this book?

Tony Thorne proves that Elisabeth Balthory was railroaded.

She was not a “blood countess,” bathing in the blood of virgins. She was a victim of circumstance, a pawn in a much bigger political struggle. Her reputation was deliberately demeaned and destroyed in a successful attempt to seize the Balthory estates.

With the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453, the conquest of Greece and the rest of the Balkans was opened. The Kingdom of Hungary blocked the further Turkish advance into Europe–until the Battle of Mohács in 1526.

Suffice to say that the Turks made war on the Hungarians, and at Mohács they not only killed the Hungarian king but decimated the nobility. The kingdom simply collapsed, which was quickly overrun by the Turks. This is when Vienna was first put under siege by the Turks. A “rump” Hungary, shaped like the letter C, was all that remained of the kingdom, which was under the control of the Holy Roman Emperor and Archduke of Austria. Now the Austro-German Hapsburgs claimed the throne of Hungary, which did not please the native Hungarian nobility.

In the time of Elisabeth György Thurzó was appointed as Palatine of Hungary to govern in the name of the Holy Roman Emperor. Many of the Hungarian nobility looked to the Hungarian prince of Transylvania as the possible unifier of the Hungarians and the next king of Hungary. Who was this prince? Stephen Bathory–Elisabeth’s nephew.

The Bathory estates were vast. Elisabeth had administered them while her husband went off to war several times; there is evidence that Elisabeth was an able administrator, since there were no problems when her husband returned to take control. With his death, Elisabeth became the sole possessor, a woman alone with a vast fortune and a nephew that could possibly become a problem to the Habsburg emperor, to whom Thurzó owed his position.

We can add misogyny to the mix. Thurzó seized Elisabeth’s castle, found “improprieties” in the place, drew up charges, tortured her staff for confessions, and had them quickly executed, imprisoning Elisabeth in her castle for her “crimes.” She was walled up in her bedroom. It was then the stories of the “blood countess” began to circulate. The Balthory estates were now held by Thurzó.

The idea of Stephen Balthory restoring the Hungarian kingdom was just a dream. He was insane and eventually killed, at which point Elisabeth was simply no longer important. Her son was a minor; her two daughters were married, and their inheritances were released to them. Thurzó admitted no wrong; who cared about Elisabeth? So she was allowed to languish, forgotten by all except for the terrible stories told about her that just grew after her death.

Thorne researched the Hungarian court records and found quite a bit of irregularities in her case. No one else outside of Thurzó’s group was able to question the witnesses because they had all been executed immediately. A Hungarian lawyer, a descent of Thurzó, looked into the case and said that the evidence presented would not stand up in a modern court of law; had Thurzó followed the law he would not have had a case.

So the next time you are watching History Channel schlock around Halloween about the “Blood Countess,” remember what was done to poor Elisabeth. Let’s right an historic wrong.