The Vinson Papers — Part 4

[By Rob Roehm; originally posted July 10, 2011 at the REH Two-Gun Raconteur blog. This version updated and expanded.]

Part 3

From the Brownwood Bulletin for July 18, 1928.

As mentioned in the last installment, the impact of Klatt’s death appears to have subsided by July 1928. Late that month, Vinson traveled to Waco to visit Juntites Harold Preece and Hildon V. Collins. Preece described the visit to Clyde Smith in a July 26 letter:

I wish you could have been with Truett, Hildon, and myself, the early part of the week. We had a prolonged and interesting session, and nothing was too sacred for the gamut of conversation. Truett also made a very definite impression on Hildon’s girl cousin. Young Lochinvar again come out of the west.

Later that summer, Vinson wrote to his friend in Cross Plains; this is one of only two (I think) letters from Vinson to Howard that survive (envelope at head of post). Again, the letter reveals a wide range of interests, moving from talk of friends and visiting to things he has read and movies he has seen (“Vic McLaglen was disappointing in Hangman’s House, but there was nothing much to the picture”). There is some talk of a Howard poem “on the treatment of whores” which Vinson proclaims “is a dandy.” He also makes it clear that “Hildon’s girl cousin” made an equal impression:

I fear that I am “putting up” with Collins just because I want to remain in the good graces of his cousin!

Late that summer Vinson had a poem accepted by New Masses (he’ll have more to say about this magazine later). The piece appeared in the October 1928 issue.

Meanwhile, one of Vinson’s articles was causing a stir in the pages of The Junto. Probably published in the August 1928 issue, now lost, “Hell Bent” received a longish comment which was published in the October 1928 issue. Under the header “One of the ‘Hell Bent’ Speaks,” we get a taste of what Vinson’s piece contained:

I do not think of anything but drinking (and, my God, what stuff one does get nowadays), and of petting, and of acquiring siphilis [sic.]. I know this is true, for Truett Vinson said so. He is right. That is what I do think of. But I am not a hypocrite about it. I enjoy such things, and I intend to do what I enjoy, for I will go to Hell, anyway.

Signed by “A.M.Y” (“A Modern Youth”), much discussion in the comments section followed, including this, by Vinson himself: “To whom it may concern: I prefer to deal with people who sign their names to their opinions. Will a.m.y. reveal himself or herself? T.V.”

Robert E. Howard mentions the “A.M.Y. business” in a circa October 1928 letter to Clyde Smith:

The reason I’m sending The Junto to you instead of Truett, I want you as a damned personal damned favor to me, see, to put as a comment a slam on this A.M.Y. business about Hell Bent or else a boost for Truett’s article.

Now, I’m full of Virginia Dare, but I know what I’m talking about, see. We three birds are the holy and most revered Original Three and we must stand up for each other.

I have a hunch this A.M.Y. business is about fourteen and smokes corn husk cigarettes out behind the stable and thinks he’s on the high road to Hell.

That November, Vinson spent some time with various friends, in Waco and in Cross Plains.

From the Brownwood Bulletin for November 13, 1928.
From the Cross Plains Review for November 23, 1928.

In the same letter quoted above, Howard mentions that “Booth [Mooney] wants some autobiographies,” and the December 1928 issue contains Vinson’s “The Autobiography of a Bookkeeper”:

Name—Truett Vinson. (Author of “Hell Bent!”, etc. etc.)
Born—September 26, 1905.
Died—Not yet.
Occupation—Bookkeeper—because of the “bread and cheese” I consume, which gives me strength to keep more books, that I may purchase more “bread and cheese,” which enables me—ah, ad infinitum!
Nationality—Irish, Welsh, German.
Religion—Baptist—because of heredity and environment, but I am outgrowing it. Really, I believe in the Golden Rule practiced in regard to sociology, economics, and morals. And I am NOT an atheist.
Politics—Socialist.
Clubs and Societies—Book-of-the-Month Club, Fellowship of Reconciliation, National Council for Prevention of War, Debs’ Memorial Radio Fund, League to Abolish Capital Punishment, Upton Sinclair Loan Fund, National Association Opposed to Blue Laws, Workers’ International Relief.
Reading—From Upton Sinclair, Bernard Shaw, and H. G. Wells to A. Conan Doyle.
Habits—Smoking, drinking.
Weaknesses—Women, Football, and Sherlock Holmes.
Sex Experience—Been kissed by at least three girls! “I’m a lady, by God!”

This issues also contains “The Galveston Affair,” by Bob Howard, which briefly describes the pair’s experience at Galveston’s International Pageant of Pulchritude and Bathing Girl Revue (mentioned in Part 3). After being trampled on by the crowd, Howard relates the following:

Truett swore with an energy that I could not muster on account of the heat. We glared at each other without optimism. We sat—and sat—and sat. Had we been merely waiting for some national hero to appear, we would have given it up and started a general slaughter as a diversion.

But we were there to see legs, and legs we were going to see if we sat there till Hell froze over and the Devil took sleigh rides on the ice.

In an article probably intended for The Junto, Clyde Smith’s “Gods in Arcady” (published in “So Far the Poet”), Smith describes a trip to his uncle’s ranch on the outskirts of Brownwood. Smith, Howard, and Vinson are present, and Clyde provides a few details that help flesh out Truett Vinson. When they arrive at the ranch, it is Truett who “lights the lamp”; the next morning, “[a] fire roars in the kitchen stove, due to Truett’s efforts”; and after taking a swim, Clyde hands Vinson his pants and he “turns around to put them on.”

Besides the above, the trio drink water from the cistern “as horses drink: with relish and noise”; they “go for a ramble in the woods”; and as they settle down for the night, “the conversation shifts to women.” Later, Truett reads to them from The Road to Buenos Aires. Written by French writer and investigative journalist Albert Londres and published in multiple languages in 1927, the book reports on the trafficking of French and Polish women to Buenos Aires, bound for prostitution. It is a vivid account of the trafficking, part factual reporting and part creative writing.

1928 ended with a visit from Harold Preece. Vinson sent him a post card (below) on December 27, saying “Come as soon as you can. We are expecting you. Advise us when you will arrive and someone will meet you.” In correspondence (and The Junto), these visits became known as “reunions” and were often threatened but rarely occurred.

Keeping in mind that Truett had a poem published in New Masses back in October 1928, his comments in the The Junto for January 1929 are interesting:

BOOKS AND THINGS
By Truett Vinson

They tell you poetry will not sell on the book markets, but Stephen Vincent Benet’s latest narrative poem, “John Brown’s Body”, contained in a large book of 377 pages, has been selected by the Book-of-the-Month Club as a first selection, and this assures a sale of practically 75,000 copies. Of course, the selection of this book by the judges of the Book-of-the-Month Club does not mean that the book is necessarily worthy of the perusal of 75,000 readers, but I think that they have not gone far wrong this time. The poem is something of an epic, covering the whole Civil War with one sweep. The critics contend that it is crude in places, and no doubt they are right, but as a whole the poem is virile and moving and stirring. It seems to me that the prelude is almost worth the rest of the book.

Behold! A magazine, supposed to be somewhat “respectable”, hints that Mayor Jimmie Walker of New York City is not exactly the executive and the darling that he is “cracked up” to be by our numerous popular newspapers and magazines. I quote from “The Film Spectator”, edited by one Welford Beaton, Hollywood, California, the issue of August 18th: “Everyone, so it seems, seems to agree that New York is the greatest ‘boob’ town on earth. Close contact with Jimmie Walker, whom it selected as its mayor, is the strongest proof that has yet been advanced in support of the charge.”

The new “New Masses” under the editorship of Michael Gold is a haven for those writers (and readers!) who are not smart (sic!) enough and cultured enough to find a place in the pages of our commercially dictated magazines. If you want to get to the real depth and truth of America, I advise you to regularly read “New Masses”. What a relief to pick up so virile and vital a magazine after turning the advertising pages of “Liberty” with its ancient caption at the head of the editorial page, that “patriotic” and imperialistic utterance of Stephen F. Decatur.

The same Michael Gold, editor of “New Masses”, finds himself as a character in Upton Sinclair’s new book, “Boston”. With nothing added to him and nothing subtracted from him. Just plain Michael Gold, in his younger days, of course. “Boston” was published last month, a mammoth two-volume book selling for five dollars. Sinclair tells the inside story of the Sacco-Vanzetti case and other “things” about Boston and America in general. I predict that it will make more firm and more certain his place which he now holds in American literature: A great writer, and one of the major prophets of America.

From the Cross Plains Review for January 25, 1929.

The April 24, 1929 Brownwood Bulletin has “Truett Vinson has returned from San Antonio, where he spent the week-end.” A few weeks later, the Cross Plains Review for May 10, 1929 tells us that “Clyde Smith and Truett Vinson of Brownwood spent week end with Robert Howard.”

Booth Mooney was the editor of The Junto until April or May of 1929, but after January 1929, none of his issues survive. Harold Preece’s sister, Lenore, revived the travelogue in June. The second of her issues, July 1929, has Vinson’s “An Open Letter to Texas’ Governor”:

1409 Second Street,
Brownwood, Texas.
June 9th, 1929.

Hon. Dan Moody,
Governor of Texas,
Austin, Texas.

My Dear Sir:

Aren’t you consulting only a small minority of Texas people when you take such a method of eradicating the dreaded “prize fight” from this state? Aren’t you consulting only those good brethren who exclaim loudly against Sunday movies, but whose children never enter church doors, instead parking their drunken cars on dark roadways?

You state that by encouraging prize fights we may bring a big championship bout to Texas, and that would be highly undesirable. But would it? The state needs something to make it alive! It is deader than Nevada!

As time passes, we have more censorships thrust upon us. In a few more years we’ll merely be automatons rushing to and from daily toil—nothing more. Now we can’t indulge in the sight of two physical giants battering each other, because it would bring an undesirable element among our already rotting youth. Instead I suppose we shall only be greeted by such manly contests as the recently invented yo-yo contest, in which the contestant sees how long he can dangle a silly little toy on a string, the meanwhile he is being fed milk through a straw!

Yours very sincerely,

Truett Vinson

That same month, another “reunion” between Howard, Vinson, Smith, and “Harold Creese” (obviously Preece) occurred:

From the Cross Plains Review for July 12, 1929.

The August 1929 Junto has Vinson’s “Movie Notes”:

The Vitaphone and Movietone may mark the era of a greater motion picture, but if sound pictures are to appease the appetites of people above the type of comic section habitues, the producers must change their ideas. Now they are calling in the theme song boys, those song and dance lads with the mentalities of George Jessels and Al Jolson, while the great artists of the screen, Emil Jannings and Charles Chaplin, are idle. Emil cannot speak English and Charlie doesn’t like sound pictures. He is supposed to be making a picture now, the story of a tramp’s love for a beautiful and blind flower girl, but it seems that he is hesitating because of the public’s now clamorous demand for sound, and he is essentially a pantomimic artist. I say, a picture with either Emil Jannings or Charlie Chaplin is worth all the stuff they are giving us now in sound!

Another thing: With sound pictures at their present status, the moving picture will be only a medium for American stories of the present time. What sense would there be in a magnificent costume picture of another country, and American slang phrases hopping all over the place? And of course they won’t give us pictures depicting people in other countries in their true linguistic settings because the American public pays at the box office, and they won’t pay for such pictures.

I am not ordinarily an awe-struck movie fan, and I hasten to assure you that I don’t indulge in movie “crushes,” but I have a weakness for Nancy Carroll [below], first, (really!) because of her very fine and versatile histrionic ability and then because she is red-headed and Irish and has pretty legs. So I sat down and wrote her what I considered a really sensible note, referring only to the first reason for my admiring her, and incidentally offering the suggestion that in the future she have them place the microphone so her voice will properly record all she is singing or saying. (Perhaps you have noticed this fault in Abie’s Irish Rose and The Shopworn Angel?) My awaited reply to this letter consists of a bunch of words printed on a government post card, thus:

“Dear Friend:

I have your note and want to thank you very much for taking so much interest in me and my screen work.

I wish I could send you free of charge the photograph you desire, but because so many thousands of requests have been coming in of late, I have found it compulsory to ask my friends to help defray the actual expense of the photographs desired. If you care to do this, I will be indeed happy to send you any of the following variety of photos for the sum mentioned:” (Then she goes on with her price list, consisting of several sizes of her pictures.)

Oh! shades of Erin Isle and Terrence McSweeney! I didn’t want one of her pictures! My red-headed Irish movie star must have gotten fleas from Sandy MacDuff!

At the end of August, Truett took a trip to Colorado. More to come . . .

Nancy Carrol