Sunday, September 30, 2018

David Street, Hollywood Actor

I just returned from interviewing Jane Street’s grandson and gained a wealth of information.  He had already destroyed some of her work, and I was prepared to find little. Imagine my excitement to discover about a 1 ½” stack of her type-written writings. Poems, short stories, jokes, protest articles.  Who knew there would be so much more to Jane Street—artist, musician, author. Oh my! 

Last year when I was beginning my early research in Denver, I looked for Jane in the Colorado History Center archives and Denver Public Library’s Western History Collection.  I was able to investigate Denver’s strong women’s suffrage movement, even holding original Susan B. Anthony letters. Yet I discovered Jane was a ghost—all knew of her presence, some details about her work—but no physical evidence remained.  Thrilling and disappointing at the same time.  Where was Jane’s DNA, remnants of her work?

Now I am holding her papers in my hands.  I have begun reading them and will likely read them dozens of times before I can fully assess what she wanted the reader to know.

One strand I will have to address in my final manuscript is her motherhood.  Without a doubt, she loved her children dearly, so much that some individuals criticized her devotion to the children over the cause of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), affecting her profoundly. With all the turmoil in her life, her children certainly bore the scars, despite her care.  As a result, Jane’s sons and daughter traveled similar life-paths as their mother, enduring tragedies of their own.  In particular is her youngest son, Charles Patrick Devlin, stage name David Street.

David Street is an unmemorable individual that some of you may have actually seen on the big screen.  You wouldn’t have noticed much since David Street was a “B” actor in Hollywood from 1949 until 1962.  Yet, the paparazzi followed his activities intently, furnishing black and white glossies for Hollywood rags, generally because he was usually in the company of well-known, glamorous leading ladies, including Jayne Mansfield, Ava Gardner, and Marilyn Maxwell.  Though David inherited his mother’s musical talent, he also bore her self-destructive proclivities. 

“Tall, dark and handsome singer David Street seemed to have all the necessary credentials for musical film stardom in the 1940s, but his career fell drastically short and today is better remembered, if at all, for his tabloid-exposed private life.  From IMDb.

Actress Mary Beth Hughes, One of David Street's Many Starlet-Wives

He was married seven times to starlets of incredible beauty—Sharon Lee; Marilyn Maxwell; Mary Beth Hughes; Mary Francis Wilhite; Cathleen Gourley, stage name Lois Andrews; Elaine Perry; and probably the most famous of his wives was Debralee Griffin, stage name Debra Paget.  Some of these marriages lasted mere days, some divorces due to addiction and/or spending problems.  Jane's grandson reported that spending $300 on shoes definitely caused stress in one marriage when David was not earning enough to support his lavish lifestyle.  Yet he loaned Jane money when she needed it.

Did Jane’s personal relationships and care differ among her children, perhaps because of her life experiences?  Possibly.  How much impacted the lives of her children? Her papers reveal much.  I will have to see what Jane tells me.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Me too, Jane, too?

On a flight to Las Vegas, Nevada, my destination before heading to Bullhead, Arizona, and an interview with Jane Street’s grandson. I have waited all year for this opportunity. The trip is certainly refreshing after watching the drama this week regarding the Judge Brett Kavanaugh hearings. I wept during testimonies—for both individuals. I, like most everyone else, felt drained and saddened.

Have you noticed all the women who have “come out” to claim “me too”? Fact is, if you ask women close to my age if they have had some sort of real or perceived sexual harassment, assault or attack, many, if not most, will say yes. And with good reason. Perhaps this is because women have become increasingly empowered since my generation, the “burning-bra” era, as society finally confirmed that certain behaviors were not okay. Change has been slow, but change has happened.

I, like many women, have experiential responses when I hear stories of sexual assault. I recall sexual harassment on the job where I worked as a receptionist (except when I was expected to serve my boss his coffee twice-a-day). I endured sexual innuendos, wolf whistles (wait, I admit I miss those), and embarrassing confrontations. When I finally complained about a particular sexual advance to the aggressor himself, I was “let go” two weeks before I was already scheduled to quit.

I was also a GuyRex product, a beauty queen, a Miss Texas contestant, who modeled her body in swimsuit several times. Although I don’t recall shame, I do recall a stupid interview question about whom I would most desire to date, from a grinning Dallas-Cowboy-quarterback panel member, expecting to hear his name. I was ashamed to have been thus questioned when I could cite every fact about the city I was representing. True, I put myself in that situation. The Miss Texas/Miss Universe was admittedly a “meat” contest, unlike the Miss America-Miss Texas contest that paid for my college education. (Piano, everyone. I know you just wondered.)

Sixty years ago, I was sexually abused, and I can remember everything. The summer smells of cut-grass, the way our weeping willow looked with its fronds cut like my 1950s’ bangs. I remember his plaid shirt, my brother’s shouts, my parents’ response, or actually lack of appropriate response. Yes, like so many women my age, I am a Me-too-er.

 But I am no victim or survivor--two terms I absolutely abhor. I am a winner.

I am also a proud mother of sons and a wife to a wonderful, loving man. Yet, I fear for them. My sons are white and will grow up, God willing, to become old white men. This is not cut and dry like some want to make the issue—that men need to “shut up,” are predators, cannot be trusted, and their alleged victims too afraid to speak out. Good mothers raise wonderful sons to be good friends to women. Good fathers teach their boys to love and respect women. And, this grandmother will make certain her granddaughter will be strong and never fear speaking out. No wonder I was so drained after watching historical, high drama yesterday. I hurt for both of them and their families.

While listening to the hearing, I was also working on Jane Street and the Housemaid Rebellion: Sex, Syndicalism, and Denver’s Capitol Hill. I rediscovered a letter that Jane wrote to a Mrs. Elmer Bruse in 1917, explaining how she organized the maids. Embedded within the letter Jane confirms being sexually assaulted by men who opposed her organization. (I have other evidence to this fact as well.) She also describes how the house that she rented for maids, who were between jobs and without income, was labeled a prostitution house by local employment agencies who wanted to discredit her maids. Domestics came to her to find work, only to be solicited at the curb. Not only did these agencies publicize that her “club house” was a house of ill-repute, but they tried to pimp helpless, needy girls. Both actions, assaults and sexual solicitations, were acts of aggression, meant to change Jane’s behavior.

What stuck out to me, as the hearing’s senators were trying to decipher a high-school boy’s yearbook braggadocio, was that Jane was not screaming out “Me, too!” She appeared to expect this type of behavior, a form of sabotage. Sad. She warned Mrs. Bruse that “sex can come rushing into your office like a great hurricane and blow all the papers of industrialism out the windows.” Jane patiently explains and accepts that there will be workplace sexual harassment, and perhaps even assault. No woman in 1917 would dream of saying “not me, too.”

Today is different, thank God. In fact, women “have come a long way, baby.” (For my younger female readers, this was part of a cigarette-ad campaign.) Yes, I am Woman (can’t help myself, everyone)! I am not a survivor, but a winner.

And like this Jane, Jane Street never portrays herself as a victim, but one who continued to work aggressively to make a difference.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

So what does a book title suggest? The part after the colon?

Have you ever been to a wine tasting?  You sip a delicious Shiraz and next want to try a Sangiovese.  But before you can move on to the next wine, you must rinse the taste out of your mouth with a sip of water, or the two flavors will meld, giving a false impression.  In other words, you have to sample each wine independently, so your palate can savor the true depth of flavors.  It's that way with writing too.

Anyone who has ever known me will testify that I am a multi-multi-tasker.  Truth is, the only way I can appear that way is to do things in chunks, blind to other demands.  One piece at a time gets the job done.  Unfortunately, I have not followed my usual work mantra this past year, primarily because I couldn't wrap my brain around complex issues in my Jane Street and the Housemaid Rebellion:  Sex, Syndicalism, and Denver's Capitol Hill while taking numerous trips relating to the success of Frank Little and the IWW:  The Blood That Stained an American Family, and caring for my dying mother. So, I dabbled with the project while beginning another one, one that provided an artificial salve to other demands in my life.

I tried to work on two books at the same time! Can't do it! Now I am taking those sips of water in order to wash away the second book until Jane Street is finished.  A trip to Missouri with friends (no book research) and Gulf Coast fishing helps wash away some of the taste.  Fishing in a kayak with a resident alligator nearby definitely helps one concentrate on other issues!

Afterwards, I will go to Bullhead, Arizona, to interview Jane Street's grandson, who was raised by Jane seventy or so years ago. He should provide insight into Jane's personality. After putting together my timelines, rereading all my research, I should be in a better place, ready to begin writing.  Just looking over all the work I have done, I realize this story is wonderful - one that needs to be told.

So what does a book title suggest?  The part after the colon?  In this case, the following.

Sex.  Free love, free love societies, union members forcing themselves on immigrant girls who do not have the power to say "no."  Sex also refers to the subordination of women to men in the early 1900s.   Fighting for the right to vote, supporting WWI efforts, YWCA, education.

Syndicalism.  When an economic group, like a workers' union, proposes that a group, in this case, house servants, be organized and managed by the workers.  Enter the IWW [Industrial Workers of the World], where everyone is supposed to be treated equally.  See Sex.

Denver's Capitol Hill.  A smug, elite residential area where smug, elite mistresses spend their free time at club meetings and galas, events designed to help them feel like they are contributing to American injustices, such as supporting the war effort, women's education, and dismantling a particular housemaid union.  Their husbands, men of enormous power, own and operate mining interests near Denver, own and direct  cattle-raising interests in Wyoming, own and edit newspapers that help propel their political interests, or are already politicians. Don't get me wrong.  Some of these organizations were necessary and made a difference.  Others were simply held to make willing society-page editors take notice.  And, they did.

Then here comes Jane Street.  She shook up things, while her life was being turned over by sex and syndicalism.  It's a great story.

The Housemaids’ Defiance by Denver Housemaids’ Union
Lyrics & links to sheet music & karaoke download:
We are coming all together;
We are organized to stay.
For nigh on fifty years or more,
We’ve worked for little pay.
But now we’ve got our union,
We’ll do it never more.

It’s a long day for housemaid Mary;
It’s a long day’s hard toil.
It’s a burden too hard to carry,
So our mistress’s schemes we’ll foil.
We’ll be silent no longer.
We won’t be kept down.
And we’re out for a shorter day this summer,
Or we’ll fix Denver town.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Jane Street and the Housemaid Rebellion: Sex, Syndicalism, and Denver's Capitol Hill

Since I am about to resume work on my new book, Jane Street and the Housemaid Rebellion:  Sex, Syndicalism, and Denver's Capitol Hill, I am re-posting a blog from my Chasing Rabbits page at  Later I will break down this title for readers.  It sounds nasty, doesn't it?  I will say this, if the "Me, Too" Movement had been born almost 100 years ago, there would have been plenty of voices crying out.  Instead, just a few whispers will bravely protest in my narrative.  Treatment is not so equal between the sexes, even among those groups proclaiming such.

I recently discovered that my fifteen-year-old grandmother, whom I mention below, was married off to a man over twice her age after she was orphaned in 1913.  Was this Danish custom?  She later ran away to become a Boulder, Colorado, housemaid, seeking protection in a silver-baron's mansion.  Yet, Boulder and Denver mansions were not necessarily safe havens for female servants nor were many meeting places where these young women congregated.  Jane Street finds this out, the hard way.  

The blog:

A feisty young woman, for whatever reason, decided to organize domestic servants employed by Denver society women in the spring of 1916. Jane Street, not even a maid herself (despite what has been written), determined that a new union, under the umbrella of the Industrial Workers of the World, would better the lives of these women, many immigrant girls who had no other vocation or skills to support themselves. Jane’s cause likely aroused the ire of millionaire husbands who had to listen to their pampered wives’ complaints. Dealing with union workers in their gold and silver camps was one thing, but a labor conflict in their households was an entirely different animal. Imagine house maids blacklisting certain tyrannical mistresses!

Why did I chase this “rabbit”? For two reasons. The first is that my seventeen-year-old grandmother, Louise Peterson Little, was such a servant. Only she worked in a mansion in Boulder, Colorado, thirty miles north of Denver. The Boulder housemaids intently observed their sisters’ mutiny as the rebellion spread.

The second reason is because of Frank Little, my uncle. In researching Frank Little and the IWW, I discovered he not only sympathized with these women, but also helped Jane Street organize, supporting her at a time when male-dominated-union apathy, if not condescension, of women’s labor struggles undermined any real western labor organization. If fact, as this story plays out, certain male union members (not Frank!), under the guise of providing “fatherly direction” to the nascent liberation-de-la-femme uprising, determined that the new union headquarters, its rooms available for out-of-work maids, was their personal smorgasbord, enticing vulnerable girls for sexual favors. So, the house maids’ uprising is more than a melodrama—a thread of white slavery now entered my research. Enter the YWCA, whose members determined that housewives should “educate” the poor girls in gentility, education, and training; Denver’s Chamber of Commerce; a burglary of the union’s famous index card file; and a fascinating historical story emerges.

Jane Street is an attractive historical character herself. Beautiful, and bohemian as illustrated by her outlook on life and the musical talents she and her sister shared, she moved around the country, birthing three children by different fathers. Perhaps she discovered true love once she met a one-legged, world-renowned bicyclist named Charles Devlin. How Devlin’s story intertwines with Jane’s is remarkable, fraught with union organization, Thiel and Pinkerton spies, jealous lovers, and vengeful IWW leaders. Only after she was ensnared by Bureau of Investigation agents at the end of WWI does she disappear from the radical scene.

In feminist studies, Jane Street’s leadership of the Denver housemaids’ uprising is often mentioned. But her inclusion is just that—a mention—and no one has really told her story. But I will. Jane Street is the subject of my next book, and already the research of her story is captivating my musings.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Who's Butch Cassidy? For Whom Do We Authors Write?

Here I am, my brain processing facts, connections, and others' analyses for two different books. I can't believe I started writing at such a late period in my life, but it is what it is, and I have to be hyper-vigilant about my interpretations and analyses, and even word choices. Sometimes I type a word totally opposite of what my old brain has told me to write. Where did that come from? I question myself. But this isn't my only concern about the time and effort it takes to research and write a book. Looming over my head is the realization that I will have a small audience, and there is very little I can do to change this.

Oh, it's not about the subjects, nor is it because of political division today. ( I try to stay away from the fray.) My writing is not bad.  At least, I think I do a fair job.  No, it is the audience in general.

On my way home from Wyoming two weeks ago, I sat next to a young lady (everyone is young to me), who engaged in conversation. She asked why I was in Riverton.


"No," I answered. "I am researching for a book I am writing." She perked up.

"What's the topic?" she asked.

"The relationship between Butch Cassidy and a fellow named Hank Boedeker."

Her face went totally blank. "Oh," she said.

"You don't know who Butch Cassidy is, do you? How about Paul Newman?" Still blank.  "Robert Redford?" I was getting sick to my stomach.

"No, but I will google them later," she promised.

It hit me. Why in the h___ am I writing a book about this topic if some Millennials and other young Americans have no clue as to who these people are or have reason to know? Of course she didn't know who Butch Cassidy was. The movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid came out in 1969, making the outlaw a household name for years, but apparently not as long as I had thought. This is akin to my asking who actor Tyrone Power was or what was Gone With the Wind. Wait, I know these things. I have always been interested in our societal history. I can cite movies, actors, outlaws, American history facts, origins of expressions, and other apparently useless trivia. I love museums, archives, places important to American history.  And, I love books.

Sadly, America's younger generations have an enormous cultural deficit. Not surprising. I used to do a family history unit with my high school freshmen. "Fill in your family tree four generations back," I instructed them, handing each a paper illustrated with an elaborate oak tree, its canopy ready to enter each student's name, sets of parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. "Have one anecdote to share with the class when you come back, featuring an individual from your tree," I added. How hard is that?

After the Christmas holidays, when families generally get together and tell stories, it was time for students to present their anecdotes and trees. Nearly a third of the students had not been able to complete their trees. They were frustrated, not at me, but at the realization they had missed something. Some had mixed families due to divorce. Some had a parent desert them, taking that side of family history with him or her. Tragically, some parents simply did not know who their own grandparents were and could not share this info.

If our children can not even tell where they came from, how on earth will they know and understand the context in which their great-grandparents lived? Why should these kids even care at all?

America has had hundreds of years of recorded history, and it absolutely can not all be taught in school. Teachers have to pick and choose watershed moments for discussion, relegating everything else to rote regurgitation of useless information--because facts mean absolutely nothing without context.  Living in Texas and knowing how our state textbook committee works is also scary. Political correctness and politics changes interpretation depending on the makeup of the committee, and then Texas sells her textbooks to other states in the union.  Consequently, there are gaps of information and sometimes biased interpretations.

At a recent Western Writers of America conference, a panel of editors, publicists, and agents fielded questions from an anxious audience. One panel member warned authors that young adult literature (YA) books had to be small books, only so many pages, or books would not be accepted. Publishing-house representatives agreed, citing that they would not take any lengthy books. Yikes! At my editor's request, I had cut 50,000 words out of my Frank Little and the IWW book, the entire length of a typical YA book, to keep expense down.  Later a few individuals actually offered to buy those pages from me, so interested were they in my subject. But they were interested in our shared cultural history and had backgrounds that supported their interests.

An individual on Facebook, also connected to Western Writers of America, posted a stat that indicated teenager readership has declined thirty percent. Sadly, quick-search-engines guide our youth's edification. 

So, here we are today with quite a conundrum.  For whom do we authors write?  We may not have future audiences who generally love to read like older Americans did. They had patience, usually knowing that what they selected was worth reading to the end.  On the other hand, Millennials and younger generations are adept technologically, expecting quick gratification on their gadget-screens.  Keep it short and simple, right?  I see no remedy in educational trends, instead exacerbation since schools have moved toward digital instructional techniques.  

f a person wants to know something about the past, he or she can just google the topic.  Not very academic or factual, no thoughtful questions involved, but at least a baby step toward learning our cultural background.

"Butch Cassidy"

Robert Leroy Parker, better known as Butch Cassidy, was a notorious American train robber and bank robber, and the leader of a gang of criminal outlaws known as the "Wild Bunch" in the American Old West.  Wikipedia

Think the girl on the airplane looked old Butch up? I hope so.