I leave for America. New York, Boston, Chicago and dates. A jazz movement. By the Los Angeles Limited. Utah. In the Film World.
16.12.29. On board the “Leviathan.”
OBVIOUSLY bound for America, but it was the United States first and the great adventure up the Amazon and over the Andes was to follow.
New York interested, entertained and amused me. I had many American friends of long standing, and letters of introduction were thrust on me, so that I had “dates” enough to fill an almanack with envy.
I had scarcely landed when I was taken to a “speak-easy,” of which there are over thirty thousand so that there is no difficulty in getting a drink. At certain hours of the day and night it is far more difficult for a visitor to get one in London. After one has knocked or rung at a “speakeasy” usually someone inside takes stock of you before the door is opened. People dine in those places and the price of all drinks is one dollar-for a bottle of beer it is also a dollar, but at one it was 2.50-10s. 6d.; they prefer to sell a whisky and soda to a bottle of beer because of the latter’s bulk.
After I had left my first speak-easy” I was driven by friends all over New York, and every time we drew up for a traffic stop a flask was passed round. The only dry spot seemed to be the Hudson Tunnel, a wonderful piece of engineering the cars were not allowed to stop there!
New York depressed me. It crushed me-I generally feel but the fraction of an atom going about the universe but in New York, surrounded by Woolworth, Chrysler and other buildings and by the flagrant importance of those who had an air of being the embodiment of such buildings, I felt the atom must have been divided. After a week I felt I had to get out of it even for a few days. Anywhere would do. I ‘phoned from my room to the porter of the hotel and discovered there was a train leaving for Boston at 5 o’clock. Good. I would go to Boston by the 5 o’clock train. I booked a seat in the Pullman and at 1o.30 p.m. I was in Boston.
Next day I had lunch with Harold Coolidge at that very nice Somerset Club, and dined with his father and mother at their home in the evening; one of Americas really charming families. I was entertained and taken about Boston as I had been entertained and taken about New York. Everybody was charming I liked Boston, but
I had promised my friends in New York to return there. And did.
It was dates, dates, dates. A wonderful round. All sorts of people at the helm and pleasure at the prow. I cannot write about the many pleasant hours passed with delightful humans, but the memory of one visit lingers with me. I went to dine with Mrs. William Moore. A well-trained footman opened the door; a tall, dark girl with a delicious Irish accent removed my coat, and I was taken to my hostess, a grey-haired lady in a soft mauve frock with a ninon cape. She had told me she was asking no other guests so that we might talk together, and that was not only a pleasure but a relief after the crowds and questionings, particularly as I was most sympathetically drawn to my hostess. The glass, the silver and the decorations were perfect. Also the dinner. Mrs. Moore has a magnificent collection of Chinese jade and many beautiful paintings by old masters.
I enjoyed my evening alone with that very charming lady of seventy-one more than being the guest of honour at grand functions and parties. I felt happier now in New York. Slowly but surely the beauty of the buildings the fascination of change and endeavour drew me. Carl Milles, that delightful, clever Swedish sculptor, with whom I had many long talks, was the originator of the after- wards popular phrase that T.
Some other visits I made were also interesting but in quite a different way. I was recommended to go to a Madame “X,” a fashionable corsetière. The prices were enough to make one cry “Kamerad.” But there were other things. While I was looking around, several fat ladies arrived, and the dialogues that issued from the several cubicles were quite entertaining. The occasional views were even more so. These grotesque creatures were being laced and fitted into chic brassieres and corsets. Madame X was emphatically an artist!
More than once publicity was suggested to me. I was told I didn’t know how to sell myself. I was told the order of publicity in America at the time I was there was first President Hoover; second, Lindbergh; third, King George; fourth, Prince of Wales; fifth, Mussolini; sixth, someone I have forgotten, and seventh, Bernard Shaw.
My diary is a string of names of people mostly showing me hospitality, kindness and things of interest. They had heard of some of my wanderings and wished to ask me questions about the places I had visited. Mrs. Lindon-Smith gave a dinner party for me, and there were thirty-eight guests. I was asked about Russia, and I answered enough questions to fill a volume I was asked to go to another house and talk, if only for half an hour, on Russia, and I was offered two hundred dollars!
Kermit Roosevelt and his family gave me delightful hospitality, and he took me to that very old club, India House.
After that, I lectured under the ægis of the Geographical Section at the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences on my Arctic Expedition of 1928-29. Fortunately, it went very well and I received a host of congratulations.
I had also promised to lecture in Boston, and dashed there on February 2nd to do so. I was made a guest at the Chilton Club and was given a very lovely lunch before the lecture, at which I met a great number of charming women, beautifully gowned and groomed the great majority of American women are.
Back to New York, up the Woolworth Building, and afterwards to the Sheikh Restaurant in Washington Street. It was an Arabian restaurant. I drank arracki and had shoorba (soup) malfoof, sheesh kabab, mezalay (egg plant), baclava (sweet nuts and pastry) and gohwa (coffee). The Arabs were dressed in good American clothes, but the temple lamps (made in Birmingham or America), had coloured glass with Arabic written on them. East and West meeting somewhat furtively.
I went to Washington, and had really just as busy a time there as in New York. I met many of all sorts of people. The Brazilian Ambassador was charming, and told me interesting things about his country, and another man, at our second meeting (in a train) proposed. Amusing, but unfruitful.
I went to Niagara, and was thrilled, as everyone must be who sees the Falls, but I think Victoria Falls more impressive, and I like many falls more.
On to Detroit. Colonel Waldron, whom I’d last seen in Cairo when I was going through to the Cape (1925), came for me in his car and took me to stay at his beautiful place, of 800 acres, with his charming wife. He arranged for me to visit Ford’s works-the Waldrons and Mr. Ford used to go to a dancing class once a week, where they danced old-fashioned dances. I missed meeting Mr Ford, whom I should have liked to meet-he was in Florida. There were only 9,000 workpeople instead of the usual 15,000, and I was shown over this great mass production factory where they turn the raw materials into the finished article in two-and-a-half days and assemble a car in forty-five minutes.
On to Chicago. I might have enjoyed the dinner on the train, but a man with filthy nails sucked his fingers noisily, wiped his plate with a piece of bread-no, I don’t want to recall that meal.
I felt I liked Chicago the moment I got there. I had a fascinating time there. Mr. and Mrs. Henry Field were among the many delightful people who entertained me.
In Chicago I met one of those domestic cases so common in the United States. The wife certainly had brains and egged on her husband, who worked and worked to make money-which his wife spent on holidays.
The women are certainly spoilt, but I’m not sure that the men don’t enjoy doing the spoiling.
I was shown over the stockyards. It is interesting One gets a feeling of something almost hideous and at the same time something admirable. The arrangements fascinate, but there is rather lots of gore!
Pigs come hung up on a steel line, head downwards, and a man cuts a vein, out pours the blood, and pig follows pig. They come in bunches of six, when there is a break of about three seconds. After the throat- cutting, the pigs are boiled, they go through or past furnaces, and the hair is scraped off. Inspectors then see them as they file past, and the cutting up is cunningly apportioned. Some parts go to the refrigerator and some to the potting room, where girls work at long tables, and the pots are turned up and down automatically.
I also saw the cattle killed. A special rabbi kills for the Jews. The bullocks were hit on the head with a long hammer. Places like this give one weird thoughts.
I was told Field’s store was one of the best in the world. I bought a stiff nail-brush-it had a plain wooden back-and a cake of soap, “Quelque Fleur,” and the cost was seven dollars-six for the brush and one for the soap. Twenty-nine shillings and sixpence was, I thought a fairly pretty price for a cake of soap and a nail-brush I was told it was because I asked for an English brush and French soap.
Off to California, in the Los Angeles Limited. I had a wretched night in the train and hoped for better things At 8.45 a.m. we reached Omaha, which has developed from a frontier post into a city of over 200,000 inhabitants. We crossed the Missouri River and from here, 842 feet above sea level, we rose eight feet to the mile until we reached 4,849 feet at Nebraska’s western boundary.
The Union Pacific follows the old overland trail and was completed in 1869. From Omaha to Los Angeles there is an air mail and beacons guide the pilots The train was most comfortable, with its pleasant dining and observation cars, barber’s shop, soda fountain and bath. Along this route oxen used to travel instead of the steam engine, and in those days it took five months to make the journey.
There was also the “Pony Express,” which was organized in 1860 and carried letters to California in ten days. There were 8o expert riders and 500 fast ponies, changed every fifteen miles. It wasn’t easy to construct the rail line, for the Indians had an antipathy to such things as well as to the white man.
We passed through the 22 miles wide Platt valley and when we reached North Platt I put my watch back one hour. If I could have put it back far enough might have seen “Buffalo Bill'”, for it was here that Colonel W. F. Cody lived. He was one of the most daring riders of the “Pony Express,” and once did 320 miles without stopping except to change horses. His ranch lies north of the town. This place has seen some curdling deeds though it does not go back to “historic” times.
We went through Julesburg, for instance, named after the man who lost his lip and both ears when he inadvertently fired two barrels of bird-shot into Jack Slade, one of those desperadoes Bret Harte might have drawn. In those days he who shot first was right. For that matter, there is something to be said for the view in these times.
We went through Cheyenne. The name is enough to conjure up yells and sinister forms and tomahawks. There is an annual frontier ” Round-Up” held at Cheyenne, where the “bronco-busters” and steer-throwers and Indians show what they are still capable of doing.
We ran through the great oil and coal fields of Wyoming and passed the continental divide-the backbone of the Rockies into the silent, lonely, but beautiful wastes of the Red Desert. A sign south of the tracks proclaimed “Divide of the Continent”. It is the great shed that divides the waters that flow into the Pacific from those that flow to the Atlantic.
The sunset over the Red Desert was wondrously beautiful–russet, Pompeian red, vermilion, shifting shades of grey and brown, splashes of green, yellow and purple. It was interesting to think of this riot of colour as at one time an ocean bed where huge fish had their home, and where subsequently in its swampy life the hippo and the dinosaur roamed. Fossil remains of the dinosaurs and the brontosaurus have been found there.
The train runs on to San Francisco, but at Ogden I changed to visit Salt Lake City.
Utah has a peculiar fascination, no doubt on account of its connection with Mormonism. But that is not its only interest and attraction. It is one of the great States of the West. I could understand and be in sympathy with the spirit of the pioneer in Utah. It was sufficiently far from New York to let me feel distance. There was no Los Angeles Limited running in the days when the early settlers came to Utah. The Indians were in the neighbourhood, and Nature seemed to have treated the place like an unwanted child.
It was Brigham Young, with his Latter-Day Saints, who led his band of colonizers into this region. The hardships they suffered were many; they journeyed by wagon, and at night camped by forming a circle of these wagons-lighting fires, and took turns to defend the camp. The place was barren. Brigham Young was determined to have his flock around him and to be unhindered, so they settled where there was Nature in her nudity. Brigham Young looked upon the valley of the Great Salt Lake and said that it would do.
What a place it must have been then! They turned the water of the mountain stream to irrigate the soil and at once began to work. The great city was regularly planned. Potatoes, wheat and maize were planted the first year. It is pleasant to picture these pioneers. . .
Then came the dramatic swarm of crickets. When the young plants were sprouting and these hardy men and women were looking forward to the crops for sustenance the crickets came and began to eat. They came in their thousands, then tens of thousands-then millions. They devoured everything in their way. Men women and children fought them, driving them in heaps into ditches, and still, the pests came on.
Suddenly the gulls came, and they began to swallow the gorging crickets. For days the gulls had crickets and the crops were saved.
So in Salt Lake City there is a monument to the succouring gulls.
Salt Lake City has a population now of about 140,000. Some of its buildings approach the magnificent. The lake itself is 75 miles long and 5o miles wide at its maximum. It is salt, like the Dead Sea. It is so salt that people float in it: they can’t sink. And this great inland salt lake was at one time in its history much bigger I have already hinted at the mighty creatures that at one time lived in its waters and walked its shores. It is 4,200 feet above sea level and only tiny shrimps live in it. It is six or seven times saltier than the sea.
The Mormon Temple was very interesting, and Jack Dempsey’s home was pointed out as a place of interest he seems to have dozens.
Leaving Ogden again we crossed the lake on a train ferry, and as it was dusk the outlook was very beautiful. The journey as we passed the Sierra Nevada was a constant joy; the mountains and hills were covered with pines, and frozen, snow-clad lakes gave one a feast of freshness and beauty. I made several journeys among this beautiful scenery by car and horse and at long last arrived at San Francisco and saw the Golden Gate at sunset. San Francisco swarmed with life. The newspaper boys shouting in every tone one could imagine, and the people swarming everywhere, provided a sharp contrast to the silent places I had journeyed through.
Driving to the Mark Hopkins Hotel almost made me feel I was mounting to the stars. We went up such inclines my gaze was almost fixed on the sky. One certainly has a gorgeous view as a reward. The hotel is built on the top of one of these hills and has lovely views. In the trolley cars there were pillars for the passengers to hold on to, otherwise, there was the danger of one sliding down to the end of the car. There are terrifically steep hills in every direction. I dined in Chinatown my first night. I went to what I was told was the best Chinese restaurant in this Chinese quarter. I had to send out for mineral water to dilute the unsatisfactory bootlegger booze. The food was good; one ate in small cubicles; everyone was Chinese except a few visitors like myself.
As I stood the next day by the great swimming pool I was fascinated by the stream of cars. It was unending there was never more than a yard’s clear space between two cars. They were of every kind, and almost everybody in them chewed gum.
I lunched at the Yacht Club. Cocktails had been taken in a flask but the club waitress served them quite openly. I was taken to tea at the Temple Bar, where all the waitresses were charming Japanese geishas. At the place where we had supper after a theatre there were quite a lot of women disgustingly drunk. One of them danced rather suggestively before the first violin and he refused to play until she had been taken away-a rather
The fish market called Embarcadera” was very interesting. There were stores near by where they boiled the lobsters; the stoves were in front of the stores on the pavement. I had a cup of hot lobster-it was delicious. People go there on Sunday mornings for breakfast.
I had a full and entertaining time in San Francisco, where people were most hospitable and kind to me. San Francisco is a very different town from any in the world.
I went on to Santa Barbara, and was there charmed with the politeness of the hotel manager and servants, for most of the servants I had come in contact with in the States struck me as being very rude and badly trained. The Hotel ” El Mirasol” is, I think, one of the nicest hotels in the world-it was also one of the most expensive. The garden was a joy and one could have a bungalow out in the grounds.
I then went to Los Angeles. I seemed to be in the midst of friends at once. I went first to the Biltmore Hotel, in the town, but changed to the Ambassador, which seemed a great deal quieter, about seven miles out. Mrs. Van Every kindly took me to the Victor Hugo Restaurant to dinner. The place was crowded. Every nationality seemed to be represented there, including film stars, who have a nationality of their own. I was introduced to some of the celebrities and later driven all around the town. I was awakened at 8 a.m. the next morning by a telephone call from somebody who wished to show me around the cinematograph studios, but somehow at 8 a.m., after a very late night, I lost a little interest.
I was taken by X to “La Bohême” for dinner. Some of the people were very odd. They talked rubbish, looked awful, ate curious things, and gave each other cheap back-chat in high voices not difficult to hear easy to understand. We danced and then went to see a film. At the hotel when we returned everything was in full swing, as Mr. Thalberg was giving a party Douglas Fairbanks was there, looking darker and more of a foreigner than I had expected. “Mary” was very sweet. The lounge was crowded with well-known picture people. It was great fun.
A turn of the handle of fortune’s camera and some of these people had wealth beyond the dreams of an ordinary person. Most of them seemed to choose their lovers from the best-looking men and the men their mistresses from the famous beauties. If they tired they changed. Some were married. Some lived with their lovers. Some managed both. It seemed a hard, full and rapid life-mostly full of change.
At 3 a.m., when I went to my room, the jazz band was still playing; the moon was hanging low and cast over the city a pretty shade of rust.
Next day I was taken to the Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer Studio. Mr. Van Dyke, who directed the “Trader Horn” film and others, gave me lunch and showed me round. I took a few photos and watched them make some shots, As I never go to pictures and knew little about them, I was taken to small sets to see portions of pictures than in the making. The place almost dazzled me there were hundreds ‘of actors and actresses playing their various parts. I was shown all the curious that had been brought back from Africa.
I went to a party at night at the house of one of the magnates. Everybody got drunk, which is never amusing when one is sober. The women just stumbled upstairs and one by one were violently sick and were placed on a bed. When there was no more room on the beds they were put in rows on the floor. There was a world-famous man there whom I thought very drunk, but someone said he was merely “temperamental,” and when he was tired he behaved as if he were drunk He used most abominable language, and I couldn’t understand why no one threw him out.
I happened to give my impression of this party to a “big noise” in the film world, and he said I could see that sort of thing in every big city, but I never have.
It all seemed to me to be very futile.
Some of these beautiful creatures, with their beautiful clothes and beautiful homes, would be drunk at 4 a.m. and at 8-30 or 9 a.m. would be hard at work in the studios.
Kissed and petted the night before, an artiste might be stormed at and abused when she was at work if she didn’t do exactly what was required of her by, in many cases, the same man-neither let sentiment interfere with their work.
There were also very fine men and women, who had enormous charity lists, who used their money to give others happiness-worked very hard and led simple lives.
I wearied soon of these parties and life and suddenly made my plans to go to Mexico: I boarded the train for El Paso.