Here’s a pop quiz for a lazy summer day.
One person played a role in advancing the reputations of both Charles Ives and Ronald Reagan. Who was it?
I’ll save up answers until I get a few before posting them.
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UPDATE: Wow, I’m rather surprised no right answers today, but the experiment does confirm something about my perception of the literature. Henry Bellamann (1882-1945) was one of the first people to respond to receipt of Ives’s Concord Sonata, the first to write an appreciative public article about him (in 1921), possibly the first to lecture about the Concord (accompanied in several lectures by a pianist named Lenore Purcell who may have been the first to play the whole thing), and he was the co-author (with Ives) of the program notes to the 1927 performance of two movements of the Fourth Symphony. In 1940 he published a novel, Kings Row, which became a bestseller and the basis for a 1942 movie which has gone down in history as Ronald Reagan’s best screen performance ever. Reagan’s most dramatic line in the movie, “Where’s the rest of me?” (he’s awoken to find his legs amputated), is straight from the novel, and became the title of his pre-presidential biography. But if you read the Ives literature, Bellamann is described as a music professor, Scriabin devotee, and poet (Ives set two of his poems), and it may mention that he wrote a novel called Kings Row. If you read the slim literature about Bellamann, there’s never any mention of Ives, and most of it concerns the famous movie made from the novel. So there’s almost no overlap between the two spheres of discourse that would highlight this man who moved from Ives’s world into Reagan’s and Hollywood’s. Bellamann seems to have visited with Ives only during the 1920s, and perhaps they had long been out of touch by the time he wrote the novel, but still. (Another early Ives supporter who went to Hollywood was Bernard Herrmann.)
Out of curiosity aroused by a lifetime of running into Bellamann’s name, I finally read Kings Row this week and became thoroughly engrossed in it, devouring its 674 pages in four days because I couldn’t quit. It has to be one of the earliest American novels to sympathetically portray the tribulations of a gay character, and there are several major themes (incest, extramarital sex) that the Hays office wouldn’t allow the movie to depict. It’s a dark book, an act of merciless revenge against Bellamann’s home town of Fulton, Missouri. Several of the characters are musicians, and I was super-alert to any possible reference that might bring Ives to mind, but no go. The dialogue in the movie manages to stick close to the book when it can, but they sentimentally mangle the ending – no surprise. What’s surprising is that the novel Kings Row, once so popular, seems to be out of print; at least, I could only obtain a used copy through one of Amazon’s associated sellers.
Want another such connection? Somewhere I heard that Dick Cheney was a grand-nephew or something of the composer Mrs. H.H.A. Beach – alias Amy Marcy Cheney Beach. But I haven’t been able to confirm it, so don’t quote me. If you have any relevant facts, the world is waiting to hear.