Saturday, January 29, 2011

Early 20th Century Love Story

While rummaging through my box of 'found photos' of theatre life in the early 1900s, I came across two portraits. As I researched the identities of the people portrayed, I discovered how their lives intermingled long ago in the 1920s.

The first portrait was of a woman named Eunice Tietjens. I discovered she was a Chicago gal born in the late 1800s with a propensity for writing poetry. She eventually became the editor for the acclaimed POETRY magazine. But, prior to that, she had worked for the Chicago Daily News as a war correspondent during World War I. As it turns out, Eunice liked to travel, and over the years lived in such far away places as Japan, China, Italy, Tunisia, and on the South Pacific Island of Moorea.

Eunice Tietjens

But, let's return to her world of poetry. I chased down some of her writings, and found her poetry quite interesting. Here is one, by way of example.

Presence of Eternity

The stones grow old.
Eternity is not for stones.
But, I shall go down from this airy space,
This swift white peace,
This stinging exultation;
And time will close about me,
And my soul stir
To the rhythm of the daily round.
Yet, having known,
Life will not press so close,
And always I shall feel time ravel thin about me.
For, once I stood
In the windy presence of eternity.

In further study, I discovered that this poem had once been embedded in a longer poem she had written. A poem entitled, The Most Sacred Mountain. It was a reference to Mt.Tai Shan in China. Mt. Tai Shan is one of the five sacred Taoist mountains there, and undoubtedly Eunice took that trek while living in China.

Further perusing of Eunice Tietjen's poetry reveals that a number of her poems were written to, or about, someone by the name of Cloyd Head. This brings us to the other portrait in the box of photos.

Cloyd Head

So, who was Cloyd Head? Well, he too, grew up in Chicago in the early 1900s. He began writing plays, and became a notable playwright. Later, he became the theatrical director, and business manager of Chicago's acclaimed Goodman Theatre. During this time, The Little Theatre Movement was beginning to emerge in a number of cities, and Chicago was one of the foremost of these. In a way, The Little Theatre Movement was a counterpoint to the emergence of the new medium of cinema, and also to the fact that American Theatre was increasingly centered on commercial themes. Little Theatre attempted to focus on new and often experimental plays that centered on issues around more social and artistic concerns than mainstream theatre.

So, Cloyd Head wrote a play called 'The Grotesques'. It was quite innovative, and written in verse. Little Theatre was its ideal venue. Furthermore, because it was written in verse, it caught the attention of POETRY magazine's editor, Eunice Tietjens, who published it in the magazine. And this is how Eunice Tietjens and Cloyd Head crossed paths. They married in 1920, and went away for a year to live in Tunisia. While there, their keen observations of that atmosphere, and the customs and ideals, led to a collaboration on a play called Arabesque. Upon returning to the states, Arabesque soon opened (1925) on Broadway starring Bela Lugosi, as the Sheik of Hammam.

So, there you have it, a little story I discovered in a box of photos this morning. If I may add a tangential observation here, it would be about Bela Lugosi. This Hungarian actor was quite revered in his native country as a serious theatrical actor. Unfortunately, once American cinema swept him up he was forever typecast in roles of melodramatic villainy, mad scientists, and of course, Dracula. Later his life disintegrated, and he lived in near abject poverty and drug addiction. Sadly, (as far as I am concerned) he died, and was buried in his Dracula cape. People said it was his final wish. I call it his final resignation.


  1. Dan, I love Eunice Tietjen's poetry. Do you know her poem "The Abandoned God"?

    The Abandoned God

    In the cold darkness of eternity he sits, this god who
    has grown old.
    His rounded eyes are open on the whir of time, but
    man who made him has forgotten him.

    Blue is his graven face, and silver-blue his hands. His
    eyebrows and his silken beard are scarlet as the
    hope that built him.
    The yellow dragon on his rotting robes still rears itself
    majestically, but thread by thread time eats its
    scales away,
    And man who made him has forgotten him.

    For incense now he breathes the homely smell of rice
    and tea, stored in his anteroom;
    For priests the busy spiders hang festoons between his
    fingers, and nest them in his yellow nails.
    And darkness broods upon him.
    The veil that hid the awful face of godhead from the
    too impetuous gaze of worshippers serves in decay
    to hide from deity the living face of man,
    So god no longer sees his maker.

    Let us drop the curtain and be gone!
    I am old too, here in eternity.

  2. Somehow, Dee, this is a hole in my cultural literacy (one of many)...I really was unfamiliar with her work until I discovered by means of studying this photo of her! Thanks for one of her works!

  3. This is a fascinating story of Eunice and Cloyd. Just their names alone promise something different for a bygone era. They seem such rebels, chasing down their literary dreams together. I am so impressed by all you were able to glean from accidentally stumbling upon these old photos! What hidden treasures await one with the eyes to see!

  4. Fortunately, some of these photos have a little info on the back that was enough for me to google around and gather more! It was fun to do!

  5. Dan, did you know that Eunice's younger brother was Laurens Hammond, the inventor of the Hammond Organ among countless other things? My next door neighbors in Norris I believe were distant relatives of theirs.

  6. Wow, it's a small world after all, isn't it? Like 6 degrees (or less) of separation......