Glittering Pie (1935)
Henry V. Miller
Perhaps the most infamous piece ever published in The Advocate’s pages was Henry V. Miller’s “Glittering Pie,” a re-titled excerpt of what would become Aller Retour New York. Its controversial history is recounted below in a piece that accompanied its 1965 reprinting. Remarkably, even the 1935 original included extensive self-censorship, marked by a smattering of em-dashes. Even those details left behind, however, were deemed aesthetically and morally depraved enough to incite resignations and other dramatics. For Danger, we have footnoted what we presume to be the originally-intended crass words as recovered from Aller Retour New York. By doing so, we hope to offer a more complete historical picture of what Miller and his contemporaries considered to be risky writing.
“Crudely Maudlin” Advocate Banned in Cambridge
In October, 1935, the Freshman issue of the Advocate—including articles by Ezra Pound and Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. —was abruptly yanked off the stands by the Cambridge police three weeks after it appeared. The District Attorney’s office forced the board of editors to resign en masse and the number itself, although it reached most of its subscribers and purchasers, is now rare. New officers were elected, the old ones graduated and rose to prominent positions in the business and publishing words, and the issue moldered for thirty years in the Sanctum of the Advocate.
The magazine had been censored once before, when in 1925 it printed a parody issue of the Dial containing a rather graphic drawing entitled “Neoplatonic love”. But the 1935 issue, in the words of Asst. D. A. Frank G. Volpe was canned because of two “crudely maudlin” pieces it contained—“Glittering Pie” by Henry Miller and “A Natural History” by James Laughlin. Mr. Volpe’s further comments, however, dealt more with matter than with style. Characterizing the two articles as “obscene and degrading”, he asserted “it is about time that college authorities maintained a rigid supervision over the childish literary efforts of these embryonic authors who seem to think it is a mark of distention and cleverness to dish up dirt for the edification of other immature minds.” He complained that “this office must waste its time and the public funds considering the grotesque brainchild of these college boys . . . The young gentlemen might cry loudly about freedom of the press, but they should be told firmly that freedom does not amount to license.” Generously, he added, “we don’t want to send these earnest young writers, suffering from allusions of grandeur (sic) to jail. Their pitiful crime does not warrant such drastic action.”
The crisis was generated by the appearance of an anonymous letter in the Crimson from a “Former Advocate Editor, ’02” who wrote that he couldn’t understand why the Advocate hadn’t been banned from the mails. “The college magazine of Kittredge, Hart, Copeland, Roosevelt (Theo.), T.S. Eliot and Conrad Aiken, should not be allowed to fall into the category of futile, exotic, ‘little magazines’ whose fads are the stock-in-trade of pseudo-intellectuals, literary freaks”, he declared. Someone took the letter to Police Chief Timothy Leahy, a few days six “young gentlemen” visited the D. A. and resigned their jobs. They were: President John J. Slocum ’36, business managed Gerard Piel ’37, circulation manager Robert S. Chafee ’36, secretary James le B. Boyle ’36, Pegasus John A. Straus ’36 and treasurer, C. A. Haskins ’35.
Today it is difficult to see exactly why the censorship took place. The Laughlin piece dealt with hunting turtle eggs in Florida; the Miller letter we reproduce below. If either one offends us today, it probably offended Chief Leahy and Asst. D. A. Volpe for very different reasons. According to the Crimson of Oct. 23, 1935, the law that governed the Chief’s action involved “selling . . . to a minor . . . or exhibiting upon a public way or in any other place within the view of a minor . . . a magazine devoted to the publication of or principally made of criminal news, police reports or accounts of criminal deeds of pictures or stories of lust of crime.” As usual, the Crimson, with nothing to lose, published a fiery post-facto editorial defense of the editors. “When will the great American public learn to distinguish between the printed word as such and the spirit behind it?” No answer was given.
Henry V. Miller
I will probably take the Champlain, the boat I arrived on, because it is French and because it leaves a day earlier than necessary. I will bring the stockings for Maggy—and anything else I can think of. Don’t know yet about going to the Villa Seurat, but Hotel des Terrasses suits me down to the ground—because it’s 13th Arrondissement and no eclogues. Make sure my bike is there. I am going to use it! And here is my phono? I am bringing back some of the famous jazz hits, the crooning, swooning lullaby sung by the guys without —. (The popular favorite is: “I Believe in Miracles! How American! Well —. I’ll explain all this in detail when I see you, and have a fine bottle of wine handy, a mellow one, a costly one. Here nothing but California vintages, or dago red, which is vile stuff. One must “alkalize” every day . . . . I’ll explain that too, later.)
So, Joey, what are we going to do for a living, hein? Search me! But I Feel that we’re going to live just the same. Anyway, I come . . . . The Jew who published my notes on N. Y. C. in that revolutionary Dance Program got back at me by entitling it: “I came, I saw, I fled.” The expatriates are anathema to the American, particularly to the Communists. I have made myself heartily disliked everywhere, except song the dumb Gentiles who live in the suburbs and guzzle it over the weekends. With those blokes I sing, dance, whistle, make merry the whole night long. I have nothing in common with them aside from the desire to enjoy myself. To know how to enjoy oneself is something unknown here. Usually it consists in making a loud noise. At Manhasset one night Emil and I did the cakewalk so strenuously that Emil dislocated — — —. It was a marvelous night in which we drank ourselves sober. Towards the end I sat down and, striking every wrong note on the piano, I played as only Paderewski himself could play, if he were drunk. I broke a few keys and every nail on my fingers. Went to bed with a Mexican hat three feet broad. It lay on my stomach like a huge sunflower. In the morning I found myself in the child’s bedroom and beside me a little typewriter made of hard rubber which I couldn’t write on, drunk as I was. I also found a rosary and crucifix awarded by the Society of the Miraculous Medal, Germantown, Pa. It was “indulgenced for a Happy Death and the Way of the Cross.”
I have had a lot of funny experiences, but few gay ones. When I get back to Paris I shall remember the evenings spent sitting on couches in studios with everybody talking pompously and callously about social-economic conditions—with cruel lapses of Proust and Cocteau. (To talk of Proust or Joyce today in America is to be quite up to the minute! Some one will ask you blandly—“What is all this crap about Surrealisme? What is it? Whereupon I usually explain that Surrealisme is when you — — your friend’s beer and he drinks it by mistake.)
Met William Carlos Williams the other night and had a rousing time with him at Hiler’s place. Holy arrived with two dopey brother-in-laws, one of whom played the piano. Everybody crocked, including Lisette. Just before all hands passed out some one yelled—“all art is local”—which precipitated a riot. After that nothing is clear. Hiler sits in his drawers with legs crossed, and plays “Believe it Beloved,” another hit of the season. The janitor comes and raises hell—he was an aviator for Mussolini. Then come the Dockstadter Sisters who write for the pulps. After that Monsieur Bruine who has been in America 39 years and looks exactly like a Frenchman. He is in love with a dizzy blonde from the Vanities. Unfortunately she got so drunk that she puked all over him while sitting on his lap. He’s cured of her now.
I mention these little details because without them the American scene is not complete. Everywhere it is drunkenness and vomiting, or breaking of windows and smashing heads. Twice recently I narrowly missed being cracked over the head. People walk the streets at night lit up and looking for trouble. They come on you unexpectedly and invite you to fight—for the fun of it! It must be the climate—and the machine. The machines are driving them screwy. Nothing is done by hand any more. Even the doors open magically: as you approach the door you step on a treadle and the door springs open for you. It’s hallucinating. And then there are the patent medicines. Ex-lax for constipation—everybody has constipation!—and Alka-Seltzer for hang-overs. Everybody wakes up with a headache. For breakfast it’s a Bromo-Seltzer—with orange juice and toasted corn muffins, of course. To start the day right you must alkalize. It says so in all the subway trains. High-pressure talks, quick action, money down, mortgaged to the eyes, prosperity around the corner (it’s always around the corner!), don’t worry, keep smiling, believe it beloved, etc. etc.
The songs are marvelous especially as to words. They betray the incurable melancholy and optimism of the American race. I wish I were a foreigner and getting it from scratch. A good one just now it: “The Object of my Affection can change my Complexion . . . .” I’ll bring this along too.
At the burlesk Sunday afternoon I heard Gypsy Rose Lee sing “Give Me a Lei!” She had a Hawaiian lei in her hand and she was telling how it felt to get a good lei, how even mother would be grateful for a lei once in a while. She said she’d take a lei on the piano, or on the floor. An old-fashioned lei, too, if needs be. The funny part of it is the house was almost empty. After the first half-hour every one gets up nonchalantly and moves down front to the good seats. The stripper talk to their customers as they do their stunt. The coup de grace comes when, after having divested themselves of every stitch of clothing, there is left only a spangled girdle with a fig leaf dangling in front—sometimes a little monkey beard, which is quite ravishing. As they draw towards the wings they stick their bottoms out and slip the girdle off. Sometimes they darken the stage and give a belly dance in radium paint. It’s good to see the belly button glowing like a glow worm, or like a bright half-dollar. It’s better still to see them — — —, — — — — — — — —. Then there is the loud speaker through which some idiotic jake roars: “Give the little ladies a hand please!” Or else—“now, ladies and gentlemen, we are going to present you that most charming personality fresh from Hollywood—Miss Chlorine Duval of the Casino de Paris.” Said Chlorine Duval is generally streamlined, with the face of an angel and a thin squeaky voice that barely carries across the footlights. When she opens her trap you see that she is a half-wit; when she dances you see that she is a nymphomaniac; when you go to bed with her you see that she is syphilitic.
Last night I went to the Hollywood Restaurant, one of those colossal cabaret entertainments that costs a dollar and a half, sans vin, sans pourboires. Cold sober you watch a string of dazzling ponies, fifty or more, the finest wenches in the land and empty as a cracked peanut shell. The place is like a huge dance hall, thousands of people eating at once, guzzling it, socking it away. Most of them stone sober and their eyes jumping out of their sockets. Most of them middle-aged, bald, addle-pated. They come to hear “torch songs” sung by middle-aged sirens. Sophie Tucker, the principal event of the evening, sings about a fairy whom she married by mistake. When she says “Nuts to you!” he answers—“Oh swish!” She is very fat now, Sophie, and has blue veins relieved by 36 carat rocks. She is advertised as “the last of the hot mommers.” American isn’t breeding any more of this variety. The new ones are perfect—tall, long-waisted, full-busted and rattle-headed. They all sing through the microphone, though one could hear just as well without it. There is a deafening roar which, without any wine under your belt, makes you sick and dizzy. They all know how to shout. They love it. They develop whiskey voices—hard, sour, brassy. It goes well with the baby face, the automatic gestures, the broken-hearted lullabies. A colossal show that must cost a fortune and yet leaves you absolutely unmoved—despite the fine busts I mentioned a while back. I do honestly believe that a poor, skinny, misshapen French woman with just a ounce of personality would stop the show. She would have what the Americans are always talking about but never achieve. She would have it. American is minus it. You think maybe I’m sour on my own country, but so help me God, that’s what’s the matter with America—IT. “They” and “it” go together—follow me?
And now, Joey, I’m going to tell you a little more about my lonely nights in New York, how I walk up and down Broadway, turning in and out of the side streets, looking into windows and doorways, wondering always when the miracle will happen, and if. And nothing ever happens. The other night I Dropped into a lunch counter, a cheesy looking joint on West 45th Street, across the way from the Blue Grotto. A good setting for “The Killers.” I met some pretty tough eggs, all dressed immaculately, all sallow complexioned and bushy eye-browed. Faces like sunken craters. The eyes mad and piercing, eyes that pierce right through you and appraise you as so much horse meat. There were a few whores from Sixth Avenue together with some of the most astonishingly beautiful chorus girls I ever laid eyes on. One of those sat next to me. She was so beautiful, so lovely, so fresh, so virginal, so outrageously Palm Olive in every respect that I was ashamed to look her straight in the eye. I looked only at her gloves which were porous and made of fine silk. She had long hair, loose-flowing tresses which hung down almost to her waist. She sat on the high stool and ordered a tiny little sandwich and a container of coffee which she took to her room to nibble at with great delicacy. All the yegg men seemed to know her; they greeted her familiarly but respectfully. She could be “Miss America, 1935.” She was a dream, I’m telling you. I looked at her furtively through the mirror. I couldn’t imagine any one — — — — — — — —. I couldn’t imagine her hoofing it either. I couldn’t imagine her eating a big juicy steak with mushrooms and onions. I couldn’t imagine her having a private life. I can only imagine her posing for a magazine cover, standing perpetually in her Palm Olive skin and never perspiring. I like the gangsters best. These boys go everywhere and by aeroplane and streamlined platinum, lighter than air, air-conditioned trains. They are the only ones in American who are enjoin life, while it lasts. I envy them. I like the shirts they wear, and the bright ties, and flashy hair-cuts. They come fresh from the laundry and kill in their best clothes.
The opposite to this is the suburban life. Manhasset, for instance, The idea is—how to kill the weekend. Those who don’t play bridge invent other forms of amusement, such as the pee-show. They like to get undressed and dance over the week-ends. To change wives. They don’t know what to do with themselves after a hard week at the office. Donc, the car, the whiskey bottle, some strange —, an artist if possible. (I, for example, made a hit because “I was so unconventional.” Sometimes, when you are regarded as being so unconventional, it is embarrassing to be obliged to refuse — — — — — —your host’s wife, let us say, size 59 and round as a tub. Larry’s wife, for example, is a miniature hippopotamus who gets jealous if you dance with any of the good-looking wenches. She goes off and sulks.)
And now let me tell you what one brilliant man in the suburbs thought of last week-end to regale us. When we were all good and crocked he got out an old talking record of the Prince of Wales. We had to listen to that high and mighty potentate (then about nineteen years of age) tell us what the idealllll of the Englishman was. I don’t have to tell you, Joey, that it was our old friend “fair play.” An Englishman never twists you. It went on for three records—it must have been a golden jubilee or something. In the midst of it I got hysterical and began to laugh. I laughed and laughed and laughed. Everybody began to laugh, even the host, who, I discovered later, was highly insulted. No sir, an Englishman never twists you! He just falls asleep on you . . . .
3. one of his testicles
4. piss in
5. holding their boobies, especially when said boobies are full of milk
6. laying her except he had a golden wand
8. a choice piece of ass