Imagine my surprise when I came across a large number of photos featuring Lou Tellegen!

Lou Tellegen was a famous actor back in the 1910s. I’d never seen his movies or even a picture of him. But I knew his name right away because Dorothy Parker reviewed Women Have Been Kind. The book was Tellegen’s autobiography and it catalogued his relationships with his numerous girlfriends and wives.

Mr. Lou Tellegen, circa 1913. LOC

 

I’m going to write a separate post about Dorothy Parker (1893-1967), who is the funniest author I’ve ever read. Just to give you an idea of who she was, she was a satiric writer, and the authors of the 1920s and 30s must have frozen in delight and terror when they learned she was going to review their book. Everyone read her columns, and she could make an author famous overnight.

It would have been the equivalent of getting invited to be on the Joe Rogan Experience, if Joe Rogan took a wicked delight in making his guests look ridiculous. I would be terrified for her to review anything I’ve written.

Dorothy Parker

 

A Month of Saturdays is a compilation of Dorothy Parker’s book reviews for the Constant Reader from the 1920s and early 1930s. Looks like it’s out of print now, unfortunately.

Women Have Been Kind wasn’t a great book and Tellegen wasn’t a great author. But this book, like many celebrity autobiographies before and since, would have mercifully slipped into oblivion, had it not been reviewed by Dorothy Parker.

 

Lou Tellegen in 1913. I imagine a similar expression was on his face when he learned Parker was reviewing his book.

In her review, entitled Kiss and Tellegen, Parker begins by annihilating the dust jacket:

“The blurb on the dust cover announces, with rather more than the usual bang, that “here are the intimate reminisces of the man who is called ‘the perfect lover.’ (It is not stated who gave him this name, but I feel, somehow, that I have guessed. I won’t say yes, nor I won’t say no, but if you were to whisper to me your conjecture that the phrase-coiner’s initials are L.T., I might admit that you were, like the countless heroines of Women have been Kind, getting warm.)

“The blurb goes breathlessly on… ‘Mr. Tellegen has lived more romance than others read of, and his memoirs are as exciting as a score of novels.’ I shall not dispute that last statement, provided the publishers let me name the score in question.”

And that was just her warm-up. Even though I haven’t read her book in years, I instantly remembered Lou Tellegen’s name when I came across it today. It never occurred to me to see what he looked like, but I was not surprised to find him looking just like he does.

1913. LOC
1913. With an unidentified woman. LOC.

 

Several of the pictures I found are really goofy photos with his wife, the opera singer Geraldine Ferrar. According to Parker, Lou Tellegen didn’t give much detail about his marriage to the famous soprano.

“His account of his American tour with Sarah Bernhardt is, in a word, terrible. You get no hint of her quality; the author is too much occupied with his own concerns at the time. They were not, in another word, interesting.

“Nor is there much to the story of his stretch of time with Geraldine Ferrar. Miss Ferrar was not his first wife nor, so much as I can figure out events, his second or his third. There came a time when it was drawn, somehow, to Mr. Tellegen’s attention, that gentlemen sometimes married ladies, and from then on, he became a regular marryin’ fool.”

1915. Lou Tellegen and Geraldine Ferrar with her parents, Sid Ferrar and Henrietta Barnes Ferrar LOC

 

1916. Lou Tellegen and Geraldine Ferrar LOC
1916. Lou Tellegen and Geraldine Ferrar LOC
1916. Lou Tellegen and Geraldine Ferrar at home LOC. I love the framed publicity photograph of Lou Tellegen displayed conspicuously in their living room.

1916. Lou Tellegen and Geraldine Ferrar LOC

I’m sure there’s more details about Lou Tellegen that I could unearth and share. But we probably know everything we need to know about him, don’t you think? I’d rather read my Dorothy Parker book.

I’m avoiding the pandemic coverage. Once you understand what you can/should do, it seems needlessly depressing to continue to watch the coverage. But earlier today, I heard part of a radio interview with an epidemiologist, i.e., a person who studies disease. She said that most people in her field believe that there is a devastating pandemic about every 100 years and gave some frightening numbers that represent the worst case scenario.

She talked a little about the Spanish flu, and how the scale could be about the same with COVID-19. And it’s right on time: the Spanish Flu ravaged the earth from 1918-1920. It made me wonder about the parallels between then and now. I’d like to figure out a few categories (like socializing, working, etc.) and compare human behavior between then and now. There must be something we could reach back and seize to use today. Or some mistake that was made that we could examine and avoid.

I didn’t have a lot of material about the Spanish flu to look back on. Just one post, which is about the damage wrought by the war and the flu, and what followed. You could think of the world like a caterpillar and the Great War and the Spanish flu as the chrysalis. But eventually the world came out of the chrysalis transformed into something bright and new.

Evidently the editor of Life Magazine also thought so!

A 1920 cover of life magazine

 

If we have to go through a 2-year chrysalis, that would be hard. However, if there is an opportunity to glean something, maybe we won’t have to repeat it. After all, as George Santayana told us: Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

 

An Age of Agony

During the latter half of the 1910s, the world was plunged into an era of misery. World War I (1914 – 1918) destroyed life and property on a massive scale.

The Battle of the Somme, 1916, one of the largest battles
Battle of the Somme

65 million people joined the fight, despite grim survival odds. A World War I soldier stood a roughly 50/50 chance of returning home alive, with their physical health intact:

  • Est. 9.5 million troops killed (roughly the combined populations of present-day Denmark and Morocco)
  • Est. 21 million troops injured
  • Est. 6.5 million civilians killed during the war (roughly the combined populations of present-day Switzerland and Chile)
No Man's Land
No Man’s Land on the French front

Those lucky enough to survive the conflict and return home were rarely unscathed: missing eyes and limbs were very common, as were burns. Yet shell shock – the significant psychological reaction to the terrors of the front – was not considered to be an injury and is excluded from statistics.

 

gas mask
The gas mask, patent 1914, protected soldiers from mustard gas

Soldiers who suffered from shell shock often did not receive the treatment they needed because the problem was not understood – even by most doctors. This short, disturbing video highlights the plight of men returning from the front with this terrible problem.

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Like everyone who will see this, I was born long after the Gilded Age ended. So how is it possible that I feel so nostalgic for these days of beauty and grace? I think I must be a ghost.

Today, I have for you pictures of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City at the turn of the century. There are also a few photos from the 1910s from a Senate inquiry into the sinking of the Titanic that was held at the hotel, and a couple of photos of women with their dogs from the first meeting of the American Pomeranian Club.

All photos courtesy the Library of Congress, except where marked.

 

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The Exterior

The beautiful Waldorf Astoria, which billed itself as the finest hotel in the world.

 

The Thirty-third street entrance

 

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The Rooms

The Waldorf Astoria had apartments. This room, with the carved mahogany canopy bed, fireplace, and lovely decor is called the Francis I bedroom.

This room is not quite so lavish as the others, though still quite beautiful. It’s labeled Room 212.

The Marie Antoinette Room. Can you imagine?

 

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The Public Areas

The Myrtle Room. I’m not sure what this was used for. I could imagine private parties, or maybe meetings?

 

The charmingly-named “Peacock Alley” was a three hundred foot long corridor connecting the Waldorf and Astoria Hotels. It gained fame in the early 1900s as the spot where the fashionable women of New York City paraded their fashions and jewelry for their peers. (Getty Images)

 

This one I find to be puzzling. It’s called the Ladies Hairdressing Room. There are three vanities for the room– not just from the angle the photographer captured, but the whole room. I’m guessing it might be a small room outside of a ballroom where women could freshen up?

Though it seems a little impractical even for then, it makes me think of how very over-crowded our cities are today.

 

 

A lavish, private dining room

The Billiard Room. Can’t you just see men with mustaches and top hats smoking cigars in here?

 

A reception room. I imagine this was used for smaller parties and events.

The Palm dining room: This room is so beautiful. Look. At. The. Chandelier.

 

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Notable People (1910s)

Senate Hearing on the Sinking of the Titanic. There is an arrow pointing to J. Bruce Ismay, the high-ranking White Star Line official. Passengers who came to testify at this hearing said they heard Ismay pressuring the ship’s captain to travel faster. Ismay, of course, was one of the lucky people to get a seat in a lifeboat.

 

“Miss M. Kennedy and Buttercup” at the American Pomeranian Club meeting

 

Mrs. George Peabody and Mauchi at the American Pomeranian Club meeting. That is a real hat Mrs. Peabody has on.