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To the Jellinek Mystery: Keller – Thelma (Part 2)

Correspondence between Mark Keller and Thelma Pierce Anderson (1963-1990)

This is the second part of a series to feature a great treasure of the Center of Alcohol Studies Archives, the correspondence between Mark Keller and Thelma Pierce Anderson, E. M. Jellinek’s former wife. Part 1 was published in the March 2014 issue of the CAS Information Services Newsletter (pages 6-7). These letters, along with other recently discovered material about Jellinek, were used as the main source to highlight the results of the CAS Library staff research on Bunky’s early life in a panel of seven presenters at the 36th Annual Conference of the Substance Abuse Librarians and Information Specialists at Rutgers in April, 2014.


[New correspondence thread, starting in 1984]

sketchAfter a two-decade gap, the correspondence between Thelma and Keller picks up again in 1984, when, apparently, Vera Efron came up with the idea that someone should eventually write a biography on Bunky. At this time, Keller thought Thelma would be the perfect candidate and invited her to start working. In her response, she expresses her doubts politely, questioning her ability to properly present the material. However, she contemplates on the content:

What should be the basic orientation of the book? Bunky, the man? Bunky, the scientist? Bunky, the humanitarian? Bunky, the screwball? Bunky, the kind?  the ruthless? the genius?
(Anderson to Keller, August 22, 1984)

She is confused, but comes up with the following, which can be considered excellent guidelines for anyone trying to accomplish the impossible and write an accurate Jellinek biography.

We know now that this book has not been written. Later, however, invited by Griffith Edwards, Keller decides to write a biographical sketch of Jellinek for the British Journal of Addiction in 1988. He reaches out to Thelma one more time to help with the “Bunkyana” as he calls it (Keller to Anderson, April 7, 1988). Thelma’s response starts with an unpublished Bunky verse, saying that “I think a biographical sketch of EMJ would have to carry the essence of the verse. He did indeed swim in the soup of life, rising and falling in the boiling pot” (Anderson to Keller, April 7, 1988).

What follows this is a fascinating, five-page summary of Jellinek’s life, neatly organized in bullet points. Thelma’s recollections are based mostly on word of mouth, but partly on Ruth Surry’s earlier data collection sponsored by the Smithers Foundation on Jellinek (Surry, Ruth, 1966, Memo to R. Brinkley Smithers, in: Christopher D. Smithers Foundation Files, Mill Neck, NY). We can read about Thelma’s first-hand experience with Jellinek’s family, including the famous mother, with whom Jellinek did not get along. Thelma recalls, however, that Jellinek was very fond of his father, Marcell, and felt devastated when he died, since Bunky could not go to the funeral. On the other hand, Jellinek and his mother had their differences and “he was less than delighted when he knew that she and his sister would be arriving in America after WWII” (Anderson to Keller, April 16, 1988).

Subsequent letters add tidbits about Jellinek’s life, including a few more Bunky verses (see more in Part 3). On the topic of Jellinek’s controversial educational background, Thelma recalls,

When I asked Bunky what degrees he obtained from the several universities, he said, “European degrees are not comparable to American degrees but they were like doctorates” (Anderson to Keller, April 16, 1988).

One of the most interesting stories Thelma recalls may shed a light on Jellinek’s upbringing, and as a result, somewhat aristocratic comportment:

While at Worcester, in 1936, Bunky was made a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was most pleased to receive the honor and went to Washington, D.C. for the induction, or whatever it’s called. […]We were very short of money at the time (probably in early Fall) and had to scrounge to get together the funds not only for the trip but for the rental of tails and the purchase of the white shirt, white tie and white gloves. It was to be a very formal affair. Bunky returned to tell of his sorrow in seeing the great difficulty President Franklin D. Roosevelt had in walking, his pleasure in hearing the Star Spangled Banner conducted by Arturo Toscanini, and (drawing on his earlier experience in diplomatic circles) how he received an approving look from the usher because he knew the proper way to deal with the white gloves (wear the left and carry the right). He could not resist putting on his “superior face” when he mentioned that some inductees had committed a breach of etiquette by wearing both gloves. I believe the occasion carried him back to a time when he was not only rich but, even though in a somewhat minor way, a person of importance. I was glad to see him so happy.
(Anderson to Keller, April 16, 1988).

Jellinek’s Hungarian past has been proven by other sources by now, but Thelma’s letters also provide some interesting details on his upbringing:

Bunky grew up in Budapest, Berlin and Vienna in rich, influential and scholarly surroundings. Rose was a great friend of Giuseppe Verdi and Bunky remembered evenings when Verdi and other musicians would gather at the Jellinek home for “jam sessions.” […] Bunky’s mother was a friend not only of Verdi but of John Philip Sousa with whom she did a tour.
(Anderson to Keller, April 16, 1988).

Speaking of his parents, now it is verified by his birth certificate that Jellinek was born as the first child to a Hungarian father and an American mother in New York on August 15, 1890. The parents, called met in Germany while both were involved in theatrical performances.

His mother was Rose Jacobson (de-Hebrewized to “Jackson”). The probably romanticized story was that Marcel saw Rose (whose professional name was Marcella Lindh) in a performance of Siegfried under the baton of Walter Damrosch. Her role may have been that of the “tropic bird.”  In any case, she was a coloratura.
(Anderson to Keller, April 16, 1988).

Jellinek was known to have a special talent in languages, and was said to speak more than ten. This goes back to his family roots too, as Thelma remembers the Jellinek family heritage:

It is possible Bunky inherited his gift for languages from his father, who was said to have spoken 13. Within the family, they spoke English, Hungarian (except Rose, who never learned it well) and German.
(Anderson to Keller, April 16, 1988).

Bunky was very, very fond of his paternal grandmother, Johanna Fuchs Jellinek, who read four newspapers each day, each in a different language. (Anderson to Keller, April 16, 1988).

The correspondence ceased again for two years or so. But when it picks up again in 1990, the reason might be Keller’s newly found interest and aspiration to write the Jellinek bibliography. Keller even crafted a title, “Bunky: A Remembrance of E.M. Jellinek”, which is mentioned in a letter from Thelma wishing Keller luck in its undertaking (Anderson to Keller, 1990). A copy of about eight pages taken from an early draft of that attempt has also been found recently.

Published in the February 2015 issue of the CAS Information Services Newsletter