Monday, June 10, 2019

Cline's Second Wife: Katharine Gridley

Katharine Gridley in 1927
Cline knew Katharine Doolittle Gridley (1895-1947) in the 1910s and early 1920s when he was on the staff of the Detroit News.  Katharine was soon living in New York, with her common-law husband Holger Cahill (1887-1960), but around 1923 they separated and Katherine paired up with Cline. (Cline's first wife divorced him for adultery in 1924.)  Katharine and Leonard were eventually married in Stamford, Connecticut, on 9 November 1926, but their relationship was frequently difficult. After Cline was charged with first degree murder in the shooting death of a friend visiting the Cline house in Willimantic, Connecticut, in the summer of 1927, Katharine deserted Cline and they were divorced in 1928.

Katharine worked as an artist, and as a newspaper illustrator and occasional writer. Cline's first novel, God Head (1925), is dedicated to her, and a sketch of Cline by Katharine (reproduced at right) appears alongside a review by Professor Warren Bower of the University of Michigan of God Head in The Lansing State Journal c. 19 March 1926.

After leaving Cline, Katharine returned to the Detroit area, where many members of her family lived, and in the 1930s she married a man surnamed Brown, but this marriage did not last. Katharine moved back to New York, where on 11 July 1942 she married a man named Daniel McMahon. Katharine was widowed before her death in Detroit at the age of 51 on 17 January 1947.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Cline's First Wife: Louise Smurthwaite

Louise Cline in 1927
Cline's first wife was born Mary Louise Smurthwaite (1893-1980), but she was always known familiarly as Louise. Cline seems to have met her in Ann Arbor, in the early 1910s, when Cline and at least one of Louise's sisters were students at the University of Michigan.  Louise was perhaps a student there as well, but apparently only for a short time (her name does not appear in the contemporary University of Michigan registers). She and Cline were married in her native town of Manistee, Michigan on 28 October 1913.  They had one daughter and one son.

In March 1922 Cline joined the staff of The Baltimore Sun, and the family moved to Maryland. In 1924 Louise divorced Cline on the charge of adultery.  In Baltimore Louise became a radio singer at WBAL, and originated a popular annual Christmas carol program at a local department store. She taught singing at the Peabody Conservatory's Preparatory School for forty-four years.

Hazelton Spencer
She and Cline reconciled in 1928, and they planned to remarry, but Cline died suddenly in January 1929. Around 1932 or 1933, Louise became the second wife of the literary scholar Hazelton Spencer (1893-1944), who had been educated at Boston University (A.B. 1915) and Harvard University (A.M. 1920; Ph.D. 1923). Hazelton began to teach English at Johns Hopkins University in 1927 and became a Professor of English there in 1937. He authored books on Shakespeare, and edited The Selected Poems of Vachel Lindsay (1931) and Elizabethan Plays (1933). 

Louise Spencer died at the age of 87 in Alexandria, Virginia, in May 1980.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Leonard Cline in Ask Me Another! The Question Book

The Viking Press was founded in 1925, and Leonard Cline's first novel God Head was on their first list of six publications. At that time, Simon & Schuster (founded in 1924) was having great success with crossword puzzle books.  Publishers were of course looking for other books offering similar types of entertainment. So in February 1927 Viking Press published a question book, compiled by Justin Spafford and Lucien Esty.  It consists of some thirty general quizzes and another ten special quizzes, on specific topics (e.g., The Arts, American History, The Bible, and Sports, etc.). The answers are printed at the back of the book.  One of the gimmicks involved was the fact that each quiz was taken by someone well-known in some way, and their overall scores were published along with the quiz they had taken. Participants include: Dorothy Parker, Heywood Broun, Robert Benchley (who also wrote a Preface to the book), along with a lot of names I don't recognize more than ninety years after the book debuted. And I see one name that is relevant here: Leonard Cline.

The book was a quick success.  In March 1927, one month after publication, the book achieved a ninth printing.  A follow-up volume came out later the same year, but it was much less successful.

Leonard Cline participated in General Quiz Number Nineteen.  He scored a 70 out of a possible 100 points (with fifty questions per quiz, two points were awarded for each correct answer).  I'll copy the quiz below. One wonders which are the fifteen questions that Cline missed?  The answers will appear in a follow-up blog post.

Monday, April 29, 2019

If This Be Treason: a Book Page on Murder

Cline's literary column. "If This Be Treason," ran in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch from around 25 October 1924 through 21 February 1925. The dates come from the clippings kept by Cline in his scrapbook.  What is apparently the final column is a book page about murder. Sadly and ironically, Cline notes in it that "the history of the courts reveal few cases in which a literary man has been successfully prosecuted for a killing." In September 1927, about two and a half years after this column was published, Cline found himself on trial for first degree murder.  I reprint the entire column below.  It begins with a poem by Cline's friend Witter Bynner.


By Witter Bynner

Once of all my friends and cronies
First was my own heart and best;
But aggrieved my heart rebuked me,
And I broke it in my breast.

Now my body laughs and offers
Any sum I bid it lend;
And I borrow and I borrow—
And I spend and I spend.

—From Grenstone Poems


With Arsenic and Ax

Surely one needs make no apology in bringing out a murder number of a books page. It has one of the chief diversions of humankind, ever since Cain, in a fit of peeve hardly consonant with the relative serenity of his times, perpetrated his utterly inartistic slaughter of Abel. Without it Euripides would have been a dull fellow, Shakespeare no more than a comedian of sorts. Edgar Allan Poe the dingy genius of an editorial office. Why, the very history of the Habiri, as recounted from Genesis on, would be a wallow of pollyanna. Indeed, it is quite impossible to imagine this best of all possible worlds without the thing.

And our interest in murder still continues. To be sure, the uplift from time to time turns gnashing on the matter and exerts its influence to stamp the practice out. Nevertheless, every now and then one of us has a going-out, and the rest of us hustle breathlessly to view, vicariously through the press if not actually in person, the corpse. Indeed, there is coming to be, among the more cultured, a greater and greater delight in every new slaying of actually aesthetic qualities. The murderers are feted and banqueted at the most exclusive cafes.

In a studio in one of Greenwich Village’s most noisome and exclusive alleys, a year ago, a Murder Club was organized. Among those present were a professor of psychology in one of our great universities, an organist and pianist of repute, a sculptress, two poets and two business men. It was decided that on the night of every murder in New York City, the club would dine. As guests of honor would be invited the newspaper men who had covered the murder and the murderer herself; it was expected, however, that now and then it would be impossible to get in touch with the lady. At the conclusion, the murderer and the reporters would be asked to describe the deed, and the evening would end with a general discussion of it from aesthetic and psychological points of view.

Eventually the club collapsed, some of the members becoming tired of boarding together.


Brightly did McNaught’s Monthly start the new year, in its January number, with a charming essay on our present subject by Charles B. Driscoll, in which he declares: “There are two kinds of murder, the grave and the gay. The former should be suppressed.” As a fine example of the gay murder, which Mr. Driscoll so eloquently defends, he gives the following:

“There was a barber with an artist’s soul, residing in one of our large Western cities. A customer requested a shave, but insisted on talking back. The talkative shavee had not been going long when he expressed the opinion, if I can recall it correctly, that Calvin Coolidge is nothing less than another Abraham Lincoln and Moses, combined in one super-character. The barber with the soul cut a warning gash athwart the customer’s left cheek, and lapsed into comparative silence. The rash patient continued to converse. He said that Judge Landis is a gentleman, a jurist unexcelled, and a stickler for clean baseball. The barber could endure no more. He cut the victim’s windpipe neatly in two, between the predicate end and the object. Placing the razor carefully upon the remains, he went into the street and summoned a policeman.”

Mr. Driscoll deplores, as must we all, that so sensitive a spirit is now reduced to shaving his fellow convicts in a state penitentiary. It would also seem hardly fair to the other convicts. But then, such treatment cannot have been encouraging: harsh criticism worried Keats almost to death. The dejected fellow today in all probability would not retort with even a half-inch slick on the chin to the most preposterous affirmation by a loquacious customer. Helpless in his chair, one doubtless could asseverate even that Theodore Dreiser is the greatest thinker in contemporary letters, without fearing more chastisement than perhaps the loss of an ear-lobe.


Mr. Driscoll’s is but one literary voice raised in protest against too broad a censorship of dirk and pistol. Are we to assume that other literary ladies and gentlemen agree with the uplift? No, no, no; that is incredible. Rather let us conclude that, with their bludgeons as with their booze, they indulge in quiet, feeling that the homicide laws are no more effectual to constrain them than are the prohibitionist.

In the cellar of Henry Mencken, for instance, there is unquestionably much more to be found than empty bottles. Search of the place might disclose a very catacombs, an array of grinning skulls, each one with a gaping wound left by his vorpal pen. Doubtless, too, they are labeled; this was a critic, this a soprano, this the author of a novel in which the hero slew the villain just as he was about to steal a kiss from the lilylike heroine. Else why do critics disappear so frequently, drop out of sight and leave no trace behind them but the miasma of their opinions?

And there is Ben Hecht. Rumors too persistent to be denied indicate that from a secret door in his study Ben Hecht issues forth upon the streets of Chicago every night, armed with hatchet and lantern. Never is he content until he has treed a Winkelberg*, and though as yet there is no bounty on their skins Mr. Hecht never allows them to escape the dogs.

Then history of the courts reveals few cases in which a literary man has been successfully prosecuted for a killing. But let us not conclude on merely such evidence that they all eschew arsenic and the ax. Why, even myself. . . . But those were, after all, matters of slight importance.


A curious side-light on the matter of murder is afforded by the latest volume published by Simon and Schuster, The Celebrities Cross-Word Puzzle Book. Fifty notables of art, politics and finance were asked each to contribute a puzzle. They did so, apparently quite without realizing that to the psychoanalyst, scrutinizing the particular words that forced themselves out from the subconscious upon the printed page, each contributor was making a complete revelation of himself. To be sure, here was a hundred-word test quite similar in effect to that of the psychological laboratory.

On this theory one studies with huge delight the puzzle composed by little Miss Ann Pennington, How graciously harmless she appears indeed on the Follies stage! But now, fill in the squares of her diagram. No. 21 Horizontal is defined as “whip,” and turns out to be “lash.” No. 24 Horizontal is defined as “cut, as with a sword,” and turns out to be “slash.” No. 4 Vertical is defined as “grind the teeth,” and turns out to be “gnash.” No. 5 Vertical is defined as “heedless,” and turns out to be “rash.” No. 39 Vertical is defined as “blood,” and turns out to be “gore.” No. 50 Vertical is defined as “raves” and turns out to be “rants.”

I hesitate still to congratulate Miss Pennington; her appearance is so completely disarming. But this puzzle of hers may indicate to the shrewd psychologist that, should a committee of rash censors happen to call on Miss Pennington, ranting and raving, she herself might slash into them with whip and sword, gnashing her white teeth.


Only, no murder ever should be committed with gnashing of teeth. It is undignified, to say the least, to allow one’s temper to get beyond one’s control. It shows lack of breeding, lack of philosophic equanimity; and in such a condition one is likely to mar the artistic effect. If a man is going to commit murder let him do so with an obvious joi de vivre, genteelly, delicately, with a flow in his button-hole. To any murderer such as this I offer an eager hand of approval.

* Winkelberg: the Babbitt of Mr. Hecht’s Humpty Dumpty.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Cline on the Kalevala

In a 1925 essay on "The Lineage of God Head," Cline noted that "seven years ago, as music critic for the Detroit News, I had occasion to prepare in advance a description of the Second Symphony of Sibelius. To understand that music one must know something about the folk-lore of Suomi. I read the Kalevala, I conned the ancient songs as they have been collected by Merikanto and other composers.  Next door to me lived a Finnish family. Sometimes in the evening there would be company in that house and the men and women would sing together, long nostalgic ballads, many of them in queer pentuple rhythm, stamping the time with their heels." Cline's interest in the Kalevala, in in Finnish things in general, was a major influence on his first novel, God Head (1925). 

On 16 July 1924, he published a column in the New York World on Finnish things. I copy it in full below.
Kullervo and Others

Once every four years, at the time of the Olympic Games, we are called upon by patronizing sport writers to mark with surprise the achievements of “that plucky little country,” Finland, whose athletes give the best of our own populous nation a real tussle for the laurels. But who shouts for Finland when Saarinen, the architect, comes to the United States and takes second place in the Chicago Tribune competition with a design more beautiful and certainly far more distinctive in its beauty than any other submitted? Who bespeaks our surprised attention when Selim Palmgren, the pianist, comes to the United States and introduces us to a group of songs, some by himself and some by Sibelius, Merikanto and others of his contemporaries, that are among the loveliest we have ever heard?
Lest Finland come to be known only as a nation of javelin-hurlers and long-winded runners, somebody should point out the achievements of that country in other lines. One should point out, for instance, that not only its hard-muscled athletes but every single person in that country—little children, frail mothers and maids, even feeble old men and tremulous women quavering through the last pale years of life—goes through, day after day, the ordeal of talking in Finnish. After that, why should one be surprised at anything the Finns accomplish?
Many will remember for a day, while it is still fresh, the name of Alben Stenroos, the forty-year-old Marathon champion. While the impulse endures, they might get the Kalevala, the ancient Finnish epic. Here is a book of most delightful stories and of a quality refreshingly different, if one is not too sensitive to stand the monotonous rhythms. The color of the book is peregrine and rich: the sun is always silver in the Kalevala and it is the moon that is gold. And the characters of the Kalevala are as different from the elegant divinities of the Mediterranean myths as is the sun of Suomi from ours.
At least one tremendous figure strides through the Kalevala: Kullervo, the youth born with every physical and mental endowment, who never in all the enterprises he undertakes is successful; there is nothing quite like him in literature, I believe.
It is quite characteristic that in these ancient Finnish legends a favorite method of wonder-working is by song. Lemminkainen, arriving at the island of loverless maidens, sings himself up a most marvelous estate, from mountain ash trees and cuckoos to a row of pots filled with ale. Väinämöinen too is a mighty singer, and there is a picture of him strumming his great kantele, with all the birds and beasts come to listen, and all the men and girls and the very trees dancing for gladness.
One afternoon I bought a Finnish grammar and a dictionary and a reading book and started in to master the language. Not until then did I really appreciate the Kalevala. Not that it contains so much strange, cold beauty, but that it was written at all. I came at last on the lamp that illumines the entire people of Finland. Plucky? God wot, they are positively foolhardy. Men that can speak that tongue can do anything else they have a mind to.
I am considering a project to have Finnish replace Greek in the school curriculum. It will serve the torturer’s purpose even a little better; and, then, it will be so seldom forgotten after the young people leave school. It will have been, you see, so seldom learned.
During the first four years of Finnish, in high school, the students will study how to decline nouns in the singular, in all the sixteen cases, During the second four years, in college, the students will learn how to decline nouns in the plural. This is formed, very furtively, by putting an “i” as near the middle of the noun as possible. But oh, what that ordinarily innocuous “i” does to a Finnish noun! It takes the sturdy, self-reliant, honest noun and twists it into a vulgar, strutting libel of its former self.
There are forty-six rules by which this change is accomplished, and by diligent effort the student will be able to memorize the last of these by commencement day. After graduating, having learned how to decline his nouns, the student of Finnish can while away the years of his adulthood and putter around through all his senility learning how to pronounce them.
It is unquestionably one of the most beautiful languages in Europe. It has few consonants, but those it does have it pronounces jealously. It has many vowels, with all the soft sounds of French, and a manner of clinging caressingly for a fraction of a second to a doubled vowel. But it combines these vowels in a way that defies the most lissom tongue, Consider the word for night—“Yö.” The first letter is pronounced like the French “u” and the second like the French “eu.” Try pronouncing them—as a dipthong.
Many are the charms of the Finnish language. It has, for instance, no such word as our “not.” When I first discovered that fact, my elation knew no bounds, and I was on the point of getting a passport at once for Finland; but I discovered that after all there is a way to say no in Finnish. It is a very laborious process however; and while I have abandoned for the time being my plan to join Finland, I find the language a very helpful one in times of temptation.
Most charming of all is the haunting, the ineffably tender, expression “korpikuusen kyyneleitä.” Finland, you must know, is a Prohibition country. It has developed, even as our own, a vigorous industry in the production of illicit liquor; and, as do all Prohibition peoples, it has given this liquor a name most movingly beautiful. We call ours “moonshine.” The Finns call theirs “korpikuusen kyyneleitä,” which means “tears of the pine tree that weeps in the swampy wilderness.”
It is, so to speak, in Finland, tears, women and song on occasions of that kind. Chiefly song. I purchased at one time in a most interesting shop in Harlem, where there is a numerous settlement of Finns, a book of their national songs—ancient ones, vestiges of the old days when the runes of the Kalevala were sung during the long winter nights, and the more recent ones, up to the present composers. There are some five hundred songs in the book. I asked the amiable young woman who keeps the shop to mark in the back of the book those songs which every Finn would know by heart. She was very kind and took a pencil and marked 176 of them.
In an Olympic festival of music it is possible Finland might take a place higher than we, although we do manage to beat her up in sports.

Leonard Cline
If anyone knows the identity of the book of national Finnish songs that Cline mentions in the final paragraph, please let me know. 

Friday, April 19, 2019

Cline and Huysmans Part 3 of 3

On Wednesday, 16 April 1924, Heywood Broun gave a part of his regular column "It Seems to Me" over to Leonard Cline, who thereby got to voice his views on what happened with La Bas and his review of it.  I copy the complete Cline part below.

La Bas,” writes Leonard Cline, “has been relegated there, it would seem, and all because of a review that was written, according to the best evidence, by myself. Stallings could swear to the signature, and the cashier might confront me with a voucher, if I tried to deny it. Yet, if the facts were not so indisputable, I’d never believe that words of mine should go on the oriflamme of a Sumner crusade.
“Ten years from now, when I creep stealthily by night to consult a psychoanalyst, he will try desperately to find out why I should always be swallowing poison and shooting myself and laying hold of third-rails. He won’t succeed until he uncovers, deep in my subconscious, the horrid memory of the fact that once, in the year 1924, Mr. Sumner spoke of a book review by me as ‘good’ and ‘clean.’
“I shall be cured possibly, in the end, but I think of what I shall suffer during the decade! Imagine waking every night, perspiring with dread, from a nightmare in which Mr. Sumner comes by my bed and thanks me and calls me good and clean!
“Lest the clergy take me up and canonize me, as they have St. William H. Anderson, I beg to explain. The introduction of my review of La Bas originally was a violent declaration of a belief of mine that, smut or sedition, people should have the right of free speech. It’s a queer and suspicionable notion, I know, and most people won’t hold with me; but somehow I can’t help cherishing it. Then I admitted that if free speech on lickerish themes is going to corrupt people, well they ought to have the right to be corrupted. This was the head of the review, and Stallings lopped it off in order to fit the corpse into the ditch. God pity him, he must have heard it cry!
“Well, in concluding, I pointed out that Huysmans doubtless wrote La Bas with a purpose as austerely moral as that which actuated funny old Hosea. If my recollection doesn’t fail me, this paragraph also suffered the knife.
“So there the review was, head and tail gone. Mr. Sumner picked up the neck of it for a swan. ’Fore God, it was born a viper.
“Don’t think I want to apologize for the review. I did point out that La Bas carries the heaviest load of mustiness and filth that I’ve ever found between covers. That happens to be the truth; and I conceive that one function of the reviewer is to tell what is in the book. And if Mr. Sumner wants to make that his shibboleth, and if as a result Albert and Charles Boni lose money, I don’t consider myself at fault. My hope in writing this communication is to avoid being pointed out by my fellows in the present, and having pilgrims visit my tombstone in the future, as a friend of Mr. Sumner’s.
“Mr. Broun, Mr. Broun, he might even call on me!”