Bernard Wolfe

June 15th, 2012 § 2 comments

Spent a delightful hour chatting on the phone with Miranda Wolfe, daughter of the late Bernard Wolfe, an extraordinary writer who wrote just about everything: novels, short stories, journalism, ghosted Broadway columns, television, screen plays and customized pornography which he produced for one reader — an Oklahoma oil zillionaire (Wolfe was in good company in this customized porn business as the eccentric Oklahoman also hired, amongst others, Henry Miller, Anais Nin and Gene Fowler. What they all had in common was a need for quick cash). Sorry. Don’t want to emphasize the pornography. This was just a miniscule portion of Wolfe’s output (and he found it distasteful). Make haste and read BW’s works.. A good start would be Really The Blues which he wrote with jazz musician Mezz Mezzrow. (This book heavily influenced influenced the Beat Generation of writers — Kerouac, Ginsberg, etc.. For a treat, listen to some of the music forgotten Mezzrow made with Sidney Bechet. Check it here!). The Late Risers defined the cool Broadway hipsters of many decades ago. The Great Prince Died is a historical novel based on the Mexican exile of the great Russian revolutionary and anti-Stalinist, Leon Trotsky. Later, the title was changed to Trotsky Dead. At one time, Wolfe was bodyguard/secretary for Trotsky (he wasn’t present when Trotsky was pickaxed to death by a Stalin assassin).

BW also wrote Limbo, a prescient sci-fi novel.

Wolfe had quiet sartorial elegance and a well stocked mind. Unlike many writers, he excelled at both talking and listening. HG enjoyed some memorable dining with Wolfe. Bernie’s favorite restaurant (and HG’s) was Fornos. a happy Spanish place that flourished on West 52nd Street many years ago (here, BW was formally addressed as “Senor Lupo”). The excellent food was preceded by classic Margaritas and ended with Banana Daquiris. Very hard to leave sober. Bernie liked the Oak Room of the Algonquin hotel where he would compose his meals carefully and creatively after some knowledgeable consultation with the waiter and captain. Alas, the composition of a meal is a skill that has virtually disappeared in New York (but, not in Paris).

In the 50s and early 60s Russian and Iranian caviar was cheap (If you listen closely you may hear the sound of teardrops falling on HG’s keyboard). HG recalls a caviar feast HG (and his ex-wife) hosted at their town house apartment in the Gramercy Park neighborhood. Some two pounds of Beluga (from Caviarteria) were devoured with thin, buttered white toast and washed down with abundant, icy Polish Wyborowa Vodka. In addition to Bernie, the other guests were screenwriter/painter/novelist Fred Segal and his then wife, Sandra. The caviar was followed by cognac and Upmann Brevas cigars, Maduro leaf. Not exactly an homage to healthy living. HG and his ex-wife survive. The others, sadly, are gone. Miranda Wolfe is busy working on Bernie’s voluminous and distinguished literary legacy. Hopefully, many gems will be reissued. Pornography has been described (by the French, of course) as books read with one hand. HG will be reading the reissued Wolfe works with one hand. The other will be clutching a glass of ultra chilled Polish vodka.

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§ 2 Responses to Bernard Wolfe"

  • J.W. Hudspeth says:

    So glad to see my writing teacher is being appreciated! I met Bernie at UCLA in his creative writing class in about 1968. His wife Dolores later (around 1972 I believe) had twin daughters. Since no one in the entourage of writer wannabes knew anything about children, except me, Dolores and Bernie gladly took up my suggestion that I come spend some time with them when they lived on Hazen in Beverly Hills, and the new babies. I watched the girls grow up and am in touch with the other twin Jordan and Bernie’s niece who still lives in Connecticut. Glad Gerald talked with Miranda. Bernie was a wealth of political knowledge for us students and also interested in encouraging all new writers of any ilk. I note on the internet that some of his books are being highly praised, and I say, “It’s about time somebody really looked beyond the title of the book,” and learned something from them. Thanks for what you have done for my friend, teacher and mentor. sincerely Joy H.

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