Yale 1938-1942

By Todd Furniss, BA '42

Excerpts from Six Henderson Place, Manhattan, a memoir available at the Sterling Memorial Library.


[Return to 1942 web site]

Table of Contents

                    1. “We came to Yale...”

                    2. “Examinations made us pale...”

                    3. “We take our ease...”   

                    4. “We have a task...”

                    5. “We act our parts...”

                    6. “We’ve made good friends...”

                    7. “Into the world we come...”



“We came to Yale...”

            On the afternoon of September 21, 1938, just before I was to leave for my first year at Yale, heavy rains fell and the wind blew. In a brief pause in the rain, my mother and I walked to the drug store at the corner of the Post Road and Pelham Avenue in Pelham Manor for ice cream cones and were startled to find traffic on the Post Road entirely blocked by fallen trees. At home, the lights went out, and by a battery radio we discovered that we had been hit by a hurricane, the first in that area of the country in living memory. That evening; around a gasoline lantern in the den, I had just commented that it was something of a letdown that nothing interesting had happened to us when there was a crash, the house shook, and we rushed to the back door. Leaning against the back of the house was a giant tree, its lower branches preventing our getting out, its upper ones sticking through a window of my third floor room. And so the Class of 1942 was blown into Yale on a big wind.

         Yale provided what seemed total freedom and total temptations. Of course there were rules. For example, before I checked into my room on the third floor of Bingham Hall, I was given a freshly published pamphlet containing the dormitory rules. No stoves or refrigerators, no nails screws or tacks in the walls or woodwork, music permitted only between one and ten P.M., no firearms, no electrical appliances other than for lighting (but radios were approved), no women in the dorms, except between noon and six p.m., without written permission. On the positive side, “It is the duty of the janitors and janitresses to keep all studies, bedrooms, and toilet rooms thoroughly clean. They are paid by the University and the occupants of the rooms are requested

not to pay them for the above mentioned services.” The rule book added that “no private servants are allowed in the University buildings,” but one could arrange for contract services: “For polishing one pair of shoes each day, $6.00 per half year, for calling in the morning and making wood fires, $3.00 per half year; for care of clothes and laundry, $3.75 per half year.” 

            A second pamphlet, Rules for Attendance and Scholarship, also fresh off the University presses in September, 1938, gave us more guidance. We were allowed three cuts per term in each subject; absences before and after a holiday would count double. A mysterious note said that special (but unnamed) privileges were accorded to the hundred highest standing students in Freshman year. We were allowed five absences from gymnasium work required of Freshmen between Thanksgiving and April 1. Freshmen were to take five courses. Passing grade 60; lowest satisfactory grade 70; six credits granted for each course in which the grade is 75 or higher. Dropped courses are failures; drop two courses and you're out. Academic warnings to be issued November, January, and March. “Gentlemanly conduct” (aha!) required, with a warning (unspecified) on misconduct in which the use of liquor is involved; such conduct “will be regarded as a grave offence and may be summarily dealt with.” Women are permitted in Freshman dormitories from two (not noon?) to six p.m. and must be signed in. We are required to “deposit a copy of every periodical or other publication prepared, edited, or published by or under the direction of any student” in the University Library on the day of publication. Freshmen are not permitted to operate automobiles or motorcycles, and permission is required to operate “any form of aircraft.” My car went to a garage a couple of blocks from my room. For five dollars per month, it was kept indoors (upstairs, using a creaky elevator). One could telephone the garage and have the car delivered, the only requirement being to return the driver to the garage. I generally abided by the Freshman rules about driving during the term in New Haven and used the car for weekends and holidays out of town. No such restriction applied to upperclassmen.

The rules were not hard to abide by, and within them we had plenty of opportunity to exercise our freedom and the requisite responsibility. It was possible during freshman year to observe fellow students who were unable to handle the liberty. Some of us smugly thought that they had been too sheltered in their church-related prep schools or that they came from such hick places beyond the Hudson that New Haven was for them Sin City. But I doubt now that these easy generalizations often applied.

            That first year in Bingham was in many ways one of experiment. I had roommates for the first time, chosen by lottery. Claude Douthit, whose parents lived in Florida (orange groves, shoe leather) and Watch Hill, and Douglas Stephen Barlow Houser, whose father published the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, arrived the day I did. Somehow we agreed that Doug would take the single bedroom and Claude and I the double in our three-room suite overlooking Chapel Street near the corner of College, a place where the trolleys rattled, banged, squealed, and sparked turning the corner all day and much of the night. When they weren't operating at night, the transit company was replacing rails, the jack hammers banging and welding torches flashing.

            Claude and I soon discovered that we had similar interests and that Doug's were different Doug might as well have been rooming alone: each day his activities took him in other directions, and we seldom even went to the freshman commons for meals at the same time. On the other hand, Claude and I met and cultivated the same friends, tried some of the same extracurricular activities, and often went to the same parties or gave parties of our own. And sometimes, on weekends when nothing else was afoot, we would go to the liquor store on State Street, buy a bottle of really horrible but cheap scotch, and consume it back at the room into the small hours of the morning. My recollections of my introductory course in harmony are colored by memories of trying to think music through a throbbing hangover.

About liquor: From the age of twelve or thirteen, I had taken something to drink with the family at cocktail time. Occasionally, while listening to Big Bands (for example, Glen Gray at Pelham Bay) I would have a commercial drink, possibly a cuba libre. However, until I went to Yale, I had not had a hangover. Yale's weasling rule in the book was in fact a way of saying that it had worked out a satisfactory deal with the New Haven authorities. New Haven would not enforce its laws (age of drinking, sale of liquor to minors, disturbance of the peace) if Yale kept its drinking students under control, either on the campus or in sight of the campus police if in limited areas off campus. The campus police, plain-clothesmen who also served often as guards on gates of the old campus and the colleges, were expert at managing sozzled undergraduates and, at least from my limited view, kept us from damaging other people and others' property. I suppose that the dean and the health department tried to prevent the students from damaging themselves.

By torch and mask...” The only time I thought to try the health department was on the afternoon before “Hell Night” at Chi Psi, my brother Jim's fraternity, to which Claude and I were elected in sophomore year. Hell Night was part of the initiation ceremonies (seemingly endless) in all the Yale College fraternities, the last night when the pledge was under absolute control of his “fraternity father.” Whether it began in the bar of the Gothic fraternity house or just moved to the bar after earlier events, nevertheless it involved oceans of beer and as much hard liquor as one's “father” chose to buy for his pledge. Jim had warned me that I would have to drink a lot, and so I inquired at the health department beforehand. Advice: “Make yourself sick often. Before going to bed, take two aspirins and drink two glasses of water.” And so, while pledges were launching themselves onto the floor to slide in the beer on their bare chests, I was fed tumblers of whiskey and brandy, withdrawing occasionally to the facilities to obey the doctor. The 2 a.m. exit from the Chi Psi house, I noted, was monitored by the campus police who managed to get everyone back to his dormitory without incident. And the next morning, when I brought my “father” his orange juice at his college, I discovered to my delight that he had a fierce hangover and I didn't.

            Freshman year was different from the upperclass years partly because of the operation of the almost new “college system.” Until after World War II, all freshmen were housed on the Old Campus, ate in the freshman commons, and stayed away from the residential colleges. Our courses, sports, and social life were designed for freshmen. In the spring of the year, applications were submitted for admission to a college in sophomore year. Because the college masters had some choice in the matter (the impersonal lottery had not yet been instituted), friends with connections to the college of one's choice were helpful if they were willing to take you to tea at the master's house on Sunday or introduce you to the college's Fellows. In my case, Norris Hoyt, our Bingham Hall freshman counselor and a graduate student, took Claude and me to tea at the house of Robert and Margaret French, who presided over Jonathan Edwards College. I was charmed by the Frenches and those of the Fellows I met and consequently wholly delighted when we were selected for JE.                                                         To top


“Examinations made us pale...”

            But we did not move in until the fall of 1939, and there was still Freshman year to be negotiated. Unfocussed is the closest I can come to summarizing it. Although the rooms in Bingham provided a physical and to some extent an emotional base, they were not really a home away from home.

            The center of my activity was academic, with five courses. Monday morning was English 10, section 6, I have learned in recent years that the faculty members who assigned classes in precomputer-scheduling days often chose students from the large pool of freshmen according to names, trying to match the instructor's name with those of his students. For example, Professor Pope might be given a class that included Mr. Bishop, Mr. Church, Mr. See, Mr. Parsons, and so on. Or the Field and Stream Division, taught by Mr. Fox, would include Mr. Wolf, Mr. Hare, Mr. Bear, Mr. Bird, and possibly Robin Smith. If I had been in such a class, I think I might have noticed, but about all I remember about the English class is that we read some stodgy stuff in a stodgy fashion.

            German 41 was not a freshman course; it was worse. It was “Scientific German,” which I was taking because I entered Yale with the idea that I would go on to represent a family of Great Surgeons by being the fourth generation's sole example. To reinforce the program in German, I also “heeled” the undergraduate German magazine, Die Eli Rundschau, not as a writer but as a member of the advertising staff. This involved my soliciting ads from the beer gardens along 86th Street west of Henderson Place in New York, a moderately entertaining occupation for a short period. The magazine did not survive long after the start of World War II in the fall of the next year.

My premedical program led to my subjecting myself to Chemistry 14, Section 8, after the sad chemical beginning I had in Andover spraying my neighbor with hot manganese dioxide. I didn't do any better at Yale, finding the subject difficult and depressing. That it was taught in the chemistry building way up Prospect Street, about as far from Bingham Hall as one could get, did not make me enjoy it more, especially since the walk up the hill was often in the cold or wet. To top off the disadvantages, its laboratories were on Thursday and Saturday mornings at 8.00 AM. On Saturday, the lecture followed the lab, as if to twist the knife. My negative feelings about chemistry bad nothing to do with the instructor, Stuart Brinkley, a fellow of Jonathan Edwards College, whom I came to know well later and admire on many counts.

            Although I learned little about chemistry from that class, I learned something about courage and self-possession and the chanciness of life. One morning in the Spring toward the end of the lecture, a man entered the room, interrupted Stuart Brinkley, and spoke to him in a low voice. Brinkley quickly but quietly dismissed the class and went out with the visitor. We soon learned that in a laboratory on another floor, Brinkley's son had reached for a reagent sitting on a shelf separating two long lab benches and, as he touched the bottle, it had exploded. Seriously injured, with the loss of a hand and damaged eyesight and bits of black lab bench embedded in his skin, the young man's survival was touch and go. But on his recovery, he went back to chemistry and ultimately qualified for college teaching.

            Zoology 11, Animal Biology, was another course I took for premedical studies. This one went better than chemistry or German. Part of the plan for the course was to have guest lectures presented to all sections of the course at one time. The one we might have expected to be the least attractive was about spiders, but the guest, Yale's Professor Petrunkevitch, held me spellbound.

            My other subject was Music10, Elementary Theory, the assignments for which I sometimes did on Sundays through a hangover. In fact, I scored reasonably well in the course, with a 75 the first term with Mr. Donovan and a 90 in the second with H. L. Smith, and this success apparently led me to take a course in sophomore year entitled The Polyphonic Era. In junior year, my music course was with Beekman Cannon, resident fellow and later master of JE. In it, I studied among other works the piano concertos of Mozart and prepared a term paper on some of them. I got a 75 on the paper and a gentlemanly C in the course, but I took from it a lasting love of these works. Because I never played a musical instrument and never really learned to read music, I was wholly dependent on recordings for my response to the music, and I bought recordings of five or six of the concertos. These were, of course, on 78 rpm shellac records, packaged in albums of three or more per concerto.

Toward the end of freshman year I concluded that the prospect of pursuing medicine as a profession was the cause of much of my feeling of being “unfocussed” and depressed, and one evening in New York I told Dad I did not want to be a Successor Surgeon. I had hesitated a long time because for many years I had professed to be dedicated, I had watched operations, I had helped Dad demonstrate the Furniss Intestinal Anastomoses Clamp, and had tagged along sometimes when Dad made hospital rounds. And so I thought that Dad would be hurt by my seeming to scorn the profession to which he had given his life and in which he had hoped to see me succeed To my relief and instant gratitude, he immediately said that it was good that I had discovered now that it was not a profession I wanted to pursue. He then asked if I had another in mind, and when I said no he replied that he was glad: I had plenty of time to make a decision; I should keep the options open.

            So I ended my first year with much more freedom than I had started it. It had never occurred to me that my expectations for a career had been far more confining and controlling than anything that appeared in the university's rule books. Thus, the summer of 1939 approached bathed in light.                                             To top


“We take our ease...”

            By the summer of 1939, I had a new car: a 1939 Plymouth deluxe coupe, made possible by a bequest from my aunt, Mamie Jordan. That summer, the Bronx Whitestone Bridge opened—then a slim ribbon of road suspended from two high towers by a lovely system of cables. After the Tacoma bridge, using the same design, collapsed in a high wind, the present reinforcements were added at the sides of the Whitestone's road, destroying some of its original elegance. The bridge had been built in part to carry traffic from Westchester County and beyond to the New York World's Fair. Through the Yale Daily News office, we were able to buy a twenty—admission college ticket to the fair for five dollars, such a bargain that the ticket required an I.D. picture to prevent illegal swapping.

            With the car, the ticket, and the Whitestone bridge, we (my brother Jim, our Pelham and nearby friends, and I) spent considerable time at the fair. In its first year it was exciting and generally upbeat, somehow able to ignore until fall the growing crisis in the world it celebrated. Because we could drop in after a drive lasting less than half an hour, we were not forced by lack of time to pack everything into one visit, to eat expensive meals in the fair's restaurants, or to make it all worth while by spending too much time on the midway (Playland in Rye was still a pleasanter, smaller-scale amusement park).

            But we visited all the free exhibits and even Gypsy Rose Lee's delightful striptease. Unlike the routine of the scandalous Sally Rand at the Chicago World's Fair of the early thirties, Gypsy's performance had a wry, sophisticated patter that allowed her to keep huge audiences entertained as she slowly discarded one garment, then another. The burden of her spiel was, “When I take this off, you think I'm thinking of sex. But I'm not, I'm thinking of Proust's memories . . . .” At the end, she was still more modestly dressed than many of today's beach bunnies. Standing next to the parting of the closed stage curtains, she finally removed her bra and simultaneously slipped behind the curtain with a deftness that would have deceived a strobe camera. Nevertheless, the audience gasped at her daring—then giggled, realizing that it had been had, but entertainingly so. Curtain calls involved at the most the head and a leg unconcealed by the curtain.

Such was public sex in the summer of 1939, at least that served up by New York for the Lady from Dubuque. Boston had its Old Howard burlesque house, New Haven had one, the Gaiety, that limped through part of my time there and then folded. Having been taken to one show in New York by Dad's chauffeur, Johnny Mazza, at a very early age and having been disgusted by the dirt and the truly unattractive “girls” (poor things), I was not destined to be a devotee of burlesque. There was the evening when, on the spur of the moment, a group of six of us drove from New Haven to the surprisingly elegant burlesque house in Bridgeport and bought tickets in a box The house welcomed women in the audience and there were several that night. One of our number was familiar with someone in the management and arranged a surprise. Considering that we had talked ourselves into doing something not quite proper (i.e. attending a sex show), and glad of the anonymity of doing it outside our regular territory, what a shock when one of the comedians incorporated the name of our most modest companion in his routine and indicated his victim by broad gestures toward our box.

            Sex, although discussed with the usual relish among my friends and classmates, was for few of them a central part of their college years. We saw a wide separation between enjoying the company of our girlfriends (including seeing one almost exclusively over a long period) and sleeping around, which was what people did who were not us. Pornography was available, but neither easily nor, when it did appear, of high quality either as art or provocation. The things we found titillating in the public market were few.

            There were some aberrations that escaped through the accepted screens. The most notorious at Yale in my first year were the mailings from Sewickley, Pennsylvania, signed by one George Frederick Gundelfinger. These appeared in the Yale Station post office boxes with fair regularity. But, despite having been professionally printed and often running to many pages of teat, they were impenetrable in their meaning, What they seemed to be saying was that one's mental powers could be notably increased if one practiced “sublimate pumping” regularly. The practice, as far as one could fathom it, was masturabation without orgasm. Gundelfinger asserted that it was so beneficial that no roommate could logically object. If there were any other messages, they did not come through.

One fine moment at the World's Fair occurred when my then “steady,” Jean Fuller, came out of a ladies room to tell us what she had just overheard, spoken in a fine Brooklyn accent:

“So there he was . . . jest standin' there starin' at me .... And I sez to him AW RIGHT AW RIGHT . . . . And he sez to me AW RIGHT AW RIGHT . . . . I was SO MAD I coulda took off me brazeer and tied it in KNOTS!!!”

            Of course, we did not spend all our time at the fair. But it still was not a serious summer despite the war clouds gathering. We had parties, went to the movies, read books, played cards and bowled, swam at the country club, and talked to one another endlessly. In July, I gave a scavenger hunt. Between the start after dinner and the finish at midnight, the participating couples were to find these objects: two fried eggs sewed together; a radish with full foliage attached; a recording of “The music goes round and round;” an old fashioned kerosene lamp (ones with red chimneys not accepted—they would have been stolen from road excavations); a picture of Barina from Terry and the Pirates; the second verse to The Star Spangled Banner; the number of 20s (numerals or words) on a twenty-dollar bill; a green light bulb; a Jolly Roger; an article from the World's Fair not advertising the World's Fair; a palimpsest; a blonde over 5 feet 10 inches in height (female); a copy of Ulysses by James Joyce (tsk tsk!); a live cockroach.

            The hunt was a success and was duly written up in the Mount Vernon and New Rochelle daily newspapers. Ingenious players, not wishing to add a blonde to their team, wrote “5 feet 10 inches” on a piece of paper and had Jean Fuller stand on it at the midnight reckoning. The “tsk tsk!” on the Joyce item was my editorial exclamation. My friends Beecher and CC Hogan spent their honeymoon in Paris in the late twenties and bought paper editions of Ulysses and Lady Chatterly's Lover, both banned at the time at home. Having read them on shipboard, they could not bear to throw them overboard, and so CC disembarked in New York with three paperback volumes stuffed in her knickers. By a remarkable coincidence they saw in a copy of the World Telegram on the dock that the ban on Ulysses had been judicially lifted the day before. They had, however, been met by her straight-laced parents, who didn't let her out of their sight until late in the day, and she carried her guilty burden until dinner time.

            The end of the summer saw our family again seated in the evening in the den of the Pelham house, this time to get the news of a military, not a meteorological, hurricane, this one sweeping out of Germany. For me and many of my generation, it was the opening moment in the most important change in our young years, although I doubt many of us recognized it for what it was. By the time we were twenty-five, if we managed to survive the war and the less dramatic vicissitudes of the period, the world we had been brought up in no longer existed. The summer of 1939 serves as a kind of model of prewar life. Postwar life has often been as carefree and as pleasant and has been in many ways more satisfying, but it has been very different. Between September 1939 and my enlistment in the Army in May, 1942, some of the capacity for making change satisfying began to be built into our lives.                                                                                                                                                   To top


“We have a task ...”

            In September, 1939, Claude and I took up residence in number 700 Jonathan Edwards College, a standard three-room suite overlooking York Street, and before long became involved in the college's activities. My sophomore academic program, apart from the required Psychology 13, was much more to my taste than the Freshman one. Classics 101, Greek Civilization, with Bernard Knox turned out to be fascinating. Philosophy 10 was taught by F. S. C. Northrop in the first term and by Blanshard in the second. Blanshard managed to make order out of the confusion I encountered with the difficult concepts of logic and Boolean algebra. Sophomore English and the music course on the Polyphonic Era rounded out the program. The psychology course was one of the big ones, taught in a large lecture room by Leonard Doob. Like many college students I have known since, I took the course hoping that it would give me some instant insight into my own psychological grapplings and some therapy in resolving my troubles. And like many college students, I found that the course did nothing of the sort but was instead a survey of psychological theory, with few illustrations. The “C” I got for the year did not keep me from the dean's list.

Jonathan Edwards provided a fine base. It was for me a real home, supplementing and complementing the home I had with Mother and Dad. For example, like 6 Henderson Place, the college was “complete” in that one not only slept and ate there, but kept there one's belongings, left from there to do the things of the world and returned after they were done, and within the walls had surrogate parents, uncles and aunts, brothers (if not sisters), and servants. Bob and Margaret French were the parents, if one needed them, and careful not to interfere if one did not. The uncles and aunts were the fellows and some of the fellows' wives. Almost as soon as I moved to the college, I came to know all four resident fellows and over the years our friendship grew: Joe Curtiss of the English Department, Bob Bates (French), Holkins Dillingham (Ding) Palmer (architecture), and Beekman Cannon (music).

            The year before, brother Jim had felt some moments of doubt about staying at Yale and had announced to Dad that he wanted to go off to South Africa with a character (not a Yale student) whose bona fides Dad doubted. He persuaded Jim to go back to Yale and immediately called Bob Bates, whom he knew Jim admired. According to Dad, Bob persuaded Jim that his problem was his sense of loyalty to some of the friends he had made in freshman year who were pursuing courses of action that Jim disapproved of. The only way he could see to withdraw without alienating them was to leave Yale entirely. Bob Bates's solution was to encourage Jim to strike out on his own at Yale, find activities he did like and through them friends with whom he could enjoy himself. The prescription worked. Jim's first move in the new direction was to start working with the Yale Dramatic Association, the “Dramat.”

            Jonathan Edwards provided not only the resident uncles but also non-resident uncles and aunts. The fellows numbered more than twenty and met once a week for dinner in a special dining room. Undergraduates, generally, did not come to know them unless they had classes with them or they were involved in the college's undergraduate activities. My chief point of contact was the JE Gilbert and Sullivan Club whose principal sparks were Beekman Cannon and Beecher Hogan. Of all the non-resident fellows, I admired most and felt closest to Beecher, a Vermonter who, because he had chosen not to produce the required dissertation in the required form in the required time, had not achieved the Yale Ph.D. Instead, he pursued scholarship and his other interests (a long, long list), often collaborating with his wife CC (Caroline Christian Crosby Hogan, once of Minneapolis). His relation to Yale in my time was the kind possible when Yale was able to adapt its policies to use those with independent incomes: Beecher was not a faculty member, but he was a fellow of JE; he did not hold a regular appointment, but he was a major mover in the popular university course “Daily Themes” and later the Scholar of the House Program; and he directed the Gilbert and Sullivan performances in JE. He and CC also were generous of their time, their charm, and their library to those undergraduates who made the effort to visit their handsome house in Woodbridge.

            Although I joined Chi Psi fraternity in sophomore year and took some pleasure from using the clubhouse's dining room and bar for entertaining, if I had known how completely JE would satisfy my social and intellectual needs I would not have sought membership. As it was, in my two upperclass years I used Chi Psi less and less and came to find its activities increasingly embarrassing, especially the ritual and the hazing. Although I have responded to no fraternity mailing in nearly fifty years, I continue to be on their mailing list and suppose I will stay there until the Yale Alumni Office knows that I am where the mail cannot be delivered.

            In JE I started working with the Gilbert and Sullivan Society, always behind the scenes, and usually with the title “Stage Manager.” The job entailed designing and preparing the sets for whatever show was to be done that year. In fact, I did this for shows both before and after World War II. At first, the performances were in the Junior Common Room, the long room between the entrance and the dining hall, used for all JE's concerts and other performances. A low sectional platform was set up at the far end of the room. The simplest scenery was only a painted backdrop about 8 x 8 feet mounted at the back of the platform and concealing the one entrance from the Senior Common Room which served as the “wings.”

For The Gondoliers I provided two backdrops, but also improvised a front “curtain” out of wallboard panels which, with handles and, at the bottom, feet made of shelf brackets, could be set up before the performance and be moved backstage during it, and then back to the stage at the intermission. On the first panel I bad painted “The G” and the silhouette of a gentleman bowing toward the silhouette of a lady on the second panel, which carried the letters “ON.” Panels three and four carried the red rose and the white rose, which figure in the operetta, with the letters “DO” and “U.” On the last two panels were the lady and the gentleman balancing the first two, and “ER” and “S”—all the panels together clearly and ornamentally spelling the name of the show. When the panels were brought back at the end of the first act, the audience gasped. They were in the wrong order! They spelled—horrors—“The GERLIDOONS”! And then the audience saw that the gentlemen were now bowing to one another across the flowers and being goosed by the ladies' fans, while each lady had a wicked eye cocked at what she was doing. This, as I had hoped, brought the house down.

            I did two other shows in the Junior Common Room: Thespis and Trial by Jury. For the latter, since we were short of live jurors, I painted several more on the back wall of the jury box and above them, in handsome carved Roman letters, a fitting inscription, “UXOREM MEAM AMO SED O TU HAEDE. XXIII SKIDDOO.” After the war I designed a more ambitious stage that was erected in the dining hall. For it, I did sets for Gay's Beggar's Opera and a 19th Century melodrama involving a Noble Fireman. The sets of the first were based on Hogarth engravings. For the second, I devised a moving backdrop which in the final scene permitted the fire engine to race from the firehouse to the mansion without actually moving on the stage.

Other JE activities included drawing the cover, cartoons and sketches for the college magazine, The Spider's Web. I also did some posters for the interior bulletin board outside the common room advertising forthcoming entertainments, such as the wild success of January 1941, the Victorian Concert starring fellows of the college and their spouses: the Hogans, Jane and Lewis Curtis, Beekman Cannon, and Carl Lohman. The performers sometimes requested the posters following the performance, among them Ralph Kirkpatrick, and the duo Connie Sullivan and Jim Hendrick. On January 26, Paul Hindemith, recently arrived from Germany having fled the Nazis, gave a lecture. A diary note says,

When I came out of the dining hall, a whole group of the fellows and Hindemith and his wife were being vastly entertained by my poster. After the lecture... he saw me walking around with the poster and said his wife wanted it, so I inscribed it to them and passed it over. Quite an ovation for my second watercolor. They were intrigued by the two crossed eyes, and earlier in the evening it seems that Mrs. H. had asked Mrs. French whether she could buy it!

Heady moments in the common room.The next day there were more when Eleanor Roosevelt came to New Haven to address the freshmen, have tea with Arnold Wolfers, and then come to the JE Senior Common Room for dinner. I wrote,

Before she went in, she saw the dining room and walked through it to look at the kitchen. It was a great thrill and surprise for me. She is quite tall and homely enough, but has a super-charming manner and great poise. She was wearing a black dinner dress with a high white collar cut low in the back. There was one unfortunate thing, and that was that no one stood up when she passed through the dining hall. Of course, only half the people would probably have been on their feet by the time she got all the way to the kitchen and that would have been more embarrassing than I found it as it was.

As a Junior, I found my responsibilities to the image of the college sometimes hard going; it took me a long time to recover from this lapse in manners on our part.                                                                                          To top


We act our parts...”

The activities with the plays and entertainments of JE were paralleled by activities with the Dramat. Jim started working with the Dramat as an actor and sometimes actress, since the Dramat in those days did not use any more actresses than had Shakespeare. Claude also became involved, and I joined him.

            At first we both stuck to production, but Claude shortly gave that up for acting and, in senior year, became the president of the Dramat. I stuck with the work backstage, beginning with a 1920s farce called Merton of the Movies. Two shows were high points of my Dramat life. One—with which I had little more to do than observe—was the wonderfully extravagant performance of Aristophanes' Frogs that was staged in the exhibition pool of the Payne Whitney Gymnasium. It had not only a huge cast of actors, dancers, and swimmers (the frogs), but also a large collection of directors. The dance director, for example, was Juana de Laban, the inventor of “Labanotation.”

            But the best known was Monty Woolley, then notoriously successful for his performance as Sheridan Whiteside in The Man Who Came to Dinner. Woolley had been the paid director of the Dramat a quarter of a century before and had put on the Dramat's first production of The Frogs, one staged on the Old Campus. Someone in the Dramat thought it would be a great publicity stunt (it was) to invite Woolley to come to New Haven to be the director in charge of diction for the new production. And so, with much fanfare, he came. It shortly became clear that, at his pace, it would take the ten rehearsal days to perfect no more than a hundred lines to Woolley's satisfaction. In desperation the management set up a Mory's roster. Under it, members of the Dramat were assigned to pick up Woolley at his quarters in the late morning, take him to Mory's, feed him drinks and food, and turn him over to the next team, also mandated to keep him mildly sloshed and out of the rehearsal hall. By extraordinary teamwork, the next appearance of Woolley anywhere near the cast was moments before the start of the opening performance when he and his keepers entered the center box. He bowed appreciatively to the applause and the lights went down.

The performance was gorgeous. As the audience gathered, the pool was only dimly lighted. A boat was moored at one corner of the pool, and elsewhere on the water floated huge lily pads. As the house lights went down, the underwater lights came up, and a spot came onto the boat, revealing Charon and Dionysus. Breathtaking! This show also proved the value of dress rehearsals. The frogs' costumes consisted of frog heads, swim fins, and a broad triangular green breech clout. Attention of the costume department had been heavily on the heads (complicated in construction) and the fins, which were available only in California and had to be air-freighted to New Haven at huge cost (“O dem golden flippers”). Consequently, at the dress rehearsal, when the two dozen frogs squatted to give their cheer, “Brek-ek-ek-ex co-ax co-ax,” the Life Magazine cameraman snapped two dozen bare bottoms with scarcely a shred of modest green showing. That's when I got involved in the show, helping the costume crew sew up twenty-four back panels for the first performance. We were not yet in the days of Hair.

            The other great Dramat show was The Waterbury Tales, first performed at the end of February, 1941, the weekend of the Junior Prom. An original musical show written by members of the Dramat, it loomed large in my life, since I was a principal undergraduate member of the costume crew, working with the costume designer, Joe Fretwell, and costume mistress, Sally Ross Dinsmore, both of whom were on the Dramat payroll for the show. By the time of the first performance, I knew all the songs and all the lines, and I was as exhausted as any of the actors. If the show had not been a good one, I would not still be humming the tunes and using snatches of the lyrics and the book. But I have discovered that those who did not see the show are seldom as gripped by its delights as those of us involved in it. With considerable restraint, therefore, I am limiting myself to two more paragraphs about it.

Technically the show was a “musical revue,” a genre popular in the thirties, tied together by the fiction that ten undergraduates, driving to Waterbury for “the city's first debut / In nineteen years or rather / Since 1922,” suffer a breakdown of their transportation and are left— dressed in their evening clothes—to hitchhike the rest of the way. As they go, they tell tales. The tales, based on traditional ones, are the substance of the two acts. At the end, they arrive at the party and go through the receiving line, shortest one first. The debutante, her mother, and her grandmother are on an inconspicuous platform; nevertheless, it raises their heights by about five inches, and the deb was the shortest. That was brother Jim, whose normal height was six feet four inches.

            The tales were adaptations or parodies of The Comedy of Errors; Sir Thomas Malory's Morte d'Arthur (in which Claude Douthit, as Phoebe Beebe, wishes into existence a knight in shining armor, Sir Wilberfors of Underswitch, played as a crashing bore by Jim Furniss. His chief line, from Tennyson: “My strength is as the strength of ten because my heart is pure.”); the story of Pygmalion, in which Abercrombie & Fitch, Brooks, Peck & Peck, Spalding, Tecla, and Lanz of Salzburg transform an ordinary girl (Jack Fletcher) into a model college girl; patriotic songs (“Americancan”); Cyrano de Bergerac (Claude as Roxanne); Damon and Pythias (“Let's be roommates”); the Pied Piper (“There's a meatball who lives in Calhoun,” but when he plays his clarinet “Has he got the stuff? You can bet he has.”); and the Lorelei (Jack Fletcher, with Jim as a smitten sailor).

The popularity of the show was undeniable,— in both its first run and in the touring company formed during the winter of 1941-2 that played, among other places, at the Waldorf in New York. Some of the attraction for Yale (faculty as well as undergraduates) lay in the “in-jokes”; for example, Calhoun College at the time was known as “the meatball college,” just as JE was the “long hair college,” and others were labeled by their supposed characteristics. But much more important, and entertaining a much larger audience, were the sophisticated book and lyrics, the fine show music, and the artfully lavish production on the Drama School's

mainstage. In fact, on many of these counts, The Waterbury Tales outdid Broadway-bound musicals that tried out in New Haven. Finally, for the cast and crew it was a wholly absorbing team effort that worked on many levels, including some unexpected ones.

            The last dress rehearsal had troubles, including the eight-inch zipper of Jim's debutante dress ripping out when he hugged his grandmother in thanks; he completed the scene holding the costume on with his left hand—all sixty-four yards of tulle in the skirt and the satin bodice-cum-boobs gaping

at the back. But when the curtain went down it was close to 2.30 a.m. on the day of the opening We needed sleep, and we had to get cleaned up and meet our dates coming from Smith, Vassar, Mt. Holyoke, and cities to the south. But at 2.30 Burt Shevelove, the director, called the cast and crew to attention and announced that we would repeat the dress rehearsal, and this time DO 1T RIGHT. As we gaped in horror, Burt came apart and began to babble. Those nearest him, with a wisdom beyond their years, gathered him up, took him home, and put him to bed. The first performance went without a hitch, and Jim's zipper stayed in.

            Working with Joe Fretwell, Sally Ross Dinsmore, and other present and former students of the Yale School of Drama led me to acquaintanceship with several practicing professionals in the New York theater: Mary Schenck, a designer who worked with Donald Oenslager on a new Met production of Trovatore as well as on productions at Central City, Colorado; Norris Houghton, a director who spent some summers directing the Denver “Post Opera” in its extravagant musicals with casts of hundreds, including always Helen Bonfils, the principal angel; Dean Gooddelle, choreographer; Raoul Pene DuBois, designer.

New Haven's Schubert Theater was then one of the principal out-of-town theaters for tryouts. My theater-going in New Haven, and on holidays in New York, became almost as obsessive as my adolescent movie-going had been. I saved my tickets and programs and ultimately had them bound, later giving the three bound volumes to the Yale Library for its theater collection. These volumes, although still included in the catalog, were mislaid when the theater collection was consolidated with other collections, but I have been able to reconstruct this tasty list of some of the shows I saw in my Yale (and late Andover) years:

Hamlet (Leslie Howard), Tonight at 8.30 (Noel Coward, Gertrude Lawrence), Boy Meets Girl (the Spewacks), Reflected Glory (Bankhead), Tobacco Road (Barton as Jeeter Lester), Leave It To Me (Cole Porter), The Boys from Syracuse (Rodgers & Hart), The Forsaken Invalid (Kaufman & Hart), The Philadelphia Story (Hepburn, Shirley Booth, Van Heflin, Joseph Cotton, premiere), The Primrose Path (Betty Field), The Little Foxes (Bankhead), Key Largo, Hellzapoppin, Juno and the Paycock (Barry Fitzgerald, Sara Allgood, Abbey Theater), Pins and Needles (ILGWU) See My Lawyer (Milton Berle, Teddy Hart), Kiss the Boys Goodbye (Clare Boothe), Oscar Wilde (Robert Morley), Henry IV Part I (Maurice Evans), Family Portrait (Judith Anderson), The Mikado (D'Oyly Carte Company), Abe Lincoln in Illinois (Raymond Massey), The Man Who Came to Dinner (Woolley), Life With Father (Howard Lindsay, Dorothy Stickney), George Washington Slept Here (Kaufman & Hart), Panama Hattie (Cole Porter, Ethel Merman), My Sister Eileen (Shirley Booth), Pal Joey (John O'Hara; Gene Kelly), Best Foot Forward (June Allyson), Arsenic and Old Lace (Laura Hope Crews, Erich von Stroheim), Blithe Spirit (Noel Coward, Clifton Webb, Peggy Wood, Mildred Natwick ).

This is a partial list, but sufficient to indicate that theater-going was both exciting and easy. My tickets usually cost less than three dollars and they were readily available. I often decided to go to the theater after dinner at 6 Henderson Place. I would get on the 86th Street bus outside the door, take the Lexington Avenue subway to Grand Central and the shuttle to Times Square, walk to the theater I wanted to attend, buy a ticket, and be in my seat in comfortable time for the 8.30 or 8.40 curtain. This ease (and lack of expense) continued through the war years. In the second week of Oklahoma in the spring of 1943, I dropped by the box office while on military leave and got a good seat to what was, during the war, one of the smash hits on Broadway.

            Shows I have not mentioned above include some in which my friends and acquaintances had a hand. It was their custom on opening night to repair to Ralph's (the “Poor Man's Sardi's”) and wait for the midnight reviewer, Bide Dudley, to give his verdict on radio. The times that I joined them, the news was at best neutral; I never attended a celebration of a hit.

For a time in 1940 and 1941, I was ready to make a career of something in the production end of theater, but as my involvement with theatrical enterprises grew my enthusiastic naivete about the charms of the theatrical life was eroded by observing that few of my professional friends were even moderately content with the theater, the pay, the colleagues, or New York. It was a cutthroat game with the irritations endlessly aggravated by a kind of petty bitchery. A comparison of the size of the casts of shows then and now demonstrates the problem for actors. Take now first: most shows on Broadway and in the provinces have casts numbering two to six. Musicals, other than “intimate revues,” still sometimes run to extravagant casts, but also to extravagant production costs and more than extravagant prices. A random selection of some of the shows produced in 1938 shows the following: All The Living, an unmemorable show, cast of 35; Schoolhouse on the Lot (Chodorov & Fields), 31; Our Town, 43. Great Lady, with music by Frederick Loewe, had a cast of 42 plus 19 ladies and 11 gentlemen of the ballet. Even a magic show, Sim Sala Bim, had a cast of 36. Granted, there were jobs for actors, but with an orchestra seat at the Biltmore on Broadway for a true hit, My Sister Eileen, going for $3.30, the pay was miserable.

            By the time of my senior year, I knew that the theater was not where I wanted to try my skills, and anyway, the war and the draft took the choice out of my hands. Nevertheless, the theater apart from production has remained a strong interest, and I have little trouble recalling some of its best moments, whether from The Philadelphia Story or The Waterbury Tales.                                                                                                    To top


“Made good friends and studied some”

            In the summer of 1940, Jim and I took a three-week trip to Idaho and Santa Fe. My summary notes show:

            Car used: Plymouth, 1939, deluxe business coupe.

            Cost of trip: for both, Including entertainment and purchases: $230

            Total mileage: 6910

            Approximate mileage per gallon: 19

            Gas: About 300 gallons. Price range from 12 ½ to 35 cents per gallon.

            Tires: No flats or blowouts

            Top mileage for one day: August 18, 770 miles. [N. Platte, Nebraska, to Pocatello. Idaho]

            What about that cost? Going back to my diaries and scrapbooks and newspapers of the twenties and thirties, I have been struck again and again by what seem to be the very low prices we had to pay for things and services. Postage for a card was one cent, for a letter two and then three cents. Candy bars were a nickel. The toasted cheese sandwich at Leon's in Andover was a nickel. The cream cheese and olive sandwich at the Automat on 86th Street was three nickels. Popular books were two dollars. My tickets to Broadway shows were under three dollars. New Arrow shirts in 1941 could be had for two dollars or less. My new Plymouth in 1939 was $823. The cost of luxury—luncheon for two (with my cousin Jane) at the new Sert Room of the Waldorf at ten dollars or the round-trip air fare New York to Bermuda (outbound in the Dixie Clipper, the 1941 equivalent of the Concorde) in 1941 at $120—seems very low from today's vantage point On the other hand, Dad's depression-time worry about the IRS wanting an additional $3,000 was real enough, as was his delight in 1941 when Cousin Annie's gift of $3,000 allowed him to buy his first Cadillac in ten years. (She said, “You don’t look well, Dawson. I want you to have your inheritance from me now.”)

            Using Commerce Department data, it is possible to get some perspective on this apparent Utopia. Two factors are significant. The first is that the period I am most concerned with in this paper, that in which I was receiving an allowance and paying cash or writing checks for nearly all my daily expenses, was in fact a period of stable or declining prices. Prices were high in 1920. After the stock market crash of 1929, they declined, then (after a law in 1933) they stabilized until 1941 when World War II began to have an effect and prices started up. The accompanying table uses a relatively new government inflation calculator which allows calculations up to 1999 [My original publication of this chart in 1992 used my own calculator and went only as far as 1990.] Using the table, the prices I have noted seem more in scale: 59 cents for a candy bar, a little over $2,700 for the western trip, $119 for the lunch at the Sert Room (no wonder Dad blanched when I claimed reimbursement), and $9,800 for my Plymouth (Only the last was a real bargain).

COST OF LIVING - 1920-1999

If it cost

this in

Then you would have paid these amounts in the years indicated:

(Source, CPI Inflation Calculator: http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/bu2/inflateCPI.html)





































































































Junior year began with a new roommate, Charles Purcell Ripley, who in 1949 was promoted to brother-in-law when his sister Barbara and I were married. Claude Douthit had decided to move to the brand new Yale college, Silliman, with Fitz Pannill, and I was mildly adrift when Chuck, Davis Given, and Jim Anderson worked out a deal with Bob French: collectively, they could have 714 JE, a standard suite on the courtyard side of the York Street building, and 716 JE across the hall, a fellow's suite with good space and a bath, if they found a fourth roommate. I was invited and the arrangement held through senior year. As it turned out, though Chuck and I had keys to 716, we seldom used it except to climb in and out of one of its bedroom windows when the York Street college gate was locked, thus avoiding having to go to the High Street gate on our way to and from York Street.

            Chuck's academic program, International Relations, and his extracurricular activities, sports management and Glee Club, kept him busy. Our activities overlapped almost exclusively in the internal JE functions. My own life had taken on a pattern it kept through graduation: academic work, Gilbert and Sullivan and the Dramat, theater, parties on the holidays. The war in Europe, which most of the time seemed far away, was in fact muscling in on our lives in more ways than subscription dances for Bundles for Britain. The military draft was instituted and unless we had a physical disability to provide exemption, those our age were destined to be drafted and serve. Jim graduated in June, 1941, and went to Atlanta to work on the Atlanta Constitution, but it was not long before he was back in New York as an enlisted man with the Counter Intelligence Corps. Some of our classmates had left Yale before graduation to join the armed forces of Canada or Great Britain and increasingly there were gaps in our ranks.

             I had now decided to major in English, and I took a full program of “arts subjects” that continued into senior year. Of the ten courses in the last two years, five were in English, two in art, one in music, one in philosophy, and one—belatedly filling a requirement—in history. My English teachers were Bob French and Joe Curtiss of Jonathan Edwards, Chauncey Tinker, and Alec Witherspoon; the music course was with Beekman Cannon, art (sketching and composition) with Diedrickson and Rathbone, philosophy with Stevenson, and history with Basil Duke Henning. I found all the work enjoyable, even the history. At Andover the mandatory American History course and I had not really been simpatico; it was for this reason that I had postponed the Yale requirement. Henning's course made me regret that delay

My first direct confrontation with the effects of the war in Europe on the United States occurred—maybe characteristically—while I pursued a wholly unwarlike project: going to Bermuda for spring vacation in 1941. This time, there was no champagne departure on the Monarch of Bermuda. Instead, for me it was an even more exciting departure on Pan American's Dixie Clipper from the seaplane base at La Guardia airport. The Boeing Clippers were very new. Here's Panam's reassuring blurb:

The modern transatlantic Clippers are Boeing flyingboats, type B-314, the largest commercial aircraft in the world. Powered with four engines, with a wingspread of 152 feet and an overall length of 106 feet, they have a high speed of approximately 190 miles an hour. The beam in the cabin is 12½ feet, and in water they draw 4 feet. The Clipper's capacity of fuel, most of which is stored in the “sponsons” or seawings, is 5,460 gallons. The interior of the Clipper is divided into two decks. On the lower deck in addition to the five passenger compartments, each of which contains ten seats by day and six berths at night, there are a Lounge, a Men's and a Women's dressing room and lavatory, and the Galley. The crew's quarters and Flight Deck are situated respectively forward of and over the Passenger Deck.

The Clipper left La Guardia on the morning of Saturday, March 5, 1941. Mother and Dad saw me off at the airport before they took off for a drive to Boston. The next morning's New York Times told what happened: “Gale Forces Back Dixie Clipper.” With 17 passengers for Bermuda and seven for Lisbon, the plane had left LaGuardia at 8.57 a.m. and had returned at 3.01 p.m. “The passengers were offered free hotel accommodations for the night and were invited to attend a performance of ‘Flight to the West’ at the Royale Theater.”

            Because Mother and Dad were in Boston, I accepted Panam's offer of a hotel room, going to the Westbury (single room $5 and up) with an American woman about to be married for the fourth time, her new husband to be a scion of the a famous European automobile family. Her sixteen year old son (she claimed to be 32) and I stayed in a regular hotel room while she occupied the permanent suite she had at the hotel. She claimed that the summer before, she and her European friends had traveled the countries of Europe seeking the spot where the best trout could be eaten. No wonder I tagged her with a tabloid label as an International Jewel Thief.

            The next morning we took off again from La Guardia, dirty water splashing up past the windows, and (with the curtains drawn as a security measure as we approached Bermuda) landed in the sparkling clean waters of Hamilton's harbor. I had not made a reservation for a place to stay, but on the recommendation of the Jewel Thief was well accommodated at a guest house operated by one Alexander “Sandy” Frith and stayed eleven days. Bermuda was not what it had been when Jane Furniss and I were there in 1937. The hotels that were open were strictly business, and the merrymakers were absent. The roads, still without cars, were nearly deserted. I rented a bicycle and, with a Scotsman my age I met somehow, rode the island interminably in the chilly spring weather. At last, paying my $49 to Mr. Frith ($4 per day, plus three luncheon picnics at $.50, pressing at $.50, and a large tip of $3), I climbed aboard a Panam “Betsy,” a six-engine high-wing flying boat, for my return flight to Baltimore's harbor, and transferred to an Eastern flight back to New York. The whole trip was something of an adventure, but it impressed on me more strongly than anything at home that a war was in fact being fought.

            Late in the fall of 1941, the Dramat was head-down in preparing for the tour of The Waterbury Tales. So head-down, in fact, that when someone entered the costume room to announce that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor, my only reaction was, “Where's Pearl Harbor?” and it was several hours before some of the significance began to sink in. During the next day, Mother telephoned from New York to ask if we were safe in New Haven; apparently she had heard a rumor that the Japanese had sent submarines to bomb coastal cities from Long Island Sound.                                                                                                                                           To top


“Into the world we come”

            After December 7, there was no question that we'd soon be in the armed forces and that the careers we announced in the yearbook would be postponed. Although I didn't have a romantic view of life in the service, I soon accepted that it would happen and did not resist the notion of the change being interesting and probably useful.

Late in the evening of January 25, the more or less even drift into the inevitable was blasted. It was the between-semester break and Claude was staying with us. After dinner, Dad gave me ten dollars as a contribution to our entertainment. Claude and I went out and ended our pleasant, talky evening at the Oak Room of the Plaza, having a drink in its quiet all-male splendor. When we got back to 6 Henderson Place around midnight, I opened the door with my key and before we could take off our coats, Mother was on the stairs telling us that Dad had died of a heart attack.

            A black wreath was hung on the front door of 6 Henderson Place. Brothers Jim, Harry and I put black arm-bands on the left arm of whatever suit coat we were wearing. Mother ordered black-edged cards from Black, Starr & Frost to use in acknowledging flowers and notes. A picture of Dad was supplied to The Times for the obituary. Following the prescribed rituals helped, but neither Jim nor I had been prepared in any way for Dad's death. We had neither experienced a death in the close family nor even attended a funeral. And we had not been aware of how much we depended on Dad's steady and steadying presence. In the few weeks following his death, we slowly learned what it was going to be like without him.

            Back in New Haven, I continued my studies, took off the black arm band after the appropriate period, paid my bills with a portion of the insurance Dad had carried for me, and registered for the draft. Chuck Ripley had registered earlier, since he was older, and he had begun to look into the advantages of enlistment over simply waiting for the draft call. If one enlisted, one had some choice of both service and branch of the service. We concluded (on not much information, I imagine) that we should enlist for the Medical Administrative Corps of the Army, planning to qualify for the Officer Candidate School at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania, when eligible to apply after six months' enlisted service. Chuck preceded me to Fort Devens as an enlistee; I followed on May 18.

            Bob Bates, the JE Fellow, mailed me my diploma and the graduation program in June. From these, I discovered that I had graduated with orations, Yale’s fancy way of saying cum laude. Some time later, Chauncey Tinker sent me a box of brownies he’d baked.

We bid old Yale farewell...”

            The year 1942 is a fitting stopping-place for this chronicle because it marked not only the end of my residence in New York but the end of the kind of life we led as children of well-to-do New Yorkers before World War II. For those of us who survived it, the war was not just a four-year interruption in an existence whose pattern was set in youth; it brought a permanent change in the society we would live in on our return. Serving in the Army, and later the Air Force, provided a better transition to the new society than I would have prescribed for myself, had I had a choice.

            But transition does not mean the loss of the past, and the past—all that happened while 6 Henderson Place and Yale were my centers—continues as part of my life, affecting behavior, coloring attitudes, enriching relationships, and, it seems, filling the pages of this memoir.

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