American Diversity Report has released its Spring issue for 2013. Editor Deborah Levine writes:
One of the pieces included in this Spring issue is entitled The Last Fabian, written by Arlene Weiss. I have reprinted it here:
I had a friend, Ernestine, who always hated Mondays because it was the start of the dreaded work week. But I always looked forward to Mondays. Every Monday evening after work a group of us got together and went bowling on Fourteenth Street. I was not a good bowler. I was a terrible bowler but the people were the greatest. Organizers of the group were Mr. and Mrs. Walterhouse, editors of a small publishing company on lower Fifth Avenue called Barnes and Noble. Did I mention that this was in the 1960s?
The Walterhouses had lots and lots of wonderful friends, from the US and Europe. After the bowling, we would all walk down to St. Marks Place in the Village, where the Walterhouses had a large, charming apartment. That’s when the fun and laughter really begin. You never knew who might show up – a visiting mathematician from Paris, a writer working on a biography of Garcia Lorca, a lady lawyer (something not too common in those days), or a commercial artist working on the Ha-Lo Shampoo advertising account.
And, of course, there was always Harry Craven, comfortably seated and always talking. . Pardon me, Readers Digest, but Harry Craven was truly one of the most unforgettable characters I’ve ever met. Harry was a small, spry man in his late 70’s who was veddy veddy British. Upon meeting you for the first time, Harry would immediately inform you that he was one of the original members of the Fabians. What is a Fabian? Why, didn’t you know? The Fabians were the original British Socialists. Harry then straightaway told you that two of his fellow members were none other than George Bernard Shaw and Lytton Strachey, whose fame rested on his classic work, The Eminent Victorians. Harry Craven’s greatest love was telling stories – and one he told over and over and OVER again was the about the time when Lytton Starchy, when asked what was the most important thing in life, screamed in his shrill falsetto voice, “Passion, my dear, Passion!”
Founded by Sydney and Beatrice Webb, the Fabian Socialist Society preached the theory of the “gradualness of inevitability” or “the inevitability of gradualness”. One of those things, anyway. I never could remember which.* To listen to Harry, he was the moving force of the whole group. But eventually I found out differently. I took it upon myself to do some research and I looked up Harry in a book on British Socialism. His name was listed in the index, all right, but with just one short reference. I turned to the page, and there it was, Harry Craven, listed along with about fifty other “important” members. So a big deal in the Fabian society he was not.
But Harry did reign supreme at his flat on East Tenth Street. He always got a kick out of describing his building as having a “rakish” air. Like at the Walterhouse’s on a Monday night; you never knew whom you would meet there. There were always several unusual and colorful “blokes” sitting around, gossiping and listening to Harry repeat the same anecdotes and stories, principally about upper-crust British society. In fact, to this day, whenever I hear a variation of one of Harry’s jokes, in my head I always heard the way Harry told it. (Passion, dear, Passion!)
It was evident to all of Harry’s many friends that, for all his bravado, he had never been a particularly good family man. Of course, he never said that he had been. There was a lovely cameo picture of a young lady, which he kept on his desk, which I assumed, was his wife. No indeed, I realized much later that it was a picture of the stage and screen actress, Celeste Holm! Harry was the father of two sons, neither of which he talked much about. One son, like Harry, was associated with the uppity, uppity Ethical Culture Society in New York and the other lived in England, having married a British actress.
Neither son seemed to have played much of a role in Harry’s flamboyant life. But when you sat in Harry’s dingy living room, listening to his stories and watching him puff on his long cigarette holder, you somehow forgot all about that neglected wife and unloved children. Another fascinating thing about Harry – he was, according to one old friend, the only person he ever knew who managed to get through life without ever holding down a job or even having any particular source of income. Well, that’s not exactly true. Harry did have boarders. They never stayed too long, of course, but Harry always knew plenty about them. One tried suicide when her lover married another woman (that was the lady lawyer I mentioned earlier). Another had a recurrent dream of being stranded on Staten Island on the day they dropped the Bomb. Harry even had the effrontery to brag that Vladamir Nabakov once was one of his roomers.
Of course, in those days all of us girls who lived in New York had to make at least one trip to Europe. Since I would be going to London on my vacation, I asked Harry for the address of his son and when I did get to London, would I look him up. No especially exciting was that he owned a motorcycle repair shop and was actually fixing a motorcycle when I walked in – with regards from “the States”. Harry’s son immediately invited me to join him for lunch. We ate at one of those cozy British tea shops, with a menu that consisted mainly of deep-dish pies. We carried on a lively conversation, and then, at the end of the meal, he matter-of-factly said, “Well, how is the old man?” “Oh, fine, just fine.”
My part in Harry’s life in New York was to accompany him to “Save the Village” meetings, and to restaurants and parties. But, as time went on I got married, and moved uptown, it became obvious that his life on Tenth Street was becoming more and more difficult for him. Whenever I was in the neighborhood and came to visit him, I noticed the place was without a doubt becoming shabbier and shabbier. His living room was now also his bedroom, with all the accompanying bathroom odors.
When the end finally came, as Mrs. Walterhouse said to me on the phone, “With Harry, it was time.”
* Many years later, I finally found out – it was the inevitability of gradualism.
[Author’s brief bio is included here]:
Arlene spent over 15 years working for major NY and Los Angeles ad agencies. For another ten years she free-lanced for Manischewitz Wines (radio commercials on the air for five years in a row), Keri Skin Cream, Sabena Belgian Airlines, and Grandview Palos Verdes, a home development in Loa Angeles == for which she won an award for one of the outstanding advertisments of the year. Arlene has also developed direct mail packages for R. R. Donnelley, Amoco Motor Club, and Inter-Continental Hotels, including their hotel in Kabul.