The Glory Years: The Crosbys: Harry and Caresse

By Arnie Greenberg

 

They spent only seven years in Paris, but during those years Harry Crosby and his wife, Polly, waged an outspoken rebellion against American Puritanism and staid traditions. These two publishers created works that were important for their time. But their personal lives are what make for good copy in tabloids: they were two of the most unique characters of their day. Harry, a veteran of WWI who served as a volunteer ambulance driver, came from a wealthy New York family. He was the nephew of J. Pierpont Morgan, one of the richest men in America at that time. Until his dramatic suicide in 1929, Crosby was both flamboyant and extravagant.

Harry renamed Polly (Mary Phelps Peabody) “Caresse.” She too came from a wealthy family. Together with her two children from a previous marriage, the Crosbys lived in high fashion and in a style all their own. Caresse had invented the first strapless brassiere, which she sold for $1,500. Harry worked for his uncle “Jack” at the Morgan Bank in Paris, on Place Vendôme. Every day, Caresse, dressed in a red bathing suit, would paddle Harry to work from their home on the Ile St-Louis. It was quite a sight, with Harry seated stiffly with dark suit, formal hat, briefcase and umbrella gliding up the Seine. Caresse, who was rather buxom, sailed back home alone while workmen whistled, jeered and waved her on. She said that the exercise was good for her breasts; she also enjoyed the attention. But that was hardly the most bizarre thing they did.

Harry enjoyed betting on the horses, dropping in a Drosso’s, where he would smoke opium, and staying away from home for days at a time. After about a year, he left his job and embarked on a new venture as a poet-publisher, but his private life still revolved around pleasure. The couple moved into a palatial townhouse near the Quai d’Orsay. Their apartment was a place to entertain, and Harry and Caresse often did that in their gigantic bathtub, where guests sipped champagne with them. On other nights, they would entertain in bed.

One day he decided to put Caresse’s jewelry in the bank. See the REAL Europe with Rail Europe He took a taxi to Place Vendone and on the way he spotted a cousin walking on the street. He told the taxi driver to wait. He jumped out and invited his cousin for a drink. When he returned, the cab and the jewelry were gone.

After Caresse befriended the students at the Beaux Arts they were invited to the yearly costume ball. One year, Harry, naked to the waist, wore a string of dead pigeons around his neck. Caresse went topless and sat astride a baby elephant. She led the parade down the Champs after the ball.

Caresse was beautiful, affectionate, devoted and unpredictable. Harry had a dark, serious side. He became increasingly obsessed with the sun and the Egyptian Sun God; the company he created was named Black Sun Press. The titles of his books and poems deal with that theme. It was his fixation, which one can see by the titles alone. They concerned the theme of death as violent, quick and liberating. Harry hoped, one day, to commit suicide by flying higher and higher into the sun until he crashed. His theme was always the Sun as life giver and destroyer, both fiery destructive and cleansing. His models were the Symbolists rather than Baudelaire and Poe.

During his seven years in Paris Crosby  published works under the name Editions Narcisse, called after his dog, and then under Black Sun Press, where he published works by D .H Lawrence, Archibald MacLeish, Kay Boyle, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, and Hart Crane. He also published British and French poets, ranging from Chaucer to Shakespeare, and work by Caresse herself. For Crosses of Gold, he created a cross-shaped logo with their names intertwined. These books achieved, for him, a reputation for excellence and beauty. The literary world looked on these publications as marginal.

Harry also had a morbid mind that was evident in his diaries, which recorded his experiences, reading, speculations and personal observations. They also gave him an outlet in which he mythologized the events of his life. In them, he refers to Caresse as the Mad Queen and Dark Princess.

In November, 1929, the couple returned to the United States. Three weeks later Harry and a friend, Josephine Bigelow, were found dead in a hotel suite, apparently the victims of a suicide pact.

Caresse continued to run Black Sun Press and to publish Harry’s work. She returned to the United States, remarried and lived on a plantation. Years later she moved into a giant castle in the Sabine Hills of central Italy, called Rocca Sinibalda. She was the Principessa… Caresse Crosby died on January 24, 1970.


The Crosbys lived at various times at:      Faubourg St.-Honoré
19, rue de Lille
12, Quai d’Orleans

Black Sun Press, 2, rue Cardinal

Note:
In 2005, a feature film entitled Harry & Caress will be distributed world-wide. 

Books:
Crosby, Harry. Crosses of Gold. (Paris:  Privately printed, 1925; enlarged edition, Paris: Messein, 1925)

Shadows of the Sun. Second series (Paris: Black Sun Press, 1929)

Sleeping Together. (Paris: Black Sun Press, 1929)

Crosby, Caresse. The Passionate Years. (New York: Dial Press, 1953)

Ford, Hugh. Published in Paris. (New York: Macmillan, 1975)

Wolff, Geoffrey. Black Sun. (New York: Random House, 1976)




Double Deception is work of fiction recently published in serialization on the web. It is a story through the memories of Dr Robert Bartlett Haas, a close friend of Gertrude's,about the portrait of Gertrude Stein that had been done by Picasso before WWI. This portrait is now on view in the Metropolitan Museum in New York. The story unfolds when Gertrude decides that she would like a copy of the painting done so she can keep a similar image in her summer home in Bilignin, near Belley not far from Aix Les Bains. She engages the copyist Morevna Vorobiev to do the job and when it is delivered even Picasso cannot tell the paintings apart since he sees them in a gas lit room.
After Gertrude dies, t
he painting is sent to New York where it is deemed a copy. Has the wrong painting been delivered? Through the work of two master art detectives it is determined that Miss Vorobiev, the lover of Diego Rivera, has copied the painting twice and has kept the original. The remainder of the story deals with the uncovering of the original, the solution of the mystery and the final hanging of the right painting at the Met.
It is, as Gertrude might have said, "a mystery with an ending".
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