Felix In Hollywood

A Blog for the Smart Set

Sunday, December 20, 2009

These Three Kings - A Christmas Carl. Part 2

Today we celebrate Carl Van Vechten, June 17, 1880 – December 21, 1964, on the anniversary of his passing.

His next title is actually a three parter.
TITLE #2 - Photographer. Photo-Documentarian of the
International Modernist Crowd.

Champion of The Harlem Renaissance and it's Members.

After the death of his brother left him an inheritance of roughly six million dollars, he bought his first Leica 35mm camera in 1932. Chinese American actress (and Goddess) Anna May Wong was his first official sitting on April 20th of that year.

A small sampling of names that he would eventually shoot are: Judith Anderson, James Baldwin, Tallulah Bankhead, Jane Bowles, Marlon Brando, Erskine Caldwell, Truman Capote, Marc Chagall, Salvador Dali, Ruby Dee, Ella Fitzgerald, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Lynn Fontaine, Billie Holiday, Horst P. Horst, Mahalia Jackson, Frida Kalo, Sydney Lumet, Alfred Lunt, Norman Mailer, Somerset Maugham, Henry Miller, Georgia O'Keeffe, Lawrence Olivier, Diego Rivera, Cesar Romero, Beverly Sills, Gertrude Stein, James Stewart, Alfred Stieglitz, Bessie Smith, Gore Vidal and Orson Welles.
Billie Holiday and Mister

Harry Belafonte

Jane Bowles

Lady Day

Orson Welles

By 1924 Van Vechten became immersed in the Harlem Renaissance and in Harlem itself. Some of the members of this electric time of creativity were, novelist and NAACP co-founder James Weldon Johnson, nightclub propietrix Bricktop, novelist Zora Neale Hurston, and poets Countee Cullen and Langston Hughes. He interceded with Knopf on behalf of the latter so that the groundbreaking collection of Hughes's verse, The Weary Blues, appeared in print in 1926.

Beginning in 1925, he wrote a series of articles in Vanity Fair on blues singers like Bessie Smith and invested in a staging of African American spirituals performed by Paul Robeson.

At the very height of his career as an author he invited controversy with the release of his novel, "Nigger Heaven". The shocking (then as now) title had many critics from both races. The phrase nigger heaven had two meanings. Firstly, it was Harlem's nickname by it's own residents, and it was also the term used for the theater balconies where blacks were made to sit, even in their own neighborhood. But for all the detractors, there were equal in numbers of supporters. In an essay in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, Bruce Kellner termed the novel "a deliberate attempt to educate Van Vechten's already large white reading public, the novel presents Harlem as a complex society fractured and united by individual and social groups of diverse interests, talents, and values." James Weldon Johnson stated in his review for Opportunity that Van Vechten "pays colored people the rare tribute of writing about them as people rather than puppets."
Zora Neale Hurston

The Weary Blues bookjacket


Smalls nightclub

Club Rendezvous

The Apollo Theater

Harlem Catholic Church

The Big Apple

Van Vechten's *sensitivity* to the arts and artists, both black and white was not merely intellectual.....

...Which will bring us to ...PART 3.

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