Edward Hopper’s Universe: New York, A Nagging Wife, and Nazis

French Six-day Bicycle Rider by Edward HopperFor 54 years, from 1913 to his death in 1967, Edward Hopper’s primary residence was a 3rd floor studio apartment in Greenwich Village. He was undoubtedly enamored with New York City, and his paintings are infused with imagery produced by keen observation of his surroundings: diners, office interiors, bridges, railway cars, restaurants, and street scenes.

Hopper seemed to paint in flourishes and then suffer idly for extensive periods between creative outbursts. His primary distractive measures during the fallow periods were drinking coffee in a nearby Automat and doing word puzzles in the Evening Sun. Thankfully, on occasion Hopper must have ventured beyond reading the paper and drinking coffee to kill the time since one of his bouts of “painter’s block” was spent attending 6-day bicycle races in Madison Square Garden, ultimately resulting in the work French Six-day Bicycle Rider. Says biographer Gail Levin:

“February [1937] was fallow, but on March 5 he began French Six-day Bicycle Rider. The subject had been simmering since December of 1935 when Jo [Hopper’s wife] complained to Marion [Hopper’s sister] that Edward was going repeatedly to the bicycle races at Madison Square Garden, just to see the same scene over and over again. She was annoyed at the forty-cent tickets he indulged in, when, as she saw it, nothing came of it. At that time, he was stuck and unable to paint and she thought they could take a trip, perhaps to New Orleans, so he could work once again. It was one of the occasions when she simply misunderstood the often lengthy gestation periods that Hopper’s creative process required. Very little of Hopper’s time was actually spent painting.”

In later letters, Hopper described the painting’s subject matter:

“I was unable to remember the name of the rider, only that he was young and dark and quite French in appearance. I did not attempt an accurate portrait, but it resembles him in a general way. He was I think a member of one of the last French teams to win a race at Madison Square Garden. He is supposed to be resting during the sprints while his team mate is on the track or at the time when `The Garden’ is full in the afternoon or evening, when both members of a team are on full alert to see that no laps are stolen from them.”

Alfred Letourner as seen in a program for the December 1932 Madison Square Garden 6-day race.Based on Hopper’s recollections and the painting itself, the rider depicted is very likely Frenchman Alfred Letourner, one of the era’s great six day champions. He won at Madison Square Garden on six occasions, and as Hopper opined, Letourner was indeed the last Frenchman to win at the Garden. The vivid red jersey also points to Letourner, whose customary jersey choice generated his nickname: “Le Diable Rouge”. While Letourner cemented his reputation as one of track cycling’s greats through years of success on European and American velodromes, he is perhaps best remembered for breaking the paced bicycle speed record in 1941. Letourner was the last person to achieve the record on a regular track bike (albeit with a gigantic, custom chain ring and a 6t cog on the rear wheel for one monster gear). He blazed to 108.92mph Breaking Away-style: drafting a race car on a public highway in Bakersfield, CA. That certainly took nerves of steel.

The December 1935 six-day race at Madison Square Garden witnessed by Hopper was a particularly raucous affair, rife with drama both on and off the track. The race exploded from the blast of celebrity starter Pat O’Brien’s pistol shot and set a new record for the most distance covered in the first hour of a six-day race (a shade under 28 miles). Crashes were plentiful as well, and ultimately about half of the participants were forced to retire due to injuries. In addition to on the track excitement, the undertones of Nazi Germany were felt at the Garden. Two German teams were entered, and the promoter John Chapman refused to let the Nazi swastika flag fly over their bunks. The German cyclists were forced to use the recently retired German national flag (the Norddeutscher-Bund flag used since 1867, forbidden by the Nazis in 1935) instead so as not to offend the audience. Ex-heavyweight world champion boxer Max Schmeling also made a public appearance in the infield, as he was friends with one of the Germans teams (Adolf Schoen and Eric Putzfield) and recently sailed to New York to attend a Joe Louis title bout. Louis fought (and knocked out) Basque challenger Paulino Uzcudun at the Garden about 1 week after the six-day race concluded. A German team (six-day legends Heinz Vopel and Gustav Kilian, who in this particular event became the first German team to triumph in a MSG 6-day race) emerged victorious, with Letourner and partner Paul Broccardo finishing third.

French Six-day Bicycle Rider was purchased in 1937 from the Frank K M. Rehn Gallery in New York City, Hopper’s primary middle-man to the buying public, by the husband and wife screenwriting team of Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich. The duo amassed quite an enviable art collection in their Bel Air residence, even by Hollywood standards, and considered their 2 Hopper oils, French Six-day Bicycle Rider and A Woman in the Sun, the prize items. The Hacketts were unquestionably well acquainted with Hopper’s work since Frances Goodrich’s brother was the art historian/Whitney Museum of Art curator and director Lloyd Goodrich, an early champion and lifelong friend of Edward Hopper. The painting remained in the Hackett’s private collection from 1937-1995, until the death of Albert Hackett. During their ownership, they allowed the painting to be displayed in 9 public exhibitions (primarily at the Whitney, but also notably for a 1965 exhibition of sport related paintings at the location of its genesis: Madison Square Garden). Why did Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett buy the painting? I’ve wondered if the purchase was more related to the prestige of owning an Edward Hopper painting with the subject matter being of a more secondary issue (if it was an issue at all). Interestingly, Frances Goodrich grew up in one of early 20th century America’s cycling hotbeds (Nutley, NJ) while the velodrome’s racing schedule was at its peak. Her childhood home was a mere two blocks from the Nutley Velodrome and one can speculate whether her memory of the track’s presence and prominence in Nutley played any role in the painting’s purchase.

As an aside, through my readings of Edward Hopper’s life I stumbled across the name of a man, a rather wealthy man, who was largely responsible for keeping Hopper financially solvent through the purchase of his paintings. The name struck a chord, since it turns out that this fellow, philanthropist and heir to the Singer sewing machine fortune, is the same man responsible for putting Cooperstown, NY on the map for reasons other than being the home of author James Fenimore Cooper. The benefactor’s name is Stephen C. Clark and in addition to his art collecting, among other things, he was instrumental in locating the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, donated the land and buildings which now comprise the Farmer’s Museum and the Fenimore Art Museum, and created the eponymously named Clark Foundation philanthropic trust. In recent years, about 3 million dollars of his family money is doled out annually via the Clark Foundation to Cooperstown-area, college-bound high school seniors for tuition assistance. The scholarships are based on merit; the better your high school record, the more money you receive. I had the good fortune to attend high school in Cooperstown and graciously applied Clark Foundation money to paying the hefty Duke University price tag. Six degrees of separation indeed regarding the largesse of Clark family cash.

And Now, A Word From Our Sponsors…

   

I’m stuck in the 1930s: here’s a glimpse at a few ads from some recently acquired 6 day race programs. The Litesome and Ovaltine ads came from a 1934 event in London. The Litesome ad seems like a flashback to 7th grade gym class. Ah yes, the pseudo-science “shock and awe” lectures channelled through a punch-drunk, bellicose, football/wrestling coach delivered with zeal and revelry bordering on evangelical speaking-in-tongues. I’d pay good money to witness this character blaze through the ad’s copy, particularly to see the spraying phlegm and chest-poking rigamarole. The Ovaltine ad reminded me of Jacques Anquetil’s statement about Tour de France champions, something to the effect of “No one can expect pros to race on mineral water alone” as well as Johan Museeuw’s recently revealed coded conversations. It’s amusing that Ovaltine appears within quotes, and the cynic in me translates this as a veiled reference to performance enhancing substances. Of course all riders have trained on ‘Ovaltine’ (wink wink). How do you think they ride so fast for 6 days in the throes of sleep deprivation and supreme physical exertion? The Canada Dry and French’s ads came from a 1937 event in Madison Square Garden. Sadly, not too much has changed prize-wise since the Canada Dry ad was created. How many races have you been in where the bell was rung for $5 primes? The French’s ad is interesting to me due to the carnage in Hot Dan’s wake. Many programs seem to play up the danger element and fuel the spectators’ bloodlust sensibilities.

I Need Your Grief Like I Need A Hole In My Head

The Library of Congress is a true treasure trove of photographic images from the early 20th century, many of which document the world of 6-day cycling. I recently found the above photo of Floyd MacFarland in the newly digitized George Grantham Bain Collection, and I knew I came across his name in the rash of New York Times articles which I’ve skimmed regarding the early 20th century cycling scene in New York City and Newark, NJ. As luck would have it I’d saved the article in question because the story is just too rich to ignore. This story made the front page of the New York Times, April 18, 1915:

“Some 150 fans, men and boys, were watching practice yesterday afternoon at the Newark Velodrome when they saw Floyd A. MacFarland, the former sprint and six-day bike racer, now General Mangager of the Cycle Racing Association, which operates the velodrome, approach David Lantenberg of 240 Grafton Street, Brooklyn, who has a concession for the sale of confectionary and refreshments at the track. Lanterberg was placing signs advertising his business along the rail guarding the edge of the track, about opposite the bleachers, and some of the crowd could hear MacFarland as he remonstrated with Lantenberg.The manager did not want the signs along the rail and Lantenberg appeared to believe he was within his rights in putting them there. The crowd heard the men argue heatedly, and at last saw Lantenberg turn again to a sign, into which he was driving a screw. As he put his screwdriver against it MacFarland grabbed his arm.

Instantly, both men appeared to lose their tempers. Lantenberg, according to witnesses the police found afterwards, struck at MacFarland with the screwdriver and the manager turned his head to avoid the blow. The point of the screwdriver struck back of his left ear and the point was forced through the skull into the brain. MacFarland dropped senseless just as a crowd of riders, preparing for the races today, and many of the fans rushed around the couple…”

Ouch. Evidently, screws from the advertisements were working their way loose, falling onto the track, and causing flat tires. MacFarland was pissed when he saw Lantenberg defy his no-sign policy. MacFarland was rushed to the hospital in Lantenberg’s car, but he died later that evening having never regained consciousness. Many of the world’s greatest cyclists were at his bedside when he passed. MacFarland had twice won 6-day events held in Madison Square Garden as well as 6-day races in Europe, but he was even better known for his skills as a race-promoter, both in the US and Europe, once his professional cycling days came to an end. The 1915 track season at the Newark velodrome was set to be the grandest of all time since MacFarland had spent the previous winter bringing all of Europe’s best riders to the U.S. since WWI put a stop to racing on the continent. I think it speaks volumes about the prominence of the sport and the importance of MacFarland that the New York Times made his murder a front-page affair.

Most likely the photograph was taken at the Newark Velodrome, but the exact location and date are unknown.

My Nemesis…

For the past week or so I’ve been preoccupied with a side project (obsession?) concerning the digitization of my 6-day bike race program collection. Here’s a preliminary peak at one of the pages, still a work in progress. 6-day program for a 1939 event in Madison Square GardenI’ve scanned the covers of about 20 programs and will also likely have a complete chronology of every six-day event held in the US (from 1899-1973, although heavily concentrated in the 1920s-1930s), plus a rogue’s gallery of rider photos and bios. My collection is certainly modest, but I’d undoubtedly have many, many more programs in my possession if it were not for the existence of my eBay arch-enemy: the appropriately monikered sixday, my personal Newman. If I lived in the NYC metropolitan area it would probably be possible to scrounge antique dealers or estate auctions and come across 6-day programs/memorabilia/photos (since approximately seventy 6-day events took place in NYC), but living in a region devoid of cycling history requires me to peruse eBay on a regular basis. sixday has deep pockets and enviously keen sleuthing prowess, an uncanny ability to unearth 6-day related items from the breadth of eBay. I’ve been on the losing end of far too many auctions, but I’m not made of money. Who is this mysterious fellow? What is he doing with his steady influx of 6-day, eBay booty? I have a vivid mental picture of sixday reminiscent of the Steve Buscemi character in Ghost World, the mordantly unhip Seymour alight with an obsession for 78rpm records. At the very least I hope he’s taking good care of the material, but the budding archivist in me hopes that he’s considered making his collection accessible to fans of cycling history (or one particular devotee…mainly, me). Well, that’s just the bitterness talking. I’m sure I’d enjoy picking his sixday brain over a few beers, probably coming to the conclusion that we’ve lead remarkably similar lives.

Old School Belgian Hardmen

Belgian Alphonse Goosens recovering from a crash on the first night of the 1925 Madison Square Garden 6-day bike race.

Madison Square Garden has resided in three locations: Fifth Avenue and 23rd Street (1879-1925), Eighth Avenue and 50th Street (1925-1968), and Seventh Avenue and 33rd Street (1968-present). As befitting the era, the 1925-1968 Madison Square Garden’s inaugural event was a 6-day bike race spanning November 30, 1925-December 5, 1925. Judging from the daily reports in the New York Times, the event was quite a barn-burner. The race came down to the wire, with a team of young Belgians Gerard Debaets and Alphonse Goosens lapping the field in the closing minutes snatching victory from 6-day ironman Reggie McNamara (45 years old!) and his young, Italian partner Franco Georgetti.

And the photo? Depicted is Alphonse Goosens (left) with his trainer on the first evening of racing. Goosens is taking a moment to recover from his facial wounds suffered during the event’s first crash. However, for Goosens and his partner, this was only the beginning of their suffering. From the December 6, 1925 New York Times:

The victory of Debaets and Goosens was the triumph of youth, experience, gameness, and courage, combined with riding skill and speed. The Belgians emerged from the race with the marks of battle - as many a fighter has left the ring and many a football player has left the gridiron. Last Thursday night Debaets was stretched out unconscious on the track flat, and was out of the race for an hour.Within an hour of last night’s finish, the game little Belgian was on his track cot after a nasty spill in a terrific jam, his right shoulder and right hip injured as he crashed to the track in a smash-up which many thought would eliminate the team from the grind. He was painfully hurt, but he gritted his teeth and mounted again after a short respite. When the great test came he was found ready and he responded in thrilling manner.

Goosens started the race banged up. He was the victim of the first spill in the race. He went through the grind with his face battered out of shape and discolored. He finished that way and with the added pain of several minor spills of which he was the victim.

They made an exciting spectacle, these Belgians, Debaets with his fresh show of crimson through his short-sleeved undershirt, his legs and arms bleeding and raw, and Goosens with his eyes discolored and blazing after six days of painful riding, his elbows and arms barked and stripped of skin and his face patches of raw red from falling. But, like his wonderful little partner, his courage remained unshaken.

They wouldn’t quit…

It was a notable triumph for Goosens, a signal victory for Debaets. Goosens won his first (six-day) race in five starts. He finished second in one previous grind, third twice, and sixth once. Debaets, a 21 year old youngster, road cycling champion of Belgium, was making his first six-day race appearance.

Debaets and Goosens covered 2,294 miles during the six days of racing. That’s quite a few laps of a 1/10 mile velodrome! Approximately 150,000 tickets were sold over the course of the six day event to spectators clamoring to witness the daily morning, afternoon, and night sessions.

“Athletes smoke as many as they please…”

The Fred Spencer, Jr. ad dates back to 1928 and appeared in an unknown newspaper. I bought the ad off of ebay and it’s cropped sufficiently to remove any identifying characteristics. And what’s up with that stylin’ robe? Cycling fashion has certainly gone through some changes since the 1920s.

The two Camel ads were scanned from 1935 editions of Fortune magazine. The ad with Bobby Walthour, Jr. is from the June issue and the ad featuring speed skater Jack Shea is from the March issue. If you ever get the chance to read the March, 1935 issue of Fortune I’d highly recommend it. I have the good fortune of living near world-class academic research libraries which happen to have the issues bound in the stacks. There’s a feature article about 6-day racing focusing on the financial aspects of hosting 6-day events in Madison Square Garden. The reporting is pretty detailed and it’s interesting to read about cycling from the economic viewpoint, an issue which rarely, if ever, gets attention in current cycling journalism. While the article is informative, the accompanying visual elements are even better: numerous photos and color illustrations depicting 6-day racing in the Garden. The reclining cyclist in my banner has been shamelessly lifted from that particular article…

Professional cyclist + cigarettes = VICTORY!

This ad titled “How It Feels to Win a Six-Day Bike Race”, featuring professional cyclist Cecil Yates, was published by R.J. Reynolds in 1940. I’ve simply digitized the comic sequence (the best part of the ad) and left off the additional text and graphics since the entire ad is pretty big and exceeded the space available on my scanner. While the air inside a six-day venue such as Madison Square Garden was probably so toxic with cigarette smoke already that actually flaming up on your own wouldn’t matter, it always cracks me up to see athletes pushing cancer sticks. I wonder if R.J. Reynold’s scientists already knew in 1940 the powerful addictive qualities of cigarettes as well as the havoc cigarettes inflicted on one’s lungs.

And in case you’re wondering who Cecil Yates was, here’s some biographical info:

Cecil Yates was an Irish-American six-day racer who lived on the south side of Chicago. He was born in Thurber, TX (just outside of Dallas) on May 18, 1913 1912 [Date corrected by Cecil Yates’ daughter. The 1913 date came from a 6-day program bio]. He went to Chicago as a youngster and soon entered amateur competition, where he won the junior city and state championships. Yates turned professional in 1932. Perhaps his finest victory occurred in the 1939 six-day race in New York’s Madison Square Garden, riding with Cesare Moretti as his partner. This team showed their superiority by gaining two laps in the last hour to win by one lap over one of the strongest fields of riders ever assembled for a New York race. In Yates’ prime, he was regarded as one of the fastest sprinters in the world.

Yates served 34 months with the Army Air Force during WWII. Yates continued competing throughout the 1940s, won a national title in 1948, and retired from racing in 1950 having won 19 six-day races out of 81 he competed in. In addition to his spate of victories, Yates also finished on the podium in 26 other six-day races with ten 2nd place and sixteen 3rd place results.

Yates was also interested in other sports. He played football for Fenger High School in Chicago, and later played semi-pro football. He also participated in auto-racing, and drove cars on the Ascot Speedway in Los Angeles.

Game Theory

Six Day Bike Race Game front  Six Day Bike Race Game back
The most amazing cultural artifacts have a way of turning up on ebay. This game is one of my recent purchases. Six Day Bike Race was a game created by the Lindstrom Tool & Toy Co. (Bridgeport, CT), a family owned business existing from 1913-1940s. At the moment I don’t really have any clue about how it works. All I have is the game itself with no additional instructional material. A cursory search for Lindstrom Tool & Toy Co. information has turned up nothing. I found someone else’s recent unsuccesful query on the UConn Archives & Special Collections Library listserv asking for information and some images of other Lindstrom products, but nothing very useful. The game is approximately 12″x24″ and is constructed of tin with a wooden edge. The front side has a rotating disk with 10 different teams represented. The back side has some instructions involving dice, but I have yet to figure out how one plays it.

I think it would be interesting to create some type of virtual 6-day bike racing universe in the manner of the Cosmic Baseball Association. If only there were 35 hours in a day and I had something remotely resembling a clue when it comes to computer programming, I’d be all over it. For the moment, or maybe a rather indefinitely extended moment, this pipe dream will be nudged to the back burner.

When cycling was king…

1. 2. 3. 4.

5. 6. 7.

Professional cycling has such an amazingly rich heritage in the United States and, sadly, it remains largely forgotten. Here are just a few photos I’ve found documenting professional track cycling in the early 20th century.

1. 1929, Chicago, IL: Full-length portrait of six-day bicycle racers Hy Kockler and Carl Stockholm. This shelter on the infield of the indoor velodrome serves as their home during six-day races.
2. 1908, Salt Lake City, UT: Construction of the Saltair velodrome. What happened to this structure? At this moment I don’t have any information about its fate. At least the United States will soon have 1 indoor velodrome, which I feel is necessary to host world class track events. Thank you Home Depot for underwriting the ADT Event Center. Here are some photos of the construction progress.
3. 1906, Salt Lake City, UT: A motorpacing still life photograph. A cyclist strikes a pose behind the derny on the outdoor Salt Palace velodrome.
4. 1930, Chicago, IL: Informal full-length portrait of six-day bicycle riders Charles Winter and Fred Spencer holding a disassembled bicycle.
5. 1926, Chicago, IL: Informal portrait of cyclists Fred Spencer, Bobby Walthour, and Frank Kramer standing next to a bicycle. Kramer is wearing street clothes. Check out the loaf of hair on Walthour’s head.
6. 1929, Chicago, IL: Full-length portrait of bike racer Carl Stockholm riding rollers.
7. 1917, Chicago, IL: Portrait of cyclists Francesco Verri and Reggie McNamara sitting on their bicycles on an indoor wooden velodrome for the Bay Bicycle Race.

The Chicago photographs were found on the American Memory website hosted by the Library of Congress. The Salt Lake City photographs are part of the Shipler Commercial Photograph Collection hosted by the Utah Historical Society.