Henry von Rhau was born Henry Louis Gustav Adolph Rau at Staten Island, New York on January 19, 1896 to Gustav Adolph and Clara Rau, immigrants originally from Germany and England respectively. Born in Freiburg im Breisgau, Baden-Wurttemberg in 1850, Gustav Rau after migrating to the United States as a young man became a wealthy wood pulp importer and manufacturer with offices at 41 Park Row, Manhattan (formerly the location of the New York Times). He passed away in New York in 1911, leaving behind his wife Clara and two sons and a daughter. In descending order of age these three children were Herbert, Hilda and Henry.
|Henry von Rhau |
(probably taken in the late 1940s,
when he was around fifty)
Keeping this in mind, however, I will note that according to Henry's 1960 obituary, young Henry "received his early education in private schools in the U. S. and Europe," afterward briefly attending the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. Upon leaving West Point, he served with the U. S. Cavalry on the Mexican border during American operations against the paramilitary forces of revolutionary leader Francisco "Pancho" Villa.
Afterward Henry attended classes for a year at Columbia University, before enlisting as a second lieutenant in the U. S. Infantry. He did not serve overseas, however, rather spending the period between June 25, 1917 to August 20, 1919 at the Training Camp at Plattsburg, New York. By the end of his term of service, he had been promoted to the rank of Captain, and, according to his obituary, he had become an "aide to the Chief of Intelligence, having pioneered in prisoner interrogation" (a plausible claim given his German heritage).
After the war, his obituary states, Henry Rau was "engaged in the oil business in Venezuela and traveled widely." However, by 1920, anyway, he was back in New York, where he resided in the upper West Side of Manhattan with his sister Hilda, a former student at Barnard College and a future "pioneer tanning stylist" and their housekeeper. While Hilda became a Jazz Age career woman in the shoe business, Henry, with his good looks, aristocratic continental bearing, proficiency at equestrianism (he was a noted competitor at horse shows) and marked disdain for everyday employment, became a habitue of New York's cafe society.
When the trio of fun seekers rowdily barreled their way into the building anyway (resourceful Jack had gained them entry by inserting his walking stick between the door and its frame), the doorman and the two elevator operators promptly assaulted them, resulting in the police being called to the scene.
The sympathies of the newsman who reported the affray in the New York Times lay decidedly with the three gay society blades, two of whom were present again four years later, in February 1927, when, at St. James' Episcopal Church in Manhattan, their old pal Henry Rau, who was now thirty years old and more formidably known as Henry von Rhau, wed Aline Blanche Stumer, the attractive twenty-three year old daughter of the late Louis Michael Stumer, one of Chicago's leading businessmen.
A highly successful retail merchant, Louis Stumer had co-founded the trio of popular fiction magazines known as The Red Book, The Blue Book and The Green Book. Thus Henry's father, Gustav Rau, it will be recalled, had imported wood pulp, while Aline's father had co-founded pulp fiction magazines. Appropriately Henry would soon be writing, if not pulp fiction, then something resembling it in spirit. Indeed, it might be argued that the life of Henry von Rhau, as we must now call him, began to resemble fiction, the "von" in his name evidently being spurious, as was Henry's claim that he was the heir to a German baronetcy, which he had quixotically, if patriotically, eschewed, all out of his love for America.
|Eighteen-year-old Aline Stumer's 1922|
passport photo,taken after the last one was stolen,
along with her jewels at the Gare de Lyon
In an affidavit dated September 1, the young woman, who was then staying in Paris with her mother and sister at the Hotel Ritz, explained that she needed a new passport because a thief had absconded with her previous one.
Aline Stumer sounds for all the world like she just stepped out of out of Agatha Christie's The Mystery of the Blue Train (1928):
On August 29, 1922, I was getting out of the Gare de Lyon, at Paris, France. I had my passport in my jewel case which I was carrying myself, but which I laid for a short moment on top of my hand luggage, and which was stolen during that very short time when I was not actually holding it. I immediately notified the French police but all their efforts failed to trace either my missing jewels or my passport.
Three years later in Manhattan, Aline's wealthy forty-two-year-old widowed mother, Blanche Regina (Griesheimer) Stumer, in 1925, married twenty-seven-year-old Phillip Harris Giddens, a promising etcher from the state of Georgia. Two years after that blessed event, Aline left her mother's and stepfather's household to link her future with that of Henry von Rhau.
|Willoughby Sharp (1900-1955)|
stockbroker and mystery writer
Colton probably made the acquaintance of von Rhau while both men served with the U. S. cavalry during the American incursion into Mexico in pursuit of revolutionary leader Pancho Villa.
Henry's best man was Thornton Wallace "Wally" Orr, a son of an official in the New York office of the American Gypsum Company who later married one of the richest heiresses in Canada, while Henry's sister Hilda served as Aline's maid of honor, Aline having no other attendants besides a matron of honor, her recently wed sister Lois Margaret (Stumer) Sidenberg, wife of stockbroker and former Yale football player George Monroe Sidenberg. Aline's section of the wedding party seems to have been oddly truncated.
A few months before his marriage to Aline, Henry briefly took up acting on stage. perhaps for this auspicious event first adopting his new, weightier surname, von Rhau. His first acting gig was in the minor role of Mr. Dudley Gregory in his friend John Colton's hit play The Shanghai Gesture, which ran for 206 performances between February and September 1926. In the script von Rhau's character is described as an American, "youngish and alert."
|Jack Boissevain (1901-?)|
much married man-about-town
After he and Aline spent a month-long honeymoon in Bermuda, a favorite playground getaway of Eastern seaboard urban elites, the newlywed couple resided at a recently constructed luxury apartment building located at 717 Madison Avenue, just off Central Park.
A talented athlete, Aline played in Women's golf tournaments while Henry, supported by his rich wife, continued riding in society equestrian competitions. A son, Anthony, was born to the couple on July 17, 1928.
That same year marked a major new life course for Henry when he began writing his first work of fiction: a quirky satire of Radclyffe Hall's controversial landmark lesbian novel The Well of Loneliness (which had been banned in England), entitled The Hell of Loneliness. Two illustrations by Henry's gay best bro John Colton were included.
A short work of only forty pages of text (and about 7000 words), Hell was published in 1929 by the obscure Inwood Press, though it was soon picked up by the newly-launched, self-named firm of publisher Claude Kendall, which specialized in risque or spicy fiction. In "The Week of a New Yorker" column in the Brooklyn Daily News, Hell was described as a "short, zippy" tome that was "funny enough to rate a whole flock of rereadings." Claude Kendall, who like Colton was gay, deemed Hell "impudent and delightfully scampish."
|Henry von Rhau takes a leap|
(see second photo)
Anyway, later in life Otto loses his wife Connie to her Amazonian Russian friend Ivanova-Feodronova, who shares the same tailor with Otto. Mannish lesbians soon begin displacing men generally in society. At a bar Otto commiserates with some of his similarly displaced friends:
married men mostly, but where were their wives now? God pity the men who must live alone! There was Coogan, the genius, the author, the playwright, for years sought after by great actress stars. There was Kendall, for long called the happy boy lover dissembling his years by the ardor he felt; and Boissevain, the thrice married young boulevardier. They were men who had known life, and lived it and loved it. Now they were outcasts, and their horrible secret showed in their eyes.
Coogan of course is John Colton, while Kendall the "happy boy lover" is Claude Kendall. Thrice married Boissevain is Jack Boissevain, who at the time of the publication of Hell was on the verge of divorcing Estelle Carroll (who claimed in the society pages that she was descended from the Carrolls of Carrollton but in fact was descended, ignominiously, from the Carrolls of Brooklyn Heights) and wedding one Princess Suzanne Soroukhanoff, the divorced second wife of the handsome, relentlessly self-promoting, pseudo archaeologist "tomb raider" "Count" Byron Kuhn de Porok.
This latest marriage went bust after a few years, and in 1933 Jack would make the news for shooting himself in the chest at a Parisian cafe during a conference with his lawyer. Was it about alimony payments? Jack would survive to marry yet again, however. And again.
|ready for his closeup|
Count Byron Kuhn de Porok (1896-1954)
in Byronic profile
Later in the tale, Otto and his pals find more and more bars closed to their kind. The speakeasies have become speakeasiettes and Tony's is now Antoinette's, so they are forced to settle on a bar frequented by "ginny collegians" who "behaved very queerly." This inspires Coogan to declare defiantly, "We will carry on and on....And when we grow old there will be these young boys...." To which Otto counters sharply, "Never mind these young boys....They play by themselves."
|John Colton's name was included|
prominently on the cover of Hell, even
though he provided only two illustrations,
including the one of the cover, presumably
a caricature of Radclyffe Hall herself
Born around 1900, Otto Kugelmann, the compulsive biter of women's calves, may well have been somewhat autobiographical too, just as Stephen in The Well of Loneliness is believed to have been biographical of Radclyffe Hall.
Note Otto's heavy German name, for example. Also, the "country seat" of the Kugelmanns is "the most hideous house in existence," a "smelly, drab, damp horror" located in urban New Jersey across the Hudson River from New York City. ("Not very far from Weehawken, between it in fact, and Hoboken," as Henry put it, in a droll send-up of Hall's formal, precise writing style.) One is reminded of Henry's father, Gustav Adolph Rau, and his Staten Island paper mill.
Claude Kendall declined to publish Henry's next impudent book, Tale of the Nineties, although this "lighthearted story of a bawdy house and three girls who worked there--Trixie, Jasmyne and Ophelia," should have appealed to Kendall's taste for naughtiness. Likely Henry's Tale was a bit too bawdy. My copy of the book has a randy inscription, ambiguously made to P. K. from J. C. (John Colton?), which gives an idea of what people--men, one assumes--were expected to get out of the book:
|the three lovely Hoars |
who live at the Old Hoar House
Trixie, Jasmyne and Ophelia
To whom "tale" is spelled "tail"
And assail is a sale of ass!!!!
May this bawdy confection
Induce an erection
That'd make a she-whale
The Tale is basically an excuse for a series of bawdy puns, as the chapter titles and illustration captions indicate:
I. The Old Hoar House
II. Leopold's Wang (Wang is Leopold's Chinese servant)
III. Jasmyne's Box
"Oh, I like to come," his worship wheezed, "as often as I can."
"Trixie," she said, her voice was cold, "let go of the bishop's nuts!"
"Sir, don't make free with my sister's box," Ophelia added warmly.
You get the idea! 1050 numbered copies of the book were privately printed in Normandy Vellum paper imported from France by the Heron Press in association with John Edward Mullins, a grandson of the founder of New York's John Mullin & Son Furniture Company who had removed himself to Antibes, on France's Cote d'Azur, to live the good life. Apparently Mullins, to all appearances a Riviera idler, helped underwrite the cost of the book, the publisher being a one-man operation who, not having an office, conducted business in his car--a forerunner, indeed, of today's internet micro presses!
Included were woodcut illustrations by noted commercial artist Frank Wagner Peers. The short-loved Heron Press specialized in high quality editions of literary fiction, including such outre items as Erskine Caldwell's earthy The Bastard and Hanns Heinz Ewers' horrific short collection of contes cruels, Blood.
|Radclyffe Hall (1880-1943)|
author of The Well of Loneliness
With his first full scale novel, essentially a Ruritarian/Graustarkian thriller of the type associated with popular novels by Anthony Hope and George Barr McCutcheon, Henry, now going by the appellation of Major Henry von Rhau (not sure where the Major came from), played up the supposed authenticity of his aristocratic Continental European background, presumably in order to enhance his credibility as an author of such a tale.
Ironically, there was a German hippologist named Gustav Rau who became known as "Hitler's horse breeder" during the Thirties and Forties. However, Henry, quite understandably, did not claim this Rau as a relation.
Another newspaper reviewer commented of Henry and his new novel:
Of late we have been bearish about romantic fiction until along came Henry von Rhau...who literally steps out of a German background. Accustomed to a continental youth with the foaming stein, the single eyeglass, the calling card with crossed sabers, he dropped all that to enlist in the U. S. Army. From thence, he fetched up in the U. S. diplomatic service. And now, despite the fact that, like many a musical comedy hero, should he set foot on his native heath he might lay claim to a baronetcy, he prefers the seclusion of a Connecticut farm, where revolting against city smells, taxi horns, and the machine age, he loses himself in creating just such high romances as "To the Victor."
Truly, this was laying the liverwurst on thick! Notwithstanding such fulsome puffery, which painted the author as a charmingly anachronistic Prussian gentleman lost in the vulgar modern era, Henry in truth was soon to lose himself in modern marital friction with his wife Aline, culminating in a hugely embarrassing divorce suit that she filed against him in April 1933, after just six years of marriage.
Henry, who had seemed to be making some headway in his writing career with To the Victor, would over the rest of his life publish in hardcover, so far as I know, just one more novel, and that one not for another sixteen years (although there was a serialized tale, The Green Hussar, which was very much in the vein of To the Victor. Before that there was the ordeal of a melodramatic divorce scandal to be undergone. In this bitter legal contest between Henry and Aline, who would emerge as the victor? See how the brouhaha sorted itself out in Part Two.