I’m always interested in visits to Skaneateles by well known people, but this one caught me by surprise. Who would have thought the Rev. Dr. Norman Vincent Peale would appear at the Skaneateles Country Club? His July 7, 1986, visit was prompted by Ken Blanchard, who graces the lake’s shore during the summer months. Blanchard, the hyper-prolific co-author of The One Minute Manager, et al, was working with Peale, the author of The Power of Positive Thinking, on a book called The Power of Ethical Management. As a part of the process, Blanchard shared drafts of the book with 75 interested parties and invited them all to the Country Club to share their thoughts with the authors. The 87-year-old Peale, who usually wrote alone and ended his book projects with a simple prayer, found the mid-stream input of 75 would-be editors to be something out of the ordinary, but apparently took it all in stride.
I imagine there aren’t many members left at the Skaneateles Country Club who remember Isaac Peace Hazard. A 1905 graduate of Harvard University and a descendant of one of Rhode Island’s first families, he found his way to Skaneateles and the Country Club through a family connection.
After Harvard, Hazard spent a summer in the wilds of Maine and Newfoundland, and then went off to Cincinnati to serve as an apprentice at the Bullock Electric Company. That didn’t work out, so he accepted “a job in the testing room” at Triumph Electric Co., which turned out to be sweeping the floor and cleaning cuspidors. At the first opportunity, he moved on to the Cincinnati Traction Co.
In the spring of 1907, Hazard took two weeks off to attend to some family business in Santa Barbara, California, where the Hazard clan owned land, and took a horseback trip into the foothills. Shortly after that, he left Cincinnati for good, spent some time in the woods north of Lake Huron, and then returned home to Peace Dale, Rhode Island, to ponder his future.
One can imagine that draining cuspidors in Cincinnati had taken the bloom off the rose of his independence, and in 1907 he accepted a position with a Hazard family concern, the Solvay Process Company in Syracuse, New York.
Founded in 1881, the Solvay Process Company was bankrolled by Rowland Hazard (1829-1898). His son, Frederick Rowland Hazard, eventually served as president, and Frederick’s brother, Rowland G. Hazard II (1855–1918), served for a time as vice president. In 1895, the Hazard family invested in an affiliated business, the Semet-Solvay Company.
Working for his uncle and cousins, I. Peace Hazard learned the ropes in the engineering and manufacturing departments, and by 1915 was a department manager. In 1911, he had married Katherine Munroe Burnett. They lived in a house in Syracuse’s Sedgwick Farms neighborhood. In the summers, the couple with their four young children lived on Skaneateles Lake in “the Stearns cottage” just north of Ten Mile Point, close enough to Solvay for Hazard to commute.
Already a member of the Bellevue and Onondaga country clubs, Hazard joined the Skaneateles Country Club as well. In his 1920 “report” to the Harvard alumni, Hazard spoke lightly of his day job:
“Devoted all time up to Nov 11, 1918, building plants for the manufacture of high explosives and trying to make the plants produce the required quantities of these high explosives. Since Nov. 11, 1918, have been energetically engaged in destroying all evidence of my previous labors.”
The November 11th date was, of course, Armistice Day, the last day of World War I. (It was also Hazard’s birthday — what a gift indeed.) Throughout the war, Semet-Solvay had a contract with Russia, manufacturing trinitrotoluene (TNT) at its Split Rock plant. It was a hazardous occupation (if you will forgive the pun), and in the light of what followed, one can understand why the Harvard graduate was eager to put it behind him.
TNT No. 1, in Split Rock
On the evening of July 2, 1918, when Hazard would have been at home in Skaneateles, a gear began to overheat on a mixing machine in Plant No. 1.
More than a ton of TNT was in the mixer at the time, and when the overheated gear started a fire, the emergency whistle blew. It was 8:40 p.m. The 600 night-shift employees fled, but some returned to help fight the blaze and keep it from spreading to other buildings, especially to the 400 tons of TNT stored in the magazines across the road from the plant.
At first, the fire seemed under control, but then the fire hoses went limp and the electrical power failed, and the flames roared unhindered through the wooden buildings. At 9:30 p.m., the fire caught up to more than a ton of TNT.
As one account described it, “A blinding light was followed by a deafening roar. A fiery ball shot up into the sky, split like a rocket, and descended in a cloud of sparks.”
Split Rock had been chosen because it was relatively isolated, but the blast was of such a magnitude that six miles away in Syracuse the ground shook, buildings and houses rocked and doors slammed, sending everyone into the streets where they gaped at the boiling yellow sky over Split Rock.
At the plant itself, approximately 50 men died instantly, tossed into the air, incinerated, dismembered or crushed by debris. Fifteen were never identified, and a number vanished completely. One man close to the blast. a patrolman named Eugene Rice, was never found, but his coat, with his unbroken eyeglasses and pocket watch still running, appeared half a mile away.
At night, the scene was horrific; in the morning, worse.
The Split Rock plant managed to continue operations in other buildings, but closed entirely at the end of the war. The Solvay Process Company and Semet-Solvay were absorbed by Allied Chemical in 1920, and the Split Rock plant was sold for scrap.
But while Hazard was “energetically engaged in destroying all evidence,” he had to endure another, more personal, tragedy.
On August 4th, 1919, the Hazard’s four-year-old daughter drowned in Skaneateles Lake. The Hazards’ children were in the care of a nurse, who was preoccupied by one child who was sick. Margaret Burnett Hazard was missed. Footprints in the sand led to the lake and her body was found a short distance from the shore.
After this, the family moved on, summering at Newport, Rhode Island, and living in Peace Dale, Rhode Island. Hazard served as Vice President of the family’s Rhode Island Estates Corporation from 1919 to 1929, and from 1933 to 1946.
His love of the outdoors continued. In 1935, accompanied by his daughter Adeline, Hazard was a part of the Walter Abbott Wood Expedition to the Yukon, doing research in the photographic mapping of the rugged, unmapped wilderness.
I. Peace Hazard died August 26, 1946, in Peace Dale, Rhode Island.
* * *
The Skaneateles house most commonly associated with the Hazard family is still standing, on West Lake Road, just north of the Skaneateles Country Club, but that is a story for another day.
* * *
My thanks to the Skaneateles Historical Society for the loan of The Night the Rock Blew Up (1973) by Jasena R. Foley, Onondaga Town Historian.
In an old scrapbook at the Skaneateles Historical Society, I found a clipping about an author summering here. His name was Holworthy Hall, but I’d never heard of him. Who was he? What brought him here? It turned out his real name was Harold Porter; he was a writer of light fiction, especially college stories and romances. In his day, he was famous. And then he vanished from the public eye, as if he’d never been there at all.
:: Childhood ::
Born in Hyde Park, Massachusetts, on September 19, 1887, Harold Everett Porter was the son of Albert D. Porter and Louella (Root) Porter. The Porters came from “good stock.” In later years, the Society of Mayflower Descendants in the State of New York would recognize Harold Porter as tenth in descent from William Brewster, a founder of the Plymouth Colony, and the Sons of the American Revolution would note that Harold was the great-grandson of Corporal Joseph Porter of Captain Peter Talbot’s Company.
Albert D. Porter made his way in the world first as a printer in Boston, and then as a publisher in New York City, where he lived with his wife Louella, their daughter, Ethel, and her younger brother, Harold. The author list at A.D. Porter Co. included the prolific Amelia E. Barr, whose titles included The Bow of Orange Ribbon, The Squire of Sandal-Side, and Remember the Alamo. Also on the list was “America’s greatest popular author,” the Rev. Edward P. Roe, a former Civil War chaplain who began writing novels after witnessing the Great Chicago Fire. There was the wholesome juvenile fiction of Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, and T.S. Arthur’s cautionary tale, Ten Nights in a Bar-Room and What I Saw There. No author was given for Indian Massacres and Tales of the Red Skins but I’m sure it parted many a young boy from his pocket change. Magazines called Good Reading and The Hearthstone: A Family Journal of Choice Literature, Romance and Information were also a part of the Porter portfolio.
The books and magazines apparently made a good buck. The family lived in New York City but summered in New Hampshire or Maine, where young Harold began writing for a resort newspaper, penning “little items about neighborhood affairs at which a pleasant time was reported as having been had by all.” (At the age of eight, Porter had written a story about the Civil War, his first piece of fiction, but it went unpublished.)
When out in the country, Harold went bird watching with a boyhood friend, Charles H. Rogers (who lived three blocks away on New York City’s upper west side), and with his sister, Ethel. At the age of 16, Harold had his first nationally published piece, “A List of Birds Seen in Franconia, N.H., and Vicinity During August and September, 1903” for The Wilson Bulletin: A Quarterly Journal of Ornithology.
And in New Hampshire, around the age of 10, Harold took up golf, which was to become one of his life’s abiding passions, learning how to play with “sometime professional” Tom Hucknall at the Kearsarge Golf Club.
:: College ::
Growing up in a world of books and authors, raised in comfortable circumstances, Harold found his way to Harvard. He lived in Holworthy Hall (suite 13/14) with roommates John Mansfield Groton, Julian Ellsworth Garnsey and Robert Middlemass Middlemass.
Groton came from Westerly, Rhode Island, and was the son of the Rev. William Mansfield Groton, dean of the Philadelphia Divinity School.
Gansey was from New York City, the son of muralist Elmer Garnsey; after Harvard, he would go on to the Art Students League in New York, study in Paris, and make a name as an artist.
Middlemass was also from New York; he became a playwright and an actor in New York, writing numerous one-act plays and sketches, often acting in them as well; he later moved to Los Angeles where he appeared in more than 100 films, most famously as the flustered sheriff in the Marx Brother’s A Day at the Races (1937).
In sum, suite 13/14 must have been a roomful. As students, Porter described himself and his roommates as “about halfway between Plato and Pluto.” To read Porter’s college stories, many collected in Pepper (1915) and Paprika (1916), is to see young men who are immersed in campus life, sports, clubs, filling odd gaps in the monthly allowance, getting out of various jams, playing the piano, writing for the campus magazine, and occasionally studying as if life itself depended upon it. (You may observe some commonalities with the contemporary student experience.)
Porter was the editor of the Harvard Lampoon from 1906 to 1909, taking his place in an illustrious line that includes Robert Benchley, John Marquand, George Plimpton and John Updike. Porter was also an editor of the Harvard Advocate, the campus literary magazine, from 1907 to 1909, joining the exalted company of editors and contributors Wallace Stevens, e e cummings, T.S. Eliot and James Agee.
At Harvard, smoking became another of Harold Porter’s passions. In his college stories, he writes of the tobacco shops on the edge of the campus, their windows glowing as he returns from a vacation. His students smoke cigarettes to converse, pipes to think, cigars to celebrate. The golden leaf in all its embodiments appears throughout Porter’s writing.
And Porter was writing a great deal, if not seeing his name in print, producing 30 or 40 short stories before selling one to The Baseball Magazine, published and edited by sportswriter Jacob C. “Jake” Morse in Boston. Morse may, in fact, be the magazine editor Porter later wrote about as having written him “several beautiful letters” to explain why a check never arrived.
One Saturday in Cambridge, Porter began a story in the morning and when he finished the first draft, it was midnight. He had missed the Dartmouth game and a dinner engagement. He wrote, “This was to me the first indication that a man could be sufficiently interested in writing fiction to make sacrifices for it, whether they were voluntary or involuntary, conscious or unconscious.”
This story was eventually bought by Robert H. Davis (who discovered Max Brand and Edgar Rice Burroughs), editor at The Scrap-Book magazine, for its May 1910 issue. Porter even got paid. Writing about the event in 1921, he said, “I took the twenty-five dollars into a poker game and made a hundred and fifty, and decided to be an author.”
:: Publishing ::
Somehow, Porter found time to go to classes and graduated from Harvard in 1909. He went to work for Little, Brown & Co., a Boston publisher, learning the ropes. In 1911, Porter married Marian “Marnie” Heffron of Syracuse, New York. She was the daughter of Dr. John Lorenzo Heffron, the dean of the College of Medicine at Syracuse University. In 1912, Harold and Marian’s first child, Jean, was born in Syracuse. I assume the daughter’s grandfather, Dr. Heffron, was hovering, if not attending.
Now a husband and father, Porter left Boston for New York City and joined his father at the A.D. Porter Company. The firm had moved from pulp fiction and popular novels, and was publishing a monthly magazine, The Housewife (“The housewife makes the home and the home makes the nation”).
Porter continued to write fiction, but now he was also a publisher, with his name on the masthead of The Housewife. When people began buying his writing, he had to find a way to maintain the dignity of his office while remaining free to write light romances. So, in 1912, he created Holworthy Hall.
:: Holworthy Hall ::
Harold Porter and Holworthy Hall would do very well together. That year, Holworthy Hall had his first story published in The Saturday Evening Post, the era’s most prestigious magazine. Porter noted that after his first Post story, he never again had difficulty getting published.
In 1913, Life magazine published a Holworthy Hall poem entitled “Epithalamium.” The title refers to a Greek poetic form that sings the praises of a couple about to be wed; Holworthy Hall included these lines, “I sing the June bride, and as a quaint novelty in the manner of Walt Whitman I append a transient thought for the bridegroom: Rah, rah, rah! Bridegroom!” There would always be something of the college boy in Holworthy Hall.
In 1914, Harold Porter was the Vice President of The Housewife, and Holworthy Hall was everywhere. He had stories in magazines such as Good Housekeeping, McClure’s, Pictorial Review and The Popular Magazine. His novel Henry of Navarre, Ohio was published by the Century Company and serialized in The Ladies Home Journal.
The year also saw one of Holworthy Hall’s more unique publishing successes: “The Gilded Mean,” a short story he had written for The Smart Set magazine (edited by H.L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan), was chosen to be printed as a miniature book enclosed in packs of Sovereign Cigarettes, Egyptienne Straights and Piccadilly Little Cigars. “The Gilded Mean” was published again in this same format in 1919 by the Knights of Columbus Committee on War Activities as a handout for troops, bearing an invitation for them to visit Knights of Columbus buildings in the U.S., Great Britain, France, Germany, Belgium and Italy.
Also in 1914, Porter’s first son was born, John Heffron Porter, delivered either in White Plains, where the Porters now lived, or in Syracuse, depending upon the source you believe. And in a small, alluring mystery, a story ran in The Ladies Home Journal, with the title “The Girl Who Wanted to Be Young,” with the author given as John Heffron Porter. Was Harold Porter trying out boy’s names, or gifting his son with his first story?
In 1915, Holworthy Hall saw more than 20 stories published, practically a new one every two weeks. In the age before radio and television, magazines were the leading national media. Holworthy Hall was becoming the equivalent of a rock star, his name on covers every month. One measure of his fame was an advertisement for Simmons Chains in the December 1, 1917, Saturday Evening Post. The ad noted that Simmons Chains handsomely secured the pocket watches of “six of America’s most famous men”: John Barrymore, Enrico Caruso, silent film star Earle Williams, John Philip Sousa, baseball’s Christy Mathewson and Holworthy Hall.
In April of 1915, the Porter family moved to Scarsdale and an estate called “Farm End,” at the corner of Fenimore and Tompkins Roads. In 1916, Harold Porter was named the president of A.D. Porter Company, contributed occasional editorials to The Housewife, and Holworthy Hall published 18 more short stories and two more books.
In 1917, The Housewife merged with Today’s Magazine, becoming Today’s Housewife. I believe it was at this time that the Porter family cashed out, with Albert Porter moving to Pasadena, California, to enjoy his retirement, and Harold Porter giving over all of his time to writing as Holworthy Hall.
After a vacation in Bermuda, Porter turned the experience into a novel, What He Least Expected. Porter always wrote about what he knew. His young men went to Harvard, they lived in New York City, they lunched at the Harvard Club. Nineteen more Holworthy Hall stories appeared in national magazines that year. The money was rolling in and the Porters were living very well indeed.
Part of the good life was golf. Porter’s collection of golf stories, Dormie One, was published in 1917. (Today it sells for upwards of $100, if you can find a copy.) In the introduction, the learned young author quoted Virgil’s Georgics, “And they stood in the rough and cursed,” and II Kings 9:20 in which Jehu “driveth furiously.” He also acknowledged the contributions to his stories of many golfers.
“The good players used to avoid me,” he wrote, “now they bring me plots.” Many of these golfers came from Siwanoy in Bronxville, New York, north of Manhattan in Westchester County. He also thanked players from Garden City, Englewood, Sleepy Hollow, Flushing, Forest Hill F.C., Yountakah, Salisbury, Knickerbocker, Exmoor, Scarsdale, Gedney Farm, Woodland and Westfield. And, of note, Donald Ross, of Pinehurst. Clearly, he played a lot of rounds.
:: World War I ::
Porter registered for the draft on June 5, 1917, in Westchester. He noted that he was living on Tomkins Road in Scarsdale with his wife and two children. In the space asking if he knew of any reason he might not be available for service, he noted, “Dependent Relatives.” The registrar noted that Harold was tall and slender, with blue eyes and brown hair.
The Harvard grad would serve, but not in the trenches. When the U.S. entered the war, Porter began his military service as a First Lieutenant in the office of the Secretary of War in Washington, D.C., working in the Military Intelligence Division. It was a division “cluttered with authors, poets, historians, editors and reporters” brought in wholesale in hopes that their ability to ferret out and write up information would be useful.
Porter’s commanding officer was Major Rupert Hughes, who was spending his off-duty hours writing The Cup of Fury. He eventually wrote more than 60 books, as well as short stories, articles, poems, plays and screenplays. A Phi Beta Kappa with a Master’s in music and literature from Yale, he was well suited to understand the writers and college men serving under him.
Harold Porter was put to work writing histories of aircraft and engines, including “The History of the Liberty Engine” (1918) on which he had two co-authors: William Rose Benét was an American poet, writer and editor, Yale man and older brother of Stephen Vincent Benét; after the war, Benét would start the Saturday Review of Literature, win the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and author The Reader’s Encyclopedia. The other, Warner Kent, did not have a literary pedigree, but was the son of a banker who served as a financial adviser to the War Department. Some things never change.
A friend once told me there are three worlds: college, military service, and real life. And the military, in some circumstances, can be a lot like college, only with a salary instead of an allowance. In Washington, Harold Porter of Harvard found himself once more in his element. He spent much of his time in the company of other officers, “messing,” i.e. dining, at The Cosmos Club, a private social club on Lafayette Square. The Cosmos Club, which still thrives, favored members who had anything to do with scholarship, creative genius or intellectual distinction.
Among Porter’s cronies was Herbert Quick, who was doing war work with the Department of Agriculture, and who would become part of the inner circle of Saturday Evening Post writers and a novelist. And there was Will Irwin, reporter, editor, novelist, playwright and poet. Irwin was working with the Committee on Public Information, a propaganda unit located on Lafayette Square. A Stanford man, he was famed in collegiate circles as the author of the “Give ’em the Axe” cheer. Another in the group was Kenneth Roberts, a reporter whose short stories were already published in The Saturday Evening Post, and who would go on to write Northwest Passage, Rabble in Arms and many other historical novels. More importantly, Roberts was the author of two fight songs for Cornell University (Class of 1908), and was thus right at home in this crowd.
Together, they formed a Military Intelligence organization known as the General Hind Quarters, whose constitution was authored by Porter, Quick and Roberts, and endorsed by Hughes and Irwin. In his autobiography, I Wanted to Write, Roberts quotes the charter, “The object of General Hind Quarters is to have no object except… to encourage the physical, moral and intellectual development of the world… to foster among its members a love for all that is beautiful, spontaneous, and soporific in the realm of literature, art, science, veterinary surgery, psycho-analysis, kinetic stability, free lunch, optometry and military intelligence.”
Members could be suspended or expelled for bad conduct, good conduct or no conduct. No gambling was permitted “except with rich and unsuspicious guests,” and perhaps most befitting, “During the green corn season, all meetings of the club shall be secret and held behind closed doors.”
Porter was in his element. In the autumn of 1918, he was borrowed by the Signals Corp to publicize the role of the aerial observer in combat operations (i.e., a plucky lad in an airplane or balloon who spies upon the enemy’s disposition from on high and reports it back to the commanders on the ground), an assignment that eventually led to the only book he ever wrote under his own name. He finished his service as a Captain, and upon discharge was appointed a Major in the Officer Reserve Corps. Porter completed the book, Aerial Observation: The Airplane Observer, The Balloon Observer and the Army Corps Pilot, in 1921, as a civilian.
While in uniform, Capt. Porter had managed to publish 18 more stories as Holworthy Hall, plus a novel, The Man Nobody Knew, and another novel, The Six Best Cellars, a satire of Prohibition written with Hugh McNair Kahler. The Army barely slowed Holworthy Hall down. He also managed to wangle some leave; in 1919, The Barnstable Patriot reported that Holworthy Hall had visited Hyannis and donated five of his books to the local library.
The Man Nobody Knew was a departure for Porter. Set largely in Syracuse, New York, which he knew from visits with his wife’s parents, against a setting of the city’s downtown, upper James Street and the new Sedgwick Farm tract, it was a more serious book, dealing with darker themes of the war in Europe, the plight of those returning, rejection, deception, and redemption. Porter was aware that this novel was a reach for a writer of light romances. In a copy inscribed in 1920, he wrote, “There is a great gulf fixed between pretension and achievement. Take your choice.”
:: 1920: Skaneateles ::
The new decade saw Harold Porter return to civilian life, and a good life at that. The Six Best Cellars was made into a film (by Famous Players-Lasky Corporation/Paramount-Artcraft Pictures); another novel, Egan, was published. Ten more stories appeared in A-list magazines, including two in The Strand Magazine in London. Harold Porter had left publishing behind, and Holworthy Hall was becoming a household name, especially among the ladies. So one can imagine the buzz when The Post-Standard of Syracuse made this breathless announcement:
Holworthy Hall Joins Colony at Skaneateles: Well Known Writer, Harold Porter Outside of Fiction, Takes Cottage on Lake for the Summer
“Girls! You know those wonderful magazine stories — all about love and romance? — that Holworthy Hall writes? Well, Holworthy Hall is going to be in Syracuse a lot this summer. Maybe you will get a chance to see him.”
Harold Porter came to Skaneateles with wife Marnie, daughter Jean, seven years old, son John Heffron Porter, six, and Richard Montgomery Sears Porter, just one year old. The family summered in a small cottage up a wooded lane just off West Lake Street. (The cottage is still there, now home to another writer.)
The Porters could step out of their front door and see the lake. Harold Porter could stroll to the new golf course at the Skaneateles Country Club. Marnie could motor into Syracuse to visit with her childhood friends and parents in Syracuse, and the Heffrons could enjoy their grandchildren.
“Attractive cottage in West Lake Street, Skaneateles, occupied for several summers by Holworthy Hall, novelist. Owner is P.E. Jones.” — Newspaper clipping from a scrapbook of photographer E.L. Clark, photo circa 1926
It was a special summer for Skaneateles, and the Porters would return several times. On this occasion, it was a timely break for them as well; they had just sold their house in Scarsdale and were preparing to move into the former home of the late Walter Hines Page, ambassador to the Court of St. James, in Pinehurst, North Carolina.
:: North Carolina ::
Pinehurst was, at that time, the Mecca of American golf. Scottish-born course designer Donald Ross had redesigned Pinehurst’s No. 1 course in 1900, and added No. 2 in 1907 and No. 3 in 1910. In 1919, Ross added the No. 4 course to Pinehurst. Harold Porter had played Pinehurst in 1917, knew Donald Ross, and now he moved south to warmer weather and four of the best golf courses in America.
The Porters took up residence in a swell neighborhood. On the same 1920 census sheet as the Porter family, we find the Barber family, with two servants from Finland and Norway; the Johnston family, with three servants from Sweden and Switzerland; the Steele family, with six servants from Ireland, Scotland and Japan; the Baush family, with four servants from Finland and Ireland; and the Porters, with three servants from North Carolina and a nurse from England.
This spot in Moore County, North Carolina, was also becoming something of a writer’s colony, home to Hugh McNair Kahler, with whom Holworthy Hall wrote The Six Best Cellars.
Harold Porter played plenty of golf. In March of 1920, paired with Myra Helmer Pritchard, he won the mixed foursomes tournament put on by the Silver Foils, the women’s golf association at Pinehurst. By 1922, there was an annual Holworthy Hall golf tourney (18 holes) played at Pinehurst.
The time in North Carolina also had an academic highlight. In 1921, Harold Everett Porter received an honorary doctorate (D. Litt.) from Wake Forest, one of six men to be honored that graduation day. (Sadly, the school did not archive a copy of his speech; I am sure it was a corker.)
:: The Valiant ::
The year was also marked by another achievement. First published in 1921 by McClure’s magazine, The Valiant was a one-act play Porter wrote with college roommate Robert Middlemass. Of Holworthy Hall’s works, this is the one that has refused to be forgotten. It is an enduring favorite of local theater groups, high schools and colleges, and the winner of hundreds, if not thousands, of play competitions both in the United States and abroad.
A fine play with a fascinating lead character, a touch of film noir tension, and a soliloquy made for gasps and heart-tugs, it was initially greeted with a modest reception. It was produced by The Vagabonds, a theater group in Baltimore, in January of 1923, by the Cornell Dramatic Club in 1924, and it ran for two nights on Broadway — one performance on May 4, 1926, and one on May 8, 1928, both with The Manhattan Little Theatre Club.
The Valiant was also published in England’s The Strand Magazine in 1922, and made into a 1929 film which earned its leading man, Paul Muni, an Oscar nomination. It also received a nomination for best adapted screenplay for screenwriters Tom Barry and John Hunter Booth. In 1930, it was produced again as a film, in Spanish, as “El Valiente.”
In 1940, it was produced again as a film called The Man Who Wouldn’t Talk, this time with Lloyd Nolan, who said this was his favorite role. In 1948, it was produced for radio, once with Ronald Colman and William Conrad, and then with Gregory Peck, Jeanne Crain and Edward Arnold. That same year it was produced for television on “The Chevrolet Tele-Theatre,” and on the “Lux Video Theater” in 1950.
In 1946, actor Tiffany Thayer wrote, “A great many men have called The Valiant ‘one of the best’ short plays ever written. I am not a fellow for such half measures. This is THE best, and more than that, it is the most nearly flawless work of art which I know in the English language.”
Even today, one could make a hobby of following The Valiant around the world. In 1956, it was presented by the Vietnamese-American Association’s Little Theater Group in Saigon, and published in India, translated into Kannada, by a publisher in Maisuru. In 1998, Miami’s Splendor of the Arts theater company presented The Valiant and El Valiente back to back, two performances daily, one in English, one in Spanish. The play has recently been presented at Freiburg University in Germany, and at the University of Saskatchewan. In short, the play has moved and entertained people all over the globe, and does so still. According to its publisher, Samuel French, Inc., The Valiant is performed an average of nine times a year in the United States alone.
:: France ::
In the 1920’s, Pinehurst had golf, but no 19th hole. With Prohibition, those who would determine how others should live were in the ascendancy, and a great many creative people, those who could, left the country. For Harold Porter, the destination was France. That year, in his dedication of Aerial Observation to Georges Clemenceau, Porter wrote, “The French Republic knew — as ours has never known — that great policies, and great visions, are inevitable of success when the impulse springs from the whole citizenry, and not merely from that tiny fragment of it which is called the ‘government.’ ”
Harold Porter donated 500 volumes of contemporary fiction to the Wake Forest College library, packed his family and moved to France, joining the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Sherwood Anderson, John Dos Passos, Ford Madox Ford, and many more.
The Porters already knew and loved France. In 1914, Porter dedicated his first published book, Henry of Navarre, Ohio, to his wife as follows: “This book is for Marnie, who so kindly supplied the author with the technical details relating to feminine fripperies and fashions, but who will regret that the hat from the Rue de la Paix is not included.”
In France, the Porters lived in Paris, and in Cannes where they had a beautiful home overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Porter sent his Holworthy Hall stories to the Paul Reynolds agency in New York, and the checks came back to the Bankers Trust Company on the Place Vendome in Paris.
But by the mid-1920’s, Holworthy Hall was writing fewer and fewer stories. Perhaps he felt he had written enough, and was simply enjoying a life of ease. Perhaps he felt he’d said all he had to say. Or perhaps he was finding it more difficult to write.
In any event, he had not lost his generous nature. In Paris, the Permanent Blind Relief War Fund for Soldiers & Sailors of the Allies was creating an extensive library of Braille books for blinded veterans of the war. The first book was published in 1923, and by 1925, the press had published five million pages. Authors included Willa Cather, Alexander Dumas and Leo Tolstoy. In the U.S., a similar effort was underway with the American Library Association and the American Printing House for the Blind.
In 1928, Harold Porter donated two Holworthy Hall stories — “New York and Return” and “What Is Wasted Time” — and also covered the costs of having the stories converted to Braille. And at some point in the 1920s, he had established the Harold E. Porter Scholarship to the School of Medicine at Syracuse University.
In 1929, he published a second play, The Duke and the Dices, about a gambler who is losing his sweetheart because of his profession. The play is as obscure as The Valiant is famous.
I have to think Harold Porter was good company, funny, charming, full of life. While in Paris, he answered a request from an autograph seeker, who wanted a check for one cent, with this note, “Instead of forwarding you a check for one cent only, as you asked, I am enclosing a check for one centime, which at current exchange is worth considerably less than the emergency scrip you so kindly enclosed. I am, Faithfully yours, “Holworthy Hall.”
:: An Unhappy Ending ::
Sadly, the last chapters of Harold Porter’s life story could not be written by Holworthy Hall. Somewhere along the line, things went wrong for Harold Porter. Jean Porter’s teenage diaries talk of growing tension between her father, Harold, and his family. Too much socializing, too much golf and too many 19th holes, prolonged absences, less and less writing. After an angry divorce, Harold’s name was never to be mentioned in the family again.
In October of 1930, perhaps prompted by the 1929 stock market crash, a diminishing income or a desire to return home, or all of these, Marian returned from France aboard the Conte Grand, with Jean, then 18, and Richard, 11. Harold Porter would also return to the United States and take up residence, alone, in Connecticut.
In 1930, Porter dedicated his final novel, Colossus, “To my valued friend, Harold Ober.” Ober was the literary agent of F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner and others, and now that Harold Porter needed money again, he was no doubt helpful in placing the last of the Holworthy Hall stories, a half dozen written after 1930, in various magazines. Colossus was set, again, on a college campus, but dealt with professionalism in amateur sports, and the corrupting influence of wealthy alumni. It was serialized in “College Humor” magazine, but it was not especially humorous.
Perhaps paying for a lifetime of the pleasures of tobacco, Harold Porter died of pneumonia on June 21, 1936, at the Charlotte Hungerford Hospital in Torrington, Connecticut. He was 48 years old. His body was buried in nearby Washington Depot, Connecticut.
The novels and stories of Holworthy Hall are little remembered. In Twentieth Century Authors, Stanley Kunitz wrote, “Porter’s fiction, agreeable and easily forgotten, never achieved the ranks of the best sellers.” Unlike Hemingway, Faulkner and Fitzgerald, Harold Porter was not writing the new realistic literature of the twentieth century. His writing hearkens back to the romantic nineteenth century, and to the lighter side of it at that. There are, unfortunately, occasional ethnic stereotypes, typical of the era, that make the reader wince, especially the reader who wants to like this generous, convivial man.
But the stories of Holworthy Hall had moments of surprising power. In Egan, when a young man returns from the Great War, and is greeted by a chorus of excuses from those who did not serve, you feel as if Hall was writing today.
His adeptness at strumming the heart strings was undeniable. In Henry of Navarre, Ohio, when the girl with the stutter says, “I l-l-love you, H-Henry,” you’d have to be dead not to feel a flutter. And on the final green of Dormie One, or in the closing moments of The Valiant, you feel, you know, totally, that you are in the hands of a master.
Hail to thee, Harold Everett Porter. Rah, rah, rah, Holworthy Hall.