Thursday, May 19, 2016

front-page news, Renaissance II

---------------------- [excerpt] ------------------ Part II.  CITY OF REFUGE.  1.  "Exiles and Émigrés"

The bitter air of exile settled on New York in the war years, 1939 - 45, and made the city immeasurably more brilliant. 

As Virgil Thomson, in those years the music critic of the New York Herald Tribune, recalls: "...The 1940s, especially their first half, saw a meeting of talent here, both foreign and domestic, that made us for the first time an international center for intellectuals."

In October 1940, the Saturday Review of Literature published an issue devoted to "the Exiled Writers," timed to coincide with a dinner for their benefit...organized by Cass Canfield, Nelson Doubleday, Bennett Cerf, and other sympathetic publishers. 

Based on a somber oil painting by the Belgian-born Georges Schreiber, the magazine's cover showed a bedraggled couple trudging against the wind in a cornfield, storm clouds overhead....

Benjamin Appel, a young writer of leftist views known for tough-guy novels of the street with titles like Brain Guy and Runaround, went out on assignment to find the writers who had "got through" to New York.

-------------------------[excerpt 2] ---------------------- The intellectual migration from the Europe of the dictators to America -- catching up artists...scientists; architects, philosophers, art historians, composers; painters, physicists, publishers, and poets;

playwrights, actors, opera singers, and impresarios --

was an event in the history of culture and science whose influence,

far from being exhausted almost eighty years after it began,

continues to spread and circulate. 

The émigrés changed how Americans lit their movie sets,

understood their motives,

explained their elections;

how they built and decorated their houses and skyscrapers and apartments;

how they studied and collected art;

how they painted,

how they practiced science, and

how they waged war. 

Did not a Hungarian émigré, Leo Szilard, persuade a German exile, Albert Einstein, to put his signature to the letter that first led Franklin Roosevelt to consider building an atomic bomb?  And when that led to the construction of a secret city in New Mexico for the design of such a weapon, Los Alamos

became perhaps the most fateful grouping of European minds to ever have come together in America, under the direction of a German-Jewish prodigy raised on Riverside Drive, J. Robert Oppenheimer.

As fascism spread and war was imminent, the arrival in New York of Einstein

or Mann,

Chagall or Dalí, Toscanini or Stravinsky, was front-page news. 

By 1939, the New York Times was comparing these distinguished refugees to the Greek scholars who sparked the Renaissance with their flight from Constantinople to Italy;

in 1942 the American Mercury reviewed a show of "Artists in Exile"

at Pierre Matisse's