Our Unsung Hoosier Heroine: Janet Flanner: a.k.a. “Genet”

Janet Flanner & Ernest Hemingway

Every good Hoosier knows about our great war correspondent Ernie Pyle, a journalistic hero of WWII.

Few are aware that Janet Flanner, an Indianapolis woman born in 1892, who went to Mrs. Gates’ Dancing Class, swam at The Riviera Club, and attended Tudor Hall, was the war correspondent for The New Yorker magazine in WWII, and broadcast for The NBC Blue Network. From 1944-1947 she wrote from fighting fronts in Belgium, Germany and France, covered the Nuremberg trials, and reported the Nazi’s theft of art in her series “The Beautiful Spoils.” After the war she was awarded The Legion of Honor by France, and wore its bright red ribbon in her lapel the rest of her life.

It was fitting that Flanner was honored by France, for she lived there most of her adult life, writing the New Yorker’s “Letter from Paris” under the pseudonym “Genet.” One of three daughters of Frank Flanner, founder of Flanner and Buchanan mortuary, she attended the University of Chicago for a little more than a year, then began writing on movies for The Indianapolis Star before suddenly marrying Wlliam Lane Rhem, a friend from college and moving with him to New York, later confiding to a friend she had married as a way of getting out of Indianapolis. Their divorce was amicable and they remained on friendly terms.

Soon after, she met and lived with the actress and writer Solita Solano who she moved to Paris with in the legendary decade of the 1920s, and lived with until the outbreak of war in Europe. Flanner came to know and befriend the literary stars of the era – Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, and Sylvia Beach, the bookstore owner who used her own money to publish the first two copies of James Joyce’s Ulysses. (That bombshell novel of the literary world was then serialized in The Little Review, an avant garde literary magazine published by Margaret Anderson, another refugee from Indianapolis!)

Flanner had a sharp sense of humor as well as a sense of style, writing of the great dancer Isadora Duncan that she “came as close to founding an aesthetic renaissance as American morality would allow. . .her body, whose attic splendor once brought Greece to Kansas City and Kalamazoo. . .” was never fully appreciated in America.

Flanner lamented that Duncan’s  “ideals of human liberty” were similar to those of  Plato, yet “All they gained for Isadora were the loss of her passport and the presence of the constabulary on the stage of the Indianapolis Opera House, where the chief of police watched for sedition in the movement of Isadora’s knees.” (Paris Was Yesterday)

Flanner wrote with the same wit and grace in profiles of the great painters of the twentieth century –Picasso, Braque, Cezanne and Matisse. She wrote that Cezanne “prophesied that he could astonish Paris with an apple” and it was his paintings of apples that brought him his first fame.

Surrounded by literary luminaries, Flanner established her own niche in that pantheon of writers with her bi-weekly “Letter from Paris,” which appeared in The New Yorker over a span of fifty years. The “Letters” were collected in widely praised hard cover editions like Paris was Yesterday, and Paris Journal, which was published in 1966 and praised as “a unique narrative of a nation in transition” when it won that year’s National Book Award. Her other work published in book form includes Men and Monuments, Uncollected Writings 1932-1975, and her one novel The Cubicle City (now out of print.) Her own life story is told in Genet: a Biography of Janet Flanner by Brenda Wineapple.

“The Uncle Dan and Sophie Jam” will honor Janet Flanner in our first Bloomington show at The Blockhouse on Thursday, August 30, 7-9. Our guest will be Ball State Professor Rai Peterson, who is writing a book on Solita Solano, who Flanner lived with until the outbreak of World War II.  Sophie Faught will join me with her always incisive questioning of our guests, and we will hope to resurrect our unsung Indiana heroine of Paris in the Twenties to the consciousness of our fellow Hoosiers.

Sophie will play saxophone and lead her musicians with music of the jazz age to accompany the stories of Janet Flanner’s colorful and influential life and work.

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Uncle Dan’s Book Nerds Night

Uncle Dan’s Book Nerds meets Sunday, April 15 in the Oxford Room upstairs at the Aristocrat Pub (52nd & College in Indianapolis). 

This one’s bittersweet – while I’m excited about new projects I have coming up, I’ve decided this next Book Nerds will be my last. Come celebrate the conclusion of a great show run.

Thank you, everyone, for your support of this show.

 

Purchase Tickets

Doors open at 5:00. Show is from 6 – 8:00.
Dinner and drink service is available throughout the show.

Uncle Dan is happy to announce his special guest for the Sunday, April 15 edition of Book Nerds:

Lou Harry

Lou Harry, the longtime Arts and Entertainment writer for The Indianapolis Business Journal, was recently laid off because the IBJ is eliminating his position—which means no more steady, critical arts and dining coverage. His last day of regular employment at IBJ was Thursday, March 15. Mr.  Harry will be at “Uncle Dan’s Book Nerds Night” on Sunday, April 15, at The Oxford Room on the second floor of The Aristocrat pub and restaurant from 6-8 pm.

Mr. Harry was the most consistently informed and perceptive reviewer of books, plays, movies, music, and even restaurants in the city. He has written more than fifty books, as well as articles and essays for a wide variety of entertainment and theatrical magazines. He is a member of the board of the American Theatre Critics Association and has had his own plays produced.

It seems an odd and self-defeating decision that “arts and entertainment” is not regarded as a “business.” Don’t people buy books, pay for tickets to movies and theaters, pay for a wide range of courses in all forms of writing at The Indiana Writers Center, and eat at the variety of new and well-regarded restaurants in the city?

Harry was the most reliable and consistent critic in the city’s publications. The only review of the new Kurt Vonnegut Complete Stories book was Lou Harry in the IBJ. No other newspaper or magazine bothered to review the new collection by one of Indianapolis’ most well-known and beloved writers.

Uncle Dan's Book Nerds“Uncle Dan’s Book Nerd Night” is for all who enjoy reading and talking about books. This is not a “Book Club” because you don’t have to read a particular book to come and enjoy the talk and camaraderie. On “Book Nerd Night” one Sunday  evening a month from 6-8pm, Uncle Dan Wakefield and one of his writer friends will not only talk about a book they have written, but also about the books that inspired them, their favorite authors, the peaks and pitfalls of being a writer, (which will include answering some of your questions) and all things literary, inspirational, perhaps even revelatory, and most of all (hopefully,) entertaining!

Book Nerd Night will be at upstairs dining room (The Oxford Room) of Aristocrat Pub (52nd and College), on the second floor, private entrance to left (south) of Main Entrance to the restaurant.  Since the bar is in a separate room, college and high school students will be welcome at the event! (They can eat but not drink alcohol of course.)  Check menu of The Aristocrat – everything from burgers to full course dinners of steaks, chicken, fish, and 60 Craft Beers!

PS – We regret that our schedule for these events did not work out with The Red Key. We continue to frequent The Key for food, drink, and fellowship – as well as the best jukebox in the U.S.!  

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Buried Treasure

Last year the musical hit of Broadway was “Shuffle Along, or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed.” The production won four Drama Desk Awards, including Outstanding Musical, and was nominated for ten Tonys. The original production of 1921 was the first all-black musical on Broadway that was not a minstrel show, and introduced worldwide musical stars Josephine Baker and Paul Robeson. Poet Langston Hughes hailed that original musical as the launch of The Harlem renaissance, an artistic and cultural revolution in America. One of the show’s songs became an all-time popular hit – “I’m Just Wild About Harry.”

Did you know that the co-author of the song and of the musical, Noble Sissle, was from Indianapolis? And he went to Butler? Oh – and did you know he wrote The Butler Fight Song (“We’ll sing the Butler War song/ we’ll give the fighting cry. . .” I didn’t either. It’s part of the great history of jazz and black music that was born and flourished here on Indiana Avenue and never acknowledged (much less celebrated) by the city’s establishment.

Other cities promoted and made tourist attractions of their jazz history – Bourbon Street in The French Quarter of New Orleans, Beale Street in Memphis. Kansas City has a Jazz Museum and claims to be “one of the cradles of jazz.” It lists other jazz “cradles” as New Orleans, Chicago, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and New York City.”  The jazz mecca of Indiana Avenue is not even mentioned, and is only a blip in the Ken Burns documentary of jazz. We spent millions of dollars luring a Super Bowl in order to promote tourism and attract business, but we hid our brightest musical lights under a bushel of neglect.

I wrote in a blog last week of a new book on Indiana Avenue being written by Aleta Hodge (who you heard on “The Uncle Dan Story Hour” on WFYI Monday night, and can soon be heard here on my website.) There are two good books on that legendary musical thoroughfare already available: Indianapolis Jazz: The Masters, Legends, and Legacy of Indiana Avenue by David Leander Williams [The History Press] is an excellent and thorough survey of the birth and flowering and death of the Avenue.

Indiana Avenue: Black Entertainment Boulevard by Rev. C. Nickerson Bolden [Author House] takes a hard and honest look at the demise of the once brilliant musical showplace and the healthy neighborhood that once grew around it. Bolden says sadly and truly that “The Indiana Avenue community was an amenity. Few past or current city officials have really acknowledged this fact.”

I have a book on the history of the city and another one of the state. Neither mentions Indiana Avenue or any of the world-renowned artists it spawned. The fine documentary “The School That Changed a City” tells of the important careers of successful graduates of Crispus Attucks in sports, law, medicine, and the military, but no mention is made of its famous musicians (except for one opera singer) or the superb music department that launched them. One of the musicians who taught there was Jerry Daniels, an original member of “The Ink Spots.” I wish I had known that he and his quartet were talented young men from Indianapolis when I was a kid loving their music. I might have learned that there were other black Americans besides Amos and Andy and Jack Benny’s bug-eyed “Rochester” and the bandana-bonneted Aunt Jemima on the pancake box.

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Dan Wakefield

Dan Wakefield