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.Purchase Tickets