I can’t decide which is campier: this book, which needs no introduction, or my more rare find, “Hollywood All About Motion Pictures” (published in 1940, produced for “Basic English Prague,” and soon to be covered on this blog). The truth is, I have to give credit to my husband for finding both.
I haven’t dug up too much on the elusive Samuel Paynter Wilson, but I do know that he penned another classic, “Chicago by Gaslight.” Both seem to document the perils, societal ills and sin of city life in the early 20th century (this was published in 1915). The title paints such a picture, doesn’t it? A city with explosive growth, creaking under the pressure only to spit the grit, grime and foul characters onto the streets.
And the passages are even better:
“It is unhappily true that the devil’s work is done here upon a large scale..”
“Woe to the man who follows after one of these creatures. The next step is to some of the low dives which still occupy too many of the so-called hotels in the business district..”
(From this proclamation, Wilson launches into a 100-page diatribe about the dangers of the so-called “White Slave Traffic” and how parents can protect their girls from being captured by the city’s clutches; most of this is covered in a chapter entitled “Why Girls Go Astray.”)
“The curse of Chicago is the vile, repugnant saloon. No one can realize the picture of its rottenness all at once; everything is deceptive about it, and it takes time to grasp the magnitude of this hydra-headed monster.”
“The American woman of the fashionable set lives in a whirl of unhealthful stress…she sleeps too little and keeps her nerves constantly on the Qui Vive. She tipples and drugs, she is often a degenerate..”
(Sounds a lot like one of my favorite cinema characters–Ginny, Bud’s wild sister from “Splendor in the Grass”–and, um, spoiled L.A. socialites and their ilk.)
To be fair, Wilson is able to muster some hearty praise for the City of Broad Shoulders. His description of bustling State Street is divine. And his passion for Chicago’s religious institutions and “good” theaters is clearly felt. But then, after all that optimism, he concludes with a sad chapter called “Tramps’ Paradise.” Can’t win ‘em all over, I suppose.