Note: Readers are encouraged to send potential leads, sources, or thoughts relating to E.M. Jellinek’s life to Judit Ward, at email@example.com, or Ron Roizen, at firstname.lastname@example.org. With thanks in advance, from both of us.
Who was E.M. Jellinek?
As a great many Points readers will already be aware, Jellinek rose to prominence in mid-20th-century America as a spokesman for “a new scientific approach” to alcoholism and alcohol. Prohibition was repealed at the end of 1933, the temperance movement and its paradigm were discredited, and the nation was, in the ‘40s and ‘50s, looking for a new perspective on its longstanding problematic relationship with Demon Rum. For a variety of reasons, Jellinek proved to be an excellent instrument for inviting the nation to embrace a new and more scientifically oriented disposition toward alcohol-related problems. He also published two very useful artifacts with respect to the modern alcoholism movement: a widely employed description of alcoholism’s progressively unfolding symptomatology and a formula for estimating the prevalence of alcoholism. E.M. Jellinek’s name is still revered today in both the alcohol science community and in Alcoholics Anonymous.
For the past several months, we — i.e., Judit Ward and her staff at the Rutgers Center of Alcohol Studies library and Ron Roizen in Idaho — have been collecting material on E.M. Jellinek’s life, loves, career, and times. In part, we’re searching for elements of his past that may have prepared him for the profound role he played in transforming our society’s relationship to alcohol and alcoholism. Yet — and also — he’s just a damn interesting guy to learn about. So far, it’s been both an intoxicatingly exciting adventure and a very frustrating task.
One of the project’s strengths is that one of us (viz., J.W.) is a native Hungarian speaker. This advantage holds considerable promise for ultimately sorting out Jellinek’s currency trading caper in 1920 and his rapid and ignominious departure from Budapest the same year. It’s also an advantage with respect to new work being done of late by Hungarian scholars on Jellinek’s life and relationships (see Kelemen and Mark , Mark and Brettner , and Hars ). To date, the American readership of these articles might not stretch far beyond the two of us – with, of course, J.W. doing the translating and R.R. doing the attentive listening. Yet, this tick up in Hungarian interest is certainly a very welcome sign. We’ve had the privilege, too, of communicating directly with Gabor Kelemen, one of the Hungarian scholars. He reports, among other things, that he’s currently at work on an examination of Jellinek’s 1917 monograph on the ethnographic history of the shoe (Jellinek, 1917).
Was that the shoe?!
Not the least engaging aspect of our biographical project is how colorfully varied Jellinek’s many intellectual pursuits were.