EDITOR’S NOTE: Today’s post is written by journalist and biographer Justin Martin, author of the new book Rebel Souls: Walt Whitman and America’s First Bohemians (Da Capo Press, 2014). His post today is a reflection on psychedelic pioneer Fitz Hugh Ludlow. Fitz Hugh Ludlow was a psychedelic pioneer and author of the 1857 classic The Hasheesh …
Lately I have been investigating what I call a genealogy of disclosure, asking how the tightly controlled personal narrative of Marty Mann, which she offered in service of a public health mission as she launched the organization that is now the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, morphed into our own cultural moment, wherein “Intervention” is a reality television show and the successive admissions of young celebrities to rehabilitation for addiction is considered newsworthy. Of course, a generation ago, First Lady Betty Ford served an important role bringing public awareness to women’s addictions, including alcoholism. Yet even though she stands as perhaps the most famous female alcoholic of the twentieth century, Ford was not the first or even the only one to step forward. Professional women, including physicians, who were alcoholic had worked to shape policy and treatment, while alcoholic actresses testified before Congress beginning in 1969 to support the bill that established the National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. This activism has been dubbed the “women’s alcoholism movement” and it led to the official identification of women as a “special population” of alcoholics in the context of new federal funding for research and treatment. 
An especially fascinating figure who played an important role during this period was Susan B. Anthony II.
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 Prohibition was repealed at the end of 1933, the temperance movement and its paradigm were discredited, and the nation was, in the ‘40s and ‘50s, looking for a new perspective on its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.
Editor’s Note: Readers will recognized “Matthew J. Raphael” as the pen name of well-known literary scholar who authored the outstanding biography Bill W. and Mr. Wilson; he recently reviewed the documentary Bill W. for Points. Here he muses on the poor fit between academic values, Amazon.com, and AA’s 11th Tradition.
When Bill W. and Mr. Wilson appeared in 2000, it was featured by the Chronicle of Higher Education, largely because of its pseudonymous authorship – so rare an anomaly for this journal that it begged explanation. It seemed eccentric, if not vegetarian, for me to be renouncing explicit recognition for anything within academe’s carnivorous realm, where clawing for visibility names the game. The Chronicle reporter wondered earnestly whether or not the book would appear on my updated CV. If not, would I forfeit a salary bump for meritorious work?
I explained the AA tradition of anonymity at the level of press, radio, and film (later expanded to other public media). I added that the tradition did not preclude revealing my identity, if I pleased, under less public circumstances, such as submitting my CV.
In 2000, there was no great mystery, below the public level, about who had written Bill W. and Mr. Wilson, particularly among those in the incipient field of Alcohol and Addiction Studies. I think my authorship has since become more or less common knowledge, although “Matthew J. Raphael” remains the author when the book appears in the bibliographies of related studies; and it is not placed among my other publications at, say, Amazon.com. More on that presently.
I had originally regarded Bill Wilson skeptically: as a braggart and egoist, quick on the draw in promoting himself. My first impression was confirmed to a degree.
Editor’s Note: Those who follow the Points Interview series know that Joe Spillane has managed this aspect of the blog since our founding. While in today’s iteration we mourn Joe’s departure, we are also delighted to announce that Contributing Editor Ron Roizen has agreed to take over as our official interview steward. A member of the merry research staff at the Alcohol Research Group at “Berzerkeley” in the early 1970s, it’s fitting that his first Points Interview is a “Freaky Friday” confab with Mark Christensen, another denizen of the Wild West. In addition to publishing several novels, Christensen has written for Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Oregon Magazine. Here he graces Points with his replies to our series of probing interrogatives on Acid Christ: Ken Kesey, LSD, and the Politics of Ecstasy(Schaffner Press, 2010).
How did you come to write Acid Christ? And what’s its focus?
I was contacted by a former editor working for my eventual publisher, Tim Schaffner. Tim had an idea for a new kind of nonfiction book, a “shepherd and his sheep” biography in which the writer would tell the story of a major modern “culture changer” and the change the “shepherd” brought from the writer’s own perspective. As one of the sheep. That would be me. A former upper middle-class “suburban-urchin,” I’d written about counterculture icons like David Crosby, Richard Pryor and Paul Krassner for Rolling Stone and High Times and, so to speak, the paradise that was “pre-AIDS ‘Freak Freely’ America.” So I guess I was a good get.
As for the shepherd, larger than life Ken Kesey was an easy choice. By age 28 he had two critically acclaimed bestselling novels, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Sometimes a Great Notion, a feat never bested by Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Saul Bellow or John Updike.
Editor’s Note: This is the second in a two-part look at Kevin Hanlon’s documentary Bill W. In yesterday’s installment, biographer Matthew J. Raphael recounted his own experiences trying to capture and contextualize the life of AA’s co-founder for the book Bill W. and Mr. Wilson.
Bill W., an excellent new film from 124 Productions, takes a qualitative quantum leap over My Name Is Bill W. (1989), an ABC made-for-television movie starring James Woods as Bill Wilson and James Garner as Dr. Bob Smith. Bill W.’s widow, Lois Wilson, lived just long enough to read and approve that script, and the lead performances, especially Woods’s, are convincing. But as Norman K. Denzin asserts in Hollywood Shot by Shot: Alcoholism in American Cinema (1991), the fusion of Bill W.’s life with the “origin myth” of AA makes this film “a piece of official A.A. ideology that reproduces this organization’s version of its place in American society.” In effect, it employs biography as a means to place Wilson and AA alike “outside history, politics, and power.” What I referred to yesterday as “the bedtime story” becomes an agreeable fairy tale for the New Agey Twelve-Step Recovery communities of the 1980s and 1990s.
Bill W., by contrast, connects Wilson directly to the history, politics, and power that bore on his life both inside AA and, to a lesser degree, in the outside world. The film takes account of such social conditions as the Great Depression, the shady new devices (some invented by Wilson) for boosting Wall Street profits, the gaudy excesses of the 1920s, in which Wilson eagerly participated, and the stark racial divisions that Bill W. finessed by encouraging “separate but equal” meetings in the South.
The overall treatment of race, however, seems a bit underdeveloped and thus slightly evasive. Only one of the shadow-enshrouded AA members interviewed for the film is African American – a detail viewers might fail to recognize if he did not (at the director’s prompting?) move his tell-tale black hand into the light. The film gives a brief depiction of the Bowery as the ultimate hell-hole into which alcoholics can fall. But while the context suggests white alcoholics, the illustrative old photographs show only black down-and-outers.
Still, only a zealot of political correctness would find much fault here.
Editor’s Note: Matthew J. Raphael is the author of the biography Bill W. and Mr. Wilson: The Legend and Life of AA’s Co-founder (U. Mass. Press, 2000). He uses a pen name in deference to AA’s 11th Tradition of anonymity. Recently retired from a long career as a critic and historian of American literature, he here turns his attention to the latest Bill W. bio, Kevin Hanlon’s documentary film of that name.
The first and only time I was lunched by a literary agent, he offered to get me a 50K advance for a trade book biography of Bill Wilson.
At the time, little in this vein existed beyond Robert Thomsen’s novelistic Bill W. (1975) and the official AA book, “Pass It On” (1984). But soon thereafter, things began to pop. In the same anno mirabilis, 2000, were published: Bill W.: An Autobiography, based on interview tapes he made with Thomsen; Mel Barger’s My Search for Bill Wilson; Francis Hartigan’s Bill W.; and my own Bill W. and Mr. Wilson– all of them soon to be followed by Susan Cheever’s authoritative My Name Is Bill (2004).
Obviously, I demurred about that advance, which might have been just the start of some hefty royalties if the book caught on. The agent knew I could write well enough for the job and also handle the research. My candidacy was enhanced by the AA membership we had in common. I even had a leave coming up, and the advance would have allowed its extension for an additional semester or two. If only I would put my scholarly project aside and take up the biography!
Last fall I described the process through which a team of graduate students from the University of Michigan researched and wrote the nomination for Dr. Bob’s Home, the residence of Alcoholics Anonymous co-founder Dr. Bob Smith and his wife Anne, to be a National Historic Landmark (NHL). This week we completed the next step in the process, the formal presentation of the nomination to the Landmarks Committee of the National Park Service. Like our trip from Ann Arbor to Akron to see Dr. Bob’s Home for ourselves, which I recounted in previous posts, this step required a literal journey, as we drove from Michigan to Washington, D.C. for the presentation. It has been a journey in other ways as well, as we have learned even more about collaboration, about fellowship, and about the many ways that history matters.
After months of research and writing a lengthy and detailed document, the students were charged with compressing their argument about the significance of Dr. Bob’s Home into a ten-minute presentation, following the protocol of the Landmarks Committee meeting. Dr. Bob’s Home was one of approximately a dozen properties presented there over two days. The meeting itself was a fascinating mix of procedural formality and impassioned statements about the power of historic places. We were joined in Washington by a representative of the Founders’ Foundation, the non-profit organization that has restored and now maintains Dr. Bob’s Home as a museum—the same person who had served as our host when we visited Akron and who has partnered with us through this process. Sharing this experience with him and his family deepened our appreciation of the importance of fellowship and the power of history.