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Friday, 13 May 2016

Randy Raymond Chandler, his Italian 'Racing Car' Typewriter and his Racy Connections with Young Australian Women

The British-American novelist and screenwriter, creator of private detective Phillip Marlowe, Raymond Chandler and his Australian fiancée Jean Edith Precious Davis. After the death of her Italian-born American husband, US Medical Corps Captain John Fracasse, Jean returned to the name Jean Maria Vounder-Davis.
- Chandler wrote this limerick for Jean Davis
- Christmas card from Chandler to Davis, 1957
Deirdre Stuebe (née Gartrell), who died at Rock Forest outside Bathurst last December 14, was just 17, and a student the University of New England in Armidale, New South Wales, when Chandler started to write her steamy letters in 1956. The correspondence between them led to a 1995 book, The Australian Love Letters of Raymond Chandler, by Alan Close. Eighteen years his senior, or 50 years his junior, it didn't seem to matter to Chandler when his romantic interests were aroused.
- Chandler writing to his "darling", 'Dee' Gartrell, on July 25, 1957
Chandler, previously known to have used an Underwood Noiseless portable,  was enthusiastically typing with an Olivetti Studio 44 semi-portable when he wrote love letters to married Californian publicist Louise Loughner from London in the mid-1950s.
"I am apt to get up around 4am, take a mild drink of Scotch and water and start hammering at this lovely Olivetti 44, which is far superior to anything we turn out in America. It is a heavy portable and put together like an Italian racing car, and you mustn't judge it from my typing."
- Raymond Chandler, 21 May 1955
On May 21, 1955, an alcoholic and suicidal Raymond Chandler wrote these words in his second-floor flat in Eaton Square, London, in a letter to married publicist and would-be writer Louise Loughner (1900-) in California. At least he had one uplifting thing to write to her about - and with: His Olivetti Studio 44 semi-portable typewriter.
At a time when the Ferraris of Giuseppe Farina, José Froilán González and Maurice Trintignant were racing against Maseratis and Lancias in the Formula One world motor racing championship, Chandler likened the construction of his Olivetti to an Italian racing car. But he used a blue typewriter ribbon.
After a clumsy suicide attempt at his home in La Jolla on February 22, 1955, Chandler had been briefly held in the psychopathic ward of the Scripps Memorial Hospital and then taken by San Diego Tribune journalist friend Neil Morgan to the Chula Vista Valley View Sanitarium. He released himself in mid-March and on April 12 sailed from New York for England. After disembarking at Southampton on the 19th, Chandler checked into the Connaught Hotel in London. In the meantime, Loughner, the wife of accountant Sam Loughner (1891-1964), had read about the suicide attempt in her local newspaper, the Oxnard Press-Courier, and had written to Chandler. Her sympathetic letter eventually reached him in London.
Loughner, by the way, was the mother of Jack Loughner (1919-1975), managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Commercial News.
The correspondence between Chandler and Loughner continued into 1956. But whatever ambitions Loughner may have begun to harbour about forming a romantic attachment with Chandler were unaided by Chandler's admissions to her that he was planning an affair with Lady Natasha Spender (1919-2010), the English pianist and author and mother-in-law of Australian writer and actor Barry Humphries - even after Spender's operation for breast cancer. But Chandler biographer Tom Williams does write that Chandler's "romantic focus seems to have shifted ... from Spender to Loughner."
Lady Natasha Spender, right, with her husband, writer Sir Stephen Spender (1909-95) and son Matthew. In front is their daughter, Lizzie, wife of Barry Humphries.
On June 2, 1956, Chandler returned to US to finally meet Loughner. While staying at the Clift Hotel, he "courted Loughner assiduously", and made plans to propose to her and change his will in her favour. His engagement to Loughner, however, was broken off when Chandler persisted with telling her about his undying love for his deceased wife Cissy and for Spender.
Pearl Cecily Eugenia Hurlburt Pascal (Cissy) Chandler. Born in Perry, Ohio, on October 29, 1870, she was almost 18 years Chandler's senior. They married in 1924. She died, aged 84, in La Jolla on December 12, 1954, an event which led to Chandler's heavy drinking, depression and suicide attempts.  A little more than four years after Cissy passed, Chandler himself was dead, aged 70.
In January 1957 Chandler advertised in the San Diego Tribune for a secretary and employed the "striking and vivacious" blued-eyed blonde Australian Jean Fracasse. The "blithe and elegant" Jean had previously been in advertising but was working as an actress and newsreader on southern California TV, being one of the first three women ever employed by a network television company. She was born Jean Edith Precious Davis in Chatswood, Sydney, on July 8, 1917, the daughter of a Bathurst-born couple, Leslie Thomas Samuel Davis (1879-1928) and Ella Louisa (née Cornwell, 1878-1945). The Bathurst connection is interesting, because it will bring us back to Chandler's fixation with a much younger Australian woman.
Jean's father died in Manly when she was 11, leaving her mother to raise her alone. Ella Davis named their house on 39 Johnson Street, Chatswood, after St Austell, the town in Cornwall in England, from whence her ancestors came to Australia. One of these was Hannah Maria Vounder (1802-) and by the age of 13 Jean had adopted the stage and pen name of Jean Maria Vounder-Davis. At St Stephen's Cathedral in Brisbane on March 25, 1943,  she married an Italian-born US Medical Corps officer called John Fracasse (1907-1958), from Rhode Island.
Chandler with Jean Davis's daughter by John Fracasse, 
now known as Sybil Anne Davis.
The couple had two children, Vincent Andrew Fracasse (later Vincent Vounder-Davis, born in Brisbane on January 2, 1944) and Sybil Anne (now known as Davis, born December 5, 1945) and in 1944 first settled in the US in Muskogee, Oklahoma, where Dr Fracasse worked in the veterans hospital. The family moved to California in 1947.
By the mid-60s, following the deaths of both her husband and her would-be husband, Chandler, Jean Davis had resumed her career as a musician. Like Chandler's wife Cissy and another of his lovers,  Spender, she was an accomplished pianist and also played the harpsichord.  She had gained a doctorate in music before meeting Chandler and later became an historian and a music teacher at the University of California, Santa Barbara. In 1985 Davis wrote to the Los Angeles Times, "Australians get so tired of Americans who get practically everything about them incorrect. In this, they are usually joined by most of the races in the world. Americans then wonder why other peoples are exasperated with them!" This comment may well have been applied to Chandler's American biographers, who have invariably painted Davis in a poor light.
Davis died in Carlsbad, San Diego, on January 25, 1996, aged 78.  She had claimed to be the widow of "the late Dr Davis", but there was no such person. Sybil Anne Davis is now a retired attorney living in Pasadena.
As with Spender and Loughner, Davis became what Chandler referred to as one of his "girlfriends" - the difference being that she was practically "living in" and Chandler had taken her children, Vincent and Sybil, under his protective wing. Officially, Chandler was in the care of Davis, but there was much more to the relationship than employer-secretary, or patient-carer. In this environment, Davis was able to coax Chandler back to his typewriter to write fiction rather than love letters, and by Christmas 1957 he had completed the first draft of Playback. In gratitude, he dedicated the book to Davis and his new agent, Helga Mary Greene (1916-85), and in late 1958 deeded Davis the British and Commonwealth rights to the novel (Greene bought them back for $2000).
Helga Greene with Chandler. Greene successfully defended a court challenge from Jean Davis regarding Chandler's will. Chandler had changed his will, leaving almost everything to Greene, after previously favouring Davis.
Davis, now describing herself as a writer, followed Chandler to London with her children, arriving on March 7, 1958, with plans to travel with Chandler to Australia for three months. Chandler had decided to write about General Douglas MacArthur, who he intensely disliked, and the way wharf workers had stood up to him in Brisbane for "acting like royalty". It was no doubt a story Davis had told him, as it is alleged to have occurred at about the time she met her American husband John Fracasse in Australia.
Chandler shipped his Oldsmobile, in Davis's name, to Sydney. In May, Chandler showed Davis his will, which bequeathed his estate worth $60,000 to her - he had began telling friends in England of his intention to marry Davis as early as the previous year. But Davis, with Vincent and Sybil, went on to Australia alone in 1958. Chandler's London friends had come between the pair, suggesting Davis, 29 years his junior, was a gold-digger. During this time Chandler and Greene became much closer, and travelled to Naples together, but Chandler stayed in constant contact with Davis by telephone. On August 5, Davis's husband John Fracasse died and she returned to the US, where she was reunited with Chandler at La Jolla. Chandler wrote to his publisher's editor Roger Machell on October 14, speaking extremely ill of John Fracasse:
This time Greene sent a former Chandler secretary, Kay West, to spy on Chandler and Davis, after Davis had been named the main benefactor in Chandler's will. Chandler became engaged to West and changed his will in her favour, but West soon returned to England and in February 1959 Greene yet again interceded - on her own behalf. Chandler was on death's door and Greene was determined to get his money for herself, and to cut Davis out of his will. In his dying days, Greene elicited a marriage proposal from Chandler, and on February 20 he changed his will yet again.
Chandler and Davis's daughter, Sybil. In 1958 Chandler gave the original libretto of a comic opera, The Princess and the Pedlar, to her. It was written by him and Cissy's first husband, Julian Pascal.
Heading back to England with Greene, Chandler stopped off in New York to ask her father, Henry Seymour Howard Guinness, for Helga's hand in marriage, and was knocked back. So he returned to Davis in La Jolla. He died there on March 26. Davis and her daughter Sybil selected his gravestone and buried him at Mount Hope Cemetery, San Diego.
 In Februaty 2011, Sybil Anne Davis took part in the event at which Cissy's ashes were laid beside Chandler's grave. If you go to and fast forward to 41 minutes, 56 seconds, you can see and hear Sybil reading an unpublished love poem by Chandler which was typewritten on his Olivetti Studio 44.
Four months later Jean Davis became a US citizen in San Diego. In November she filed a suit there contesting the will. The case went to court in May 1960 and Superior Court Judge Gerald C. Thomas found in Greene's favour. The greedy Greene then tried to get $4735 from Davis, money given to Davis by Chandler from March 1958. Davis did get to keep Cissy’s diamond wedding ring and Chandler’s monogrammed silver cigarette case and his ostrich-skin wallet, all of which Chandler gave to her. Sybil Davis wore the ring to a St Valentine's Day 2011 service at which Cissy's ashes were laid beside Chandler's grave, and had in her purse the cigarette case and wallet.
On December 12, 2011, Sybil Davis sold through a Sotheby's auction in New York books and papers from Chandler’s personal collection, which had belonged to her mother, including a first edition of The Big Sleep, inscribed to Cissy and reinscribed to Vincent Vounder-Davis, which fetched $254,500. The works came "from the library of Jean Vounder-Davis, who was the author’s fiancée, muse and private secretary until his death in 1959".  "Despite a 30-year age gap, Jean cared for the author, keeping him healthy, sober, and focused on his writing. In turn he helped to care for her children, becoming their legal guardian."
Deirdre 'Dee' Stuebe in later life
- Letter from Chandler to Deirdre Gartrell, April 23, 1957 
On January 22, 1956, the Sydney Sun-Herald published an article by Merrick Flynn based on an interview Flynn had had with Chandler 11 months earlier, following the writer's suicide attempt. Thus began, between February 15, 1956, and August 14, 1957, what University of Sydney professor of English Paul Giles was later to call a "bizarre epistolary romance" between Chandler and a 17-year-old student at the University of New England in Armidale, New South Wales. The student's name was Deirdre Gartrell (later Mrs Dee Stuebe of Bathurst), and she first wrote to Chandler to express her condolences "for his sadness". In return, he was soon addressing her as "Darling Deirdre". It was all very innocent at the Australian end, was it so at the La Jolla and London ends? Chandler thanked Gartrell "for your measurements, which 20 years ago would have made me rather excitable." In June 1956 he warned, "I suppose you realise, baby, that I am old enough to be your grandfather." 
Chandler's decision to stay in London and call off his planned Australia trip with Jean Davis and her children in mid-1957 meant Chandler and Gartrell never met, though Chandler fully intended to visit Gartrell, regardless of Davis's presence. It should be noted that it was almost a year before Chandler had appointed Davis his private secretary that he began this long-distance mail affair.
From Tom Hiney's Raymond Chandler: A Biography. The impression Gartrell was unhappy at this time seems to be something of a Hiney invention. Close's book doesn't suggest this. An interview with another Chandler biographer, Tom Williams, notes that Williams treats Jean Davis far more fairly.
Chandler destroyed all of Gartrell's letters to him shortly before he died, but Gartrell kept the letters she received from Chandler and one of these, typed in blue ribbon on Chandler's Olivetti Studio 44, and ending with an extremely ribald limerick, fetched $5000 when auctioned by Christie's in New York in December 2007, almost exactly eight years before Mrs Stuebe died:
Chander's letters, described as "intimate', formed the basis of Alan Close's 1995 book The Australian Love Letters of Raymond Chandler. As well, Giles says Chandler telephoned Gartrell on many occasions. Gartrell also corresponded with Helga Greene in 1960-61.
Deirdre Gartrell was born at Englewood, New South Wales, on June 6, 1938, the daughter of Harold Borrodell Gartrell (1892-1960) and his wife Dorothy (1903-93, née Weiley). From Chandler she received all sorts of sexual advice: "All our state-run institutions are co-educational and there is too damn much sex in them. On the other hand we don't breed sodomites like the English boarding schools" ... "I'd like to say this to you, though, from a man who knows a great deal about women, that no girl is as safe as she thinks she is" ... "I have a talent for women, and the basis of it is this: You never treat them except as something to be adored and respected and you never lay a hand on them until you know that they are ready and willing to get into bed with you" ... "Kisses may be many things. But if you ever feel yourself beginning to tremble, run like hell" ... "If you are a passionate and sensual type, you will find that he will be no good in bed" ... "If you should ever feel yourself slipping, hop on a plane and come and see me, of course as my guest in every possible sense." 
Gartrell had met her future husband, German-born builder Walter Stuebe (1929-2003), in December 1955, just before she started her correspondence with Chandler
The Stuebes lived in one of the Bathurst region’s special places, “Boonderoo”. Walter built the earth-covered home on Pine Ridge Road at Rock Forest and the totally self-sufficient premises on 100 acres was completed in 1997. It features solar power and water as well as a natural air conditioning system and unique engineering. Deirdre said "[Walter] could see what was happening with global warming and climate change and set about building a very natural home that wouldn’t be affected by interruptions to the power supply or water shortages. We purchased the block [in about 1975] and had a weekender shack out there, but we didn’t move into the earth-covered house until 1997.” “Boonderoo” is covered by two metres of earth with only the north-facing front of the house showing. 
Mrs Stuebe eventually did achieve her goal of becoming a writer - at least of poetry. In 2007 her poem "Joy" ("The source of joy is hidden in a well of pain") appeared in The Mozzie. She died at "Boonderoo" last December 14.


Taylor Harbin said...

These writers sure had interesting lives! I have yet to type on a true Studio 44. The best I've got is an Underwood 21, which is fine, except for the teardrop shaped keys. I am still on the lookout for a junked 44 so I can swap them an experiment.

Anonymous said...

We all know his work, but who knew about the man himself? I certainly didn't - great post ... must revisit my mothballed Studio 44!

Nick Merritt said...

Ye gods! A complicated story -- great work, Robert. Didn't know a thing about Chandler. (And I agree with Chandler's assessment of the Studio 44, though its typing feel takes getting used to.)

Richard P said...

What a tangled romantic web!

Kathleen lou said...

Great post. So important to document. I am a great fan of Chandler's writing, but I had no idea about his Australian connection, which now makes him more special to me, being an Australian myself.