Friday, May 31, 2013

Judy Garland Spots James Mason In Rare 1805 Book

by Stephen J. Gertz

The original, unsigned and undated, artwork for a series of satirical prints, Symptoms of Drilling, signed on the published prints as  "Designed & Etched by H.B.H. Esq. 1805" without imprint, recently fell into my lap. Bound by Riviere and Son c. 1900 - incredibly with misspelled title, "Symptons," on the upper cover - it was from the collection of the great film  director, George Cukor, and bears his celebrated bookplate designed by Paul Landacre.

Bookplate by Paul Landacre.
"For George / I came across this book & spotted James Mason. Judy"

It was a gift to Cukor from Judy Garland, inscribed, "For George/ I ran across this book & spotted James Mason / Judy." The book was likely presented and the message likely written c. 1953-54, the years that Cukor's production of Garland's star-vehicle, A Star Is Born, co-starring Mason, was shot and released. 

Symptoms of Drilling / Fall in Gentlemen!- heads up! - eyes right!
Ready! -p'sent! - wait Gentlemen, wait for the Word "Fire!"

The watercolors, in a style similar to Thomas Rowlandson, depict a motley crew of comical recruits engaged in soldier's training under the direction of a drill sergeant. The captions have been added by hand in the sky above the heads of the recruits. A bookseller's description tipped to the front endpaper mistakenly attributes them to Rowlandson but the only surviving copies of the published prints, at the British Museum (incomplete set) and Brown University (complete set), bear the signature and date at noted above.

Shoulder Arms.

It remains unknown who "H.B.H." or "H, H.B." is, and the published album is unrecorded by Tooley or Abbey.

March!!!- Cock-up there!
To the Right - face!

The series might well have been titled, "1st Division, Wildly Divided, Amateur Army... Chaos on the March!!!" If someone looking like James Mason is part of this platoon of British Gomer Pyles I don't see him. Miss Garland was clearly poking fun at the British actor who, in A Star Is Born, portrays washed-up movie star, Norman Maine, to Judy Garland's rising star, Esther Blodgett / Vicki Lester, the two in a heartfelt yet disastrous marriage.

Authentic Judy Garland autograph material is difficult to come by - studio publicists routinely signed still photographs - and her signature mutated over the years, her autograph from the 1930s - 1940s quite distinct from later examples. As odd as her signature appears here in contrast to earlier ones there is little doubt that this inscription is genuine. Why would someone make the  effort to deceive with this obscure, one-off album, and why would it be in George Cukor's possession? 

Had she remained in character the inscription would have been tear-stained and signed, "Mrs. Norman Maine," how Vicki Lester accepted her Academy Award after dearly beloved husband Norman Maine took a long walk off a short pier and journeyed into the drink for a final, dramatic exit stage-right to continue his full-time drinking into eternity.

[H.B.H. or H., H.B.]. Symptoms of Drilling. N.p.: n.p., n.d. [1805]. Oblong octavo (5¾ x 16¾ in; 145 x 427 mm). A set of five original watercolor illustrations folded in two.

1. Symptoms of Drilling. Fall in Gentlemen!- heads up! - eyes right!
2. To the Right - face!
3.  March!!!- Cock-up there!
4.  Shoulder Arms
5.  Ready! -p'sent! - wait Gentlemen, wait for the Word "Fire!" 

Images courtesy of David Brass Rare Books, with our thanks.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Subscribe to BOOKTRYST by Email