Thursday, October 10, 2013

Bad Afternoon of a Fawn: Bambi's Dark Secret Revealed

by Stephen J. Gertz

Thumper: Psst!  Hey, you! Who's your daddy?

Bambi: The Great Prince stag.

Thumper: No, I mean the guy who wrote you.

Bambi: Walt Disney?

Thumper: No, he adapted you. I mean the guy who brought you into the world.

Bambi: I don't know.

Thumper: Your author was Felix Salten, an Austrian Jew born in Hungary in 1869. He wrote you in German in 1923 and you were translated into English in 1928.

First edition (1923)
First edition in English (1928).

Thumper: His real name was Siegmund Saltzmann and his family moved to Vienna when he was an infant because the city granted Jews full citizenship in 1867; life was much easier there. When his father went broke he quit school and became an insurance salesman but, with an inch to write, began submitting poems and reviews to local journals. Soon, he was part of the Jung Wien (Young Vienna) movement and writing assignments came his way. In 1901 he published his first collection of short stories and afterward produced an average of a book a year - novels, short stories, essays, plays, you name it - under the pseudonym Felix Salten.

In 1906 he anonymously wrote a scandalous book.

Bambi: Scandalous? 

Thumper: Oh, yes. The book was Josefine Mutzenbacher, oder Die Geschichte einer Wienerischen Dirne, von ihr selbst erzählt.

Bambi: What's that mean?

Thumper: Josephine Mutzenbacher, or The Story of a Viennese Whore, as told by Herself. It's written in a very realistic and explicit manner.

Bambi: No! I'm shocked. Say it isn't so.

First edition.

Thumper: It is! It's a wild thing, privately published in an edition of 1000 copies for subscribers only and an instant hit. It's the most popular German erotic novel of all time. 

Thumper: It was first translated into English c. 1920s in a clandestine edition - a horrible job, all sex no style, Salten's humor lost as well as his voice, the rich flavor of the prose, and spirit of contemporary Vienna. This translation has been reprinted countless times; avoid it like a forest fire.

Thumper: The only translation into English that's worth reading is that done by Rudolf Schleifer in 1967 for Brandon House Library Editions out of North Hollywood, California. It was commissioned by Brian Kirby, the imprint's editor, who is considered to be the American Maurice Girodias due to his taste in fine erotica and boldness in publishing the finest erotic literature and translating for the first time into English many European erotic novels.

This edition bears an introduction by Hilary E. Holt, Ph.D., who did the translation under the pseudonym Rudolf Schleifer. Holt, an Austrian emigré to Los  Angeles, was a "sad, old man" according to Kirby, and a former professor living in a small, dumpy apartment in Hollywood  who translated for Kirby under the pseudonyms Rudolf Schleifer, Andre Gilbert, and Franz Mecklenberg. He  provided Kirby with many German erotic works from his personal collection, including Josefine Mutzenbacher. Holt also wrote introductions for the imprint, sometimes under his own name (when he'd done the book's translation under one of his pseudonyms), sometimes under the pseudonyms John S. Murphy, James E. White, Albert W. Lowy, or Allan D. Warner.

In his introduction Holt recalled a conversation he had with Stefan Zweig (1881-1942), the Vienesse novelist, about Mutzenbacher.

"Stefan Zweig was the only mortal who worked-up enough courage to ask the alleged ghost-writer of the Mutzenbacher Memoirs, Felix Salten, whether he had actually authored the book. The famous author of Bambi, et al, Zweig's senior by twelve years, was a very serious gentleman of dignified bearing which definitely did not encourage any indiscreet questions. Zweig mentinoed this episode to me, 37 years ago, in the following words:

"'Salten and I were discussing the literary phenomenon of famous authors writing bawdy stories containing four letter words and describing sexual bouts with Rabelaisian frankness. Salten reminded me of the poem Der Herr von Iste by Goethe ["Mr. Iste" is Goethe's penis, who refused to cooperate when Goethe, age 78, met a willing wench]. I, in turn, mentioned Mark Twain's bawdy story dealing with the court of Elizabeth I, 1601.

"'I thought this a good occasion to question Salten about his alleged authorship of the Mutzenbacher story. He smiled mysteriously and said, 'If I deny it, you won't believe me, and if I admit it, you'll think I am teasing you. So...' and he shrugged. To me this was a badly disguised admission. Knowing Salten well, I realized he'd have become very angry at being asked such a question unless he was the author.'"

Bambi: I'm plotzing; I need to lie down. It's like discovering daddy was an axe-murderer.

Thumper: More like a pimp. 

Bambi: I feel corrupted.

Thumper: You are. Blame it on Walt Disney. You were born a roe-deer. Disney played Frankenstein and turned you into a white-tailed deer.

Bambi: I feel tainted.

Thumper: You feel tainted? In the book I'm Friend Hare. Disney turned me into Thumper, a rabbit with paw pads. Rabbits don't have paw pads. I'm a freak.

Felix Salten reading to his children.

"The saying is, that young whores become old, religious crones, but that was not my case. I became a whore at an early age and experienced everything a woman can ... in bed, on chairs, tables, standing against walls, benches, lying on the grass, in dark hall-ways, in private bedchambers, on railroad trains, in lodging houses, in jail; in fact in every conceivable place where it was possible...but I have no regrets. I am along in years now...the enjoyment which my sex afforded me is fast disappearing. I am rich but faded, and often being very lonesome, but it never entered my mind, although in the past years I was religious... to now do penance."

That's the opening to the lousy first edition in English.

"When I remember the old popular saying that young whores turn into religious bigots when they become old, I must claim to be one of the few exceptions. Yes, I am old now, and have lost my good looks, and though I am wealthy, I often suffer from loneliness; but I don't regret my past one little bit and don't feel I have to do penance. I believe in God, but I dislike making a show of religion which is a private concern.

"My sex education started very early in life, and theory and practice were never separated. I have experienced everything that a woman can in male company, be it in bed, on the floor, on tables or chairs, leaning against the walls of old houses, in the open field, in carriages and on trains, in military barracks, in prisons and bordellos."

That's the opening as translated by Holt. Quite a difference!

As "translated" by Paul J. Gillette in 1970 for Holloway House in Los Angeles it isn't worth the paper it's printed on. Gillette was notorious for using existing translations of erotic novels, paraphrasing them, and adding graphic scenes not present in the original.

By the way, the memoir is fiction but Josefine Mutzenbacher was real. Born in 1859 in Ottakring, Vienna's 17th district, by the 1890s she had amassed enough wealth to buy a huge, ranch-like estate in the Austrian province of Carinthia. 

Bambi: How do you know so much about books? You must read a lot.

Thumper: Constantly. You know what they say - rabbits do it like bunnies.

Bambi: Thumper the book humper?

Thumper: You're not as innocent as you look, boy. I presume you've experienced sex.

Bambi: I'm only in it for the doe.

Thumper: Ultimately, so was Josephine Mutzenbacher.

[SALTEN, Felix]. Josefine Mutzenbacher oder Die Geschichte einer Wienerischen Dirne von ihr selbst erzählt. [N.p., n.p.] Privatdruck, 1906. First edition, limited to 1000 copies for subscribers only. Octavo. 332 pp.  In the original silk envelope.

Hayn-Gotendorf VIII, 477: "An extremely naturalistic portrayal of the life of a prostitute seeking Sotadicum."

Image of title page to first edition of Josefine Mutzenbacher courtesy of  Buchauktionen Hauff & Auvermann of Berlin, offering a copy in its Sale 71, Moderne Literatur und Kunst, October 24, 2013 (featuring an excellent selection of fine erotica), with our thanks. The lower margin of the title page has been Photoshopped to remove an inventory ticket.


  1. Did you notice that BAMBI was translated into English by Whittaker Chambers? Another nice bit of Salten trivia!

  2. Yes, I did - but that's a whole 'nother story!


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