Saturday, July 25, 2009

from the annals of odd convergences

Walter Cronkite met Gertrude Stein. Here it is, as reported by the NY Times:

A 1935 profile of Gertrude Stein from The Daily Texan, unearthed by the student newspaper of the University of Texas at Austin and published at its Web site, was written by Walter Cronkite, who was an 18-year-old undergraduate at the university when he wrote it. (Mr. Cronkite’s memorial service was on Thursday; a report by Brian Stelter is here.)

Speaking to Stein in advance of her appearance at the university’s Hogg Auditorium on March 22, 1935, Mr. Cronkite wrote that, even though he “imposed upon her at a late hour last night,” the author was “genuine — the real thing in person. Her thinking is certainly straightforward; her speech is the same.”

After recording her attire (“a mannish blouse, a tweed skirt, a peculiar but attractive vest affair, and comfortable looking shoes”), Mr. Cronkite talked with her about the proper role of the writer and the impact of the Great Depression, then in its sixth year.

Discussing her craft, Stein told Mr. Cronkite, “A writer isn’t anything but contemporary. The trouble is that the people are living Twentieth Century and thinking Nineteenth Century.”

Presaging former Senator Phil Gramm’s remarks about a “mental recession,” Stein said that the Great Depression was “more moral than actual. No longer the people think they are depressed, the depression is over.”

(Stein proved less prescient when she said that “those who know in France didn’t believe that there would be a war.” She added: “But then war is just like anything else. When people get tired of peace they will have war and when they get tired of war they will have peace. Don’t you, when you have been good for a long time, want to be bad?”)

After Mr. Cronkite noted the presence of “Miss Alice B. Toklas, Miss Stein’s traveling companion whose title is not ‘secretary,’ ” he wrote that she enjoyed her first trip to Texas. (“This is a beautiful big State of yours,” she told him.) And that’s the way it was.