24 September 2007

Tod Robbins. Close their Eyes Tenderly (1947)

Tod Robbins. CLOSE THEIR EYES TENDERLY. Editions Inter - Pub, Monaco (1947)

Current Selling Prices
$350-$600 /£180-£300

Part of a rich vein of (mainly American) expat literature. The books are often in paper wraps and look like the one above, which is essentially the format in which most French books appear. They are often printed by Darantiere at Dijon. The best-known work printed by Darantiere was the first edition of Ulysses by James Joyce in 1922. He also printed work by Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway and many lesser writers. In the early 1960s a lateral thinking dealer turned up in Dijon and bought a truck load of file copies from the printing office. Retirement money.

Paper covered books published in Europe in English are always worth pulling off the shelf and are of interest even if the author is nobody, anonymous or an obvious pseudonym. Some are erotic which usually have value, some are fantasy, some baddish modernist verse, some from odd presses like Obelisk, Roving Eye ,Black Manikin, Contact, Three Mountains, Servire and there are always completists, some well heeled, after these.

The printed dedication to this book gives a flavour of its oddness- it reads: "To Naomi Kathleen Robbins, who heartily dislikes this book. She is of the opinion that Elaine Verez's Employment Agency to help out the Nouveau Riche and Maxwell Jenks' dinner at the expense of Mrs. Peabody-Jones are bad literary taste. Then, being of a religious nature, she resents the treatment accorded the Reverend Cuthbert Parsons. But the other whimsical murders, although slightly distasteful to a virgin palate, she forgives me." I catalogued a copy of this Monaco printed rarity thus:

Tod Robbins (1888-1949) A. K. A. -- Clarence Aaron Robbins or Clarence Tod Robbins. CLOSE THEIR EYES TENDERLY. Illustrated by Paule de Nize. 8vo. Original tan wrappers printed in red and black, 131pp. Frontis and 5 full page illus by Paul de Nize - an illustrator slightly reminiscent of Beresford Egan who appears to have done no other published work. First edition, only printing, the author's last book, published far from home. Robbins emigrated to the French Riviera from New York and refused to leave during the Nazi occupation of France. He spent the war in a concentration camp and died in 1949. Presumably this is why his last work was published in the unlikely environs of the Princedom of Monaco. An excellent copy, largely unopened.

Announced in the ads is a forthcoming title: TO HELL AND HOME AGAIN, which never appeared. The implication is that the author was still alive when CLOSE THEIR EYES TENDERLY was published, putting the books date in the late 1940s. Surreal and bizarre text and images, fantastical content. The ninth and final book by the author. Robbins 1926 story 'Spurs' was the basis of Tod Brownings film 'Freaks' in 1932 and he is credited with work on three other films as well, two derived from his own novel, 'The Unholy Tree' (filmed twice) and his story 'The Branded Man.' (The Library of Congress copy posits the publication date as 1950.)

Loosely inserted was a letter which gave evidence of a much earlier printing. It was a good signed typed letter from his friend Cedric Gibbons at MGM at Culver City to Robbins dated February 19, 1947. It lets Tod down gently and gives an idea of the book's strange plot--'Dear Tod. I have read your 'Close their Eyes Tenderly ' and enjoyed it enormously. However I have been unable to interest any producer at the studio in it. I tried to explain that murder can be treated as farce and comedy, but the boys are taking life pretty seriously these days. / I have also tried to interest them in an ant-communist picture inasmuch as in the past thay have made Anti- Fascist and Anti-Nazi ones, but so far I have had very little response. / I often wonder what has happened to our brilliant companions of the Bedford Rest, such as the Mulehills and the Newberrys. God, they must be dull by now. / I may be in Europe this fall and if you are still at the same address, I will warn you of my arrival./ God help us. Cedric.' Unless Cedric read it in MS this predates the LOC copy's speculative date by 3 years.

Of the illustrator Paule de Nize nothing is known. Apart from his credit in this book he is unknown to Google (even searching books, groups, scholar etc.,) the giant art database Artprice (where I have a few Euros credit) yields no Nizes and just a few Nices none called Paul or Paule. Much is still unknown or unknowable - I have a pal in California who thinks all human knowledge is to be found at Google - but then he is not looking up obscure and forgotten oddball illustrators but stuff like the history of custard, the whereabouts of old aircraft and the early history of the Alvis--plenty of that. It is possible that de Nize was an amateur from nearby Nice, or Robbins himself.

VALUE? Not massive but a respectable 3 figure sum. 4 copies online as we speak. Robbins has always been a hard sell because of the oddness of his subject matter and style. 3 of his books are in Bleiler and there is someone asking $750 for his 1915 book of poems THE SCALES OF JUSTICE. Robbins is here credited with 2 earlier works 'Mysterious Martin' and 'Spirit Of Town' ( 'a novel presentation in fiction form of the impulse and desire which mould the lives of men.') These are all published by J.S. Ogilvie Publishing Company in New York about 1912 and very seldom met with but even so probably not of excessive value. Poster below for the 1932 movie 'Freaks'. [ W/Q * ]

No comments: