Friday, March 20, 2020

The Mysterious Dolgov-Part Three

One of the things about this ever-expanding Internet is that sources that were unavailable even a week ago are now suddenly here before us. I first wrote about Boris Dolgov on August 27, 2016. At the time, the only person I could find in public records by that name or anything close was Boris Dolgoff (1897-1989), a Russian-born Jewish poultry dealer in Seattle, Washington. I knew then that he wasn't our artist, but I wondered about a possible connection to Hannes Bok, who lived in Seattle for a couple of stints during the 1930s. Now, through a new search, I have a candidate for the Mysterious Dolgov, a supposition based on two and a half bits of evidence.

First, I found a death record. And after I found a death record, I found mention of Boris Dolgov's cause of death. I'll take the cause of death first.

On the website Notasdecine, the author, who seems to be anonymous, wrote in June 2009 a parenthetical statement about Dolgov's cause of death. Here it is in its entirety:
(Over the years I've heard stories from several old timers that he fell to his death by falling from the fire escape to his own apartment)
You might say the author at Notasdecine skimped on his information and sources. His sentence doesn't even end in a period. But if we accept that Dolgov fell from a fire escape; and we know that his genre credits ended in the 1950s, suggesting that something greater ended then, too; and we can guess that Dolgov was about the same age as Hannes Bok, then we can say that his death was untimely and tragic, just as Bok's own death would be in 1964.

That's half a piece of evidence. Now comes a whole piece from the Internet and posted there since I first wrote about Dolgov in 2016: a death record, from the New York, New York, Death Index, 1949-1965, states that a Boris Dolgoff, born circa 1910 (meaning, I think, that his age at his death was thought to be about forty-eight), died on November 4, 1958, in Manhattan. All of that lines up pretty well: the age is about right (Bok was born in 1914, making the presumed Dolgov four years his senior), the disappearance from genre work is about right (according to the Internet Speculative Fiction Database, Dolgov's last genre illustration was in the penultimate issue of Weird Tales, July 1954), and the untimely death is right (leaving only "old timers" to remember it).

Boris Dolgov isn't in the indexes for The Immortal Storm: A History of Science Fiction Fandom by Sam Moskowitz (1954), All Our Yesterdays: An Informal History of Science Fiction Fandom in the Forties by Harry Warner, Jr. (1969), or The Futurians: The Story of the Science Fiction "Family" of the 30's That Produced Today's Top SF Writers and Editors by Damon Knight (1977). I have only a paperback edition of The Way the Future Was: A Memoir by Frederik Pohl (1979). There isn't any index, and I came up empty in only a cursory search of the text. The Mysterious Dolgov seems to have remained mysterious even among science fiction fans, writers, artists, and editors of the 1930s and '40s. It would seem also that he was a pretty peripheral figure. If a fan-based artist of that time was remembered at all, he was the middle third of the pen name Dolbokov, i.e., Hannes Bok. All of that is a shame because Boris Dolgov was a good and interesting artist.

Now for the second whole bit of evidence: In the Manhattan City Directory of 1957, there is a listing for a Boris Dolgoff with an address of 630 East 14th Street and a telephone number of O Regn 3-8552. (I take that to mean that his number was OR3-8552, or 673-8552.) I don't know much about Manhattan (the Bronx and Staten Island, too), but it looks like that address would fall within the East Village. In reading about the East Village on that ultimate source of all knowledge Wikipedia, I find that it was home to the Yiddish Theatre District in the early to mid twentieth century, also that it became home to poets, artists, musicians, writers, and general Beatniks during the 1950s. That second fact is pertinent when we're talking about an artist, but the first fact may be pertinent, too. The reason is that there was a Jewish performer of the 1920s through the early 1950s who shared Boris Dolgoff's last name, and so maybe we have a place of origin and a possible family member for the Mysterious Dolgov.

To be continued . . .

Copyright 2020 Terence E. Hanley

Friday, March 13, 2020

The Mysterious Dolgov-Part Two

Readers have suggested two possible identities for the Mysterious Dolgov. Hannes Bok is one. The other is Boris Artzybasheff.

Boris Artzybasheff (1899-1965)
Once or twice a century, an artist comes along whose vision is so extraordinary that he can hardly be categorized or placed with other artists. Boris Artzybasheff was one of these artists. He was born on May 25, 1899, in Kharkov, in what is now Ukraine. I believe that birthdate was under the old calendar, as Artzybasheff gave his birthdate as June 5, 1899, in his petition for naturalization. He arrived in the United States, at the port of New York, on June 17, 1919, after having left Russia from the Black Sea port of Novorsisk more than a month before. I don't know much about the tangled and tragic history of the Russian Revolution, but I believe Novorsisk may have been a last refuge of White Russian forces in 1918-1920. There were pogroms in Ukraine at about the same time, carried out by the Green Army, but I believe Artzybasheff's family to have been Eastern Orthodox and not Jewish. Still, socialism has its depredations, and the young artist escaped from them at about the same time that so many of his countrymen and countrywomen did, including at least three tellers of weird tales, Maria Moravsky (1889-1947)Nadia Lavrova (1897-1989), and Edith M. Almedingen (1898-1973). Artzybasheff's father, Mikhail Artsybashev (1878-1927), also an artist, escaped not long after his son, going to Poland in 1923. Artsybashev was a fierce opponent of Bolshevism and edited a newspaper in Poland called For Liberty! According to endlessly repeated sources on the Internet, his surname became the root of a Soviet pejorative, artsybashevchina.

One of my readers has suggested that Boris Artzybasheff, who by the 1940s was a well-established and successful commercial artist and illustrator, contributed to Weird Tales under the pseudonym Boris Dolgov, effectively slumming among the pulps. I don't like to call improbabilities impossibilities, but I also don't think that to be very likely. Although it's true that the Mysterious Dolgov worked in a uniquely 1940s style, his art bears little resemblance to that of the other Boris, Artzybasheff. Beyond that, Artzybasheff was famed for his advertising work, moreover for his covers for Time magazine, of which he created more than 200 from 1941 to 1966. It doesn't seem likely that he could have been induced to contribute to Weird Tales for the kind of pittances the magazine offered artists during the 1940s and '50s. I like writing about Boris Artzybasheff and showing his art. I would like to think that he could have contributed to "The Unique Magazine." But it just doesn't seem to me that he was Boris Dolgov, especially considering that there really was a person by that name and identity. We know that from the photograph shown in the previous posting (here). I'll show more evidence in the next. I would like to thank my reader, though, and invite him and others to continue to comment and offer their research, suggestions, recommendations, and so on. It's always good to explore possibilities.

Boris Artzybasheff in his studio, ca. mid 1940s. In contrast to the Mysterious Dolgov, Artzybasheff was well known and frequently photographed. He was also very successful and widely published as an artist. And we know a lot about his life, including his birthdate, May 25, 1899 (O.S.), and his death date, July 16, 1965. A dedicated artist to the end, Artzybasheff died in his studio in that artist's haven of Connecticut, in his case, in Lyme. Artzybasheff moved from New York City to Lyme in mid 1955 at his wife's behest. Tragically, she died just half a year later, on December 11, 1955. She was the former Elisabeth Southard Snyder (1904-1955), whom he had married on February 22, 1930, in Manhattan. They spent just a quarter of a century together. The image is from Forty Illustrators and How They Work by Ernest W. Watson (New York: Watson-Guptill, 1946), page 9.

As I said, Artzybasheff was an artist of extraordinary vision. He could only have understood that about himself, as demonstrated in the cover image and title of his own book, As I See, from 1954.

Artzybasheff was the son of Mikhail Artsybashev, or Artzybasheff as in this cover. The elder Artsybashev (1878-1927) was a Polish-Russian writer, editor, artist, and journalist. Among his novels was The Savage, published in paperback in 1951 when just about any piece of literature, high or low, could be put into print as long as it had a suitably trashy and suggestive cover. The artist here was Tobey. I'm pretty sure that he wasn't the painter Mark Tobey (1890-1976), who knew Hannes Bok, but like I said, I don't like to call improbabilities impossibilities.

Boris Artzybasheff was not only a painter but also a graphic artist. Here is what looks to be a scratchboard drawing from his own book, Poor Shaydullah, from 1931, reproduced in Forty Illustrators and How They Work. The Wizard of Oz-like character in the middle of that blossoming whatsit looks like George Bernard Shaw.

Artzybasheff was renowned for his personified machines. "I like machines," he said. "I would rather watch a 1,000-ton dredge dig a canal than see it done by 1,000 spent slaves lashed into submission." That quote, from The Hartford Courant, July 17, 1955, I think has hidden meaning in it, for Artzybasheff, having lived under socialism, had had personal experience with the mass slavery of the Machine Age. Another biographical note coming from this image: Artzybasheff was born in Kharkov, later site of four great battles during World War II between Nazis and Communists.

Artzybasheff's art might be called unique but it seems to me to have been a part of a distinctive look of mid-century American illustration, advertising art, and commercial art. For example, this image looks like it could have been created by the great James Flora (1914-1998) . . .

While this one bears resemblance to the crazy art of Basil Wolverton (1909-1978) . . .

And this one looks a little like drawings made by Hannes Bok (1914-1964), who of course collaborated with the Mysterious Dolgov. I'm not sure that Bok had repressed hostility, but I'm pretty sure that he had a repressed something or other.

There is still more to come in this series, including a possible death date and cause of death for Boris Dolgov.

Text copyright 2020 Terence E. Hanley