Maxwell Bodenheim  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Maxwell Bodenheim (May 26, 1892 – February 6, 1954) was an American poet and novelist who was known as the King of Greenwich Village Bohemians. His writing brought him international fame during the Jazz Age of the 1920s.


He was born Maxwell Bodenheimer in Hermanville, Mississippi, the son of Solomon Bodenheimer (born July 1858) and Carrie (born April 1860). His father was born in Germany and his mother in Alsace-Lorraine. Carrie emigrated to the United States in 1881 and Solomon in 1888. In 1900, the family moved from Mississippi to Chicago. The Federal Census gave their residence as 431 46th Street.

Bodenheim and Ben Hecht met in Chicago and became literary friends around 1912, a time when Bodenheim was nicknamed Bodey. Together they founded a periodical. The Chicago literary group also included Sherwood Anderson and Charles MacArthur.

Bodenheim began publishing his earliest verse in Poetry Magazine in 1914. Over the next ten years, he established himself as a leading American author, publishing ten books of verse, which incorporate many techniques of the imagists, and 13 novels. His poetry books include Minna and Myself (1918), Advice (1920), Against This Age (1923), The King of Spain (1928), Bringing Jazz! (1930) and Selected Poems 1914–1944 (1946).

Bodenheim's novels include Blackguard (1923), Replenishing Jessica (1925), Ninth Avenue (1926), Georgia Man (1927), Naked on Roller Skates (1930) and A Virtuous Girl (1930).

Bodenheim had three wives, Minna Schein (married 1918-divorced 1938), Grace Finan (married 1939-her death 1950), and Ruth Fagin (married 1952-their deaths 1954). He and Minna had one son who was born in 1920.

For many years a leading figure of the Bohemian scene in New York's Greenwich Village, Bodenheim deteriorated rapidly after his success in the 1920s and 1930s. Before he married his second wife, Grace, he had become a panhandler. They spent part of their marriage in the Catskills. After she died of cancer, he was arrested and hospitalized several times for vagrancy and drunkenness.

Bodenheim's memoir, My Life and Loves in Greenwich Village (1954), was partly ghostwritten. Ben Hecht based his 1958 play Winkelberg on the life of the Bohemian poet. A biography titled Maxwell Bodenheim by Jack B. Moore was published in 1970. A doctoral disstertaton, "The Necessity of Rebellion: The Novels of Maxwell Bodenheim," was produced by Arthur B. Sacks at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1975.

His third wife, Ruth, was 28 years his junior. She lived with him in his derelict lifestyle. They were homeless and slept on park benches. He sometimes carried a sign that read, "I Am Blind," to panhandle, even though he was not blind, and he would jot down short poems for money or drinks. Ruth slept with other men and Bodenheim seemed not to mind.

Bodenheim and Ruth were murdered by a 25-year-old sociopathic dishwasher, Harold "Charlie" Weinberg, whom they befriended on the streets of the Village. He offered to let them spend the night in his room a few blocks from the Bowery. He was sexually attracted to Ruth, and the two of them became active on the floor near the cot where the 62-year-old drunken Bodenheim was supposedly sleeping. Bodenheim got up, challenged Weinberg and they began fighting. Weinberg shot Bodenheim twice in the chest. Ruth was beaten and stabbed four times in the back. Weinberg, taking advantage of the climate of McCarthyite repression, confessed to the double homicide, affirming that "I ought to get a medal. I killed two Communists."<ref>Burns, Jim. "Maxwell Bodenheim". The Penniless Press. Retrieved 25 Apr. 2009</ref> He was judged insane and sent to a mental institution. SomeTemplate:Who? believed Weinberg was moderately retarded.

Ben Hecht said he would pay for the funeral of Bodenheim and his wife. Bodenheim's ex-wife, Minna, made arrangements for a family plot, and Bodenheim is interred in Cedar Park Cemetery, Emerson, New Jersey.

by Maxwell Bodenheim
I shall walk down the road.
I shall turn and feel upon my feet
The kisses of Death, like scented rain.
For Death is a black slave with little silver birds
Perched in a sleeping wreath upon his head.
He will tell me, his voice like jewels
Dropped into a satin bag,
How he has tip-toed after me down the road,
His heart made a dark whirlpool with longing for me.
Then he will graze me with his hands
And I will be one of the sleeping silver birds
Between the cold waves of his hair, as he tip-toes on.

Selected works

  • Minna and Myself, poetry, 1918
  • Advice, poetry, 1920
  • Introducing Irony, poetry, 1922
  • Against This Age, poetry, 1923
  • Blackguard, novel, 1923
  • The Sardonic Arm, poetry, 1923
  • Crazy Man, novel, 1924
  • Replenishing Jessica, novel, 1925
  • Ninth Avenue, novel, 1926
  • Returning to Emotion, poetry, 1927
  • Georgie May, novel, 1928
  • The King of Spain, poetry, 1928
  • Sixty Seconds, novel, 1929
  • Bringing Jazz!, poetry, 1930
  • Naked on Roller Skates, novel, 1930
  • A Virtuous Girl, novel, 1930
  • Duke Herring, novel, 1931
  • Run, Sheep, Run, novel, 1932
  • New York Madness, novel, 1933
  • Slow Vision, novel, 1933
  • Lights in the Valley, poetry, 1942
  • Selected Poems, poetry, 1946
  • My Life and Loves in Greenwich Village, 1954
  • Cutie A Warm Mamma (Ben Hecht and Maxwell Bodenheim)

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Maxwell Bodenheim" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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