Louis Kahn’s Kimbell Art Museum is Magically Restorative

Paintings by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) are found in museums such as the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth. This Bouguereau piece, Fishing For Frogs, 1882, realized $1.76 million at a May 2012 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

In the opening paragraph of his handwritten letter dated June 22, 1969, to Velma Kimbell, the architect Louis Kahn wrote, “I hope you will find my work beautiful and meaningful.”

Kimbell and her late husband wanted a great museum for the city of Fort Worth, Texas. They were part of that sliver of truly rich willing to give up artistic power to people who knew more. The Kimbells would pay for the entire museum, donate the nucleus of a fine collection, and leave an endowment of such magnitude that the Kimbell Art Museum would be among the handful of museums able to aggressively buy the best.

Louis Kahn

What they did, to pay them the highest compliment, was equivalent to what the Mellon family did 30 years earlier. Few people in the history of this nation have used their fortune on behalf of the arts as the Mellons, starting with the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Andrew Mellon (1855-1937) wrote to President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936 offering his superb collection and funds for a new museum to house it.

When it opened to the public on March 17, 1941 (Mellon was dead), the world-class collection consisted of 120-plus paintings and 26 sculptures given by his son Paul Mellon, another giant in the world of art philanthropy. Over the ensuing years, Paul and his wife Bunny donated more than 1,000 works of art! Bunny was famous for entertaining and insisted on serving bowls of perfect Lays chips (her secret was to have servants pick out broken chips).

Louis Kahn’s letter to Velma Kimbell, written four days before groundbreaking ceremonies (he could not attend), was polite, but was NOT representative of a deeply held conviction. “Even when serving the dictates of individuals, you still have no client in my sense of the word. The client is human nature.”

No museum has served that usually overlooked client better!

Kahn wanted light to have the luminosity of silver as it reflected off the distinctive cycloidal concrete vaults. The light provides a sense of the time of day (it reminds me of beach light) but avoids the enemy of art: direct sunlight – especially the ferocious light of Texas summers. Instead of inducing fatigue, as most museums do, the Kimbell is restorative. “The feeling of being home and safe,” said Kahn, explaining his own magnificent piece of art the museum represents.

The Kimbell is noted for the wash of silvery natural light across its vaulted gallery ceilings.

A prime, early policy directive was definitive excellence, not size of collection. With a collection size of 350 superb European Old Masters, that goal has been accomplished.

Personally, I prefer the nearby Amon Carter Museum for three small reasons. First, I prefer its Frontier West tone. Second, I am jaded about “Old European Masters” after living in Central London for five years (yawn). Third, it gives me an easy segue into two apocryphal stories about the Carters.

Amon Carter Sr. (1879-1955) was so disdainful of Dallas that he would bring a sack lunch so he would not have to spend any money when he visited the city. “Fort Worth is where the West begins – and Dallas is where the East peters out.”

Although I have owned coins and currency that Amon Carter Jr. once owned, I never met him. He died of a heart attack in 1982. But one of his advisers, a Dallas coin dealer, told me they were in a bar in NYC when a loudmouth asked Amon how big his Texas ranch was and scoffed when Amon replied 30 acres.

“Thirty acres? I thought all you Texans had BIG ranches. Where is yours?”

Amon answered softly. “All of downtown Fort Worth.”

Not all acreage is born equally.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Armies Have Been Planning Wars for Centuries

This 19-inch-high bronze of Alexander the Great, inscribed M Amodio Napoli, sold for $5,500 at a September 2017 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

The New York Times recently wrote about Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, referring to a “secret plan” to deal with the growing North Korean nuclear threat to the world.

Military historians know that armies make plans. Alexander the Great had a plan for invading the Persian Empire to kill or capture Emperor Darius. Hannibal had a plan in the Second Punic War to elude the Roman navy by using war elephants to cross the Alps into Spain. King Phillip II had a plan in 1588 to defeat England using his impressive armada.

Napoleon is occasionally derided for having a “plan of the year” to guide his activities to defeat his European enemies, which included Egypt, Austria, Italy, Prussia and even Russia. But by 1870, Napoleon II had ushered in a new era of military planning, requiring meticulous details that covered every contingency. Earlier in 1810, Prussia had founded a war academy to train officers in staff duties to expand their basic skills.

After the remarkable Prussian victories over Austria (1806) and France (1870), institutions in other countries were hastily modified to conform, most notably the French École de Guerre in 1880. There would be no equivalent in the diplomatic world. As late as 1914, the British Foreign Office was still choosing entrants on the basis of relationships with ambassadors and other cronies. Diplomacy remained an art taught in embassies and despite being dedicated to national interests, there was not a shared belief that their roles were to avoid war with skillful negotiations.

The Balkan Wars of 1912-13 had been settled chiefly by diplomacy because the crisis had been isolated to national interests, as opposed to the far trickier national honor or prestige. However, in 1914, the weakest of the European powers, Austria-Hungary, was rocked by the assassination of the heir to the throne by a subversive from Serbia. Franz Ferdinand, nephew to Emperor Franz Joseph, had traveled to Bosnia to observe routine military maneuvers. The next day, he and his wife drove to the principal capital, Sarajevo.

This was an era when heads of state were often in grave danger … a Russian Tsar, an Austrian princess and an American president all felled by fanatics or lunatics. In the case of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, it was a group of assassins lying in wait with bombs and a pistol. Someone threw a bomb that bounced off the car, exploding and only wounding an officer. Forty-five minutes later, en route to visit the wounded, the driver made a wrong turn and stopped in front of an assassin with the pistol. Gavrilo Princip stepped forward and killed both Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie.

What followed was an astonishing series of interlocking alliances and mutual pacts that fell like a row of dominos and created a world war … France to go to war on Russia’s side and vice versa if either were attacked by Germany; Britain to lend assistance to France if needed; Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy (the Triple Alliance) versus the Central Powers (Germany and Austria-Hungary).

It was a conflict of unprecedented ferocity that ended the peace and prosperity of the Victorian Era, unleashing demons of mechanized warfare and mass death. An unanswered mystery is how a civilization at the height of its achievements could propel itself into such a ruinous conflict. The answer lays hidden in the negotiations among Europe’s crowned heads (all related by blood) and their doomed efforts to diffuse the crisis. By the end of the senseless war, three great empires – the Austrian-Hungarian, the Russian, and the Ottoman – had collapsed. An unthinkable outcome.

Perhaps it is as simple as the often-overused quote by Mike Tyson: “Everybody has a plan … until they get punched in the mouth.”

Can you hear us Rex?

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Semmes One of Greatest Commerce-Raider Captains in Naval History

The oil on canvas Sinking of the Alabama, circa 1868, by American marine painter Xanthus Smith (1839-1929) sold for $38,837 at a June 2008 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

By the time Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated in March 1861, seven of the Southern slaveholding states had seceded from the Union before even hearings his inaugural address. In it, he declared, “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the states where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.”

During the run-up to the 1860 election, Lincoln had chosen not to actively campaign and simply refused to comment on the issue of slavery. However, his Democratic opponent, Stephen A. Douglas (the “Little Giant”) campaigned across the country. In the South, he denounced threats of secession, but warned that Lincoln’s election would inevitably lead to that tragic end.

Capt. Raphael Semmes

I have often wondered if the Civil War could have been averted if Lincoln had taken his inaugural speech to the South before the election or if a civil war was the only alternative to end slavery permanently. I suspect emotions were too high and that many actually hoped for a war, especially after all the heated rhetoric in places like South Carolina.

It became a moot point when barely a month later on April 12, 1861, Confederate forces fired on the Union garrison Fort Sumter and forced it to surrender. Now president, Lincoln announced that part of the United States was in a state of insurrection and issued a call for military volunteers. Four states – Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas and North Carolina – refused to provide troops and instead joined the Confederacy.

As positions hardened, Lincoln proclaimed a naval blockade against the seceded states, however, this was a futile effort since the Navy only had 42 ships to monitor 3,500 miles of Confederate coastline. They started chartering ships for blockade duty and soon there were 260 warships in service. Their task was made easier since the Confederate “Navy” consisted of 10 river craft armed with a total of 15 guns and not a single ship on the high seas.

Even the South’s military mobilization was devoted almost exclusively to ground forces since this was clearly the most urgent short-term priority.

However, one man was determined to change that. His name was Raphael Semmes (1809-1877) from Mobile, and following Alabama’s secession from the Union, Semmes was offered a Confederate naval appointment. He resigned from the U.S. Navy the next day, Feb. 15, 1861, and set off to the interim Confederate capital of Montgomery. There, he met with Jefferson Davis – the newly inaugurated president of the Confederate States of America – and Stephen R. Mallory, Secretary of the Navy. He outlined his plan to take the war to the enemy … not the federal Navy (that was too large to challenge), but to the U.S. merchant fleet.

In 1861, the U.S. Merchant Marine was the largest in the world. No one surpassed the skill and ingenuity of Yankee shipwrights in the design and construction of wooden vessels. America’s carrying trade had steadily increased in the 1840s-50s, fueled by the discovery of gold in California, treaty ports in Japan and China, and the whaling fleet that operated from the North Atlantic to the Bering Straits.

Semmes theory was that if Confederate cruisers could disrupt the merchant marine, the powerful shipping interests in the North would force the Lincoln administration to reconcile with the South and end the war. After studying naval commander John Paul Jones, the American Revolution, and the War of 1812, Semmes was convinced a weak naval power could neutralize the merchant marine of a more powerful adversary.

President Davis approved the concept and thus launched the career of Raphael Semmes as one of the greatest commerce-raider captains in naval history. Along the way, he traveled 75,000 nautical miles without ever touching a Confederate port and is credited with 64 of the 200-plus Northern merchantmen destroyed by Confederate raiders, many as the commander of the cruiser CSS Alabama. (The warship was eventually sunk in battle with the USS Kearsarge in 1864.)

Fittingly, he is a member of the Alabama Hall of Fame and a monument by sculptor Caspar Buberl (1834-1899) still stands proudly in Mobile … unless, of course, Monument Marauders figure out who he was.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

G.I. Bill Crucial to Creation of our ‘Greatest Generation’

Illustrator Mort Künstler’s depiction of D-Day, which began the liberation of German-occupied northwestern Europe, went to auction in May 2017.

By Jim O’Neal

By 1944, it was clear that World War II would end the following year and America had a difficult question to answer: What to do with the 16.35 million men and women serving in the armed forces when they came home from the war?

One estimate from the Department of Labor was that up to 15 million of them would be unemployed since the economy (which was winding down) would not be able to absorb them, especially in an orderly fashion. A similar post-war situation of lower production and a bulge of returning veterans had resulted in a sharp depression after WWI, from 1921 to 1923. To further complicate things, the world was in worse economic shape following the devastation the war had produced. The government had tried a cash bonus program and it failed so miserably that many Americans were angry for the next decade.

President Franklin Roosevelt was well aware of the potential implications and determined to avoid a repeat performance. He proactively took to the nation’s airwaves, proposing a series of benefits for all the men and women who had sacrificed so much for the country. The veterans’ self-appointed lobby, the American Legion, grabbed onto the proposal with both hands – as did Hearst newspapers. Legion publicist Jack Cejnar came up with the term the “G.I. Bill of Rights,” officially passed as the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944.

Returning veterans could borrow up to $2,000 to buy a house, start a business or start a farm. They would receive $20 a week for 52 weeks, until they found a job. There would be lifelong medical assistance, improved services for those disabled in action, and a de facto bonus of $1,300 in discharge benefits.

The effect of the program was substantial and immediate. By 1955, 4.3 million home loans worth $33 billion had been granted. Veterans were responsible for 20 percent of all new homes built after the end of the war. Instead of another depression, the country enjoyed unparalleled prosperity for a generation.

However, few veterans bothered to collect their $20-a-week unemployment checks. Instead, they used the money for the most significant benefits of all: education and vocational training. Altogether, 7.8 million vets received education and training benefits. Some 2.3 million went to college, receiving $500 a year for books and tuition, plus $50 a month in living expenses. The effect was to transform American education and help create a middle class.

College was sheer bliss to men used to trenches and K-rations. By 1946, over half the college enrollments in the country were vets, who bonded into close, supportive communities within the wider campuses. Countless G.I. Bill graduates would go on to occupy the highest ranks of business, government and the professions, and even win Nobel Prizes.

The number of degrees awarded by U.S. colleges and universities more than doubled between 1940 and 1950 and the percentage of Americans with bachelor degrees or more rose from 4.6 percent in 1945 to 25 percent a half century later. Joseph C. Goulden writes in The Best Years, 1945-1950 that the G.I. Bill “marked the popularization of higher education in America.” After the 1940s, a college degree was considered an essential passport for entrance into much of the business and professional world.

Thanks to the G.I Bill, a successful entrance into that world was created for the millions of men and women who kept our world free and assured its future. Along the way, they also helped rebuild a world that had been ravaged.

I offer you the Greatest Generation!

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Empire State Building Remains One of World’s Great Wonders

Guy Carleton Wiggins’ oil on canvas board The Empire State Building, Winter sold for $44,812 at a May 2011 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

“From the ruins, lonely and inexplicable as the Sphinx,” F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote, “rose the Empire State Building.”

The “ruins” was an oblique reference to the stock market crash in 1929. Completed on May 1, 1931, on the site where the Waldorf Astoria had stood, no building ever reached so high, so fast; 102 stories tall and with a 200-foot mast to hitch your dirigible. It was built in just over a year, during what would become the nation’s worst depression.

Just a short two years earlier on May 1, 1929, architect William Van Alen had broken ground on the Chrysler Building. He had been commissioned by Chrysler to design and construct the tallest building in the world. When the Chrysler Building opened in April 1930, it was indeed the tallest at a magnificent 925 feet – a world record that would only stand for a fleeting 28 days! Then the Manhattan Bank Tower completed its construction and opened at a height of 927 feet, which allowed it to lay claim to the World’s Tallest title by a measly 2 feet.

Hang on. The race wasn’t over. In the history of high wire, where one-upmanship is the oxygen that fuels architectural competition, the Chrysler Building’s William Van Alen had kept a surprise hidden up his sleeve that would allow him to reclaim this prestigious crown.

Van Alen had designed a stainless spire of five sections, which was lowered through the top of the building. At a fixed time, before a highly appreciative audience, Van Alen delivered his coup de grâce to the Manhattan Bank. A huge derrick, its gears slowly turning, raised the spire from the innards of the Chrysler Building. “It gradually emerged,” Van Alen wrote, “from the top of the dome like a butterfly from its cocoon.” At 1,046 feet, the Chrysler Building was suddenly, once again, the World’s Tallest Building.

Alas, it only remained so for less than a year, when the Empire State Building – topping out at 1,250 feet – grabbed the title for itself. It would retain the crown until 1971 when the World Trade Center towers opened. Fittingly, the group behind the Empire State Building included the Happy Warrior himself, Al Smith, former governor of New York (four times) and the Democratic candidate for president in the 1928 election (won by Herbert Hoover). Smith’s grandchildren cut the ribbon when the world’s (newest) tallest skyscraper opened May 1, 1931, and President Hoover turned on the building’s lights using a remote push button in Washington, D.C.

Subsequently, the building has become a worldwide icon and in 1994 it was named one of the “Seven Wonders of the Modern World” by the American Society of Civil Engineers … joining the Golden Gate Bridge and the Panama Canal, all American architectural marvels. Plus, who can forget Fay Wray as Ann Darrow in the 1933 classic King Kong, when the beast from Skull Island plucks her from the building?

The Empire State Building took only 410 days to build since the architectural firm used design plans for the (similar but smaller) Reynolds Building in Winston-Salem, N.C., a project they had worked on earlier. The staff at the Empire State Building sends a Father’s Day card to the Reynolds Building each year to honor the contribution it made to their existence.

Although long since surrendering its crown for height, the Empire State Building is a “must see” for all tourists to New York and, amazingly, revenue from ticket sales for admission to the observation decks exceeds office space rental income.

Its place in history seems quite secure.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

America Driven by Courage and the Nerve to Do Whatever It Takes

The Empire State Building, an oil on canvas by Glenn O. Coleman (1887-1932) sold for $40,000 at a March 2017 Heritage auction. Mohawk riveting gangs worked on the skyscraper, and other monumental New York buildings.

By Jim O’Neal

The American Revolutionary War effectively ended on Oct. 19, 1781, at Yorktown, Va. That was the day British General Charles Cornwallis surrendered his army to General George Washington. However, it took two more years until the Treaty of Paris was signed on Sept. 3, 1783, to formalize the negotiated peace terms.

The peace negotiations were led by Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, Henry Laurens and John Adams, who were very clever to exclude American allies France and Spain and strike a deal directly with Great Britain to achieve better terms. Despite this ploy, there were still several areas still in contention. In 1794, now Chief Justice John Jay was finally forced to negotiate an additional agreement (Jay’s Treaty) to resolve a number of lingering issues.

Flash forward to 1926 and we find a Mohawk ironworker from Quebec, Canada, Paul Diabo, facing deportation in Philadelphia after being charged as an illegal alien in violation of the Immigration Act of 1924. The court ruled he had every right to enter the United States (at will) by virtue of the Jay Treaty with the Iroquois Confederacy.

By then, the Kahnawake-Mohawk Indians had gained a well-known reputation as world-class high-steel workers. Ironworking requires a rare combination of strength, intelligence and courage. It involves laying the foundations and building the metal skeletons to support skyscrapers. Workers handle the lifting, fixing and welding of heavy steel beams, often while hundreds of feet up in the air. The Mohawks had demonstrated an exceptional skill that was unmatched.

It all started in 1886 when the fledgling Canadian Pacific Railway needed to span the St. Lawrence River and hired the Dominion Bridge Company to build a cantilevered bridge over the water. One significant issue was it would have to be set on land belonging to the Mohawks, who were willing to give their approval, but only with the proviso that they could work on the project. The company quickly agreed, assuming the Mohawks would be able to do all the menial tasks associated with such a big project. They were subsequently astonished when, instead, they showed great agility and a desire to become higher-paid riveters.

Initially, Dominion trained a dozen volunteers in this difficult, dangerous skill that entailed heating red-hot rivets, tossing them 30 to 40 feet where other co-workers caught them and forced them through steel beams with a hammer or pneumatic drill … while high off the ground up in the infrastructure. Soon, there was a cadre of over 70 highly trained iron and steel riveters and they started working on projects throughout Canada.

The Mohawk riveting gangs continued to proliferate and spread out, by the 1910s arriving in New York. As their numbers and reputations continued to grow, they inevitably worked on all the monumental structures in greater New York: the Empire State Building, George Washington Bridge, Chrysler Building, United Nations Assembly, and Triborough Bridge … among many other less well-known skyscrapers.

By the 1930s, a community of 700 Mohawks were living in a Brooklyn suburb and drinking Canadian beer at the Wigwam bar, with its picture of Jim Thorpe on the wall and the sign “The Greatest Iron Workers in the World Pass Through These Doors.” In addition to frequent trips back and forth to Canada, they traveled all over the United States, even arriving in time to help rivet the majestic Golden Gate Bridge.

Today, the demand for “High Steel” riveting has declined, but as a Dominion Bridge official once observed, “Men who want to do it are rare. And men who can do it are even rarer!”

I suppose the same could be said of the Colonial soldiers who followed General Washington in a seemingly impossible task to win our independence. Courage and the nerve to do whatever it takes.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Harvard-Educated Adams Cracked Down on Non-Citizens, Free Speech

An 1805-dated oil on canvas portrait of John Adams, attributed to William Dunlap, sold for $35,000 at a May 2017 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

When Barack Obama was sworn in on Jan. 20, 2009, he became the eighth president to have graduated from Harvard, which has educated more U.S. presidents than any other university. Yale is second with five, with George W. Bush counting for both Yale and Harvard (where he earned an MBA).

The first of the “Harvard Presidents” goes all the way back to 1796, when John Adams narrowly defeated Thomas Jefferson 71 to 68 in the electoral vote count. It was the only election in history in which a president and a vice president were elected from opposing parties.

However, Jefferson bounced back four years later in a bitter campaign characterized by malicious personal attacks. Alexander Hamilton played a pivotal role in sabotaging President Adams’ attempt to win a second term by publishing a pamphlet that charged Adams was “emotionally unstable, given to impulsive decisions, unable to co-exist with his closest advisers, and was generally unfit to be president.”

When all the votes were counted in 1800, Adams actually ended up third behind both Jefferson and Aaron Burr (who eventually became vice president). John and Abigail Adams took the loss very emotionally and it alienated their relationship with Jefferson for 20-plus years. Adams departed the White House before dawn on Inauguration Day, skipped the entire inauguration ceremony and headed home to Massachusetts. The two men ultimately reconciled near the end of their lives (both died on July 4, 1826).

Adams had been an experienced executive-office politician after serving eight years as vice president for George Washington. However, his four years as president were controversial. It started when the Federalist-dominated Congress passed four bills, collectively called the Alien and Sedition Acts, which President Adams signed into law in 1798. The Naturalization Act made it harder for immigrants to become citizens, and the Alien Friends Act allowed the president to imprison and deport non-citizens deemed dangerous or from a hostile nation (Alien Enemy Act). And finally, the Sedition Act made it a crime to make false statements that were critical of the federal government.

Collectively, these bills invested President Adams with sweeping authority to deport resident non-citizens he considered dangerous; they criminalized free speech, forbidding anyone to “write, print, utter or publish … any false, scandalous and malicious writing or writing against the government of the United States … or either House of Congress of the United States … with intent to defame … or bring them into contempt or dispute … or to excite against them or either of them … the hatred of the good people of the United States.”

Editors were arrested and tried for publishing pieces the Adams administration deemed seditious. Editors were not the only targets. Matthew Lyon, a Vermont Congressman, was charged with sedition for a letter he wrote to the Vermont Journal denouncing Adams’ power grab. After he was indicted, tried and convicted, Lyon was sentenced to four months in prison and fined $1,000.

For Vice President Jefferson, the Alien and Sedition Acts were a cause of despair and wonderment. “What person, who remembers the times we have seen, could believe that within such a short time, not only the spirit of liberty, but the common principles of passive obedience would be trampled on and violated.” He suspected that Adams was conspiring to establish monarchy again.

It would not be the last time Americans would sacrifice civil liberties for the sake of national security. More on this later.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

‘Citizen Kane’ Fosters a Contrived Fiction of William Randolph Hearst

Henrietta Rae’s oil on canvas Psyche Before the Throne of Venus, 1894, once owned by William Randolph Hearst, sold for $324,500 at a May 2017 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

The American Film Institute consistently ranks Citizen Kane at No. 1 on its list of the 100 Greatest Films of All Time, closely followed by The Godfather (1972) … my favorite … and Casablanca (1942). Citizen Kane was nominated for nine Academy Awards and snagged the one for Best Writing (Original Screenplay).

Despite the critical success, the film flopped at the box office, failed to recoup its production costs and gradually faded from view. William Randolph Hearst’s ban of any mention of the film in any of his vast network of newspapers was no doubt a contributing factor in its mediocre financial performance. Hearst (1863-1951) had a valid rationale for this unusual level of censorship, since the film was a thinly veiled biopic covering his entire life (using an effective, flashback technique) and his long-standing relationship with actress Marion Davies.

In addition, his architectural masterpiece at San Simeon on the sparkling California coastline was parodied in the film by a castle called Xanadu, located in Florida as an added insult.

Hearst

After Hearst’s death in 1951, the film underwent a remarkable resurrection … rivaling Lazarus of Bethany being restored to life by Jesus four days after his death. Citizen Kane’s revival trajectory is so persistent that it’s probable that the next three generations of movie fans will be transfixed by two dramatic scenes in the movie. The first is a dying Charles Foster Kane (played by Orson Welles) literally gasping the word “Rosewood” as a sled is tossed into the fireplace with the voiceover “throw that junk in.” And Susan Alexander Kane (Marion Davies) alone in a dark cavernous room – jigsaw puzzles scattered around her.

Hearst’s beloved hilltop home, which he called “La Cuesta Encantada” (The Enchanted Hill), was cast by the spooky Xanadu, a forbiddingly deserted pile filled with meaningless junk. In the scholarly world, Hearst Castle is the name most commonly used for the estate since the 1930s, although Hearst is only recorded once as using it.

Of course, the real lives of Hearst and Davies differed in many important ways. Welles had never been to San Simeon or even met Hearst or Davies. The film’s images were conjured up by Welles, his collaborator John Houseman and screenplay co-author Herman Mankiewicz, a writer who had been a guest at San Simeon.

Yet historians, critics and the general public have been content to rely on the lore of a two-hour film for their insights into Hearst and Davies … to no great harm other than fostering a contrived fiction. It is the crude Xanadu, which mars the splendor of the real California coastline with the amazing Hearst Castle’s 360-degree view from 1,600 feet above the Pacific Ocean peeking through the morning fog, that rankles many (including me).

Little thought has been given to the probability that Hearst’s buying methods were by his choice rather than the side effect of money and ignorance. His omnium-gatherum approach to collecting was personal rather than the critics’ inaccurate assumption that it was all purchased in a dealer-inspired grand pillage of a Europe desperate for cash to rebuild after WWI. Just consider the letter to his architect Julia Morgan to capture his other love, animals: “How about a maze in connection with the zoo. I think getting lost in the maze and coming unexpectedly upon lions, tigers, pumas, panthers, wild cats, macaws and cockatoos would be a thrill for even the most blasé.”

He was a generous man and I suppose if you had a particular yen for an ibex, one would have been provided to take home! They actually had 50 dachshunds in the kennels as gifts for animal-lover guests. Also, consider the extravagant excesses: One year, on Easter Sunday, guests awoke to find the castle surrounded by Easter lilies in bloom – planted during the night by a battalion of gardeners working under floodlights.

This is the marvel of the American West, if not the Western world, that I saw on tour.

So what if the man had an Edifice Complex. He could afford it.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Marie Antoinette Swept Away by Conditions that Rocked European Landscape

An oil on canvas of Marie Antoinette, after Elisabeth Louise Vigée-Lebrun (1755-1842), realized $10,755 at a November 2010 auction.

By Jim O’Neal

It is hard to ignore the significance of July 14, despite my previous recap of the key events that took place in Paris over 200 years ago when revolutionaries and mutinous troops stormed the Bastille, the royal fortress and prison (with only seven inmates) that symbolized the tyranny of monarchy. It was an event that degenerated into a chaotic bloodbath, but shaped modern nations by exhibiting the power inherent in the will of the common man.

However, I felt a tinge of sympathy for President Donald Trump when I saw pictures of him at dinner last week at the Eiffel Tower (at the Jules Verne restaurant). There is nothing quite so boring as a three-plus-hour dinner at a Michelin-starred French restaurant. I also presume that with President Emmanuel Macron playing host, the kitchen really exaggerated the occasion since he appears to share the classic pomp and monarchical tendencies that got his predecessors in trouble.

This especially includes the last Queen of France, Marie Antoinette, the 14-year-old Austrian princess who had the misfortune of wedding the last King of France, Louis XVI, since they both got their heads chopped off. Their marriage was intended to seal the alliance between longtime enemies Austria and France, following the end of the Seven Years’ War.

Marie Antoinette was born in 1755 in Vienna, Austria, the daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor Francis I and Maria Theresa, the powerful Habsburg Empress. The teen bride-to-be had been delivered to the French on May 7, 1770, and then escorted to the Palace of Versailles, where she met her husband-to-be, Dauphin Louis-Auguste, a 15-year-old boy with a medical condition that rendered him impotent for several years. Eventually, the couple had four children.

The king lost his head on Jan. 21, 1793. Nine months later, a Revolutionary Tribunal found the queen guilty of treason, sexual promiscuity and a phony charge of having incestuous relations with her son Louis-Charles. The trial lasted two days and the tribunal unanimously condemned her to death. On Oct. 16, 1793, the executioner entered her cell wearing a red hood; he sheared off her hair to ensure a quick, clean cut of the guillotine blade.

He then lopped off her head as a boisterous crowd watched and cheered “Vive la nation!”

The 37-year-old queen has long been wrongly charged of responding “Let them eat cake” when told of starving peasants with no bread to eat. Some credit the phrase to philosopher Jean-Jacque Rousseau. I doubt she resents this final insult, but it does represent the conditions that fueled the revolution that rocked the European landscape in general.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Tidbits: Bluebonnets, Sherlock Holmes, Bums and Booze

Julian Onderdonk’s Texas Landscape with Bluebonnets sold for $437,000 at a November 2015 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

The bluebonnets in Texas are beginning to fade, but two names always come to mind when talking about the flowers: Claudia Alta Taylor (better known as “Lady Bird” Johnson ) and “Cactus Jack” Garner, who lobbied to make the prickly pear cactus the state flower (and lost).

Garner became the 32nd vice president of the United States in 1932 and concurrently was elected back to the House. So for one day, on March 4, 1933, he was both Psident of the Senate and Speaker of the House.

Earlier on Feb. 15, 1933, as VP-elect, he came close to being president when FDR just missed being assassinated in Miami.

Garner served two full terms as VP and died 15 days before his 99th birthday – making him the longest-living VP.

“A Study in Scarlet” by Arthur Conan Doyle was the first story featuring Sherlock Holmes. It was published in 1887 in the magazine Beeton’s Christmas Annual – with only 11 copies known to exist today.

Joe Louis by Irving Penn

The last heavyweight championship bout scheduled for 20 rounds was held in Detroit in 1941. Joe Louis TKO’d Abe Simon in 13 rounds. Simon was a member of Louis’ “Bum of the Month Club” – 13 opponents Louis defeated between 1939 and 1941.

After leaving boxing, Simon went to Hollywood, where he won roles in On the Waterfront, Never Love a Stranger and Requiem for a Heavyweight.

Our 35th vice president, Kentucky lawyer Alben W. Barkley, was elected with Harry S. Truman in 1948 and is still the only one with the middle name of William (he was actually born Willie Alben Barkley).

One of his career highlights was his keynote address at the 1932 Democratic Convention, where he supported Franklin D. Roosevelt and denounced Prohibition (Kentucky bourbon?). It worked … FDR won and prohibition was repealed in 1933.

Although the oldest VP elected at age 71 (Joe Biden was 65 in 2008), Barkley is the only one to marry while in office … a woman half his age. Later, he denounced the 80th Congress as “Do Nothing,” but Truman often gets credit for the phrase.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].