May 26, 1892|
Hermanville, Mississippi, USA
|Died||February 6, 1954
New York, New York
|Spouse(s)||Minna Schein (1918-1938); Grace Finan (1939-1950); Ruth Fagin (1952-1954)|
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 notoriety 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 writer Ben Hecht met in Chicago and became literary friends about 1912. (At the time, Bodenheim was nicknamed "Bogey."  The nickname was also applied in his later years in Greenwich Village.) They co-founded The Chicago Literary Times (1923–1924). Contributors included Carl Sandburg, Theodore Dreiser, Edgar Lee Masters, Witter Bynner, Arthur Davison Ficke, Floyd Dell, Vachel Lindsay and Sherwood Anderson.
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.
Critic John Strausbaugh suggests that Bodenheim had "a real talent for scandal, easy enough to generate during Greenwich Village’s prolonged drunken orgy in the Prohibition years." Strausbaugh notes that Bodenheim's "haughty, insulting demeanor, and his habit of trying to steal other men’s women right under their noses, got him regularly socked on the jaw and thrown out of bars, soirees and the fauxhemian revels at Webster Hall."
Bodenheim published his earliest verse in Poetry Magazine in 1914. A poem by Bodenheim was featured in the 1917 Others: An Anthology of the New Verse, which included poems by such future luminaries as T. S. Eliot, Marianne Moore, Carl Sandburg, William Carlos Williams, and Wallace Stevens. 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).
Personal life and death
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, Solbert, who was born in 1920.
Ruth, 28 years his junior, shared his derelict lifestyle. They were homeless and slept on park benches. He sometimes panhandled while carrying a sign that read, "I Am Blind," even though he was not sightless. He sometimes composed short poems for money or drinks. Ruth engaged in prostitution, which reportedly provoked beatings by her husband.
Bodenheim and Ruth were murdered February 6, 1954, at a flophouse at 97 Third Avenue in Manhattan, New York City, 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 Bowery. He was sexually attracted to Ruth, and the two became active on the floor near the cot where the 62-year-old drunken Bodenheim was supposedly sleeping. Bodenheim arose, challenged Weinberg, and they began fighting. Weinberg shot Bodenheim twice in the chest. Ruth was beaten and stabbed four times in the back. Weinberg confessed to the double homicide, but attempted to justify his actions as patriotic, saying in his defense, "I ought to get a medal. I killed two Communists." Weinberg was judged insane and sent to a mental institution. Some[who?] believed Weinberg was moderately retarded.
The year before their murder, the Bodenheims spent some time (perhaps two months) as guests of the Catholic Worker of Dorothy Day in New York. Day, who had been a friend of Maxwell Bodenheim in Greenwich Village in the 1920s, devotes a chapter to the Bodenheims in her Loaves and Fishes (1963).
Bodenheim's memoir, My Life and Loves in Greenwich Village, released six months after Bodenheim's death in 1954, was ghostwritten by Samuel Roth, who had been cheaply paying a down-and-out Bodenheim for his biographical stories about Greenwich Village at the time of his murder. Hecht based his 1958 play Winkelberg on the life of the Bohemian poet.
Three official full biographies exist on Maxwell Bodenheim: a doctoral dissertation by Edward T. Devoe, 'A Soul in Gaudy Tatters' Pennsylvania University 1957, 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.
- 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)
- Troubadour, Alfred Kreymborg. Boni and Liveright: New York, 1925
- Strausbaugh, John, "Maxwell Bodenheim", The Chiseler, December 15, 2012
- "Stevens' 'Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird'", Nancy Bogen, Exlicator, Summer 2004, Vol. 62 Issue 4, p217-221
- Burns, Jim. "Maxwell Bodenheim". The Penniless Press. Retrieved 25 Apr. 2009
- Day, Dorothy (1963). Loaves and Fishes. New York: Harper & Row. pp. 151–55.
- Poems by Maxwell Bodenheim Extensive collection of Bodenheim's poetry
- Factory Girl by Bodenheim at Oldpoetry.com
- memoir of Max Bodenheim by Dorothy Day