Maxwell Bodenheim in 1919
May 26, 1892
Hermanville, Mississippi, US
|Died||February 6, 1954 (aged 61)|
New York City
|Spouse||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. A literary figure in Chicago, he later went to New York where he became 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. While the poet was living in New York City, he became an active member of the Raven Poetry Circle of Greenwich Village.
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), with whom he had one son, Solbert, born in 1920. His second wife was Grace Finan (married 1939-her death 1950). After becoming a widower, he married Ruth Fagin (married 1952-their deaths 1954).
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.
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," although he had adequate vision. 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 dishwasher, Harold "Charlie" Weinberg. They had befriended him on the streets of the Village and he offered to let them spend the night in his room a few blocks from Bowery. Weinberg and Ruth had sex near the cot where the 62-year-old drunken Bodenheim appeared to be sleeping. Bodenheim arose, challenged Weinberg, and they began fighting. Weinberg shot Bodenheim twice in the chest. He beat Ruth and stabbed her four times in the back. Weinberg confessed to the double homicide, but said in his defense, "I ought to get a medal. I killed two Communists." Weinberg was judged insane (sociopathic) and sent to a mental institution.
The year before their murder, the Bodenheims had spent some time (perhaps two months) as guests of the Catholic Worker of Dorothy Day in New York. Day had been a friend of Maxwell in Greenwich Village in the 1920s. She devoted 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 his death in 1954, was largely ghostwritten by David George Plotkin, a writer employed by the publisher Samuel Roth. Roth had been paying the down-and-out Bodenheim for his biographical stories about Greenwich Village at the time of the writer's murder.
- Hecht based his 1958 play Winkelberg on the life of the bohemian poet.
- Three official full biographies have been published on Maxwell Bodenheim: a doctoral dissertation by Edward T. Devoe, A Soul in Gaudy Tatters, University of Pennsylvania (1957); Maxwell Bodenheim (1970) by Jack B. Moore; and a doctoral dissertation, The Necessity of Rebellion: The Novels of Maxwell Bodenheim (1975) by Arthur B. Sacks, University of Wisconsin-Madison. A fourth official biography has been in the writing process for over 30 years now. Michael Sampson Sweeney, has devoted his life work to writing Bodenheims life story as well as collecting Bodenheims entire catalogue which has mostly been given to Columbia University in the last five years.
- 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
- "From the Stacks" at New-York Historical Society
- Burns, Jim. "Maxwell Bodenheim", The Penniless Press. Retrieved 25 Apr. 2009
- Day, Dorothy (1963). Loaves and Fishes. New York: Harper & Row. pp. 151–55.
- Works by Maxwell Bodenheim at Project Gutenberg
- Works by or about Maxwell Bodenheim at Internet Archive
- Works by Maxwell Bodenheim at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)
- Quoth the Raven Poetry Circle | "From the Stacks" at New-York Historical Society
- Poems by Maxwell Bodenheim Extensive collection of Bodenheim's poetry
- Maxwell Bodenheim at Find a Grave
- memoir of Max Bodenheim by Dorothy Day
- Hervey Allen Papers, 1831-1965, SC.1952.01, Special Collections Department, University of Pittsburgh(Folder 22 contains Allen’s correspondence with Bodenheim)