Romany Marie

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Marie Marchand c. early 1930's
Marie Marchand
Born(1885-05-17)17 May 1885
Died20 February 1961(1961-02-20) (aged 75)

Marie Marchand (May 17, 1885, Băbeni, Vâlcea County — February 20, 1961, Greenwich Village, New York), known as Romany Marie, was a Greenwich Village restaurateur who played a key role in bohemianism from the early 1900s through the late 1950s in Manhattan.

Romany Marie's cafés[edit]

Her cafés, which encompassed the functions of bistro and salon for the bohemian intelligentsia,[1] were popular restaurants which attracted the core of the Greenwich Village cultural scene,[2] "hot spots for creative types,"[3] which she considered centers for her "circle of thinking people,"[4]: [p.39]  the circle which she had sought since 1901 when she arrived in the United States from Romanian Moldavia at the age of sixteen.

Romany Marie's cafés were among the most interesting in New York's Bohemia[5] and had an extensive following.[6] More salons than taverns, they were places for the interchange and pollination of ideas,[7] places of polarity and warmth,[4]: [p.61]  successful enterprises which were popular with artists.[8] Many regulars such as inventor Buckminster Fuller[9] and sculptors Isamu Noguchi[10] and David Smith[11] compared them to the cafés of Paris.

Romany Marie herself, who has been described as attractive and unusual, lively and generous, and a Village legend,[2] was a dynamic character[1] who provided free meals to those who needed them[2][12][13][14] and was well known and beloved.[12] She was a former anarchist[1][8] who had attended Emma Goldman meetings before 1910, while she was still learning English.[4]: [pp.40–41]  Although she later distanced herself from anarchism,[1] she was described as prominent in anarchy and socialism by The New York Times as late as 1915.[15]

She became a leader in Greenwich Village, and not only among the habitués of her own establishments. For example, in June 1921, when there were public protests after the Washington Square Association brought charges against "the tea rooms and dancing places of the village" for immorality, The Times credited a local pastor's letter of approval to 'Dear Romany Marie' as the turning point in the crisis.[16]


Painter John French Sloan was a regular from 1912 until 1935 when he returned to Chelsea.[17] His vivid portrait of Romany Marie,[1] painted in 1920, is now in the Whitney Museum of American Art. There are still a number of prints in existence of his 1922 etching, Romany Marye in Christopher Street.[18][19]

Poet Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote the famous quatrain that begins My candle burns at both ends,[20] which at the time she called "My Candle" and later re-titled "First Fig,"[21] at Romany Marie's in 1915 or 1916 during a visit with Charles Edison, his fiancée Carolyn Hawkins, and others.

Playwright Eugene O'Neill was one of many needy artists whom Romany Marie fed when they could not pay for meals.[22]: [p.130]  She was said to have kept O'Neill alive during 1916 and 1917 by feeding him regularly in her kitchen when he was an alcoholic.[2]

When visionary architect Buckminster Fuller first visited in the late 1910s with his wife and his father-in-law, the architect and muralist James Monroe Hewlett, the only people present in the restaurant when they arrived were Romany Marie and O'Neill: "The entire evening was devoted to conversation with those two unique individuals."[23]: [p.74] 

Sculptor Isamu Noguchi first visited in October 1929.[24] He had been in Paris on a Guggenheim Fellowship and had been working for several months with Constantin Brâncuși,[3][7] who recommended that he visit Romany Marie's when he returned to the United States.[25] Brâncuși—like Marie, of Romanian heritage—was an old friend of hers in Paris and New York;[4]: [p.109]  he also visited Romany Marie's with Henri Matisse.

Fuller was living in Greenwich Village by then and was a regular at Marie's. By informal arrangement[7] he delivered lectures in a style he called "thinking out loud" several times per week, which "were well received by a fascinated clientele."[23]: [pp.119–142]  He also took on Marie's interior decoration, with shiny aluminum paint and aluminum furniture,[3][10] in exchange for meals.[25] Models of the Dymaxion house were exhibited at Romany Marie's, and Fuller and Noguchi were soon collaborating on the Dymaxion car.[24]

Arctic explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson, a regular for many years,[2] also brought fellow Explorers Club members such as Peter Freuchen, Lowell Thomas, and Sir George Hubert Wilkins.[4]: [p.110]  Novelist Fannie Hurst was also a regular,[1] particularly during the years when she and Stefansson were having a long affair.[2]: [p.195] [26]

Stefansson hired Ruth Gruber as a translator of German documents, which he needed for his study of the Arctic countries for the War Department, having met Gruber at Romany Marie's in 1931 or 1932[27] after her return from the University of Cologne at age 20 with her doctorate. Years later, in 1941, Stefansson met his future wife Evelyn Schwartz Baird at Romany Marie's.[2]: [pp.251–252] 

Paleontologist Walter Granger, another Explorers Club member, was said to have been equally at home in the "elite chambers" of the American Museum of Natural History as when camped in a field hunting for fossils or hanging out with the bohemians at Romany Marie's.[28]

Museum of Modern Art curator Dorothy Canning Miller was a regular,[29] as was her husband Holger Cahill,[30] whose selection of paintings from Mark Tobey's 1929 solo exhibition at Romany Marie's was a turning point in Tobey's career.[31]

Lionel Abel, who came to the Village in 1929, was one of those who depended on Romany Marie's generosity.[13] Theodore Dreiser was an occasional visitor; he preferred Lüchow's on 14th Street.[22]: [p.299]  Arshile Gorky met with friends and colleagues at Romany Marie's two or three nights a week.[14] David Smith hung out at Romany Marie's and other establishments with Gorky, Joseph Stella, John D. Graham, Willem de Kooning, Stuart Davis and others who briefly formed an abstract expressionist group[11] which preceded what became known as "The Club."[22]: [p.546] 

One of the features of Romany Marie's establishments was the "Poets' Table" where "The Tramp Poet" Harry Kemp[32] held forth with poets and non-poets alike including Paul Robeson, Edgard Varèse, and Marsden Hartley.[22]: [p.366]  Nearly half a century after Kemp's first visit in 1912, Romany Marie's was the first stop on the 1960 pilgrimage his friends undertook according to his tape recorded last wishes, "I want half my ashes to be scattered over the dunes in Provincetown and the other half in Greenwich Village."[32]

The thing is, in the fantastically mixed atmosphere we had, even the misfits and the lonely could get direction because there was nothing mushy or poshy about the atmosphere. Can you imagine in the same night, among the guests, Dreiser and Durant and John Cowper Powys, not like celebrities but being themselves? My long-time friend, Vilhjalmur Stefansson, compared it to the Columbia University Library. There, he said, people added volumes to their knowledge; at my place they added friends.

— Romany Marie, [4]: [p.93]         


The first location, rented in 1914 near Sheridan Square at 133 Washington Place[1][4]: [pp.16–17, p. 63ff] [20][33] on the third floor of a four-story building, was reached by climbing one outside staircase and two inside staircases.

From 1915 through 1923, Romany Marie's was in a tiny house at 20 Christopher Street,[4]: [pp.17–18, p. 68ff]  and, from 1923 through the late 1920s, at 17012 Waverly Place.[1]: [p.46] 

The eleven locations over the years—"The caravan has moved" [4]: [p.68]  was the sign on the door each time with the new address—also included:


Romany Marie Marchand was of Jewish descent, born in Nichitoaia, Romania in 1885.[37] Her father was Lupu Yuster and her mother, Esther Rosen, was a Jew.

Marie, her sister Rose (who married Leonard Dalton Abbott in 1915), their brother David (the youngest), and their mother Esther (known as Mother Yuster, her portrait was painted by Robert Henri), were all active in the Modern Schools (Ferrer Schools) in New York City and in Stelton, Piscataway Township, New Jersey.[38] Her sister Rebecca, who followed Marie to the United States, died in her 20's in New York City.

Romany Marie's "centers" for her "circle of thinking people" began in 1912 in their three-room apartment on St. Mark's Place in the East Village,[4]: [p.42]  and later in their rented house in The Bronx,[4]: [p.50]  before opening in Greenwich Village in 1914.[4]: [p.59] 

Her husband Arnold Damon Marchand, also known as A. D. or AD Marchand, was an unlicensed but apparently effective osteopath. He once treated Mabel Dodge Luhan's husband Tony Luhan for a slipped disc, in the winter of 1940, when Luhan and author Frank Waters were visiting New York from Taos, New Mexico.[39]

Author Ben Reitman included Romany Marie among the characters in his fictional autobiography Sister of the Road (1937),[40] which Martin Scorsese adapted for the 1972 film Boxcar Bertha. In the mysteries Free Love and Murder Me Now (2001), which are set in the Village in the early 1920s during Prohibition, author Annette Meyers included both Romany Marie and her husband A. D. Marchand, called Damon, among the characters.[41]

Journalist Robert Schulman, a co-founder of the Louisville Eccentric Observer,[42] was Romany Marie Marchand's nephew.[43] During his youth in New York City he visited her frequently in Greenwich Village. In adulthood, whenever he was in the city, he recorded oral history interviews with her and with many of her devotees. Schulman, whose biography of John Sherman Cooper was published in 1976, published his biography of "that bohemian aunt ... with little regard for profit but with central regard for giving unconventional and creative people a place at little cost to talk, think, perform and ponder"[44] in 2006. He died at the age of 91 on January 6, 2008.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Jan Whitaker. Tea at the Blue Lantern Inn: A Social History of the Tea Room Craze in America (pp. 42–43 except where otherwise noted). New York: St. Martin's Press, 2002. ISBN 0-312-29064-0.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Gísli Pálsson. Travelling Passions: The Hidden Life Of Vilhjalmur Stefansson (p. 187 except where otherwise noted). Lebanon, New Hampshire: University Press of New England, 2005. ISBN 1-58465-510-0.
  3. ^ a b c Grace Glueck (May 19, 2006). "The Architect and the Sculptor: A Friendship of Ideas". The New York Times.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Robert Schulman. Romany Marie: The Queen of Greenwich Village. Louisville: Butler Books, 2006. ISBN 1-884532-74-8.
  5. ^ Irving Henry Brown. Gypsy Fires in America: A Narrative of Life Among the Romanies of the United States and Canada (p. 131). New York: Harper & Brothers, 1924. Later editions include Gale Research (1974) ISBN 0-8103-3942-0, and Kessinger Publishing (2007) ISBN 0-548-11110-3. "Most interesting of all is Romany Marie herself ... Sitting one evening in the dim café, enjoying a tasty Rumanian dish and listening to a record of gypsy music, we discussed artists and Romanies. 'After all,' she remarked, 'they are very much alike.'"
  6. ^ a b c Rian James. Dining in New York (pp. 194–196). First edition, New York: John Day Company, 1930. 2007 reprint edition, New York: K.S. Giniger, ISBN 1-4067-8347-1. "Here, you'll find well-known villagers, artists, and locally well-known scribes; long-haired gentlemen who will argue with you as to the existence of God, and cheerfully take either side; and short-haired ladies who can explain what Humanism means, and will, if you let them."
  7. ^ a b c John Haskell. "Buckminster Fuller and Isamu Noguchi". Kraine Gallery Bar Lit, Fall 2007. Archived from the original on 2008-05-13. Retrieved 2008-02-14.
  8. ^ a b Emily Kies Folpe. It Happened on Washington Square (p. 266). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002. ISBN 0-8018-7088-7.
  9. ^ "Bucky Fuller Biographical Info". [Fuller]: It was probably the last of the really great Bohemian cafés I know of in the world — very much like the Paris of the [19]20s. The Village was loaded then with great artists and great intellectuals, and Marie had by far the best place in town. That's where I carried on and developed my ideas.
  10. ^ a b Conducted by Paul Cummings at Noguchi's studio in Long Island City, Queens (November 7, 1973). "Interview with Isamu Noguchi". Smithsonian Archives of American Art. [Noguchi]: ... one met a lot of people down there. It was sort of a transfer of the Paris café life to New York in Romany Marie's. She had a real function.
  11. ^ a b Statements, writings & lectures by David Smith (c. 1952). "Atmosphere of the Early Thirties". Her place came closer to being a Continental café with its varied types of professionals than any other place I knew. {{cite web}}: |author= has generic name (help)
  12. ^ a b "Lot 325: Julian Levi (1900-82)". Appraisers Association of America ArtFact Auction Database, 1998. Her cafe, which bore her name, was a frequent haunt for struggling writers, poets, artists and scientists, who were assured a good meal whether they were able to pay for it or not.
  13. ^ a b Joseph Dorman. Arguing the World: The New York Intellectuals in Their Own Words (based on Dorman's PBS documentary film on Irving Howe, Irving Kristol, Daniel Bell, and Nathan Glazer). Free Press, 2000. ISBN 0-684-86279-4. University of Chicago Press paperback edition, 2001 ISBN 0-226-15814-4.
    Lionel Abel (p. 79): "Now, when I was hungry, Romany Marie would serve me dinner. A wonderful dinner! On the house! There was no other place in the city like that. Certainly not uptown. She felt that she had some obligation to people who visited her tavern. So the Village was like a village. It combined the intimacy of village life with sophistication."
  14. ^ a b Matthew Spender. From a High Place: A Life of Arshile Gorky (p. 83). Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000. ISBN 0-520-22548-1. "You could run up a bill at Romany Marie's and pay when you sold a painting."
  15. ^ "Disorder in Court as Sanger is Fined: Justices Order Room Cleared When Socialists and Anarchists Hoot Verdict" (PDF). The New York Times. September 11, 1915. The Times noted Romany Marie among "many men and women prominent in anarchy and Socialism" who were present in the crowded courtroom — "filled and a hundred more struggled to get in" — when architect William Sanger, Margaret Sanger's husband, was sentenced for a violation of the Comstock laws: he had given someone a pamphlet of information about contraception.
  16. ^ "All's Quiet in the Village: Letter of Approval by Pastor Helps Rout Detractors" (PDF). The New York Times. June 10, 1921.
  17. ^ "Walking Tours". John Sloan's New York. Delaware Art Museum. Includes Romany Marie's Tavern Archived 2011-07-26 at the Wayback Machine podcast link.
  18. ^ Delaware Art Museum (October 20, 2007 – January 20, 2008). "Seeing the City: Sloan's New York (exhibit)". Romany Marye in Christopher Street, 1922, 1936. Though signs for her restaurant read 'Romany Marie's Tavern,' Sloan always spelled her name 'Marye.'
  19. ^ John French Sloan (1922). "Romany Marye in Christopher Street" (etching). Sloan wrote of this print: "All Greenwich Villagers know Romany Marye, who has acted the part of hostess, philosopher, and friend in her series of quiet little restaurants for the past thirty-five years. The etching shows her chatting [center foreground] in her deep comfortable voice to Dolly and myself." Sloan is depicted at the lower right, with the pipe; his wife Dolly is at the lower left.
  20. ^ a b Michael Browning (August 18, 1996). "The Eternal Flame". The Miami Herald. Archived from the original on December 17, 2010.
  21. ^ Cited in An Annotated Bibliography of Works about Edna St. Vincent Millay: Kisch, Arnold I. The Romantic Ghost of Greenwich Village: Guido Bruno in his Garret. Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 1976. ISBN 3-261-01727-9.
  22. ^ a b c d e Ross Wetzsteon. Republic of Dreams: Greenwich Village: The American Bohemia, 1910–1960. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2003. ISBN 0-684-86996-9. ("... the essence of the Village was to create a miniature society where personal idiosyncrasy could flourish through communal solidarity. Even Americans who have remained hostile to the Village have been fascinated by it because it has been a kind of laboratory in which a nation at once dedicated to militant individualism and to middle-class conformity could witness attempts to overcome that paradox." p. 548)
  23. ^ a b Lloyd Steven Sieden. Buckminster Fuller's Universe: His Life and Work. New York: Perseus Books Group, 2000. ISBN 0-7382-0379-3. "Although O'Neill soon became well known as a major American playwright, it was Romany Marie who would significantly influence Bucky, becoming his close friend and confidante during the most difficult years of his life." [p. 74]
  24. ^ a b Michael John Gorman (March 12, 2002). "Passenger Files: Isamo Noguchi, 1904–1988". Towards a cultural history of Buckminster Fuller's Dymaxion Car. Stanford Humanities Lab. Archived from the original on September 16, 2007. Includes images.
  25. ^ a b John Haber. "Before Buckyballs". Haber Arts. Review of the Noguchi Museum's 2006 Best of Friends exhibition
  26. ^ Fannie Hurst. Anatomy of Me: A Wonderer in Search of Herself (p. 219). New York: Doubleday, 1958. ISBN 0-405-12843-6.
  27. ^ Ruth Gruber. Virginia Woolf: The Will to Create as a Woman (p. 22). New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2005. ISBN 0-7867-1534-0.
  28. ^ Vincent L. Morgan and Spencer G. Lucas. "Walter Granger, 1872–1941, Paleontologist" (PDF). Albuquerque: New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science Bulletin 19, 2002.
  29. ^ Lindsay Pollock (November 3, 2003). "Mama MoMA". New York Magazine. Her favorite hangout in the thirties was Romany Marie's Cafe, on 8th Street, which served cheap Romanian food and beer and had, at the time, the best salon. There she met Buckminster Fuller, and hung out with Isamu Noguchi and even Vilhjálmur Stefánsson, the Arctic explorer. "At Marie's, people didn't have enough money to get drunk. People just talked and talked and talked," she said. "It was very amusing."
  30. ^ Jeffers, Wendy (1991). "Holger Cahill and American Art". Archives of American Art Journal. 31 (4): 2–11. doi:10.1086/aaa.31.4.1557706. JSTOR 1557706. S2CID 192808203.
  31. ^ Deloris Tarzan Ament (February 16, 2003). "Tobey, Mark (1890–1976): The Old Master of the Young American Painting". HistoryLink.
  32. ^ a b Alan Bodian. "Harry Hibbard Kemp". Cape Cod History and Genealogy of Wellfleet.
  33. ^ a b Marilyn Weigner Associates. "The South Village". Includes map of the West Village.
  34. ^ Old And Sold (1959). "Greenwich Village". (photos of the Paine building)
  35. ^ Jim Naureckas. "8th Street/St. Marks Place". New York Songlines.
  36. ^ Christine Stansell (June 2, 2000). "When the Village Broke Free". The New York Times.
  37. ^ Constantin Antonovici. Brancusi - Maestrul (p. 57). Bucharest, Romania: Semne, 2002. ISBN 973-624-018-5.
  38. ^ Modern School of Stelton (May 1940). "25th Anniversary Committee". Includes Ferrer tribute by Leonard Dalton Abbott.
  39. ^ Frank Waters. Of Time and Change (pp. 53–54). San Francisco: MacAdam/Cage, 1998. ISBN 1-878448-86-2.
  40. ^ Ben Lewis Reitman. Sister of the Road: The Autobiography of Boxcar Bertha (p. 102). Fictional autobiography. New York: The Macaulay Company, 1937. 1975 reprint edition, Harper & Row. 2002 AK Press Nabat series reprint edition, ISBN 1-902593-03-0.
  41. ^ Annette Meyers. New York: Warner Books, 2001. Free Love, ISBN 0-446-60921-8; Murder Me Now, ISBN 0-446-67891-0.
  42. ^ Bill Wolfe (January 7, 2008). "Media critic Schulman dies at 91: 'conscience of local journalism'". The Courier-Journal.
  43. ^ Butler Books Authors. "Bob Schulman".
  44. ^ Cary Stemle (January 2008). "Hail, and farewell: One man's opinion is that there will never be another Bob Schulman". Louisville Eccentric Observer.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]