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Sunday, June 5, 2011

Five books for Stefan Lorant

In the letter below, Stefan Lorant ordered five books in 1949 from a book store in New York. Was there anything significant about that? Before I investigated the purchase further, I wanted to know something about the buyer, Stefan Lorant.



In a nutshell, Stefan Lorant (1901-1997) was a Hungarian-American author, editor, photographer, filmmaker, and pioneering photojournalist.

An article about Lorant, found online at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh site refers to him as the first major editor of modern photojournalism. Michael Hallett, in the title of his biography on Lorant (Scarecrow Press, 2005), anoints him the Godfather of Photojournalism.

One of the first things I learned about this native Hungarian is that about 1919, Franz Kafka helped him get a job as a violinist in a Czechoslovakian movie house at age 19. Not bad for starters.  It got even better and I became intrigued with the letter writer and what led him to this business correspondence with a bookseller in New York in 1949.

Though he may have had a respectable talent playing the violin, Lorant would not become known for his musicianship. A year after the movie house gig, young Lorant was making a successful foray into filmmaking in Vienna with a film about Mozart. During the 1920s he made a series of films in Germany, wearing the hats of writer, director, cameraman, and photographer. Casting for one of his films, he reportedly auditioned a young actress, whom he advised to find another line of work. Her name was Marlene Dietrich. Can't win 'em all.

Later in the same decade, he began writing for German publications and wound up in hot water when Hitler came into power in the 1930s. Seems Lorant had been writing some none-too-flattering things about Hitler before he came into power in 1933. The prison sentence was short and six months later he was released

After his release from prison, Lorant eventually emigrated to England, where his prison memoir, I was Hitler's Prisoner, had been successfully published. There, he did pioneering work in the field of photojournalism. Continuing his cultivation of acquaintances with the powerful and famous, Lorant met and promoted Winston Churchill, helping to elevate his political career.

Failing to obtain citizenship in England, Lorant emigrated to America and became a respected author, learning and writing about the history of his adopted country. You get the feeling there wasn't much this creative soul couldn't do.

It was as a writer living in Lenox, Massachusetts that Stefan Lorant produced the piece of ephemera featured in this post--one that I'm getting to in a roundabout way.

In a batch of old business correspondence from Schulte's Book Store in New York (see the correspondence with Rose Wilder Lane), now in my collection, I found the letter written by Lorant from his home in Lenox, Massachusetts.

Lorant wrote to Schulte's to place an order for five books, which he indicated on an enclosed "FDR" list. Unfortunately, that list was not included with this correspondence when it came into my possession.


FDR, of course, refers to Franklin Delano Roosevelt. After emigrating to America, Lorant immersed himself in American history and among his many books on the subject, he authored a series of books dealing with American presidents. His biography of Franklin Delano Roosevelt was published in 1950. The letter above is dated May 20, 1949. It's pretty safe to assume Lorant was purchasing books by or about FDR from Schulte's FDR list to research for his biography of the former president.

There is no mention of a check enclosed, nor a request for credit, but someone at Schulte's noted on the letter, in pencil, to extend credit to this customer. Perhaps he was a repeat customer, or would become one. He had many more books to write after 1950 and could have relied on Schulte's again for research material.

Stefan Lorant led a remarkably creative and productive life, passing away in 1997 at the age of 96. His talents contributed to and influenced many creative genres. He lived in several countries in Europe and became an American citizen. He learned languages and made friends and acquaintances with famous and influential people from Kafka and Churchill in Europe to Henry Luce and the Kennedys in America, among many others.

His was a twentieth century odyssey that traversed two continents, emerging fields of creative expression, and major players on the world's stage. And this ephemeral piece of correspondence in the form of a brief letter to a bookseller offers a glimpse into the minutiae of a creative process and a creative life.


More on Stefan Lorant:



1 comment:

  1. Very interesting. I came across some of his archives by chance and ended up doing similar research into his past. I have a small collection of some of his correspondance, and photos from various stages in his career. He was a very fascinating man.

    ReplyDelete

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