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American Cocktail

American Cocktail

Anita Reynolds
with Howard M. Miller
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Harvard University Press
Pages: 352
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    American Cocktail
    Book Description:

    This is the rollicking, never-before-published memoir of a fascinating African American woman with an uncanny knack for being in the right place in the most interesting times. Actress, dancer, model, literary critic, psychologist, and free-spirited provocateur, Anita Reynolds was, as her Parisian friends nicknamed her, an American Cocktail.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-36933-7
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. 1-14)
    Patricia Williams

    Oceans of ink have been spilled about those complicated souls supposedly caught in the racial “middle” of America’s eternal identity wars. Well before the anodyne—and misleading—term “biracial” came into being, there was the long-suffering figure of the tragic mulatto. When I was growing up, we of the Civil Rights era were called “grey babies.” Somewhere between the times of Puddn’head Wilson and Barack Obama, there were also octoroons, quadroons, mestizos, maroons, sepia sisters, meriney men, high-toned folk, yellow women, rooster reds, tea-honeys with milk, cinnamon sugars, and sallow gals. Each wave of immigration to this country has brought...

  5. Introduction
    (pp. 15-46)
    George Hutchinson

    In the novelQuicksand,Nella Larsen introduces a character named Audrey Denney as a probe into the psychology of the bourgeois but politically progressive “race woman” of the 1920s in the United States. Audrey Denney lives downtown, on 22nd Street, near Greenwich Village, and moves freely between blacks and whites. Anne Grey, Helga Crane’s well-heeled friend in Harlem, detests her for this:

    It’s a wonder she hasn’t some white man hanging about. The disgusting creature! … She ought to be ostracized.”

    “Why?” asked Helga curiously, noting at the same time that three of the men in their own party had...

  6. A Note on the Text
    (pp. 47-52)
    George Hutchinson
  7. American Cocktail

    • Foreword
      (pp. 55-57)

      I scarcely noticed the group of German tourists sitting at the table next to mine on the hotel terrace overlooking the Caribbean until one of them leaned over to me and asked in English: “How long did it take you to get that wonderful tan?”

      I gave out just the slightest sigh and answered by rote: “About four generations.”

      My questioner turned back to his companions and translated. In the ensuing conversation, I thought I heard the word “Nigger” tossed about.

      At that particular time, I was fuming over calls to impeach the black United States ambassador to the United...

    • Chapter 1
      (pp. 58-62)

      The Civil War was in full bloom when my maternal grandmother, Medora Reed, fled Virginia and a life of servitude in 1862, at the age of twelve, and made her way to Boston working as a cabin girl on a ship. On a later trip back South, she picked up her Cherokee Indian mother (her father, who had not been interested in marrying her mother, was a “Mr. Reed,” a white man in whose house she had worked as a serving girl) and returned to Boston. Her illegitimacy was a sore point with Grandmother. When I learned that my maternal...

    • Chapter 2
      (pp. 63-68)

      What did give me cause to both wonder and complain was the birth of my brother, Sumner, when I was two and suddenly no longer the center of all the attention. My protests were stifled, however, in the presence of all the fuss that accompanied the event, and so I went along with everyone else to say what a beautiful baby he was. I learned quickly that one sure way to hold onto my parents’ love was to take care of him, the beginning of what was to become a lifetime of devotion to “little brothers.”

      When Sumner (I called...

    • Chapter 3
      (pp. 69-73)

      Dad’s arrival from Chicago the year I was in kindergarten was a joyous occasion, indeed. I can remember his rushing into Grandma’s house, dropping his tan leather satchel and kissing everyone. It was the first and last time I can recall ever seeing my parents embrace openly. Mother smiled when he complimented Tada on having grown so much, and frowned when he ruffled my curly hair (all grown back after my bout with scarlet fever) and said I was “pretty as a picture.” We all gaped with excitement when he told us about his plans for moving into our new...

    • Chapter 4
      (pp. 74-79)

      The Johnson-Jeffries fight took place just before the outbreak of the First World War. It demonstrated well the streak of stubborn independence in my family that often saw us on the opposite side of public opinion in general.

      During the war, Grandma displayed on the wall by her bed a magazine photo of a German submarine, its captain and crew, sighted off the shore of Norfolk just before the United States declared war. Grandma greatly admired the Germans as highly cultured scientists, scholars, and musicians, like the chamber music players who performed at our house. When they came over, they...

    • Chapter 5
      (pp. 80-87)

      The “Negro problem” by no means dominated the whole of our lives. My parents had a full and active social life, from informal card parties to elaborate, formal dances. The former began with games of whist and ended in elaborate “Dutch suppers” of sausages, ham, cheeses, all kinds of fish—salted, smoked, in cream, in oil—several dark breads, pickles and lots of beer to wash it all down.

      At other times, formally dressed and smelling of lilac vegetal and bay rum, Mother and Dad would bid us goodnight and be off to one of their gala evenings. The elegance...

    • Chapter 6
      (pp. 88-95)

      The Chicago riot broke out in the summer of 1919.¹ We learned of it while Mother, Tada and I were on our way there to visit Father’s family. He had stayed behind in Los Angeles, and wired us to get off the train in Omaha until things quieted down.

      The riots dismayed Mother’s friends, the dues-paying Episcopalians and NAACP members. They couldn’t understand the outrageous behavior of those who seemed to think that ten percent of the American population could successfully take up arms against the majority. But the young people were exuberant. All those we met, including some of...

    • Chapter 7
      (pp. 96-102)

      A’Lelia’s home at Irvington-on-Hudson was a palace. It had once been the home of Enrico Caruso, and A’Lelia easily kept it in the style to which it had been accustomed. There was an enormous hallway, like the lobby of a grand hotel, a library, a salon with Louis XV furniture and an Aubusson carpet and tapestries on the wall. Off the salon was the conservatory, containing exotic potted plants, a collection of delicate summer furniture and a pipe organ. The dining room was huge and contained complete silver and gold services as well as the “everyday” Limoges china. All the...

    • Chapter 8
      (pp. 103-112)

      Mother left me in New York because that’s where I wanted to be. She left me in the charge of friends, the Austins, who lived at 237 West 139th Street in a handsome block of homes designed by Stanford White. It was in a part of Harlem called “Strivers Row,” although certainly the Austins were not striving, nor did I see anyone in the block who was. Mrs. Austin kept an elegant home. Her husband, an estate lawyer, was passing for white along with his brother in offices on Madison Avenue. Among other things, their work called on them to...

    • Chapter 9
      (pp. 113-121)

      I felt while crossing the Atlantic a great sense of going home, to a place where I really belonged. Away from the lynchings, away from the Negro problem, away from the polarization, away from all the disagreeable aspects of my life in the United States.

      I was not running away from American Negroes, however. Countee Cullen and Yolande Du Bois were coming soon to Paris on their honeymoon. There were others, too, whom I had known in the Village, who would be in Paris. Harold Jackman and Roscoe Bruce and Nora Holt were all either in Paris or going there...

    • Chapter 10
      (pp. 122-132)

      In the summer following Françoise’s death, a group of us decided to make a pilgrimage, going to Toulon first and then on to Venice. “Bébé” Christian Bérard had organized a pilgrimage to the tomb of Diaghilev, the Russian ballet impresario, who was buried on an island near Venice, and this gave our trip a purpose.

      In Toulon, we saw “Douggie,” who had been Isadora Duncan’s secretary and filled us in on all the details of her life. William Seabrook, the Hearst writer, was there, too, along with his wife, a delightful companion.¹ I enjoyed hearing some real American gossip, especially...

    • Illustrations
      (pp. None)
    • Chapter 11
      (pp. 133-159)

      April 14, 1931. Alfonso XIII, King of Spain, abdicated and spent his first night of exile in Marseilles. I spent the same night there abdicating St.-Germain-des-Prés. I planned what seemed to be a pleasant route to get to Tangier. I was going to take the train from Paris to Marseilles, spend a restful night there and then catch the boat to Tangier in the morning. As it turned out, I got little rest due to an ugly encounter with an ugly little man who left a nasty taste in my mouth for a long time to come.

      I was sitting...

    • Chapter 12
      (pp. 160-172)

      It is probable that among the “civilized” people of the world, compatibility is determined by what the French call the “cerebral” in sex. When one imagines himself to be with the perfect partner, for whatever rational or neurotic reason, one relaxes and cooperates, so that the result is one of mutual satisfaction. My role in my relationship with Charles was that of the exotic woman. Perhaps he had wanted an East Indian girl and hadn’t been able to have one, or perhaps his experience with dull white women had given him the impression that an exotic woman would be the...

    • Chapter 13
      (pp. 173-187)

      Considering the constrained area of the tight little island, I must say that the British made a terrific racket. I remember eating dinner in the restaurant at Stratford-on-Avon. Just before entering, I heard the most God-awful noise. I turned to Charles and said, “What’s going on in there? Is it an aviary?” It was only a large collection of British women talking in their high, birdlike voices and sing-song tones. But soon I was chirping too.

      Even though I was quickly Anglicized, I was not completely isolated from the doings of the American Negro community. I was amazed and delighted,...

    • Chapter 14
      (pp. 188-195)

      The years between 1932 and 1935 are jumbled in my mind, but I can remember in 1935 the invasion of the Italians into Abyssinia.¹ By that time, Charles was violently anti-colonialist and antifascist. Of course, we all were but he was ready and eager to go into Abyssinia to train the people in old North West frontier fashion.² He thought of making an Abyssinian army that would defeat the Italians.

      So, we chased all over Paris looking for someone to send him to Abyssinia. We found the Abyssinian legation, but they just referred us to the British Embassy. We went...

    • Chapter 15
      (pp. 196-209)

      It was Charles’ illness that finally provided an out for me. We returned for a while to Monte Carlo. Charles sat on the terrace of the casino in the morning, playing the “system” he had worked out for roulette, while I sat in the sunshine. And when he went into the playing rooms in the evenings, I would go to the performances of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Occasionally, I would go over to the casino and watch the people who sat there day after day with their pads of paper, struggling along, losing their small incomes trying to...

    • Chapter 16
      (pp. 210-227)

      We stayed in Spain until the food became scarce and it seemed as though there would soon be nothing left to eat but anchovies and honey. By October, Franco was appointed by the invaders as Chief of Spanish States. But by then we were back in Paris, at the Café de Flore, telling a much-interested Picasso the little we had seen. Picasso was no longer the nonchalant artist we had known before. His concern over the fate of Spain was very genuine, and he asked us to explain all we knew. This was the longest conversation I had ever had...

    • Chapter 17
      (pp. 228-245)

      One evening, I was surprised to find Man Ray in a restaurant in a little town high above Nice, where Cecile and our friends went often to dine and dance. Man came from a corner of the restaurant and asked me to dance with him. When we were on the dance floor, he asked me why I had passed the table without speaking to Lee Miller. Lee was a friend of his, with whom he had been deeply in love at one time. But she had run off and married someone else, a wealthy Egyptian. This all had happened several...

    • Chapter 18
      (pp. 246-268)

      Back in my room at the Hotel Printemps, I feverishly dashed off many a furious note to theCanard Enchaîné,the satiric newspaper, describing in sarcastic terms the behavior and conversations of the nurses and their bourgeois expressions of willingness to collaborate with the Germans.¹ It wasn’t only the women, of course. Châteaubriant had written to me, with hellish glee, that his father was busily writing speeches for the Jesuits broadcasting from Stuttgart, telling the French to lay down their guns, to go home, because “the Germans are coming as friends.”

      My “Bolshevik” insistence that France had better prepare herself...

  8. Appendix 1: Publications by Anita Reynolds
    (pp. 271-278)
  9. Appendix 2: Anita Reynolds’s Correspondence with Family
    (pp. 279-300)
  10. Notes
    (pp. 301-320)
  11. Index
    (pp. 321-333)