Posts from December 2009

LEONORE FLEISCHER - QUEEN OF KITSCH

Posted by Carole Stuart on December 20, 2009

LEONORE FLEISCHER – QUEEN OF KITSCH

 

For more than 20 years, I owned a house in New York State’s Columbia County in the town of Stuyvesant. We called the County “The Unhamptons” because it was the antithesis of Long Island’s very chic, very social East End.

Over the years, this very quiet county, which was about half-hour from Albany, became filled with weekenders drawn heavily from New York’s literary world, as well as artists and musicians who liked the laid-back atmosphere.

Many homes were built in the 1700s and 1800s – genuine Colonials, saltboxes, and other styles that were gradually sold to the New Yorkers who adopted the county as a second home. Hudson, originally a whaling town, quickly became a Mecca of antique dealers who catered not only to those with homes there, but New Yorkers who found treasures on Warren Street – the main street of this sleepy town.

I came to Stuyvesant, the last town in the county bordering on the Hudson River, because of Leonore Fleischer. As did many others.

It was l981, and I’d written a few books that generated enough royalty income for me to look for a good investment.

“Buy a house,” my accountant suggested. And so I began my search for a second home. The first person I told of this was my friend, Leonore.

Leonore, who had written New York magazine’s “Sales and Bargains” column and for Publishers Weekly and other magazines, had a house in Hudson. She chose Hudson because, not being able to drive a car, she could take Amtrak from New York up the Hudson River right to Hudson. From there, a trolley took her right up Warren Street almost directly to her house on Prospect Avenue.

Leonore soon began inviting her New York friends to visit her.

Many of us fell in love with the quiet, scenic county, and it became common to spend one weekend at her house and then buy a house. In those days, houses were really inexpensive.

Mine, on almost two-and-a-half acres overlooking the Hudson, was comfortably less than $100,000. I called it “Ongoing Royalties,” which was an appropriate name for quite some time.

Weekends were spent at flea markets and country auctions as many of the homes were furnished with odds and ends bought this way. It was a lot of fun. The years passed, parties and fund-raising events became common. A film festival started in the town of Chatham. We discovered our neighbors were publishers, film producers, and soon Columbia County became a cultural center. If there was an unofficial PR person boosting the county, it was Leonore.

Leonore was a passionate shopper. “Sales and Bargains” was a perfect fit for her because she bought many things over the years in Hudson: quilts, jewelry, dishes, and much more. She had every piece of Franciscan ware dishes sold. It was extensive. I bought some of it from her. Fish Sets, teapots, cookie jars, old linens, coin silver, antique clothing. You name it. Eventually, she opened a shop on Warren Street and began selling some of her things, always keeping special items for herself and her friends who were lucky to receive wonderful gifts.

Over the years, she became homebound and ill. She didn’t venture out of her home often. Many of the friends she had brought to the County had sold their homes and moved out.

I kept in touch mostly by phone and an occasional visit. The last time I saw her, I brought a feast of smoked fish and bagels from Fairway Market in New York City.

This year Leonore died in the home she’d lived in after giving up her New York apartment and became a permanent resident of Hudson. She had a son, Alexander, who did not respond to phone calls after her death. And then one day, our friend, Steven Lidsky, a resident of Hudson, drove along Prospect Avenue, near her house, now unoccupied, and saw amateurish hand-printed signs announcing “Estate Sale, 17 Prospect Ave. Sat-Sun.”

I asked Steven to go to the sale and tell me about it. What follows is his report.

Up the broken concrete stoop on the porch and inside the house, the remnants of Leonore’s collections were being sold by scruffy men in green tee shirts. She would not have been pleased.

“The Christmas tree that stood in the living room for years despite the season was gone. So were the Santa Clauses and most of Leonore’s cherished collection of Mickey Mouse. Some, the Mickey watches, however, were in a glass case each for sale at $50 – a definite bargain, according to one of the salesmen. Three of Leonore’s red sweaters with the Mickey images were hanging on the wall, also for sale. Bargain hunters were standing about in the living and dining rooms turning plates over to check porcelain marks, holding things up to the light to check for imperfections, and discussing how anyone could possibly collect so much.

“They did not know Leonore; they did not realize that only remnants of her cherished collections were scattered about on the dirty carpeting and dusty shelves. Leonore seemingly collected everything. Teapots – indeed, she wrote a book on the subject – fish plates, Mickey, Minnie, Goofy as well as other cartoon characters, Santas, toys, cookie jars, cups and saucers, platters, board games, wooden and plastic jack-o-lanterns, and, being a writer, people. She introduced many to Columbia County.

“Up the winding staircase to the second floor, one could not help but notice, although Leonore’s beloved cats were no longer in residence, their odor lingered. In the bedroom, a couple was whispering over a wood-cased radio. It was apparent that the women believed she had discovered something of value. Another man was rummaging through a cardboard box. No treasures. Frustrated, he left the contents in a heap on the floor.

“Up the next staircase to the attic. Leaning against the wall was a Plexiglas sign that used to hang in the window of Leonore’s shop on Warren Street. A quarter moon with a face was painted on the plastic along with the words “Only Yesterday – Antiques and Collectibles.” No one seemed interested in the sign.

“Back downstairs at a bridge table near the entrance, the woman I observed in the bedroom was bargaining with a salesman over the wood-case radio. After all, she said the case was cracked. Therefore, she should get a break on the price. I thought of Leonore’s column …1930 wood case radio, usually $150, here $40…

 “Leonore would have understood this woman.”

                                     ••••

GOOD NEWS CAN HAPPEN IN THE BOOK BUSINESS

One of the best things that happened this year for Barricade Books was JAILING THE JOHNSTON GANG by Bruce Mowday.

We publish a growing line of true-crime books. There are now 23 in the series, and it’s growing. It includes– Scott Deitche, Cigar City Mafia, Silent Don, and now Balls: The Life of Eddie Trascher, Gentleman Gangster; Ron Chepesiuk, Gangsters of Harlem, Black Gangsters of Chicago, and his latest, Gangsters of Miami; and A Cop’s Tale, by retired NYC detective Jim O’Neil and Mel Fazzino.

When Bruce Mowday contacted me about Jailing the Johnston Gang, I was impressed with his record of marketing his self-published books. He was looking for a wider audience for this book about an East Coast gang who terrorized communities and stole millions of dollars worth of property.

When the gang couldn’t intimidate witnesses to their many crimes, they murdered them. The leader of the gang, Bruce A. Johnston Sr, had a reputation as the most notorious criminal in Pennsylvania’s Chester County. After raping his son’s girlfriend, he ordered his brothers to murder his son. He also shot his stepson to death. Nice fellow.

It’s quite a book and a tribute to the FBI, Pennsylvania’s local police departments, U.S. Attorney prosecutors, and the Chester County DA’s office, who worked together to bring down this gang.

What makes me happy is the book has turned out to be the best-performing title on Barricade Books’ list this year. It began without much bookstore support, relying on Mowday’s energy. He had almost nonstop speaking engagements at all sorts of venues.

Eventually, the bookstores started to order, and now they are selling it briskly and asking for in-store appearances where people are actually buying copies. As many of us know, book signings are unpredictable. Often people come to listen, finding a comfortable place to be entertained by an author, and then leave without making a purchase. Not this time.

For more information, see the Web page for JAILING THE JOHNSTON GANG. (http://www.barricadebooks.com/index.php/books/single/jailing_the_johnston_gang/)

                                             ••••

I want to close with a poem by Philip Larkin supplied by Patrick O’Connor a good friend who has been an editor for many years. Pat has reinvented himself a number of times. He describes himself this way:

I'm eighty-four years old, a veteran of WWII, I'm just learning to play golf, and I take tap-dancing lessons every week. Doing well at golf flunking tap dancing. I also write a column more or less weekly for a newspaper in Munhall, PA, (near Pittsburgh) called the Valley Mirror. Patrick is also an editor, poet, ski instructor. His publications include NO POEM FOR FRITZ (Poetry); THE PRAYERS OF MAN; THE MONKEES GO MOD; DON'T LOOK BACK, A MEMOIR, Published by Moyer Bell. (If you haven’t read the memoir, get a copy. It’s just great. Below, in Patrick’s words:

 “Every week, a writer in the New York Times or the Los Angeles Times or any number of magazine references THIS BE VERSE by Philip Larkin – they never reprint the poem. Larkin was furious at the attention paid to this poem for which he was best known. For those of you who don’t know it, here it is.”

THIS BE VERSE

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.

            They may not mean to, but they do.

They fill you with the faults they had

            And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn

            By fools in Old-style hats and coats,

Who half the time were soppy-stern

            And half at one another’s throats.

Man hands on misery to man.

            It deepens like a coastal shelf.

Get out as early as you can.

            And don’t have any kids yourself.

If I don’t manage to post another blog before the end of the year, I wish you all a happy holiday.

Carole 

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