Welcome to Oddity Land: The Life and Times of Edward Anthony

Anthony’s hand-crayon’ed letter (mentioned to the right)!

This post was written by intern Sarah Davis.

Placed between pages of paper-clipped inter-office memos and folders of manuscripts in the Edward Anthony collection at the John Bale Book Company is a unique letter. At the top of the page is the official letterhead of the Crowell Publishing Company’s Executive Offices, but what the letter contains is far from company business. Instead, it is a whimsical note sent from Anthony to his wife and son. Arguably the most remarkable part of this letter is a stick figure self-portrait drawn by Anthony in crayon, as well as the rather silly sign-off, a single word promising, “Luvankisses.”

The childlike nature found in this letter to his family is just one facet of who Edward Anthony was. Born in 1895 to a Hungarian father and Austrian mother, Anthony spent his childhood helping in his father’s pleating business, avoiding trouble with a rival group of boys from Park Avenue, and, of course, reading (This is Where I Came In 51). At the age of 32, he worked on the Herbert Hoover campaign, and it was there where he met his future wife, Esther Howard (238). The two were married in 1928, and were together until his death in 1971 (“Edward Anthony”). These are the facts of Anthony’s life, but there is more to this man than simple truths.

Having had the opportunity to sift through some of Anthony’s personal effects is truly a marvelous, eye-opening experience. It is nearly impossible for an observer to not find themselves wishing they had the chance to meet Edward Anthony for a cup of coffee and a good chat, perhaps in the comfortable café of the John Bale Book Company. Unfortunately, here in 2014, we have to make do with getting our pleasure and joy from the letters and limericks he left behind. While not nearly as satisfying, one would imagine, as speaking directly to the man himself, the materials found in the collection provide fascinating insight into the life of Edward Anthony.

From his first job as a business-school course salesman in high school, to his retirement from Crowell Publishing in the late 1950s, Anthony left behind not only an impressive body of work, but a trail of letters and postcards revealing a warm, light-hearted man who sat behind the letterheads and official memos. Indeed, we have several typed manuscripts, office memos, business letters, and various newspaper clippings, but none of these items speaks enough of Anthony’s simple passion for life and his ability to view the world with an almost child-like sense of wonder and enjoyment. Even the pages of his autobiography, written in his own words, offer mere glimpses into his complex and fascinating inner life. Instead, it is in his personal letters, drawings, and postcards, that we find some of his most endearing and light-hearted qualities shining brightly through.

This is Anthony’s whimsical dedication from his book, “Oddity Land”.

Evidently the most important relationship in Anthony’s life was the one he shared with his wife and son, Richard “Dick” Anthony, born in 1931 (“Edward Anthony”). In his autobiography, he speaks of meeting Esther during his time in the Hoover Campaign, where she was employed as the secretary to the publicity director. Their early relationship is described as one of light-hearted teasing and friendly banter. Their marriage was carried out at a city hall in Brooklyn, with no traditional announcement made by the happy couple (This is Where I Came in 247). However, among the books and papers in the collection is a stack of folded cardstock, apparently several copies of scripts for a brief opera titled “The Traitor.” The “opera” progresses as a gang of “Crusty Bachelors” accuse Ed Anthony of being a traitor to the cause, a “Bachelor Turned Benedict Arnold.” It can be presumed that this “opera” is, in fact, a marriage announcement, sent out after the couple had tied the knot. The fact that he chose to announce his marriage through the apparent distribution of a humorous mock-opera clearly shows that eccentric thinking was the norm for Edward Anthony. A traditional announcement by newspaper or postcard would not suffice for this out-of-the-box thinker.

From the items in the collection, one can easily infer that Edward Anthony was a man who cherished his wife and son. Not only is his autobiography dedicated “To Esther and Dick,” but the children’s book Oddity Land is prefaced by an interesting dedication entitled “Fixing the Blame:”

I know an Esther,
An eager suggester,
Who gave me a push and said, “Go be a jester” (5)

This unique devotion to his family can best be summed up in the note sent to Esther and Dick on company letterhead. In it, Anthony lovingly refers to Esther as “Sweetie pieface” and Dick as “Popeye.” As a researcher and archivist who has spent several weeks with the items in this collection, it is this simple, imaginative note that is my favorite piece; particularly because it emblemizes the child-like sensibility with which Anthony regarded his world, and displays his commitment to his family. That the letter is sent on a company letterhead speaks volumes about Anthony’s heart—he may be away at work, but still his wife and son are never far from his thoughts.

Anthony’s compassion and commitment were by no means limited to his wife and son. His social circle extended far beyond his immediate family to include creative people from all walks of life, including poet Ogden Nash and President Herbert Hoover, who remained in contact with Anthony and his wife long after they’d worked on his campaign in 1927. Many of his relationships were born out of purely professional contacts, but the letters and other pieces of correspondence left behind indicate that what often began as purely business soon grew to genuine friendship.

This is the letter written by Edward Anthony, showing the non-affect martinis have on him! Clearly, he was the life of the party!

A particularly interesting item found among the collection is a typed letter addressed to Abel Green. Green was the editor of Variety Magazine, and was clearly a close correspondent of Anthony’s. The letter begins with an apparently sincere toast to friendship, but eventually turns into a progressively more irritable tirade. In fact, the letter begins with “Dear Pal,” but ends with “To hel with ouy [sic].” The writer’s spelling and grammar gets worse as the letter progresses and the writer continually consumes martinis. The bland assurance that martinis “neverseeme to affec me in the slighgtest [sic]” is quickly proven false. Upon first glance, one cannot be entirely sure if the letter is written seriously or is meant to be taken as a joke, but judging by later correspondence from Green, the latter seems more plausible. In a letter dated August 20, 1971, Green speaks of how highly he valued his correspondence with Anthony: “Ed was not only a giant among editors and writers, but possessed a gigantic capacity for friendship. His warm personal notes always struck a particularly responsive chord.”

This warm, appreciative letter was sent to Esther Anthony shortly after her husband’s passing, and, in my opinion, seems to summarize what it was about Edward Anthony that seemed to draw numerous people into his circle. From his friendships with journalists and illustrators, from the streets of New York to his quiet home in New Milford, Connecticut, and between his love for his family and his passion for writing, Edward Anthony was a man of far-ranging tastes and genuine camaraderie. His passion for life is illustrated not only in his impressive body of professional work, but in the collection of letters and postcards left behind. His aura was undeniably a warm and welcoming one, and the sentiments expressed by those who knew him best only serve to support this picture.

Works Cited
Anthony, Edward. Oddity Land. Illus. Erik Blegvad. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1957.
Anthony, Edward. This is Where I Came In: The Impromptu Confessions of Edward Anthony. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1960.
“Edward Anthony (writer).” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 3 June 2013. Web. 1 Oct. 2014.

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