Anything goes : the Jazz Age adventures of Neysa McMein and her extravagant circle of friends

by Brian Gallagher

Paper Book, 1987




New York : Times Books, c1987.

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LibraryThing member labwriter
Don't be put off by the 2-star rating for the book; the subject, Neysa McMein, is 5-star, and this is the only biog we have of her. Here's a note I made to myself when I was reading this book: "I'm plodding my way through the Brian Gallagher biography of Neysa McMein. Curse this guy, he doesn't have a clue how to write a biography. I'm on page 61 and I'm getting through it at the rate of about 10 pages a day. Reading this thing is excrutiating work."

Nowhere in the book do I get the sense that Gallagher had any sort of sympathetic understanding for this wonderful woman. Neysa McMein, b. 1888, was an American portrait artist. From 1923 to 1937 she created every one of McCall magazine's covers as well as doing art for many other magazines and advertising companies. She was a regular member of the Algonquin Round Table; after the friends would finish lunch at the Algonquin, they could usually be found in the afternoon and into the evening at Neysa's place, where she also had her studio. Neysa knew everyone who was anyone, and they all showed up at her place. Gershwin played Rhapsody in Blue in Neysa's studio before it premiered in public. She had a still for making gin so large in her bathroom that using the toilet was difficult.

Throughout the biog, Gallagher drops names but doesn't elaborate on who they are--Deems Taylor, Bill Daly, Margaret Harriman?; he writes of things happening but doesn't give a year; he'll say, "as Neysa later recalled" but doesn't give a source; "as George Abbott put it. . ." but doesn't give us any help about who he is or why he should be an authority. Gallagher is a New Yorker, and I get the sense from him that he feels like "everyone" should know these people, and if someone doesn't--too bad.

There's no sense in this biography of Neysa being a real personality. I don't know where he got his information (he simply lists libraries, not collections he used), but it evidently wasn't from primary documents like correspondence. There's no index for this biography. Gallagher is an academic--he ought to know better. If a person isn't going to do a decent job, then they shouldn't bother.

This thing was published in 1987. It's time for a new biography of this wonderful woman.
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