Sunday, December 21, 2014

Elizabeth Bishop's Private Love: Thomas Edwards Wanning

Elizabeth Bishop’s Private Love: Thomas Edwards Wanning ©
by Milton Trexler

Behind this exchange lurks a mysterious but emotionally momentous day that Bishop and Lowell spent together in Stonington, Maine, in the summer of 1948. Lowell had arrived in Stonington with Dawson; Bishop came with Tom Wanning, whose relationship to Bishop remains unclear. But after a few days, Dawson left with Wanning, leaving Lowell and Bishop alone. They talked, they went swimming: Lowell decided he wanted to marry Bishop. Nine years later, in 1957, after a manic breakdown reawakened this fantasy, Lowell explained his embarrassing behavior by reaching back to "that long swimming and sunning Stonington day after Carley's removal by Tommy"      
Between Reticence and Revelation: Bishop's and Lowell's Letters by James Longenbach, November 24, 2008, The Nation
NEW YORK TIMES, published December 23, 2001 Paid Notice: Deaths WANNING, THOMAS EDWARDS
                  WANNING - Thomas Edwards. Died December 20, 2001, at Lenox Hill Hospital. Born February 18, 1918, in Shelton, CT. Reader and denizen of the old Cedar Bar. Mourned by his five nieces and nephews, his faithful friend Milton Trexler and his longtime caregiver Gloria Nelson. Services Sunday, Dec. 23, 2 PM, at Frank E. Campbell, 1076 Madison Ave. at 81 St.

In 1961, my bed was located at the Hotel Albert in Greenwich Village at a cost of $18.25 per week, while my living room was Dillon’s Bar at the corner of University Place and Eleventh, one of the haunts of Franz Kline and Bill De Kooning.

One night, as my funds dwindled and my need for intoxication increased, I changed living rooms and gave up the pricey one-dollar Utica Club beer and wandered uptown to a bright neon-lighted, end-of-the-line-bar called Smith’s at Thirteenth and University Place.   Edging up to the bar, however, a Falstaffian ne’er-do-well, a Mr. Coby Gillman, in a dilapidated three-piece suit verbally confronted me.  His companion, who had no flare for the dramatic, was a Mr. Thomas Edwards Wanning.  Both, as I later found out, could be found nightly at Smith’s, one of the cheapest bars in town!
Coby drank boilermakers (A short beer was 15 cents; a shot of Three Feathers Reserve Whisky, 35 cents.) as he pontificated on life, describing himself as “a slacker from WW I and a Eugene V. Debbs’ Socialist,” while the pensive Tommy drank “simple beers.”  Although Tommy drank slowly and heavily all of his life, I never saw him unable to walk or appear deranged. He could “hold his liquor.”  Coby, on the other hand, had been 86ed from both Cedar Tavern and Dillon’s.  And with my exit that evening, Coby concluded that I was  “a younger fucker who doesn’t comprehend the consequences of life.”

The next evening after closing out Dillon’s at 4 a.m. and walking down University Place for some cooked eggs on Eighth Street, a final stop for habitué drinkers, I spotted an intoxicated Coby, cane in hand, hanging on with one hand to the iron fence railing at Ninth and University.

“What’s wrong?”  I said as I arrived at his side.

“My good man, I‘ve lost my keys. I can’t even get in my building!” 

“Well, let’s just go give it a try,” as I grabbed his arm.

Down University Place and turning east on Eighth Street, we, stumbling two, finally arrived at Coby’s abode on Lafayette, across the street from the now Public Theatre. With a worried look on his face, Coby in great trepidation rang and rang his super’s bell whimpering, “He’ll kill me!”  Finally, a thin angry Puerto Rican man wearing a diaphanous pink bathrobe opened the door muttering,  “You’ll come to no good end!”  This wasn’t the first time that Coby endured his rage, but like young Prince Hal I stood Coby’s ground, giving both physical and spiritual support, and proceeded to try to push him up the steps behind his indignant super. But when we arrived at his door on the second floor, the super didn’t need his set of keys, for Coby’s were dangling from the lock!  Cursing away in Spanish, the super stormed down the steps, while I followed Coby into his mammoth room with tables full of books, a kind of indoor flea market, with a single bed. As he lowered himself into his imprinted sack, fully clothed, I said my good byes and fled down the steps smiling about the night’s adventure. 

The next evening I left Dillon’s early and encountered the pair standing and sitting at their reserved spot at the front end of the bar.  “The good Samaritan has arrived!” broached Coby. And that was the start of my friendship of six years with Coby and my 40 years of close friendship with Tommy.

Since the antics of Coby Gilman has been immortalized in The Diaries of Dawn Powell 1931-1965, Tommy, who had no muse, has remained a mystery and thus my mandate is to illuminate his personality through personal anecdotes as well as reveal the nature of his relationship or seeming love affair with Elizabeth Bishop, including the only surviving unpublished letter.
Tommy, the youngest of three brothers, inherited from his mother a substantial amount of money.  At Yale, some of his fellow teasing classmates, who nicknamed him “Wampus,” knew this and pestered him for loans, leaving him in a quandary about money and friendships. 

Beautiful Mary Grande (Garrison), whom I first saw swing through the door at Dillon’s, arm-and-arm with Kline and De Kooning, ran a kind of barroom salon. She was as Dawn Powell said, “The hole in our doughnut.” After graduating from Smith, she had a brief marriage to Newton Arvin, who in 1950 wrote a critical biography of Herman Melville, which Dawn referred to as, “The whale on the couch or Herman was a homo.”  Mary, who seemed to know everyone and everything about everybody, told me that Tommy had the highest IQ of his Yale freshman class; nevertheless, his academic performance was nil.  As he regrettably told me, he missed classes and spent most of his time in the library reading whatever. Although he had total recall of all sorts of odd things, such as scores of Connecticut folk songs, his problem stemmed from his older brother, Andrews, who was the top student at both Rumsey Hall and Choate and who placed academically second to Sir John Templeton at Yale. If perchance one saw the two in person, one would never have known that the two were brothers.  Andrews, an English professor at Bard, who owned hand-tailored suits from Fleet Street in London, would have been cast as the handsome “brilliant professor,” while Tommy appeared during the ‘60s more down and out and certainly romantically sullen. But despite his academic non-achievements, Elizabeth referred to Tommy in her letters as “really one of the smartest people I know.”

Many years later after our relationship was established, Tommy would taxi to our Brooklyn Heights apartment for dinner. Not only did he enjoy a home-cooked meal, but also loved my 1930s sentimental, love-lost music, all of which he enjoyed singing. Two psychologically significant favorites were “Mean to Me” sung by Ruth Etting and another was “Dinner For One, Please James” by Al Bowley.  Another star singer was Edith Piaf, whom he once saw in concert, and, of course, Billy Holiday.

Unlike his brother, Tommy did not attend art openings or plays or museums.  He was not a culture-vulture, yet he was completely well informed about art because of his prodigious magazine, book, and newspaper readings.  Only the printed page mattered to him. Dreadful prints in bad frames adorned his cell-like room at the Fifth Avenue Hotel, and its pedestrian nature never offended him.  He, like Coby, lived with books in his closet, under his bed, and on top of his hotel furniture. A special area of interest was Roman history, which he rarely talked about. 

While at Yale, Tommy and a few others traveled to NYC on weekends and revived interest in Sidney Bechet, a jazz saxophonist. He even hung out with Sidney at after-hour bars and once passed out on his sofa in Harlem: “Tommy, wake-up. You’ve got to get out of here!” Another time as both of them knocked down drinks at five a.m. in a seedy after-hours bar, Tommy whispered, “Sidney, I’m scared.” 
Whereupon Sidney pulled out a long knife and said, “Don’t you worry about a thing”!  

His college roommate, a man named Vickers whose father was a diplomat from South America, probably altered the geographical direction of his life.  Vickers, in love, presented his girl friend with an engagement ring, but alas was rejected.  Angry and embarrassed, Vickers convinced Tommy, who was close to or possibly flunking out of Yale, to leave the ivy tower, sometime around 1937, and head for Mexico whereupon Vickers met Rosa, a waitress, who gladly accepted his engagement ring after a short courtship.  Forty years later, while on a trip, and at the prompting of Tommy, I looked up Vickers in Salinas, California. He was still married to Rosa. Tommy registered surprise at this news. Vickers also told me he once got into a fistfight with Tommy. He also asked me if he turned out to be a writer. Apparently, he once wrote a marvelous short story while at Choate.

With Vickers in love with Rosa, Tommy next headed to Key West, Florida, to visit his exotic and beautiful Aunt Esther Andrews.  Aunt Esther, an American journalist, helped introduce D. H. Lawrence to America.  She may have had an affair with him, although the known letters do not betray anything, but his wife, Frieda, was certainly jealous of this certified young beauty, who attached herself to her husband. And it was through Aunt Esther’s literary connections that Tommy met Elizabeth Bishop and Pauline Hemmingway.  

The best representative Key West story that reflected Tommy’s bumbler personality revolved around a cocktail party held at Ernest Hemmingway’s house where he was a frequent guest. Pauline adored him; it must have been a mother-son relationship for both of them. Well, at one of Pauline’s cocktail hours, prior to the arrival of guests, she asked Tommy to mix up the punch with rum.  But later, during that long hour, a guest came up to Pauline and said, “I’ve had three glasses and I don’t feel a thing!”

“Yes, neither, do I,” replied Pauline! Finding Tommy, she said,” What bottle did you use to make the punch?”

“The one on the shelf on the right.” 

“Tommy, you put in the Holy Water!”    

Pauline also would chauffer him around town, but he feared for his safety since she continually talked and looked at him while cruising down the road. And that was it!  Tommy was a good listener and talkers loved to be around him. In fact everyone he knew talked to excess.  Pauline must have been no exception. He also told me that at the dinner table, Pauline talked, Ernest didn’t, even though it was clear that Ernest was always in charge.                                                                                                                                    

As a young man Tommy told me stories about how he used to be quite dapper and even owned one of the first Jaguar sports cars in this country. In Elizabeth’s December 5, 1948, letter to Robert Lowell she wrote:
Tom is considering buying an English car, a Jaguar—he says it’s “moss green,” has four forward speeds, and what particularly gets him, I think, is a very elaborate tool-chest, like a jewel box, with tools embedded in little wells of green cloth.  The headlights “cost ninety dollars to replace”—but as Pauline said, “But why replace them Tom?” I sort of hope he doesn’t get it. I know I’d be scared to death to drive in it.

Tommy told me that one of his deficiencies in life was that he never had tools as a young boy.  And thus one Christmas, he decided to buy my six-year-old son, Carl, an expensive floor-to-ceiling tool chest from FAO Schwartz, which my then wife refused to take into our apartment.  I conveyed her refusal to Tommy, and instead he gave Carl a small four-dollar plastic tool set he bought on Eighth Street.

Back in the 80s I helped him shop in his old haunt, J Press.  But as he got older, he seemed to defy convention. For example, he would not take baths, nor would he use deodorant. And as a result, many women found him uncouth, especially if you invited him, as I did, to the country.  And on several occasions because of my wife, I had to verbally force him to take a bath!  And sometimes his other bad habits caused irritation between us, especially when I caught him peeing out of the second floor window of my provincial chateau leaving spots over the newly painted Victorian house.

In a June 18, 1956, letter from Robert Lowell to Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell wrote:

I saw Andrews Wanning (Tommy’s brother, an English Professor) at Bard last weekend where I read a paper on art and bad character. Apparently Andrew’s wife (who banned him from sleeping in their Blue Hill summer home) is famous for dreading Tom, a sort of portent of what her husband might become if his art for enjoying life were to develop further. Ah me, how grateful I still am to Tom for driving Carley Dawson homeward from Stonington!

Tommy also did not believe in shaving cream, “just not necessary,” and as a result, his face was usually cut up. One might blame this on the fact that he was wall-eyed, but it was more of a childish stubbornness. It was Warren Miller, a New Yorker cartoonist and Wanning friend, who referred to Tommy as “the last of the gentleman curmudgeons!

As to the dynamics of our lasting friendship, Tommy started off as a father figure, but his ability to listen and absorb and advise held our long relationship together.  Of course, drinking was our common bond and without the hooch, time with Tommy would have been subdued. My next-door neighbor in the country called him “the librarian” because he sat around all day reading, waiting for the evening hour. Before going to a cocktail party in the company of strangers, he needed to have a drink or two just to get up the nerve to meet people, with one his worst fears being someone would ask him his occupation. In jest he sometimes said he worked for the CIA or as “a writer” who just completed the definitive biography of President Franklin Pierce, a good conversation changer.   

While I rebelled against religion, Tommy was certainly not a believer.  I did ask him once about God and he replied in jest, “I’ve always tried to hide from him.” A left-winger during the 30s and a loyal Democrat for the rest of his life, he also hid from any public participation, never voting, nor ever serving on any jury.  Refusing to talk to literary critics, he left the world without an interview about Elisabeth Bishop or Dawn Powell, who was another friend.

After he fell in his Fifth Avenue Hotel room and suffered on the floor for two days, he decided to go to a nursing home, near me, for the remainder of his life. And upon my arrival every week, I don’t know if he wanted to see me more than the bottle of rum, which came under my arm.  I guess we came as a package. Dawn Powell did a cartoon, now lost, of a big whiskey bottle holding hands with a small man standing at an entrance door to a Mary Grand party.  The caption read:

Ah, welcome Mr. Bottle. But why did you have to bring that Wanning along!

Yes, one could always count on Tommy bringing a bottle to a party or to dinner. Never anything for the hostess, and it was always the least expensive bourbon whiskey he could find, such as Heaven Hill, and it was for him.   Yet after two invitations for dinner at our place, he in turn would treat my wife and me to a fine dinner at an expensive restaurant.  

Tommy also splurged on dinner with Elizabeth. In 1948, they both attended the famous party for the Sitwells at the Gotham Book Mart in New York. All kinds of writers were there, including Tennessee Williams, William Carlos Williams, Delmore Swartz and Robert Lowell. Elizabeth records one of these dining adventures in “Efforts on Affection: A Memoir on Marianne Moore” published in her The 

Collected Prose:
The party was given by Life magazine and was rather awful. The photographers behaved as photographers do: strewing wires under our feet, calling to each other over our heads, and generally pushing us around. It took some time to separate the poets, who were the subjects of the picture, from the non-poets, and this was done in a way that made me think of livestock being herded into cattle cars. Non-poets and some real poets felt insulted: then the photographer announced that Miss Moore’s hat was “too big.” She refused to remove it. Auden was one of the few who seemed to be enjoying himself. He got into the picture by climbing on a ladder, where he sat making loud, cheerful comments over our heads. Finally the picture was taken with a sort of semicircular swoop of the camera. Marianne consented to let a friend and me take her to dinner and afterwards back to Brooklyn in a cab. I had on a small velvet cap and Marianne said, “I wish I had worn a minimal hat like yours.”  The taxi fare to Brooklyn at that time was something over five dollars, not counting the tip. That evening my friend was paying for dinner and the cab. Between comments on the Sitwell party, Marianne exclaimed at intervals, “ Mr. W-------, this is highway robbery!”

Tommy told me about a conversational exchange at that dinner regarding MM.  She wanted to major in English at Bryn Mawr College in 1905, but her written essay was rejected by the English Department!  And thus she had to major in biology, which impacted her poetry.

As to the famous Stonington, Maine, weekend, quoted at the beginning of this essay, Tommy said very little except that there was drinking and it was stormy. As to Robert Lowell's supposed marriage proposal to Elizabeth, she told Tommy, “I never knew about it!”

A kind of thoughtless man, at times, is best illustrated by the invitation extended to Tommy by Elizabeth to a poetry award or function at the Guggenheim Museum.  “Tommy, I am going to read “Little Exercise,” a poem I’ve dedicated to you.”  “Sure, and I’ll take you out later to dinner,” was his reply.  “Now Tommy, of course, you will have to rent a tuxedo.”  Naturally, he refused and then wondered why she was somewhat cool towards him at dinner that evening.

Despite his bad manners, Elizabeth and Tommy saw, supped, and drank a lot with each other during those early days in Key West and New York, but he told me that when together, which was often, there was an absence of despair!  I can also attest that Tommy, after a couple of drinks, was mostly social and witty and a merry drinker. At parties he would even dance the black bottom, a humorous sight! Alone and sober, however, he was different.

An Army friend of mine, Balfour Cassen, whose Berkeley PhD thesis was on Huizenga’s Waning of the Middle Ages and who was a follower of Kierkegaard, once asked Tommy over drinks at Smith’s about the name of the novelist who influenced him the most, “Kafka?”  “No,” replied Tommy, “Captain Billy’s Wizz Bang!”  We laughed about his answer for weeks.

During the 50s, Tommy kept a VW in a New York garage. Well, one day he decided to take his “Bug” on the road, but could not find his garage—it had been demolished!  Finally, after a month, he located his car.  Apparently, the garage mailed him letters, but they remained unopened or lost, just like Elizabeth’s letters.  This worldly disregard also extended to his New York checking account. Checks often bounced since he would forget to deposit Connecticut checks into his local account. The credit card, however, was a godsend.

How did he eventually get money in the city? Bars replaced banks. Every day he went to the Cedar Tavern—the new one—and ordered lunch plus two martinis on the rocks.  He always wrote a check for double or triple the amount and that is how he kept money in his pocket. Years later, when he had trouble walking and fearful of going out, I became his personal banker depositing Connecticut drawn checks, giving him cash for newspapers and magazines and buying and bringing him liquor. I felt like Hickey, in The Iceman Cometh.

Although New England frugal, he treated himself to dinner at a medium-priced restaurant before going on to an evening of reading and drinking.  But he did rent a house in Fair Harbor on Fire Island during the month of July. But his two New York friends were only invited for one weekend at a time. Of course, your wife had to do the shopping and cooking and cleaning.  He chose Fair Harbor because of his close friendship with Pete and Madeline Martin who owned a house there.  

Years back Pete along with Lawrence Ferlinghette was co-founder of City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco. While Tommy had an upper-class background, Pete, a kind of barroom intellectual, on the other hand, had left wing, upper-class credentials. His father was Carlo Tresca, an Italian anarchist, and his mother was Bina Flynn, sister to Elizabeth Girly Flynn, former head of the American Communist Party. Carlo lived with Elizabeth, but somehow had an affair with her sister, Bina. In 1943 Carlo was assassinated on Fifth Avenue and Fifteenth Street and most reports blamed the fascists. However, Pete told me his father, who he usually only saw in bars, had a contract on him on account of having an affair with a married woman.

Now Madeline’s maiden name was Doubleday, and both she and Pete were heavy drinkers and like Tommy quite eccentric. But Madeline had an upper-class sense of decorum. Tommy, on the other hand, hated wine before dinner and saw no need for buying cheese and crackers for the cocktail hour. And cheap whiskey was the only liquid refreshment on the table. In addition, he never cleaned up and loved to store unwrapped onions and cans of sardines in his refrigerator.  This was just unbearable for Madeline. Thus she refused to go to his rental, which meant more drinking at her place. And yes, she told me, Tommy was a pest, but Pete loved him.  Overall, however, Madeline still socialized with Tommy and must have loved him on some level. And few owners, except for kind-hearted Don Westlake, the mystery writer, ever returned Tommy’s security deposit. For after he departed a rental, the house was a disaster!

In New York, Tommy created a different kind of problem. As a silent partner in Pete and Madeline’s New Yorker Bookstore, located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, he now felt he was a kind of businessman who should check up on his investments, even though he only put in a thousand dollars. But while Pete and Madeline lost money from this bookstore venture, Tommy did profit. Now he could just pull free books from the shelf and take them back to his apartment.  A clever man for saving money, he had few, if any, tips on making money. However, once while gazing out of the window at the old Cedar Tavern, he noticed that young people were always wearing blue jeans. And for a man of inaction, it must have been quite a surprise when he called his bankers and told them to buy Levi Strauss. His bankers, by the way, always visited him in New York around tax time. That way they got a free meal on the bank and were assured of his signature on his tax return.

Years later, he had a stroke at the new Cedar Tavern and was taken to St. Vincent’s Hospital for intensive care. Without health insurance plus his ruffled appearance, the hospital considered him indigent, and after intensive care put him in a room with deadbeats. At his bedside he told me, “The fellow next store is handcuffed to the bed. What do I say I do?”  Fortunately, his brother arrived and clarified the situation. He was moved.  But after writing a check for $80,000, he kept telling me
on the cab ride home that he was financially finished!  Which, of course, was not true.  After that he coughed up a monthly fee for a Medicare policy. 

After he lost all of his teeth, I tried to get him hooked up with a dentist. He went once, but never went back. Was it fear or the cost that kept him from getting false teeth? After his death everyone was shocked to know his worth, not bad for someone who never worked a day in his life. Yet again, he never considered himself to be wealthy and never had a wealthy life style, for he lived in a small rent-controlled apartment at the Fifth Avenue Hotel with peeling paint.  His inheritance came from H. F. Wanning (1846-1935), his grandfather, and his father F. D. Wanning, who both owned the Birmingham Iron Foundry in Derby, CT.  Thus he felt he did not deserve the money nor did it really belong to him. An irrational form of thinking that controlled his life.  He once told me that a man named Firestone bought out his father, and “if only he had taken stock instead of cash, then I’d be rich.” *

Elizabeth tricked TW into seeing Doctor Anny Baumann by telling him that she couldn’t keep an appointment. “Why don’t you take my place?”  He did. I never met Doctor Bauman, but after she died he wound up with a left-wing doctor with a ponytail. The doctor never had an office in one spot for very long, so we had to take taxis to different out-of-the-way locations.   Because of Tommy’s demeanor, the doctor thought Tommy was indigent and never charged him for any extras.

Regarding a sexual relationship with Elizabeth, Brett C. Millier in her book suggested that Tommy was “possibly her lover.”  I questioned him three times about whether or not he ever bedded Elizabeth. The answer was always “No” and I believed him.  But he did add that looking back on his close relationship with Elizabeth, that she might very well have been sexually interested in him.  He, on the other hand, was sexually attracted to, of all people, Elizabeth’s girlfriend, Margie Stevens! Certainly he offered financial security for Elizabeth and both enjoyed each other’s company. Lew Louderback, a writer and the other invited Fair Harbor old friend, believes that the reason that women liked to hang out with Tommy was because he was a safe date!

But TW, I believe, was too frightened of domination as well a divorce that could alter his financial situation. Eve Lowery, a sexy card-carrying Communist, NYC social worker, and close friend, used to try to tell Tommy what to do and he hated it.  He did have an extended affair with Ellen Marsh, a writer who wrote Unarmed in Paradise, a title that originated with Tommy who took it from a James Thurber quote: “If you’re going to go unarmed in Paradise, you had better be certain that it’s Paradise!”  Tommy with a bottle in tow took me with him once to meet her; however, he warned me that she was a fall-down drunk.  We drank and she drank and sure enough she fell down on the floor.  Ellen had a son from a fly-by-night Spanish sailor and TW helped raise him and pay for private school expenses.  TW
said he even cooked for him, yet I’m sure that his cooking came out of a deli. So here was Ellen living off of welfare payments with her multi-millionaire boyfriend! **

As far as I know, Elizabeth gave TW two gifts:  two signed Inuit prints from a trip to Canada, which he reluctantly gave to me, and the second, which I saw, was a life jacket from the Queen Elizabeth. *** However, the life jacket mysteriously disappeared from his closet.  With Tommy’s move to a residential home, I took Elizabeth’s books, a few of which I had bought for him, and carted them to my country place in Pennsylvania. Years later, while opening one of the books, a letter appeared, written to Tommy and signed “Lots of love, and best wishes, Elizabeth.”

The letter is undated, but based on the Seattle reference to spring term, the date would be February 6, 1966. It was also around that time that I forced him to move from the Earle Hotel, off Washington Square Park, (Robbers were stealing his few possessions.) to a small single room at the Fifth Avenue Hotel. Incidentally, Loren MacIver, a painter, referenced in the letter was the first woman represented in   MoMA’s permanent collection. Elizabeth must have sent him many letters, but none  of these survived nor were seen by me. He did share with me a risqué postcard from her with a very funny message, but that also was lost.

While teaching at Harvard, Elizabeth begged him to visit her and stay awhile, but of course he never did. And as indicated in this letter, she would have been very happy traveling with him. He once told me that when she became famous, he shied away. This, of course, had to do with Tommy, himself, wasting his life, rather than with Elizabeth, who loved him despite all of his foibles.  He was just embarrassed about being rich and unsuccessful. Dressing up in a tuxedo and having Elizabeth read her dedicated poem to him would have been too much for his emotional state.  Tommy also told me that Elizabeth told him that her mother, who was institutionalized in 1916 in a mental hospital, committed suicide in the asylum in 1934.  Thus the suicide of Lota de Macedo Soares, her partner in Brazil, was a sad reminder of her mother’s despairing end.

I once asked Tommy about his earliest childhood memory, and it was doing ”Ka Ka in his pants.” As Freud would have possibly suggested, he spent his life holding back.
Elizabeth loved him and loved his company, but in later years he could never emotionally reciprocate or call or even write letters to her.  She was the one who called, wrote, and stayed in touch. After she died, however, he felt guilty over how he treated her and did not even want to read or pay for books about her—I did that. He was always reluctant to discuss her, let alone allow, as mentioned, any formal interview about her. I do know that he took her out to dinner on May 15, 1969, because she signed and dated a copy of “Elizabeth Bishop/The Complete Poems” for me.

When he was confined to the Fifth Avenue Hotel and had walking problems, he had to employ a caretaker, Gloria, to attend to his needs. It was Pete Martin who said, “Now he seems happy. He just needed a woman to take care of him!”

* In 1927, Farrel Foundry merged with Birmingham Iron Foundry of Derby, CT. During the 1920s, Farrel-Birmingham began creating gears for use in U.S. Navy propulsion systems in Buffalo, NY. The factory was torn down in 2000 for Home Depot.

**Thomas, Ellen Marsh, mother? and son

For a quiet, non-physical man, Tommy did, surprisingly, have a temper and admitted that he once gave Ellen Marsh the back of his hand. Jackson Pollock used to visit his shrink on Mondays and then proceeds to drink at the Old Cedar, antagonizing fellow artists and whomever. "Whomever one evening happened to be Tommy, who finally bellowed, "You're just a real son-of-a-bitch!" After that truthful outburst, Jackson, thunderstruck by personal criticism, never again taunted Tommy.

*** Eskimo Pulling Seal” and “Eskimo and Beluga,” by Henri Napartuk, 1932-1985, woodblock, circa 1950, (9 ½ x 6 ½”). Elizabeth carried these prints back from Canada as a gift to TW. They were forgotten and never displayed until I found them in the back of his closet mixed in with a pile of books. On the back of the attached print is marked, “Original drawing by Henri Napartuk …Eskimo Artist of L’association Cooperative Eskimo-Indienne...Great-Whale River P. Q.    Canada.”                 


T.W and Milton outside of nursing home



  1. As Tommy's nephew and namesake, I very grateful for this wonderful portrait of, I will attest, a very peculiar man. My own favorite memories consist of his amazingly funny and pungent one liners. I can remember but one, when I asked him what he could say about my mother's father who died before I was born. He said, "Now there was a stuffed shirt if I ever met one." But he would say no more. Of his own father he would only say that he remembered sitting in a high chair and watching as father dropped a newspaper and uttered a curse, and then looked at him rather sheepishly for having lost his temper in front of an albeit very young witness. My other favorite memory was of his dancing the fox trot, which he did with great grace, and a very funny kind of self-deprecation. Very different from my father, Andrews, who danced as though he were leading a parade.

  2. This is indeed a delightful and illuminating portrait of the eccentric Tommy Wanning, a character of great brilliance known to every scholar of Elizabeth Bishop. Wanning was just the kind of friend Bishop loved to spend time with: well-read and witty. I've always been certain that Wanning and Bishop were never physically intimate, as he confirms to Trexler. Males wouldn't last long in Bishop's circle if they kept up any kind of sexual pressure. I should also add that Bishop's mother, alas, did not die a suicide, but lost her life due to an accumulation of other causes. However, Trexler is no doubt right to point out that Macedo Soares's death in 1967 would have carried a strong reminder of Bishop's earlier loss.