Friday, 20 May 2011

The Face on the Barroom Floor

He turned round quickly, still free of the Chief: it was only the uncontrollable face on the barroom floor, the rabbit, having a nervous convulsion, trembling all over, wrinkling it nose and scuffling disapprovingly. Under The Volcano

Chris Ackerley in his excellent notes to Under The Volcano explains Lowry's allusion in the final chapter of the novel as follows:

Combining Yeats' "uncontrollable mystery on the bestial floor" [see #146.2] with 'The Face on the Barroom Floor', by the popular vaudeville entertainer Taylor Holmes (1878-1959), recorded October 1923 with 'The Shooting of Dan McGrew' [Rust, 359]. This is mentioned in a letter from Conrad Aiken to Lowry [UBC 1-2]. Sugars notes [Aiken / Lowry Letters, 172] that Aiken uses this line in his poem ‘Exit’ in The Morning Song of Lord Zero [45], and that the original ballad was written by Hugh Antoine D’Arcy, published in the 7 Aug. 1887 issue of The New York Dispatch. She adds that D'Arcy's poem was appropriated for Prohibitionist ends. Lowry blended this information with Yeats' phrase, above.

Hugh Antoine d'Arcy

Hugh Antoine d'Arcy (March 5, 1843 – November 11, 1925) was a French-born poet and writer and a pioneer executive in the American motion picture industry.

Hugh Antoine d'Arcy is most famous for his 1887 poem, The Face upon the Floor. It is sometimes erroneously called The Face on the Barroom Floor, a sorrowful tale of a painter who takes to drink after his lover deserts him for the fairhaired lad in one of his portraits.

Keystone Studios adapted the poem for a 1914 film of the same name starring Charlie Chaplin, and John Ford used it for his film, The Face on the Bar-Room Floor (1923). It was put to song by country music stars Tex Ritter on his 1959 Blood on the Saddle album and Hank Snow on his 1968 Tales of the Yukon album. D'Arcy's byline appeared in a comic book in 1954 when the poem was illustrated by Jack Davis and Basil Wolverton for Mad #10 (April 1954),

D'Arcy married the daughter of Philadelphia film mogul Siegmund Lubin[1] and went to work as the publicity manager for his Lubin Studios. The studio used a story he had written for a 1912 film titled Madeline's Christmas.

Hugh Antoine d'Arcy died in 1925 in New York City.

The Face Upon The Floor (poem)

Written in ballad form, it tells the story of an artist ruined by love; having lost his beloved Madeline to another man, he has turned to drink. In the poem, he enters a bar and tells his story to the bartender and to the assembled crowd. He then offers to sketch Madeline's face on the floor of the bar but falls dead in the middle of his work.

Read full poem here

Taylor Holmes

Taylor Holmes (May 16, 1878 – September 30, 1959) was an actor who appeared in over 100 Broadway plays in his five-decade career. However, he is probably best remembered for his film roles, which he began in silent movies in 1917. By the 1940s, he was working more on film than on stage. Holmes played a number of memorable roles, including the gullible millionaire conned in Nightmare Alley (1947), a shifty lawyer in Kiss of Death (1947), the Bishop of Avranches, who fiercely denounces Pierre Cauchon in the Ingrid Bergman Joan of Arc (1948), Marilyn Monroe's potential father-in-law in the 1953 Gentlemen Prefer Blondes ("I don't want to marry your son for his money, I want to marry him for your money!"), and the voice of King Stefan in Disney's animated feature Sleeping Beauty (1959) - Holmes' last credited screen role. He also played Ebenezer Scrooge in what is largely considered a notoriously bad (and cheaply made) half-hour television version of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol, first telecast in 1949. He was married to actress Edna Phillips and was the father of actors Phillips Holmes, Madeleine Taylor Holmes, and Ralph Holmes. Wikipedia

Taylor Holmes The Face Upon The Floor

The Face on the Bar Room Floor, Central City, Colorado

The picture which opens this post comes from a bar in Central City. I have included it in the post because I fell upon it while researching the post. The story behind the picture reminded of the kind of story Malc seems to have collected from newspapers, periodicals, magazines and conversations to build into his work.

Unlike apparitions of the divine, there's no miraculous origin to the "Face on the Bar Room Floor" in the Teller House bar. It's just an oil painting on a floor.

Most folks believe that it was the inspiration for a once-famous 1877 poem of the same name, about a drunk who painted it to prove that he had once been a famous artist. It was "the face that drove me mad," according to the poem, an ex-girlfriend who had jilted the artist years earlier. The only thing interesting about the painting (and the poem) was that when the guy finished, he fell down on top of it and died -- probably from malnutrition after trying to find a parking space in this tourist nightmare of a town.

The truth is even less exciting. The drunk in the poem was someone that the writer met in New York City. If he ever did paint a floor there, it's long gone. This floor wasn't painted until 1936, by one or two locals (accounts vary) who knew of the poem and who painted the floor one night as a prank. But out-of-towners didn't know that, and Floor Face eventually became the most popular attraction in Central City. It still is.

Just bring a lot of patience -- and spare change -- if you want to see it.
Roadside America

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