Friday, September 28, 2007

The Genuine Original

The Internet feeds my need for information. Like that robot on the movie Short Circuit, I need more input. Today while roaming around cyberspace seeking facts and anecdotes about the Gilded Age, I met Kate Carew.

It was a bittersweet meeting. Kate's career title is caricaturist. She has the enviable job of interviewing famous movers and shakers and drawing caricatures to run with her stories in the New York World. Well, that was her job back in the late 1890s and early 1900s. The bitter part of the meeting is that Kate died in the 1960s and I will never get to meet her. Her observant, energetic, skilled interviews will not include any new assignments. I wonder what she would have made of George Bush or Princess Diana or Yo Yo Ma. We'll never know. We'll never see her drawings that capture the attributes a person can not fake. She certainly had an eye and an ear for human nature. Her own caricature included here of 'Kate herself' tells us much about this feisty professional reporter.

But the Internet does include a few of her earlier interviews and that is sweet. I get to sit beside her as she interviews Wilbur and Orville Wright, Mark Twain, Sarah Bernhardt, Picasso....

Kate's true name was Mary Williams and she was born in 1869 in Oakland, Calif. She traveled the world, settled in New York for a time and returned to California to die in 1960. Along the way she wrote with a freedom and unaffected style that I can only wish for.

For example she wrote in one column:

Knowing nothing of politics and caring less, I had the proverbial luck of the beginner at cards.

The Governor of the State of New York waxed confidential with me at a time of great political excitement arising from his having apparently overthrown and usurped the power of the "Boss" of his party, and I treasure a souvenir of the occasion in the shape of a handsome ring sent to me with a letter of commendation by Mr. Pulitzer, the unseen but very-much-felt power behind his great newspaper.

She's a more genteel Dorothy Parker, a fresh voice for a transitional time when Americans were shedding their awe of Europe and finding their own technology. A time when the gap between the wealthy and the poor was widening at an alarming rate. A time when women were fighting for their right to vote and getting rid of corsets and letting machines do the housework and searching for ways to limit family size. And Carew was there to find the humanity in each person she interviewed.


Rick Bylina said...

What a great find. It stirs a story in me. Check back in three years. ;-) I'm slow.


Ruth D~ said...

Interesting, Dawn.

christine81 said...

I grew up next to Kate Carew--I'm her granddaughter. It's so nice to know that she is being appreciated anew. Thanks for what you wrote. Christine Chambers