Harry Grew Crosby was born in Boston's Back Bay June 4, 1898, the son of one of the richest banking families in an area full of rich banking families. Tycoon J.P. Morgan was his "Uncle Jack", and it was taken for granted that Harry would follow in the footsteps of his successful ancestors and spend his days enlarging the Crosby millions. Unfortunately, the first World War intervened, and Harry returned a changed man. He fell in love with Polly Peabody, a wealthy woman in her own right; unfortunately, she was already married. Her divorce, and subsequent trans-continental affair and remarriage to Harry in 1922 scandalized Boston society, but the worst was yet to come. Crosby re-named Polly Caresse, because he thought that Polly was too prim and puritanical a name for his new bride. She was to keep that name until her death in 1970.
Harry was not only a gambler, a womanizer, a drinker and smoker-he was also an incurable spendthrift and he spent a good part of his adult life making lists of ways to improve himself morally. None worked, however; later in life he seemed to resign himself to his dissolute lifestyle. He once sent a telegram to Boston: PLEASE SELL 10,000 WORTH OF STOCK. WE HAVE DECIDED TO LEAD A MAD AND EXTRAVAGANT LIFE. He would organize carriage races in the Paris streets and throw beer-filled balloons from high windows at passers-by.
After a brief stint at his uncle's bank in Paris, he decided to become a writer; needless to say, his career plan was received cooly by his family. In 1928, he inherited Walter Berry's collection of over 8,000 books, and proceeded to devour them. Once he had read a book, he saw no purpose in keeping it, so every morning he would leave with a satchel full of rare books, which he would give to waiters, cabbies, sometimes even sneaking them into antiquitarian bookshops with ridiculously low prices pencilled into them. In 1927, Harry and Caresse founded Black Sun Press, which was to produce beautiful and now much-sought-after editions of Hart Crane, Kay Boyle, James Joyce, Rene Crevel and T.S. Elliot, to name but a few. Needless to say, Black Sun also published a number of Harry and Caresse's works...
Harry's seductive abilities were legendary in Paris, and he kept what amounted to a harem of beautiful and doting young women. Although Caresse may have had reservations, she knew better than to try to restrict Harry' freedom. Besides, she wasn't above a few flings herself...
Harry was obsessed with the sun-his poetry and diaries abound with references to it-quatrains, hymns, sonnets, all dedicated to the solar disk. To him it was a symbol of perfection, freedom, heat, enthusiasm, and destruction. He seems to have focussed more and more on the latter as time went on, but throughout his writing are references to dissolution and suicide. He seems to have made suicide pacts with nearly every woman he was involved with. He was to keep his word.
On December 10, 1929, he was found in bed with a neat little .25 caliber hole in his right temple next to a young woman with a matching hole in her left. Harry was still clutching the pistol in one hand, the girl in the other. Even the case-hardened detective noted, "what a beautiful man". And thus ended the life of a passionate, obsessive and vain man.
What I find fascinating about Harry is his boundless energy, his disdain for bourgois morality, his epicurian taste. He was a pioneer in many ways; compare his Assassin with the writings of The Futurists. He had the obsessive and violent nature of an ascetic such as Mishima, but a thoroughly decadent lifestyle which few have matched in our century. And he never gave a damn about what people thought. He left us with some beautiful quotes:
"When I like people immensely, I never tell their names to anyone. It is like murdering a part of them."
"You only upset yourself with your sins, but you upset other people by your confessions"
"My wealth I measure by the things I do without"
"It is disheartening to consider the ugly bodies that have washed in one's bathtub, to imagine the people who have been born, who have made love, or have died in one's bed..."
"Why in hell won't they transact business with gold coins instead of with those filthy germ-ridden paper bills?"
SONNETS FOR CARESSE, Black Sun Press, 1925
RED SKELETONS, Black Sun Press, 1927
SIX POEMS, Black Sun Press, 1928
CHARIOT OF THE SUN, Black Sun Press, 1928
TRANSIT OF VENUS, Black Sun Press, 1928
MAD QUEEN, Black Sun Press, 1929
SLEEPING TOGETHER, Black Sun Press, 1929
TORCHBEARER, Black Sun Press, 1929
SHADOWS OF THE SUN (Diaries), Black Sun Press, 1930 (reprinted by Black Sparrow Press)
Black Sun, by Geoffrey Wolff, Random House, 1976- The only comprehensive biography of Harry. Although a bit condescending at times and Wolff seems to have completely missed the point, it is a very informative and entertaining read.
The Passionate Years, by Caresse Crosby, Southern Illinois University Press, 1968-Her lack of accuracy regarding dates borders on the surreal, but the anecdotes are priceless.
LINKS TO OTHER SITES OF INTEREST
HARRY CROSBY Photos of Harry Crosby from the Caresse Crosby Papers at the University of Southern Illinois at Carbondale.
BLACK SUN PRESS Interesting page with brief Black Sun Press history and photos relating to the Black Sun Press.
PHOTOGRAPHS Photos from the Caresse Crosby Papers, including photos of Black Sun authors and allies.
CARESSE CROSBY PAPERS Homepage for the Caresse Crosby Papers.
Back to Harry's Homepage
Back to Banger's Place