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St. Louis Literary and Art Scene Circa 1950

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  • Savo Radulovic (1911 - 1991)
    Born in Montenegro, Yugoslavia, Savo Radulovic settled in New York City where he became a painter in abstract style, graphic artist, and teacher. He was the owner and director of the Artists Little Gal...
  • Stanley Radulovic (1924 - 1973)
    Fulbright scholar. Moved to New York City. He was a painter and restauranteur. Then moved to St. Crois where he lived for six years and managed a club called the Rainbow Beach Club in Frederiksted. He ...
  • Richard Jay Rubenstein (1922 - 1958)
    Richard Jay Rubenstein, Beat poet and visionary editor of Beat journals Although he died at age 36, after a nervous breakdown, Richard Rubenstein left his mark in several ways -- as a poet, as a visi...
  • Jay Landesman (1919 - 2011)
    Landesman was born in St. Louis in 1919 the youngest of four children. His father was an immigrant artist from Berlin who came to St. Louis to paint the murals for the German pavilion at the 1904 World...
  • Frances Landesman (1927 - 2011)
    "Fran Landesman, a songwriter and poet who wrote the words to the jazz standard "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most," died July 23. She was 83. Landesman, whose other songs included "Ball...

“The Ballad Of The Sad Young Men,” lyrics by Fran Landesman

Sing a song of sad young men / Glasses full of rye / All the news is bad again so / Kiss your dreams goodbye

All the sad young men sitting in the bars / Knowing neon nights. missing all the stars / All the sad young men drifting through the town / Drinking up the night trying not to drown

All the sad young men singing in the cold / Trying to forget that they're growing old / All the sad young men choking on their worth / Trying to be brave, running from the truth /

Autumn turns the leaves to gold / Slowly dies the heart / Sad young men are growing old / And that's the cruelest part

All the sad young men seek a certain smile / Someone they can hold for a little while / Tired little girl does the best she can / Trying to be gay for her sad young man

While the grimy moon watches from above / All the sad young men play of making love / Misbegotten moon shine for sad young men / Let your gentle light guide them home tonight

All the sad young men

Source: “The Nervous Set” cast album, Columbia Records, 1959

The impetus for this project was the deaths of Fran and Jay Landesman in London in 2011. Besides being the uncle of the Director of the National Endowment for the Arts, Jay Landesman was a friend and literary associate of my father, a pre-beatnik poet, Richard Rubenstein. I have been collecting information on the colorful pre-beatnik literary and art scene that flowered in St. Louis in the 1950s. My parents had moved to North Beach, San Francisco in 1948 but moved home to St. Louis in 1950. Richard Rubenstein died at age 36 in 1958, but his associate, Jay Landesman, was to go on to be known as the founder and editor of the Beat journal Neurotica (which was likely my father's idea) and as the original St. Louis impetus for all things Beat.

Jay Landesman was to memorialize that era in a jazz musical, entitled "The Nervous Set":

"The Nervous Set, the jazz musical born in St. Louis’ legendary Gaslight Square entertainment district, described the Beat Generation, a generation of young people in post-World War II, pre-Vietnam America, swimming in disillusioned angst and apathy. It was funny, biting, outrageous, despairing, and brilliantly witty. But more than that, it was truthful, a serious social document, a record of a time and place that should never be forgotten, when America had lost its way and lost track of what’s important. It was a loving evocation of the Beat Generation, with all its warts and contradictions, all its nihilism and its earth-shattering realignment of modern literature and poetry. People know about the hippies, but how many know where the hippies came from? The Nervous Set shines the light once again on some of America’s true giants, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg (who had been friends since 1944), John Clellon Holmes, and Jay Landesman. And interestingly, Ginsberg and William Burroughs were both from St. Louis, and Beat jazz trumpeter Miles Davis was from East St. Louis. In 1950, when The Nervous Set is set, Ginsberg was twenty-three and Kerouac was twenty-eight...

The Nervous Set, the first Beat musical, began previews in St. Louis on March 4, 1959, and opened on March 10, in a three hundred seat saloon-theatre-club called the Crystal Palace, in the heart of Gaslight Square. Strange as it might seem to those who weren’t there, for almost a decade in the late fifties and early sixties, Gaslight Square was an international mecca for Beat writers, up-and-coming comedians, and jazz musicians, like yet-to-be-stars Woody Allen, Lenny Bruce, Barbra Streisand, Phyllis Diller, the Smothers Brothers, Mike Nichols and Elaine May, Alan Arkin, and so many others. Jay had discovered the Compass Players, an improv troupe, in Chicago, and had invited some of them, under the direction of Theodore Flicker, to come to the Crystal Palace as a resident company. Among the players were Mike Nichols, Elaine May, and Del Close. Nichols would go on to become one of the top theatre and film directors of all time. May would become a top playwright. Later on, the Compass Players would morph into the Second City improv company in Chicago. And even later, when Second City strayed from pure improv, Del Close would leave and start the Improv Olympics, which has since become world famous. Artists from around the world descended upon St. Louis to meet and learn from each other, and at the center of this artistic storm were Jay and Fran Landesman, proprietors of the Crystal Palace, the generally acknowledged stars of Gaslight Square and, some claim, founders, or at least early nurturers, of the Beat culture."

SOURCE: Online article by Scott Miller "Inside the Nervous Set" (citation below)


Scott Miller writes: "Jay Landesman began Neurotica in March 1948, a small, independent magazine about the relationship between neurosis and art and literature. Neurotica published some of the first works by Kerouac, Ginsberg, Marshall McLuhan, and many others. Landesman’s friend Richard Rubenstein had said to him “Let’s cure the ills of America by starting a poetry magazine. All the poetry rags are so goddamn academic, it’s time for something radical.” So Jay did.

The first issue declared, “Neurotica is a literary explosion, defense, and correlation of the problems and personalities that in our culture are defined as neurotic. It is said that if you tie a piece of red cloth to a gull’s leg its fellow gulls will peck it to pieces. Neurotica wishes to draw an analogy between this observation and the plight of today’s creative anxious man. We are interested in exploring the creativeness of this man who has been forced to live underground, and yet lights an utter darkness with his music, poetry, painting, and writing.” Arguably, The Nervous Set would do the same a decade later. Freudian psychoanalysis was very trendy at the time. Freud himself believed that in the modern world, humans were compelled to repress and stifle their natural, animal drives in order to live in a civilized, ordered society, and that this repression of natural impulses caused neuroses in every civilized person. In other words, Freud argued, neurosis is the norm."

Little Bohemia

"In 1934 just after Prohibition ended, Little Bohemia began a 25-year history under the ownership of the Radulovic brothers. Savo Radulovic's riverfront Little Bohemia was located next to the Old Rock House, on Commercial Alley near the foot of Chestnut Street. In late 1930s, when the city began demolishing the buildings of the old St. Louis riverfront for the Gateway Arch grounds, Little Bohemia moved to the Grand and Franklin Avenue artist's colony. Both Radulovic brothers were award-winning painters, and they attracted other artists, poets, writers, and musicians of the day including Carl Sandburg, and later Thomas Hart Benton, to Little Bohemia.

In 1946 Stanley Radulovic moved Little Bohemia, now a saloon and art gallery, to 220 South 4th Street at Clark He co-owned the bar with Jay Landesman who would later own and operate the Crystal Palace in Gaslight Square. Little Bohemia featured the first art exhibit of national importance to be displayed in a bar. Radulovic's inspiration for his saloon-salon came from nationally-acclaimed Missouri artist Thomas Hart Benton, who said that he would do away with museums, where no one sees his work, and sell his work at saloons instead. St. Louis artists exhibited included Tanasko Milovic, Mike Chomyk, Aimee Schweig, and Fred Conway, with 600 in attendance for the opening.

The unconventional atmosphere at Little Bohemia attracted mainstream St. Louisians as well as the more eccentric crowd. As Jay Landesman later wrote: "It wasn't only the paintings on the wall or the red-checkered table cloths with wine bottles and candles that people flocked to see; the real attraction was the people. The poet, writer, radical, nonconformist were no longer threatening outsiders in Little Bohemia, they were the star attraction, and the Establishment came to soak up the artistic atmosphere" Writer Michael Harrington was a youthful seeker of bohemian spaces in the late 1940s. He 'found the seacoast of Bohemia on the banks of the Mississippi" at Little Bohemia where he enthusiastically "joined the painters and regulars . . . to talk about art and psychoanalysis and the motherland of Greenwich Village.' "

Gaslight Square

Gaslight Square was an entertainment district in St. Louis. Jay and Fran Landesman ran a club-restaurant-theatre called the Crystal Palace, so called because it was filled to overflowing with a bizarre and thrilling assortment of chandeliers, stained glass windows and other antiques, all from the Landesman’s family antique business. Fred Landesman was also involved and I grew up hearing that my father, Richard Rubenstein, was one of those to build the Crystal Palace. Time magazine wrote during the heyday of Gaslight Square, “St. Louis finally has a place to go at night and the place is Gaslight Square. A three-block oasis of nostalgic frivolity where some fifty gaudily atmospheric taverns, cabarets, restaurants and antique shops are packed together in fine, fin de siecle jumble, it combines a sort of Disneyland quaintness with the gaiety of Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens and the innocent naughtiness of Gay Nineties beerhalls.”

According to the Jazz-by-Mail website

Basically built around the theme of St. Louis famed Riverboat and Gaslight era, the Square included a world-wide assortment of brilliantly designed spots. There were art galleries, theater productions, antique stores, night clubs, bistros, coffee houses, international cuisine, comedy , music of every style, oriental rug shops, bars, books, and people. There were entertainers, the artsy crowd, Beatniks and bohemians. Later came the hippies and flower children, the permanent and transient residents, the suburbanite visitor, the tourist from around the world. On April 17, 1961, the Smothers Brothers opened in a revue at the Crystal Palace. Second on the bill was an 18-year-old singer named Barbara Streisand. The Landesmans, who had moved the Palace to the Square in the fall of 1958, had a fine sense for finding obscure performers with talent, particularly off-beat comedians. In the same period, the Landesmans were presenting plays by the avant-garde – Beckett, Albee, Osborne – and giving St. Louis actors a showcase. Elsewhere, at one time or another, there was Judy Collins at the Laughing Buddha, Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry at the Everyman Coffee House, Miles Davis at Jorge's. There were elegant restaurants and kosher delicatessens, a repertory theater, coffee houses where you played chess, bars where you sang along, or brought your guitar and sang alone. There was briefly, a local newspaper, there were several unofficial mayors, there were a lot of Beatniks (and later, some people said, too many hippies), a boiled-shrimp vendor named Seventeen, a bartender who spouted Shakespearean invective, Ernie Trova painting to the blues and Allen Ginsberg reading to jazz.