EB Odds & Ends
A Newsletter of Eagles Byte Historic Research
June 1998 No. 31
His observations are next door to marvelous, and he invests the fruits of
with pure poetry.
- John Chamberlain
Siegmund Salzmann pretty much began life on the move. Born on September
6, 1869 in Budapest, he would remain there three weeks. His impoverished
parents, with another mouth to feed, apparently felt work would be more
plentiful in the capital of the Hapsburg Empire, and made their way west
to Vienna. There Philip and Marie, along with Siegmund, disappeared into
the faceless crowd of the urban poor.
When he reached school age the young Jew was enrolled in the Vienna school
system with its compulsory Catholic religious instruction, where he even
served as an altar boy. He could not have remembered his birthplace, but
his parents must have been well aware that young Siegmund inhabited an alien
city in an alien country, and worshipped in an alien religion. Grabbing
at any chance for their son they accepted the offer of a cousin to take
Siegmund into his insurance business. His charity was dubious. The boy,
small for his age, was given the back breaking, menial jobs no one else
could be persuaded to do. As was the case with his Australian contemporary
Henry Lawson, he sought an escape through pen
Largely self-taught though he was, he began firing off a series of letters,
articles and essays to local newspapers. Most of this early work is long
out of print, so it's difficult to track without access to various European
archives. It wasn't until the century turned, when Salzmann was in his early
thirties, that he began to gain a lasting literary reputation in Austria.
He had been an admirer of the French novelist and social critic Emile Zola,
who died in Paris, of accidental suffocation, on September 29th, 1902, prompting
a chorus of eulogies. Among the voices was Siegmund's.
Somewhere along the way the young author had acquired his greatest asset
- empathy. It may have been this quality that made his obituary of Zola
stand out among the many. It may have been his affection for the crusading
French writer. Whatever note he struck, it reached sympathetic ears, and
people began to take notice of Herr Salzmann. It was about this time that
he began writing under several pen names, including Martin Finder and Felix
Salten. We'll begin using the latter, his best known.
Salten would go on to write several volumes of theater criticism, but his
interest in the stage had obviously already surfaced. It was on April 13th
of 1902 that he married actress Ottile Metzl. A son was born the next year,
a daughter in 1904. With Ottile, Paul and Anna-Katherina to support, Salten
became busier than ever. Plays, historical novels, and eventually film scripts
flowed from his typewriter. He began shuttling back and forth between Vienna
and Berlin, writing for the Berliner Morgenpost , the Wiener Allgemeinen
Zeitung , The Beautiful Blue Danube magazine and, most importantly,
for the Neue Freie Presse , the most progressive publication of the
period. The articles continued to flow, even as some of his dramas were
beginning to reach the stage. Another obituary gained Salten additional
fame, as well as dangerous notoriety in 1910, when the anti-semitic mayor
of Vienna, Karl Lueger, died at the age of 66. Most of Vienna's citizens
admired the husky, dynamic, full-bearded, kindly-eyed Lueger. But the Presse
mistrusted him and Salten wrote a piece for the paper, looking beneath the
twinkle and the jovial enthusiasm, and seeing the evasiveness, the counterfeit,
guile and moral rot beneath the facade. Phrases like "disintegrates
the physicians, insults the professors, jeers at learning," were not
likely to please the average Vienna reader. One reader might have been a
newly-arrived Bavarian art student named Adolph Hitler, who idolized Lueger
and would pattern many of his own ideas and mannerisms on those of the late
The danger was still several decades and a world war away. Vienna after
the turn of the century, as alive with artistic fervor as it had been in
the times of Beethoven, Mozart and the Strausses, became a sort of artistic
primordial soup of our own century. In the late nineteen-twenties Salten
would often join other Viennese artists of his generation, most of them
Jews or at least partially Jewish, at Viktor Zauner's Café Grienstedl
(Esplanade), forming a group that soon adopted the informal name Young Vienna.
There operetta composers Franz Lehar, Oscar Straus (Did he sip hot chocolate
as he hatched The Chocolate Soldier ?), Leo Fall, Leo Ascher, and
Edmund Eysler, opera singers Leo Slezak (father of the late film actor Walter
Slezak), Alfred Piccaver, Erik Schmedes, tenor Richard Tauber, and Helge
Roswaenge, physician-playwright Arthur Schnitzel, writers Peter Altenberg,
Hugo von Hofmannstal, Hermann Bahr and Karl Kraus, would gather to eat drink,
swap notes and discuss Art. (The verb to network, hadn't invaded the language
A new generation would follow close on their heels as Vienna in the years
between 1901 and 1908 saw the birth of Broadway composer Frederick Loewe,
Metropolitan Opera director Rudolf Bing, Walter Slezak, architect Victor
Gruen, psychologist Bruno Bettelheim, naturalist Konrad Lorenz and film
directors Billy Wilder, Otto Preminger and Fred Zinnemann. For obvious reasons
most would make their reputations across the Atlantic.
To return to Salzmann/Finder/Salten. His output flowed; a series of books
began in 1910 with the novel Olga Frohmut , followed by the historical
tale Prinz Eugen in 1915. Then his focus turned to the stage with
the drama Kinder der Freude in 1917. Theatrical criticism followed
as he published the two-volume Schauen und Spielen. Studien zur Kritik
des Modern Theaters in 1922, Das Burgtheater in 1922 and the
six-volume Gesammelte Werk between the years 1928 and 1932.
While he was publishing his dramatic criticism he also kept producing fiction.
In 1923, in a bit of a departure, he wrote the fantasy novel The Hound
of Florence . In it a young Austrian, yearning for immortality as an
artist, is granted a wish that turns him onto a dog, enabling him to make
the journey to Italy in pursuit of his dream. There are complications. He
becomes canine only every other day. But at last he overcomes the obstacles
to face his future. U. S. filmmaker Walt Disney (you know we'll hear from
him again) would base his studio's 1959 comedy film The Shaggy Dog
loosely on the story.
It's difficult to see how Salten, living in a busy metropolis and turning
out book after book, could find the time to produce a series of works that
would become classics of children's literature. Probably a period of successful
publication, acceptance by his peers and the chance of grandfather-hood
somewhere in the future. And it's in the children's field that Salten's
ability to empathize, even with species not his own, found its greatest
outlet. In 1923 he published the novel Bambi, eine Lebensgeschicte aus
dem Walde . The book was almost immediately popular, charming children
and parents alike with its tale of the young fawn, with his introduction
to life and disaster, death and adulthood, from his birth to the passing
of the mantle down from his father the king of the deer (Das Rotwildkönig
). Publication in the U. S. followed several years later, with an introduction
by John Galsworthy, in a translation by, of all people, the journalist Whittaker
Chambers, future star of Alger Hiss' trial by the House Un-american Activities
Other tales for children followed, notably the sequel Bambi's Children
, Fifteen Rabbits (a precursor of Richard Adams' Watership Down
), Florian , a tale about one of Vienna's Lippizzan stallions, and Die
Jogend des Eichornchens Perri , which Disney would strip of it's framing
story and turn into a combination of life-cycle animal story and true-life
nature film under the name Perri .
Salten's stories were both tough and sweet, but without much of the cuteness
that the animators of sun-drunk California would bring to the works. The
film version of course has brought generations of us to tears, so it's obvious
some of Salten's power has been retained. An example from Fifteen Rabbits
may give us a bit of a feel for his style. One of the rabbits, Epi, has
been captured and turned into a household pet. Treated kindly enough he
still cannot forget his forest home. As he languishes in his cage, a pet
bird warbles sweetly of his own lost freedom. Epi listens to the wrenching
song, drifting in and out of consciousness, then finds himself returning
to the woods, running to meet his friends.
Actually he merely gave a feeble twitch. While the linnet sang, Epi rolled
quietly on his side, stretched out and did not ever stir again.
The sequence becomes the culmination of a long line stretching from sentimental
Victorian tearjerker to Disney/Hollywood deathbed scene, yet with the sweet
sadness of the Piper at the Gates of Dawn chapter in The Wind in the
Willows . The Grimm brothers wouldn't have gone near it. More recent
filmmakers might also give it a wide berth. The film version of the Richard
Adams' book The Plague Dogs gave that story a much bleaker ending,
halting before the source novel did, stripping it of Adams' surprising and
surprisingly sentimental ending.
The European situation began souring as a failing economy woke dormant antisemitism.
(The unsettled times may account for the popularity of Salten's stories
of a more innocent world, in Europe.) Even within Young Vienna sniping began.
The Czech-born Karl Kraus, prime example of the paradox of the self-loathing
Jew, began turning on his comrades, especially Schnitzler and Salten. He
criticized the animal tales of the latter, claiming the forest denizens
used Yiddishisms, debasing the beauty of the German language. In 1930 the
Carnegie Founda|ited Salten and others to travel in the U. S., where Salten
spent the next two years, writing about his impressions in Fünf
Minuten Amerika (Five Minutes America ).
In 1931 Salten and other colleagues returned to a Europe and an Austria
where existence had become more and more difficult and dangerous for Jews.
By now he was president of the Austrian chapter of P. E. N., but international
standing was poor protection for those threatened by the tides of German
history. By the time Hitler's armies invaded Austria in 1938, Salten had
escaped to Switzerland, where he took up residence in Zurich and continued
The right fans can be invaluable. After his own move to the U. S. in 1936,
German novelist Thomas Mann brought the tale of the fawn to the attention
of Walt Disney. The animators hit the acetate and in 1942 Bambi was
on its way to becoming a Disney classic. Succeeding generations would grow
up "twitterpated" by the film - wonder what the German translation
for that term is?
Salten entered his seventies and his output slowed, although he did find
the energy to turn out a book on Palestine. Then the war ended. That year,
as one former resident of Vienna put a gun to his head in his Berlin bunker,
another one-time Viennese lay ill in Zurich. Nearly six months later, on
October 8th, 1945, Felix Salten, "stretched out and did not stir again."
A few additional tidbits about Felix Salten and others.
Playwright Arthur Schnitzel sank into a decline after the suicide of his
daughter and died in 1931, avoiding eventual persecution and exile, the
fate of many of Young Vienna.
Salten's novel The Memoirs of Josephine Mutzenbacher (I have been
unable to pin down the original date of publication) told the story of a
fictional prostitute, the title character. Although I have seen it described
as "racy" others have called it worse and a professor at Wesleyan
University included it in his course Pornography: Writing of Prostitutes.
Salten published Bambi for the first time in Germany without notice
that he intended copyright protection. He republished the book in Germany
in 1926, with a notice of U. S. copyright. In 1936, some rights to the book
were assigned to another party who assigned his rights to Walt Disney in
the next year. Salten's daughter, the actress, writer and director Anna
Salten Wyler, renewed his copyright in 1954, later entering into agreements
with Disney. After her death her international lawyer husband Weit Wyler
assigned her rights to a publishing company, which then went head-to-head
with Disney. The U. S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals eventually ruled that
the original Viennese copyright was invalid, inapplicable to the U. S. Confused?
So am I. The main thing to note is that Salten saw a relatively small profit
from the film.
The Wylers daughter Lea had her own career in the theater, then co-founded
the Swiss international relief organization Ropka, which provides a permanent
clinic, clothing depot, and handicraft workshop for destitute Tibetan women
and children. There must be a gene for empathy.
ODDS & ENDS NOTICES
I'm currently balancing a number of projects which require greater amounts
of time, so I'm cutting back the Odds & Ends to six times a year. So
the next issue will, if God be willin' and the creek don't rise, come out
in August. As always, I welcome your comments and will publish those pertinent
to particular articles (with your permission).
It's time to revive the Odds and Ends quiz. The first surfer, sending
the correct answer to:
will receive an Eagles Byte chronology for the year of their choice (up
Novels about "ladies of the evening", "sidewalk Cinderellas"
and other women "no better than they should be" have always been
both popular and scandalous. In 1900 a U. S. writer made his debut as a
novelist with one such novel about a prostitute. Name the author AND the
Literary Events - 1923
Czechoslovakian author Jaroslav Hasek, dies in a drunken fit.
Author Katherine Mansfield dies of tuberculosis in Fountainbleu, France.
Playwright Paddy Chayevsky is born in New York City.
Author Norman Mailer born in Long Branch, New Jersey.
Poet-novelist James Dickey born in Atlanta, Georgia.
Playwright Brendan Behan is born in Dublin, Ireland.
Joseph Conrad travels to the United States.
Novelist Joseph Heller born in New York City.
Conrad returns to England.
Mystery writer George Baxt is born.
Newspaperman Tex O'Reilly creates the "mythological" Pecos Bill.
Author Italo Colvino is born.
Poet Denise Levertov is born in Ilford, Essex, England.
Author Thomas is Flanagan born.
Author Nadine Gordimer is born in Springs, Transvaal, South Africa.
Joseph Conrad's The Rover is published.
Washington, D. C., newspaperman Harvey Fergusson moves to New York City
to become a freelance writer.
Owen Davis wins the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, for Icebound .
Stewart H. Holbrook becomes an associate editor with Portland, Oregon's
Lumber News .
Adela Rogers St. John's first novel, The Sky Rocket , is published.
** Dr. Dard Hunter of Chillicothe, Ohio, publishes Old Papermaking
, making the paper and the type and writing, printing and binding the book
- the first book produced entirely by one man. ** Willa Cather wins the
Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for One of Ours . ** Marya Mannes graduates
from Miss Veltin's School for Girls, in Manhattan. ** Thomas O. Mabbott
's Poe's Polition . ** Garet Garrett's The Cinder Buggy and
James Branch Cabell's The High Place . ** Bricklayer Geremio di Donato
is killed when a building collapses on him. His son Pietro will use the
death as an inspiration for his book Christ in Concrete . ** Ernest
Hemingwat's first book - Three Stories and Ten Poems - is published.
Wallace Stevens publishes his first book of poems. ** Black poet Jean Toomer's
Cane is published. ** Francis A. Litz' Father Tabb: A Study of His Life
and Works . ** Biblical scholar Amos N. Wilder's Battle Retrospect
is published as part of the Yale Series of Younger Poets. Wilder is Tjornton
Graham Greene plays Russian roulette.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's Hiawatha , set to music, is performed
in Royal Albert Hall.
The government of Italy donates the library and archives of the Chigi family,
including close to 3,500 manuscripts, to the Vatican Library.
I hope you've enjoyed this issue. Have a good summer and stay
- Commire, Anne, ed. - Something About the Author, Vol. 25 (Gale Research,
- Garland, Henry and Mary, eds. - The Oxford Companion to German Literature
(New York, 1986)
- Gilman, Sander - Inscribing the Other (Univ. of Nebraska, 1991)
- Grimstad, Kari - Masks of the Prophet: The Thetarical World of Karl
- Hoffman, Paul - The Viennese: Splendor, Twilight and Exile (New York,
- Jenks, William A. - Vienna and the Young Hitler (New York, Columbia,
- Spiel, Hilde - Vienna's Golden Autumn 1866-1938 (New York, Weidenfeld
and Nicholson, 1987)
- Trofsky, Susan M. & Olendorf, Donna, eds. - Contemporary Authors,
Vol. 137 (Gale Research,1992)
Copyright 1988 David Minor / Eagles Byte