EB Odds & Ends

A Newsletter of Eagles Byte Historic Research
June 1998 No. 31

Das Rotwildkönig

His observations are next door to marvelous, and he invests the fruits of his observation
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 and ink.

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 politician.

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 yet.)

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 Committee (HUAC).

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 over
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 to publish.

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.


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 to 1989).


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 novel.


Literary Events - 1923

Jan 3
Czechoslovakian author Jaroslav Hasek, dies in a drunken fit.

Jan 9
Author Katherine Mansfield dies of tuberculosis in Fountainbleu, France.

Jan 29
Playwright Paddy Chayevsky is born in New York City.

Jan 31
Author Norman Mailer born in Long Branch, New Jersey.

Feb 2
Poet-novelist James Dickey born in Atlanta, Georgia.

Feb 9
Playwright Brendan Behan is born in Dublin, Ireland.

May 1
Joseph Conrad travels to the United States.

May 23
Novelist Joseph Heller born in New York City.

Jun 2
Conrad returns to England.

Jun 11
Mystery writer George Baxt is born.

Newspaperman Tex O'Reilly creates the "mythological" Pecos Bill.

Oct 15
Author Italo Colvino is born.

Oct 24
Poet Denise Levertov is born in Ilford, Essex, England.

Nov 5
Author Thomas is Flanagan born.

Nov 20
Author Nadine Gordimer is born in Springs, Transvaal, South Africa.

Dec 1
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 Wilder's brother.

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 in touch.
Copyright 1988 David Minor / Eagles Byte