If you were looking for a young man with a great literary life in front of him in 1928, you’d have been hard-pressed to find a better candidate than 29-year-old Joseph Moncure March. His narrative in verse The Wild Party, a tale of Manhattan hedonism and the tragic hipsters who indulge in it, had been published that spring in a limited edition, achieving an immediate following and brisk sales. (A musical adaptation will open this month at the Fitzgerald Theater). The book even got banned briefly in Boston, bringing March something every writer craves—a prominent but not damaging censorship battle.
Read the Whole Thing, as they say, but in a nutshell, after The Wild Party and a sequel, The Set-Up, he made the move to Hollywood and that did not turn out as planned. He ended up working in a shipyard, managing a sheet metal plant, and then writing and producing industrial films during WW2 (in the first war, he’d been an infantry private). That led to a second career making films for big firms that lasted through the 1960’s.
Many of these can be found in the Rick Prelinger archive of industrial films, and two inparticular— Design For Dreaming and A Touch of Magic , both Technicolor spots for the General Motors Motorama starring industrial films icon Thelma “Tad” Tadlock— have become favorites among the sort of ironists who think it’s the height of wit to mock the styles and affectations of a half-century ago. One couplet from Design, “Girls don’t go to Motoramas dressed in a pair of pink pajamas, ” has been picked up by fans as a tagline for all that was corny and square in the fifties. Do these sneering hipsters realize that the author of Design For Dreaming was once a sneering hipster like themselves?
The question is, if they did, would it stop them?
The Wild Party got a 1994 revamp with Art Spiegelman cartoons, but The Set Up is hard to come by. I’d like to read more, and I’d like to revive the concept of a narrative poem. Something to aspire to, anyway.