Maxwell Bodenheim

From Academic Kids

Maxwell Bodenheim (May 26, 1891February 6, 1954) was an American poet and novelist. Known as the King of Greenwich Village Bohemians, his writing brought him international fame during the Jazz Age of the 1920s.

He was born Maxwell Bodenheimer in Hermanville, Mississippi, the son of Solomon Bodenheimer (born July 1858) and Carrie (born April 1860). His father was born in Germany and his mother in Alsace-Lorraine. Carrie emigrated to the United States in 1881, and Solomon in 1888. In 1900, the family moved from Mississippi to Chicago, where they were enumerated on the Federal Census residing at 431 46th Street.

In about 1912 or 1913, Bodenheim and Ben Hecht met in Chicago, and became literary friends. Together they founded a periodical. Other members of the group included Sherwood Anderson and Charles MacArthur. Bodenheim was called "Bodey."

He began publishing his earliest verse in Poetry Magazine in 1914. Over the next 10 years, he established himself as one of the leading authors in the U.S. He published 10 books of verse, which incorporates many techniques of the imagists, and 13 novels.

Among the verse published are Minna and Myself (1918), Advice (1920), Against This Age (1923), The king of Spain (1928), Bringing Jazz! (1930) and Selected Poems 19141944 (1946). His novels include Blackguard (1923), Replenishing Jessica (1925), Ninth Avenue (1926), Georgia Man (1927), Naked on Roller Skates (1930) and A Virtuous Girl (1930).

Bodenheim had three wives, Minna Schein (married 1918-divorced 1938), Grace Finan (married 1939-her death 1950), and Ruth Fagin (married 1952-their deaths 1954). He and Minna had one son who was born in 1920.

For many years a leading figure of the Bohemian scene in New York's Greenwich Village, Bodenheim deteriorated rapidly after his success in the '20s and '30s. Before he married his second wife, Grace, he had become a panhandler. They spent part of their marriage in the Catskills. After she died of cancer, he became a Village drunkard and was not so well thought of. He was arrested and hospitalized several times for vagrancy and drunkenness.

Bodenheim's memoir, My Life and Loves in Greenwich Village (1954), was partly ghostwritten. Ben Hecht based his 1958 play Winkelberg on the life of the Bohemian poet. A biography titled Maxwell Bodenheim by Jack B. Moore was published in 1970.

His third wife, Ruth, was 28 years his junior. She lived with him in his derelict lifestyle. They were homeless and slept on park benches. He would carry a sign that read, "I Am Blind," to panhandle, even though he was not blind; and he would jot down short poems for money or drinks. Ruth slept with other men and Bodenheim seemed not to mind.

Bodenheim and Ruth were murdered by a 25 year old sociopathic dishwasher, Harold "Charlie" Weinberg, who they befriended on the streets of the Village. He offered to let them spend the night in his room, which was a few blocks from the Bowery. He was sexually attracted to Ruth, and the two of them became active on the floor near the cot where the 62 year old drunken Bodenheim was supposedly sleeping. Bodenheim got up and challenged Weinberg. They began fighting, then Weinberg shot Bodenheim twice in the chest. Ruth was beaten and stabbed four times in the back. When he was captured, Weinberg confessed to the double homicide. He was judged insane and sent to a mental institution. Some believed Weinberg was moderately retarded.

Ben Hecht said he would pay for the funeral of Bodenheim and his wife. Bodenheim's ex-wife, Minna, made arrangements in a family plot. Maxwell Bodenheim is interred in Cedar Park Cemetery, Emerson, New Jersey.

by Maxwell Bodenheim
I shall walk down the road;
I shall turn and feel upon my
The kisses of death, like
scented rain.
For death is a black slave
with little silver birds
Perched in a sleeping wreath
upon his head.
He will tell me, his voice like
Dropped in a satin bag,
How he has tiptoed after me
down the road.
His heart made a dark whirl-
pool with longing for me.
Then he will graze me with
his hands,
And I will be one of the sleep-
ing silver birds
Between the cold waves of his
hair, as he tiptoes on.

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