San Francisco, 1933
Dear Madam Mariana:
I’m writing to ask your advice, as I find myself in a most untenable situation. I recently arrived in San Francisco, after much effort, having left Philadelphia in something of a hurry. I’ve been hired to write a series of human interest stories about the artists painting murals on various city monuments. There’s the Coit Tower, the Beach Chalet, and others. I’ve interviewed a few of the artists, and they’re quite the bohemian bunch. So much so, that one has invited me to interview him by spending the night in his apartment.
Now, I must confess that I am no prude. I am a recent widow, and I have known men well, if you know what I mean (and I think you do, especially given the somewhat risqué nature of some of the letters you answer) but I don’t wish to tarnish my reputation in my new city. On the other hand, I need the story, and there’s no better way to get to know someone.
Do you think I should engage in the affair for the sake of my very-necessary career? Sincerely, Lucy-paints-the-tower
Dear Widow Lucy (and your tower, too): It is rather too late, isn’t it? By the time your letter reached me you I have no doubt you had given in to temptation, and bedded the artist. I’m sure the excited-phallic nature of the Coit Tower and its firehose top have been somewhat inflammatory to the masculinity of the artists, and they’re a randy set anyway. So now, how to repair the damage to your reputation?
I imagine that the stories you’re writing have a combination human-interest and artistic bent? I would befriend the women who are acting as the artists’ assistants (and painting plenty of scenes themselves, no? Of course, without due credit!) and concentrate on the human-artistic interest in the under-paid and under-appreciated distaff side of the palette, to slaughter a metaphor. Sincerely and yet with substantial irritation, Madam Mariana
Dear Madam Mariana: Too late indeed. I did spend the night with the incredibly talented Mexican artist Diego Rivera, but then, evidently, everyone does. We didn’t touch. He spoke about art, about workers’ rights, the depression, and the revolution that the workers of the world were going to bring.
But the artist that wanted me to interview him was something else altogether. He’s an artist, all right, but he’s working for the Government, trying to root out Communists. And he wants to pay me to winkle out the secrets of the artists, especially the rabble-rousers like Mr. Rivera and Mr. Arnautoff. His ploy for me to spend the night was really to entrap me, catch my reputation in his hooks and dangle my good name over me as a method of compelling me to spy for him. So, what do I do? I need the money. Lucy
Dear Mrs. Lucy: Didn’t your husband leave you anything when he died? And can’t you support your lifestyle on a reporter’s pay? I do. Madam Mariana
Dear Madam Mariana: Some advice columnist you are! Lucy
Lucy: Okay, here’s some advice: don’t sleep with the artists, write your stories, and don’t sell your soul to the gumshoes. MM
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