I feel I need to comment on some gossip reported in a recent book by Daniel Shea, Ph.D. titled the “Patience of Pearl: Spiritualism and Authorship in the Writings of Pearl Curran”. I have read it at least two times and parts of it several more times. I really wanted to understand what Shea was saying about Patience Worth and Pearl Curran.
He had certain advantages in writing a book about Pearl Curran in that he lived in St. Louis where Patience Worth first appeared and continued to manifest for about 17 years there; he taught there at Washington University for most of his academic career. He had previously written a play titled “Patience My Dear,” a drama based on the life of Pearl Curran. In an interview about his play Shea said that, “Curran is a medium, not a collaborator — a stenographer rather than author.” ( I think his views have changed over the years.)
Many of the documents related to the Patience Worth case are currently housed at the Missouri Historical Society’s Library in St. Louis not far from Washington University, so he and his students had easy access to them as well as relevant materials at Washington University. He credits research work by graduate students as invaluable to him so apparently he had some assistance with obtaining information about Pearl Curran. I believe that he had a long-standing interest in the writings of Patience Worth/Pearl Curran. I have to say that I looked forward to reading his book about Pearl Curran and Patience Worth and as I previously said, I read it a couple of times.
His is not an easy book to get through. There are some sections and especially the last chapter The Neural Pearl, that were excruciatingly tedious for me to get through and after much time deciphering what he was trying to say I am not sure that I understood any of it. He is a name-dropper extraordinaire, having been an English professor he apparently is well acquainted with various and sundry writers, most of whom have no meaning for me and I dare say, for most readers interested in the Pearl Curran and Patience Worth story. What might have been a relevant quote for some writer not writing about Patience Worth, Shea reduces to a snippet of several words or a phrase, rarely a sentence or two. Although Shea is indeed a word-smith, his writing style is very distracting with a pompous negative tone and often with seemingly off-topic forays into book- review-style paragraphs which distract the reader from what may be relevant to Pearl Curran and Patience Worth.
Wait! I don’t want this to be a book review.
Does Shea provide any new information or facts about Pearl Curran? The answer is, well— yes— and maybe. His source for some gossip about Pearl Curran is from Ruth Potter Duell who in 1957, 20 years after the death of Pearl Curran was collecting information about Pearl apparently for a magazine article which was never written and therefore not published. Another source was from an interview with Mrs. A. P. Holland also done by Ruth Duell. A lot of the gossip about Pearl Curran came from the “Duell papers” which apparently were abbreviated notes taken by Duell during her interviews. Ralph (Ted) Kleymeyer Jr., Eileen Curran’s second husband, provided some second or third-hand information he apparently got from Eileen during the ten years he was married to her. Pearl Curran had died before Kleymeyer married Eileen in 1949 when she was 27 years old. (They divorced in 1959) Eileen had apparently been previously married as her name is given by Kleymeyer as Eileen Norstrand Curran when he married her and she apparently married one more time (to Gary Murphy as reported in personal communication) after she divorced Kleymeyer. (Eileen’s maiden name was Eileen Lenore Curran)
According to Shea, notes in the Duell papers suggest that during the last months of her husband John Curran’s life, Pearl had an affair with a St. Louis attorney whose name was John Cashman (or Cushman according to the Duell notes) . As the gossip goes, Pearl became pregnant with John Cashman’s child who was born 6 months after John Curran’s death. Pearl named that child Eileen Curran. There is no evidence to support this gossip other than comments from Mrs. Holland who apparently knew Pearl Curran and Eileen. An adult Eileen described her mother as “Not a sexual woman. Everything in head. Romantic, idealistic; not physical.”
I must say that the one photograph I have of the adult Eileen with Ralph Klemeyer does show a facial bone structure resemblance to one photograph of John Cashman and little resemblance to either john Curran or Pearl Curran for that matter but as we all know, pictures do sometimes lie. If this gossip is true then there was a blatant affair going on right under the nose of Mrs. John Cashman as she and her daughters often attended sessions with Pearl Curran, with her husband and at times without him. After Eileen was born, John Cashman played no role in her life as Eileen was acknowledged to be the child of John Curran. ( Even though John Curran was somewhat incapacitated with a stroke affecting his left arm, that does not preclude Pearl Curran from trying to comfort him three months before his death, presumably of another stroke.) Eileen is reported as saying that she did not believe that John Curran was her father. But Eileen never knew John Curran or John Cashman and considering that she was born six months after John Curran died, It might be expected that she would have some questions about her “real” father. Unless Mrs. Holland put a bug in her ear when she took care of her as a child, Eileen would have no reason to believe that her father was John Cashman.
Another rumor concerns the birth of Patience Wee. Gossip from the Duell papers has it that Patience Wee was really the child of Julia Curran, Pearl’s teenage stepdaughter. Now this is difficult to believe. Before Patience Wee was located and adopted, Patience Worth declared that the baby would be a red-headed girl. In the days without ultrasounds, wouldn’t it be risky for Pearl to declare publically that the baby to be adopted would be a red-headed girl when there was a 50-50 chance that a baby born to Julia Curran would be a boy!—and without red hair at that! After Pearl died, why didn’t Julia take an interest in her supposed child, Patience Wee (Patricia Peters) rather than allowing her to be taken care of by Max Behr. If Julia Curran was Patience Wee’s mother, she had a grandchild, Hope Peters. Why was there no interest shown by Julia in her grandchild? (by this time she was Julia Maupin)
Part of the gossip from Mrs. Holland implied that Pearl was a poor mother and did not care about her children. Pearl arranged for Dotsie Smith to care for Patience Wee in California after John Curran died and apparently Mrs. Holland cared for Eileen from time to time. (I’m beginning to get the impression that Mrs. Holland had some animosity toward Pearl Curran causing me to find all of her comments suspect.)
I just don’t get it.
What did people expect Pearl to do after her husband John Curran died. She had four people to care for, her mother, her adopted daughter, her biological daughter and herself. There was no State Public Aid Department at that time. It was thanks to Herman Behr that Pearl received $400 per month to care for her family and sometimes Herman Behr added another $100 to the pot. After Pearl’s mother died, Pearl was devastated and truly alone with two young girls, dependent on the generosity of a friend for their upkeep. Just what was a single woman with two children, no money and no other family members to do in the 1920s? Pearl was not independently wealthy contrary to what is suggested by some from the money she made from her books. It was just the opposite, she spent more money to publish her books and feed the hundreds of on-lookers at the Ouija board sessions in her home than she ever recovered from sale of her writings.
Pearl decided to go on the lecture circuit to make money. Could anyone blame her? She needed to travel at times and arrange for someone to care for her two girls. Tell me— why are there some who are critical of Pearl Curran for arranging for her children to be taken care of by her friends when she had little money for their care and had to be gone on a lecture tour?
Pearl married two more times, to older established professional men, men that she had known as a very young woman — a teenager in fact. It’s not that Pearl was out picking up men at bars, she attached herself to men she had known for a long time and who she thought could provide for herself and her girls. It is interesting that after Pearl married for the third time, she cared for her ailing bed-ridden second husband Henry Rogers in the house she lived in with her third husband Robert Wyman. I don’t know about you but this fact to me is very significant and says a lot about the character of and relationship between Pearl and her husbands. Unless one is looking for titillating innuendos about Pearl, I think this shows Pearl’s caring and concern about the men who had helped her during very difficult times in her life. Pearl was not going to abandon Henry Rogers in his time of decrepitude. Some might think that that was commendable on the part of Pearl and give Robert Wyman a lot of credit for going along with it. If the Pearl Curran Rogers and Robert Wyman relationship were not one other than mutual convenience, then it seems unlikely that Robert Wyman would have allowed this.
During the time Pearl was married to Robert Wyman, friend of the family Max Behr was there as a rich “uncle” to help Pearl transcribe the writing of Patience Worth and act as mentor to her girls. Max Behr was the son of industrialist Herman Behr who had published a book of Patience Worth poems, translated some of her work into German and had supported Pearl and her two girls financially after her first husband, John Curran died. Max Behr, a graduate of Yale was a California golf course architect and editor of Golf Illustrated and Outdoor America. He was the brother of Karl Behr, tennis pro and survivor of the sinking of the Titanic. Max had been married to Evelyn Baker Schely who died in 1919 and was father to two girls, Lisbeth and Evelyn. Max Behr became part of the inner circle who attended the sessions with Patience Worth asking her questions and helping Pearl, Robert Wyman and writer and book reviewer Gordon Ray Young to finalize the draft copy of An Elizabethan Mask, a play about the young William Shakespeare. Shea reports that Max Behr came to live at Pearl’s Santa Monica Beach house in domestic “circumstances” she did not elaborate on.” Shea is intimating, of course, that there may have been something going on between Max Behr and Pearl Curran who at that time was married to Robert Wyman. Wyman and Pearl had a house in Venice California and Shea doesn’t say whether or not Pearl was living at the Santa Monica house or at the house in Venice California.
Max Behr was there throughout Pearl’s life in California and acted as guardian of Eileen Curran and her sister, recently divorced Patty Curran Peters after the death of Pearl Curran. Patty had had one child with Gerald Peters whom she called Hope, after the main character in Curran’s novel Hope Trueblood. Behr eventually married 23-Year-old Patty (he was 56 years old at the time) and he, Patty and Eileen moved in together at his bungalow.
Shea states that Max Behr “was an alcoholic and that 15-year-old Eileen became their caretaker.” Shea reports that Behr “continued to make demands on Eileen, threatening to get drunk if she broke off relations. Deaf, a danger to himself and a frequent patient at sanatoriums, Max called on Eileen’s indebtedness for past support and on her love for him ‘as the only father she ever knew’ Her freedom came only with marriage to Kleymeyer and Max’s marriage to a woman described by Mrs. Holland as a beautiful Italian countess’ and by Eileen as someone interested in his house and fortune. . “ Shea does not mention that Eileen apparently was married to a Mr. Norstrand with whom she gained her freedom from Max Behr before she married Kleymeyer. Eileen’s second husband Ted Kleymeyer wrote that he was “convinced that Eileen failed to ‘realize how really monstrous Max was, . . . “ Well, there are no references for these inflammatory libelous statements about Max Behr. One might assume they are from the gossipy notes of Ruth Duell written in 1957 two years after Max Behr died, and which were never published
There is not a lot of available information about Max Behr from where I sit, but it is known that he was from a very rich New York family, he had a good education from Yale University; he was an accomplished writer and editor and a renowned golf course architect in California. He had been married and lost his wife to illness at an early age and together they had two daughters. Max Behr had stuck with Pearl Curran throughout her stay in California and yes, in fact, he probably was the only ‘father’ Eileen Curran ever knew, Eileen being about 8years old when she moved to California. (Max Behr was in his middle 40s when Pearl, Patty and Eileen moved to California while Henry Rogers was a dying man and Robert Wyman had his business interests to look out for. ( It is rumored that Max Behr gave money to Robert Wyman to keep his businesses going.) Max Behr’s father, Herman Behr supported Pearl, Patty and Eileen during their time of financial and emotional need. Max Behr took in Patty and Eileen after their mother died and married Patty even though he was 33 years older than she and had grown daughters almost 10 years older than Patty. Max Behr was there at Pearl’s funeral and read the eulogy
And all Eileen could say about him to Ruth Duell was that he was a “generous but domineering man” and that he “thought he was Christ.” Given that history of Max Behr it is somewhat difficult to believe Ted Kleymyer’s distant and second-hand view, based on Eileen’s remembrances in 1957 of Max Behr as ‘monstrous.” Just what more did they all want out of Max Behr.
Max Behr married again and lived another 12 years after the death of Patty Curran and died at age 71 in 1955. Eileen died twenty-seven years later in New Orleans in 1982 at age fifty-nine.
I would like to quote Irving Litvag from his very readable book Singer in the Shadows published in 1972.
“There is one final group of people whose analyses—no, that’s much too formal a term; make it “impressions”—of Patience Worth deserve mention before we close this account of various opinions on the case.. . . Obviously the number of those persons still living who can give us a firsthand account of the sessions with Patience is very limited. Yet I was fortunate enough to find a few of them and talk with them. They are ladies in their seventies and eighties who, as young married women, attended the Patience Worth sessions with their husbands or, perhaps, served as hostesses in their own homes for some of the meetings.
It was fascinating to discuss with them the strange case, to hear their memories of Pearl Curran and her conversations with Patience, and to ask for their opinions as to the explanation, if any.
I found a complete unanimity of opinion among them; They regard the Patience Worth case as the most remarkable activity in which they ever participated; they considered Mrs. Curran to be completely honest; they remember her as an exuberant, witty, ‘cut-up’ type of person but one who took Patience Worth with deadly seriousness; they remember Pearl’s attitude of great thankfulness that she had been blessed with the companionship of Patience; their husbands, to a man, never were convinced of the genuineness of the phenomenon, but also could never explain it away.. . . There is no way to document or verify these comments; they are the reminiscences of elderly ladies who, in some cases, were at my request thinking again about Patience Worth for the first time in decades. Yet I don’ think they can be facilely discounted, either. In every case these were ladies of culture and refinement, as well educated as almost any women of their day. They were and are not the type to fall victim credulously to some sort of mass suggestion or hysteria.
They felt, without exception, that they were fortunate to have had the chance to witness something mystifying and wonderful as they watched and listened to Pearl Curran and Patience Worth.
They can offer no answer to the riddle of Patience Worth and do not attempt to. But they are thankful that they were part of it and remember it with awe and with love.