Erika and Klaus Mann

Living with America

by Beverley Driver Eddy (Author)
©2018 Monographs XII, 552 Pages


Erika and Klaus Mann: Living with America provides new insights into the lives of Thomas Mann’s two eldest children, by focusing on their years in America. It begins with Erika and Klaus Mann’s self-promotional tour of the United States in 1927–1928, and follows up with their return in 1936 as voluntary exiles determined to fight the spread of Nazism in Europe. As children of privilege and considerable personal charm, Erika and Klaus Mann quickly became highly visible representatives of the German exile community.
In examining their lives in America, the United States plays a central role. Just as the Manns’ views of America evolved between 1936 and 1952, so did American public opinion and government policy. This study examines Erika and Klaus Mann’s public and private statements, while also examining statements made about them by American journalists, politicians, book critics, and F.B.I. and immigration officers. It follows the Mann siblings’ rise in America as celebrity representatives of an "other," better Germany, and the forces that began to rally against them even before the outbreak of the war. It shows the many concrete actions the Mann siblings took to persuade Americans to view their country as one linked to European interests, and it describes their various war activities, with Erika becoming a U.S. war correspondent and Klaus an American soldier. Finally, it portrays their fears for America as the war drew to a close, America deployed the atom bomb, and the nation quickly transformed itself from Russian ally to Cold War combatant.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Illustrations
  • Foreword
  • List of Abbreviations
  • Chapter 1: Erika and Klaus: First Impressions (October 1927–April 1928)
  • Notes
  • Chapter 2: Erika and Klaus: Political Awakening (1928–1936)
  • Notes
  • Chapter 3: Erika and Klaus: Testing the Waters (August–December 1936)
  • Notes
  • Chapter 4: Erika: The Pepper Mill (October 1936–January 1937)
  • Notes
  • Chapter 5: Erika: Search for a New Path (February–September 1937)
  • Notes
  • Chapter 6: Klaus: Interlude in Europe (January–September 1937)
  • Notes
  • Chapter 7: Klaus: Commitment to America (September 1937–February 1938)
  • Notes
  • Chapter 8: Erika: Finding Her Place (September 1937–May 1938)
  • Notes
  • Chapter 9: Erika and Klaus: Cooperative Efforts in Europe (April–October 1938)
  • Notes
  • Chapter 10: Erika and Klaus: Cooperative Efforts in America (November 1938–April 1939)
  • Notes
  • Chapter 11: Klaus: Life in Prewar America (April 1939–September 1939)
  • Notes
  • Chapter 12: Erika: Facing the Approaching War (March–September 1939)
  • Notes
  • Chapter 13: Klaus: Seeking New Paths (October 1939–March 1940)
  • Notes
  • Chapter 14: Erika: Fighting with the Pen (January–December 1940)
  • Notes
  • Chapter 15: Erika: Speaking Out (January–December 1940)
  • Notes
  • Chapter 16: Klaus: Mediating Between Cultures (December 1939–February 1941)
  • Notes
  • Chapter 17: Erika: The Warrior (November 1940–December 1941)
  • Notes
  • Chapter 18: Klaus: Death of a Dream (March 1941–January 1942)
  • Notes
  • Chapter 19: Klaus: Hanging On (January–December 1942)
  • Notes
  • Chapter 20: Erika: At War with Germany (December 1941–December 1942)
  • Notes
  • Chapter 21: Klaus: Basic Training (December 1942–April 1943)
  • Notes
  • Chapter 22: Klaus: Specialized Training (April–June 1943)
  • Notes
  • Chapter 23: Erika: Into the Fray (January 1943–May 1944)
  • Notes
  • Chapter 24: Klaus: Waiting in Limbo (June–December 1943)
  • Notes
  • Chapter 25: Klaus: An American Soldier (January–December 1944)
  • Notes
  • Chapter 26: Erika: Army War Correspondent (June 1944–June 1945)
  • Notes
  • Chapter 27: Klaus: Stars and Stripes Reporter (November 1944–July 1945)
  • Notes
  • Chapter 28: Erika: Taking Tally (June 1945–April 1946)
  • Notes
  • Chapter 29: Klaus: Transitioning to Peace (July 1945–June 1946)
  • Notes
  • Chapter 30: Erika and Klaus: Futile Efforts in America (April 1946–April 1947)
  • Notes
  • Chapter 31: Klaus: Seeking a Foothold in Europe (May 1947–May 1948)
  • Notes
  • Chapter 32: Erika: A Changing Climate (May 1947–December 1948)
  • Notes
  • Chapter 33: Klaus: The Last Year (May 1948–May 1949)
  • Notes
  • Chapter 34: Klaus: Aftermath (May–July 1949)
  • Notes
  • Chapter 35: Erika: Making Adjustments (January 1949–December 1950)
  • Notes
  • Chapter 36: Erika: The Final Break (December 1950–June 1952)
  • Notes
  • Chapter 37: Erika: Aftermath (July 1952–August 1969)
  • Notes
  • Index

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Figure 1.1. On the set of The Man Who Laughs, Hollywood, 1928

Figure 3.1. Annemarie Schwarzenbach, self portrait

Figure 4.1. Maurice Wertheim, 1941

Figure 5.1. Vassar Girls in Peace Demonstration, April 1937

Figure 7.1. Martin Gumpert, 1938

Figure 9.1. At Home in Princeton, N.J. Photograph by Carl Mydans

Figure 11.1. Manuscript page for speech Klaus delivered in April 1939

Figure 12.1. Senator Robert R. Reynolds, 1939

Figure 15.1. Erika being interviewed by newspaper men on her arrival in New York from Lisbon, October 1940

Figure 18.1. Muriel Rukeyser. Photograph by Imogen Cunningham

Figure 21.1. Klaus autographs his book on Gide. Photograph by Hubert L. Musteen

Figure 24.1. Lt. Colonel Edward I. Pratt, 1944

Figure 25.1. Martin Herz loads propaganda pamphlets into an empty shell casing. Photograph by Charles Corte

Figure 26.1. Women war correspondents in France

Figure 29.1. Klaus, with Rini and Fritz Landshoff

Figure 33.1. Erika and Klaus Mann in California, 1948. Photograph by Florence Homolka

Figure 35.1. Hand-made Christmas collage by Erika Mann

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Erika and Klaus Mann first came to America as tourists—and stayed for six months. Nine years later, they returned and made it their home.

On their first visit to the United States in 1927, they had been enthusiastic pleasure-seekers and pacifists eager to experience all that America could offer. By 1936 their focus had changed, and they had become prominent figures in the fight against fascism. They returned to the United States knowing that America, too, had changed: it had gone through the Great Depression and was recovering through programs initiated by President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. The Mann siblings now viewed Roosevelt’s America as a utopian antithesis to Hitler’s Germany. They returned, not to be entertained as much as to serve, to explain to Americans the crisis facing German and European culture as a result of the new Nazi regime, and to urge Americans to take action against the further spread of fascism.

Erika and Klaus knew from their earlier visit that America was far more complex than the rosy image many immigrants had of it; they knew that its trumpeted openness was belied by heavy undercurrents of racism and anti-Semitism, and that its glittering cities hid pockets of deprivation and despair. They knew that Americans were, in general, far less interested in cultural matters and in politics than in business and in sports. But they were confident that they could ← 1 | 2 → prevail—with help from their father and his influential American friends. They held a privileged position in the community of refugees that gathered on America’s east and west coasts. And they were young enough to learn and become fluent speakers and writers of English.

During their tumultuous years in America the Mann siblings experienced both success and scandal, recognition and dishonor. Roosevelt’s America was torn between liberal activism and isolationism, between cocky nationalism and a growing concern about socialism. Erika and Klaus came to consider themselves part of this great nation, with the right to warn, admonish, and serve. This book traces these efforts, their service to America in the European war, and their bitterness at being excluded from any participation in America’s programs of reconstruction and reeducation in postwar Germany.

In this book I examine period documents, including American book reviews, lecture summaries, statements by American politicians and critics, newspaper editorials, program announcements, FBI reports, and immigration and naturalization records. I consider Erika and Klaus’s own remarks to the Americans regarding issues linking American interests with Europe, and the need for Americans to become more actively involved in world affairs. I examine their views both of America’s weaknesses and of its promise, which they found embodied in its naiveté and its air of optimistic pragmatism.

It is not within the scope of my study to judge the dynamics within the Mann family, nor will I assign “blame” for Klaus’s voluntary death. Instead I simply let Erika and Klaus speak for themselves, by citing letters and diary entries that reflect their emotional reactions to their experiences. In these citations I will use italics for those quotations that are translated from the original German and bold type to recreate underlined words in the original documents. Unless indicated otherwise, all translations are my own, and I take responsibility for their accuracy. In quoting from Erika and Klaus’s English-language writings, I have regularized spellings and punctuation to provide a better flow of language. I have retained only their British spellings, since those reflect the fact that neither of the siblings became wholly “Americanized.”

It would be irresponsible of me not to state categorically that this work could never have been written without the excellent work of scholars who preceded me. Fredric Kroll and Uwe Naumann have both made Klaus Mann the subject of exhaustive study, and Irmela von der Lühe and Helga Keiser-Hayne have written detailed, authoritative studies of Erika Mann. In addition to Heinrich Breloer’s docudrama on the Manns and Tilmann Lahme’s collective biography, both men have collected and published valuable resources on the ← 2 | 3 → Mann family, interviews with Mann friends and family members in the case of Breloer, family letters in the case of Lahme.

Throughout my work I have relied heavily on Klaus Mann’s diaries, both on the printed editions (as edited by Joachim Heimannsberg, Peter Laemmle and Wilfried F. Schoeller for publication by Rowohlt Taschenbuch in Reinbek bei Hamburg in 1995) and on the original handwritten diaries now accessible in the internet through the good services of the Literaturarchiv of the Monacensia (http://www.monacensia-digital.de/monac/nav/classification/13486). The printed editions of the diaries are incomplete; they also translate Klaus Mann’s English entries into German. To avoid confusion in notation, I do not distinguish between these two sources, but merely write, in my text, TB, followed by the date of the entry. I do the same for citations from Thomas Mann’s diaries: the diaries from the years 1933 to 1943 were edited by Peter de Mendelssohn, and published by S. Fischer between 1977 and 1982; Inge Jens edited those from 1944 to 1955, and they were published between 1986 and 1995.

Unless indicated otherwise, all the unpublished correspondence, lectures, essays and fiction are located in the Erika and Klaus Mann collections in the Münchner Stadtbibliothek/Monacensia in Munich, Germany.

For help in this project, I am particularly grateful to Frank Schmitter and the entire staff of the Literaturarchiv of the Monacensia. Gabriele Eitzinger was a godsend in providing information and assistance throughout my several visits to the archive, and Manfred Forster patiently copied photographs and many pages of manuscript for my personal use. Elizabeth Carron, Archives Specialist of the Smith College Library went way beyond my expectations in searching the archives for pertinent materials for me, as did Carmen Hendershot, Librarian at the New School for Social Research in New York City. I would also like to express my gratitude to Tonya Crawford, Senior Archives Specialist at the University Archives at the University of Missouri at Kansas City; James Capobianco and Emilie Hardman, reference librarians at the Houghton Library of the Harvard College Library; Michaela Ullmann, Exile Studies Librarian of the Feuchtwanger Memorial Library at the University of Southern California; Trina Yeckley, Archivist at the National Archives at New York City; Christopher Laico, Archivist at the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Columbia University; James Liversidge, Curator of Popular Culture Collections at the University of Florida Smathers Libraries, and Jennie Wiley, former Director of the West Dennis Library in Massachusetts. In addition, I would like to thank all those who assisted me during my visit to the ← 3 | 4 → Manuscripts and Archives division of the Sterling Memorial Library at Yale University, and to the assistance given me by the Churchill Archives Center at Churchill College, Cambridge, the Special Collections Research Center of the Georgetown University Library, the John Towner Frederick Collection at the University of Iowa Library, the Berg collection of the New York Public Library, and the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. I am grateful to the information I was given, through interviews and/or correspondence, by Alfred de Grazia, Stephen Goodell, Daniel Gross, Grace Heiskell Terry, Gunter Kosse, and Anatol Regnier, and to guidance I received from Uwe Naumann and Frido Mann. My colleague Dieter J. Rollfinke provided extraordinary service by reading and critiquing my manuscript. I am grateful to the Feuchtwanger Memorial Library at the University of Southern California for awarding me an Exile Studies Research Grant, and to Dickinson College for funding two research trips to Germany and two more to libraries in the United States. It is easy to forget the benefits derived from one’s own home base, but without the support of the library staff and the research and development office of Dickinson College, I would never have been able to complete this book in such timely fashion.

| 5 →


EM Erika Mann

KM Klaus Mann

TM Thomas Mann

TB Tagebücher

TP The Turning Point

WP Der Wendepunkt

| 7 →

· 1 ·


October 1927–April 1928

They regarded their first trip to America as a lark. As the pampered children of Thomas Mann, the great man of German letters, Erika and Klaus had grown up shielded by his name and money even as they openly rebelled against the strictures of bourgeois society. These were, in fact, heady times for the two siblings, for both had become precocious, highly visible representatives of the younger art scene. Erika had studied theater in Berlin with the renowned director Max Reinhardt and, at 19, had gotten her first engagement as an actress at the Bremen Playhouse. At 20, Klaus had already established a reputation as a literary critic, and his 1926 novel, Der fromme Tanz [The Pious Dance], earned the distinction of being one of the first novels in German literature to treat homosexuality as a major theme. He had also made two forays into playwriting, first, in 1925, with the lesbian drama Anja und Esther [Anja and Esther], then in 1926, with Revue zu Vieren [Revue for Four], a rather pretentious piece designed to be a “synthesis of all the movements of the age, including eroticism, politics, religion, and art.”1 The plays seem to have been designed to create scandal, as well as to guarantee full houses, and Erika and Klaus had toured in both of them, together with Klaus’s fiancée Pamela Wedekind, daughter of the playwright and balladeer Frank Wedekind, and with the brilliant young actor-director Gustaf Gründgens. Erika and Klaus had ← 7 | 8 → learned, early on, that even bad publicity could be turned to one’s advantage, and the “poets’ children” had taken Revue zu Vieren on tour to such cities as Berlin, Leipzig, Breslau, Budapest, Cottbus, Dresden, Hamburg, Copenhagen, Munich, Prague, and Vienna. Gründgens, however, who had married Erika in 1926, feared the damage that poor reviews could do to his budding career and he withdrew from the production.

In the meantime, Klaus had also collaborated with poet Willi Fehse in producing an anthology of German poetry with an emphasis on poets of his own young generation, and begun work on a similar collaborative anthology of recent German prose.

By now his name had spread across the Atlantic. His short story “Ludwig Zoffke” had appeared in the volume The Best Continental Short Stories of 1926, and, in the summer of 1927, Boni and Liveright, a New York firm known for its championship of modernist and avant-garde works, was preparing to publish Klaus’s novella Kindernovelle [The Fifth Child] in English translation. In August 1927, Horace Liveright wrote Klaus to tell him that, if he were ever to come to the United States, the firm would try to arrange a promotional tour for him.

By this time, the young Manns’ theatrical tour was over, and the 21-year-old Erika was restless and eager for a change. She and Gründgens were already drawing apart, and neither she nor Klaus had any fixed plan for the immediate future. To Liveright’s surprise, Klaus cabled back to the publisher, telling him that he would be coming to the States immediately and that he would be bringing his sister with him.

Erika and Klaus cooked up the idea of the American tour spontaneously and enthusiastically, just as they would decide, several months later, to expand it into a world tour. Klaus would later recall how, in many respects, their journey was nothing more than a “risky attempt to bamboozle the grown-ups,” by presenting themselves to the Americans as serious lecturers [TP 132]. Neither Klaus nor Erika had ever hesitated about using their father’s name to further their prospects. Thomas Mann was well known in the United States: Buddenbrooks and Death in Venice had already appeared there in book form, the literature and arts journal The Dial was publishing his short stories and occasional letters on German literature, and just that spring his novel The Magic Mountain had appeared to much acclaim. In academic circles Thomas Mann was considered a leading contender for the Nobel Prize in literature. Now his two oldest children developed a conscious campaign to capitalize on their father’s name by marketing themselves as the “Mann Literary Twins,” ← 8 | 9 → even though they were a year apart in age and Erika had not yet begun to be published.

What Klaus did not know about his “fame” in America was the fact that his novella had originally been turned down by the Boni and Liveright editorial board. It had been accepted by the firm’s first vice-president, Donald Friede, and published only with Friede’s guarantee that the firm would not lose money on it. It was Friede’s idea that an American lecture tour might help boost book sales, and it was he, together with Erika and Klaus’s friend Ricki Hallgarten and Walter Hummelsheim, a German student representative from Princeton University, who met the siblings when they landed in New York. Friede was taken aback upon this meeting, since, in his planning, “we had neglected to ask them if they spoke English, and it turned out that they did not.”2 Through negotiations with the lecture bureau that Friede had engaged to put up the money for the siblings’ crossing, Erika and Klaus agreed that they would spend the fall working on their English, with the promise that Erika would become fluent enough to give a summary introduction to Klaus’s lectures in the spring.

In the meantime, they continued their marketing bluff. A portrait printed in the New York newspaper The World showed them with matching tam o’ shanters perched rakishly on their heads and with partially eaten apples in their hands. Clearly they were indicating a new, stylishly eccentric breed of German youth, one that had eaten from the Tree of Knowledge, had enjoyed doing so, and now was ready to share that pleasure with their American hosts. Although Klaus found that this marketing of themselves as twins eventually “became cumbersome” [TP 134], they cheerfully cultivated this image during the first weeks of their tour.

Thomas, ever the supportive, if often embarrassed, father of the two “prodigies,” said in an interview published in the Philadelphia Public Ledger that he personally had “neither supported nor tried to hinder their journey” to America. Nevertheless, as one of those Germans who “welcome every effort to promote closer understanding between peoples,” he was “of course pleased over the attempt of my children to reveal to America something of the German mind and, for their part, to get an acquaintanceship with the intellectual life of your country.”3

Boni and Liveright got out an advertising pamphlet that would serve not only to introduce Klaus’s novella, but also to introduce Klaus himself to a larger public. Ernest Boyd, a prolific Irish-born critic, author, and translator of modern French and German literature, wrote the pamphlet, in which he ← 9 | 10 → summarized Klaus’s prior literary works and praised him as one of the best of the new German writers. Meanwhile, Erika and Klaus’s lecture bureau came up with its own marketing brochure. It featured a portrait that was far more subdued than the picture in The World: there were no tam o’ shanters, no apples, and no broad smiles. The text described Klaus as “notable as a thinker, a genius as a writer, and an accomplished portrayer of character on the stage,” and Erika as one who “not only speaks English fluently [!], but has all the grace of manner and charm of diction which have won her a foremost place in the theatrical world.” It promised audiences that for “those in the audiences who are […] familiar with German […], Mr. Mann’s lectures will have special interest, while those who understand English only will be able to gather the context from the admirable summaries in English presented by Miss Mann.” Fortunately, Erika was remarkably gifted linguistically, and during that fall she did indeed acquire enough fluency to be able to recite an English-language introduction to Klaus’s lectures.

At their arrival in New York, as Erika and Klaus were driven from the harbor to their hotel in downtown Manhattan, Klaus had an epiphany. “This was the city I was going to like best among all cities, except Paris,” he declared. “I knew it right away […] There was the electrifying contact which announces, or already is, love.” His love was for the city itself, its skyline of skyscrapers, which left him “awe-struck” [TP 133]. “Be reverent, when you walk among these unbelievable buildings,” he declared, and when “[you] look down these bold perspectives which have something of a new, severe Gothic style, be reverent and moved.”4

Erika and he eagerly set about exploring the city, “from Harlem to Wall Street; from Chinatown to the German district; from Central Park to Brooklyn, from the Bronx to the Village”:

The great views from the tall buildings were thrilling, and so were Coney Island and the Battery and the Burlesque shows and the many exotic restaurants, Russian and American and Syrian and Italian. We had a grand time watching the Negroes dancing, and sauntering through the Metropolitan Museum or the modern art galleries at Fifty-Seventh Street. [TP 134]

Donald Friede introduced them to the smoky speakeasies where the “Bohème” of Greenwich Village gathered, as well as to Manhattan’s high society and the city’s intellectuals. Through Ricki Hallgarten they got to know another side of the city. Ricki had come to New York in hopes of having a breakthrough as an artist; instead, he was now working as an errand boy for a flower shop, and his friends were all trapped in a spiral of poverty ← 10 | 11 → and crushed dreams. “We met quite a few of them,” Klaus wrote, “all types of eager, derelict youth, native or foreign born […], all subjected to the same callous system that allowed any one to become President of the United States or to starve to death.” Erika and Klaus experienced these contrasts between privilege and poverty throughout their New York stay: “There was something exciting and frightful about spending the afternoon with a bunch of penniless tramps,” Klaus wrote, “and then to run home, to the Astor, and change clothes for an opulent dinner party, say, at the palace of [investment banker] Otto H. Kahn” [TP 135].

Even though their contractual agreement prevented them from lecturing that fall, the siblings did pay visits to Princeton and Bryn Mawr. Walter Hummelsheim was their host at Princeton and took the siblings to their first American football game. Erika commented on the roughness of the sport, but said that “the band was wonderful with cute little caps.” There was a tea given in their honor at Bryn Mawr, and Erika did her best to answer the questions put to herself and her brother. She said that they had been averaging “eight engagements a day” since arriving in New York. As to the prohibition she had heard so much about before coming to this country, she could truthfully say that she had “never been offered so much hard liquor in her life before.”5

At the end of their visit, she and Klaus were invited to their first Halloween party. Here Klaus was immediately taken with their host’s son, Frederic Prokosch; he found his boyish face “irritable and restive, at once brightened and burdened with the promise of future works” [TP 150]. A decade later, after Prokosch had gained fame as a novelist, he and Klaus would meet again and form a strong friendship.6 Now, however, the aspiring young writer sat down and wrote a review of Klaus’s The Fifth Child. He called Klaus’s novella “frankly and proudly the work of a young man, sporting up all the good qualities of youthful writing and not at all worried about the regions beyond its reach.” It showed an “exuberant spontaneous method” and was “a very interesting book to read: it is not great, certainly; but it is in its way very choice.” Prokosch gave the book a grade of 90.7

The siblings now headed west. After a layover in Chicago they arrived in Los Angeles, a city that Klaus found “repulsively ugly; if one is used to the severe, stark beauty of New York one cannot grasp it. […] This is not a city but rather an enormous, unshaped settlement, unwholesomely sumptuous, proliferating mushroom-like from the soil.”8 He marveled at the newness of the film industry; Hollywood Boulevard, he noted, was less than thirty years old. ← 11 | 12 →

Shortly after their arrival Erika made a telephone call to the German film star Emil Jannings. Jannings had only recently come to Hollywood, but he had already starred in The Way of All Flesh, the first of two movies that would earn him Hollywood’s first Academy Award for Acting in 1929. Jannings immediately invited Erika and Klaus to dinner, and the siblings became regulars at the Jannings’s social gatherings. At that time, this home was “the ‘official’ meeting place of the German colony”; it was “more exclusive, indeed, than any aristocratic salon in Europe.” Erika and Klaus suspected that they were invited to the Jannings home “as humorous exceptions—funny to have around but utterly unimportant” [TP 142]. Here they were able to rub elbows with film directors Ernst Lubitsch, F. W. Murnau, and Ludwig Berger, and with actors Conrad Veidt, Pola Negri, and the great Greta Garbo. The siblings’ travel notes quickly became a register of dinners, teas, and studio visits with famous Hollywood names. They lunched with Adolphe Menjou and Clara Bow, had champagne at Pola Negri’s residence, watched a day’s shooting of Paul Leni’s The Man Who Laughs, and attended the premiere of F. W. Murnau’s Sunrise.

Figure 1.1. On the set of The Man Who Laughs, Hollywood 1928. Left to right: Conrad Veidt, Klaus, Mary Philbin, Erika, Paul Leni. (Archiv spangenberg verlag, Munich) ← 12 | 13 →

They were also invited as guests to a program put on by the German Club at the University of California’s Southern Campus,9 where, after watching the students stage a German-language Christmas pageant, Klaus read to them from his novella. He was well received, and the chair of the German department pronounced Klaus “an author of rapidly increasing power and significance.” He wrote, in his annual report, that “intellectually speaking,” Klaus’s appearance was “one of the chief events of the year.”10

As in New York, Erika and Klaus eagerly gathered as many experiences as they could during their six weeks’ stay. They went to another, considerably larger, football game than the one they’d seen in Princeton; this one was played out in a huge stadium that held 80,000 onlookers. At a pre-game luncheon held at the home “of some rich people,” Erika and he marveled at the taste and generosity of their hosts. They declared it an “almost surprising drama: a bourgeoisie that is not degenerated, but funny and self-assuredly unproblematic! To celebrate real festivals in all innocence: what a sign of power!11

They attended a boxing match, where “the half aware, muffled sadism of four thousand excited men and women seems more unsavory than captivating” [43]. They went to a religious service given by Aimee Semple McPherson—a “fantastic mixture of authentic ecstasy and glaring humbug.” It was “disconcerting” to watch “the sweeping hysteria, the tremendous hoax.” [TP 144]. Still, they considered their attendance at this “atrocious pseudo worship service” an important experience. “It causes nausea, but it instructs one about the downside of materialism,” they declared.12

During Erika and Klaus’s stay in Hollywood, a particularly gruesome kidnapping and murder took place. Marion Parker, the twelve-year-old daughter of a prominent Los Angeles banker, was taken from her school. A large ransom was demanded and eventually paid only to have the kidnapper push the brutally dismembered body of the girl out of his car before driving off. Klaus followed every detail of the hunt for the murderer. He was particularly interested to see how the press incited public outrage. “Hundreds of thousands of dollars were earned in extra editions,”13 he noted; “the mob, recklessly incited by a mercenary press, wants to see blood” [48].

By now the critics’ judgments of Klaus’s novella The Fifth Child were beginning to be heard. Their voices were mixed: on the positive side, they wrote that Klaus’s tale was “simply and effectively told,”14 and showed “a fine quality of conscious skill in depicting child psychology”; on the negative side, ← 13 | 14 → they stated that the “organic conception of the book [was] decidedly confused, since the whole thing is an irrelevantly elaborated incident, lacking even unity of moods.”15 One of the earliest reviews declared that the work “shines with a rare brilliancy that overshadows the more ambitious work of others,” and defended it as a “romantic interlude […, a] more youthful revolt against the poison of Wassermann and others of the sickly grim realists upon the Continent, who, yearning for romance, have not the fortitude to create it.”16

Most critics were far less generous. One wrote that the book showed “promise—but it is a promise obscured by the lack of purpose and clarity of this work.”17 Another found the work “confused in ideas, formless in structure and anticlimactic in its final impression.” He wrote that “Klaus Mann must grow up. He has been most fortunate in the prodigious, cultural milieu transmitted to him by his father. It behooves him now not merely emptily to re-echo that milieu’s discoveries. He must grow up to them by really inwardly understanding them.”18

None of these reviews dampened the Mann “twins”’ spirit, and, after paying a visit to the novelist Upton Sinclair, Erika and Klaus returned to the East Coast and began their lecture tour. They learned that Donald Friede had withdrawn his investment in Boni and Liveright and had left the firm. However, its co-owner, Horace Liveright, was now in New York and took over the role of host. Liveright was forty-one years old, an alcoholic and a womanizer, but Erika and Klaus found him “incomparable” and “loved him immediately.”19 Always in financial difficulties, Liveright was known for enticing talented young men like Donald Friede to put up large sums of money in order to become vice presidents in his firm; he then used that money to finance Broadway shows, many of them flops. One exception was the play Dracula, which opened on Broadway in October 1927, and starred Bela Lugosi in his first major English-speaking role. Erika and Klaus were “spellbound” by the performance:

We loved it. […] From now on, we would mumble, when separating at night: “My poor Miss Lucy looks very tired today.” And when we saw each other again, the next morning, we wouldn’t say good morning, but, in an eerie whisper, “And how is the patient now?” [TP 138–139]

During their two New York stays the siblings saw quite a few Broadway and Off-Broadway shows. For quality drama, they were most impressed by a performance of Porgy at the Theatre Guild. This play, by Dorothy and DuBose Heyward, would form the basis for the libretto of Porgy and Bess seven years ← 14 | 15 → later. Porgy had an all-black cast, and Klaus was enthralled. “It was the first show of colored actors I saw, and I thought them more accomplished and fascinating than the white Broadway stars,” he asserted. They possessed “what the American stage was still lacking: a spontaneous and yet consciously developed artistic style.” Otherwise, he found the American stage “exclusively devoted to the entertainment of the audiences, in contrast to the higher aims of the German stage” [TP 139].

While they were in New York Erika and Klaus had a reunion with the Berlin stage director Max Reinhardt, who had brought a guest performance of Schiller’s Kabale und Liebe [Love and Intrigue] to the New York stage. After the performance, Reinhardt asked Erika and Klaus if they wanted to stay in the States for good. “We resolutely said no, at which he sized us up suspiciously and made a few comments about Broadway and the possibilities of California.”20 At this time, however, Erika and Klaus had no intentions of relocating to the United States; their aspirations did not reach beyond a six-month visit. But it may have been this conversation with Reinhardt that prompted Klaus to compose a new work of prose fiction during his stay in New York.

He called it “Gegenüber von China” (“Across from China”), and it told of a young German stage actor trying to break into the Hollywood film industry. In the course of the story, the young hero goes from one whose “only conviction was that for him nothing was impossible21 to one who encounters humiliations, failures, and poverty. In a last desperate act to break through in films he undergoes an operation to make the tip of his nose conform better to Hollywood standards, but, upon recovery, and the suicide of a close friend, he finds that Hollywood has “lost its magic,” and the movie palaces and their gaudy posters no longer entice him. “New worlds open themselves to him. One could journey on […].” The young hero “felt exultingly that his powers were not used up. China lay across the way. And one could become a cabin boy” [233].

The hero’s crushed aspirations for success as a Hollywood film actor reflect Ricki Hallgarten’s failed attempts to achieve recognition as a New York artist; they only dimly express the siblings’ own Hollywood ambitions. The end of the story, however, does reflect the siblings’ own spontaneous decision to head for China at the end of their American tour.

Erika and Klaus delivered their first paid public lecture at New York’s Columbia University; this was followed by presentations at Harvard, Bryn Mawr, Princeton, and Johns Hopkins. “We were delighted by American college life,” Klaus would recall years later, “it was more civilized and yet less ceremonious than what we had seen at European universities” [TP 149]. On these ← 15 | 16 → occasions, Erika gave an English-language introduction to Klaus’s German presentation, and followed this up with readings of German poetry. Klaus’s topic, “The German Youth Movement,” was designed to appeal to American students, especially since he and Erika were part of it. He opened his lecture by saying that, after the expressionist movement of a generation caught up in World War I, German youth found themselves without a unifying literary style. “‘Style is the result of a movement,’ Mr. Mann explained, ‘and in France the younger generation believed that search for a common goal was sufficient to create a movement, surrealism.’” The Germans, Klaus said, needed “a more definite tendency than mere unity of purpose,” adding, “It is best not to speak of those nationalistic and militaristic groups that unite in hatred of France; it is this group, strong in sport and materialism, that looks with distrust upon any movement tending toward the liberation of thought and spirit.”22 It is a bit surprising that, on this tour, Klaus was already taking note of a rise in German nationalism and militarism, since he was still resoundingly apolitical, and his interests were purely cultural and hedonistic.

He confessed to his audiences, that, in Germany, World War I had created “the type of ‘revolutionary child’ that sought the ways that seemed to him most forbidden, and cultivated the very things the parents deemed absurd and abominable.” He was speaking from experience: Thomas Mann’s 1925 novella Unordnung und frühes Leid [Disorder and Early Sorrow] had portrayed Thomas’s bewilderment over his older children’s carefree attitudes and apparent lack of direction. But, Klaus added, also speaking for himself and his sister, “These radical tendencies are subsiding. The pendulum is swinging back.”23 One student reporter who interviewed the siblings wrote that Erika and Klaus had both said “with relief” that the German youth of today had “become more conservative.” They said that they had come to America for two reasons: “primarily to tell Americans about a unification [of the youth] of Europe, and secondly to suggest grounds that America and Germany might have in common, which could help to establish a closer relationship between the two countries.”24

From Baltimore, Erika and Klaus set out for a tour in the Middle West. In Milwaukee, where they spoke before a German-American club, they had a delightful reunion with Rudolf Amendt, who had toured with them the year before in Klaus’s Revue zu Vieren after Gustaf Gründgens had left the cast. Amendt was now performing with a German theater company in Milwaukee; he introduced Erika and Klaus to the company and its director, and Klaus wrote that “Erika came within an inch of playing the old Mrs. Alving” [in Ibsen’s ← 16 | 17 → Ghosts]. The company was, both decided, “the best German theater in the United States.”25

They spent two weeks in Chicago, where, after giving a presentation to the Columbia Ladies Club, they made the obligatory tour of the Chicago stockyards and were, as all visitors were, appalled at the brutal slaughter of thousands of helpless animals. It was, they said, a reminder that “our entire civilization is erected on a substratum of horror, sorrow, and endless misery” [71]. But otherwise they liked Chicago. They were impressed by the city’s “roaring vitality and dynamic ugliness” [TP 150–151]. Michigan Boulevard was being developed before their very eyes: they toured the hospital that was still in the process of being built and visited the temporary housing where modernist European painters were hung along with “very, very many horrible ‘modern’ Americans.”26 [67]. They enjoyed a trip to the Irish theater, which presented “the best comedy that we got to see since leaving Berlin” and saw the Gershwin musical Oh Kay, which they found “slick and dreary” [70]. They criticized the city’s extraordinarily high levels of unemployment, which provided a stark contrast to the luxury of Michigan Avenue. “Let’s not be fooled,” they exclaimed, conditions in the city resembled the “conditions before the French Revolution” [67].

Their visit to the Apex Club, one of the newest jazz clubs on the city’s South Side, proved to be a highlight of their stay. The black hostess of the club, Nora Holt, was “a chanteuse of the most exquisite fame,” not “of the popular sort,” like Josephine Baker, but one who is a “friend of an international, intellectual circle” where she “creates a sensation” [71]. Her hair was straightened and bleached blond; Klaus felt that it suited her negroid features—“broad nose, shiny eyes and garish thick-lipped mouth” [72]. When she performed a song, accompanying herself on the piano, it was transforming: “The elegant woman from before is forgotten; this one simply sings, existing only in rhythm, now she is a kind of priestess, so seriously does she carry out her office. […] She becomes, this singer, a Negro deity, who is holding her rhythmic worship service” [73, 74]. Years later Klaus would give the appearance, but not the character, of Nora Holt to Juliette Martens, the “Black Venus” of his novel Mephisto.

While they were in Chicago, Klaus received news from Berlin that he would not be paid for the articles he had been sending for publication until they actually appeared in print. This was a severe blow to the siblings’ finances, since the only paid lecture that was still scheduled for them in America was in Lawrence, Kansas, and they had accumulated innumerable debts. Klaus wrote at once to Horace Liveright, begging for $600. This money could, he said, be an advance on the rights to publish his next two novels. Barring that, ← 17 | 18 → he wondered if the money couldn’t be a payment for some of the lectures and articles that he had gotten translated into English. And, as a third option, he offered Liveright his play Anja and Esther for performance in America. Liveright agreed to give him $500 with no commitment to publish Klaus’s work.

The siblings paid off some of their New York debts, then left Chicago, a city that, with its many contradictions, provided a connecting link between imposing New York and sprawling Los Angeles. “Whoever wants to know America,” they declared, “has to have looked around here.”27


XII, 552
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2018 (February)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2018. XII, 552 pp. 17 b/w ills.

Biographical notes

Beverley Driver Eddy (Author)

Beverley Driver Eddy is Professor Emerita of German at Dickinson College. She received her PhD from Indiana University. Recent book subjects include Austrian poet Evelyn Schlag, Danish feminist writer Karin Michaëlis, Bambi author Felix Salten, and the U.S. army men trained in psychological warfare during World War II.


Title: Erika and Klaus Mann