I’ve been reviewing various possibilities for scanning the wonderful scrapbook of Erich Funke d’Egnuff that was gifted to The Archive by longtime Letterman fencer Marc LeRoux. (See: here) It’s proving to be a rather tricky proposition. The date range of the scrapbook is from April of 1937 to April of 1945 and there is an absolute trove of news clippings containing information about the various events, competitions, coming out parties and all manner of fencing related events that people today don’t even think of as possibilities. It’s a challenge to scan because the pages of the book are bound into a hard spine. Unlike every other scrapbook of the era and beyond that is in The Archive collection, it isn’t tied together with string or held together with pegs or any other reasonable (to me) method. Hardbound. Firm spine. What this means is I can’t put it on my flatbed scanner to get high resolution, flattened scans. I mean, I could, but by doing so I’d be endangering the integrity of the spine and possibly the pages themselves. So that option is out.
I have some other methods to attempt for a satisfactory solution, and I may have to wrap in my professional photographer brother Garrett to set up a means by which we can get an uncompressed photo file with a camera while utilizing some sort of non-damaging glass page flattener. It’ll be a tricky rig; some of the newspaper articles are folded into the page and, when unfolded, are much larger than the album page, so we’ll need something that’s adjustable for multiple sizes. With help from my brother, I’m sure we can figure it out. He’s clever about such things.
In the meantime, I did a very quick, non-invasive pass through the whole scrapbook with my little Canon Powershot, which is easy to use and has a reasonable image resolution but can’t shoot anything but .jpeg images which aren’t fully satisfactory for archival preservation. But they at least give me something to look at without opening the scrapbook every time I want to find out who won the local Sabre Open in August of 1938. That was Ferard Leicester, for those of you playing Archive Bingo.
While taking a pass through the photos of all the pages recently, something jumped out at me that I hadn’t really contemplated before. Throughout the scrapbook, old press photos, pictures taken by staff photographers from the various local newspapers in San Francisco, were way, way cooler than the pictures we see of fencers in the papers today. What happened? I mean, some of the compositions are wacky, some took a lot of imagination and planning to create, and some are just excellent portraits. Was it because a photographer back then was taking a black & white photo? Is there something about the way news photographers were trained, or some special consideration related to printing? I could speculate all day, but it just seems that somewhere between the photographers, the subjects and whoever else was advising – and I think I must give credit here to Erich Funke d’Egnuff, as he seemed to be intimately involved in all this – they came up with some really interesting photos.
I’ve cut out captions that intruded into the photos. Some of the cuts and crops they used to get around type is a study in and of itself on newspaper layout shape shifting. And, since the photos of these images were taken without the ability to flatten all the pages I had to download Photoshop (finally) and learn how to use the Perspective Warp tool. So that’s a plus.
“It was Ladies’ Day yesterday at the Emporium Auditorium.” That’s Mrs. Erich A. Funke up top and Miss Helen Sander in this photo from the San Francisco Chronicle, June of 1937. Where was the photographer? In the rafters? The angle is from directly above the fencers. You wouldn’t get this from a ladder. Impressive.
That’s Miss Marcelle Woollen and Miss Jovita Bonniwell in this photo out of the San Francisco Examiner from July of 1937, advertising a tournament sponsored by the Examiner. An interesting effect – each one of the young ladies is holding not one, not two, but three foils. Maybe they had hoped to get some low-end impression of a stroboscopic effect? Anyway, I don’t think this is what was meant by a ‘three weapon tournament’, even though such events were very popular back in the day.
Caberia Teresi in a photo from July 2, 1938’s SF Chronicle advertising a July 4th program at Kezar Stadium, former home of the San Francisco Fourty Niners. I assume the fencing exhibition/competition took place outdoors, as it was held in conjunction with a drill competition. “…part of the city’s Independence day celebration.”
Round photos. When did these go out of style? And, for goodness sake, why? The caption starts, “EN GARDE, or something, is Marcelle Woolen, nice looking fencing miss…”. They don’t write them like that anymore, do they? August of ’38, SF Chronicle. The composition of this is a bit deceptive. On first glance, I had the idea that Marcelle’s back hand was holding onto the wrist of the incoming sword arm. Kind of an Errol Flynn type of infighting move. But no, it’s just the angle of the shot. Her back hand is up and away in a fairly classical manner and I was just letting my imagination get away from me a bit.
Here’s one from February, 1939 that has an historically intriguing subject. On the right we have Betty Jane Nevis, one of Helene Mayer’s students from Mills College. On the left, Caroline Leonetti. Caroline is quite the interesting character. She graduated from UC Berkeley, probably right around the time this photo was taken. After graduation, she became a fashion consultant and eventually opened a modeling agency in Los Angeles. Her second husband was Howard Ahmanson, of The Ahmanson Theater fame. Caroline also had a continuing brush with the fencing world as she hired Aldo Nadi – or allowed him space, I don’t know which – at her modeling agency after Mr. Nadi was allegedly fired from the LAAC. Anyway, how about that backdrop? I was thinking it was the Palace of Fine Arts, but now, because of the next photo in the series, I think it may be something out at Treasure Island. See below:
This photo is also from February, 1939, although published in the Examiner a little later in the month. But we have the same two ladies, Betty Jane Nevis on the left and Caroline Leonetti on the right. The gentlemen’s heads belong to Lawrence Bocci and Guillermo del Oro. Nice shadows, too! And a very high angle. What was the photographer perched upon? Ladder, perhaps? A high wall? Roof?
This one’s just awesome. Who doesn’t love the ‘fighting up and down the staircase’ idea? Apparently, the stairs here were to be found at the Funke Fencing Academy. This picture, again from the Examiner, is from June of 1939 and is for an article advertising the upcoming US National Championships that took place on Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay in July of ’39. They were the first Nationals held someplace other than the New York, New Jersey (once, prior to 1939) or Boston (once, prior to 1939). And after 1939, they were in New York every year until 1957. The duo pictured are Miss Marcelle Woollen and Miss Helen Guerts. Miss Helen can be seen taking the hit.
Another circle, again to advertise Nationals, with Marcelle Woollen and Betty Jane Nevis. Funke definitely had a cast of recurring characters for the photos, but it’s pretty impressive that there are so many people involved.
These two made the front page of the sports section. Betty Jane Nevis and her sister Margie photographed somewhere in Union Square.
This one is a little more traditional, if an unusual configuration for a sabre lesson. June of 1940, that’s Mrs. Emilie Romaine on the left. She and/or her husband had a photography studio in San Francisco, Romaine Studios, and I wonder if they may have been a behind the scenes influencer for the quality of the photographs. I suppose I’d have to look at fencing news photos from outside the Bay Area during the same period to see if that idea might hold water. On the right in this photo is Mrs. Paul Gallico. If the name Paul Gallico doesn’t ring a bell in your fencing memory, it ought to. Gallico was a writer of some note, arguably most famous today as the author of “The Poseidon Adventure”. However, in fencing he should best be remembered as the author of the forward to Aldo Nadi’s “On Fencing”. Gallico was married four times, and I’m guessing the spouse pictured above might be wife #3, one Pauline Gariboldi. According to Wikipedia, they married and divorced in 1939.
And what do you know? On a seemingly entirely unrelated topic, I was able to work in not one, but two references to Aldo Nadi. I think I may be coming down with something. At any rate, I have a whole bunch more of these. If other topics don’t intrude, and they well may, I’ll post more another time.