As my departure date to LA looms large, I’m surrounded by ‘to do’ lists and am assembling my goods and chattels ready for departure. In short, it’s panic stations here at Style Stakes Towers. There are the usual dilemmas about ‘what to pack’ for a prolonged trip and that the perfect mix-and-match ‘capsule wardrobe’ (much vaunted by style editors in lifestyle magazines) is utterly elusive to me. But with an archive trip there are other, more specialised and scholarly, dilemmas also. Although I can haul a good deal of my references, articles, images and documents across the Atlantic very portably because of digitisation, there are some potentially important sources that don’t lend themselves well to the strains of airport baggage handling and weight restrictions. Some of my heavier, bigger books and more precious contemporary source materials are just going to have to remain on the shelf at home.
One book is going to accompany me on my travels, though. That is my 1st edition of Loraine ‘Happy’ Hornaday Fielding’s French Heels to Spurs, published in 1930 by The Century Co and illustrated by Eve Ganson, which I was fortunate to acquire on one of my (regular and varied) second-hand forays. The book itself is really a piece of juvenalia, written by Fielding at the age of seventeen, and isn’t a great literary masterpiece. However, it does provide a contemporary, first-hand account of a dude ranch vacation and goes into great, daily, detail of Western life at Bones Brothers Ranch at Hanging Woman Creek, Birney, Montana. Fielding herself is, or was, an interesting character. Granddaughter of William T Hornaday, retired director of the NY Zoological Park (Bronx Zoo), she was raised in Stamford, Connecticut and, in life emulating art, went on to make a career in writing, penning the 1947 Esther Williams movie This Time for Keeps.
As fascinating as the content of the book itself, my copy of French Heels to Spurs includes a tantalising series of additional emphemera. There are some press pictures of Fielding pasted into the front and back covers of the book. And lo and behold, too, there are even a couple of envelopes of correspondance between Fielding (postmarked Stamford Conn, Dec 13 1933 and Jan 8 1934) and a ‘Miss Katharine H. Kaelber’ of Rochester, New York. Remarkable! On reading the letters, one might surmise that young Katharine was an avid horse rider and great admirer of Fielding’s adventures out West. Katharine seems to have sent Fielding some fan mail late in 1933 seeking an autograph for her own copy of French Heels but as the following transcripts reveal, a ‘blunder’ in the Fielding household meant that Katharine’s request was not as straightforward as first appears. Read on:
Dec 13, 1933: Letter to Katharine from ‘Loraine’s mother’
20 West North St, Stamford, Conn.
To-day we were shocked to find tucked away on a shelf in the coat-closet, this auto-graphed book belonging to you.
Someone has severely blundered – not Loraine I know, for she has been away many weeks, coming home only on one or two week-ends. Evidently, she asked some member of the family to mail it for her, and instead, it was carelessly put on a shelf and promptly forgotten during her absence. Do please forgive this inexcusable delay, which would greatly distress her were she to know of it, for she is always punctual to the extreme in every way.
Loving horses as you do (and Loraine is just like you in her intense love for them) she earnestly hopes that someday before many years, you will have your thrill and delight of a summer spent on a dude-ranch. Time flies by so quickly when one is young, that that day won’t be long in coming – and how you will enjoy it!
Loraine and her six-teen year old brother are already planninng to drive out to Montana next summer – she to the Bones Brothers (‘Big Brothers’ in her book) – he (Dodge) to his beloved R-Bar (‘A Wild Picnic’ ranch in French Heels). This is the one I think you would enjoy the most. Mr and Mrs Woodard are such dear people and the life on the R Bar is such a happy one.
Please give my cordial greetings to your dear Mother and to your Father, and believe me.
Postscript: Just call Loraine ‘Happy’. She wants you to.
Jan 8, 1934: Letter to Katharine from Loraine
Dear Katharine –
It was very nice to get your letter! I appreciated it tremendously, – for nothing is more encouraging or satisfying to a new author than to find that people like her work – and especially when they write her in such a delightful way about it as you did. ‘French Heels’ was a lot of fun to write, for you see, I loved it so out there, that it was just reliving my summer again and nothing could have been nicer than that – except being on the ranch again.
Someday you’ll have to go out yourself. It’s all so new and interesting, and I know you’ll get as much out of it as I did. But it seems to me that you have a pretty happy time now. A horse all of your very own, a chance to ride whenever you like, and then that grand Christmas gift of a formal riding habit. I never had one of those, and they really are a lot nicer than chaps for you can wear it so much more often. While my big hat and boots are lying dusty on the shelf, you’re busy using yours which is a great deal better than wondering when you’re going to ride again, isn’t it?
When you have time you must write and tell me more about your horse, the ribbons you’ve won, your school and things. I should enjoy so much hearing – and perhaps some day before very long, we can meet each other, and exchange notes on your eastern riding and the ranch.
In the meantime, the happiest of New Years to you – and my best wishes to your Mother, and her daughter – who wrote that fine letter to ‘Happy’
Yes, it all reads like the stuff of a black and white movie premise, doesn’t it? Even having its very own Hollywood ‘happy’ ending to boot.