May 2014

Scene4 Magazine-The Steiny Road  To Operadom - Karren Alenier -
Karren LaLonde Alenier

The Letter

When the 25-year-old Christopher Blake learned that Gertrude Stein was dead (July 27, 1946), he was in the French Alps with the writer Kaye Boyle and her family, including his friend her son Sinbad Vail and Boyle's daughters, at the chalet that she called Les Six Enfants. Her ex-husband Laurence Vail, Blake said, "came out of the snow to tell me that Gertrude Stein had died." Blake said Laurence jokingly taunted him saying, "Look what you did. Cock Robin is dead."

On July 1, 1946, Christopher Blake, Stein's last protégé, the man after whom she modeled Chris, The Citizen in her opera The Mother of Us All, her Mercury who mailed her correspondence by American military dispatch and got her supplies from the military Px, had written Stein a letter saying he would never visit her again because she had insulted Blake's lover, Bernard Poisson. Poisson had come to her door at 5 rue Christine to deliver some food for her cat. Stein had told Poisson to never come to her home again and slammed the door in his face. Neither Blake nor Poisson knew why she did this.

Blake wrote the following letter, which the older American G. I. Joe Barry advised Blake not to do. Barry also brought Stein and Toklas supplies from the military Px and mailed her correspondence. She called him Mercury as well and she modeled Jo, the Loiterer after him in The Mother of Us All. After the letter was sent, Barry told Blake that he should visit Stein and make amends. Barry was with Stein and Toklas when Stein took ill in the French countryside and Barry drove them to the American hospital in the suburbs of Paris where Stein died. Here is the letter that is held in Stein's archive at Yale University:


What is interesting to the Steiny Road Poet about this letter is the concern and deep respect that Blake had for Stein even in the face of such bad unexplained behavior on her part. Blake says out of concern for her health, he will continue to help her get food though she will have to send someone to pick up what she orders since he would not risk any further insult to Bernard. He also tells her how grateful he is for all the advice she gave him and concludes with "all my love," a closing that bookends his opening "believe me, I always love and respect you." Over the decades since his last visit with Stein, Blake had come to believe that his letter had been insulting to her and that like Laurence Vail suggested, Blake had accelerated her death. In fact, the letter was true to the elderly man the Steiny had come to know in exchanges by email and by telephone—upbeat, loving, well mannered, generous.


On March 25, 2014, Christopher Stanislaus Blake died of lung cancer just a couple weeks after his 93rd birthday in a VA hospital in Long Beach, California. His obituary was published in the New Orleans Advocate detailing his career as a chef and restaurateur and as a man who was also a writer. Steiny is grateful to Chris Blake for bringing new aspects of Gertrude Stein in the years just after World War II to her attention. Rest in peace Christopher Blake.

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Scene4 Magazine — Karren AlenierKarren LaLonde Alenier's most recent book is The Steiny Road to Operadom: The Making of American Operas. She also writes a monthly column in Scene4
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May 2014

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