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NEW VISION FOR A SCULPTOR
conscience hurt him as much as his drinking.
But that was years ago.
THINK that life, when I was growing up, was the most
wonderful life that any kid ever had. My parents were
very successful and every new luxury and every new beauty
that came into the house was keenly appreciated by all
of us. We didn't have things thrown at us. They came
little by little.
My parents were
both Jews and, in my family life, we were always keenly
alive to the beauty of religion, although we were not
orthodox. I always saw God as a wonderful force that
was a great deal like my father, only magnified to the
Nth degree. I once asked my grandfather, when I was
a little boy, what God was like. He asked me what my
dad was like. I went into superlatives about dad because
I really loved him so much. He was such a friendly,
wonderful father, and so my grandfather said, "Well,
your father is the head of your family. God is the head
of the entire human family and of the whole universe.
But what makes him 'Dear God' is that you can speak
to him just as you would talk to your own dad. He's
not only a universal father, but an individual father
too." So I'd always had that wonderful comparison
of my own father with God.
When they found
out that I could create sculpture
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a very early age, it made both my parents very happy;
my two older brothers were not artists, but they were
good students. I was a very bad student and very much
an artist. Instead of resenting that, they encouraged
my art. So my childhood was really art and music, and
I got along at school, usually, by leaving the day before
examinations or getting measles or something else like
that and being put in the next grade for trial. The
teacher of the grade that I left would never take me
back under any circumstances.
I was ecstatically
happy. My brothers and their friends lived on horses
as I did from six years old on. We did everything, all
of our playing and wild games on horseback. This was
up to World War I. I was about nineteen years old then.
I don't think I had any fears at all up to that time.
We were a very
close family. Everything was very vital, anything that
happened to one happened to another. When war broke
out all I could hear in my heart was the echoes of what
father and mother had told me so often; how grateful
I should be to the United States. Both my grandfathers
had come over from the other side, one from Bohemia
and one from Prussia, because at that time there was
persecution in those countries, and they wanted to live
and be a part of the "land of the free." They
both had magnificent lives and were able to pull themselves
up and live happily and die in luxury. I was very grateful
to the United States for that.
I loved my grandparents
very dearly and I had watched my father's great financial
success. So I felt that I didn't want either of my two
brothers to go to
They were both married, but certainly one of the family
should show what we thought and felt about the United
States. So I told my folks that I was going to join
the Army and that scared them to death, but after a
while they heard that a near by hospital was forming
a unit and I think my mother had a picture of my going
to war with my personal family doctor. Nothing could
be more luxurious! So, they gave their consent that
I should join the unit, never realizing that you could
transfer when you got to the other side.
I was a terrible
soldier as far as drilling was concerned, but I had
been studying anatomy and dissecting for my art work
so a hospital was sort of a second nature to me. I got
along very well in that part of the Army, very well
I went through
World War I without actually getting drunk. I did learn
to drink heavily in France, but it didn't do anything
for me or to me. I mean to say I didn't drink for relief
or escape, and I was always flattered that I could out-drink
almost anybody and take them home. Many of the patients
insisted that when they got well they were going to
take me down and get me drunk in appreciation. It was
usually a hike of two and one-half kilometers to get
the patient back to the hospital! These were walking
I had one bad experience
in which a truck that I was in was blown up, and I woke
up in Vichy a couple of days later in a bathtub. I thought
I was in heaven. The whole room was full of steam. An
enormous sergeant came through the steam and said, "Don't
move, young fellow." I said, "Where am I?"
He told me. I started to upbraid him, "Why shouldn't
I move?" He said, "Don't move. That's all."
I did, and found it was
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painful. I had an injury to my spine. When it was time
to get me out of that bathtub that enormous guy just
picked me up as though I were a baby and put me on a
stretcher. That was about three days before the Armistice.
On Armistice Day
everyone pushed all the hospital beds onto the street
and had a grand parade of them. Everybody hugged and
kissed us and gave us candy and drinks, and the sergeant
came along with a glass and said, "The doctor says
you're to finish this right away." I turned it
upside down and believe me the bed swam from then on.
It didn't last very long because as soon as I got something
to eat I got over that. But I think that was my very
first feeling of being dizzy or drunk.
When I got back
from World War I, there didn't seem to be any alcoholic
problem at all. I could drink or not drink, but when
I did I liked to out-drink other people. This stupid
desire to out-drink people, and then drinking more and
more myself, was the first sign of my alcoholism.
I married in 1920.
In 1928, my wife and I returned to Paris with two children,
and I'd get insomnia and get up and go to the dining
room and take a glass of brandy and that would put me
back to sleep. I thought people took brandy to go to
in this country, I began to notice the family got worried
when I was drinking and I didn't like to see them worried.
I thought, if it worries them so much, well, I'd drink
over at the studio and take my friends over there. Because,
by that time, I'd worked up a good, artistic reputation
and the critics were particularly kind to me. I had
of work, all that I could take care of, and I liked
work. I always had a long day. To me, sunrise is the
most gorgeous time of the day and the most spiritual,
and I love to say my prayers and watch the sunrise at
the same time. I am grateful for the new day and for
the beauty of it.
This drinking over
at the studio and then finally at barrooms—anything
so as not to drink at the house—became progressively
worse. This was when my "guilt complex" started,
with this secret drinking. I went to Europe several
times and the cycle seemed to be broken each time because
I was never drunk over there, except when we lived in
Paris after I was actively alcoholic. I was only actually
drunk there twice that I know of.
The drinking got
heavier and heavier and the compulsion got heavier and
heavier. I could still come home without staggering
and I was very proud of that. But I was very unhappy
too because I was making the folks at home unhappy,
and then my legs began to get unsteady and they could
see by my bloodshot eyes that I'd been drinking on the
sly, and then guilt really started in. And with the
guilt there started fears and I was very unhappy, so
I decided that I would quit—and then I found that I
couldn't quit. This one didn't count. This one was medicine.
By that time I was in my thirties. That's just about
the time I did such crazy things. I'd sneak away from
the house on my motorcycle because I thought I could
be wilder and have a grander time on a motorcycle than
I could in a car, because a car had four wheels and,
incidentally, a motorcycle could go faster. But I found
that was very lonely, so I got a sidecar and took a
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when I'd go out with the chauffeur, he would drive out
and I would have to drive him home because he didn't
have my capacity.
My wife always
had faith that this was only a sickness, but she did
worry. She knew nothing about A.A. and I knew nothing
of it. But, she always realized that this was not her
husband, that something had distressed him and that
something had to be understood, although I was arrogant
After father died
in 1934, I drank for oblivion. That was a terrible shock.
In my insecurity I thought that all the security in
the world had gone with him.
The next few years
were really terrible. So many things happened that the
net was closing in. One of the most terrible things
was that in my guilt I lost God. That was the big thing.
I had no right to pray to God. I had no right to go
into the temple or church. When we lived in Rome I used
to go into one of the cathedrals every night on my way
home from work and, to me, a house of God was a house
of God and was beautiful and dedicated to His worship.
Now I was robbed of God, because I was so ashamed, and
so I had no help and I didn't know how to quit. It was
We had a dear friend
up near us in Westchester by the name of Gabrielle.
She had a wash-woman whose son was a cripple. He had
created some really beautiful works of art. She asked
me if I would to and see his work and help him. I couldn't
refuse Gabrielle anything, and I promised her that I
would go, and that was really the beginning of the end
of my alcoholic experience. I gathered together the
most beautiful gooks of pictures from the Vatican. Like
shot alcoholic I did everything in style! I got gorgeous
new art materials and fine new paper. I couldn't get
the train at my own station—that was impossible! I had
to go down the line and beat the train by twenty minutes
and spend those twenty minutes in a barroom. That held
me till I got to 125th Street and the bars were open.
(Prohibition had been repealed while I was drinking
and getting up the steam to go and visit the poor cripple.)
So I went to a bar on 7th Avenue and when I got there
the welcome was warmer than any welcome I ever received
in my life, there were a lot of bar-flies around, and
everybody was treating everybody, and I was gulping
them down as fast as I could. Finally, when I found
myself with sixteen drinks in front of me, still to
be taken, and this big package of pictures, I hurried
up and finished the sixteen drinks and told the men
that I would be back later, that I had to deliver this
bundle. Then I began a most peculiar trek down 7th Avenue
until I reached where I was going. I stumbled and staggered
and fell in area-ways and I became absolutely filthy.
I can see to this day the colored people grabbing their
children so that I didn't throw them into the gutter
or area-way or knock a baby carriage under a truck.
It was almost like a musical comedy when the hero comes
downstage and everybody gives way before him.
I finally reached
my destination and, to my horror, found that it was
on the fifth floor of a walk-up tenement house. How
I made the fine flights I really don't know. I was just
about to put my hand on the doorknob when I realized
what a drunken, awful mass of humanity I was. I became
thoroughly frightened and
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I asked God, "Please help me not to bring further
suffering to this family. It's bad enough what they have
to go through, but if anything happens to me there, or
if I misbehave, think how terrible it would be! Please,
please, help me get through these few minutes." Having
said that prayer, I straightened myself up and licked
my handkerchief and washed my face with it, and slicked
back my hair. Then I took off my overcoat and shook it
and tried to make myself presentable as best I could,
and rang the doorbell. The boy's mother was a sweet, little
colored lady in stiff starched white, absolutely immaculate.
The place too was immaculate and the sun was streaming
in. I could see the crippled boy in the chair, looking
up and watching for me as though I were some great person.
I don't know how I did it, but I stayed there two and
a half hours. I looked at all of his portfolios and work
and showed him how to use the new art material. I told
him about the originals of all the pictures in the book
and left him, thank God, very happy. When I got out the
reaction set in and I took a taxi down to what used to
be a speakeasy and was then wide open, and what happened
from then on for the next ten days I don't know very much
I was in the country
and in bed, and the bottle was under the pillow and my
hand was firmly around the neck of it. Every time I came
to I took another swig and got drunk all over again. During
this drunk I had many flashbacks, and I remembered strange
things. For instance, I'd seen a play years before called
"The Dybbuk," down at the Neighborhood Playhouse.
It opened with two rabbis in a sub-sub cellar, talking
about another rabbi and they said, "His words have
been so great. From the highest heights to the deepest
depths the soul may plunge, but, in itself the plunge
contains the resurrection." Those words just came
to me. I thought, how much further and how much lower
can I go? I'm at the bottom; I've taken the plunge.
Suddenly I remembered that on the day I had visited
my young colored friend I had prayed before I rang the
doorbell, and that God had answered my prayer. I knew
that the barrier to prayer was broken, and I turned
around in bed and prayed as I had never prayed before.
I prayed for instruction and knowledge, not to do something
for me because I didn't deserve it, but to do something
to me, and to show me the right way so that I could
do something for myself. I realized at that moment that
alcohol was the basis of all my trouble, that all the
rest was fantasy; nothing had happened yet, everything
was happening all the time. Nothing was real. I bawled
like a baby, as all drunks do, and I cried myself to
I awakened at dawn,
before sunrise even, but it was dawn and very beautiful,
and for the first time in years I awakened with a hangover.
I didn't have the dry heaves. The bed wasn't full of
sweat and all the other horrible things that went with
the usual early morning awkening. I had a feeling that
I had had a bath in a clean stream, mental, moral, physical
and spiritual. All of a sudden I was clean. And, as
I lay there in bed trying to understand this feeling,
a thought came to me that was foreign to any thought
I had ever had because of its simplicity, and that thought
kept flashing on an off like a neon sign repeating itself,
"You're not going to have your last drink. You
have had it!"
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as the sun actually began to rise, the thing dawned
on me. The rat race was over and I was ecstatically
happy. I went in the next room because I didn't want
to disturb my wife. I said so many prayers of thanksgiving
that they were all jumbled up. It was the most wonderful
feeling because I had read the handwriting on the wall.
In my alcoholic fantasy, I had wanted to have a tremendous
party, a drunk to end all drunks. I was going to out-Hollywood
Hollywood, and I could see myself in the end, up on
the model's stand finishing it all up with a Royal Canadian
quart and falling back in the arms of some other drunk.
That would have been it! But this was simple, beautiful
an real, "I've had my last drink." The release
I was not quite
forty at the time, 1937, three years after father died.
It was in the late spring around Decoration Day, because
I had my last drink on Decoration Day.
My doctor put me
in the hospital because he wanted me to get over my
nervous period. He was very happy that I had stopped
drinking, and he put me there in order to help me help
myself. He started giving me certain drugs to stop me
from shaking, among which was one that was jam full
of bromides. I left the hospital very happily after
just a couple of days, but about a week later I began
staggering and began driving my car so far up on the
right hand side that I was practically in the gutter
and sometimes on the sidewalk. When I tried walking
around the room I'd bump into everything on the right
hand side, and then I couldn't walk at all. They finally
got a male nurse and put me to bed and a doctor came
up from New
and said, "Oh, yes, I know all about Fred. I've
seen them go like that before. There's nothing you can
do about it." That didn't satisfy my wife, thank
God. That was the doctor that I had recommended, a very
nice doctor. Every time I'd tell him about my drinking
problem, he helped me drink some cocktails with him
and told me to drink as he did. My wife got a really
good doctor from New York, just in the nick of time.
He suggested my going to a neurological institute that
night with him. The minute I got into the hospital the
horrors started. They took blood tests at once. By that
time I was clear of alcohol, but I was jammed full of
bromides. Bromide poisoning had started, and caused
a swelling of the brain. I went from bad to worse there,
but they started the therapy at once with tons and tons
of salt injections, salt water baths and drinking salt.
I had to drink seven and a half pitchers of salt water
every day. I went into the horrors, which lasted for
a whole month. I was in a strait-jacket all the time,
in the bathtub and even in the padded cell. I came out
of it finally within a month, with the loss of some
thirty-five or forty pounds. I was a skeleton when I
came out. The horrors were awful, but that never seemed
to matter much because I blamed them on the bromides.
I felt it was none of my doing. But alcohol was.
I stayed sober
for the next ten years. I think I use that word inadvisedly.
I should say I stayed dry for the next ten years. I
wasn't a nice person. There were certain dividends which
were tremendous. My family was very happy believing
I was sober. They took almost anything from me, though
I was just as emotionally high at times as when I was
drinking. But they
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so glad I wasn't drinking that they stood for anything.
They were terrible years.
It was during
World War II, that we had lost two of our nephews.
There was death, death in the family, one after the
other as the youngsters went. Too, it always seemed
to take a toll of two or three of the older members
of the family at the same time. They were pretty horrible
years, and yet I didn't drink. I didn't drink because
I never wanted to break that wonderful covenant that
I felt I had made, having gotten a release when I
prayed to God for it.
were adjusted after World War II, mother died. She
died after seeing me sober, or dry, for eight years.
She died very happy on account of that. Then old John
Barleycorn started to talk to me and say, "Well,
you've been dry for ten years now, Isn't that enough?"
The severe temptation came when my thinking started
telling me that after ten years of not drinking I
could certainly drink like a normal human being.
So I planned
that on Decoration Day my wife and I would try a bottle
of champagne, and that if I stayed sober I could drink
with her normally like anybody else, and that would
have made her happy too.
A week or ten
days before Decoration Day, I was having gasoline
put into my car and a very dear friend who had gone
to school with me and who had a severe alcoholic problem
of his own—he was an A.A., whatever that was—came
up to me and instead of just putting the gasoline
in and saying, "Good morning, how many gallons
of gasoline?", which was his usual daily greeting,
he said, "Hello, Fred, how's your alcoholic problem?"
I laughed. I said, "I haven't any alcoholic
In fact, on Decoration Day my wife and I are going
to try a bottle of champagne." He got as white
as a sheet, and put his hand on my arm and said,
"Look, before you take that first drink will
your please come ton an A.A. meeting? There's one
in town tonight and I'll call for you." I just
had to say "Yes." And that was the evening
that I was taken into A.A. That man had been wanting
to talk to me for ten years about my drinking and
never had the courage to mention it. That was about
May 20, 1947.
I went to that
meeting with my tongue in my cheek. I told my wife
I was a joiner again. I said I had to do it, but
it was no place for a lady. I'd tell her about it
later. I went up there and found so many wonderful
people in our little group, so many people who wouldn't
normally associate with me and , altogether, such
a smiling, happy, delightful group of people that
I couldn't believe my eyes and still had to be convinced.
The leader was a splendid man, a college man, very
quiet, who started the meeting by saying, "Alcoholism
is an incurable, progressive disease. Whether you
are dry one year, ten years or fifty years, you're
still one drink away from a drunk." Then he
pulled out his pipe. The floor seemed to give way
under me, but immediately it steadied because my
reaction was, "Thank God I didn't take that
first drink! Thank God I came here!" And I
realized at last that, after all these years, before
I took that drink, I was going to be told the truth
and then make the right choice for myself. The whole
experience was so beautiful that I was thrilled
by it, and a thing mother had said years before
when I had come home drunk and she had seen me,
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to my mind. The only time that she ever broke down
and wept was that night. She said, "This must
be somehow good. This cannot be all negative. Some
good must come of it." Mother had been dead
end of my first A.A. evening, I heard about the
Twelfth Step where, as an alcoholic and having gone
through the experience, I might be able to reach
some other poor alcoholic where doctors, medicine,
science and religion by themselves, had failed.
Immediately, "That's somehow good," came
to my ear. Thank God I have been able to turn it
into "Somehow good."
That's my story.
Vision For A Sculptor" Fred
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