A BEGINNING IN BENICIA
THE LEGENDS OF WILSON MIZNER and Addison Mizner ran parallel through most of their lives, but now and then, with outrageous results, the lines converged. Wilson was by profession a conversational artist, Addison an architect, but neither was that easily classified. Addison was born in 1872, in Benicia, California, the second youngest of seven children. Wilson was born in the same town four years later.
The Mizners, in addition to being one of the most eccentric families this country has produced, were the oldest of the old families of Benicia, which is twenty-five miles northeast of San Francisco on a strait through which the waters of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers enter San Francisco Bay. The Mizners went back to the beginning of things in Benicia. It was founded in 1847 by Dr. Robert Semple, a great-uncle of Addison and Wilson and a stirring figure in California history. Elsie Robinson, the author and columnist, was a Benicia girl, and she has written of the awe the Mizners inspired by their antiquity and elegant ways, particularly their habit of taking tea in the afternoon. Benicia was the center of high-toned education for young ladies and a bright spot on the social map of California. The pusillanimous artifice of understatement was unknown a coupleof generations ago, and the old accounts of Benicia give it the glorious title of the Athens of the Pacific, because of the number of boarding schools there. Gertrude Atherton received her polishing at a Benicia academy. Mills College, now in Oakland, California, is an offshoot of a Benicia seminary. Benicia was enlivened by military officers from Benicia Barracks, which was ruled over during the town's halcyon days by Colonel Julian McAllister, brother of Ward McAllister, the oracle and dictator of New York society, and son of Matthew Hall McAllister, a lawgiver of the early San Francisco aristocracy. The Mizner house, a cottage that had been enlarged into a kind of rambling hotel, was the headquarters of fashionable Benicia. It was normal for the family to have twelve or fourteen head of select prep students and young lady seminary students at dinner. The plentifulness of sea food around San Francisco Bay made it comparatively inexpensive to run the place like a country club. "When the tide was out, your table was set," Wilson Mizner once said. There were three cooks in the Mizner household during the family's heyday, the most important being Ying Lee, who started with Wilson's grandmother and was with the family for sixty years. The intense affection the members of the family had for one another extended to Ying. Addison in later life always had a pet named Ying Lee, and Wilson gave the name of Ying Lee to one of his characters in a Broadway play called "The Greyhound."
Ida M. Tarbell, historian of Standard Oil and author of a biography of Addison, describes Mama Mizner, the mother of Addison and Wilson and the five other Mizners, as "a grande dame," and there is ample corroboration for her statement. The late Arnold Genthe, the society photographer, wrote that he became a social rage in San Francisco through the recommendations of Mama Mizner, her daughter Minnie, and a few other influential San Francisco women. Mama Mizner's personality was so authoritative that during the San Francisco fire she commandeered a passing fire engine to drive her to a place of safety and departed from the burning city on a steam yacht. Papa, or Lansing Bond, Mizner was a lawyer, politician, railroad promoter,land speculator, and presiding officer of the California Senate for many years, and was often suggested for Governor. He was a major during the Mexican War, and went to San Francisco after the war at the urging of Dr. Semple, who had settled in San Francisco several years before the discovery of gold. The elder Mizner made one major miscalculation. He believed that the coming great city of the Pacific Coast was Benicia, not San Francisco. He acquired enormous real-estate holdings there and waited in vain for Benicia to become the California metropolis and make him the John Jacob Astor of the West. An old letter among the family papers describes him as "the original Benjamin Harrison man," and on taking office in 1889 President Harrison appointed Papa Mizner Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to five Central American nations--Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, and Costa Rica. That more or less broke up the Benicia household. Addison, then seventeen, and Wilson, thirteen, went to Guatemala City. Addison's natural appetite for high life was sharpened by the social splendor and martial gorgeousness chat surrounded the Minister Plenipotentiary. He and Wilson shared a valet and a Spanish tutor. A cousin of Addison's states that a young Guatemala priest, who took a liking to Addison, first roused his lifelong enthusiasm for Spanish art and architecture. Among the family souvenirs of Guatemala is a photograph of Addison painting a full-length portrait of a gilded and feathered Latin-American general. Addison was already over six feet, and the fact that he was fundamentally a fat boy was concealed by the enormous development of his arms, shoulders, neck, and chest, as a result of heaving his two hundred pounds about on crutches for many months after an accident.
In 1890, Addison was sent back to San Francisco to resume his education. Private schools around San Francisco fell down on the job of preparing him for the University of California. They couldn't cope with the problem of a youth brimming over with non-academic culture but defective in spelling, arithmetic, and other rudiments. The family met the problem by sending him to Spain for a few months at the University of Salamanca. HisSpanish instructors did little to overcome his academic weaknesses, but "Educated at the University of Salamanca" sounded as impressive as three doctor's degrees after his name. On his return to San Francisco, he mortified his parents by talking of taking up art as a profession. The Mizners had been in the diplomatic service for three generations, and collateral branches of the family teemed with governors, judges, generals, and cotillion leaders. One ancestor was the first governor of Illinois, another gave Abraham Lincoln his first political appointment, another practically founded California, and another married into the Rutgers family, which once owned the land that is now the Bowery and which gave its name to Rutgers University. The four older Mizner brothers were professional men and seemed on their way to eminence. The parents expected Addison and Wilson, two exceptionally knowing youths, to become illustrious figures in national life. "I thought they were going to be at least bishops or ambassadors," Mama Mizner later told Ethel Watts Mumford, the artist and writer. The family couldn't bear the idea that a Mizner should be an oaf in a paint-spattered smock and Latin Quarter tie, so Addison was bundled off to China, in the hope that a change of scene would give him a healthier outlook. He returned with several chows, a fondness for Chinese art, and a conviction that silk pajamas were correct street attire. He found work in San Francisco, in the office of Willis Polk, later famous for his skyscrapers and World's Fair buildings in San Francisco but then a starving young architect known as Whistler, because of his genius for making enemies.
Papa Mizner died in 1893, on Addison's twenty-first birthday, leaving the family land-poor. Polk was not making enough money to pay Addison's salary, so he took him into partnership, and they lived together in a wooden pueblo that had been built in upside-down fashion on Russian Hill. One entered the seventh floor from the street; the rest of the house consisted of six basements clinging to the side of a precipice. One of Addison's friends of this period was Wallace Irwin, poet and author of the famous "Letters of a Japanese Schoolboy," who says thatAddison and Polk used to save their tin cans and hurl them down the rocks to welcome visitors threading their way up the cliff. Addison wrote in his autobiography, "The Many Mizners," that he and Polk were so poor at times that they lived on canned beans and kept warm by stealing fuel, with the help of a complicated grappling apparatus, from a woodyard some distance below their lowest sub-basement. They invaded the fringes of literature, becoming volunteer workers on the Lark, the house organ of the Pacific Coast intelligentsia of the Cleveland-McKinley era. There was no intellectual accolade in the West equal to that of being connected with the Lark, and after half a century Who's Who still has a surprising number of venerable authors who boast that they once wrote for it. The magazine was in its time a vehicle of great new thoughts and revolutionary art movements, but its chief link with history today is probably the fact that it was the first magazine to publish Gelett Burgess's four-line stanza about the purple cow.
Addison picked up some knowledge of architecture in San Francisco, but he never learned how to draw detailed plans or write a set of specifications. Willis Polk was considered the father of the California bungalow. Addison, working on bungalows and other modest structures, laid the foundation for his recognition in Palm Beach as an incomparable Jack-of-all-trades. He picked up crafts as a born linguist picks up languages, and soon had more than a smattering of carpentry, house painting, bricklaying, masonry, plastering, plumbing, and kindred lines. He was saved from being a dilettante by a genuine love of toil and saved from being a complete snob by his admiration for anybody who could do good work with his hands. These enthusiasms were secondary, however, to his ambition to be a gilded juvenile in the wealthy and sprightly set. It took money to travel with the Nob Hill crowd in San Francisco. Addison couldn't finance his scale of living on his income as an architect. A refugee from collection agencies, he fled to northern California in 1897 and became a day laborer in a gold mine near the town of Delta.
In his autobiography, Addison connects his flight with oneof the great disappointments of his life. President José Maria Barrios, of Guatemala, had commissioned him, he says, to build a two-million-dollar government palace and had promised him a twenty-five-thousand-dollar cash retainer, but was assassinated the day before Addison was to sail from San Francisco, so the young architect had no alternative but to dash to the mines. Addison's memory seems to have played him false in his account of this great disappointment. Barrios apparently had reason to be grateful to Addison and may have once planned to give him a big architectural job, but he died more than a year after Addison's flight to the mines. Miss Tarbell, who wrote her account of Addison as a foreword to a magnificent volume on his Palm Beach architecture, relates that on one occasion he had saved the life of Barrios and that Richard Harding Davis used the exploit as the basis of "Soldiers of Fortune," a record-breaking best-seller of 1897, dealing with the adventures of a couple of Gibson girls and a tall, clean-cut Gibson man against a background of bananas and tin soldiers. The Addison Mizner tale is that while he was running the American Legation at Guatemala City in his father's absence, he learned of a plot to execute his young friend Barrios, who had been imprisoned, without trial, after a coup engineered by his political rival Manuel Barillas. He induced Barillas, who had assumed dictatorship, to sign an order to release Barrios; the dictator, however, talking in a dialect, directed an Indian servant to dash to the prison and countermand the release order before Addison arrived. Barrios' wife reported the dictator's duplicity, and Addison, sparing no horses, outraced the bearer of the death sentence, carried Barrios to safety under the Stars and Stripes that waved over the Legation, and later smuggled him out of Guatemala. This romantic episode has no particular relation to the plot of "Soldiers of Fortune," but Addison did meet Richard Harding Davis at the Chicago World's Fair of 1893 and may have inspired his interest in the coup-d'état belt as the setting for a novel. Addison was only one of the scores who were pointed out as the original Soldier of Fortune. Lloyd C. Griscom, the diplomat, who accompanied Davis on his searchfor local color in Central America, said that the novelist got his background of politics and graft from a civil engineer he met down there and that the fine, upstanding young Gibson-type hero was, like all other Richard Harding Davis heroes, Richard Harding Davis.
Failing to thrive as a gold miner in Delta, Addison joined his brothers Wilson, William, and Edgar in the Klondike rush in 1897. Addison hurled himself frantically at the frozen gravel. He boasted in a letter to his mother that he had hauled up two hundred and fifty-six buckets of ore from his shaft in one day. According to his account, he washed out two hundred thousand dollars' worth of gold dust, but, with the exception of thirty thousand dollars, which he concealed in an old boot, it was all stolen from him by Canadian officials, on the pretext that his mining operations had encroached on government land.
Addison's "The Many Mizners" has brilliant passages, but it is hazy in spots. He returned from the Klondike to San Francisco late in 1899 with, he states, enough money to leave him a modest fortune after his debts were paid. But, instead of practicing architecture in San Francisco, he went on a two-year odyssey in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. His explanation of his wanderings is that he had tied up his money in a trust fund, was lured to Honolulu by the mistaken belief that he could make a fortune building houses for rich Hawaiians, and spent two years beachcombing in the tropics rather than return home with a confession of failure. The probability seems to be, however, that Addison was lying low in order to give a San Francisco social storm time to blow over. His career as a San Francisco society man can be traced in the newspaper art of that city. In 1893, at the age of twenty-one, he was already enough of a man-about-town to have his bulky physique caricatured by the great Homer Davenport, then in his first year on the San Francisco Examiner. During the nineties, the horse show was the field day of society in San Francisco and in all other communities that claimed the rank of city. In its sketches of the celebrities at the horse show of 1896, the Examiner presented a fat, highly tailored figure doffing a silk hat. This drawing,entitled "Mr. Addison Mizner Greets a Friend," was the work of Jimmy Swinnerton, who startled San Francisco with his purple-and-white check suit and yellow vest and who, according to the Dictionary of American History, helped to found the comic strip, in 1892. But it was in the San Francisco Call of March 7, 1900, that Addison made his most sensational appearance in pictorial journalism. He was the central figure in four drawings of the climax of a vendetta between him and the social tyrant of the town--Edward M. (Ned) Greenway, the Hero of a Thousand Cotillions. Greenway, a red-faced, bullet-headed man with popeyes and a white mustache, was a carpetbagger from Baltimore, but he made himself the most powerful champagne agent and ballroom bully in the West. Evelyn Wells, author of "Champagne Days of San Francisco," writes that he boasted of having drunk twenty-five bottles of champagne a day, with beer chasers, and originated the expression "No gentleman ever feels well in the morning." Another carpetbagger, William H. Chambliss, had attempted to rule San Francisco society but had been run out of town by the Greenway faction. He took revenge by writing "The Parvenucracy," which sought to prove that there was no such thing as San Francisco society. Greenway was famous for his Friday-night dances, which were called the Greenways, to distinguish them from some rival affairs known as "chippy dances." Every season, he distributed what he called Greenway garters, as though they were birthday honors. His enemies charged that these coveted decorations were often found on unselect legs and that Ned made a business of selling social position to debatable debutantes for two thousand dollars apiece. Nevertheless, Greenway was firmly established as the Judge Lynch of the fashionable world when Addison incurred his disapproval. Greenway could put on the black cap and sentence a man to be hanged by his exclusive neck until he was socially dead. He indicated capital punishment for Addison by causing his name to be stricken from the list of guests for the Mardi Gras Ball of the San Francisco Art Association. The young fellow's crime is not quite clear; a tentative newspaper explanation in 1900 was that he went around saying thatWidow Clicquot's product beat Mumm's Extra Dry, which Greenway represented. The Call's narrative, with its four action pictures, indicated that Addison died game. He cornered Greenway in a café, where the old autocrat was having a beer chaser, and challenged him to come out and fight. When Greenway declined, Addison called him a coward, spat in his beer, and stalked haughtily out of the café. He spent the next two years hanging around the equator.
There was only a limited demand for Addison's architecture in the Orient and the coral isles, and he was reduced to variegated hustling. In Hawaii, he did miniatures on ivory and made charcoal enlargements of photographs; in Samoa, he painted magic-lantern slides for a travelogue man; in Shanghai, he sold coffin handles to replace doorknobs; from Tokyo to Bangkok, he picked up commissions selling antiques; in Melbourne, he thrashed about the prize ring under the name of Whirlwind Watson; in Hawaii, he was fired from a job with the Inter-Island Steamship Company for nicknaming its ships "the Inter-Island pukers;" in Hawaii, also, he was created an extinct Polynesian nobleman by the deposed Queen Liliuokalani, who struck him with her royal yellow feathers and dubbed him Sir Addison as a reward for restoring the portraits of her ancestors.
After more than two years in exile, Addison reappeared in triumph in San Francisco. He was now a literary lion. In Honolulu, he had become acquainted with Ethel Watts Mumford. Starting with the parlor game of grafting surprise twists on old quotations, they developed a long list of debauched proverbs and, with help from Oliver Herford, published "The Cynic's Calendar," which gave America its baptism of early-twentieth-century sophistication. Goose pimples were raised on the nation by "Where there's a will, there's a lawsuit," "Many are called but few get up," "The wages of gin is breath," "Be held truthful that your lies may count," "God gives us our relatives; thank God, we can choose our friends." As an intellectual cannon ball of the highest calibre, Addison was now able to defy Greenway and rotate once more in the vortex of society. He couldn't live, however, on the royalties from the funny almanac, so heplanned to become the new Lumber King of the West. The old Lumber King, S. S. Dolbeer, had died in 1902, leaving his forests and sawmills to his only daughter, Bertha. She was worth five million dollars in the newspapers and nine hundred and seventy-six thousand dollars according to the official appraisers, and Addison was deeply smitten. He was thirty and felt that it was high time to espouse visible means of support and settle down. In his later years, Addison was never considered a Romeo, but he may have been different in his burning youth. He represents himself as an eagle among the doves of the Yukon dance halls, a dragon among the expensive Jezebels of San Francisco, and an occasional martyr to true love. His fastidiousness was the only thing that saved him from suicide on one occasion; unrequited affection had driven him to a lonely spot in Golden Gate Park to shoot himself, but he spared his life because, suddenly remembering a hole in his underdrawers, he was horrified at the impression he would make on the coroner's helpers. He became very much in earnest about Miss Dolbeer. His courtship did not prosper, and he lived, he said, in agonies of jealousy. Miss Dolbeer's ideal was a strong man like her father, and she gave Addison to understand that she couldn't be interested in a putterer and trifler, even though he was the premier Joe Miller of the epoch. But she told him that she might consider him seriously if he made something of himself, so he decided to become a Coffee King. He had ideas for packaging and marketing the product, and he went to Guatemala to sign up a few plantations. While in Guatemala, he received word that Miss Dolbeer had killed herself on July 7, 1904, by jumping from the seventh floor of the Waldorf-Astoria. Her suicide apparently had nothing to do with her lukewarm romance with Addison. Her cousin and travelling companion, Miss Etta Warren, told reporters that Miss Dolbeer had been brooding over the death of her father and had spent hours gazing at his picture. In the tenderness of an old passion, Addison, in his autobiography, describes his lost sweetheart as "an orphan with several million dollars in her hip pocket" and misspellsher name. The tragedy caused him to forget coffee and become the most stupendous old-clothes man of the era.
Guatemala was rich in ancient and splendid priestly vestments. Earthquakes and confiscation had ruined many of the religious establishments. In some cases, there was only one priest to two churches, but there were quantities of venerable paraphernalia, and deals could be made because of the need of money for the relief of half-starved parishioners. Addison, like most raconteurs, was always ready to assassinate his own character to improve a story, and he delighted in picturing himself as an unconscionable skinflint. He never led off, according to his account, with an offer of more than one per cent of the value of an object. He claimed to be the greatest cathedral looter in the world and asserted that he used whiskey, poker, and droll stories to lubricate his negotiations. He dealt with laymen as well as churchmen, many of the old church estates having passed into private hands. Centuries-old ceremonial robes and other sacred needlework were his specialties at first, but he bought altars, carved woodwork, crucifixes, candlestands, paintings, and other relics. For six hundred dollars paid to a plantation owner, he obtained some monastery altars decorated with twelve thousand dollars' worth of gold, which had been mistaken for gilt. He reported that it took eight or ten donkeys to carry off the noble merchandise he obtained from the half-ruined Cathedral of Antigua. In his Palm Beach days, Addison told Miss Tarbell that his lifetime plunder from cathedrals, churches, and palaces in Latin America and Europe could be measured only in shiploads.
Arriving in New York late in 1904 with his ecclesiastical swag, Addison was a social and commercial success. Comstock Lode millions and other Western wealth had gravitated to Fifth Avenue and Newport, and many of the old Nob Hill friends of the Mizners were high up in the Eastern social hierarchy. His first patronesses were Mrs. Hermann Oelrichs and Mrs. William K. Vanderbilt, Jr., who had been the two biggest silver-and-gold heiresses in San Francisco. The celebrated Mrs. Stuyvesant Fish and her eccentric favorite, Harry Lehr, gave himtheir stamp of approval. One of Addison's San Francisco cronies, Peter Martin (Addison had been arrested with him twice, once for treating a milkman's horse to beer and pretzels in Los Angeles and once for resisting a bouncer at the Waldorf-Astoria), had married a niece of Mrs. Oelrichs and taken a house in Newport. Addison was launched in style. "The Cynic's Calendar" made him a somebody. His wit, gaiety, and Klondike and South Seas background gave him a vogue. Mrs. Oelrichs set him up in a shop on Fifth Avenue and helped to popularize altar cloths and religious robes as wall decorations and as throws for tables and pianos. Mrs. Oelrichs was the former Tessie Fair, daughter of James Fair, the Nevada prospector who located the Big Bonanza, a hundred-million-dollar treasure chamber in the Comstock Lode. Edgar Mizner, older brother of Addison, had fallen in love with Tessie in spite of her money, but she rejected him and other native sons in favor of Hermann Oelrichs, known as the Dutchman, a popular society man and all-round athlete. According to the New York Times, Fifth Avenue sports once offered John L. Sullivan a purse of twenty thousand dollars to meet the Dutchman in a Fifth Avenue basement, but Sullivan declined. Oelrichs was one of the group that introduced polo into the United States, but he was best known as the marathon swimmer who had gone out many miles to greet Atlantic liners, taking with him a small watertight knapsack containing his lunch, a bottle, and, according to Cleveland Amory, a little light reading matter. By the time Addison arrived in New York, the Dutchman had become a serious drinker, punner, and rhymer, and Mrs. Oelrichs usually contrived to keep a continent or two between them. Mrs. Stuyvesant Fish had her court jester in Harry Lehr, and Mrs. Oelrichs now adopted Addison for a similar role. Other matrons and dowagers of the New York aristocracy made a pet of Addison, and he might have blossomed out as a society architect in 1905 or a little later, but he was always dashing about the country in private railroad cars and swaggering around at fashionable watering places, so he had no time to establish himself in his future profession.
In 1906, Wilson Mizner married the rich widow Mrs. C. T. Yerkes and moved into her mansion at Fifth Avenue and Sixty-eighth Street. Town Topics began to suspect a little later that Addison was about to marry a still richer widow and move into a mansion at Fifth Avenue and Fifty-eighth Street, as well as into Roseclyffe, a two-million-dollar cottage at Newport. Hermann Oelrichs had just died. During his lifetime, Town Topics had been persistently spiteful toward the Oelrichses. Colonel William d'Alton Mann, owner of Town Topics, regarded his journal as a Heralds' College that gave and took away aristocracy at will. His American peerage consisted chiefly of people who lent him money and never tried to get it back. He was the scourge of all pretenders who assumed to draw a breath of genteel air without lending him money. He was frightfully disappointed in the Oelrichses, who, with their vast wealth, had never taken out a patent of nobility in the form of one of his promissory notes, and he paragraphed away at Mrs. Oelrichs for years. He reported that Tessie looked like the chandelier of a Broadway lobster palace in a rhinestone gown she wore at the opera; that she had fallen in the esteem of bank clerks because she failed to tip them for helping her cut her coupons; that a clambake given by her nephew-in-law Peter Martin inaugurated a reign of vulgarity that threatened to depopulate Newport; that she was plump as a partridge; that she screamed and shouted and fought with Mrs. Stuyvesant Fish; that she had discarded her protégé Addison and was now the leader in "roasting him," but that Addison had, with the help of his mother, become so firmly entrenched in society that she couldn't hurt him. After the death of the Dutchman, the attitude of Town Topics toward Tessie underwent a complete change. One of the Colonel's fantasies was a belief that the Town Topics office was the heaven in which marriages of the Four Hundred were made. His greatest hobby was interbreeding the great American fortunes. He had a strong sociological conviction that one colossal estate should always be mated to another colossal estate, but he was sometimes suspected of slipping an impecunious pal into the list of entries for great matrimonialprizes. As one of the richest widows in America, Tessie became an important element in Colonel Mann's lonely-hearts work among the moneybags. After a decent period of mourning, he began to nominate husbands for her. He proposed candidates by the platoon, filling Town Topics with glowing tributes that read like convention speeches for favorite sons. When the campaign was at its height, news reached the Town Topics office that Colonel Mann's whole slate was smashed, because Tessie and Addison were beginning to go steady. In Newport, they were seen everywhere together. Colonel Mann sent out one of his best men to shadow them. The result of this investigation relieved the old matchmaker considerably. Town Topics reported that its research man, finding the couple tête-à-tête, had been able to creep close enough to overhear them. Tessie was addressing Addison as Brother, Addison was calling her Sister, and the conversation was about a bum steer somebody had given her on the stock market. Tessie spoiled Colonel Mann's plans, and possibly Addison's, by not remarrying at all, and Addison became an invincible bachelor.
Addison was widely known in New York as a big, breezy fellow who was usually accompanied by two handsome chows. He generally aired them on Fifth Avenue, and often tied them to a hitching post on Forty-fourth Street, just off the Avenue, when he went to lunch at Sherry's. He was particularly breezy in his language. One of his close friends for many years was the late Philip Boyer, a well-known New Yorker, whom he shocked at their first meeting. Boyer was having lunch with Harry Markoe in Louis Martin's, at Fifth Avenue and Twenty-third Street, when Addison strolled in alone after a promenade on the Avenue. He shouted across the restaurant, "Hey, Harry! I know a woman who wants to be bred to you!" Addison had a way of sounding correct and innocent no matter what he said, and his surprised and hurt attitude when anybody took exception to his language is said to have been most artistic and disarming. Nearly everybody liked him. He had intimates among theatrical stars and prima donnas as well as among the mature women of social eminence. Mme. Emma Eames, the opera celebrity,got him his first important work as a society architect--a commission to remodel and decorate the half-finished house of Mrs. Stephen Brown. Addison and Donald Brian, star of "The Merry Widow," started a little dancing club at Addison's apartment under the auspices of Mrs. William K. Vanderbilt, Sr. Addison ruefully recalls in his memoirs that he rejected a two-thousand-dollar bribe from a social climber who wanted to crash it. Addison and Marie Dressler became lifelong friends. He took her and Jerome Kern, then her accompanist, to perform at one of Mrs. Fish's parties. Addison wrote that he believed this was the first social amalgamation of headliners of the stage and of fashion, but the files of Town Topics show that Mrs. Fish was giving home vaudeville parties as early as 1900, when Colonel Mann publicly commended Mr. Fish for asserting his authority and cancelling a scheduled performance at the Fish home by Lily Langtry, who had starred in naughty French shows and was suspected of having slipped cracked ice down the neck of the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII.
As he made it a point of honor to live beyond his means, Addison was overwhelmed by debt from time to time, but he was always able to borrow money for an antique-buying tour in Latin America or the Old World. On such expeditions, one of which took him as far as Persia, he mixed his vocations. Between bouts of haggling over old robes, furniture, art, and religious relics, he sketched and photographed architectural monuments, added to his store of anecdotes by pumping the local antiquarians, and occasionally jotted down light thoughts for future conversations or for "The Cynic's Calendar," which reappeared eight times in revised editions. Epigrams and drawings are found in about equal numbers in some of Addison's old sketchbooks. There are studies of a huge iron lock in Cluny Castle, a balustrade in Seville, a staircase in Valencia, street lamps in Barcelona, and the façade of a castle in Bohemia; these are mingled with random phrases and wisecracks--"maca--roni legs," "porch chairs painted with mayonnaise," "Louis Fourteenth Street furniture," "teeth set out by a landscape gardener," "Two ideas in his head at once would constitute an unlawfulassemblage," "The Yukon grows lazy and finally stops flowing," ""My mother thinks it is by the merest accident that I am not President," "He's old enough to sleep alone," "A cow couldn't find its calf in this room," "He has no manners--he just has customs," "Don't make those Madonna eyes at me," "Talking as though the Standard Oil Company was the smallest thing he owned."
Addison now bought the Baxter homestead, built about 1775 on the waterfront in Port Washington, Long Island, and remodelled it into a home for himself, a private museum for his relics, and a zoo for various pets he had. He soon had a flourishing truck garden and kennels with forty or fifty chows. He lived there most of the time, commuting to a studio he had set up in New York. One of his Long Island neighbors was H. K. Landis, who put out a house organ for a gas company and amused himself by printing a bi-weekly called Plain Talk. Landis wrote enthusiastic accounts of Mizner's antiques, contracted the antique fever himself, and then ran the Landis Valley Museum, at Lancaster, Pennsylvania, noted for its collection of Pennsylvania Dutch objects. Plain Talk printed interviews with Miko, the capuchin monkey; Ying, the Maltese cat; Honeybuggy and Lambypie, two chows; and other members of the Mizner animal kingdom. It listed a few items in the Chateau Mycenae, as Plain Talk called Addison's house--a Japanese ceremonial banner; an illuminated manuscript of a Spanish-convent musical service of 1551; a carved wooden candlestick made in 1535 for the first cathedral in the Western Hemisphere; the terrible spurs worn by Alvarado, chief lieutenant of Cortez and first governor of Guatemala; a gorgeous twelfth-century Moorish stirrup; an eighth-century Fu porcelain dog; a thirteenth-century ivory archbishop; a papal bier; Aztec stone carvings; ancient Spanish page caps; an altar made in 1501; and a variety of wood and metal crucifixes.
Addison established a modest practice as a landscape architect on Long Island. He was noted for his Japanese landscapes, with dwarf trees among midget mountains and pygmy rivers. He planted and terraced the Great Neck estate of RaymondHitchcock, the famous comedian, and built a baroque staircase leading to the water. He beautified the Sands Point estate of Bourke Cochran, the volcanic Tammany orator, but was in such consternation because his paths and vistas converged on nothing in particular that Cochran let him build a Greek theatre to provide an intellectual destination for the revised landscape. J. J. Floherty, the writer, has said that Addison was in seventh heaven when a client gave him carte blanche to landscape an estate, build a house on it, decorate it, furnish it down to the table linen, and hire the servants. Addison built in several styles at this period. Plain Talk printed engravings of a Mizner Japanese house and a Mizner English house, asserting that the latter was an exact reproduction of an English inn in which William the Conqueror slept. He did a Spanish house for I. Townsend Burden near Roslyn and a Chinese teahouse for Mrs. O. H. P. Belmont at Sands Point, which later became a studio for Ethel Watts Mumford, Addison's literary partner. One of Addison's best productions was White Pine Camp, Archibald S. White's place for roughing it in luxury in the Adirondacks.
The architect was a puzzle to his neighbors. He startled them by shopping in his dressing gown and sometimes in his pajamas. Now and then, the town was kept awake until 3 or 4 A.M. by frightful uproars in his house, and he was thought to have been entertaining the riffraff of Hell's Kitchen until the local newspaper came out with a list of the guests, most of them from the higher echelons of the Social Register. Addison had an outburst of civic spirit on one occasion. He was outraged to learn that it was proposed to vulgarize Port Washington by allowing a circus to invade the place for one night. He circulated petitions, made speeches, and hired lawyers, but was unable to avert the horror. Late on the night of the circus, pandemonium broke loose in Addison's house and lasted till daybreak. The sleepless neighbors learned later that Addison had thrown one of his tremendous parties for the circus people.
During the last few years of her life, Mama Mizner lived with Addison in Port Washington. Addison's friends regarded her as a grand old matriarch and admired him as a most devotedson. His attitude toward her was that of an impresario showing off a famous imported star. He always shaped the conversation to bring out her wit, penetrating insight, and sharp judgments. Her death, in 1915, in her eightieth year, prostrated Addison and was deeply felt by the scapegrace Wilson. Addison wrote to San Francisco relatives that while he was broken with grief, Wilson nursed him and attended to all his affairs. A little later, Wilson was in a sanatorium himself. Addison said that for a year after her death any reference to Mama Mizner would cause Wilson to burst into tears. The great ambition of Addison's life, according to Miss Tarbell, was to build a cathedral in Florida in memory of his mother.
The First World War ruined Addison's practice. Late in 1916, he was broke and a very sick man, with necrosis of the bone resulting from his old leg trouble and with other serious ailments. Phelan Beale, the lawyer, who had represented Wilson in his occasional legitimate endeavors, went to Port Washington to see what could be done. He saved Addison's house from his creditors by organizing a corporation to take it over. Mrs. O. H. P. Belmont, Jules Bache, and several others bought bonds of the corporation in the belief that they were doing charity under the guise of business, but the property was later sold at a good figure and the bonds were paid off. Through this deal, Beale raised about twelve thousand dollars for Addison. Fully expecting to die in the near future, Addison planned to spend his last days in Antigua, Guatemala, which he considered the most beautiful spot on earth, but friends persuaded him that he would be better off in Palm Beach. There he began his great career.