How Max Gerlach became associated with Arnold Rothstein isn’t clear. There is an eight-year period in Max’s life, starting 1912, when his exact location and activities are the subject of much speculation. This becomes clear in the report put together by Agent Harry W. Grunewald in the summer of 1917. After serving with the Atlantic Fleet at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and a shorter stint at the Brooklyn Navy YMCA, Grunewald had found himself being head-hunted by US Congressman and Democrat, Murray Hulbert. Within weeks of being introduced to Hulbert he was being hired by Hulbert’s friend, Charles F. DeWoody, Chief of the Department of Justice Bureau in New York who gained some notoriety for helping boxer Jack Johnson escape a jail sentence for dating a white woman, and the far less progressive round-up of US Army draft ‘slackers’.
In April 1917, the tough-talking 27 year old began his work as an agent on $3.50 a day at its Bureau of Investigation in New York, his fluency in German and his broad knowledge of German affairs bagging him a leading role in tracking down German spies. According, Fred C. Kelly, a journalist come investigator who had assisted Grunewald in some of the Bureau’s more outlandish plots, the agent and his men had once been responsible for spiriting a way a vast collection of secret papers belonging to the German Embassy. For this the men had been forced to temporarily resign their commissions and burgle the Swiss Consulate where the papers were being held. Another plot had Grunewald impersonating a German agent to crack the cover of another German agent in Cuba. Posing as friends, Grunewald and Kelly had lured the man’s wife to a fake office at Union Square and quizzed her about her husband. The wife is believed to have been so taken in by the pair’s performance that she blew the lid on everything. On another occasion the wonderfully talented ‘G-Man’, posing as a ‘Mr Grimm’ spearheaded a similar ruse on a deeply embedded German agent who was suspected of stealing navy and aircraft documents from navigations company, Sperry Gyroscope. To all those who were on the right side of law and the right of the war, this unusually clever agent was known as a rough and tumble, two-fisted spy-hunter who was capable of being all things to all men — jovial yet stiff-jawed, creative but task-driven. One minute he could be smiling and cracking jokes, and the next he might very well have you in a headlock. It wasn’t some minor gambling or bootlegging offence that interested Special Agent Grunewald in Gerlach; he was attempting to cast some light on Gerlach’s ‘German Activities’.
It isn’t exactly clear what led him to Gerlach. The report merely states that Max was believed to have been expressing sentiments that might have been perceived as vaguely anti-American and how he had also been a personal friend of Major Ryan at the American Embassy in Berlin during the first six months of the war. Grunewald was unlikely to be in the habit of grilling every German-born American saying bad things about Uncle Sam, so it is probably safe to assume that his decision to question Gerlach was based on a more specific lead he was following up in one of his many spy-busting operations. At the time that he compiled his report, Grunewald had been busy building a case against New York anarchist, Emma Goldman. Grunewald and the Justice Department had apparently come up with ‘evidence’ that showed that Goldman and her husband, Alexander Berkman had been cooperating with German spies in foreign countries to stir up rebellions in India. The ‘evidence’, which was typical of the time, chiefly consisted of Goldman’s objection to the British Raj and the anti-war message that she and Berkman were pushing at home. Nevertheless, a number of requests for aid made by Indian Nationalist Revolutionary, Har Dayal in Berlin, believed to have been found among letters at their home, were viewed as proof of ‘collaboration’.
As Grunewald looked into Goldman, he was also looking into several other notable figures in the Jewish-dominated Second Avenue, and it is quite possible that Arnold Rothstein was amongst them. The investigation would eventually bring Grunewald into contact with Broadway impresarios, J. L. Costello and Freeman Bernstein whose impressively broad network of contacts and distribution channels would help the Federal US Government thwart a plot by German spies. The spies, it was alleged, would place messages in movie-reels and then ship them to neutral Holland to communicate with agents back home.  Grunewald’s attempts to speak to Gerlach at his 700 Broadway address in the summer of 1917 — a location that may have been linked to his motor business concerns with Rothstein’s legal counsel and ‘fixer’, George Young Bauchle — had proved futile.  A search was made of the premises, further associates were quizzed, but there was simply no trace of him. Grunewald had better luck at his address at West 38th Street, home of the New York Institute of Photography.  The official report suggests that Grunewald’s investigation into Gerlach had been triggered by some ‘pro-German’ remarks that Max is alleged to have made. Who shared this information wasn’t unspecified in the agent’s report.
When interviewed, Gerlach very calmly cleared up any confusion about his birth, telling Grunewald that he had been born in Yonkers, New York in 1885 and that his father and mother had been born in Germany. When pressed about the change of his name his response was no less prosaic: his father had died and his mother had remarried. Max’s story seemed so straightforward. In 1913 he had gone back to Germany and returned the following year. The extent of his ‘German activities’ consisted mainly of visiting relatives. The next bit was a little more interesting. Max confirmed that his father, Ferdinand von Gerlach, had indeed been a Lieutenant in the Royal Prussian Army as Grunewald’s informant had alleged. A report compiled by the American Protective League the following year added a few more details. According to Gerlach, his father had served as some kind of ‘secretary’ in the Royal Court of Friedrich III — the father of Kaiser Wilhelm. It may have all seemed little grey and unsensational, but what Max was telling Grunewald was a confusing mixture of truths, half-truths and plain old lies. According to research undertaken by Professor Kruse in the mid-2000s, Max’s father does appear to have served Friedrich III in some capacity. Records retained from the archives of the German Royal Court reveal that a Ferdinand Gerlach served as Geheimer Kanzlei-Sekretar (Inspector of the Secret Chancellery) in the Ministry of the Royal House of Hohenzollern in Berlin sometime between 1874 and 1877. If it was anything like the Secret Chancellery of Austria or Imperial Russia, then the ‘Geheimer Kanzlei’ was the seat of espionage and state police — the department of intrigue. Extraordinarily enough, the one thing that Max seemed a lot more anxious to lie about was the country of his birth. Gerlach had not been born in America but in Germany. Gerlach did, however, confess that he had been back in Germany as recently as 1913 and 1914. Although the report fails to identify the exact reason for Gerlach’s visit, it does tell us that he secured his passport back to the United States through his friendship with a Major James A. Ryan, an associate of Ambassador Gerard at the US Embassy in Berlin. After spending some 12 months in Berlin, Gerlach says he applied for his passport back to the US in August 1914. 
According to travel records, Gerlach left Berlin in October 1914, spending some three weeks in Great Britain before continuing his journey back to the United States. The ship manifest for the trip on the SS Devonian shows that Max left Liverpool for Boston on October 1st. Accompanying him on the journey was 23-year old music student, Mary L. Morrison.  There are two reasons that we know the pair travelled together. The first reason is that Gerlach uses the young woman’s home address for his passport application: 309 Sterling Avenue, Joliet, Illinois. The very same address appears in the US census of 1910 and shows Morrison, a ‘musician’, living here with her parents.  On the ship manifest Max A. Gerlach lists himself as ‘broker’ but enters ‘German’ in the field marked ‘race’. Why Max did this isn’t clear, but it may be a subtle indicator of where his loyalties lay in the first few months of the war.
Some, but not all, of the details regarding Gerlach and Mary Morrison are repeated in a newspaper report that the pair featured in upon their arrival in Boston. On October 11, the Boston Sunday Post told the grim and tragic story of how 49 year-old Annie Robinson — a survivor of the Titanic disaster — was presumed to have drowned in the last hour or so of the journey. It is believed that poor old Annie had jumped into the water as the SS Devonian had entered port after its 3,000 mile trip from Liverpool to Boston. According to the press report, the ship had started groping through a dense, unsettling fog in the last few hours of transit. It was speculated that Annie, perhaps restless and agitated by the sounding of the ship’s horn and by memories of the Titanic, may have panicked and fled the ship. It was only her absence at the breakfast table that alerted the Captain that anything untoward had happened. Nobody witnessed the leap, but the Captain had concluded that it was the only possible explanation. After the Titanic disaster Annie’s daughter Gladys had settled in Boston with James E. Prentis, son of the former American Consul, Thomas Theodore Prentis. She was on her to see her at the time of the incident. It was only Annie’s absence at the breakfast table that alerted the Captain that anything untoward had happened.
Nobody witnessed the leap, but the Captain had concluded that it was the only possible explanation. The press report went on to describe how the vast majority of passengers were Americans who had managed to secure their passage to the United States as part of the American Relief Fund. Some four months earlier war had been declared, and many of those sailing had been caught in the crossfire in Europe. Among those interviewed by reporters as the passengers disembarked in Boston were Max A. Gerlach of New York and Mary L. Morrison of Joliet — both of them described in the article as “music students in Berlin”.  What happened between Max’s return from Berlin in October 1914 and Grunewald’s investigation in June 1917 isn’t known. The only clue about Max’s activities between October 1914 and enlisting with the US Army in August 1918 are the references he provides from two known Rothstein associates: Judge Aaron J. Levy and George Young Bauchle, the gangster’s partner at the Partridge Club and high profile attorney among the ‘Old Money’ families of New York. The employment record that Max on his Army Application ends rather mysteriously some six years earlier in 1912.
Baron von Gerlach and Hallam Keep Williams in Havana
During research carried out for an upcoming podcast, veteran New York journalist, Joe Nocera shared some tantalising new information. A brand new report had come to light. According to a story published in the San Francisco Call in April 1950, ‘Baron Max von Gerlach’ had arrived in Havana, Cuba with “the eccentric Hallam Keep Williams”. Despite the report being no more than 40 words in total, the newspaper had a bombshell claim: the 65 year old Gerlach had been the original inspiration for the hero of The Great Gatsby and Williams was going to write a book about the Baron “that would top Fitzgerald’s famed work”.  The news came just three years after Zelda Fitzgerald is alleged to have told Princeton researcher, Henry Dan Piper that some Teutonic-looking bootlegger called ‘Guerlach’ had been the inspiration for husband’s fictional creation, Jay Gatsby. It also came hot on the heels of the 1949 movie remake of the novel starring Alan Ladd and Betty Field. Ever since the novel had been republished for American troops in 1945 there been a sharp revival interest. If ever there was a good time for Max to tell his story, it was now.
The man behind the Gerlach story was ‘Cholly Knickerbocker’, the pseudonym used by powerful ‘smart set’ gossip-columnist, Igor Cassini for New York Journal-American, a paper owned by his onetime father-in-law, William Randolph Hearst. Cassini, an aristocratic Russian whose grandfather had served as Russian Ambassador to Washington at the time of Theordore Roosevelt and William McKinley, would eventually face criminal charges for having failed to register his interests as a paid agent of Spanish dictator, Rafael Trujillo and the Dominican Republic. The dictator, whose autocratic empire had been build-up partly in collusion with Arnold Rothstein’s men, Frank Costello and Meyer Lansky had been a thorn in the side of America for years. According to reports compiled by the FBI in 1943, Cassini, an uncompromising anti-Communist, had been in receipt of a number of grace and favour benefits from General Manuel Benitez — then serving as head of the National Police in Havana — and several other Cuban notables. Rumours were also circulating that ‘Cholly’ had been voicing ‘un-American’ sentiments.  Cassini reviewed the trip in his 1977 autobiography, ‘I’d Do It All Again’, rejecting any suggestion that he had been expressing un-patriotic views and pointing out that he had been invited back to Havana under President Eisenhower just a few years later. Cholly’s host on that second occasion, the US Ambassador, Earl E. T. Smith, did, it must be said, share the columnist’s abject loathing of the Liberal-backed dictator, Fulgencio Batista, and so he was there amongst good company.
Gerlach made numerous trips to Havana over the years — invariably arriving at times of political or social turmoil or transition. This time was no different. Cassini tells us that Gerlach had arrived with the 43-year old eccentric playboy, Hallam Keep Williams in mid-April, but this wasn’t the only trip that Gerlach had made to Havana that spring. Max appears on a flight manifest dated March 26th 1950, travelling back from Havana to Idlewild International Airport in New York. When Gerlach booked the flight, the airline, Linea Aerospostal Venozolana (LAV), had been promoting itself in ads as a ‘luxury’ direct flight linking New York with Havana and the sunny Venezuelan capital of Caracas. Money must have been no object to Gerlach, because no sooner had he arrived back in New York in March than he was back in Havana with Williams again in April. It is equally interesting to note that ‘Baron’ Gerlach and Hallam Keep Williams had arrived in Havana just in time for the First Inter-American Conference for Democracy and Liberty, a series of talks and lectures that had been organised to promote the ideals of American democracy to its South American neighbours. As Batista’s corrupt government began to show signs of collapse and the warlords moved in, America was keen to promote credible alternatives to fascism, communism and the oligarchic dictatorships of military strongmen like Trujillo.  A few years later, Igor Cassini, still writing as Cholly Knickerbocker, would recycle the whole ‘Inter-American’ brand for his pro-Trujillo lobbying agency, “Inter-American Public Relations Ltd” — a clear attempt by Cassini and his friends to wrestle the spirit of pan-Americanism from the arms of the American Left and Roosevelt’s New Dealers. It is not without some irony that Max von Gerlach, the man who was promoting himself as the patron saint of the American Dream, Jay Gatsby, had found himself in Havana just as America was planting the seeds of the dream in the poor, ungiving soils of South America. With the release of the Paramount remake of Gatsby starring Ladd the previous summer, the time had never been more ripe. 
Berlin 1914 – Max at the Opera
Based on Joe Nocera’s discovery about Gerlach and Hallam Keep Williams, I was able to determine that Hallam’s mother was none other than Alice Peroux-Williams (aka Alice Perew Williams, b.1871), an American opera singer who was active in Berlin at the same time as Max Gerlach. Records show that Alice, a gifted mezzo-soprano singer, had separated from her husband, the Buffalo-based stockbroker, Gibson Tenney Williams, shortly after the birth of Hallam in 1907. In 1909, Alice moved the family to Berlin, where she resided for some twenty years or more, returning only occasionally for concert tours of the States and special shows at the Carnegie Hall. 
In 1914, Hallam’s father Gibson married his second wife, Rhode Island music student and teacher, Florence Alice Smith (b. 1881) in Rochester in England after spending the previous five years shuttling between London, Germany, Italy and New York. They tied the knot on July 22, just six days before the outbreak of war. Gibson and his wife left Britain and returned to Germany sometime in late October. It was their intention to spend the winter in Munich, away from their base in the Bavarian alps.  Gibson’s time in Munich was marked by a new diplomatic crisis, when Irish-American Nationalist, Thomas St John Gaffney was forced to resign his role as US Consul General in Munich for expressing frank pro-German sentiments. It was also alleged that Gaffney had links to human rights activist, Sir Roger Casement. Back in Britain, Casement had been charged with high treason for the role he was believed to have played in the shipment of illegal arms between Germany and Irish Nationalists. 
On October 14 1914, Max Gerlach arrived in Boston aboard the SS Devonian with music student, Mary L. Morrison after a stay of some three weeks or more in London. Gibson Tenney Williams, the father of Gerlach’s friend Hallam, returned briefly to the United States in the autumn of 1917 when he gave a series of lectures to students revealing the ‘bare truth’ of the ongoing war in Europe and the true nature of conditions in Germany, France and Switzerland.  According to Professor Kruse, Gerlach was in England at least twice during this period. A passport application from 1916 states that Gibson first arrived in Germany in November 1913. The place that he made his home was Oberammergau, a tiny Catholic enclave on the Austrian-Swiss border.  When America entered the war in 1917, Gibson surrendered his services to the American War Relief Society of Geneva, then operating under the auspices of the American Red Cross.  A news item from the Harvard Graduates Magazine of September 1917 gives his forwarding address as the Société de Crédit Suisse in Zurich. 
Whilst there is no actual record of what Gerlach was doing in Germany during the 1913 to 1914 period, it is curious to note that the name ‘Gerlach’ features on a photo of Alice Peroux-Williams that appeared in the Musical America journal dated May 1914, some several months before Max returned from Germany when both of them were in Berlin.  In light of the fact that Max was cavorting in Havana with Alice and Gibson’s son Hallam in April 1950, it seems likely that Gerlach was known to Hallam Williams and his family as early as 1913/1914, and that they had probably kept in contact throughout their lives.
Other items that appeared in the European Press during the 1913-1914 period suggest that Hallam’s mother was a popular and respected figure within the ‘American Colony’ that was ringing American Ambassador, James W. Gerard, at the US Embassy in Berlin. This is interesting in several respects as the investigation into Gerlach’s German activities performed by Harry Grunewald and the Justice Department in July 1917 reported that Max’s passport application had been secured through his personal familiarity with Major James A. Ryan, a close adviser to Ambassador Gerard in the Embassy staff. According to Grunewald’s report, Ryan was residing at the Hotel Kaiserhof in Berlin at the time that that Max secured the passport. A report compiled by the Operations of United States Relief Commission in Europe confirms that James A, Ryan was conducting his relief effort from the hotel during this period.  Coincidentally, records show that Gerlach and Peroux-Williams had both completed their passport applications on August 3rd, 1914 — although they appear to travelled back to the United States separately — Alice setting out on her journey alone in March 1915 and Max with student singer/ musician, Mary L. Morrison in October 1914. 
In January 1914, Ambassador Gerard had been forced to issue a strong defence of the morality of American singers and musicians after an article in Musical America suggested that the women were exposing themselves to corruption and exploitation. The journal, owned by British-born American, John Christian Freund, said the girls were exposing themselves to danger by being in Berlin unchaperoned.  The fears that Freund was expressing may have been spurred in part by concerns over blackmailing and spying in the months leading up to the war. A spy-mania had gripped the country, and the nation responded by closing its borders and introducing super-tight regulations on those entering and those leaving the country. Gerard, a neutral envoy who was representing British interests in Germany at this time, would subsequently describe how travellers would be herded onto trains and at every port and transit point would have their particulars triple-verified by non-commissioned officers as the genheim-Polizei (secrete police) looked on. Unless one’s credentials were particularly strong you would then endure a strip-search. Every item of clothing would be held up to a strong-light so that any hidden messages sewn into the lining of the clothes would be exposed. Every bottle would be examined, every food container opened, and every suitcase, bag or portmanteau inspected for false sides, tops and bottoms. Precisely eleven separate operations would need to be completed before anyone could leave the country: several visits to the Police precinct would have to be made, questions answered, particulars checked, friends and associates called to verify your identity, and questionnaires filled-out. This would be followed by a similar procedure carried out by the Polizei-Praesidium — a series of four separate visits to seven different offices lasting the best part of a week. As Gerard explained, the method of making travel difficult had been reduced to an almost scientific formula — a process that would almost certainly have been reciprocated in America. Gerlach’s application for a passport back to the States that August must be viewed in this context.
Shortly after war in Europe had been declared, thousands of Americans, many of whom had not taken the precaution of travelling with passports, started lining up at the doors of the Embassy in Wilhelm Platz. Demand was such that even an eleven year old boy was recruited to help sort the papers. Trains were laid on to get citizens out of Berlin on a dedicated relief line that ran from Charlottenburg Station via Switzerland, Munich and Carlsbad to Holland and from Holland to England. Major Ryan had recently arrived as head of the relief and repatriation mission, taken up residency at the Kaiserhoff Hotel and it was down to Gerlach to get to know him.
When Ambassador Gerard returned to American in the first months of 1917 he co-wrote a Pulitzer Prize winning book called Inside the German Empire with the New York World’s Herbert Baynard Swope. In the book, Gerard shares his first-hand impressions of the economic, political, spiritual and military conditions that helped sustain the German nation in the first three years of the war, making special mention of the mass of bureaucratic hurdles that all Americans faced in their bid to get back home. Although Gerard and his wife had a social network that extended all over Long Island, it would it would be Swope’s parties that Scott and his wife Zelda would attend in Great Neck. It wasn’t simply Scott’s proximity to Swope in Great Neck — Scott and family on Gateway Drive and Swope on East Shore Road — that drew the pair into each other’s orbit, it was Swope’s close personal and professional relationship with Scott’s main drinking buddy, Ring Lardner. The newspaperman also had a deep, abiding friendship with Gerlach’s Speakeasy patron, Arnold Rothstein and his wife Carolyn. At around the time that Max was managing Rothstein’s speakeasy at No. 51 West 58th Street, Swope was renting a city apartment at No. 135, and Rothstein was living in one at No. 145 West 58th Street. That’s how cosy the pair had become. 
Although divorced some several years, Alice and Gibson Williams would both provide talks on the ‘truth’ of the situation in Europe on their occasional trips back to the United States. In February 1915, Musical America reported that Alice was now striving to bring about an amicable understanding between America and Germany “by deeds rather than words”. As a celebration of this special relationship she would be joining the famous German baritone Paul Knüpfer at the Beethoven Hall, a performance she hoped would represent a “veritable entente cordiale”.  A little earlier in February 1915, Alice had sung at a benefit concert organized by Mrs Hans von Bülow.  Bülow, a virtuoso pianist and conductor, had been instrumental in popularizing the composter Richard Wagner, whose autograph Gerlach possessed and which he claimed had been handed to either his father or his grandfather when the family were still living in Germany. 
It’s more that he was a German Spy During the War
Fitzgerald placed no small amount of emphasis on rumours of spying in the Gatsby novel. At Gatsby’s parties, guests exchange furtive, short-breathed rumours about his possible wartime adventures. In dramatic terms, it was the verbal equivalent of puffing out a toxic cloud of smoke and asking his readers to pick shapes from it. Some say that Gatsby spied for Germany during the war and some say that he’d killed a man once. Others, who claim to have known him growing up in Germany, insist that he is either a cousin of Kaiser Wilhelm or a nephew of Paul von Hindenberg, the former General of the German army who was poised to become President at the time the novel was published. There’s no denying that Gerlach himself had done much to contribute to the various rumours flying around about his loyalties during the war. When agents acting on behalf of the American Protective League spoke to his character witness, George Young Bauchle, Bauchle claimed that Gerlach had once shown him a signed-photo of composer Richard Wagner, possibly the most iconic symbol of German Nationalism outside Adolf Hitler. Gerlach alleged that the picture had been signed personally by Wagner for his father, Ferdinand von Gerlach, when he was acting as secretary in the Secret Chancellery of Frederick III. In Imperial Russia, the Emperor’s ‘secret chancellery’ — or the Geheimer Kanzlei as Kruse describes it — was a dreaded organization consisting of spies and spy handlers, men and women who would have the unenviable task of keeping tabs on royal subjects. The combination of Wagner and Privy Councils makes it all sound tantalisingly Machiavellian and full of fabulous intrigue, but maybe the House of Hohenzollern was very different to that of the Romanovs. The notion that Gerlach’s father was some glamourous ‘master spy’ is an attractive one, but there is no firm evidence to support it.
It wasn’t the last time that Max would reaffirm his roots to Imperial Germany. When approached by a reporter during a flight at Westfield International Airport in April 1930, Gerlach would present himself as a “former German Royalist”.  Rumours of German spies were rife during the war. Not even the singers and musicians that Max was associating with in Berlin and Manhattan were immune. A report in Musical America in June 1917 spelled out the scale of the problem the singers were facing, Dr O.P. Jacob writing that that he had been struck “by the persistency with which the rumour, ever and anon, crops up that many German artists, opera singers by preference, are nothing less than German ex-officio, secret service agents.” 
The rumours of spies operating beneath the veil of opera and musical theatre had arrived the same month as Agent Harry Grunewald and the Bureau of Investigation started compiling their report on Gerlach. His friends and associates on the Berlin music scene, like Mary L. Morrison and Alice-Peroux Williams, can’t have failed to trigger some general interest, but equally, it may well have been prompted by something more specific. Sure enough, the report, which Grunewald completed on June 29, 1917, just happened to coincide with news that leading New York Opera singer, Edyth Wilson, was presently on a tour of Berlin, Munich and neutral territories like Holland, pushing a peaceful, if pronounced, pro-German message. The news chimed with the previous efforts of Alice-Peroux Williams and Paul Knüpfer to bring about an amicable understanding between America and Germany “by deeds rather than words”. The idea of an “entente cordiale” might have seemed harmless enough when America was taking a neutral stance in the war, but the sentiment would have been deemed undesirably unpatriotic as the US started mobilizing its troops against Germany in May 1917.
The man accompanying Edyth Wilson on the tour was her musical director, Herr von Gerlach. A report in Musical Courier in February 1917 revealed that Wilson would be among several stars from Berlin and Munich who were scheduled to give a performance at The Hague under the direction of Intendant von Gerlach.  The concert, curiously enough, was based around the work of Wagner, the composer that Wilson had become most famous for popularising in America and Europe. Contrary to what you might think, ‘Intendant von Gerlach’ appears not to have been Max Gerlach. The Intendant was Berlin-born Arthur von Gerlach, an Opera House aficionado who was lending his support to the German Foreign Office in their diplomatic efforts with America and the neutral territories. Nevertheless, word might have gone that the pair were related.
There are several questions worth asking: was it possible that Max Gerlach was trading on some alleged (or real) family association with Arthur von Gerlach during his musical time in Berlin? Had Max inveigled his way into the operatic circles at the Embassy with the intention of gaining monetarily from these contacts, for the purpose of intelligence gathering? Was it in Berlin that he had got the autograph of Wagner and not, as not as he told Bauchle, as an heirloom from his father when he was in the service of Friedrich III?
14 Jones Street. Max Attempts Suicide
News of Gerlach’s links with the world of opera would continue well into the 1930s, when it was reported by the press of New York that Max had been living at the $40,000 mansion of former singing star, Lydia Lindgren in Flushing. The story they told was a strange one. In the last week of December 1939, some ten weeks after war had been declared in Europe, a 55 year old Max Gerlach sat in the apartment of his friend, Elizabeth Mayer in Manhattan, put a revolver to his head and pulled the trigger. Although the newspapers speculated that Max had been plagued by the collapse of some business concerns, they were also keen to point out that just a few weeks prior to the incident, Max had been living at the home of former ‘Swedish Nightingale’, Lydia Lindgren at 35-10 16rd Street in Flushing.  Like Gerlach, the American-based singer who could speak five languages and included the likes of Nietzsche and Goethe among her favourite reads, had spent time studying music in Berlin.  Her meteoric rise to stardom had been helped by her romantic association with German-American millionaire, Otto H. Kahn — chairman of the Metropolitan Opera Company and a powerful figure on Wall Street. In the early 1920s she had married Italian tenor and voice coach, Raoul Querze.
At the time of the Max’s attempted suicide, the 55 year-old Lindgren had been out of the newspaper headlines for some seven years or more. In the 1920s and early 1930s the startlingly beautiful soprano singer had featured in a steady, glamourous stream of diva sensations, mysterious disappearances and high-profile sex scandals. But in the six years leading up the incident, things had all been relatively quiet. The only exception to this was a story printed in the last week of October, just a matter of weeks before Gerlach pulled the trigger. According to the story, Lydia was seeking to petition her former husband, Raoul Querze, for the provision of a temporary allowance. In her customary dramatic fashion, the singer had claimed that the $300,000 fortune she had earned originally, had finally been exhausted.  It is not known if Gerlach and Lindgren had been having an affair, nor if his suicide attempt at the home of Mayer had in some way been wound-up with the singer’s own declining fortunes. According to a full page spread in May 1950, Lindgren had been left destitute. The $40, 000 mansion in Flushing that she shared with Gerlach was heavily mortgaged and the tax-burden on all her valuables, including her jewellery had been sold. She dismissed the few furnishings she had left in the house as ‘junk’. 
As Gerlach dragged his feet around Washington Square Park on the afternoon of December 21st, it would have been perilous underfoot. It was the first day of winter. Ice had brought traffic to a standstill and the roads around the main streets would have been peppered with sand. The temperatures looked set to plummet even further that afternoon, as another barrage of snow showers moved in. It was going to be a White Christmas. Three more shopping days to go. But poor old Max wasn’t thinking that far ahead. Gerlach appears to have let himself into Mayer’s apartment at 14 Jones Street the afternoon prior to the incident and spent the subsequent time writing letters as he waited for her return. The pair had sat reading until 10.00pm when Elizabeth looked up to see him put a revolver to his head, whisper very calmly his last goodbye and fire a single shot into his right temple. Police would find four sealed letters in his pockets. Who the letters were addressed to and what were included in them was never disclosed.
Mayer appears to have known as much about Max as the rest of us. As far as she was aware, Max von Gerlach was a retired army officer and former German baron. Describing him to the press echoed Scott’s description of Gatsby: he had an immaculate military bearing and a strong Oxford accent. Beyond that, she knew very little about him.  When quizzed about Baron von Gerlach, the German Consulate in Manhattan said they had no record of any baron by that name. Lydia Lindgren claimed that she too had no idea about Gerlach’s background, only that he had left the house rather suddenly and had neglected to take his things. Police told reporters that Gerlach was not given to talking about his past, his relatives or personal affairs, and as a result they had practically no further information on him. Just days earlier, a real German Baron was confronted with a no less violent tragedy when the 21-year old mistress of Baron Friedrich von Oppenheim, a wealthy German monarchist, plunged to her death from his 10th floor apartment in Lower Manhattan. The woman, Lola Lazlo, was the stepdaughter of Hungarian film director, Aladar Laszlo. Friends of the girl were adamant that Lola was incapable of taking her own life and the Baron was grilled by Police.  At the time that of the tragedy the Nazi Party were pressing for the Baron’s return. Pressure was being heaped on his wife back in Cologne, but according to his family, von Oppenheim was reluctant to leave America and provide his backing to a war that he and his conservative nationalist circle of friends believed to be ill-judged. With the prospect of his assets being seized and the safety of his wife and children now in jeopardy, he returned some eight weeks later. In 1942 he would be investigated by the Gestapo for assisting in the evacuation of Jews workers from the Netherlands.
Little or nothing is known about Elizabeth Mayer, the woman that Max was staying with at the time of his attempted suicide, although the address of the apartment, 14 Jones Street in Greenwich Village, does make it possible to get a snapshot of Max’s lifestyle and the company that he kept at this time. For the best part of twenty years this fashionable Manhattan district was the heartland of New York Bohemia and in 1939 it was literally teeming with boisterous Marxist radicals, bearded artists, freethinkers — and Soviet spies. According to a report drawn up by the Special Committee on Un-American Activities, 14 Jones Street was home to no less than three card-carrying members of America’s Communist Party that year: Mary Gutchess, Clarence Dorman and Silas Goodwin. If you were to look at the street as a whole you would find that a total of sixteen party members made up the tiny Manhattan block, composed of around thirty separate buildings.  At nearby 18 Gay Street were Communist Party members Frances Kline and Mary McCarthy, the Trotskyist author girlfriend of Scott’s longtime friend and confidante, Edmund Wilson. Mary’s neighbours at 17 Gay Street would eventually come to the attention of Federal Agents when it was learned that a Soviet GRU Cell was operating from its premises. The Soviet painter and spy, Esther Chambers was a regular visitor to this address too, and another good friend of Wilson and McCarthy. In later years, Chambers would famously would describe how this tiny little apartment on a curvy block-long street was used as the secret base for a highly efficient communications system between the Communist underground in America and their counterparts in Germany. Letters and film would be carried by couriers using the North German Lloyd SS Line and the Hamburg American Line, developed in-house from a makeshift dark-room consisting of a short-tub, a shelf and battered old photographic enlarger, that had been squeezed in an almost impossible position beside a basin and toilet in the closet-like Gay Street bathroom. Once the film had been developed, couriers and Comintern agents would then meet up in clubs and cafes dotted around the Village and perform a crepuscular routine of ‘dead-drops’.  According to the passionate anti-Communist crusader Kenneth Goff, foreign agents would hand Chambers and his friends money belts containing as much as $10,000. The money would then be used promoting the revolution in South America, the Philippines and Japan. On other occasions Chambers would fly to San Francisco and to the Soviet colony in Hollywood and disperse funds there. 
John Dos Passos (a prominent supporter of Leon Trotsky during the 1930 show trials) and Edmund Wilson were just two of Scott’s friends who had been cool, contented residents of ‘The Village’. At 3 Washington Square North, the pair would have once been just a five-minute walk from Max’s flat at 14 Jones Street. Even closer to Max on McDougall Street was the passionately subversive, Washington Square Bookshop, one of the first book stores ever to stock the banned and ‘obscene’ Ulysses by James Joyce. The Village was about as extreme and as visionary as it got. The story being told in the press was that it had become something of a legend among “long haired poets” and artists. But this wasn’t a new phenomenon by any means. In the early 1920s, the district had been home to Jane Heap and Margaret C. Anderson’s censor-defying Little Review, before it had no option but to move to Paris. Just a few doors down from this was Samuel Roth’s porn and ‘banned-book’ emporium, The Poetry Bookshop. It was here that the more discerning customer could get their sweaty little hands on ‘bootleg’ copies of Ulysses by James Joyce and Theordore Dreiser’s Genius, invariably dispensed without the slightest shame in their beguiling brown-paper bags. The district famous for its radical art and politics was also home to one of the most radical Jazz Clubs of its generation too. Ten minutes’ walk around the corner from Max and Mayer at 14 Jones Street was Barney Josephson’s hot new venue, Café Society. The club at Sheridan Square, would be the first racially integrated nightclub in New York. Josephson, a former Cotton Club regular had launched the club just 12 months prior to Max’s suicide attempt, its name handed to given to him by Igor Cassini’s ‘Cholly Knickerbocker’ predecessor, Maury Paul, who dutifully promoted it as the ‘the Wrong Place for the Right People’. 
Josephson had originally been inspired by the clubs he had visited in Montmartre in Paris and in Berlin in the early 1930s. It was in Berlin that he had become utterly mesmerized by the reactionary political forces gathering in force around its bars. The bars would be tiny things with small stages. Singers and musicians would be boxed-up and eye to eye with artists, caricaturists, composers, poets and left-wing intellectuals. It was the ultimate in anything goes, from nude dancing to erotic performances, gay acts, drag acts, drug acts and everything in between. Josephson found the experience totally exhilarating and soaked it up. The smoky burlesque atmosphere of the club also packed a clear anti-fascist message. Once the doorman had shown you in and ushered you downstairs you would be met by the Hitler Monkey — a large clay sculpture of a monkey with the Fuhrer’s head dangling from a pipe on the stairwell. Just three years earlier, Barney’s brother Leon had been among thirty people arrested for plotting Adolph’s murder. A short time later, George Mink — duly charged alongside Leon that day — would be revealed as one of Stalin’s star assassins — a special agent in the G.P.U whose real priority was German naval plans. It was a world turned upside down. On the walls would be murals satirising their upper-crust Broadway rivals. Behind the bar was a mural of animals. A long, linear menagerie of walruses, bears, pigs, orangutans, lizards and dogs would provide a surrealist mirror of a noisy clientele hollering for drinks in front of them. A cigarette girl would drag her wares around the tables, and following her an ‘ashes girl’. In March 1939 an ad appeared in Scott’s old campus paper, The Daily Princetonian: ‘Café Society: 2 Sheridan Square, Chelsea 2-2737 — Don’t miss, “What You Going to Do When There Ain’t No Swine” sung by Billie Holliday.’
Just four weeks before Max tramped up through the snow and let himself at 14 Jones Street, the unthinkable had happened — Kristallnacht, the Night of the Broken Glass. Brutal Nazi groups had launched a series furious assaults on German Jews. People were beaten, shops were looted, properties were burned and a brand new spectacle of hell spread like wildfire across the nation. When the SS Bremen docked at one of the nearby piers in the Village, a scuffle broke out between Nazi-sailors and outraged New York dockers. The atmosphere of holiday carnival at the club took on a peculiar, manic aspect, the tootin’ of the trumpets and the boogie-woogie licks mingling in a way that only Jazz ever could with the schizophrenic mood of the city.
Like so many of the club’s neighbours on Jones Street, the owner’s brother, Leon Josephson would eventually be subpoenaed by the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Federal attention would also fall on its musical director, the civil rights activist and former aristocrat, John Hammond. Fast-forward to the early 1960s and Hammond, still intent on breaking down cultural barriers would play a critical role in launching the career of folk-singer, Bob Dylan. The cover for his second studio album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan was in fact shot just outside 14 Jones Street. All in all, 14 Jones Street was probably the last place on earth to find a preposterously affectatious German monarchist holding a gun to his temple.
Nothing at all is known about Gerlach’s girlfriend, Elizabeth Mayer, but a small ad run in Edmund Wilson’s Marxist-Light journal, the New Republic, might just offer a clue. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, the journal regularly promoted rooms here: “Greenwich Village, 14 Jones Street, near Sheridan Square. Two separate rooms, automatic refrigerator, incinerator, fireplace, $60 to $90. References. Agent on premises.”  The property itself was a five-storey building made up of around a dozen or so apartments. In years gone by the block had played a key role in New York’s ‘settlement’ program. Musician and translator, Elizabeth (Wolff) Mayer, who fled from Germany to New York in 1936, had worked on several contributions to New Republic and it is possible, given the journal’s popularity with journalists, authors and editors, that the owner of the two rooms, who also lived on the premises, may have been keen to let it out to likeminded souls in arts and publishing. The theory has other supporting elements. Scott’s close friend Edmund Wilson, who appears to have used a similar caricature of Gerlach in his 1924 play, The Crime in the Whistler Room, was associate editor of the New Republic on an on-off basis from the mid-1920s to the 1940s. Perhaps aware of the room’s existence, he had mentioned it to Mayer and Mayer had taken it on.
In the summer and autumn of 1961, 14 Jones Street was the home of future Assistant Secretary of State, Richard Holbrooke. Still in his early twenties, Holbrooke was an occasional student writer for the New York Times. At this time, Greenwich Village was still very much the refuge of unknown artists and radical thinkers. Jazz may now have taken a backseat to Rock n’ Roll, but the quick-witted snarl of folk flicked the Vs at the the establishment in the same casual and prickly melodious way. Holbroke’s one room, ground floor apartment was shared with Lawrence Chase, the editor of his college newspaper. When Holbrooke was offered an advisory role at the White House during the Johnson administration, the FBI performed the usual background checks. During the course of their investigations they found that the youngster’s name was included in the records of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee at Brown University. This would be the 1959 to 1961 period, in the run-up to the Bay of Pigs. Until it was disbanded in the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination, the Cuba Committee was believed to have served as Fidel Castro’s propaganda arm in the United States. It was during this same period that Holbrooke began spending much of his time at the home of David Rusk whose father, Dean Rusk was serving as President Kennedy’s Secretary of State. It was in fact Rusk who would guide the beleaguered President through the Bay of Pigs fiasco that same year.  Although concerned about what they had found, the FBI found no tangible evidence of espionage.
It is interesting to note that it was the same Elizabeth (Wolff) Mayer who was a one-time romantic interest of the poet W.H. Auden. Auden, also a friend of Wilson and a contributor to New Republic, moved to New York the very same year that Max attempted suicide. The address that Auden provided on the ship manifest in January 1939 was that of Random House founder, Bennett Cerf. Like Wilson, Cerf was another prominent figure in the anti-censorship movement then energizing the left-wing cliques and stormy petrels of Lower Manhattan. British Intelligence would open their own file on Auden in the 1930s and years later the poet would be suspected of playing a part in the escape of Cambridge Spies, Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean. Auden would eventually settle at 7 Cornelia Street in Greenwich Village, a property that was practically back to back with 14 Jones Street. During the early phase of his arrival Auden was reliant on Mayer for emotional and artistic support. Her ‘open house’ on Long Island functioned like some Parisian salon, a refuge for any artist, singer or musician looking to recharge their creative batteries on the constant flow of energies buzzing about the home. There is, however, no record of Auden’s patroness, Elizabeth (Wolff) Mayer having a separate apartment in Manhattan to the house she had on Long Island. Despite this, she remains a credible, if not totally satisfactory suspect in our search for Gerlach’s girlfriend. A trawl through the US census of 1940 reveals that by April 1940 Mayer was no longer using the Jones Street address. Research undertaken by Horst Kruse in 2014 suggests that Max himself had little option but to move on: the bullet that had entered his temple had left him blind. Six months after his attempted suicide, Max could be found among the 36 inmates residing at the State Blind Asylum. 
Max and Mizener
When Gerlach arrived in Havana with Hallam Keep Williams in April 1950, Cholly Knickerbocker had made a point of observing that Baron von Gerlach, who was going to write a book about his life was now ‘blind’. The way that Cassini phrases it, however, suggests that Gerlach’s real-life adventures had been every bit as sensational as the spy and bootlegging rumours that swirled around Scott’s hero: “The eccentric Hallam Keep Williams has just arrived in Havana with Baron Max von Gerlach, who is the protagonist of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘The Great Gatsby’. Hal says he is going to write a book about the Baron, who is blind now, that will top Fitzgerald’s famed work.” Given the scope for criminal prosecution, one might speculate that the book, were it ever to be written, would be more likely focus on Max’s many experiences among the fantastically rich and talented denizens of New York than his bootlegging exploits with Arnold Rothstein. Lifting the lid on his time in Berlin and on his on-off romance with opera was one thing. Revealing the inner workings of organised crime was another. It would have come with considerable risks to his safety.
In February 1951 Gerlach made the first of many attempts to contact Fitzgerald’s biographer, Arthur Mizener. Max, now 65, was desperately keen to talk to him about Gatsby, and Mizener seems just as desperately keen to avoid him. Horst Kruse has done an excellent job of summarizing the scene: Gerlach hears Mizener talking on the Mary Margaret McBride radio show about his new, groundbreaking biography of Scott. Minutes later, Gerlach contacts the radio station telling them that he is “the real Jay Gatsby”. A secretary working at the station approaches Mizener and informs him of the call. The pair exchange a series of letters, and Mizener, who has already mentioned “a Teutonic-featured man named von Guerlach” in a footnote in his book already, seems determined to avoid a meeting. As far as Mizener is concerned, Scott may have taken some inspiration for the Gatsby character and some superficial characteristics of Gerlach, but the things that really define Jay Gatsby — like his “motives” and “ideas” — were not those of Max. Mizener suggests that Gerlach puts down everything he knows in writing, but Max is reluctant to do this. As much as he would like to share the evidence that would back it up, he would prefer not to put it in writing. Frustrated by the obstacles being put in his way, Max shares his disappointment. Responding to Mizener’s letter, he describes the scholar’s rather dismissive assessment of the role he had played in the creation of Gatsby as purely “speculative”. In a letter dated July 2, 1951 Gerlach suggests they communicate via “through other channels”, before mysteriously adding: “I would prefer it this way as there are few people to whom I could express my candid comments with regard to F. Scott Fitzgerald, who might not, perhaps, misinterpret them”.  Kruse asks a very reasonable question in his book: why, after going to all that trouble to mention Max’s name in his book, was Mizener able dismiss his tale so casually? And why didn’t he want to meet him? You have to try and understand how Max might have felt at the time; on the one hand Mizener had mentioned him to others as possible source for Gatsby, and on the other he seemed curiously keen to reject the idea outright when approached by the man himself. What was undoubtedly curious from Gerlach’s perspective, was that Mizener now had little or no curiosity at all.
Mizener appears to have first learned about Gerlach through conversations that Princeton scholar, Henry Dan Piper had with Scott’s wife, Zelda Fitzgerald, shortly before her death in a hospital fire in March 1948. The story told by Zelda’s biographer Nancy Mitford (another one time Princeton scholar) is that that Piper had visited Zelda in a fairly spontaneous fashion at her home in Alabama in March 1947, just as he was being discharged from the army at the nearby Anniston camp. What Mitford says, however, isn’t strictly true. By the time that Piper was interviewing Zelda, he had already taken up his position within the Graduate School at Princeton. A local news item dated November 1945 suggests that Piper had already received his discharge and had made the rather surprising transition from Princeton’s Department of Chemistry, where he graduated in 1939, to the Department of English.  During the war Piper had worked on the highly classified Manhattan Project, the research and development program headed by Robert Oppenheimer, that would culminate with the world’s first atomic bomb. The work that Oppenheimer and his team produced would result in the complete annihilation of the cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki — and sealed the end of the Second World War.
In the immediate aftermath of the war, Piper, who had provided problem solving support to the head of research on the Manhattan Project, exchanged his lab coat for the neat pair of slacks and corduroy jackets that were common among the tutors at Princeton’s literature department — the emotional fallout of the bombs perhaps having no small amount of impact on the path that his post-war career would take. Mitford writes that Piper had been greatly intrigued by Fitzgerald’s work whilst writing for the Princeton magazine as an undergrad. In the frightening new world he had partly created himself, the simple pleasures of Piper’s youth must have shone like light at the end of a very dark tunnel. Whilst science could so easily destroy the world, art could so easily save it. Sometime between March 13 and March 14 Zelda invited Piper across for tea, during which he told her of his great admiration for Scott and his plans for writing his biography. The conversations went well, and although still emotionally and mentally drained from her regular trips to the Highland View sanatorium for treatment for schizophrenia, Zelda was relaxed and lucid enough to talk about her and Scott’s life together. It was only when Piper told her that he had been given access to papers and letters the possession of Scott’s attorney Judge John Biggs Jnr that things became a little more tense.  Within minutes of mentioning the papers, Zelda seemed shaken. She needed to lie down. The chat, for now at least, was over. When he arrived the following day Zelda was wringing her hands and seemed visibly distressed. Piper recalled that all the old energy and confidence that had radiated from her the previous day had been lost.
On November 2, Zelda returned to Highland Hospital for further treatment. Before stepping into the taxi she went and hugged her mother and told her that she was not afraid to die. At midnight on March 10th a fire broke out on the floor where Zelda was sleeping. She had several other patients, each of whom had been given strong sedatives to help them sleep, were among the nine fatalities as the fire swept from the kitchen, up through a dumbwaiter shaft to the very top floor of the building. One month after a coroner’s inquest returned a verdict of an accidental fire, 44-year old Willie Mae Hall, night supervisor at the institution, claimed responsibility not only for the fire but for over sedating patients. At nine o’clock on April 13, Hall walked into the city police department, demanding that officers lock her up immediately, clearly terrified of what might happen next. 
The gossip that Zelda shared about a “Teutonic featured man” called “Guerlach” was never actually published in Piper’s eventual biography of Scott in 1965. Instead Piper appears to have handed the information to Mizener, who featured it as a footnote in The Far Side of Paradise in 1951. Exactly when Piper had handed his notes to Mizener isn’t known. Mizener appears to have started his biography of Scott in 1945 but the inclusion of the detail only in the endnotes of the book suggests it may only have been shared with Mizener shortly before going to print. This is a possible explanation for why it didn’t appear in the main body of the text. Either way, if Piper had first learned about the identity of Gerlach from Zelda as he claimed, then Zelda was no longer alive to corroborate his story. The huge revival in interest in Scott triggered by the production and release of Paramount’s 1949 Gatsby remake would have to pass by without comment from the one person who knew Scott — and perhaps Gatsby and ‘Guerlach’ best — Zelda Fitzgerald. 
Gerlach’s Ghost Writer — Hallam Keep Williams
What, if anything, became of the book that Gerlach had intended to write with Hallam Keep Williams in April 1950 isn’t known. In fact, our knowledge of Williams is little better than our knowledge of Gerlach. Looking at their both lives is like looking through frosted glass; you can make out the vague, blurry outline of things, things you think you see, but these things are so lacking in definition, so full of gaps in our understanding that they have all substance of ghosts. The whole thing is like looking at some fascinating antique tapestry, where it is the holes and not the fabric that dominates. What we know about Williams can be summed up fairly quickly and some of which has been touched on already. Hallam was born on April 14, 1907 to Alice and Gibson Tenney Williams, the former a respected opera singer and the latter a prominent broker from a wealthy and respected family in Buffalo, New York.  Hallam’s Uncle, Charles Hallam Keep, was the former US Secretary of State during the Roosevelt and Taft administration and Hallam and his siblings would be embroiled in claims over his estate for the best part of fifty years.  In 1910 his parents separated and in March 1914 the marriage was dissolved. It was around this time that Hallam left with his mother and his siblings for Germany. During the war and post war years, Hallam’s education is believed to have been “received and polished” in Budapest, Vienna and Petrograd in Russia.  From 1909 he was living in Berlin, and during the late 1920s had joined his mother in the concert halls of Paris, playing the Ukelele and singing in several different keys and languages as vaudeville act, ‘Bubbles’ Williams. 
An item in the Paris edition of the Herald Tribune in June 1928 describes Hallam as ‘jazzing’ his way through music halls and salons attended by European kings, queens and nobility with the stage-act, The Happy Trio, a group that comprised Hallam, the Oxford-Harvard educated Billy Walker and the young, black jazz musician Gene Ramey. Hallam is described in the report as a former ‘vaude entertainer’ and radio and recording artist. By 1928 the group were appearing nightly in the grill room of the Chez Paul & Paul on Paris Right Bank (champagne not obligatory). The teenage trio appear to have first found fame in New York. Hallam’s manager at this time was Jim Carroll, the brother of producer and Broadway band leader, Earl Carroll.  In 1926 Earl found himself in jail after bringing out a nude young woman reclining in a bath of illegal liquor at a party thrown at his theatre on Seventh Avenue. One of Carroll’s ‘Vanities’ stars was the former ‘Follies’ showgirl, Peggy Hopkins Joyce — sometime lover of Arnold Rothstein.
It was during his time in Paris that Williams is believed to have met Ann Murdock, the beautiful millionaire actress whose marriage to Wall Street banker, Harry C. Powers had ended in divorce some years before. According to press reports it was a whirlwind romance and the couple married in August 1928 in Rye, New York. The word going round was that the handsome blond lothario with boyish curly locks had come back to New York with dreams of being a music agent. Within a month of the marriage, Murdock had become seriously ill and the relationship faltered. As Murdock convalesced in a New York sanatorium, Hallam, a serial philanderer with no fixed job or abode, met and romanced Ruth Anderson, a rival actress. As media speculation intensified about the couple, Hallam made his escape to Paris and it was here that he met the Mexico-born Byron Khun de Prorok. Another fraudulent Baron, Prorok had somehow blagged his way into the Adventurers Club of New York and onto some bizarre archaeological dig in Africa. According to the press of New York, Hallam would be going with him.
In 1929 Murdock filed for divorce and Hallam continued his romance with former ‘Vanities beauty’, Ruth Anderson.  For several months he had been in Nice where he had continued to perform as multi-lingual ‘uke’ player, Gayne ‘Bubbles’ Hallam.  After this he was back in New York. The details that Williams provides on a ship manifest in 1929 show him sharing rooms at 120 West 58th Street in New York with journalist Heywood Broun, a close friend of Ring Lardner, Harold Swope and several other Algonquin Round Table regulars that Scott and Zelda used to party with back in Great Neck.  Scribners editor Max Perkins mentions Broun in a letter he scribbled off to Scott whilst the author was working on Gatsby in France. Max was telling the author that he had found a new place in New Canaan and Broun was among the most hospitable of his neighbours. His invites across for supper were about as close as he got to parties, Perkins jokes. 
The detail about Hallam and Broun’s apartment is interesting from several perspectives: the apartment was just around the corner from Max Gerlach’s speakeasy at 132 West 58th Street and there is some indication that Broun was on very friendly terms with a mutual acquaintance of theirs called Texas Guinan — the notorious actress and Speakeasy hostess who provided glamourous front-of-house entertainment for gangster Larry Fay and Owney Madden at their El Fey nightclub on West 47th Street. The former actress had, like Gerlach, been schooled in the art of running speakeasies by Arnold Rothstein, the man who is believed to have provided the initial capital for the club. In what might be an intriguing coincidence, it is interesting to learn that that club had two large swastikas on either side of its door. It is something that may have an echo in Gatsby. As the novel’s narrator Nick Carraway pushes open the door to Meyer Wolfshiem’s New York office, it is marked by a sign reading ‘The Swastika Holding Company’. When Nick enters the office he hears someone whistling the popular Catholic opera-tune, The Rosary. Rothstein’s partners in the El Fey, Larry Fay and Owney Madden, were of Irish-Catholic heritage, and it is not beyond the realms of possibility that Scott was alluding to the pair’s partnership with Rothstein (Wolfshiem) in the club and was using the swastika motif as a nod and wink to amuse fellow regulars like his friend, Edmund Wilson.  The swastika also appeared on the cars in Fay and Hallam’s taxi-firm: one on the driver’s door, one on the passenger door and one on each of the four hubs of the wheels.
A report in New York’s Daily News in August 1930 would describe how Hallam had been hired by Fay as a $50 a week taxi-cab salesman. It also describes how Hallam’s friend, Tex Guinan had once taken him aside to reveal the true age of his wife, Murdock and advised that he should curb his spending habits.  It is alleged that Fay’s entry into the nightclub business had been bankrolled by Gerlach’s old boss, Arnold Rothstein. Guinan, who was roughly the same age as Max, would die in 1933. One of the pallbearers at her funeral was Hallam’s flat-mate, Heywood Broun. Scott’s friend Edmund Wilson would famously describe her as a formidable, glittering woman operating under the “great glowing peony” of a ceiling that melted from pink to deep rose. To woozy, beguiled patrons like Wilson there was something coarsely hypnotic about her.
The Hostess and the Kaiser
Interestingly, there are indications that Guinan was in Berlin at roughly the same time as Max Gerlach. Like Hallam Keep William’s mother, Alice, Guinan had begun her career as a soprano singer with a New York Opera company. Taking a break from a ‘Whirl of the World’ concert tour Guinan had made the trip to Germany. It was in here, according to an interview she gave to the press 1915, that Texas received the personal attention of Kaiser Wilhelm. In a short, teasing interview with the Seattle Star, Guinan described the scene. She had been sitting alone on a bench under a linden tree enjoying a book when several German officers passed by. Suddenly there was commotion. A battalion of infantry were marching through the street, and the officers, keen to subdue subversive characters, started mingling amongst the crowd. As Guinan stood to observe the procession, the burly hand of an officer who was “shouting in vigorous German” gripped her by the arm and pushed her backwards. Guina’s spontaneous cries of injury attracted the attention of the Kaiser who quickly moved forward to help. The reason for his intervention, Guinan tells us, is that he discerned that she was American. He then explained how much he would like to visit America.  In all fairness, Guinan’s story was a typical piece of pro-German propaganda at time a when many American newspapers were reflecting public fears about imminent war with Germany. Either way, if any part of the story is true then the incident places Texas Guinan in Berlin in 1913, the same year that Max Gerlach and Hallam’s mother, Alice Peroux-Williams were in also Berlin.
Hallam’s marriage to Ruth Anderson appears to have lasted little longer than his marriage to Murdock. By 1931 the couple were in the throes of a very public divorce and for the next fifteen years Hallam disappeared from the headlines — the only notable related events in his life being the murder of his cab-boss, Larry Fay in January 1933 and the no-less sudden death of their mutual friend Texas Guinan in November that same year. In the immediate aftermath of Arnold Rothstein’s murder in November 1928, a number of better known establishments were raided by Police, including those being managed by Guinan. The hostess would share her memories of this and her old friend, Arnold Rothstein in a book she planned to publish called ‘Hello Sucker’.  In July 1930, the publisher Alfred A. Knopf signed a contract with Carl van Vechten for his novel Parties, a book that depicted the wild and sensational antics of Americas boundary-breaking club lovers. Pictured witnessing van Vechten’s signature was Texas Guinan — Queen of all parties. 
Among those who served as models for von Vechten’s novel were the author’s friends, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, who appear in the book as David and Rilda Westlake. The Parties author had been introduced to Scott when he first arrived in Great Neck in October 1922 and the group partied regularly until Scott’s last-minute departure in May 1924.  Von Vechten’s publisher, Alfred A. Knopf would, incidentally, go on to publish the second edition of Arthur Mizener’s groundbreaking biography of Scott, The Far Side of Paradise (1951). It was this book that featured the first ever public mention of Gerlach as a source for Gatsby. In May 1925, van Vechten reviewed The Great Gatsby for The Nation, hitting the nail right on the head when he wrote: “The theme of a rather soiled or cheap personality, transfigured and rendered pathetically appealing through the possession of passionate idealism.” His diary entries in 1923 also reveal that he attended the gatherings of the Algonquin Round Table with Hallam K. William’s 1929 ‘roommate’ Heywood Broun and their mutual friend, Texas Guinan.  There is no record of Guinan ever publishing ‘Hello Sucker’, but one wonders that if it had, it may well have been published by Knopf. Shortly before her death the last of her legendary speakeasies was firebombed and Texas returned to the stage in America, having already been denied to entry to England and France. Headlines like ‘Actress Silenced By Death’ duly followed.
The next press reports of the 37-year old Hallam have him hooking up with twenty-one year old glamour star, Josi Johnston. Like Hallam’s first wife Murdock, Josi was heir to a million dollar fortune and had fallen heads over heels in love with him. Against their parent’s wishes, the two Stork Club regulars married on August 1st 1944. The venue they choose for the wedding was the University Chapel at Princeton. The reason why they chose Princeton to tie the knot remains unknown. There is certainly no indication that either of party was enrolled at the university, so it may have been at the suggestion of an unknown third-party. Either way, it’s extraordinary to find a friend of Gerlach’s so close to the Ivy League college that produced Fitzgerald. The romance lasted barely 18 months, and despite the birth of their child, Turner, the couple divorced.  Two years later Williams married Ann Baldwin. After starting and aborting a film production company, Hallam tried his hand at writing dramas: Façade (a three-act play with wife, Ann Baldwin in 1946), Alimony Pete (a three-act play in 1949) and What Happened Then?/This Is Why I Pray (musical compositions with John Vroman, 1961).  It is April 1950 when see him in Havana with Max von Gerlach, promising to spill the beans on the man behind Jay Gatsby. We have to wait another ten years before there is any further news of him. This time the date is 1957 and Hallam is in Palm Springs with former Vaudeville man Joe Frisco and ‘LA Confidential’ columnist, Paul Coates (L.A Mirror). According to the Desert Sun’s Paul Rashall the group had made their way to the Celebrity Lounge of the Rossmore Hotel.  An ad in the Desert Sun also suggests that Hallam was acting as agent for a multi-volume collection of academic reference books known as The Great Books of the Western World and the new and ‘startling’ Syntopicon. Billed as a great new concept in self-education, this 54 volume collection was published under the banner of the British-American, Encyclopædia Britannica from its base in Santa Barbara. The man behind the project, Robert Maynard Hutchins, denounced by Hearst newspapers as Communist sympathizer, would later go on to found The Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions. On October 9 1975, some eight years after joining the American Society of Authors, Composers and Publishers, Williams died in New York. He was 68 years old. On October 17 that year, just eight days after his death, the State of New Mexico district Court published their final account and report into the hotly contested estate of Hallam’s aunt, Margaret Turner Williams. Any legitimate claim that Hallam had to be missing millions would now be rendered meaningless. 
More Trips to Germany
Max, as it happens, continued his trips to Germany well into the 1930s. On one of those trips he can be seen travelling with wealthy widower Estelle Rolle. On May 7, 1931 the pair set sail on the S.S Hamburg from Hamburg. Details on the ship manifest reveal that Gerlach was then living at the prestigious New York Fraternity Club. His stay there couldn’t have been any more ironic, coinciding as it did with a raid by baton-wielding prohibition agents — the first raid of its kind in a private club.  Rolle, meanwhile was residing in St Albans in Queens.  Journalist Joe Nocera recently discovered that just twelve months earlier, Gerlach and Rolle had grabbed the headlines when their small auxiliary yacht, the Zara was lost for eight days at sea. The battered schooner was eventually picked-up 45 miles northeast of the Virginia Capes and towed back berth in the Municipal Boat Harbour near Newport, Virginia. The boat had set off from the Marine Basin, New York on November 26 for Miami, intending to stop at Hampton Roads for supplies. It appears that a wild storm had blown in and taken the intrepid pair 500 miles off course. Gerlach, who captained the vessel, told reporters how he had signalled a coast guard vessel, assuring them that they had no liquor on board “but needed plenty of help.” 
Although the news report suggests that Max’s yacht, the Zara was owned by Mrs Rolle, the Lloyds Register of American Yachts has no record of a yacht by that name owned by either Rolle or Gerlach. Pat Schaefer, a researcher at Mystic Seaport tells me that there was a sloop Zara in the 1930 Register, designed and built by Herreshoff, but unlike Rolle and Gerlach’s yacht, it was not powered. However, the same Lloyds Register reveals that there was a Max Gerlach listed as the owner of Rambler (formerly, Ramallah) which was an auxiliary sloop, 44’6″ (32′ waterline) x 12’6″, designed by Henry Read and built by Read Brothers of Fall River, Massachusetts in 1896. The owner was logged as Max Gerlach of Bayside, Long Island. It’s former owner was Alex Girtanner, also of Bayside and prominent member of the Bayside Yacht Club.  Among Girtanner’s former neighbours on his ‘Old World’ Freeport Bay estate was German aristocrat and flying enthusiast, Baron von Beaulieu-Marconnay of Hildesheim. The Baron’s wife Betsy was Broadway stage star, Marise Naughton. Just several months before the yachting incident, ‘Baron Max von Gerlach of New York’ had been telling reporters about his days as a pioneering aviator at Westfield International Airport.  Whether Max was using the story as a means of inveigling his way into yachting and flying circles of von Beaulieu-Marconnay is anyone’s guess.
Mrs Estelle Rolle is an interesting figure in the broader context of Gerlach’s Long Island adventures. In April 1927, Rolle had lost her husband, Edward F. Rolle in a tragic car accident. According to a report in the New York Times, Edward, a chief buyer for the McCrory chain store, was thrown from his car after skidding into a lamppost as he was driving home to Great Neck. It seems he had been playing golf at the nearby Soundview Country Club and was speeding back home to his wife when the accident happened.  Just a few years earlier, Edward and his wife had purchased the famous Gracefield Estate, previously owned and built by William Grace, the first Catholic Mayor of New York. Grace was the man who had personally received the Statue of Liberty to New York from Paris in 1885. There was a poetic kind of aptness about it. Not only was it the year of Gerlach’s birth, it was also the year that Scott had originally intended setting the Gatsby novel. Look over a Google map today and you will spot ‘Gatsby’s Pool’ (now closed) where the estate once stood at Gracefield Drive, Kings Point.
In 1937 there is a record of Herr Max Gerlach travelling first class to Hamburg on the Hansa. Immediately above him on the list is Herbert Blankenhorn. At the time that he made the trip, Blankenhorn was serving as private secretary to German Ambassador, Hans Luther at the German Embassy in Washington. Blankenhorn, who doesn’t appear to have joined the Nazi Party, was later credited as being part of the Nazi-Resistance. The trip was taken as a temporary leave of absence from his role in Washington.
Had it not been for information that has come to light only very recently, it would probably have been fair to regard Gerlach as some tragic, house-bound invalid after blinding himself in his botched suicide bid in Greenwich Village — a sad and aging dreamer scraping a hand-to-mouth existence on the vaguely appetizing scraps of the past. However, Max’s regular first-class flights to Havana and his adventures with Hallam Keep Williams in the spring of 1950 suggest that this was almost certainly not the case. To what extent he was incapacitated is likely to remain unknown, but if there’s one thing we can take away from all this, it is that the 65 year old Gerlach was still pursuing life with a enthusiasm and resilience most folk don’t even possess at twenty.
The Death of Gerlach. The Birth of the Gatsby Legend
Undeterred by Arthur Mizener’s refusal to meet him in person, Max persisted with his letters. In one of the final letters he wrote to Mizener in June 1954 he was assisted by Belle Trenholm, who dutifully related his desperate situation. Although Mizener wouldn’t have known it, Trenholm had her own extraordinary story to tell. Born Belle Grosse in New York to a German father and Bohemian mother, Belle would somehow become entangled in the extra-marital affairs of John William Beauchamp Pinder, a British Canadian mining engineer “with interests in Mexico and Yukon”. Pinder, whose sister was singer and actress Grace Vernon Webber, was reported to have links to President William Howard Taft’s sometime Russian and English ambassador, John Hays Hammond. His brother-in-law was Colonel Horace Webber of the British Army.
In 1909 Pinder, his resume and financial status suitably galvanised by New York’s Yellow Press, had married Broadway chorus girl, Mary Mayo.  The following year he had a fling with Trenholm, at that time in the service of Seattle piano teacher and voice coach, Edythe Melville.  The affair produced a child — Alwyne Compton Pinder, born 1911. The next six years saw the pair travel around Canada, ostensibly as married couple. For whatever reasons the relationship failed, and in April 1919, Belle married George Macbeth Trenholm, Jr, relocating to California. By 1925 she was back in New York working as an insurance broker. Five years later she returned to Washington State, enrolled at a University and then took up a job as journalist. At some point during the late 1930s, Belle found herself living and working in Japan. Her son Alwyne, a reporter himself, had followed her on the trip and taken up a position at the Japan Chronicle. By 1946 he had found himself working for America’s precursor to the CIA, the Office of Strategic Services, managing a station desk in Shanghai.  Chen Tsui-lien, Professor of History at National Taiwan University has recently made the claim that future US diplomat, George H. Kerr, whom Trenholm was corresponding with in Japan in the 1930s, was passing intelligence back to the MID and MIS. Her son Alwnye’s recruitment into the OSS certainly makes this plausible.
By 1945 Trenholm had returned to New York and got involved in Anton Romatka and Max Bodenheim’s Raven Poetry Circle — a group of passionate outsiders eking out a glamorously meagre existence in the city’s Bohemian capital, Greenwich Village. A report on the death of Raven poet, Anton Romatka in March 1948 features Trenholm among a colourful menagerie of mourners at his funeral. The journal that featured the report was Different: Voice of the Atomic Age, then serving as organ of The Avalon World Arts Academy, a loose coalition of writers affiliated with Romatka’s Raven Poetry Circle. Edited in Long Island’s Floral Park by pulp-fantasy author (and occasional Communist) Lilith Lorraine, the journal fed an eclectic, space-age diet of Socialism, eugenics, Zoroastrian philosophy and bunk-led ufology to the eager Bohemian masses. Accompanying Trenholm and several other well-known Village faces that day was James A. Keel, an eighteen year old poet who would eventually find fame with the 1975 cult-favourite, The Mothman Chronicles.  It was Keel who had found Romatka’s body after turning up for one of his legendary poetry salons. Keel recalled how he rang the doorbell several times and getting no response sought the assistance of a nearby police officer. When they broke down the door and entered the poet’s scruffy garret, they found Romatka dead in bed, old German anatomical charts on the wall, a carpet of papers on the floor and an old roll-topped desk foaming over with letters and verses. His death was put down to heart failure. As the mourners assembled at the Labor Temple on East 14th Street, they remarked how the former cowboy, farmer and prize-fighter had become a symbol of true Bohemianism and its “willingness to sacrifice the material things of life for ideals” in a land whose very survival “depended on their preservation”. Like Gatsby, Romatka was viewed by those who loved him as an idealist in a material world, a spirit locked inside the machine. Curiously enough, Romatka’s apartment at 25 West Third Street was just 300 yards away from Gerlach and Elizabath Mayer’s flat at 14 Jones Street. In 1961, Trenholm’s son, Alwyne would publish Annals of the Sea, in which he provides a blow by blow account of time in Shanghai and Japan and his experiences with his services with the US Intelligence.
Despite Trenholm’s valiant efforts to portray Gerlach as a Nietzschean character (“he lives alone and dies alone”) Mizener doesn’t take the bait and continues to dodge all of Gerlach’s requests to write to him. Kruse notes that it was with no small amount of irony that the only time Mizener ever came close to telling the world a little more about Gerlach’s existence came a few weeks after Max’s death in New York October 18, 1958. Mizener had been taking an aggressive swipe at Scott’s friend and mentor, Shane Leslie. The article had been published in The Times Literary Supplement on October 31st 1958. In it, Leslie makes some casual claim to having helped inspire the Gatsby novel. It’s a fairly innocuous claim. Leslie was recalling how he had launched the “joyful schoolboy prodigy” among the great millionaire mansions of Long Island — Scott’s “first view”, or so he believed, of the “wealthy and successful” lifestyles that were enjoyed by the New York elites. Leslie had been Scott’s mentor at school and the pair had struck up a friendship that would last much of the author’s life. Two weeks later, Mizener wrote to the paper’s editor, attempting to set the record straight. Contrary to what Leslie was implying, Gatsby was “evidently based on Fitzgerald’s experiences in Great Neck”, he snarled. What’s more, the scholar added, “the remote model for Gatsby himself, a man named Max von Guerlach, is still alive to tell about it.” Mizener’s surly response, printed in the Times Literary Supplement came just three weeks after Gerlach had died at Bellevue Hospital. The ‘remote model’ wasn’t very much alive, as Mizener suggested. He was, in fact, very much dead.
There are several points worthy of note in the timing of the spat between Arthur Mizener and Shane Leslie. Firstly, Mizener was in London at the time of the exchange. On November 11th he would speak at the American Embassy in London on Ernest Hemmingway. He would also complete a BBC ‘World of Books’ broadcast whilst he was there. Mizener was clearly scouting for fresh publicity and a little bit of controversy was hardly going to go amiss. Charles Scribner’s Sons had just that year published another edition of Afternoon of An Author, a selection of essays and short stories by Scott, with a new introduction by Mizener (like Scott, a Princeton graduate). A second edition of his Fitzgerald biography, The Far Side of Paradise was also due to be published by Arnold A. Knopf’s Vintage Books in spring the following year. Leslie had made the unforgivable mistake of not mentioning any of them. Instead he had shared his joy that “great critics like Priestly” were now editing volumes about Scott’s writing and that a brand new biography was being promised. Somewhat cryptically, Mizener’s name was left out and no reference at all was made to the second offing of his biography from Knopf. Perhaps Leslie had privately shared the view of Mizener’s book that Scott’s friend Edmund Wilson had expressed to Christian Gauss: “He has assembled in a spirit absolutely ghoulish everything discreditable or humiliating that ever happened to Scott. He has distorted the anecdotes that people have told him in such a way as to put Scott and Zelda in the worst possible light.” Wilson had been even more offended by the way that Mizener had misinterpreted Scott’s dark humour. The various “jokes and nonsense” that Scott would often scribble off in letters were invariably re-served by Mizener as “sinister realities”.
Contrary to what you might have expected, given his furious ‘reveal’ about the ‘real’ inspiration behind Jay Gatsby in The Times, Mizener offered no further information about Max in his Vintage Books edition, quoting only the same titbit of gossip that Zelda had shared with Princeton researcher, Henry Dan Piper in March 1947. The sum total of the scholar’s faith in Gerlach comprised of the same, dismissive footnote: “Zelda said late in her life that this was a Teutonic-featured man named von Guerlach. (ZSF to H. D. Piper.)”  Why Mizener felt compelled to promote Max as the source for Gatsby in his furious challenge to Leslie in The Times, but casually breeze over Max in his book can only ever be guessed at. It certainly wasn’t consistent.
Gerlach had been terrifically unlucky. The huge revival in interest in Scott Fitzgerald triggered by the Armed Service Edition of The Great Gatsby in 1945 had been nothing short of a phenomenon. Over 155,000 copies of this handy little pocket-sized book had been distributed to army personnel, giving the novel to a level of success that had never been achieved in the author’s lifetime. The book’s timing couldn’t have been better. The ground war was over, and the cold war had just begun. That blinding flash of light observed behind sunglasses and welding goggles in New Mexico wasn’t the 5,300 pounds of high explosives that defined the ‘Trinity’ experiment, but the birth of a new and dazzling legend. Oppenheimer had named his bomb Trinity in reference to a poem by Donne: “In all flat maps (and I am one) are one, So death doth touch the resurrection.” Out of death would come life. Out of war, peace. Out of the smoke and the dying flames, strode the golden figure of Gatsby and his arms, the American Dream.
As the American scholar, Maureen Corrigan observes, “The Great Gatsby endures because it’s our most American and our most un-American novel at once: telling us the American Dream is a mirage, but doing so in such gorgeous language that it makes that dream irresistible.”  It was the kind of bitter-sweet contradiction that would have made Oppenheimer proud. The crown that Gatsby wore was a crown made of thorns. The dream, when it had arrived, had come in the wake of the atomic nightmare. Although it was James Truslow Adams who had helped popularise the term in his 1931 book, Epic of America, it would be twenty-five years before Scott’s biographer, Arthur Mizener would perform a purpose-driven refit of the phrase within the context of Gatsby. On page 178 he writes: “The last two pages of the book make overt Gatsby’s embodiment of the American dream as a whole by identifying his attitude with the awe of the Dutch sailors when, ‘“‘for a transitory enchanted moment,” they found “something commensurate to [their] capacity for wonder” in the “‘fresh, green breast of the new world.” 
In was in fact a full 25 years before anyone formally recognised the novel’s confused but delirious engagement with the notion of the American Dream; the primary reason being that ‘The Great American Dream’ wasn’t a concept or ideal that was being used by America with any particular regularity at this time. Although the phrase had appeared at intervals for the best part of seventy years — invariably with a small ‘d’ and without the definite article — it was the columnist Charles G. Sampas who had really pumped life into the phrase.  Sampas, who would work closely with John F. Kennedy during his 1961 trips to Europe to meet Russia’s Khrushchev and France’s DeGaulle, would provide a stirring “I Am the American Dream” column for The Lowell Sun in July 1940.  That same week in Cuba, America would sign the Act of Havana treaty, pledging to protect any Southern American territory that came under threat from Germany. Sampas’ pledge was no less rousing: “I am the American Dream … I am all Americans, of all years … I am Washington, citadel of the world last civilisation and I am George Washington, crying in the deathly stillness of the night, seeing blood streaming from the feet of American revolutionists without shoes at Valley Forge.” The speech continued in this way for another two thousand words, each of its segments beginning with the powerful declaration “I am the American Dream”.  Sampas and The Lowell Sun would continue pushing the phrase for the full duration of the war.
It may seem crazy to think now, but prior to Mizener, Fitzgerald’s most famous novel had only ever really been read as a critique of the excessive greed and carelessness of the rich. Until Mizener published the first biography of the author in 1951, the words “American Dream” and the “Great Gatsby” had never once been uttered in the same breath. All this would change with Mizener’s 1951 biography. In June 1960 the scholar would consolidate any ideological gains he had made with a series of talks on The Great Gatsby and the American Dream as part of an annual gathering looking at pressing social concerns. Joining him on the evening of June 10th would be Stuart M. Brown of the Philosophy Department asking the now forty-year old question, ‘Are American Moral Standards Declining?’  Almost overnight, Scott’s 1925 novel would provide a theatre of war for those who championed and those who doubted The American Dream. As modern readers will probably appreciate, nobody was entirely sure whether The Great Gatsby was a furious critique or ecstatic celebration of the nation’s ideal. You could look at the book three ways: Gatsby was a fraud, Gatsby was good or Gatsby was able to hold the two opposing ideas at the same time and still function as a romantic hero. For the last seventy years all attempts to reconcile the two have become an exercise in national cognitive dissonance. In the end, Max Gerlach’s efforts to capture the zeitgeist would prove every bit as grim as Gatsby’s efforts to fulfil the dream.  Any commercial or artistic value that Max may once have been able to trade on now belonged in the past, and there was simply no repeating it.
The Resurrection — America Rises from the Valley of Ashes
Just one year after arriving in Havana with Hallam Keep Williams, pledging to spill the beans on the real inspiration behind Gatsby, Scott’s publisher, Charles Scribner, duly republished all of the author’s novels. The business of turning a tragedy into a triumph, and a long forgotten author into a legend had begun. Spurred on by the success of Alan Ladd remake of Gatsby in 1949 and Mizener’s biography in 1951, Scribners and the Council on Books in Wartime had realised the full potential of winning complex ideological wars with words. One of those supporting the Council’s efforts was Bennett Cerf — the man who had brought W.H. Auden to New York and fixed him up in Greenwich Village. At the outset of the Cold War period, books continued to be “weapons in the war of ideas.” With the publication of books like The Great Gatsby on a mass, and easily pocketable way, America was able to give ‘the Dream’ the seductive, romantic makeover it needed to beat Stalin’s Russia. Gerlach, however, hadn’t grasped the full significance of America’s renewed interest in Gatsby: it wanted the romance of the dream, not the foul smelling reality that lingered in its wake. It was the dreamer, not the bootlegger, that Americans craved at this time — something that would restore, not kill the dream. As a result, a whole new filter had been put in place. This was no more apparent than in the Playhouse 90 production of Gatsby broadcast live on TV in June 1958. Although poorly received by some critics at the time (“it isn’t Great, and it isn’t Gatsby”) they did agree on one thing: the makers of the show had turned Scott’s tragic modernist fairytale into a love story about America. Ever since Ladd’s 1949 portrayal, Gatsby had always been a queer combination of Lord Byron and Al Capone in the world’s imaginations. Now he was more like Shelley — there was nothing of the fraud about him, and everything of the dreamer.  The following year saw the biggest sales of the novel’s life. The Playhouse 90 broadcast and the publication of Sheila Graham’s ‘life with Scott’ biopic, Beloved Infidel the previous year, had seen had seen the appetite for Gatsby quadruple.
The Playhouse 90 show had been directed by former secret service man, Franklin J. Schaffner. Just a few years after the show was made, Schaffner would closely with First Lady, Jackie Kennedy on a much-hyped TV special that would throw open the doors of the White House and push the full dramatic weight of American democracy (and Kennedy’s handsome charisma) to the world.  Schaffner’s 1968 film, Planet of the Apes would continue to work with the themes of Gatsby — albeit in a more pessimistic fashion. At the end of the film, Charlton Heston famously drops to knees and beats his hands against the sand. The head of the Statue of Liberty lies in rubble on the beach before him: “You maniacs! You blew it up! Damn you!”, he screams. As a cautionary parable on the future of the American-Soviet arms race it works very nicely, but as a commentary on the looping, cyclic failure of the America Dream is where the movie really delivers. Poor old Captain Taylor can’t move forward and he can’t go back. Schaffner’s film summed up the paralysing stalemate of a Cold War world — and Gatsby’s world — just perfectly. 
Max Gerlach had been served an impossible challenge. If he had tried to tell the world that he was the real Jay Gatsby prior to 1945, more people might have listened, but fewer would have been interested. Neither Scott nor the novel were very popular at that time. Max could have screamed it from the top of the Empire State Building, but nobody would have paid any attention. Scott was an obscure, forgotten author and his creation, Jay Gatsby, was more obscure still — a gaudily-dressed clown in a circus that had left town long ago. If in1950, Gerlach thought he’d been served another opportunity to get the truth out there he would have been wrong. The book’s original publication on Good Friday, 1925 couldn’t have been more apt: the death of Gatsby had captured the moment of crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension — a pivotal moment in time when the wily, dishonest dreamer is transformed into the prophet and his flesh becomes divine.
At the precise moment that the dream no longer seems possible, the beautiful death of Gatsby gives us hope. At the moment of his death, Gatsby and America, are absolved of all sins. Having the character rooted in some dubious, shapeshifting grifter with links to organised crime and the fraudulent webs of American intrigue, would only ever have obstructed the spreading of the gospel. In this instance Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and Cowardly Lion would be perfectly content to leave Oz behind the curtain, his sinister machinations allowed to continue undetected, his fantastical but ultimately vaporous dream preserved. Revealing Max Gerlach as the title character of the novel would have rooted Jay Gatsby in a disappointingly sinful, earthly world. The energy that America needed lay not in Gatsby’s earthly, criminal ministry but in his magical, miraculous afterlife. That beautiful spirit of idealism had to leave its tainted body. There is a line in the New Testament of the Christian Bible which better illustrates the point: “The body is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory.”  Scott’s friend, Carl Van Vechten had been right all along: they had taken the theme “of a rather soiled or cheap personality, transfigured and rendered pathetically appealing through the possession of passionate idealism” and turned into a national religion. There was a natural body and there was a spiritual body; there was Gerlach and there was Gatsby — a man of dust rebuilt for heaven. Gatsby may die violently at the end of the novel, but it is a death that is swallowed in victory. What the high priests of the American media were collectively performing in the late 1950s was nothing short of a resurrection. The publishers and producers who were now clamouring to re-tell the story were simply finishing what Scott had started. For Gatsby to live, Gerlach had to go. Immortality was calling.
There are a couple of questions still worth asking: did the sudden revival of interest in Gatsby in the 1945 to 1949 period have any impact on Gerlach and Hallam Keep William’s decision to spill the beans in 1950? And did the follow-up wave of interest in the 1958 Playhouse 90 broadcast in any way contribute to Max’s death? Gerlach’s failure to have recognition for the part he’d played in the novel must have plagued him greatly and we can only imagine what it had been like for his literary counterpart, Jay Gatsby to rise like the proverbial phoenix from his own anonymous ashes. Watching his life-story unfold on a live broadcast from CBS, with little more than a footnote by way of recognition, must have been a wound that cut pretty deep for Max. The shadow that he had thrown was fast becoming a phenomenon: the soul was leaving the body. Mentions of Gatsby in America’s press hit very obvious peaks between November 1950 and November 1951 (1033 returns) and then again from July 1958 to April 1960 (2322 returns).  There’s no telling if the success of the show and the huge increase in the sales of the book had seen Max pick up the phone and talk to anyone who would listen but if the article for the Times Literary Supplement was anything to go by, then Shane Leslie was one former friend of Scott who wasted little time in trading on the respect that Fitzgerald now commanded. And, let’s face it, Leslie’s own contribution had been really rather small in comparison to that of Max. Perhaps Max had sat down on that warm Thursday evening in June and watched with the rest of America, the torturous 90-minute death of himself and the extraordinary birth of the legend. Perhaps his heart had stopped at that moment, and it had taken a full three months before the switch was finally thrown on his life-support at Bellevue. In his Documentary Volume to Gatsby in 2000, Matthew J. Bruccoli writes: “The New York City Department of Health refuses to make Max von Gerlach’s death certificate available.” His probate records have also not been located. The nature of his death remains unknown. Much like the good man himself. 
Written and researched by Alan Sargeant, 2022.
 Hustling Hitler: the Jewish Vaudevillian Who Fooled the Führer, Walter Shapiro, Blue Rider Press, 2016, 210-215
 There is some indication that prestige cars were being bought and sold at this address in 1917. See: The New York Times February 9, 1917, p.18 (Van Dyke autos)
 ‘Situations Wanted, Men — Earn Big Money’, The New York Times December 16, 1917, p.4
 F. Scott Fitzgerald at Work, Kruse, pp.29-33
 Max A. Gerlach/Mary L Morrison, Massachusetts, Boston Passenger Lists, 1820-1943, Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at Boston, Massachusetts, 1891-1943, SS. Devonian, 1914
 Mary Louise Morrison, born 1890, US Census. Her parents are Angus and Flora Morrison. Both Scots Gaelic, originally from Canada.
 ‘Titanic Survivor Jumps from Liner’, Boston Sunday Post, October 11, 1914, p.3. The SS Devonian made the return trip to England with several hundred horses for the British Cavalry Regiment.
 ‘Cholly Knickerbocker Observes’, The San Francisco Examiner, April 17, 1950, p.20
 The Dictator and the Mafia, Jonthan Marshall, Journal of Global South Studies , Spring 2018, Vol. 35, No. 1, pp. 56-86. Just one month before the assassination of President Kennedy, Igor Cassini was charged with abusing his family’s relationship with Jackie Kennedy to influence decision-making at the White House (Igor’s older brother, Oleg Cassini was a close friend of Jackie Kennedy). It is believed that Kennedy made last-minute attempts to prevent the assassination of Igor’s paymaster, Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic in 1961. See: Cedar Rapids Gazette, March 24, 1963
 Luis Posada, Igor Cassini Espionage, January 30, 1943, JFK Assassination Documents/Federal Bureau of Investigation/NARA Record Number: 124-90158-10003
 According to his FBI file, Scott Fitzgerald’s friend John Dos Passos was among those helping to organize the conference with Frances R. Grant.
 Alan Ladd’s previous film for Paramount had been about the formation of the OSS — the forerunner of the CIA. Paramount had been discussing plans to make the film since 1945.
 Alice P Williams, Hallam Keep Williams, Department of Passport Applications, August 3, 1914, Embassy at Berlin. The application explains that the family had left America in December 1909.
 Stafford Springs Press, July 29, 1914, p.1. Casement was executed in August 1916.
 Gaffney to Lecture, Chicago Broad Ax, October 1915, p.2 .Gaffney had been a leading advocate of Bishop John Ireland of Scott’s hometown of Saint Paul, when Rome was considering making him a Cardinal of the Catholic Church of Rome.
 Stafford Springs Press, September 27, 1917, p.3; October 4, 1917, p.1
 Gibson T. Williams, b.1870, Passport Applications, January 2, 1906 – March 31, 1925, Roll 301. Oberammergau was the location of a very famous passion play which attracted international attention during its 1910 performance The future of this small Alpine village was politically sensitive at this time.
 See: https://oac.cdlib.org/findaid/ark:/13030/kt1h4nd13n/dsc/
 The Harvard Graduates’ Magazine 1917-09: Vol 26 Issue, 101, p.136
 ‘Mme. Peroux-Williams, Mezzo Soprano, A New Star’, Musical America, May 30, 1914, Vol 20 Iss 4, p.25
 Letter from J. A Ryan, Major of Cavalry, Chief of Party, American Relief Commission, September 1914, Report on Operations of United States Relief Commission in Europe, United States. Relief Commission in Europe, 1914, United States. War Department, 1914, p.71
 F. Scott Fitzgerald at work : the Making of “The Great Gatsby, Horst Kruse, p.27; Alice P. Williams, Concert singer, b.1871, August 3, 1914 Passport Applications, January 2, 1906 – March 31, 1925
 ‘Mr Gerard Defends US Singers Abroad’, The New York Sun, January 25, 1914.
 The World of Swope, E.J. Kahn Jr, 1965, Simon and Schuster, p.289;
 ‘German Attitude Toward Americans’, Alice Peroux Williams, Musical America 1915-02-27 Vol 21 Iss 17
 Musical America, February 20, 1915, Vol 21 Iss. 16, p.24
 Kruse, p.33
 ‘Flies Again’, The Courier News, New Jersey, April 1, 1930, p.10
 German Opera Singers in America Victims of False Spy Rumours, Musical America, June 9, 1917, Vol 26 Iss 6, p.44
 ‘Wagner at Dutch Capital’, Musical Courier, February 8, 1914, Vol 74 Iss 6, p.7
 ‘Von Gerlach Tries Suicide in Village Apartment’, Long Island Star Journal, December 22, 1939, p.1-2
 ‘Lydia Lindgren: Mezzo of Chicago Opera Company’, Boston Sunday Post, September 10, 1916, p.42
 ‘Singer Asks Ex-mate’s Aid’, San Antonio Light, October 26, 1939,
 ‘Artistic Mr Querze’s Persevering Prima Donna’, San Antonio Light, May 5, 1940.
 ‘Von Gerlach Tries Suicide in Village Apartment’, Long Island Star Journal, December 22, 1939, p.1-2
 ‘Actress Falls Ten Stories to Her Death from Baron’s Rooms’, Los Angeles Times, December 17, 1939, p.1 ; ‘The Gay Dramatist’s Tragic Double Trouble’, Port Arthur News, 27 October 1940.
 Signers of 1939-40 Communist Party Petitions for State and City Elections, Boroughs of New York City, Official Report, the Names and Addresses of the Signers of Petitions for Candidates of the Communist Party for State and City Elections, 1939-40, for the Confidential Use of the Special Committee on Un-American Activities, Estados Unidos. Congress. House. Special Committee on Un-American Activities (1938-1944), 1940
 Perjury: the Hiss-Chambers Case, Allen Weinstein, Random House, 1997, p.106; Witness, Whittaker Chambers, Random House, 1952
 ‘High Treason Exposed’, The Pilgrim Torch, May 1950, Kenneth Goff, Federal Bureau of Investigation.
 ‘Cafe Society, The Wrong Place for the Right People, Sarah Bean Armann, 2015, https://www.villagepreservation.org/2015/12/30/cafe-society-the-wrong-place-for-the-right-people/
 The New Republic 1929-10-02: Vol 60 No. 774, p. V; The New Republic 1931-10-07: Vol 68 No. 879, p.111. The cost of the room was approximately $1000-1600 in today’s money. The ad was run regularly for several years. In 1931 the price came down to $50-60.
 Richard Charles Holbrooke, Federal Bureau of Investigation; ‘The Journalist’, E. Benjamin Skinner, The Unquiet American: Richard Holbrooke in the World, eds. Derek Chollett & Samantha Power, Public Affairs, New York, 2011, pp-13-14.
 Kruse, p.25
 Kruse, pp.14-15
 ‘Henry D. Piper’, Swarthmore Swarthmorean, November 20, 1945, p.1; https://paw.princeton.edu/memorial/henry-dan-piper-%E2%80%9939
 Scott had known Biggs at Princeton. He acted as executor to his will and supported his daughter Frances. Biggs had served as a Circuit Judge in the Court of Appeals under Franklin Roosevelt.
 ‘Night Nurse at Highland Enters Jail’, Burlington Daily Times, April 13, 1948, p.1.
 Piper also appears to have shared much the same anecdote with letters with Matthew Bruccoli in April 1974, just weeks after the release of Robert Redford’s Gatsby in the cinemas. Piper also claimed that Zelda had expressed some support of fascism in the interview. This seems doubtful.
 Hallam’s father was a member of one of America’s oldest patriotic societies, The Society of the Cincinnati. He was also a member of the Sons of the Revolution in the State of New York. He was based in Germany from 1913 until the late 1920s when he relocated to Italy, before eventually living near Caltech in Pasadena (1936-1944)
 ‘Sues Mother As Guardian’, New York Times, September 14, 1926, p.25. Hallam sued his mother for access to a trust fund set up by his aunt, Margaret Turner Williams. Margaret’s husband, Charles Hallam Keep also served as treasurer of the American Red Cros and the Knickerbocker Trust.
 ‘Blue Eyes, Blue Auto’, Laurel Morning Call, march 2, 1929, p.1
 ‘On the Left Bank’, The Paris Times, May 29, 1928, p.3
 ‘Happy Trio Comes to Paris Cabaret’, The New York Herald Paris, June 1, 1928, p.3; Hallam Williams in Paris, Chicago Daily Tribune, Paris edition, March 1, 1929, p.2
 ‘Why Ann Murdock’s Latest Beautiful Adventure Blew Up’, Ogden Standard Examiner, December 8, 1929
 ‘Ann Murdock’s Career’, Variety, May 29, 1929, p.52
 Hallam Keep Williams, SS Bremen, Cherbourg to New York, October 22, 1929, New York City Passenger Lists, 1820-1957. Scott and Broun had a complex professional relationship. After Broun lampooned Scott’s efforts at self-promotion in 1920, the writer felt he was one of the few critics who were “on his trail”. The fear related to his anxiety that he would eventually be revealed as a literary ‘fake’ or ‘lie’ and that his status was undeserved. Broun had dismissed him as a very self-conscious and pretentious young man.
 ‘Dear Scott’, August 8, 1924, Dear Scott/Dear Max, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1973, p.74
 Rothstein: the Life, Times, and Murder of the Criminal Genius Who Fixed the 1919 World Series, David Pietrusza, Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2003, p.206; The Great Gatsby, p.161
 The episode is packed with symbolism and irony. The song is about someone handling the rosary beads (a Catholic prayer accessory) as if they were pearls. The song, which has several references to preserving someone in their memory, has a number of references to Christ upon the cross (which Gatsby’s death in the novel to some degree allegorizes). The Swastika symbol also appears in Scott’s original preface for Gatsby, the short story Absolution.
 ‘Hallam Keep Williams Calls Larry Fay Boss’, Daily News, August 3, 1930, p.3
 ‘Texas Guinan, Prima Donna’, Tells of Chat With Kaiser, Seattle Star, March 4, 1915, p.3. The Whirl of the World was a Broadway revue by Hungarian composer, Sigmund Romberg and bankrolled by Manhattan’s Schubert Organization. In 1913 Texas was touring in The Passing Show of 1912, often billed as ‘German repertory’.
 ‘When Rothstein Was Peeved’, Chicago Sentinel, October 3, 1930, p.4; ‘Glamour Gets the Blame’, San Antonio Light, December 1, 1946, p.14
 The Publishers Weekly, July 26, 1930, Vol 118 Issue 4, p.340
 The Splendid Drunken Twenties, Carl van Vechten, 2003, University of Illinois Press, p.22.
 Ibid, pp.23-36
 ‘Get Away Young Man, Get Away’, Detroit Evening News, October 15, 1944
 ‘Two Incorporate’ (H.K.W. Productions Inc), Motion Picture Daily, October 6, 1944, p.11
 Palm Springs Desert Sun, March 29, 1957, p.4
 Final Account and Report to Harriet Williams, Hallam K Williams and Philip St George Cooke: All Unknown Heirs of Margaret T. Williams, Sante Fe, New Mexico, October 31, 1975, p.16. The heir and executor was the grandson of Philip St George Cooke, ‘Father of the US Cavalry’ who had played a heroic part in the American-Mexican war of the 1840s.
 ‘Uphold Third Spectacular N.Y Dry Raid’, Washington Evening Journal, May 3, 1930, p.1
 Estelle Rolle/Max Gerlach, Hamburg to New York, New York City Passenger Lists, 1820-1957, May 7, 1931
 ‘Yacht in Port After Fierce Fight with Raging Waves’, Daily Press, Newport News, December 7, 1930, p.1, p.2
 Email, Pat Schaefer to Alan Sargeant, July 27, 2023 3.23pm, Collections Access and Research, Mystic Seaport. Bayside is located at Little Neck Bay, is just a few miles west of Great Neck in Queens. Girtanner regularly entered the boat in the Block Island Race.
 ‘Flies Again’, Courier News, New Jersey, April 1, 1930, p.10
 Obituary, Norwich Sun, May 11, 1931, p.31; ‘Freeport Home Purchased by Baron’, Nassau Daily Review, May 7, 1927, p.1. Estelle died in Miami having never remarried in 1971.
 ‘Pinder Weds an Actress’, New York Times, November 4, 1909, p.1; Seeks Divorce from Engineer: Wife of Partner of John Hayes Hammond Files Petition, Oakland Tribune, March 17, 1911, p.16; https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Grosse-229
 Belle Grosse, b. 1893, Thirteen US Census 1910, Seattle, April 18.
 Station Activities, X-2 China, July 1945, US Intelligence on China CI00162, Top Secret, Report, c. August 01, 1946
 ‘Friends to Bury Anton Romantka’, New York Times, March 22, 1948, p.42; ‘A Poet Dies’, Different: A Voice of the Atomic Age – Volumes 4-5, p.22. The latter was a journal edited in Floral Park, Long Island by pulp fiction author, Lilith Lorraine (aka Mary Maude Dunn Wright). The journal served as the organ of the Avalon World Arts Academy, a coalition of writers affiliated with Romatka’s Raven Poetry Circle in Greenwich Village (The Union of New and Raven). Substantial emphasis on Socialism, Eugenics and Science Fiction. Despite being known for his extreme poverty, Romantka continued to advertise his tutoring services in everything from Scribner’s Magazine to New Leader. Trenholm return to New York in January 1939 on the Empress of Japan. Her son remained a key player in US media relations with Japan into the 1980s. See: ‘Anti US Films Gain in Japan’, A.C. Pinder, Motion Picture Herald, June 26, 1954, p.27
 ‘Some Memories of Scott Fitzgerald’, Shane Leslie, Times Literary Supplement, October 31, 1958, p.632; Letters to the Editor: ‘Memories of Scott Fitzgerald’, Arthur Mizener, Times Literary Supplement, November 14, 1958, p.657
 The Far Side of Paradise, Arthur Mizener, Vintage Books, January 1959, p. 188. Interestingly, Alfred A. Knopf travelled extensively in South America and published a lot about Cuba. The publisher’s half-brother, the film producer, Edwin Knopf became a good friend of Scott. It’s worth pointing out that despite having exchanged a stream of communications with Max, Mizener failed to correct the spelling of his name in his letter to the Times Literary Supplement. It more the same misleading traits as the spelling of the name in the footnotes. Mizener was in England to work on a book on T.S Eliot: ‘Prof Speaks at Embassy’, Ithaca Cornell Daily Sun, November 24, 1958, p.5
 So We Read On: How the Great Gatsby Came to Be and Why It Endures, Maureen Corrigan, Brown and Company, 2014, p.11
 Ibid, p.178
 The usage of ‘the American Dream’, certainly as an almost a priori notion or ideal only really entered common parlance in the 1970s when it was used by those who challenged its legitimacy (often within the context of the Vietnam War). In these instances it was often preceded by the usually ironic qualifier, The Great American Dream’. Prior to 1940 the phrase, the great American dream’ had been used predominantly by doe-eyed American nativists yearning for the wild frontier.
 Charles G. Sampas Obituary, The Lowell Sun, Massachusetts, p.36. His brother in law was fellow Lowell Sun writer, Jack Kerouac.
 ‘This, Then, Is The American Dream’, Charles G. Sampas, Sampascoopies, Lowell Sun, July 23, 1940, p.40
 ‘Alumni Return to Ithaca for Annual Reunion’, Itaca Cornell Daily, June 10, 1960, p.1
 So We Read On: How The Great Gatsby came to be and why it endures, Maureen Corrigan, Little Brown & Company, 2014, p.11
 ‘TV’s Great Gatsby Isn’t F. Scott Fitzgerald’s’, Oxnard Press, June 1927, 1958. The CBS show went out on June 26, 1958. The script was written by David Shaw.
 A Tour of the White House with Mrs. John F. Kennedy, Jacqueline Kennedy/Franklin J. Schaffner, CBS, February 14, 1962
 During the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, Schaffner was asked by Kennedy to help him prepare for his address to the nation.
 1 Corinthians 15:42-54, New Testament
 These figures were produced after entering the search term ‘Great Gatsby’ at newspaperarchive.com. They show very significant and visible peaks of interest.
 F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby: a Documentary Volume, Matthew J. Bruccoli, Gale Group, p.20