Updated: Jun 8
So, as you know, I'm on the road. And it seems kinda weird to post about my trip to Durham while i’m on a trip to somewhere else. But, I’d promised I’d try to keep the North Carolina story running…so, here we go.
Okay, so last time, I was talking about Durham and the Duke family. I also promised it was going to get even crazier. Well, here it comes.
I had said that the Dukes, and particularly James (“Buck”) Duke had established the American Tobacco Co., a powerful and ruthless trust which controlled the American Tobacco industry at the time. And...guess who has a real, albeit remote and indirect, connection with the trust.
Yep. Me. No, I’m not a relation of the Dukes or anything. But, way back when, I attempted to get into the academy. (It was a disaster, btw. But no hard feelings. I’m not bitter. And that film script I’m writing? Godzilla Visits Cl*rk University? Merely a harmless bit of fun.)
And, in the process, I wrote a book, “And Then They Loved Him: Seward Collins & The Chimera of an American Fascism” (https://www.amazon.com/Then-They-Loved-Him-American/dp/0820479101).
Seward Collins (1899-1952) was an editor and publisher who went down in history for being a) one of the lovers and very nearly the husband of the great wit of the 1920s, Dorothy Parker, and b) in the late 1930s, a self-described “fascist.” I don’t think he ever really was a fascist, by the way. I think he had a few mental problems... and then somehow decided to call his (fairly mundane) brand of conservatism by that a rather more shocking name. He was, by the way, a great fan of Ezra Pound, likewise a supporter of Mussolini.
But, anyway, Seward Collins was a wealthy man from his beginnings. He was, in fact, the son of the man who was the vice president of marketing of the “United Cigar Stores,” which was a national chain of tobacco shops. The chain was successful in its own right, and then, for a variety or reasons, it got associated with ...wait for it...The American Tobacco Company. And, after that, the Collins family was very rich, indeed. Maybe not as rich as the Dukes, but definitely well heeled.
So that was my connection to the American Tobacco Co. Not very direct, I admit. But, it is a connection of sorts. And I’m sticking to it.
But, anyway, getting back to the Dukes and Durham. When the Twentieth Century dawned, the Gilded Age began to give way to the Progressive Era (btw, historians combine the two as “GAPE”). Unfettered, free enterprise of the cut-throat variety got a bit of oversight, which...sorry Libertarians...was probably a good thing. At least people could worry a little less about getting ptomaine in their canned meat products. (There was a joke at the time that went, “Mary had a little lamb, and when she saw it sicken, she sent it off to Packingtown, and now it’s labeled ‘Chicken.’”)
Also, the monopolies and trusts started getting broken up, and the American Tobacco Company was no exception. In 1908, it was divided into multiple parts, some of which survive as independent companies to this very day. R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company (RJR) is still out there producing cigarettes, for instance, as is Liggett Group, which is still based in Durham.
But, as was usually the case in such interventions, the break-ups left their owners quite wealthy. Indeed, sometimes, richer than before.
Such was the situation with the Dukes.
And one Duke in particular.
More to come.
About the photos: Nothing to do with the story, but fun. These are pictures from the kids' wedding. The first is me and our friend Carol at the wedding dinner. The other two are Carol and my Dad in conversation the following morning. I have no memory what they were talking about so intensely. I asked Carol, but she didn't recall either. But they seem to have been having a fine chat.
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