Bertha and Joseph Schrank

The Schrank's placeDuring the spring and summer of 1931 Miller was a weekly visitor to the apartment of Bertha and Joseph Schrank at 7 rue Huysmans. The Schranks, who are caricatured in Tropic of Cancer as Tania and Sylvester, provided Miller a free meal each Monday night. However, Miller’s principle interest in these visits was not food. Rather, he was smitten with Bertha, largely due to the uncanny physical resemblance she bore to his estranged wife June. The two had a brief but torrid affair and Miller’s passion for Bertha (Tania) sparked some of the most visceral passages in Tropic of Cancer:

O Tania, where now is that warm cunt of yours, those fat, heavy garters, those soft, bulging thighs? There is a bone in my prick six inches long. I will ream out every wrinkle in your cunt, Tania, big with seed. [...] After me you can take on stallions, bulls, rams, drakes, St. Bernards. You can stuff toads, bats, lizards up your rectum. You can shit arpeggios if you like, or string a zither across your navel. I am fucking you, Tania, so that you’ll stay fucked. And if you are afraid of being fucked publicly I will fuck you privately. […] I will bite into your clitoris and spit out two franc pieces….

All went well until Bertha encountered a photograph of June in Miller’s room at the Hôtel Central. Realizing his affections for her were only skin deep, Bertha broke off the affair and destroyed all of the letters he had written to her, — an act which infuriated Miller as he was intending to use portions of the letters in Tropic of Cancer.

Joseph Schrank was an established playwright who had several productions on Broadway and later became a Hollywood screenwriter. Miller had no respect for this sort of writing, noting in Tropic of Cancer that “though his name blaze in 50,000-candle-power red lights” Joseph (Sylvester) would never be a writer.

The Schranks fell out of Miller’s life when, enamored with communist theory, they left Paris for the Soviet Union in the fall of 1931.

That wraps up this tour of Montparnasse. If you need to find a metro, the nearest station is “Notre Dame des Champs”, which is just ahead on the corner of the boulevard Raspail (line 12).

Location

7 rue Huysmans
Paris, 75014
map

Resources

Joseph Schrank wrote a memoir of his days as a Hollywood screenwriter which appeared in a 1983 issue of American Heritage magazine. Further information on his extensive career can be found here.

5 comments on "Bertha and Joseph Schrank"

Steve Block
November 1, 2012

Bertha Schrank went on to become Bertha Case. Bertha was the literary agent for the Estates of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill. She was also Anthony Quinn’s agent, amongst others. The letters that you refer to were not destroyed. Bertha lied to Miller. They were given to my Aunt Dolores Sutton before Bertha’s death. Dolores Sutton, who was an actress, sold those letters to the New York Public Library for $6000. I have the original receipt from the library. Interestingly, those letters have disappeared from the library.

Kreg Wallace
November 2, 2012

Hi Steve,

Bertha’s missing letters make for a fascinating story! I’ve seen a reference on eBay indicating that the letters still exist and and may be at the NYPL. That they have disappeared from the library is news to me!

I know someone who may be interested researching the story behind these letters… I’ll see if they’re interested and will try to get in touch with you offline about this soon.

Thanks for the comment!

Michael Jones
April 24, 2013

Hi Kreg/Steve,

Sometime last year I was also directed towards the eBay site, and writing to a relative of Dolores Sutton’s I was eventually able to locate Miller’s letters. As you mentioned Steve they are indeed at the New York Public Library, and listed under the ‘Bertha Case Papers’ they are being kept in the Theatre Division of the Performing Arts section. From correspondence with them the address is 40 Lincoln Plaza, and the catalogue address is http://catalog.nypl.org/record=b19685511-S1.  Inquiries for the Theatre Division are at http://www.nypl.org/locations/lpa/billy-rose-theatre-division.  The Email is theatrediv@nypl.org.
I have not tried any of these addresses yet, though I have viewed an itinerary of the letters which in most instances gives a couple of lines from the top and bottom of each front page. What we do know now is that Bertha kept exactly ten of them, and that towards the end of her life she was aghast that she hadn’t kept more. There is one item though that stands out in the list, and that is an inscription from Miller on the flyleaf of the Cosmological Eye dated 4/24/40. After ‘For Bertha…of the Ile St Louis,’ a mention is also made of the Place Des Vosges, the Cafe de la Liberte and the Parc Montsouris. But the inference is clear here to any Miller scholar, and that is that Miller either used aspects of Bertha’s life for the character of Christine in the second half of Quiet Days in Clichy, or that Bertha and Christine were one and the same person. In two of the letters he does indeed address her as Christine, but that she meant more to him than has hitherto been known is without a doubt.

Jeff Lieberman
August 3, 2013

Hi Kreg, Steve & Michael,

I am doing some research on Bertha Case for a documentary film on Nina Simone. I understand Bertha was Nina’s manager during the early 60′s. Do we know if any photos exist of Ms. Case from this period?

Many Thanks,
Jeff Lieberman
jeff@re-emergingfilm.com

Steve Block
September 27, 2013

Jeff,
I have several pictures of Bertha and will contact you through your email address. One of my relatives actually sold a Nina Simone autographed album from Nina to Bertha that was in Dolores Sutton’s collection.

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