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Meet the leading men of “Our Hearts Were Young and Gay”

May 27, 2017

Joseph Aub, Cornelia Otis Skinner and Paul Dudley White in the gardens at Versailles

It turned out to be a stroke of good luck for Cornelia and Emily that the Montcalm ran aground, and they had to switch vessels. Sailing to Europe on the Empress of France, not only did they have nicer accommodations on a fancier ship, but they also met two young doctors on board who would prove to be the closest thing they had to beaus during their travels.

Writing about them in 1942, Cornelia explains, “Their names were Paul White and Joseph Aub and they are now among Boston’s most distinguished physicians, but at that time were freshly hatched out of medical school.”

Cornelia wasn’t overstating it when she used the word distinguished for these men.  In their later lives, both Joseph Aub and Paul White became extremely important figures in the field of medicine.

Joe Aub was an endocrinologist focusing not just on cancer research, but he also was an early authority on industrial contamination, collaborating with the World Health Organization to promote industrial safety.  He would hold high positions at Massachusetts General Hospital, and serve as the Chairman of the Department of Medicine at Harvard.

Paul Dudley White was a cardiologist and a founder of the American Heart Association.  He became President Eisenhower’s physician following the President’s heart attack in 1955. White was a strong advocate of preventive medicine and exercise, and he developed protocols for diagnosing patients that are still used today.  He was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, and later was commemorated on a U.S. Stamp.  Part of the Charles River Greenway in Boston was named the Dr. Paul Dudley White Bike Path in his honor.

In the book, these renowned doctors are just Joe and Paul, two nice young men who spend time with Cornelia and Emily during the crossing to Europe.  I won’t give away the story, but the doctors come to Cornelia’s rescue when disaster strikes.  Later, when the girls are in Paris, the two doctors show up again and take them out for a day at Versailles, followed by dinner, a show and dancing back in Paris that evening.  It turns out to be one of the high points of the girls’ entire summer abroad.

I felt it was important to spend some time getting to know these two men, so on May 26th, right in the midst of Harvard’s Commencement Weekend, I braved a visit to the Countway Library of Medicine, which houses collections of both doctors’ papers.

In Joe’s papers, I found a fascinating set of correspondence having to do with the movie version of Our Hearts Were Young and Gay, and Joe’s refusal to sign a very aggressive release form from Paramount Pictures.  There are copies of letters Joe sent, along with letters he received from Paul and Emily, as they tried to work out a solution and a response to the studio’s request.  In the end, Paramount had to make due with a watered down version of a release, along with a character in their movie that didn’t resemble either Paul or Joe.

Paul White’s collection of papers is extensive.  As Jessica, my contact at the Library who facilitated my visit, put it, “Dr. White never threw away anything”.  Just from the few boxes of material I looked through, covering only personal papers from 1920 to 1924, I came across receipts from his tailor.  There were hotel bills (one was extremely pleasing in that it had columns that were to be marked for various expenses, and included a category for “servants” – this column was not checked off).  And there was an interesting letter from some London solicitors regarding a box of cigars he had given to a waiter at a hotel he had stayed in, which had led to an altercation between the waiter and a doorman, and the doorman having to appear in court for assault.

But the prize I was eager to get my hands on was Paul’s photo album from 1920 to 1922.  Wearing purple surgical gloves (it is a medical library, after all), I gingerly turned the album’s pages and at about halfway through, I came upon some photos entitled “Europe”.  It began with a photo of the St. Lawrence River, with the caption, “Leaving the dock at Quebec, June 13, 1922”.  This is good and bad news for me.  It’s confirmation of the year that Our Hearts Were Young and Gay took place, but the sailing date is a day later than what the book led me to believe.  I could go into all of that right now, but I said I would try not to go nerd, didn’t I?

It was a solid start, but then in the next page there were photos of terra firma.  Paul hadn’t taken any pictures on the ship.  And I was so hoping for a photo of the girls and their doctors, partly because… well, wouldn’t that just be so cool?

But there is another reason for me wanting a photo of the four of them:  though I had located pictures of Emily and Joe in their 40s, 50s and beyond, I had yet to come across a picture of either of them when they were young. There are quite a few nice photos of young Cornelia, and a couple of good pictures of young Paul White, but the other two have eluded me.

Paul’s journey to Europe seems to have been a solo trip, or at least one where he wasn’t traveling with Joe (in fact, Joe departed the Empress of France at Cherbourg, while Paul went on to England).  Paul traveled to a few cities in Germany (or was it Austria?) before spending what seemed to be quite a bit of time in Andorra.  Just another reason he is such an interesting and impressive person – after all, how many people do you know who travel to Andorra?

As I neared the end of the album, my hopes were fading fast.  But then as I turned to the next to last page, there it was:  The caption read, “The garden at Versailles”.  And there were Joe, Cornelia and Paul, right in the middle of their wonderful day out together. I thrilled at finding a photo that ties directly to the book, but I was overjoyed that I finally had a picture of Joe. Of course I still lamented, why did it have to be Emily taking the picture?  If only Cornelia would’ve snapped the shot, then I would have scored both of my elusive stars at once.

Next stop, the New York Public Library, to go through Cornelia’s scrapbooks, which are part of the Billy Rose Collection at the Performing Arts Library.  They are from her career as an actress, but maybe I will find Emily there.  Hope springs eternal.

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  • Reply Theresa Witt May 30, 2017 at 11:07 pm

    I love following your adventures. Your enthusiasm is infectious!

    • Reply Adrienne Crow May 31, 2017 at 5:31 am

      Theresa, thank you so much for cheering me on. I hope you know how much I appreciate your support, and your opinion!

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