Weekly feature by: Richard Horton
One day in 1968 at a Berkeley rally, Tamara Brand turned her news camera on an interesting looking shirtless 76-year-old man, with long white hair. He was well-muscled but looked gentle, almost mystical. She thought he could be a shaman of some kind, because of his sun darkened skin and shaman beads. She later discovered he was Jack Drigger, professor of modern art at Berkeley. Here are some things she found out about him before deciding, unwisely, to marry him.
In 1964 a California court had awarded Julia Hopner Drigger custody of her three children after she divorced professor Jack Drigger on the grounds of infidelity, drug use and neglect. Jack had to explain this to Tamara before she would sleep with him the first time. Passing her the bong, he explained that the divorce had forced him to confront his demons through group therapy and meditation. Holding the enormous toke she’d just taken, she considered her options, and decided on marriage.
But she did continue her research, and discovered that, in 1960, community college teacher Jack Norgaard Drigger’s name was removed from a blacklist of suspected Communist moles outed at Columbia U. in the ‘50s. With his well known friendships with big name cubist and surrealist artists of the 1920’s, Jack was immediately hired to teach modern art at Berkeley U. He abandoned his disfunctional family in Miami and traveled to CA where, after his divorce from Esmerelda Ramos Drigger, he married Julia Hopner, a student in his first year class at Berkeley.
Further back than that, in 1953, Jack had taken a sabatical from Columbia University where he had been teaching modern art, and had gone to Europe to work on the set of Square Shadow, an art film being shot in Frankfurt, Germany, starring Jack Palance and Shelley Winters, and based on Drigger’s book of the same name. One day while talking to Palance and eating a sandwich at the actors’ cantina, he received a letter from the U.S. State Dept. The letter said his visa had been revoked. Forced to return to NY, he was subpoenaed to testify before HUAC, where he took the 5th. Shortly after that, Columbia U. experienced a financial crisis which forced them to let Jack go, despite tenure. This precipitated an argument with John Rushton, Jack’s father-in-law, a Columbia regent. Jack’s wife, Astrid, took her father’s side, and Jack stormed out of the penthouse apartment and boarded a bus to Miami, where, after his divorce from Astrid Rushton Drigger, he married Esmerelda Ramos and settled down teaching English-As-A-Foreign-Language to Cuban Americans.
Five years before that, in 1948, Jack Drigger was in Europe, at Pablo Picasso’s villa reconnecting with Pablo and some of the old crowd who were having a kind of leftist old home week there. The famous artists assured him that the Communists were now seeking a constructive and realistic partnership with the West. Ilya Ehrenberg was at the villa, and remarked to Jack, “Oh, that mistaken identity thing in Spain in ‘38? Forget that! A hug and a vodka for you, comrade! That operative wouldn’t have shot you anyway.”
Later on, at loose ends after doing a little work with UNESCO in Greece, Jack returned to the U.S. and got caught up in Henry Wallace’s Progressive run for the White House. Jack gave one of the speeches at the Madison Square Garden rally, in his old OSS uniform, and while doing that, he happened to catch the eye of a wealthy deb, Astrid Rushton, daughter of a Columbia U. regent. Soon it was wedding bells, moonlight in Vermont, then off with the uniform and on with a professor outfit as John Rushton pulled strings.
Six years before all this, in 1942, OSS operative Lt. Jack Drigger walked into the office of his CO and reported that he was late getting back from his assignment because of engine trouble. The officer laughed. Everyone knew Jack was an expert mechanic. The assumption was that he had probably spent the night with a girlfriend. In reality he was late because he had found and liquidated Nazi agent Rudi Hasser, whom he had reason to believe had staged writer Stefan Zweig’s suicide in Petropolis, Brazil. It’s now clear that the Zweigs had no help committing suicide, but Rudi Hasser with his resume of brutalities assuredly deserved a little assistance leaving this earth.
Going back three more years, to 1938, Jack crawled out of his grounded but miraculously intact bomber on a mountainside near Teruel, Spain, having bombed an Italian fascist airstrip and strafed a Nationalist supply convoy. Loyalist peasants risked their lives getting the wounded fighter off the mountain and into hiding where he recovered. Someone told him a Comintern agent was coming to liquidate him for the Stockholm affair two years previously. Jack had recovered enough by then to to hop on a captured Italian Vespa motorcycle and take a night journey to the French border.
This Stockholm affair, now that was an interesting incident. In1936. Jack was in Moscow representing the French surrealist artists in an attempt to organize a Franco-Russian surrealist exhibit, when he was approached by a fugitive Russian cubo-futurist whom he helped to escape to Stockholm, Sweden. Just at that moment there was too much racket with the start-up of the Spanish Civil War for the Comintern to respond right away, and Jack quickly became a high profile loyalist hero anyway. But later maybe. Da?
In 1934, the Comintern and everyone else in Russia had thought very highly of Jack, with his daring rescues in Hitler’s Germany, often dressed in a stolen SS outfit. Jack’s German was crisp and convincing, though larded with words more suited for reviewing art exhibits than giving orders. It was no surprise when he received a gilded invitation to the First Meeting of the All Russian Union of Soviet Writers to take place in Moscow in August. In Moscow he received the highest priced dinner and the cleanest hotel room. His conference speech in favor of artistic openness and tolerance toward the cubists was politely applauded by frowning Party men. After a particularly stupendous restaurant feast that night, he found a little pamphlet cleverly wrapped inside his napkin, a miniature edition of Pushkin’s play, “Feast In Time Of Famine.” Now what do you suppose that could mean, eh?
Let’s go back, though, to a time before so many famines. In 1928, with modernist art trending in NY, Jack Drigger got his industrialist dad in Minneapolis to convince friends at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts to mount a diversified modernist exhibit by Jack’s cubist, futurist and surrealist friends. Jack’s essay in the exhibit catalog so clearly summarized the various theories of art his friends had revealed to him over wine in midnight cafes in Paris that it was referenced by Roger Fry and other scholars.
But long before that, in 1921, Jack had felt a need to put aside his literary and artistic obsessions and experience the America he had fought for as a tank commander in WWI. He took a motorcycle trip across the Southwest with his old Harvard schoolmate Al Patterson. Both were expert mechanics, which saved their bacon more than once, as they explored out-of-the-way places, hobnobbed with cowpokes, and romanced six-shoot’n cowgirls too. Coming near Santa Fe, they pulled in at Jack’s Uncle Ed’s ranch, and had fun helping out with ranch work, though the 70 year old uncle and his wife outworked the two strapping former Harvard football champions.
Way back before the war, though, in 1914, Jack had been considering a life as an academic, but all his friends were going to Paris so off he went, to think things over while having a grand time. His ideas about art were already adventuresome, so he went to exhibits other Americans shunned, where he met Picasso, Juan Gris, and the whole cubist crowd. Short dark Tom Benton, then a cubist living in Paris, was the one who theorized the most, especially after a few drinks, but the other cubo-futurists contradicted some of Tom’s ideas. Through the well-dressed but reticent Stefan Zweig, Jack met a set of left-leaning humanist French and Belgian writers.
It was certainly lucky that Jack had studied French and German at Harvard. Yes, back in 1910, on the Harvard football team, Jack Drigger had been a leather helmeted hero. As for his academic enthusiasms they included German philosophy, Greek philology and French engineering. He read French literary and art journals, but found time to learn motorcar and motorcycle repair at a local garage. At the shooting club his marksmanship earned him a medal, not surprising for a young fellow who had grown up out West in Minneapolis. Walt Drigger, Jack’s dad, a furniture baron, was married to Sophie Norgaard, whose older brother Ed had a ranch outside Santa Fe New Mexico. Ed and his wife Edna (yes they got jokes about their names) were always writing to Walt telling him to let his boys come down and spend a summer getting all hardened up doing ranch work.
So in 1900, 8-year-old Jackie Drigger boarded the train to Santa Fe with his 18 year old cousin Attilia Norgaard, with whom he fell in love on the trip. 8 years old and in love, now that’s a hoot! At his uncle’s ranch he forgot about romance in the excitement of getting to wear a cowhand outfit, boots, and a big hat. He learned to ride a horse and shoot a 22 caliber rifle. The Indians who worked as ranch hands on the place took a liking to the kid and invited him to the camp they were staying in. A shirtless old man with long white hair came up and gave Jack an Indian necklace with a pendant that had some kind of ritualistic significance. He said the necklace once belonged to a shaman.
Well you see, none of this stuff would have happened except that in 1892 a crap game was going on in heaven. The Aeons said art ceased being art when it physically manifested. The Archons said that was a load of crap, and that the Aeons were just afraid to exist. When they heard this, the Aeons said no they weren’t afraid. It was just that being was enough for them. Existence would be hell. Just look at how the Archons had turned out. Down on earth, in Minneapolis, Sophie Norgaard Drigger sat up in bed, went “Oh-oh!” and rang for the maid. Her water had broke.
I want to trace Jack’s story back farther than this, but our rear ends might punch through into the zone of pure being, and the Aeons would come over and deconstruct us to the end of night. I don’t recommend going where the Aeons are, if the word “where” describes it.