DescriptionEnrico Caruso Autograph Letter Signed "Enrico Caruso." Two pages, 8" x 10.5", New York, March 26, 1919, on Hotel Knickerbocker letterhead to James M. Beck. Caruso sends a warm, though politically charged, letter to Beck, a prominent attorney who would go on to serve as Solicitor General of the United States under Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge. Extremely slight separations at horizontal folds, light mat burn toward margins, light toning, else very good.
Due to a bitter feud between Beck and New York Mayor John Francis Hyland, the mayor barred Beck's participation in a jubilee held in Caruso's honor at the Metropolitan Opera House on 22 March 1919. Earlier in the year Beck had very publicly declined an appointment to the mayor's committee to welcome home American troops returning at the end of the First World War. Beck's objection was due to Hyland's appointment of William Randolph Hearst to the same committee. Beck, who had lobbied for American intervention after the outbreak of war in 1914, was incensed by Hearst's inclusion. The newspaper magnate had opposed American involvement due to his antipathy toward the British Empire and was viewed by many (including Beck) as pro-German. Learning what had occurred at the function, Caruso wrote to Beck to thank him for his tact in saving all from embarrassment: "Mr Kahn has told me that you would like to have a copy of the program of last Saturday evening, autographed by me. I take pleasure in enclosing it herewith [not present], May I avail myself of this occasion to tell you how much I appreciate the contents of the very graceful, eloquent and thoughtful speech which you intended to do me the honor of delivering in the course of the celebration. Mr. Kahn has given me a copy and I shall be happy to preserve it as a valued souvenir of the occasion. And still more do I appreciate and thank you very warmly for your very delicate and generous action in submitting to a personal slight rather than have the occasion marred by a disturbing public incident. With the assurance of my high regard and with the reiterated expressions of my grateful appreciation I am sincerely yours."
According to the report in the New York Times, on the evening of Saturday, 22 March: "Just before the curtain rose . Mayor Hylan. gave notice to the management that James M. Beck, who was on the program as one of the principle speakers must not take part in the proceedings. The Mayor sent his secretary . to say that if Mr. Beck was allowed to speak the city officials present would be forced to withdraw form their part in the public greeting to Caruso. Mr. Beck was informed of the Mayor's statement and immediately told those in charge . that, rather than interfere. he would yield his place in the program. He did so accordingly, after copies of his formal address had been sent, broadcast by local news agencies, all of which had to be recalled. At the point where Mr. Beck was to have spoken, the official party instead appeared on the stage." Beck later made a public statement to the press: "'When I was asked to make an address tonight, and learned that Mayor Hylan intended to be present, to avoid any attempt to harass him I asked that the Mayor be requested to state whether my presence as a speaker would be distasteful to him. I was informed that the opera company was assured on behalf of the Mayor that it would not be. On the face of that assurance I came to pay a tribute to a great artist . Just as the curtain was about to rise the Mayor sent me word that if I spoke, the flag intended to be given to Mr. Caruso would not be presented. Rather than interfere with the gift to Mr. Caruso, I preferred to remain silent conscious that these atrocious exhibition of bad manners, which was as much an insult to Mr. Caurso and to the audience as it was to me, would injure the Mayor more then it would me" (New York Times, March 23, 1919). New York politics is never dull.
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