Harry Hansen


Original glossy newspaper file photo, measures 8” by 10”, rubber stamp on reverse reads, “Photographic Illustrations by Nick Lazarnick, 230 Park Ave., N.Y.,” pencil inscription on reverse reads “Harry Hansen about 1956,” Composition Room markings indicate size and placement in an unknown newspaper.

As booksellers we are drawn to book backdrops, appearances of books in movies, etc. Before I had the calling I used to go to a book-lined bar in northern New Jersey called The Library, and even those hoary cloth bound dogs had an early appeal even in that swirling sea of spilt beer and hormonal urges. Over the last half year or so President Bush has been appearing in front of perhaps the most pathetic assemblage of books ever seen on TV. It is a single shelf right behind his head. Nondescript shabby spines, no dust jackets, and worst of all two volumes in a set are divided by ten or so other examples of reject dreck. I thought for sure some handler would recognize how awful these look and order up a row of shiny colorful designer-type stock with raised spine bands and gilt lettering, but they must figure a book is a book so mission accomplished. If taken to task they could always summon up the ghost of Pat Nixon’s respectable cloth coat.

Against this backdrop I was delighted to come across this photo. The subject immediately struck me as a book man at home in his element, dapper and wise, with all that slightly out-of-focus gold just out of reach amid those deep half tone shadows (shiny inky black in the original). I hoped information on the reverse would prove this to be the case. Rather than the usual International News Photos or Associated Press taped paper caption, however, there was only the slim lead of a name. Harry Hansen. Good Google returned a great page right at the top though, courtesy of The University of Iowa Libraries Special Collections & University Archives. The first two paragraphs below are excerpted from “Harry Hansen’s Literary Career” by William Roba (Books at Iowa 35, 11/1981). This is a lengthy account which is well worth reading.

“In 1954 Ben Hecht described Iowa-born Harry Hansen as a quiet book lover who ‘lived among books like a pilgrim in a rain of manna.’ This is an appropriate description, for Hansen’s literary criticism appeared primarily in newspapers. His career during a unique period of American book publishing, from 1915 until 1945, was recorded in thousands of daily columns. Hansen’s writings combined an admiration for European writers with an abiding appreciation of Middle West regional writing.

“Since he was literary editor of the Chicago Daily News, the name of Harry Hansen (1884-1977) appears in many books describing the Chicago writers of the early twentieth century. But there has been no analysis of his role in the ‘Chicago literary renaissance’ of the 1920s. Furthermore, no extended discussion of his career has been published since 1929. Hansen’s career conveniently falls into three distinct periods. The first is his boyhood in Davenport, Iowa; the second covers his years in Chicago; and the third relates to his residence in suburban New York City.”

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