Who was Harry Smith?
Harry Smith, descendant of a runaway scion of an Illinois politician.
Harry loved Brecht’s Mahagonny, perhaps because of his own family’s ruinous run in with capitalism,
General John Corson Smith (1832-1910), lieutenant governor of Illinois and an influential leading Freemason, was Harry Everett Smith’s great grandfather. General Smith’s son, Robert A. Smith, went to Alaska where he helped create Pacific American Fisheries. Robert A. Smith’s son, Robert James Smith, worked in the cannery (foreman, nightwatchman) and in the fishing business (captaining fishing boats) his entire life. Robert’s son, Harry Everett Smith, grew up poor, odd, and socially marginalized.
Harry Smith, beatnik.
The self described hinge of Harry’s life happened in 1944, the moment he smoked marijuana.
Before: Studying anthropology at University of Washington, working for Boeing welding planes, making good money. Spending it on rare 78s.
After: Living in Berkeley, painting, listening to live jazz (bebop), attending Art In Cinema screenings at San Francisco Museum Of Modern Art, beginning to animate. Still buying rare 78s.
Harry Smith, New Yorker.
Harry’s focus on work made him the perfect New Yorker.
Harry came to NYC to get rich and famous, same as everyone else. He periodically cast inhibition to the wind and made this goal his top priority, only to get bogged down midway.
Example: the investors he attracted for a feature length animated Wizard Of Oz jumped ship after they discovered the first year of production resulted in nine minutes of film.
Example: pressured to add a soundtrack to Early Abstractions, he chose the music of the Beatles, unaware how much it was already out of date.
He ended up famous, not rich. His tenacity, focus, and lack of manners = perfect New Yorker.
Harry Smith, radical aesthete.
Harry’s sensibility was his primary creation. To him pattern was everything. He found it in Seminole patchwork and in Ukrainian Easter eggs. He imposed it on his work, via Surrealist inspired sortilege. He saw cinema as a form of divination.
“The artist’s business is to be exciting, and if he is not then there is nothing to any of it.” Gertrude Stein