Note: Readers are encouraged to send potential leads, sources, or thoughts relating to E.M. Jellinek’s life to Judit Ward, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Ron Roizen, at email@example.com. With thanks in advance, from both of us.
Who was E.M. Jellinek?
As a great many Points readers will already be aware, Jellinek rose to prominence in mid-20th-century America as a spokesman for “a new scientific approach” to alcoholism and alcohol. Prohibition was repealed at the end of 1933, the temperance movement and its paradigm were discredited, and the nation was, in the ‘40s and ‘50s, looking for a new perspective on its longstanding problematic relationship with Demon Rum. For a variety of reasons, Jellinek proved to be an excellent instrument for inviting the nation to embrace a new and more scientifically oriented disposition toward alcohol-related problems. He also published two very useful artifacts with respect to the modern alcoholism movement: a widely employed description of alcoholism’s progressively unfolding symptomatology and a formula for estimating the prevalence of alcoholism. E.M. Jellinek’s name is still revered today in both the alcohol science community and in Alcoholics Anonymous.
For the past several months, we — i.e., Judit Ward and her staff at the Rutgers Center of Alcohol Studies library and Ron Roizen in Idaho — have been collecting material on E.M. Jellinek’s life, loves, career, and times. In part, we’re searching for elements of his past that may have prepared him for the profound role he played in transforming our society’s relationship to alcohol and alcoholism. Yet — and also — he’s just a damn interesting guy to learn about. So far, it’s been both an intoxicatingly exciting adventure and a very frustrating task.
One of the project’s strengths is that one of us (viz., J.W.) is a native Hungarian speaker. This advantage holds considerable promise for ultimately sorting out Jellinek’s currency trading caper in 1920 and his rapid and ignominious departure from Budapest the same year. It’s also an advantage with respect to new work being done of late by Hungarian scholars on Jellinek’s life and relationships (see Kelemen and Mark , Mark and Brettner , and Hars ). To date, the American readership of these articles might not stretch far beyond the two of us – with, of course, J.W. doing the translating and R.R. doing the attentive listening. Yet, this tick up in Hungarian interest is certainly a very welcome sign. We’ve had the privilege, too, of communicating directly with Gabor Kelemen, one of the Hungarian scholars. He reports, among other things, that he’s currently at work on an examination of Jellinek’s 1917 monograph on the ethnographic history of the shoe (Jellinek, 1917).
Was that the shoe?!
Not the least engaging aspect of our biographical project is how colorfully varied Jellinek’s many intellectual pursuits were.
We have not, however, had much luck in finding Jellinek’s book on the diseases of the banana. His daughter, Ruth Jellinek Surry (1965), mentioned this book in connection with her father’s alleged stint as assistant research director for the United Fruit Company in Honduras sometime in the 1920s. But the book has eluded us thus far. Even a search of the considerable resources of the USDA’s National Agricultural Library in Beltsville, Maryland — recently vigorously carried out by reference librarian Rebecca Mazur — came up fruitless (sorry, we couldn’t resist!). Which, incidentally, raises an interesting question: How much diligent but unsuccessful searching is necessary before we can justifiably assert that the banana book doesn’t exist or was never published?
Then again, Jellinek may never have set foot in Honduras at all for all we know at this point. He claimed, in his bio article in Current Biography‘s 1947 edition, that he split the 1920s between Sierra Leone, in West Africa, and Honduras. But Jellinek also reportedly told Laszlo Frank, during a chance encounter in Berlin in 1930, that he was a coffee farmer in “South America” – making no mention of banana research or Honduras. Truth be told, the decade of the 1920s in Jellinek’s life is just about as shrouded in mystery as it was when we started this project. His panoply of life skills may have included a deft ability to cover his tracks.
Still, nice things have happened along the way in this project too. Just recently for example two new-to-us images — one of Jellinek’s mother, Marcella Lindh, a renowned soprano in her day, and the other of Jellinek’s younger sister, Edna — have been collected. We’ve also recently collected a copy of the 1912 U.S. patent issued to Jellinek’s father, Marcell Jellinek. The patent describes an innovation in how electrical energy can be communicated from overhead tram wires to tram cars below. Like his gifted son, Marcell Jellinek appears to have been blessed with multifarious talents — he was a noted Shakespearian actor before turning his talents to managing and improving Budapest’s public transit system.
In a somewhat different vein, our curiosity has been piqued of late by the question of how successful or unsuccessful Jellinek, in the U.S., may have been in shielding the less savory parts of his checkered past from view. His notorious Budapest caper was widely reported in the Hungarian press at the time. Moreover, there were a number of transplanted Hungarians in his U.S. professional circle who may have known and remembered. For instance, the highly controversial Hungarian psychiatrist, Ralph S. Banay, who worked with Jellinek in relation to the Yale Summer School and the Yale Plan Clinics, may have made the connection. If he didn’t, then maybe his brother, George L. Banay, in charge of Worcester State Hospital’s library during the period Jellinek was employed there, did. Another Hungarian psychiatrist, Andras Angyal, joined Worcester’s staff in 1932 and, in the 1950s, shows up listed on the Quarterly Journal of Alcohol Studies’ editorial board. Certainly Jellinek’s good friend, the psychoanalytically oriented ethnographer Geza Roheim, who joined the Worcester staff in the late 1930s, knew.
Did the secret leak out on occasion? One wonders. Jellinek’s scientific contributions at Worcester were appreciatively celebrated in David Shakow’s (1972) rich historical account of schizophrenia research there. Moreover, on his departure from Worcester the research staff presented Jellinek with a letter warmly expressing their affection for him and the high value they placed on his work, which document included the following words: “We are most grateful…for the contribution you have made[,] which is not discernible to anyone but those who have produced these papers….” (1) Why then did Jellinek separate from Worcester in 1939? Had, by any chance, a rumor about his Budapest caper found its way to Worcester’s higher-ups?
Mysteries abound and multiply around the man! We don’t even know as yet with certainty the number of women Jellinek married and divorced over his lifetime. Yet the challenge posed by his story is part of the charm and magnetism of the project. We may never get a full picture of Elvin Morton Jellinek’s life and times – but, hey, it’s the journey, no?
(1) We thank Richard Noll for the image of the Worcester commemorative volumes and for a copy of the accompanying declaration by staff.
Hárs, György Péter (2009). A „vörös Róheim”. [The “Red Róheim”.] Thalassa 20(4) p.45-74.
Jellinek, Morton (1917). A sarú eredete. [The origin of the shoe.] Budapest, Dick Manó.
Kelemen, Gábor; Márk, Mónika (2012). E.M. Jellinek, a ,,szabadon lebegő” alkohologus. [E. M. Jellinek – a “free floating” alcohologist.] Psychiatria Hungarica, 27(5), 304-19.
Márk, Mónika; Brettner, Zsuzsanna (2012). Jellinek anti-hagiográfiája. [Jellinek’s anti-hagiography.] Szociális szemle 1, 33-42.
Shakow, David, “The Worcester State Hospital Research on Schizophrenia (1927-1946),” Journal of Abnormal Psychology Monograph 80(1):67-110, (August) 1972.
Surry, Ruth, Memo to R. Brinkley Smithers, in Christopher D. Smithers Foundation Files, Mill Neck, NY. (Penny Booth Page provided a copy of this document.)