The Romance of John Reed and Louise Bryant

LOUISE BRYANT AND JOHN “JACK” Reed’s romance — if not their fidelity — endured beyond their initial 1915 meeting in Portland, Oregon, to the end of their lives, when they each expressed loving thoughts for each other. Shortly before her death, in a hurriedly penciled postcard from Paris to radical artist Art Young, Bryant declared, “If I get [to heaven] before you do or later — tell Jack Reed I love him.” Shortly before typhus killed him at age thirty-three in Moscow, Reed expressed similar thoughts in a poem he wrote from prison. The poem, titled “A Letter to Louise,” closes:

Let my longing lightly rest
On her flower petal breast
Till the red dawn set me free
To be with my sweet
Ever and forever…[1]

When Jack Reed and Louise Bryant took up with each other in Portland more than ninety years ago, their love affair quickly became one of the most notorious romances to have been born in Oregon. As their celebrity grew, world-wide curiosity inspired efforts to describe the meeting of a famous radical writer and a Portland journalist, a meeting that launched the couple on a romantic political journey that ended in Moscow in the wake of the Bolshevik revolution. Although we may never know the precise circumstance of their first accidental meeting, it most likely happened in Portland on December 15, 1915, a few hours before they expected to be introduced by mutual friends Carl and Helen Walters at dinner in their Labbe Building studio.[2] Scholarly biographies and popular-press accounts, including two Soviet films, an opera, and a play produced in the Soviet Union, have tried to depict the Reed-Bryant romance, but if Americans are aware of it today, it is probably because they are among the millions who saw Reds— the 1981 Oscar-winning Hollywood film that dramatized Bryant and Reed’s lives and times.[3]

Warren Beatty and Diane Keaton play the couple in the film, which opens in “Portland, 1915.” Its first ten minutes depict their initial few days together, and Beatty, who was also the film’s director, devotes the rest of Reds’ three hours to the couple’s subsequent five years of Bohemian romance and literary and political activism in New York, Croton-on-Hudson, Cape Cod, and France. It ends tearfully, with Bryant attending Reed’s death in a Moscow hospital room while Soviet revolutionaries struggle to succeed outside.

Neither Reed nor Bryant documented how they met, and their biographers have provided so many different versions that the event has acquired a mythological aura. Although they actually met about a year and a half later, Reds places the couple’s first meeting after Reed’s radical rant on class war that shocked the University Club (named “Liberal Club” in the film) during the summer of 1914. Beatty has Bryant accosting Reed as he was leaving the club and gaining his attention by aggressively declaring her radical literary credentials. The film’s history advisor, Robert Rosenstone, remains among the most authoritative of Reed’s biographers, and he likely had to sign off on Beatty’s artistic license for that scene.[4]

The earliest of Reed’s serious biographers, Granville Hicks, relied on Bryant’s friend Helen Walters and accurately dated the meeting during Reed’s 1915 Christmas visit to his mother in Portland. Hicks also correctly describes Bryant, who was attracted by Reed’s radical reputation and was a booster of his articles in The Masses and the Metropolitan, as having hoped for some time to meet him.[5] Biographies of the couple offer other alternatives. Citing an informant, one tells readers they met at Bryant’s friend Clara Wold’s home.[6] Citing another, Mary Dearborn says they were “formally introduced” in 1914 at the home of Eva and Norma Graves (now the Rimsky-Korsakaffee House at 707 SE Twelfth Avenue).[7] Some are less precise. The earliest writer about their love story makes it at “one of the artists’ meeting places.”[8] Alfred Powers points to a party where Reed spoke, while Harold Hughes refines that to a “Portland cocktail party.”[9] Sarah Bard Field claims “I brought Louise and Jack together at a dinner party at a friend’s home,” while Eugene radical Floyd Ramp imagined late in his long life that the couple may have met at a “political meeting” as early as 1912.[10]

The most detailed version mixing fact and fantasy is Alan Cheuse’s “autobiographical” novel about Reed, in which he creates a downtown Portland scene where Bryant, identifying herself as a “cowboy’s best daughter,” accosts Reed as he leaves a pawnshop where he pawned a ring from Mabel Dodge, a previous lover. That same day, Reed had accepted “an invitation Carl Walters extended over the telephone.” Cheuse has Jack narrating that “Walters, an old friend, told me there was going to be a fine group of people over the next evening … Colonel Wood and some others I’d like to see would be there.” Cheuse’s Bryant even tells Reed that she was also invited because “They [the Walterses] think we’d make a match!” Cheuse is more accurate when he brings Reed and Bryant separately to the Walterses, but after falsely telling us that “Trullinger [Bryant’s husband] was not present at the meal” he goes on to wrongly imagine that the Walterses “clearly wanted to see how we would react to each other.”[11]

Beatty’s film and Cheuse’s novel are protected from fact checkers by their genres, but the most far-fetched non-fiction version of Bryant and Reed’s meeting appears in a serious, extensive but unpublished and only available online biography of Bryant written during the 1970s by William M. Greene, a Tacoma journalist. Greene places the meeting in the lobby of the Multnomah Hotel where, according to an elaborate script, Reed agreed to meet Louise for an interview she told him was for the Spectator. The reliability of Greene’s largely undocumented version is challenged by his claim that Louise had already left her husband and “was making her home in the Labbe Building where her friends, Carl and Helen Walters, had their apartment.”[12]

Such conflicting accounts have obscured the facts of the romance’s origin, but we now have a more authoritative account. The contemporaneous eye-witness observations of Bryant’s intimate Portland friend, Helen Walters, make it possible to offer documentation of how Reed and Bryant actually found each other in Reed’s hometown on that day in late 1915.The Walters diaries not only provide a first-hand account of the early months of the love affair, but also place it firmly within the milieu of Portland’s pre–World War I Bohemia. Her diaries chronicle in a frequently acerbic and feisty manner the lives and social activities of her circle of local artists, writers, musicians and other creative intellectuals.[13] For much of the city, but especially for artists and their patrons among its leading citizens, the Reed-Bryant romance was the celebrity scandal of the day.

JACK REED (1887–1920) WAS, as Edwin Justus Mayer called him, a “robustious son of Oregon.” He lived more than half of his short life in Portland. At age sixteen, he was first published in the Troubadour, the literary magazine of his exclusive Portland Academy.[14] Leslie Smith Miller, one of his classmates, recalled that “everyone thought he was sort of queer,” and one of his few childhood friends, McCormack Snow, apparently agreed that “Portland was generally horrified” by Reed.[15] In his most personal document, “Almost Thirty,” Reed acknowledged that he had “few friends in Portland,” which was one reason, he declared, “I don’t want ever again to live there.”[16] The place formed his early impressions of the world until, at age seventeen, his parents sent him back east to boarding school and then on to Harvard. Through 1915, Reed was drawn back almost every year to his “native place,” as he called it, for holiday visits with his family and for several longer summer stays.[17] It was on his final visit in 1915, to spend Christmas with his recently widowed mother, that he met Bryant. As Reds entertainingly dramatizes, their encounter inspired Bryant — literally within days — to leave her husband and their new house, her circle of Bohemian friends, and Portland itself for what she enthusiastically expected would be a more exciting life with Reed in New York and on the world stage.

Not a native Oregonian, Bryant (1885–1936) was twenty-two years old when she arrived from Nevada to attend the University of Oregon, where a classmate observed that she “didn’t ever drank in Oregon.”[18] Before graduating in January 1909, she attracted attention on campus by writing and editing for the student newspaper. Bryant then moved to Portland and began a part-time career as a social editor and illustrator of the Spectator, a cultural weekly, and as a writer of occasional reviews of art exhibits for the Oregon Journal. She also worked on sets for local theaters and submitted writings to radical magazines. In Oregon City on November 13, 1909, Bryant married Paul Henry Trullinger (1870–1957), a dentist from an old Oregon pioneer family whose uncle was the well-known artist John H. Trullinger. But Bryant never became content in what she came to call the “silly old town.” Even on her last visit in 1919, to agitate against United States intervention in the Bolshevik Revolution before a full house of four thousand people in a new Public (now Keller) Auditorium, she complained: “It gives me the cold shivers to even think of being in Portland.”[19]

Reed shared Bryant’s contempt for the notorious political and artistic conservatism of Portland’s elite, once satirically describing the city as a “giddy bewildering place.”[20] Unlike Bryant, however, he also occasionally revealed his appreciation for the city’s natural environment and nostalgia for his adolescent haunts in Chinatown, Skid Road, and the boisterous riverfront. During his summer 1914 visit, Reed made new friends in Portland, artist Carl Walters and his wife Helen Walters. They likely met at what Reed described as Portland’s “intellectual center” — the Industrial Workers of the World Hall, then at 521 NW Davis Street.[21] Most of Portland’s radical and Bohemian community were attending lectures there by Reed’s comrade Emma Goldman, and it was probably another friend of Goldman’s, cultural leader Charles Erskine Scott Wood, a mutual friend of both Goldman and Reed, who introduced Reed to the Walterses. Wood had known Reed as a teenager and had personally boosted Walters’s pictures in the Spectator.[22] Many years later, Wood recalled his last meeting with Reed, which took place during his 1915 visit:

[Reed] told me, very simply, that I had been a great influence in his life, though he did not appreciate it at the time, but only as he grew older and began to remember my views and utterances. I was surprised at this and the almost emotional though very quiet feeling with which it was said. When he had written me from college he did not write anything of this kind. Usually he asked questions about writing poetry and sometimes submitted verses for criticism. So we parted. I never saw him again. He lies in the Kremlin by the side of Lenin.”[23]

Another common interest shared by the group was the New York radical magazine, The Masses. Reed was one of its editors, Wood a contributor, the Walterses and Bryant its Portland subscription agents. Bryant, together with her husband Paul, led an active social life in Portland’s “vest pocket Bohemia,” a country also inhabited by the Walterses.[24] It is the diaries of Helen Walters that provide new insights into the romance of Reed and Bryant. The credibility of her account is enhanced by the intimacy she carefully records between her and Bryant. Hicks considered himself “especially” indebted to Alice Strong, a prominent Portlander who had suggested he contact “Mrs. Carl Walters of Woodstock, N.Y. She it seems knew most intimately both Jack and Louise Bryant and the progress of their love affair.”[25]

Before she met Reed, Bryant was not only a local society reporter but also an aspiring playwright and woman suffrage activist who sent stories and poems to Alexander Berkman’s anarchist journal Blast. Bryant’s poem calling for sympathy toward unwed mothers had been published in Emma Goldman’s Mother Earth in June 1915 — a fact Reds uses to account for Reed’s initial interest in her. It is clear that, having been impressed by his writing for some time, she met Reed on her initiative.

Walters’s 1915 diary opens on New Year’s Day with Bryant already a close friend. She did not record when and how the two couples met, but Granville Hicks’s account suggests it was during the summer of 1914, at Goldman’s lectures in the Wobbly Hall, where Bryant may also have “had a glimpse of Reed.”[26] For most of the rest of 1915, Walters chronicled her and her husband’s almost daily contacts with the Trullingers for meals and outings. There are shopping trips and sewing sessions with Louise while Carl and Paul go on weeks-long visits to the Oregon coast. Paul fixes Helen’s teeth, and she often attends the theater with his mother. Louise and Helen enroll in a short-story writing class and make regular visits to entertain women inmates in the county jail.

On November 16, about a month before the two women made their last visit to the jail, Reed appeared in Walters’s diaries and was about to do so in the flesh. She recorded: Jack Reed will be home in a short time. His mother is going down to San Francisco to meet him next week. Walters told Hicks that she passed the news to Bryant, who then asked to be introduced to Reed. On December 5, when the Walterses and the Trullingers celebrated Louise’s thirtieth birthday at dinner and later at the theater, one subject of discussion was that Jack Reed is reported home.[27]

Reed paid his first visit to the Walterses on December 10. Jack Reed came up this afternoon, reported Walters, but was disappointed that she didn’t see him. On December 5, Reed had written a friend that Portland was “as dull as ever. I have been here one day and it is awful beyond words. Mother is so kind, loving and so absolutely hopeless in her point of view. I wish I were home!”[28] He may have hoped a visit to his friends would provide some stimulation and perhaps also an opportunity to see Carl’s recent pictures. On December 12, Helen Got back just as Jack Reed was coming away so he came back and stayed nearly all afternoon. The next day, Jack came up this afternoon and bought a picture altho [sic] he hasn’t decided which one he will take yet.

Walters’s diary for December 15 briefly notes the celebrated dinner intended, as she told Hicks, to introduce Reed to Bryant, and her private, eye-witness description varies significantly from other more dramatic accounts. In his “autobiographical” account, Cheuse may have correctly scripted Bryant telling Reed that “we came close to meeting one night at the I.W.W. hall when Emma Goldman came to speak.”[29]Reds transforms the Walterses’ Labbe Building studio apartment into an elegant old Portland home with Carl (played by Macintyre Dixon) as a genial host passing the wine and Helen (played by Pat Starr) as a lively woman who actually introduces Bryant to Reed. Employing further artistic license, Beatty populates the dinner with guests who were not there: Jack’s mother (Eleanor D. Wilson), his younger brother Harry (Anthony Forrest), and “Mr. and Mrs. Partlow,” an elderly couple played by Ian Wolfe and Bessie Love, apparently intended to provide comic relief. One significant guest who was present at the actual dinner is nowhere in the scene: Paul Trullinger (Nicolas Coster), who as the film opens, is depicted rather unfairly as uptight and domineering. Except for some laughs at his expense, Trullinger disappears from the film after that scene, in order to move the romance along more quickly.

Hicks credits several Portlanders, including Carl and Helen Walters, Sally Lewis, and Sarah Bard Field, for his account of the Reed-Bryant meeting. Still, his account of what happened on December 15 clearly relies most heavily on his interview with Helen Walters. “Having had a glimpse of Reed during his visit to Portland in 1914,” Hicks wrote:

[Bryant] had followed his work with admiring enthusiasm. When she learned from Carl and Helen Walters that he was coming to Portland in December, 1915, she was eager to meet him and they arranged to have Reed and her for dinner. But Reed met her by accident that day, and they went to her home to see some [of] her writing, and when the two of them arrived for dinner, the Walterses knew they were in love. They were delighted, for they liked Louise as much as they did Jack. She was beautiful, courageous and talented. She was also unhappy, and John Reed became not merely a lover but a bold knight rescuing a fair maiden.[30]

More than twenty years before her interview with Hicks, however, Walters set down in her diary a far less dramatic — or much more naïve — story after her guests had left the evening of December 15. Without any indication that the couple had met earlier in the day or even that the purpose of the dinner was to introduce the two, she simply wrote: Paul and Louise and Jack Reed for dinner. Jack wants to go over her plays with Louise and get them into shape and take them back with him, so she is very happy. Most significantly, she noted that Reed and Bryant were not her only guests; Bryant’s husband was there as well. The next day, their artist friend Harry Wentz came to dinner and Walters reveals what her previous guests had eaten: We made so much spaghetti yesterday there is still a lot left.

When Walters recorded her apparently belated recognition of the romance the next day (December 17), she was hardly “delighted.” Jack has fallen in love with Louise and impetuously wants to take her to New York right away. We are endeavoring to avert scandal and save Paul. She is quite up in the air and greatly thrilled by the idea of New York and everything — I think that plays more a part in it than Jack does.

We went out with her tonight and the atmosphere was rather strained. Altho [sic] Paul doesn’t know about this, he feels something is wrong. Louise is rather heartless.

Walters went on to indict Bryant for being “heartless” not only in her treatment of Paul but also because she evidently dismissed a less prominent lover the moment Reed appeared. As soon as this transpired, she wrote and told Mr. Parrott she couldn’t write him anymore, and before her excuse for letting him go on thinking she cared for him was that he had no one else so she felt sorry for him and didn’t want to disillusion him.[31] “Mr. Parrott” may have also been referred to by another of Bryant’s Portland friends, Sara Bard Field, whom C.E.S. Wood (1852–1944) lived with in California after leaving his wife and Portland. Field wrote Bryant with consolation on Reed’s death, and she recalled the night after the two met: “I think of your coming to me at the Multnomah [Hotel] with that tremulous wistful story of your love for Jack and of your heart-ache over all that would mean to the other boy who loved you.” Field also revealed that Bryant demanded that she “promise you will burn or destroy in some way every word I ever wrote to you about my marriage to Paul Trullinger.”[32]

Reed was equally smitten by Bryant. Three days after he met her, on December 18, he wrote from his mother’s home — then on NW Everett near Twenty-first Avenue — to Sally Robinson, wife of his artist colleague Boardman Robinson. Making Bryant four years younger than she actually was, he declared his love for her with a paean to her exaggerated professional resume and literary achievements, an unrestrained slander of his “native place,” and no hint whatsoever of her marital status:

I have fallen in love again, and I think I’ve found Her at last. No surety about it, of course. She doesn’t want it. She’s two years younger than I, wild and brave and straight, and graceful and lovely to look at. A lover of all adventure of spirit and mind, a realist with the most silver scorn of changelessness and fixity. Refuses to be bound, or to bound … has done advertising, made a success, quit it at the top of the wave, worked on a daily newspaper for five years, made a great success, and quit it because she outgrew it and wanted better. And in this spiritual vacuum, this unfertilized soil, she has grown (how, I can’t imagine) into an artist, a rampant, joyous individualist, a poet and a revolutionary. She is coming to New York to get a job — with me, I hope. I think she’s the first person I ever loved without reservation.[33]

Walters’s diary is silent on the romance for several days but then closely chronicles the days before Bryant left Portland. On December 22, Jack came up for lunch, brought some fine wine — Moselle 1907 and white Burgundy, 1904. By Christmas Eve, Louise is trying to borrow $200 on her furniture so she can go to New York. It is not easy to do. On Boxing Day, Lots of callers this morning, including Jack and his mother. Later, Louise and Paul came down this evening. At a tea at Leslie Smith’s, Reed told Helen Ladd he didn’t like Portland because it didn’t buy Carl Walters pictures. She asked him what she really ought to do to help social conditions and he advised her to join the I.W.W. By December 27, it is clear not only that Paul Trullinger had accepted her impending trip to New York — which, as she evidently assured him, was to be a brief visit — but also that Paul arranged to get the money for Louise from the bank today and she feels better. Jack goes tomorrow morning.

So it was Trullinger, rather than Reed or Bryant herself, who was the financial facilitator of her abandonment of Portland and their marriage. At dawn in her Elton Court studio a few hours after Reed left on December 28, Bryant wrote him a passionate letter, perhaps joking that on the day they met she had given him milk and honey for his cold in her studio as an act of “disinterested courtesy.” She went on:

It is nice and warm in my room where I am writing. The sides of the little stove are all red. I think it is the only warm thing left in Portland. This evening when I came home the streets were all slippery with ice and now when the first light of day is coming through my window the world seems quite frozen. — This is all as it should be — silly old town — it had your glowing presence here for weeks without appreciating it — now a capricious old winter has turned it to ice as soon as you are gone. Wonderful man — I know there isn’t another soul so free and so exquisite and strong.[34]

At Union Station on the last day of 1915, the Walterses and a few other Portland friends saw her off to New York and her new life with Reed. Louise got off this morning. She looked so pretty. Dearborn claims Trullinger was there with a bunch of violets for his wife, but Walters does not mention him.[35] That same evening, New Year’s Eve, Walters sympathetically observed that Paul was dreadfully lonesome this evening. He came down to dinner and we walked around until we had to go to [newspaper editor Harry] Burke’s for a gala party that lasted until 2 a.m.

During the next several months, Walters monitored the reactions of Trullinger and their Portland friends to Bryant’s original explanation that she was only visiting New York to further her literary ambitions, an explanation that became too difficult to sustain. Not long after that party ended, on New Year’s Day, Paul came down to lunch Saturday and we went home with him. Snow was great out there. Paul’s mother is greatly mystified about Louise — how she got the money and what she is going to do. She really doesn’t think Louise will ever come back and she would be much pleased if she didn’t.

Bryant’s first letter to Walters arrived on January 11. She is meeting everyone and going to all sorts of places. Intoxicated with New York. Paul came to dinner. He has a feeling all is not well and is rather blue. A second letter on the nineteenth lists the magazine editors Reed was introducing her to: Ernest Poole, Bob Davies of the Munsey, Charlie Towne of McClure’s, editors of the Metropolitan, Vogue. The next day, Paul came down to dinner. He is feeling much happier, thinks Louise is getting impatient about a job and her play. All the things Jack promised. In late January, Bryant seems to have had second thoughts: Louise wants me to send her material for window curtains. Says she is tired of looking out at the alley and of having the alley look in at her. It is interesting to watch, through her letters, how her attitude and feelings about New York change. Walters also noted that Trullinger had come to dinner and that he had gotten two letters from Bryant the day before.

During the following two days, Walters’s contacts with Trullinger are in his dentist’s chair. Paul is working on my teeth. I have a bad one. In what seem to be new activities undertaken to overcome his loneliness, Paul is going to start life class at the museum tonight [February 9] so he will be here to dinner. Tuesday when he has French and now Wednesday and Thursday. He is going to have a little part in the French play Mrs. [French teacher Edele] Reed is getting up. But the chances of Bryant returning to Portland were about to worsen. At an Art Museum party on February 11, C.E.S. Wood said, ‘I had a letter from Mrs. T. and she signed it Louise Bryant, so I suppose she has left Trullinger. The next day, Walters expressed some irritation at Louise: This morning I had a very indignant note from Louise on the same subject. Very silly of her to sign a letter to him that way. I can’t help it if there is gossip; she started plenty. By February 23, Walters observed that Paul is so unhappy. He is worrying about Louise’s health with all the excitement and also he is very much afraid she won’t ever come back. She also records in her diary that she has hidden from Trullinger her assumption that his fear is well founded: It is hard to consol [sic] him, knowing really more about it than he does.

Walters then spent several days at Trullinger’s house on Riverwood Road. Later in March, Paul came down to dinner. Sarah Bard Field is in town and Paul is anxious to see her and find out how Louise is looking…. Louise has an article in The Masses about Judge Stevenson and Judge Gatens.[36] On April 12, Paul had a letter from Louise. She said the picture Jack bought of [sic] Carl had arrived and was very much admired. Ruth Olson and some of the people who had exhibited in the Forum show liked it very much. The Walterses continued to frequently host Trullinger for dinner.

It was not until the end of April that Trullinger seemed finally to have accepted that his wife would not be coming back. On the twenty-second, Walters Went home with Paul…. He knows for sure at last how Louise feels about things and is very much upset. But he is really very fine about it. I had such a pitiful letter from Louise. She doesn’t know what to do. The end of the Trullinger marriage became even clearer on May 6, when Walters wrote that Paul says he has been to see Judge Gatens and will get a divorce if that is what Louise wants. They can’t get it until July, when she will have been away 6 months.

It was not long before the news spread. On May 18, Carl met [lawyer] Hal Sawyer on the street today and the first thing he said was, ‘I hear Mrs. Trullinger is going to get a divorce and marry Jack Reed.’ Said he got his information first hand so I wonder where that was. Here Paul and Louise didn’t know it themselves until a few days ago — news spreads. I should like to know where he got it. The next day, at Portland Bohemia’s Little Club on Salmon Street, Clara Wold says people are calling her up about Louise and Paul and having all kinds of beautiful stories. Afterwards, the Johnsons [architect Folger Johnson and his wife, whose name is unknown] came and took us to dinner and the first thing they said was, ‘Do tell us the truth about the Trullingers.’ At a tea at the Johnsons on June 7, Walters noted that it was the first time she had seen Edele Reed since she has had so much to say about Louise and Paul. Then Mrs. William Ogburn, wife of a Reed College professor, even said that I had expressed my disapproval to her. I think she is most responsible for all the gossip.

Coming home from the circus with Harry Wentz and Clara and Cora Wold on May 30, the Walterses got a surprise. Lo and behold Paul and Dorothy Ramsdell drove up in their ‘Bug.’ Paul put in his motorcycle and Dot the difference. Got it last night and today went to Hillsboro. Paul never drove a car before. Ramsdell may have been helping Paul forget about Louise, for on June 6, Paul and Dot Ramsdell came over and they and Carl got some dinner.

Walters learned on June 2 that Louise has gone to Provincetown — went to visit Mary Horton Vorse and liked it so well decided to stay. Several writers live there. Susan Glaspell. Hutchins Hapgood. Says she is writing a 3-act play with Mr. Parker, one of the Current Opinion editors. Six days later, from Provincetown, Bryant also wrote to Floyd Wilson, an artist friend of the Walterses then in San Francisco, relating much of what she had just written Walters. But she also suggests her romance with Reed was still not known to her friends outside Portland. “Jack is at the [Republican party] convention in Chicago — I mean Jack Reed,” she wrote. “You know I always did have a soft spot for Jack and we had studios next to each other [in New York] all winter. He is to be here too all summer. I tell you this, Wilson — so you will be prepared for what may follow — I’d hate to shock you.” Louise also suggests she is growing away from her Portland friends. “The Walters are so domestic since moving into the art clubhouse [The Little Club],” she writes, “Helen writes of nothing but flowers and cooking and how sweet Carl is. I can hardly believe that I ever did live in Portland now. When I get letters from there they sound so funny.”[37]

On June 20, in what could be a reference to the nude photo of Louise on a Provincetown beach that would become notorious when it was later published in Friend and Lover, and then in Rosenstone and Dearborn, Walters recorded that Bryant had asked her to go and get the pictures she sent Paul and that he doesn’t care for, but won’t show me. So I asked him for them and he said they were at home. I know they aren’t. Don’t know what to do about it. Louise will be furious.[38]

By July 5, Walters was concerned that Trullinger was no longer a regular visitor. Don’t know what ails Paul. Haven’t seen him for a couple of weeks. Three days later, the news of his and Bryant’s divorce hit the front pages and Walters acknowledges her estrangement from Trullinger.[39]Paul got the divorce yesterday and unfortunately The Oregonian had to write it up this morning. His mother stopped in or we shouldn’t have known it. I’m sorry if Paul feels sore toward us. I don’t know why he should but he seems to. As late as July 13, Walters noted that Bryant had not heard the news: Letter from Louise. She didn’t know that divorce business was through with when she wrote — was in Detroit.

On July 10, Walters asked Paul to go to an “Arts and Crafts Peace Fete” in Mrs. Helen Wortman’s garden, which he did. The divorce also seems to have broken Walters’s contact with Bryant for almost two months. It was not until September 11 that she recorded: Letter from Louise at last. Very excited. Her play, The Game, made the biggest hit of any the Provincetown Players put on. The Zorachs did the stage settings decoratively. N.Y. papers asked for photographs, also Vanity Fair. The Boston Globe had an article and a snapshot of Louise and Gene O’Neil.[40]

Walters’s 1916 diary ends after October, so we do not know her reaction when Bryant and Reed married on November 9. Diaries for the next two years are missing from the Smithsonian archives, but the two couples stayed in touch. In March 1919, Bryant made her first visit to Portland since her hurried departure on the last day of 1915. She had again become familiar to Portlanders the previous year, when the Oregonian serialized the articles that became her best known book, Six Months in Red Russia, and over four thousand packed the new Civic Auditorium for her talk. The Oregonian described her as “the same little radicalist and vigorous performer that left Portland three years ago.” Among the audience was her former husband.[41]

Walters’s 1919 diary shows that during the past two years her friendship with Bryant had been renewed. During her brief visit, Bryant saw the Walterses for the first time in more than three years. She seems exactly the same as ever. I can’t see a particle of change, except that she has had all kinds of adventures and experiences. She had to submit her speech to the City Council, which is hard as she isn’t used to speaking that way. The City Council allowed her to use the public auditorium only after the Central Labor Council demanded it.

By that time, Carl had become one of Portland’s leading painters, and he and Helen were thinking of moving to New York. Their meeting with Bryant helped them decide to leave and, on April 28, 1919, she made them an offer they could not refuse: Jack had leased a house [in Provincetown] from a farmer ½ mile from them for us, and offering to loan us some money. So we didn’t hesitate long to decide to make every possible effort to break away from here June 1. And we think we can make it.

The Walterses arrived in New York on June 20, 1919, and were met by Bryant. A few days later, they Met Boardman Robinson and his wife, Floyd Dell, Dudley Field Malone at Reed and Bryant’s house in Croton-on-Hudson. As planned, the two couples spent much of the rest of the summer in Provincetown, where, on July 22, Jack and Louise came in and we had a picnic on the ocean side. The Walterses evidently participated in their friends’ enjoyment of nude swimming and sunbathing, for Walters wrote that We went to the other end of town and walked across the dunes, stopping to gambol on the way, in the altogether.

After their summer holiday, the two couples moved to New York City, where they seem to have grown apart. Portland sculptor Marie Louise Feldenheimer witnessed their more distant relationship on a visit to the Walterses apartment in New York, when Bryant stopped by just to pick up a coat. That brief encounter convinced Feldenheimer that the intimate friendship between them she had glimpsed in Portland had “dwindled because their life styles were different. Bohemianism in Portland and New York are different.”[42] For the last time, Reed left his native land for Russia soon after they returned from Provincetown and never saw the Walterses again. A year later, Bryant left to join Reed in Moscow and may also have never met her old Portland friends again. The earthly romance ended with Reed’s death on October 17, 1920.

Less than four years after Reed’s death, Bryant married wealthy United States diplomat William Bullitt. They lived in France, where their daughter Anne Moen Bullitt (1924–2007) was born, and then divorced in 1930.[43] Bryant remained in Paris, where she died six years later after extended poor financial and physical health. She is buried in France, far from Reed’s famous resting place by the Kremlin wall and farther still from where their romance began.

Some Portlanders have not forgotten Bryant. When attorney Janet Kreft discovered in 1995 that the tombstone marked “Louise Bryant Bullitt” in a Paris cemetery had deteriorated and was scheduled to be removed, she recruited attorney Brian Booth and Paris resident and former Portland filmmaker Penny Allen to help her rescue it. Through the Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission (which also placed a memorial bench and plaque for John Reed in Washington Park), they raised funds to restore her stone and perpetuate her memory.

The new historical material provided by the Walters diaries should clear up the confusion about the circumstances under which the Reed-Bryant romance began and offer some new leads to their biographers. But the basic fact endures: a Portland native who had become a national celebrity found true love on a visit to his home town, where one of his admirers, a married local writer, discovered in him if not her only love, at least an enduring one cut short by his death. The romance is celebrated across the world because of the lovers’ historical roles and perhaps also as an example of a new morality that challenged conventional family values in the early twentieth century. Today, the love affairs of celebrities constitute a major entertainment for a significant portion of the public, but in 1915, Helen Walters could describe her friends’ romance as a “scandal,” while many Portlanders expressed their interest in what was never described openly in the press.


Some of the material in this article also appears in Michael Munk, The Portland Years of John Reed and Louise Bryant 3d ed. (Portland: Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission, 2003).
1.� Corliss Lamont, ed., “A Letter to Louise,” in Collected Poems: John Reed (Westport, Conn.: Lawrence Hill, 1985), 117.
2.� For background on the Walterses, see Michael Munk, “The ‘Portland Period’ of Artist Carl Walters,” Oregon Historical Quarterly 101:2 (Summer 2000): 134–61.The Labbe block stood on SW Washington Street between First and Second avenues.
3.� The first film was the 1958 Soviet production In the October Days, in which Reed is played by A. Fyodorinov and Bryant by Galina Vodyanitskaya. In 1982, perhaps as an answer to Reds, the prominent Soviet director Sergei Bondarchuk made a four-hour plus, two part Italian-Mexican-Soviet extravaganza Red Bells (I: Mexico in Flames; II: I’ve Seen the Birth of the New World) in which Bryant was played by the American Sydne Rome and Reed by the Italian Franco Nero. Neither has been shown in the US. In 1931, a Soviet opera, John Reed, with music by Klementi Korchmarev and libretto by Peter Barnardsky had its premier; see Oregon Journal, February 5, 1931. In the 1960s, a play based on Reed’s Ten Days That Shook the World was staged by the Taganda Theater in Moscow. The poet Larry Ferlinghetti saw the “brilliant new dramatization” in February 1967, and it helped persuade him that “the time has come around again for John Reed” and to reprint a collection of Reed’s writings originally published in East Germany in 1963. With the addition of “Almost Thirty,” it appeared as John Reed, Adventures of a Young Man: short stories from life (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1975), 7. A DVD version that contains revealing interviews with several of Reds’ principals was released for the film’s twenty-fifth anniversary in 2006 (Paramount 01331).
4.� Robert A. Rosenstone, Romantic Revolutionary: A Biography of John Reed (New York: Knopf, 1975).
5.� Granville Hicks, with the assistance of John Stuart, John Reed: The Making of a Revolutionary (New York: Macmillan, 1936), 105, 106. See also Granville Hicks, with lithographs by Lynd Ward, One of Us: The Story of John Reed (New York: Equinox Cooperative Press, 1935). For more on the Walters diaries, see Michael Munk, “The Diaries of Helen Lawrence Walters,” Oregon Historical Quarterly 106:4 (Winter 2005): 594–615.
6.� Brownell Frasier cited in Virginia Gardner, “Friend and Lover” The Life of Louise Bryant (New York: Horizon Press, 1982), 314n65.
7.� Goody Cable cited in Mary Dearborn, Queen of Bohemia: The Life of Louise Bryant (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1996), 37. Other biographies of Reed and Bryant include David Duke, John Reed (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1987); Eric Homberger, John Reed (Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 1990); Richard O’Connor and Dale L. Walker, The Lost Revolutionary: A Biography of John Reed (New York: Harcourt, Brace, and World, 1967); Tamara Hovey, John Reed: Witness to Revolution (New York: Crown, 1975); and John Stuart, ed., The Education of John Reed: Selected Writings (New York: International Publishers, 1955).
8.� Barbara Gelb, So Short a Time: A Biography of John Reed and Louise Bryant (New York: Norton, 1973), 6.
9.�Oregonian, October 12, 1960.
10.� Gardner, “Friend and Lover,” 314n64, n63.
11.� Alan Cheuse, The Bohemians: John Reed and his Friends Who Shook the World: a novel (Cambridge: Apple-Wood Books, 1982), 175–90.
12.� William M. Greene, “Louise Bryant: An Informal Biography of an Activist,” c. 1975, posted by his daughter at (accessed July 9, 2008).
13.� See Munk, “The Diaries,” 594–15. Helen Walters’s original diaries are in the Carl Walters Papers, 1859–1956, at the Archives of American Art, The Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., Microfilm reel 2007 [hereafter Walters diaries]. Thanks to director Jim Kopp and special collections librarian Doug Erickson, the Helen Walters diaries are also available on CDs in the Watzek Library at Lewis & Clark College, Portland, Oregon.
14.� Edwin Justus Mayer, A Preface to Life (New York: Boni and Liveright), 95; John Reed, “The Columbia River,” The Troubadour 9:1 (February 1904). Reed’s last publication, “The World Congress of the Communist International,” was written on or about September 1, 1920, just weeks before his death, and published in The Communist on November 15, 1920.
15.� Leslie Miller Smith, interviewed by Julia Ruuttila, July 3, 1970, in Julia Goodman Papers, MSS 250, box 5, folder 19, Oregon Historical Society Research Library, Portland [hereafter Ruuttila Papers]. Ruuttila was employed by Virginia Gardner to gather information for Gardner’s biography of Bryant. Snow quoted in Alice Strong to Hicks, February 17, 1935, copy in Virginia Gardner Papers, The Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University Libraries [hereafter Gardner papers]. Original in box 82, Granville Hicks Papers, Arents Research Library, Syracuse University, Syracuse, N.Y., [hereafter Hicks Papers].
16.� “Almost Thirty,” in John Reed, Adventures of a Young Man, 131.
17.� Reed, “The Social Revolution in Court,” in Adventurs of a Young Man.
18.� Bertha Carpenter quoted in Gardner, “Friend and Lover,” 25.
19.� Bryant to Reed, March 21, 1919, copy in box 5, folder 13, Ruuttila papers. Original in John Reed Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass. [hereafter Reed Collection], 280.
20.� Reed to Frances Nelson, September 2, 1909, quoted in Rosenstone, Romantic Revolutionary, 51.
21.� Reed, “The Social Revolution in Court,” The Liberator, September 1918, quoted in Stuart, The Education of John Reed, 181.
22.� Wood, “Giving Genius a Chance,” Spectator, June 27, 1914. Wood also took the Walterses to dinner at the Hofbrau restaurant in May of that year. Walters diaries, May 8, 1914.
23.� Wood to Communist party leader Earl Browder, undated (but from around 1936), quoted in Richard Hamburger, Two Rooms: The Life of Charles Erskine Scott Wood (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1998), 337.
24.� Gelb, So Short a Time, 12.
25.� Alice Strong to Granville Hicks, April 4, 1935, copy in Gardner papers, original in box 82, Hicks Papers, pre-publication correspondence. Hicks’s note of gratitude is in the acknowledgements to his book, John Reed.
26.� Hicks, John Reed, 205.
27.� Walters diaries. All dates for diary entries are included in the text, where diary quotes are italicized.
28.� Reed to Sally Robinson, December 5, 1915, quoted in Rosenstone, Romantic Revolutionary, 139, original in Reed Collection.
29.� Cheuse, The Bohemians, 177.
30.� Hicks, John Reed, 206. Rosenstone clearly relies on Hick’s account, adding only that they met “in a rainy Portland street on the very day of the scheduled introduction dinner.” Romantic Revolutionary, 240.
31.� “Mr. Parrott” was likely DeForrest Parrott, listed in the 1916 City Directory as a clerk at Sichel’s haberdashery, living with his widowed mother and several siblings on NW Seventeenth Avenue.
32.� Field to Bryant, January 26, 1922, copy in box 5, folder 13, Ruuttila Papers.
33.� Quoted in Hicks, John Reed, 205.
34.� Bryant to Reed, December 29, 1915, Reed Collection, 237.
35.� Dearborn, Queen of Bohemia, 40.
36.� Louise Bryant, “Two Judges,” in The Masses (April 18, 1916), reprinted in John Trombold and Peter Donohue, eds., Reading Portland: The City in Prose (Portland: Oregon Historical Society Press, 2006), 112–19.
37.� Bryant to Wilson, June 8, 1916, copy in author’s possession, courtesy Mark Humpal. At 43 Washington Square South, Reed and Bryant each “had a separate workroom, which she called a studio, a hallway dividing them.” Gardner, “Friend and Lover,” 14.
38.� Bryant sent the photo to Reed, also on June 8, letter to Reed, writing on the back: “This is to remind you of ‘the Dunes’ & all the nice months [we’ll enjoy] after the convention. Please, honey, take good care of yourself out there [Chicago].” Quoted in Gardner, “Friend and Lover,” 30.
39.�Oregonian, July 8, 1916.
40.� O’Neil, who became her lover in that Provincetown summer of 1916, was portrayed as such by Jack Nicholson in Reds. Correspondence documenting a passionate but contentious love affair between Bryant and O’Neil between 1917 and 1919 became available when the Louise Bryant Papers were acquired in 2005 by Yale University Library’s Manuscripts and Archives . See Louise Bryant Papers, MS 1840, box 6, folder 79, Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library, New Haven, Conn.
41.� Louise Bryant, Six Red Months in Russia, An Observer’s Account of Russia before and during the Proletarian Dictatorship (New York: George H. Doran, 1918). The Oregonian serialization began April 7, 1918, almost a year before Reed’s more famous Ten Days was published. “Louise Bryant Lectures,” Oregonian, April 3, 1919. Paul Trullinger’s second wife, Ruth, said that “Paul had told her of being in the audience.” Quoted in Gardner, “Friend and Lover,” 334n41.
42.� Feldenheimer interview, May 11, 1970, box 5, folder 18, Ruuttila Papers.
43.� Although Bryant’s father’s name was Mohan, she sometimes spelled it “Moen.” It was also spelled “Moën.” Ruuttila interview with Ruth Trullinger, box 5, folder 20, Ruuttila Papers.






By Michael Munk



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