In the mountain of books the Iliad buys and is gifted there are always some that are quite unique. Even after 40 years in bookselling I’m still delighted to find books that have a special connection to the previous owner. Sometimes you’ll find signatures, notes, letters, bills, unorthodox bookmarks and other personal ephemera. For me, it’s a snapshot of a person which captures my imagination.
Recently, I came across a unique book which appears to be from the personal library of Hollywood Award-Winning actress, Gale Sondergaard (2/15/1899 – 8/14/1985). Ms. Sondergaard studied Theater in Minneapolis in the twenties and early thirties. She earned an Academy Award (the first for Best Supporting Actress) for her role in Anthony Adverse (1936). She continued working regularly in Hollywood to high acclaim. On an interesting side note, Ms.Sondergaard actually tested for the role of the Wicked Witch of the West in MGM’s classic Wizard of Oz (1939), but the role eventually went to Margaret Hamilton.
Gale Sondergaard’s acting career came to a screeching halt when her husband, Herbert Biberman (a noted Theater director) was accused of being a communist during the HUAC hearings in the early fifties. Blacklisted for many years, Ms. Sondergaard worked occasionally in Theater and TV in the early sixties. She died in Los Angeles in 1985.
We have a copy of The Flame of Life by Gabriele D’Annunzio (1900), a fictionalized account of a charismatic Nietsche/Superman’s affair with actress Eleanor Dusa. The scandalous novel became quite the cause celebre in its day. Not surprising that it would be in Ms. Sondergaard’s library in a beautiful black faux leather Modern Library edition dated 1900.
As you can see from the picture below, Ms. Sondergaard’s bold signature is at the top of the ffe and she indicated the date and location of the book in her library (Providence, Jan 1927).
This copy of Flame of Life has wear to the corners and edges along with light water damage to the rear cover and last few pages. Herbert Biberman’s (husband of Sondergaard) name is stamped on the title page, further indicating this book is from Ms. Sondergaard’s library. The binding is tight and although the pages are lightly sunned there are no marks or underlining.