Louis Untermeyer

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Louis Untermeyer
Louis Untermeyer.jpg
Born (1885-10-01)October 1, 1885
New York City, New York, United States
Died December 18, 1977(1977-12-18) (aged 92)
Newtown, Connecticut, United States
Occupation Author, anthologist, editor, poet
Nationality American
  • Jean Starr (1906–26; divorced)
  • Virginia Moore (1927–29; divorced)
  • Jean Starr (1929–30; divorced again)
  • Esther Antin (1931–45; divorced)
  • Bryna Ivens (1948–77; widowed)

Louis Untermeyer (October 1, 1885 – December 18, 1977) was an American poet, anthologist, critic,[1] and editor. He was appointed the fourteenth Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 1961.[2]

Life and career

Untermeyer was born in New York City. He married Jean Starr in 1906. Their son Richard was born in 1907 and died under uncertain circumstances in 1927. After a 1926 divorce, they were reunited in 1929, after which they adopted two sons, Laurence and Joseph. He married the poet Virginia Moore in 1927; their son, John Moore Untermeyer (1928), was renamed John Fitzallen Moore after a painful 1929 divorce. In the 1930s, he divorced Jean Starr Untermeyer and married Esther Antin. This relationship also ended in divorce in 1945.[3] In 1948, he married Bryna Ivens, an editor of Seventeen magazine.

Untermeyer was known for his wit and his love of puns. For a while, he held Marxist beliefs, writing for magazines such as The Masses, through which he advocated that the United States stay out of World War I. After the suppression of that magazine by the U.S. government, he joined The Liberator, published by the Workers Party of America. Later he wrote for the independent socialist magazine The New Masses. He was a co-founder of "The Seven Arts," a poetry magazine that is credited for introducing many new poets, including Robert Frost, who became Untermeyer's long-term friend and correspondent.

In 1950, Untermeyer was a panelist during the first year of the What's My Line? television quiz program. According to Bennett Cerf, Untermeyer would sign virtually any piece of paper that someone placed in front of him, and Untermeyer inadvertently signed a few Communist proclamations.[4] According to Cerf, Untermeyer was not at all a communist, but he had joined several suspect societies that made him stand out.[4] He was named during the hearings by the House Committee on Un-American Activities investigating communist subversion. The Catholic War Veterans and "right wing organizations" began hounding Mr. Untermeyer. Goodson-Todman, producer of the show, held out against the protests of Untermeyer for some time, but finally war veterans began picketing outside the New York City television studio from which What's My Line? was telecast live. The pressure became too great, and the sponsor Jules Montenier, inventor of Stopette deodorant, said, “After all, I'm paying a lot of money for this. I can't afford to have my product picketed.”[4]

At that point, the producers told Untermeyer that he had to leave the television series. The last live telecast on which he appeared was on March 11, 1951, and the mystery guest he questioned while blindfolded was Celeste Holm.[5] The kinescope of this episode has been lost.[6] His exit led to Bennett Cerf becoming a permanent member of the program.[4]

The controversy surrounding Untermeyer led to him being blacklisted by the television industry. According to Untermeyer's friend Arthur Miller, Untermeyer became so depressed by his forced departure from What's My Line? that he refused to leave his home in Brooklyn for more than a year,[7] and his wife Bryna answered all incoming phone calls.[7] It was she who eventually told Miller what had happened because Untermeyer would not pick up the phone to talk to him,[7] even though Miller's support of blacklisted writers and radio and television personalities was well-known to Untermeyer and many others.[7] But for more than a year, whenever Miller dialed the Untermeyers' phone number, Bryna "talked obscurely about [her husband Louis] not wanting phone conversations anymore, preferring to wait until we could all get together again," wrote Miller.[7]

Miller was a "very infrequent television watcher" in 1951, according to words he used in his 1987 autobiography,[7] and so he did not notice that Bennett Cerf had replaced Untermeyer on the live TV game show.[7] Miller did read New York City newspapers every day, but apparently there was no published report of Untermeyer's disappearance from television,[7] therefore Miller was unaware that anything was wrong until Untermeyer's wife Bryna revealed what it was eventually after they had conversed by phone for more than a year.[7]

Louis Untermeyer was the author or editor of close to 100 books, from 1911 until his death. Many of them and his other memorabilia are preserved in a special section of the Lilly Library at Indiana University. Schools used his Modern American and British poetry books widely, and they often introduced college students to poetry. He and Bryna Ivens Untermeyer created a number of books for young people, under the Golden Treasury of Children's Literature. He lectured on literature for many years, both in the US and other countries. In 1956 the Poetry Society of America awarded Untermeyer a Gold Medal. He also served as the Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 1961 until 1963.

Selected bibliography

Poetry collections

  • The Younger Quire (parodies), Mood Publishing, 1911.
  • First Love, French, 1911.
  • Challenge, Century, 1914.
  • These Times, Holt, 1917.
  • Including Horace, Harcourt, 1919.
  • The New Adam, Harcourt, 1920.
  • Roast Leviathan, Harcourt, 1923, reprinted, Arno, 1975.
    • (With son, Richard Untermeyer) Poems, privately printed, 1927.
  • Burning Bush, Harcourt, 1928.
  • Adirondack Cycle, Random House, 1929.
  • Food and Drink, Harcourt, 1932.
  • First Words before Spring, Knopf, 1933.
  • Selected Poems and Parodies, Harcourt, 1935.
  • For You with Love (juvenile), Golden Press, 1961.
  • Long Feud: Selected Poems, Harcourt, 1962.
  • One and One and One (juvenile), Crowell-Collier, 1962.
  • This Is Your Day (juvenile), Golden Press, 1964.
  • Labyrinth of Love, Simon & Schuster, 1965.
  • Thanks: A Poem (juvenile), Odyssey, 1965.
  • Thinking of You (juvenile), Golden Press, 1968.
  • A Friend Indeed, Golden Press, 1968.
  • You: A Poem, (juvenile), illustrations by Martha Alexander, Golden Press, 1969.


  • From Another World (1935)
  • Bygones (1965)

Essay collections

  • American Poetry Since 1900 (1923)
  • The Forms Of Poetry (1926)
  • Play in Poetry (1938)
  • Doorways to Poetry (1938)
  • The Lowest Form of Wit (1947)
  • The Pursuit of Poetry (1969)

Critical collections

Fictional volumes

  • Moses (1923)
  • The Fat of the Cat and Other Stories
  • The Donkey of God and Other Stories (1932)
  • The Kitten Who Barked (1962), illustrator: Lilian Obligado
  • The Second Christmas (1964), illustrator: Louis Marak
  • Cat O' Nine Tales (1971), illustrator: Lawrence DiFiori
  • The Dog of Pompeii(1915)


  • Heinrich Heine: Paradox and Poet (1937)
  • Makers of the Modern World (with John Moore) (1955)
  • Makers of the Modern World selections, Japanese translation (1971)

Anthologies, as editor or compiler

  • Modern American Poetry (1919) (2nd edition, 1921; 6th edition, 1942)
  • Modern British Poetry (1920) (5th edition, 1942)
  • Modern American and British Poetry (1919)
  • Yesterday and Today (1926)
  • New Songs for New Voices (1928), with Clara and David Mannes, illustrator: Peggy Bacon
  • A Treasury of Great Poems (1942, 1955)
  • The Golden Treasury of Poetry (1959), illustrator: Joan Walsh Anglund
  • Story Poems (1946, 1972)
  • Early American Poets (1952)
  • An Uninhibited Treasury of Erotic Poetry (1963)
  • A Galaxy of Verse (1978)
  • Men and Women: the Poetry of Love (1970), illustrator: Robert J. Lee
  • Collins Albatross Book of Verse (1933, 1960)
  • Stars To Steer By (1941)
  • Lots of Limericks (1961), illustrator: R. Taylor
  • The Book of Living Verse (1932, 1945)
  • Rainbow in the Sky (1935), illustrator: Reginald Birch
  • A Treasury of Laughter (1946)
  • An Anthology of New England Poets (1948)
  • The Best Humor of 1949-1950 (with Ralph E. Shikes, 1950)
  • The Best Humor Annual (with Ralph E. Shikes, 1951)
  • The Best Humor Annual (with Ralph E. Shikes, 1952)
  • The Magic Circle (1952)
  • A Treasury of Ribaldry (1956)
  • The Britannica Library of Great American Writing (1960)
  • Big and Little Creatures (1961), with Bryna Ivens Untermeyer
  • Beloved Tales (1962), with Bryna Ivens Untermeyer
  • Old Friends and Lasting favorites (1962), with Bryna Ivens Untermeyer
  • Fun and Fancy (1962), with Bryna Ivens Untermeyer
  • Creatures Wild and Tame (1963), with Bryna Ivens Untermeyer
  • The Golden Book of Poems for the Very Young (1971)
  • A Treasury of Great Humor (1972)

Adapted or translated books

  • Poems of Heinrich Heine (1917)
  • The Wonderful Adventures of Paul Bunyan (1946), illustrator: Everett Gee Jackson
  • More French Fairy Tales (1946), illustrator: Gustave Doré
  • Cyrano de Bergerac (1954), illustrator: Pierre Brissaud
  • Aesop's Fables (1965), illustrator: A. and M. Provensen
  • Songs of Joy from the Book of Psalms (1967), illustrator: Joan Berg Victor
  • Tales from the Ballet (1968), illustrator: A. and M. Provensen
  • A Time for Peace (1969), illustrator: Joan Berg Victor
  • The World's Great Stories (1964)
  • The Firebringer (1968)
  • Lines to a Pomeranian Puppy Valued at $3500 (1950), musical adaptation of Untermeyer poem by Irving Ravin


  1. See for example his criticism of Wallace Stevens's Harmonium, including such poems as Frogs Eat Butterflies. Snakes Eat Frogs. Hogs Eat Snakes. Men Eat Hogs.
  2. "Poet Laureate Timeline: 1961-1970". Library of Congress. 2008. Retrieved 2008-12-19.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Staff writers (8 January 1983). "Esther Untermeyer, 88; A Zionist and Ex-Judge". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-12-21.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Bennett Cerf (23 January 1968). "Interview #16, pp. 732-733" (audio/transcript) (Interview). Interviewed by Robert Hawkins. Retrieved 2008-12-21. Unknown parameter |program= ignored (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. page from tv.com with Suzanne Astorino's notation of a destroyed kinescope that she obtained from What's My Line? producer Gil Fates who had recorded the information
  6. page from tv.com with Suzanne Astorino's notation of a destroyed kinescope that she obtained from What's My Line producer Gil Fates who had recorded the information
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 7.6 7.7 7.8 Miller, Arthur (1987). Timebends: A Life. Grove Atlantic, Inc. pp. 262–4. ISBN 9780802100153.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links