Friday, October 8, 2010

Dordo and the Defalcator, Part Three

Mr. and Mrs. Willard G. Teed, newlyweds living miles apart and who possibly never did live together, were not mentioned in any of the newspaper accounts of Leonard Teed's crimes. Since (according to Hugh Merrill) Bill Teed was living with his parents, one would think he would at least be referred to in one of the sometimes-colorful articles that appeared in the Yonkers Herald Statesman, but that does not seem to have been the case. His somewhat cryptic remark in his handwritten note to Dordo the previous May ("I will fix it up with you later.") was probably a reference to an agreed upon divorce between the couple, for in early September -- only two weeks after Leonard Teed was transferred from Sing Sing to a minimum security prison in Wallkill -- the couple was in Reno, Nevada and the papers that would put an end to their marriage were filed in the local courts. It seems probable that the divorce had been planned for that summer when School was out and Dorothy could afford to be away from Cazenovia Seminary for the necessary six weeks of Nevada residency required by the state. But the trial had intervened, and once it was over the couple was free to put an end to their very brief marriage. Assuming there were no problems or delays, the final divorce would have been granted in the middle of October 1933.


The timing of the proceeding likely meant that Dorothy didn't teach at Cazenovia Seminary in 1933-34, and Merrill is unclear what she did afterword. Two years after the divorce it was announced in the Yonkers newspaper that Willard Teed was engaged to one Williamina Ramsey of Scarsdale. No date for the future nuptials were given and I have been unable to find any record of a subsequent marriage, although one certainly took place.

Leonard Teed became eligible for parole in December 1939, and applied for his release from prison at that time. Despite the fact that he was considered a model prisoner his request was denied. (How does one not become a model prisoner in a "prison country club"? By complaining that the quiche is curdled?) The parole board ruled that he must serve out at least the minimum sentences, minus time off for "good behavior." Less than two years later, in October 1941, Leonard Teed was released on parole, having served a total of eight years and three months of a possible twenty-year sentence. Now 65-years old, Teed's release was mentioned briefly in the local newspapers, where it was reported that he would be employed at an "upstate camp" in an unnamed New York location. His wife Helen, who had continued to live in the family's White Plains home, joined her husband. At that point Leonard and Helen Teed disappear from the newspapers, but not from other available records.

In 1944 Leonard E. and Helen U. Teed appear in the city directory of Saratoga Springs, New York, a town 175 miles north of White Plains and presumably far enough away for them to be unrecognized by any former neighbors. Leonard got a job as the manager of Steiner's Store, a paint and wallpaper retailer, and the couple lived in a rooming house along with five other tenants at 119 Caroline Street. Sometime between 1944 and 1946 Helen passed away, finishing a life that almost certainly didn't end the way the former tea party hostess and DAR member thought it would. Leonard quickly remarried, to a woman whose first name was Jean, and they are listed together in the city's 1948 directory. They are also listed in the 1950 directory, the last record of Leonard Teed I have been able to uncover. He was 74-years old, still married to Jean, still managing Steiner's and still living in the rambling, Victorian rooming house he and Helen occupied when they first moved to town. Neither Leonard or Jean appear in the city's 1952 directory.

I'm fairly certain that son Willard eventually married Williamina Ramsey. He found his way into the United States Air Force and reached the rank of Colonel, stationed in the Materiel and Operations Branch in Binghamton, New York. A 1961 newspaper account lists him as "deputy chief of staff, materiel, First Region." He and Williamina retired to Florida and lived in Zephyrhills, a suburb of Tampa. Willard died at the age of 71 in May of 1980, and Williamina followed him four years later, passing away in January 1984 aged 75. One wonders if either Bill or Dordo knew that they were living 75 miles from each other at the time of his death.

Dordo did quite nicely herself. A few years after her marriage to Teed she would look back on that brief period of her life with bemusement, remembering her first husband as "just negative." Merrill quotes her from a letter she wrote where she wonders "...how [someone like Teed] gets in your story anyway." She went on to write that he was never "part of [her] and ... never aroused any great emotion -- except relief from something."

She was still in the Syracuse area -- possibly still teaching art at Cazenovia Seminary -- in 1936, three years after her divorce. She had reclaimed her maiden name, so it was Dorothy Prentiss who walked into Fisher's Restaurant in downtown Syracuse in March of that year to be waited on by a tall, blonde, bespectacled college student named Jack MacDonald. The literary world of America would be changed by that meeting.

I wrote in part one of this piece that without Dorothy MacDonald there would be no John D MacDonald writings. Having studied the life and work of JDM, I am reasonably confident in that assertion. John was an artistic soul born to a stern, disciplinary father, a businessman who expected his only son to follow in his own footsteps. John struggled all of his young life trying to find something to do with his life that would make him happy and fulfilled. A lover of the written word, he longed to be a writer but feared that writers, like priests, were born to the vocation and his attempting to "be one" would be revealed as pretense. It took the love and support of Dorothy Prentiss, an artist with an artist's sensibility, who came from a family of "art crazy" people, to provide him the encouragement to do what he always wanted to do.

Reading the few wartime letters that Hugh Merrill quotes in his biography reveals the fact that John's desire to write was not a secret he kept to himself. And it was not, as the famous legend goes, something he merely knocked off because of military censorship. Dorothy's secret submission of "Interlude in India" to Story magazine was only the most obvious act in her role of allowing John to become a writer. In the long run, it was the confidence she had in his abilities, the encouragement and support she gave him, the courage to persevere even through the worrisome beginning months when the money almost ran out, that marks her most important contribution to the role of JDM the writer. Her name never appeared on the cover of any book, but without her, neither would have John D MacDonald's.



An interesting postscript. In 1951 MacDonald published his fourth novel, a violent thriller titled Judge Me Not. The hero was named Teed Morrow, a man who worked for a city manager hired to weed out an utterly corrupt political administration. Teed was a good guy, although he liked to sleep around with the wrong women, and he didn't control public monies or estates, but his first name simply can't be a coincidence. The town is clearly located someplace in upstate New York. Perhaps MacDonald was only using a cool-sounding first name drawn from his wife's past, perhaps he was playing a joke, or perhaps he was trying to communicate something deeper. It's a question that needs to be left for further research.

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