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I’ve decided to start blogging again as I make this film.
The first topic to choose was a no-brainer. My documentary deals a good bit with the topic of sex, and sex sells. It even sells blog posts.
Percy and Harriet espoused what they called “free love,” along with socialism and atheism, at the turn of the century, even though Harriet was a circumspect Christian from a strong religious family when she first met Percy on a train in 1893.
This was all way before the hippies’ sexual revolution of the 1960s. And the 60s wasn’t a gradual thing. The effort of the Progressives like my great grandparents died rather suddenly with the emergence of World War II. First, I’m guessing, because too much was at stake on a world level to be jacking around back home on moral issues. (Reminds me of the rugby team guys in South America whose plane crashed in the mountains for months. They said there were never any dirty jokes or swear words spoken—they needed God’s help too much.)
The second reason was the exposing of eugenics. Americans were dabbling in it, but the Nazis were deep into human breeding and gene selection, selecting males over females, lighter over darker, and all the things that come along with acting like God.
The Progressives, like Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, the largest performer of abortions in the world (and a buddy of my great grandparents), were deep into eugenics. “More children for the fit, less for the unfit” was on the masthead of Sanger’s birth control newsletter. I’m guessing that this association with eugenics was part of the reason the sexual views of the Progressives were also left behind for a “Father Knows Best” era until the 60s came along.
It’s pretty clear my great grandfather was running around with lots of young girls. He was a gynecologist in Hollywood, an abortionist (possibly handy on a personal level), and lived next door to the “Denishawn Dancers,” a world class dance troupe. These girls hung out all day at the house (and at night, too, I imagine), and their daughter ends up writing a lot about it in her journal decades later. That’s how we know all about it.
It’s pretty normal for a cad to run around with various women. But I regularly get asked, “Do you think your great grandmother was sleeping around?”
I have no way of knowing for sure, but I suspect she did not. Her quotes from the journal seem to espouse a kind of high minded “Free Love” that one should be open to for making the world more open. Did she experiment a little here and there? Don’t know. I would think probably a few times to fit in with her radical crowd. But her ultimate reaction to Percy’s philandering—extreme jealousy and depression—indicates to me that she never personally embraced the lifestyle.
How it all pans out is the point of the documentary, so I will leave a little bit unsaid to keep you on your seat. But one of the points, I think, is a reminder that “there is nothing new under the sun.” Think you or your parents are sexual progressives? Ummm . . . someone’s already been there, done that. And it’s a lot more complicated than you think.