November 3, 2010

Anita Monash, the unmarried years

Anita Kaete Jonas was born June 23, 1928 in Dresden, Germany, to Kurt and Ilse “Ille” Jonas. She seems to have been quite the cute and spoiled little kid. She called her father “Kurtchen,” the diminutive of his given name; hence everybody else, including his patients, called him that as well. (They knew what she called him because she always insisted on answering the telephone.*) Her aunt (childless) and uncle evidently doted on her. Her father was a charmer, and my grandmother wasn’t so bad herself. It was one of those families. 

*Once the patient at the other end of the phone identified herself as the “Prinzessen” something-or-other. At that point in German history Princesses, while not unheard of, were already rare, and evidently my mother hadn’t encountered one before. Her wide eyes grew wider yet. “Sind sie die Prinzessen auf der Erbse??” (I.e., Princess on the Pea.) Hilarity ensued.

Hitler’s takeover in 1933 didn’t affect my mother’s family quite as quickly as my father’s. There were no kids of school age, and no factories to be immediately taken away. Still, things soon got dicey. Like my father, my mother had to be shuttled among private schools that would take her. My grandfather had to spend at least one night away from home after a tip the Gestapo were coming to pick him up. My eminently practical grandmother* rather single-handedly shepherded along the emigration process, over my grandfather’s objections. Eventually, after one lapsed visa, many furious arguments, and one massive heart attack (his), the family landed in the United States.

*You know the stories of how a merchant would send his too-young son on a solo buying or selling trip, which usually resulted in him getting mildly ripped off and hence learning useful lessons about business? My grandmother’s father actually did that with her.

Health and regulations made it hard for my grandfather to quickly start practicing medicine, and so the Jonas family bounced among Chicago, Los Angeles, Palm Springs, Oakland — where my grandfather got a medical job in the Kaiser Shipyards — and then after the war back to the Los Angeles area. There was considerable poverty along the way, with my grandmother at one point selling personalized/embossed pencils door-to-door. My mother went to a total of 21 schools, including 3 her senior year.

Then things calmed down for a while. Back in Germany Kurt Jonas had in essence been a society doctor, having been introduced to Dresden’s thriving artistic community by his sister, the photographer Genja Jonas.* Enough of his patients emigrated to the Beverly Hills/Hollywood area that, postwar, he was able to rebuild that status. My mother enrolled at UCLA in 1946, bumping up against all the GI Bill students. Life was good.

*By the way, so far as I can tell the family history in that German Wikipedia link comes largely from a document my mother wrote.

And then she got sick. Ulcerative colitis is a chronic illness that typically strikes around age 20-22. If you could tolerate the one drug that controlled it, or somehow get by without that drug, you could go on to a normal life (examples: Bill Gates, me). If not, you could be an invalid. And that’s pretty much what happened to my mother.

Since the mid-late 1980s, things have been much less dire for ulcerative colitis patients, as new drugs were invented that almost everybody can tolerate. But by that point, she didn’t even have a colon any more.

Actually, it seems that she was an invalid on-and-off. Still, between her health and some family drama, she didn’t get a lot of traction to her life in her 20s. She dropped out of UCLA one semester before completion (a decision she bitterly regretted for decades). She had one interesting job designing dress patterns, which included some “First woman in an all-male union” maneuverings, but didn’t stay long at that. And the one interesting job that she did keep for a while, she quit for a whole other reason.

My grandfather’s Hollywood connections got my mother one or the other movie-related job. Then as now, being an assistant — i.e. glorified secretary — to a movie figure could be pretty interesting. E.g., she worked for a producer, and one of her duties was screening scripts from the slush pile. She also wound up on set at times and so on. That was the good part. But another of her duties was helping him enforce the McCarthyist blacklist. So soon after experiencing Nazism, she could not abide this. And that was the end of her Hollywood career.

Aged 29, Anita Monash was having one of her better health periods for a while. And of course she was beyond eager to move out of her father’s house and get on with her life. So when an appealing young German to whom she felt an instant connection came to town, she got engaged to him just as quickly and impulsively as he offered marriage.

And that seems a fine place to break things off before the next post. 🙂


One Response to “Anita Monash, the unmarried years”

  1. Surveillance and privacy intrusion — further notes | DBMS 2 : DataBase Management System Services on September 17th, 2013 6:37 am

    […] we can’t just assume that “free” countries will stay safely free. My late mother lost her grandparents to the Nazis and a career to McCarthyism. “If you’ve done nothing […]

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