by Patricia Grandjean
Jul 19, 2011
01:46 PMBox Office
The Ties that Grind
And you thought your family tree was twisted. Katharine Weber—Bethany resident, former Connecticut Magazine contributor and acclaimed author of the novels The Music Lesson, Triangle and True Confections—has finally turned her attention to the real-life story of her talented and fortunate, but decidedly eccentric, forebears. The aptly titled The Memory of All That (Crown Publishers; $24) hits bookstores today.
We say "aptly titled" because a key figure in Weber's colorful family is maternal grandmother Kay Swift, an accomplished composer (and the first woman to score a hit Broadway show, Fine and Dandy), who carried on a 10-year affair with George Gershwin during her marriage to James Paul Warburg, banker, economist and Franklin D. Roosevelt's financial advisor/nemesis. J.P.'s father, Paul M. Warburg, was the architect of the Federal Reserve System, the model for Little Orphan Annie's Daddy Warbucks and, during the late 1920s, "the Cassandra of Wall Street"—for his unheeded warnings about the stock market crash of 1929. Meanwhile, Paul's older brother Aby Warburg rejected the family professions of finance and law, and their Jewish religious rituals, to become a respected art historian and cultural theorist, albeit one ultimately institutionalized for depression and schizophrenia.
Later, Weber's mother Andrea Swift Warburg married aspiring movie director Sidney Kaufman, who made propaganda and training films for the OSS during World War II, going on to produce 1960's Behind the Great Wall. It was the first movie with scents, called AromaRama, a concept that Kaufman stole from Mike Todd Jr., who released Scent of Mystery with Smell-O-Vision just a few weeks later. Ultimately, it would be John Waters who got the last laugh on this front with his 1981 movie Polyester, to which he attached the scratch'n'sniff card gimmick called "Odorama." Weber would later discover that her father spent 40 years under FBI surveillance (read here for more on that subject, discussed during a Connecticut Magazine interview last year).
All this makes The Memory of All That a great, funny, vexing read. By the way, Benedict Arnold is a Weber ancestor, too—bet he never imagined that his successors would turn him into an afterthought.The Ties that Grind