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Donald Benson Blanding (1894-1957) was an American poet, sometimes described as the "poet laureate of Hawaii." He was also a journalist, cartoonist, author and speaker.
|Born||November 7, 1894|
|Died||June 9, 1957(aged 62)|
Blanding was born in Kingfisher, Oklahoma. He later grew up alongside Lucille "Billie" Cassin (later known as Joan Crawford), later assisting her after she cut her foot on a broken milk bottle. Blanding would later make this incident the focus of a poem he wrote when the two met years later. He trained between 1913 and 1915 at the Art Institute of Chicago.
He enlisted (for a year, or the duration of World War I plus up to six months) in the Canadian Army's 97th ("American Legion") Battalion. He then trained with them for trench warfare for eight months in 1916, but left under unknown circumstances a few days before the unit shipped out for Europe. Blanding would omit reference to that service and training a year later when joining the U.S. military.
Blanding became fascinated by Hawaii and moved there in 1915, staying until his enlistment in the U.S. Army in December, 1917. Entering as an infantry private, he underwent officer training and was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant before being discharged in December, 1918, soon after the Armistice.
Blanding pursued further art studies in 1920, in Paris and London, traveled in Central America and the Yucatan, and returned to Honolulu in 1921. Finding work as an artist in an advertising agency, he happened into two years of writing poems published daily in the Honolulu Star Bulletin for an advertiser. These featured local people and events, and became well-known and popular – whether because of or in spite of always mentioning the Aji-No-Moto brand of MSG.
The popularity of these ad-poems led Blanding to follow the advice of newspaper colleagues by publishing a collection of his poetry in 1923. When his privately published 2000 copies quickly sold out, he followed it with a commercially published edition the same year, and with additional verse and prose books. For his fifth book in 1928, he no longer used a local or West Coast publisher, but the New York publisher Dodd, Mead & Company. The result, Vagabond's House, was reviewed promptly by The New York Times, and was a great commercial success. By 1948 it went through nearly fifty printings in several editions that together sold over 150,000 copies.
In 1927, he suggested and founded the annual holiday, Lei Day, in Hawaii. While he remained strongly attached to Hawaii, his connections to the world of celebrities drew him often to the mainland, and his income made hotel life and multiple residences feasible. Blanding married the socialite, Dorothy Binney Putnam, on June 13, 1940, and they lived together in Fort Pierce, Florida.
Blanding was strongly affected by U.S. entry into World War II, including the knowledge of his island paradise as a military target, the reactions of those he met on his lecture tours, and the fall of Bataan. Bataan surrendered April 9, 1942, while he was on tour, and he wrote "Bataan Falls", 16 emotional lines in response. On April 25, he enlisted as a private at the age of 47. He served eleven months in the 1208th Service Corps Unit, Infantry, and was discharged as a corporal.
He divorced in June 1947, leaving no descendants. Blanding died of a heart attack at his home in Los Angeles on June 9, 1957 at the age of 62.
He published his long poem "Vagabond's House" several times. (It was in the first, private, printing of Leaves from a Grass-House in 1923; the commercially published edition of the same book, later that year, included it with the title changed to "Aloha House". In 1928 he restored the original "Vagabond's House" title, making it the title poem of another collection.) Its detailed fantasy begins
- When I have a house – as I sometime may –
- I'll suit my fancy in every way.
then describes a home filled with the mostly exotic mementos its poet collected in years of wandering the world's seaports – or at least might have collected if his travels had not interfered – and closes by admitting
- It's just a dream house anyway.
Blanding as an artistEdit
Blanding's paintings often portray undersea views, flowers and branches. Underwater Scene, from c. 1927-30, demonstrates his use of sharp outlines and lack of shading. His ink drawings are a powerful part of his many literary publications. From 1938 to 1942, Don Blanding designed Hawaiian themed tableware for Vernon Kilns, near Los Angeles, California. The patterns he designed are Aquarium, Coral Reef, Delight, Ecstasy, Glamour, Hawaii, Hawaiian Flowers, Hilo, Honolulu, and Lei Lani.
- Leaves from a Grass-House
- 2000-copy private printing – 1923
- commercial publication – 1923
- Paradise Loot – 1925
- Flowers of the Rainbow – 1926
- The Virgin of Waikiki – 1926
- Vagabond's House – 1928
- Also published under the title Aloha House
- Hula Moons – 1930
- Songs of the Seven Senses – 1931
- Stowaways in Paradise – 1931
- Let Us Dream – 1933
- Memory Room – 1935
- Pictures of Paradise - 1936
- The Rest of the Road – 1937
- Drifter's Gold – 1939
- Floridays – 1941
- Pilot Bails Out – 1943
- Today is Here – 1946
- Mostly California – 1948
- A Grand Time Living – 1950
- Joy is an Inside Job – 1953
- Hawaii Says Aloha – 1955
- No Strings on Tomorrow – Unpublished
- Spoto, Donald. Possessed: The Life of Joan Crawford. William Morrow, 2010. p8-9.
- Piekarski, Vicki. The Max Brand Companion. Greenwood, 1996, p56-57.
- Olins, Gwen. Olins, Evan. Lei in a Bottle: Collecting Hawaiian Perfume Bottles. Hula Moon Press, 2008. p27
- Obafẹmi, Jacob. Olupọna, Kehinde. Beyond Primitivism: Indigenous Religious Traditions and Modernity. Taylor & Francis, 2007. p329-331
- Papanikolas, Theresa and DeSoto Brown, Art Deco Hawai'i, Honolulu, Honolulu Museum of Art, 2014, p. 43,
- Vernonware Pattern Identification Gallery
- Vernon Kilns Dinnerware
- Blackstone, Lillian. "Floridays" by Don Blanding Glamorizes State's Charm. St. Petersburg Times. Nov 15, 1941. p35