During my early research for preparing this website, I got to know producer Michael Danahy, who was friends with Richard Amsel during the artist's early career in New York. I finally met him face to face in the summer of 2015, when he agreed to interview for the documentary. There's much more I'll be writing about later on concerning our exchanges, particularly in context to the film. Suffice to say Michael has his share of extraordinary stories and insight. I'm glad and lucky to know him.
Michael owned of one of Amsel's original pieces - a paperback book cover illustration for Eleanora Duse, given to Michael by the artist himself. "He was planning to throw it out to make more room in his apartment," Danahy said, "so I asked him if I could have it." Ever the bargain hunter for films to show on his beloved movie nights, Amsel offered Danahy the painting in exchange for some of his Disney reels.
I remember drooling over this original artwork when I first saw it in person years ago. Its art nouveau influence, with dramatic ornamental gold curves and illustrated frame, always haunted me.
When Michael recently reconnected with me regarding a new photo of Amsel's RIVER OF NO RETURN artwork, I couldn't help but ask...did he still have the beloved Eleanora?
Danahy did -- prompting me to throw caution to the wind and offer (beg) to buy her from him. Thus, Eleanora traveled from one loving home to another...and I had to redecorate my living room:
Keep in mind, Richard Amsel was only 23 when he did this.
This of course begs the question, who was Eleanora Duse? *
I've owned Jean Stubbs' biography for years, but never bothered to open it until now. Duse (pronounced Doo-zay) was a fascinating figure -- a titan of the dramatic stage, rivalled only by Sarah Bernhardt in their time. Unlike Bernhardt, however, Duse was intensely private and reclusive, shunning any public persona in order to lose herself in her roles. (Perhaps this is the reason Duse remains lesser known today. Not to mention Bernhardt's divine fortune of those Alphonse Mucha's poster advertisements.)
Duse had romantic relationships with women and married men, and suffered frequent ill health until her death at 65. Ellen Terry, a famous British actress of the era who knew both Duse and Bernhardt well, observed "How futile it is to make comparisons! Better far to thank heaven for both these women."
* Note: While Amsel's artwork spells the first name as "Eleanora", it was actually "Eleonora". As the misspelling appears on the printed paperback book itself, I doubt it was an error on Amsel's part.