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Philip Sparrow Tells All

Lost Essays by Samuel Steward, Writer, Professor, Tattoo Artist

Edited by Jeremy Mulderig
With a Foreword by Justin Spring

Philip Sparrow Tells All

Lost Essays by Samuel Steward, Writer, Professor, Tattoo Artist

Edited by Jeremy Mulderig
With a Foreword by Justin Spring
Samuel Steward (1909–93) was an English professor, a tattoo artist for the Hells Angels, a sexual adventurer who shared the considerable scope of his experiences with Alfred Kinsey, and a prolific writer whose publications ranged from scholarly articles to gay erotica (the latter appearing under the pen name Phil Andros). Perhaps his oddest authorial role was as a monthly contributor between 1944 and 1949 to the Illinois Dental Journal, an obscure trade publication for dentists, where writing as Philip Sparrow he produced a series of charming, richly allusive, and often quirky essays on a wildly eclectic assortment of topics.

In Philip Sparrow Tells All, Jeremy Mulderig has collected thirty of these engaging but forgotten columns, prefacing them with revealing introductions that relate the essays to people and events in Steward’s life and to the intellectual and cultural contexts in which he wrote during the 1940s. In these essays we encounter such famous friends of Steward as Gertrude Stein, André Gide, and Thornton Wilder. We hear of his stint as a holiday sales clerk at Marshall Field’s (where he met and seduced fellow employee Rock Hudson), of his roles as an opera and ballet extra in hilariously shoddy costumes, of his hoarding tendencies, his disappointment with the drabness of men’s fashions, and his dread of turning forty. We go along with him to a bodybuilding competition and a pet cemetery, and together we wander the boulevards of Paris and the alleys of Algiers. Throughout, Mulderig’s entertaining annotations explain the essays’ wide-ranging allusions and also highlight their gay subtext, which constituted a kind of private game that Steward played with his mostly oblivious audience of Midwestern dentists.

The first collection of any of Samuel Steward’s writings to be republished since his death in 1993, Philip Sparrow Tells All makes these lost essays available to a broad readership that Steward imagined but never actually enjoyed when he wrote them. In doing so, it takes a major step toward documenting his important place in twentieth-century gay literature and history.

256 pages | 17 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2015

Chicago and Illinois

Culture Studies

Gay and Lesbian Studies

History: American History


“This remarkable collection assembles Steward’s essays for an unlikely venue: the Illinois Dental Journal. Steward, a once-neglected figure in queer history, palled around with Gertrude Stein, kept a ‘stud file’ of his sexual conquests, and ran a successful tattoo parlor catering to sailors. In 1944, he was asked by his dentist, the journal’s editor, to write a column providing a ‘worm’s-eye view’ of dentistry. The essays that followed, under the pen name Philip Sparrow, were elegantly constructed, bitingly funny, and likely to be utterly baffling to the original readership—particularly the coded gay references.”

Publishers Weekly, starred review

“I suspected, for a moment, that Philip Sparrow Tells All was a prank, either by the University of Chicago Press or on it. The essays of a tattoo artist recovered from 70-year-old issues of the Illinois Dental Journal? Come on. . . . With the measure of safety provided by a pseudonym—and also by the less-than-mass circulation of the Illinois Dental Journal—Steward experimented with the comic, personal and confessional modes of the casual essay in ways that might have been difficult to risk otherwise.”

Times Higher Education

“Talent plus obscurity in a research subject mix to make an irresistible cocktail for almost any scholar. Samuel Steward (1909-1993), also known by his pen name and alter ego ‘Philip Sparrow,’ possesses both in intoxicating quantities, making it easy to see why editor Jeremy Mulderig has worked so hard to bring this figure further into the light in Philip Sparrow Tells All: Lost Essays by Samuel Steward, Writer, Professor, Tattoo Artist. . . . The collection is well worth reading, both for the quality of writing in the essays themselves and for the importance of Steward as a figure who stands as a key rediscovery for Chicago’s history in particular and for LGBTQ history in general.”

Chicago Tribune

“At first blush, these essays may seem like gay esoterica, exemplary bits of camp. But they’re more than that. Mr. Mulderig saw fit to gather and annotate them because they are very good—a curious mix of frivolity and erudition, peacockery and restraint. They’re a lost chronicle from a one-of-a-kind writer who spent five years hiding in plain sight. . . . Seductive and entertaining.”

New York Times

“How wonderful that Mulderig has reclaimed these lost gems of gay writing. The personal essays in this collection are written from a queer perspective at a time when censorship and homophobia were rampant. It is all the more remarkable considering they were published in the obscure Illinois Dental Journal between the years of 1944 and 1949. . . . Be it a sensitive prophecy of the difficulties soldiers will have reintegrating into American society after World War II or a humorous take on male fashion, Steward’s range of subject matter is impressive.”

Lambda Literary

“A must-read for anyone interested in LGBT history.”

Daily Kos

“Fans of Samuel Steward will pounce upon Phil Sparrow Tells All, which brings forth from near-total obscurity 30 of the 50 essays Steward wrote between 1944-49 for, get this, the Illinois Dental Journal. . . . Each essay is entertainingly introduced by editor Mulderig, an Emeritus Professor of English at the DePaul University. As Steward plays peek-a-boo with the reader, Mulderig annotates the gay subtext. Between the editor and the author, erudition is all over the place. All told, these essays reconfirm Steward's important place in 20th-century gay literature.”

Bay Area Reporter

Table of Contents

Sources Cited by Short Title
Textual Note
Introduction: Reading Samuel Steward’s Lost Essays, 1944–49
1          The Victim’s Viewpoint: On Sublimated Sadism; or, the Dentist as Iago (January 1944)
2          On Cryptography (October 1944)
3          On Alcoholics Anonymous (November 1944)
4          On Fifteen Years of Lent (January 1945)
5          On Soldiers and Civilians (February 1945)
6          On How to Cook a Wolf (March 1945)
7          On How to Be a Spy (April 1945)
8          On Psychiatry (May 1945)
9          On Balletomania (June 1945)
10        On Books from Prison (September 1945)
11        On Cemeteries (October–November 1945)
12        On a Call to Paris (March 1946)
13        On the Importance of Dying Young (April 1946)
14        On Chicago (August 1946)
15        On Operas and Operating (December 1946)
16        On Men and Their Feathers (January 1947)
17        On Gertrude Stein (February 1947)
18        On Little White Ribbons (March 1947)
19        On Being Musclebound (April 1947)
20        On Teaching (November 1947)
21        On Fabulous, Fabulous Field’s (January 1948)
22        On Fair, Fantastic Paris (April 1948)
23        On Ulysses, Grown Old (May 1948)
24        On the Comic Spirit (June 1948)
25        On Keepsakes, Gew-Gaws, and Baubles (September 1948)
26        [On Mohammed Zenouhin] (October 1948)
27        On the Dream, the Illusion (December 1948)
28        On Time-Saving Devices (February 1949)
29        On Getting to Be Forty (May 1949)
30        A Modest Proposal (July 1949)
Appendix 1: Essays in the Illinois Dental Journal by Philip Sparrow
Appendix 2: Book-Review Articles in the Illinois Dental Journal by Samuel Steward

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