Behrens Video Archive

COOK: The Man Who Taught Gertrude Stein to Drive


COOK: The Man Who Taught Gertrude Stein to Drive


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Cook, William Edwards, 1881-1959; Stein, Gertrude, 1874-1946--Friends and associates;

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This is a sixty-minute voice-over film biography of the life of William Edwards Cook (1881-1959), an American expatriate artist, who grew up in Iowa, but spent his adult life in Europe, living in Paris, Rome, and Majorca. More specifically, it is a detailed account of the nearly life-long friendship of Cook with the American writer Gertrude Stein. It is based on her frequent adulation of him in her writings, as well as on the contents of 250 pages of their unpublished correspondence. Cook was never a well-known artist, but he did acquire some renown for two other reasons: In 1907, he was the first American artist to be allowed to paint a portrait of Pope Pius X. Later, in 1926, he used his inheritance to commission the then-unknown Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier to design an early Modernist home (the "first true cubist house") in Boulogne-sur-Seine, which is still intact, and widely known as Maison Cook or Villa Cook.

The friendship of Gertrude Stein and William Edwards Cook (including the roles of their partners, Alice B. Toklas and Jeanne Moallic Cook) was first documented in COOK BOOK: Gertrude Stein, William Cook and Le Corbusier (Bobolink Books, 2005). This video talk corrects, updates, and adds to the information in that book.

This film project (as well as the earlier book) was made possible by the earlier work of such Stein scholars as Ulla Dydo, Bruce Kellner, and Rosalind Moad, as well as the Stein / Cook correspondence in the collection of the Beinecke Library at Yale University.

In 2005, when the book was released, Ulla Dydo (the pre-eminent expert on Stein, and author of The Language that Rises) praised it in the following way: "This book jumps out at my eyes, my ears. It comes from everywhere, never drags those even blocks of print that dull the mind. Look at it, read it, let it tease you: It's researched with all the care that keeps its sense of humor and its visual and voice delights. Travel with it, leave home, go and explore the many ways for a book to be a house for living."

The distinguished critic Guy Davenport wrote: "This is as good as topnotch Behrens gets!"

This film is not without humor, and at times it shares surprises. It may prove of particular value to viewers who are interested in American literature, Modernism, art, expatriates, Paris, Majorca, the American Midwest, Iowa, art history, the training of artists, Cubism, Picasso, Le Corbusier, LGBT, and gender identity issues. Written, produced and narrated by Roy R. Behrens ©2022.


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UNI ScholarWorks, Rod Library, University of Northern Iowa



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COOK: The Man Who Taught Gertrude Stein to Drive