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Mannes, Marya (1904–1990)

Mannes, Marya (1904–1990)

American writer and social commentator . Name variations: Marya Mannes Blow; (pseudonym) Sec. Born Maria von Heimburg Mannes on November 14, 1904, in New York City; died on September 13, 1990, in San Francisco, California; daughter of David Mannes (a violinist and co-founder of the Mannes College of Music) and Clara Damrosch Mannes (1869–1948, a pianist and co-founder of the Mannes College of Music); married Jo Mielziner (a theatrical designer), in 1926 (divorced 1931); married Richard Blow (an artist), in 1937 (divorced 1943); married Christopher Clarkson, in 1948 (divorced 1966); children: (second marriage) David Jeremy Blow.

Selected writings: (novel)

Message from a Stranger (1948); (essays) More in Anger (1958); (poetry) Subverse (1959); (essays) The New York I Know (1961); But Will It Sell? (1964); (novel) They (1968); (autobiography) Out of My Time (1971); Last Rights (1974).

Marya Mannes achieved renown in the 1940s and 1950s as a writer on a variety of political and cultural matters, but may be best remembered for her incisive portrait of the postwar American psyche. She was born in New York City in 1904, to parents who were both accomplished musicians. Clara Damrosch Mannes was a pianist, and David Mannes was a violinist; they frequently performed together, and, in 1916, would found the Mannes College of Music. Marya Mannes studied Latin, French, and drama at Miss Veltin's School for Girls and accompanied her parents on their trips to Europe. She spent a year abroad at the age of 18 and upon returning to New York began to audition for the stage, before realizing that she was probably too tall (nearly six feet) to achieve success.

She began writing reviews and articles in the 1920s that appeared in Theater Arts, International Studio, and Harper's, and was married to the Broadway scenic designer Jo Mielziner from 1926 to 1931. In 1933, she was hired as features editor at Vogue magazine, a job she quit a few years later when she moved to Florence, Italy, to live with her second husband, artist Richard Blow. During World War II, Mannes worked for the U.S. government in the Office of Strategic Service, the forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency, and also wrote a series of articles about Spain and Portugal, both of which had supposedly neutral status in the conflict but exhibited clear pro-Fascist sympathies. The articles were published in The New Yorker, which also sent her to Jerusalem in 1946, to cover the flood of Jewish refugees from the Holocaust.

Mannes then returned to America and the women's magazine field, and was associated with Glamour for several years. Her first book, Message from a Stranger, was published in 1948. The novel centers around a poet who, after dying, gets a chance to return to earth and learn what her friends really thought of her. In 1952, she began to write pieces for The Reporter under the pen name "Sec." The word is French for "dry," and the erudite Mannes may have thought it an appropriate byline for her articles. Many of these evolved into her 1958 collection of essays, More in Anger. She once stated that she wrote to "communicate clearly and honestly what I see and what I believe about the world I live in"; the book's views on modern life in America, and her not-always-complimentary takes on American culture and mores, attracted no small amount of indignant attention.

Mannes won the George Polk Memorial Award for magazine criticism in 1958 and the following year published a collection of satirical poetry. Subverse was described as "alarmingly funny" by one critic, who went on to note that "[a] gay and diverting subject is introduced … and starts on its merry way and in the second stanza the reader is hit in the stomach." In addition to writing, Mannes worked as a television and radio commentator throughout the 1960s and 1970s, beginning with a stint as host of the television program "I Speak for Myself" in 1959. She freelanced after 1963 and wrote columns for both McCall's and The New York Times. Her autobiography, Out of My Time, appeared in 1971. After suffering a series of strokes, Marya Mannes died in San Francisco on September 13, 1990.


Contemporary Authors, Vol. 132. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1991.

Current Biography. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1959.

Foremost Women in Communications. New York, NY: Foremost Americans Publishing, 1970.

McHenry, Robert, ed. Famous American Women. NY: Dover, 1980.

——. Liberty's Women. Springfield, MA: G.&C. Merriam, 1980.

Carol Brennan , Grosse Pointe, Michigan

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