Seward Bishop Collins was born in Pasadena, California, on 22nd April, 1899. His family owned a chain of cigar stores and was given a generous financial allowance and was the heir to a fortune.
Collins attended Princeton University where he became friends with Edmund Wilson and John Peale Bishop. After leaving university Collins moved moved to New York City and in 1920 he was commissioned by Wilson to write articles for Vanity Fair and the The New Republic.
Collins used his wealth to build up a collection of pornography that was said to be the largest in the world. Marion Meade has argued: "Collins took extreme pride in his erotica, although those who remember it say that by today's standards it would be rated tame. What it lacked in sophistication, it more than made up for in quantity, for he was a compulsive buyer. A spectacular number of boxes and trunks were stored at his country house in Connecticut. The really wild items he kept in his Manhattan apartment, which was a virtual gallery of old and new masters." Marc Connelly claimed that whenever he had acquired a new addition to his collection he would invite you back to his apartment for a "nightcap and a look".
Collins developed a fascination for Dorothy Parker. However, the author of Dorothy Parker: What Fresh Hell is This? (1989) has pointed out that: "Dorothy had known Collins casually for several years but paid him slight attention. Not only was he six years her junior, but he was undistinguished physically, being of medium height and pale, mousy coloring. He had an ingratiating smile and was a talker, which annoyed some people, but his friends found him witty and amusing." At the time Parker rejected Collins as she was having a passionate affair with Deems Taylor who was married to the actress, Mary Kennedy. She was also sleeping with the writer, Ring Lardner.
John Keats, the author of You Might as Well Live: The Life and Times of Dorothy Parker (1971) has argued: "Mr Collins was very rich: he was the heir to a national chain of tobacco shops. He paid her debts and gave her money. More than this, he gave her his complete respect, for in addition to being wealthy, Mr Collins was a discriminating patron of the arts. He was editor of The Bookman, a national literary magazine that printed the ranking writers of the day. It seemed to some that Dorothy Parker had at last struck upon an alliance that, if not yet a marriage, was none the less made in heaven, for Mr Collins, in addition to all else, plainly adored her."
Parker became sexually involved with Collins after she ended her affair with Deems Taylor. An extremely wealthy man he gave her many gifts that included a beautiful wristwatch studded with diamonds. Collins also worked as her agent and arranged for her short-story, The Wonderful Old Gentleman, to be sold to the Pictorial Review, where it appeared in January 1926.
Beatrice Ames Stewart, the wife of Donald Ogden Stewart, liked Collins even though most members of the group saw him as being a "mama's boy" and not the right man for Parker: "I've never seen anyone love anybody so much as Sewie loved Dorothy. He was so good to her. He loved her so, oh, how he loved her, and he was just a little dust mop that she used to wipe up the floor with."
Later that year Collins took her on holiday to France and Spain. When they were in Barcelona he took her bullfighting. However, she walked out in protest when the first bull was killed. She told him that she could not understand why he had brought her to witness the killing of defenceless animals when he knew she could not bear their slightest mistreatment. When he replied that the bulls sometimes killed matadors, she commented that they deserved it.
The couple spent Easter in Seville. Parker later recalled that she was appalled by its poverty and backwardness. She also hated the "repulsive habit" of Spanish men pinching women's bottoms. It got so bad that she hated walking the streets. At the same time, she disliked spending time in the hotel room with Collins. Parker had discovered that Collins was not a lover who improved with extended contact.
They then moved on to Paris where they stayed at the Lutetia Hotel near the Luxembourg Gardens. Collins used his time searching for items for his collection of erotica. Dorothy disapproved of this and during one argument she pulled off the diamond watch he had given her and flung it out of the window. Gilbert Seldes later recalled that when Collins retrieved the watch, the relationship virtually came to an end: "what contempt she had for him." Humiliated by the experience, Collins now decided to go home, leaving Parker to follow him later.
Dorothy Parker became very interested in the Bartolomeo Vanzetti and Nicola Sacco case. In 1927 Governor Alvan T. Fuller appointed a three-member panel of Harvard President Abbott Lawrence Lowell, the President of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Samuel W. Stratton, and the novelist, Robert Grant to conduct a complete review of the case and determine if the trials were fair. The committee reported that no new trial was called for and based on that assessment Governor Fuller refused to delay their executions or grant clemency. Walter Lippmann, who had been one of the main campaigners for Sacco and Vanzetti, argued that Governor Fuller had "sought with every conscious effort to learn the truth" and that it was time to let the matter drop.
It now became clear that Sacco and Vanzetti would be executed. Parker was furious and headed for Boston where demonstrations were taking place against the Lowell Report. On 10th August, 1927, Parker was arrested by the police during a demonstration. She was taken to Joy Street Police Station. A crowd followed them shouting "Hang her!" "Kill her!" "Bolsheviki!" and "Red scum". When he heard the news Collins came to bail her out. There were a crowd of reporters waiting for her outside. She responded to their questions by a series of wisecracks: "I thought prisoners who were set free got five dollars and a suit of clothes," she said to loud laughter. She told them that they had not taken her fingerprints "but they left me a few of theirs." Parker then pushed up her sleeves to show off her bruises. The following morning she was found guilty of "sauntering and loitering" and received a five-dollar fine.
In 1927 Collins and Burton Rascoe purchased The Bookman the George H. Doran Company. Rascoe took over as editor and persuaded Upton Sinclair to allow him to serialize Boston in the journal. Collins became editor in 1928 and published Big Blonde, Dorothy Parker's most famous short-story, in February 1929. Franklin Pierce Adams commented that it was the "best short story I have read in so long a time that I cannot say". Later that year it was awarded the O. Henry Prize.
Collins ceased publishing The Bookman in 1933 and replaced it with The American Review. As editor of the journal he published the work of G. K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, T. S. Eliot, and Allen Tate. Collins became increasingly conservative in his outlook and promoted the New Humanism that had developed by Irving Babbitt and Paul Elmer More. Collins wrote: "The American Review is founded to give greater currency to the ideas of a number of groups and individuals who are radically critical of conditions prevalent in the modern world, but launch their criticism from a traditionalist basis."
Collins now developed right-wing political opinions and upset his former left-wing friends by praising Benito Mussolini for creating an ethical state which protected workers and small businesses. In April 1933 he wrote in The American Review: "One would gather from the fantastic lack of proportion of our press - not to say its gullibility and sensationalism - that the most important aspect of the German revolution was the hardships suffered by Jews under the new regime. Even if the absurd atrocity stories were all true, the fact would be almost negligible beside an event that shouts aloud in spite of the journalistic silence: the victory of Hitler signifies the end of the Communist threat, forever. Wherever Communism grows strong enough to make a Communist revolution a danger, it will be crushed by a Fascist revolution."
By 1935 Collins was an outspoken supporter of Adolf Hitler and his rule in Nazi Germany. He was especially pleased with the way Hitler banned left-wing groups such as the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and German Communist Party (KPD). In an interview with Grace Lumpkin in 1936 he stated: "I am a fascist. I admire Hitler and Mussolini very much. They have done great things for their countries." Lumpkin pointed out that Hitler was guilty of persecuting the Jews, Collins replied: "It is not persecution. The Jews make trouble. It is necessary to segregate them."
Michael Jay Tucker argues in his book, And Then They Loved Him: Seward Collins & the Chimera of an American Fascism (2005) that Collins was not really a fascist: " Collins’ utopia is not that of the jack-booted SS man, but rather that of the rural life, the local squire, the parish priest, and the general paternalism of pre-industrial civilization.... Nowhere in Collins do we find a cult of personality, nor a call for a militarized society, nor an organized plan for the imperial expansion of a revitalized nation. All that we do have is a vague anti-modernism. Or, to put it rather more simply, if Collins was a Fascist then he was a poor one indeed, though he would have made a rather good Hobbit."
Collins came under increasing pressure from the Jewish community and The American Review ceased publication in 1937. Along with his wife, Dorothea Brande, a journalist and the author of the best-selling book, Wake Up and Live! (1936), became increasingly interested in psychic phenomena and was involved with the Society for Psychical Research in London.
Seward Collins died on 8th December, 1952. When Dorothy Parker was told of his death by Edmund Wilson, she commented: "I don't see what else he could do," as if he had killed himself. In her eyes he had committed suicide when he had given support to Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler in the 1930s.
(1) Marion Meade, Dorothy Parker: What Fresh Hell is This? (1989)
Collins took extreme pride in his erotica, although those who remember it say that by today's standards it would be rated tame. What it lacked in sophistication, it more than made up for in quantity, for he was a compulsive buyer. A spectacular number of boxes and trunks were stored at his country house in Connecticut. The really wild items he kept in his Manhattan apartment, which was a virtual gallery of old and new masters.
(2) Seward Collins, The American Review (April, 1933)
One would gather from the fantastic lack of proportion of our press - not to say its gullibility and sensationalism - that the most important aspect of the German revolution was the hardships suffered by Jews under the new regime. Even if the absurd atrocity stories were all true, the fact would be almost negligible beside an event that shouts aloud in spite of the journalistic silence: the victory of Hitler signifies the end of the Communist threat, forever. Wherever Communism grows strong enough to make a Communist revolution a danger, it will be crushed by a Fascist revolution.