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Early boyhood in the Depression

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Moving to West Side New York
Frederic Raphael Writer
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I was born a year later in the Grant Hospital in Chicago which had previously been called the German Hospital up until the outbreak of the First World War. We left Chicago quite promptly and went to live in St Louis, and my earliest memories are of living in St Louis where I think my Uncle Louis, my mother's uncle, had a bakery shop... no, not a bakery shop, a bakery. And I remember the flour and the dust and the fresh loaves. And I remember my mother going to sculpture classes. And I remember, I think, a yellow car we had. We left Chicago... we left, I'm sorry, we left St Louis when I was about three or four, and drove because my father had been given a new job in Shell Oil in New York at Rockefeller Center. Quite a promotion. He knew people in Shell at the high levels and that's how he'd gone to America and taken a job in Chicago selling oil to Irish gas station owners who weren't all that thrilled by his English accent, but he seemed to prevail. He had a good deal of charm, my father, when he tried. So we drove north to Ohio and... with my grandmother Fanny in what was called the rumple seat – or was it called the rumble seat? I'm not quite sure which it was; I think it's rumble – of a little Dodge, I think, we had. I'm not sure... maybe it wasn't a Dodge – we got the Dodge later. Anyway, she sat in the outside of the ... under the sun while we were three of us in the front of this little hump-back car, and off we went via Aurora, Illinois, Columbus and then I don't know what, and eventually to New York. And in New York we had an apartment not on Central Park West, but just off in 13 West 70th Street. And I walked up, when I was a little boy, to the corner where there was a Spanish and Portuguese synagogue and I had the idea that there was something rather special about being Spanish and Portuguese as against being what the other thing was. But since I didn't go to the synagogue anyway it didn't really make much difference, but I was conscious without being overly-conscious of being Jewish in that part of New York because, to put it bluntly, almost everybody was. On the West Side of the park there were a lot of Jews; on the East Side of the park there were a lot of what my father always called Christians. I never heard my father say the word goyim or anything of that kind his entire life. He may have known a few Yiddish words – my mother certainly did because of her parents and my grandfather being German, or ex-German – but my father had nothing to do with any of that. Not that he in any way ever denied it, being Jewish I mean, but he really made nothing of it except a certain antique piety so that now and again he would go to synagogue on Yom Kippur because that was a holy day and his father would have liked him to go. Jews are quite keen on doing what their father's would have liked, and in that respect I am not altogether one of them.

Born in America in 1931, Frederic Raphael is a writer who moved to England as a boy. He was educated at Charterhouse School and was a Major Scholar in Classics at St John's College, Cambridge. His articles and book reviews appear in a number of newspapers and magazines, including the Los Angeles Times and The Sunday Times. He has published more than twenty novels, the best-known being the semi-autobiographical The Glittering Prizes (1976). In 1965 Raphael won an Oscar for the screenplay for the movie Darling, and two years later received an Oscar nomination for his screenplay for Two for the Road. In 1999, he published Eyes Wide Open, a memoir of his collaboration with the director Stanley Kubrick on the screenplay of Eyes Wide Shut, Kubrick's final movie. Raphael lives in France and England and became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1964.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: Chicago, St Louis, New York, Shell Oil, Central Park

Duration: 3 minutes, 15 seconds

Date story recorded: March 2014

Date story went live: 13 August 2014