It's time to put the story to rest ...

This original story below appeared in Red Flame, A Thelemic Research Journal
Issue No.3 Friends & Acquaintances of Aleister Crowley, (1996) pgs. 94-97

MICHAEL HAMBURGER 1

With this chapter we need to begin by discussing a story which seemingly has little to do with Michael Hamburger but in the end the connection will become more apparent. It is an unusual story which the author John Symonds claims Aleister Crowley had told him. John Symonds had only recently met Aleister Crowley on May 3rd 1946 and the particular incident in question took place later in the summer of 1946. In his 1951 biography about Aleister Crowley, titled The Great Beast, Symonds claims that Crowley “explained that recently an army officer had shown such a distasteful face when he prepared himself for the syringe that he had gone next door to the bathroom. He added drily: I left the bedroom door open, and from behind the bathroom door I bent down to the keyhole and began to squeal like a stuck pig. When I came out I found my poor friend had almost fainted.” 2

Around 1978, this author had the opportunity to personally discuss this story at length with the late Grady Louis McMurtry. 3 We were sitting in my parlor in Connecticut, just talking about typical Crowley stories when I queried him regarding this incident in question. Although the young army officer in the story was unidentified, many had honestly voiced an opinion that the story was actually about Grady. I simply wanted to know if it was true, so I decided to go straight to the horse’s mouth and ask. After carefully reading the above story Grady laughed heartily and stated in no uncertain terms that the story definitely wasn’t about him. He explained that when this incident supposedly occurred, he (Grady) had already been through the battles of Normandy, Northern France and the Battle of the Bulge! He continued and jokingly said that it’s highly unlikely a little needle would have bothered him. In all fairness Grady laughed again and continued saying, ‘who knows, it was so long ago it might have happened.’ If it did he just didn’t remember it, but he rather doubted it. 

However, in a later release of his Crowley biography in 1989, renamed The King of the Shadow Realm, Aleister Crowley his life and magic, 4 John Symonds finally identified this young army officer as ‘Grady MacMurtry’{sic}. 5 But there is a slight problem with this story. In all his earlier releases of this book, under its numerous rewrites, Symonds had never identified the young army officer. Only years after Grady McMurtry had died does Symonds finally decide to identify the army officer. However, are his assumptions correct?  Was it really Grady?

It seems even more unlikely because Crowley told Symonds that “recently an army officer” had visited, implying it was during the summer of 1946. We know for a fact that the last time Grady McMurtry saw Aleister Crowley was in June of 1945, well over a year before the above incident occurred. This length of time can hardly be termed ‘recently’ in anyone’s mind. We further know that Grady had met Aleister Crowley in October of 1943 and visited him often over the years. Thus, Crowley injecting heroin would have been an experience he saw rather early on in their relationship. Therefore, if it bothered him it wouldn’t have been at his last visit in June of 1945. Finally, and most importantly, Grady McMurtry was already back in the United States when the incident in question occurred, having arrived in New York in November 1945 after his army discharge.  He wasn’t even in England in 1946 when the incident occurred.

Now, if this story was not about Grady McMurtry, who could Crowley have been referring to? We do know that there was another ‘young army officer’ who visited Aleister Crowley in the summer of 1946 at the time when the above incident supposedly happened. It was Michael Hamburger. In August of 1946, when Hamburger was a young British army officer, he left Italy where he was stationed for a short visit home. While back in England a friend, whom Hamburger never identifies in his biography, 6 takes him to visit the Great Beast. Aleister Crowley’s diary helps clarify some of the mystery regarding the identity of Hamburger‘s friend. Crowley wrote, “Fri. 30 {August 1946} ... vision of Louis & J.S.!!!! The later came—me unready!—with a Poet & Baudelaire lover named Michael Hamburger.” 7 Throughout this period in Crowley’s diary, he mentions ‘J.S.’, ‘John S.’ and of course ‘John Symonds’, all one and same person.

This incident is further discussed in Hamburger‘s own biography titled String of Beginnings, where he wrote: “During that leave a friend took me to see Aleister Crowley at Hastings. He was in a relatively genial mood and put no curse on me—as he did on my sister-in-law-to-be when the same friend took her to see him—even though we were in competition over Baudelaire, having both translated prose poems by him. Crowley disappeared from time to time behind a screen to inject himself with heroin. He was also drinking whisky or brandy.  We talked about Baudelaire and other things. I was less impressed by his intellect or his ‘wickedness’ than by the sheer physical stamina that kept him not only alive but active and vigorous, after excesses that would have killed a whole stableful of horses. He didn’t seem to notice the incongruity of his last retreat, a boarding house that seemed deserted and remote, though quite comfortable.”

Hamburger continued with a rather funny story regarding his friend John Symonds‘ biography on the Great Beast. “Even if he (Crowley) put no curse on me something rather sinister happened years later, when I was living in a Campden Hill Gardens flat. In the corner of the book-case that contained a few of his books and John Symonds’ biography of him, giant fungi appeared. Before these had been diagnosed as dry-rot—they didn’t look dry to me—the rot had eaten through several books on either side, leaving his intact. I began to wonder whether he hadn’t cursed me, under his breath.” 9 One wonders why Hamburger considered it a curse from Aleister Crowley that Symonds‘ book did not show signs of dry-rot instead of the source being Symonds himself, since it was his book.

Anyway, there is no proof that the incident in John Symonds book actually relates to Michael Hamburger, but it is obvious that it is not about Grady Louis McMurtry. This is where the actual confusion comes. Symonds personally knew Michael Hamburger and introduced him to the Great Beast—they were friends. Symonds should have known the difference between his friend Michael Hamburger and Grady McMurtry. Unless, as some believe, Crowley never identified ‘this young army officer’ to John Symonds and he is simply ‘guessing’ after all these years as to whom the individual was that Crowley was referring, not realizing that it was his own friend Michael Hamburger. The truth may never be known at this stage but the fact remains, according to Michael Hamburger‘s own biography, he had visited the Great Beast in August of 1946, not Grady, and this is further confirmed by Crowley’s own diary. 


FOOTNOTES:

  1 This entire story is taken almost verbatim from the extended biography on the life of Grady Louis
McMurtry, titled The Warrior Troubadour. It was edited from the previously released shortened
version which is found in RED FLAME No. 1, 1994.
  2 John Symonds, The Great Beast, The Life of Aleister Crowley (New York: Roy Publishers, 1952), p.
295.
  3 Grady Louis McMurtry (1918-1985), Frater Superior of the Ordo Templi Orientis who succeeded to
the office after the death of Karl Germer. He joined the OTO in 1941 during World War II and
was stationed in England where he met Aleister Crowley shortly before the invasion at
Normandy. 
  4 John Symonds, The King of the Shadow Realm, Aleister Crowley his life and magic
(London: Duckworth, 1989). In later version of this book titled The Beast 666, The
Life of Aleister Crowley (London: The Pindar Press 1997) the story about Grady
McMurtry still appears (p. 583) but in the Index under McMurtry the page
reference is ‘omitted’ making it now hard to find.
  5 Ibid., p. 576.
  6 Michael Hamburger, String of Beginnings (London: Skoob Books Publishing, 1991).
  7 Aleister Crowley, unpublished diary, 1946, p. 15.
  8 Hamburger, p. 174.
  9 Ibid.





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