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Historiallisia Papereita 12

B. Traven's Identity Revisited

Tapio Helen

This text is a "working paper" to be developed to a scholarly article by its writer Mr. Helen, who is a senior lecturer (or a docent) in the Department of History in the University of Helsinki, Finland.

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1. B. Traven

Somebody wrote in the 1920's and 30's under the pen name B.Traven twelve books of fiction and one travel book. The books met with success and were translated into many languages, new editions are still (in 2001) being published. B.Traven's manuscripts came from Mexico and were in German; he corresponded with his German publishers and readers, all via a Mexican post office box. Traven refused to give information about himself, his letters were always typed with only a hazy signature written by hand, later even the signature was typed. Nobody ever came forward with his own name to announce that he was the author of B.Traven's books. This is the B.Traven mystery. Who was B.Traven? The man, Hal Croves, through whom the copyright of B.Traven has been transmitted, denied to the end of his days being B.Traven.

The first writing by B.Traven was published in the German newspaper Vorwärts on February 28, 1925. Traven's first somewhat extensive piece of fiction, the "Cotton Pickers" (first book of the subsequent novel of this name), was published in Vorwärts as summer serial the same year. Same autumn Traven sent the publisher the manuscript of his great novel Death Ship and the completing second book of the "Cotton Pickers". In August still the same year he offered to the publisher some stories among them the long ones "Night Visitor" and "Bridge in the Jungle".

In the spring of 1926 novels Death Ship and Wobbly (the two books of "Cotton Pickers"; in later editions the name of the novel has been Cotton Pickers) appeared in print. In August in the same year Traven offered to the publisher the manuscript of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. In 1927 the "Bridge in the Jungle" was Vorwärts' summer serial and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre appeared in print. In 1928 a story collection (Der Busch is its German name) and the travel book Land of Springtime came out. In 1929 the Bridge in the Jungle enlarged to a novel and another novel, the White Rose, was published.

In the 1930's Traven wrote six Jungle novels, a Hexalogy depicting the capitalistic-bureaucratic exploitation system under which the Indians of Southern Mexico lived and the violent rebellion of the Indians. They were published in 1930–1939.

Traven's ideology is socialism and anarchism. He is passionately on the side of the ordinary man. Capitalism and bureaucracy (government, church) make decent life impossible for the ordinary man.

The manuscripts came to publishers which were near the German Social-Democratic Party and trade unions. The newspaper Vorwärts, the first publisher of B.Traven, was the main organ of the German Social-Democratic Party. B.Traven's main publisher was Büchergilde Gutenberg, the publishing community and book-club of German typographers' union.

Traven gained rapidly popularity in Germany, first especially among workers. The 1934 edition of Brockhaus Encyclopedia already has an article about him.

In leftist intellectual circles in Germany conjectures and guesses were made about B.Traven's identity. Was he some German revolutionary who had escaped to Mexico after the revolutionary movement had been crushed in Germany? German language and the ideology of the books fitted this idea. Erich Mühsam put forward a person, Ret Marut. Mühsam had been a revolutionary leader in Munich in the spring of 1919 and Marut had then been his colleague in the Munich revolutionary soviet government. Marut had been a publicist. He had edited a socialist, anti-war and anti-government magazine, Der Ziegelbrenner (Brickburner), during and after the war. He had been imprisoned and sentenced to death by the Whites, but he had managed to flee and had disappeared. He had last been heard of in 1922; at that time he had been in Europe. Mühsam compared Marut's and Traven's texts to each other and became convinced that B.Traven was Marut. Mühsam came to this result as early as 1926, the year Traven's first two novels appeared.

Mühsam did not publish his researches. He was murdered by the Nazis in 1934. After WW2 when B.Traven had become a great case, several persons witnessed that Mühsam's researches had been widely known in those circles and many a person believed that B.Traven was Ret Marut. But Marut was not the only German candidate for B.Traven. There were many German political exiles in Mexico.

The other main theory was (and is) that B.Traven was an American. In Traven's early books, in those which lay complete in 1925 already, Cotton Pickers, Death Ship, Night Visitor, Bridge in the Jungle, the hero who tells the story in first person is an American young man with the name Gerard Gales. He is a migrant worker and labour movement organizer, suspected to be a wobbly, and intermittently a workless tramp; in Death Ship he says that he is a native-born American from Wisconsin; in Cotton Pickers he is a European immigrant to the USA. The three gold prospectors of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre are also gringos, older than Gales but of his kind, American outcasts. The opinions and patterns of thinking of these persons are very (North)American. It was thought that B.Traven told about his own experiences through these characters.

The White Rose is the most (North) American of all B.Traven's books.

The Jungle novels of the thirties give no clue to the author's possible Germanness or Americanness. In them things are viewed from inside the Indian community and from an Indian viewpoint. There is no outside observer and narrator like Gerard Gales.

Traven himself, in letters to his publishers and readers in the 20's, said that he was American and specifically not German. All his works were first published in Germany in German. Of some works we know (e.g. from Traven's letters) that they were originally written in English and then translated into German. So Traven writes in the autumn of 1925 to his publisher that he has readied the novel Death Ship, but the manuscript is in English; he says he can procure a German translation swiftly.

In 1933 Traven sent English manuscripts of three of his novels which had earlier appeared in German (Death Ship, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and Bridge in the Jungle) to Alfred A. Knopf for publication in the USA. He seems to have later sent an English manuscript of the Rebellion of the Hanged (one of the Jungle novels) also. Traven wrote that these English (American) manuscripts were the original ones and the German manuscripts were made from them.

The German and American texts differ considerably from each other; for one thing, the American texts are longer. For example The Treasure of the Sierra Madre whose texts I have collated: the American text is a fourth longer than the German one, and both texts have passages that do not occur in the other.

The American manuscripts were written in a peculiar English, full of Germanisms, said Bernard Smith who edited the texts for the Knopf editions. On the other hand it is said that Traven's German is heavily influenced by English or American.

After WW2 under the name of B.Traven still one novel (Aslan Norval 1960), one long story ("Macario" 1950), and seven short stories in collections were published. These were accepted as genuine by the copyright holders.

2. Filming of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

John Huston wanted to make a movie from The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (the American text, Alfred A. Knopf edition 1935). Warner Bros. bought the rights but the work was interrupted at the outset by the Pearl Harbor attack. When Huston came back from war he had the script almost ready. He corresponded with Traven about the film.

Huston and Traven agreed on a meeting at hotel Bamer in Mexico City at the end of 1946. Traven didn't come. In his stead came a little oldish man who introduced himself as Hal Croves, translator from Acapulco and San Antonio and B.Traven's representative. He had a letter from Traven in which the author said that Croves knew him and his work and opinions equally well as he himself, and that Huston could talk with Croves as if he talked with Traven himself. Huston and Croves discussed Huston's script during a couple of days. Huston invited Croves to be a technical adviser on the filming site; filming was to begin after some months.

Huston and Traven agreed on a new meeting in Acapulco before the filming began. Even this time Traven did not come and Huston met again only Croves. About this meeting in Acapulco we have also the relation of Evelyn Keyes, the wife of Huston.

Huston filmed The Treasure of the Sierra Madre in Mexico from April to June 1947; filming began April 6. Hal Croves was on the crew as a technical adviser.

On March 10, 1947 or about a month before the filming began, the Life magazine ran a story about the mysterious author whose novel The Treasure of the Sierra Madre Warner Bros. were about to turn into a movie. This story "Who Is Bruno Traven?" by William Weber Johnson launched the "Traven Mystery" in America.

Warner Bros. had tried to find Traven for marketing purposes but had not succeeded. Rumour spread out among the crew that the extra member of the crew, Hal Croves, was actually the elusive author B.Traven himself who had come in disguise to see his book being made into a film.

Later, in the "travenological" literature and Huston's biographies and writings about the movie Treasure of the Sierra Madre the story is most often told so that John Huston was convinced that Hal Croves was B.Traven. In his own reminiscences (Pratley ed. 1977 and Huston, An Open Book 1980) Huston tells the case of B.Traven and Hal Croves fairly extensively in connection with the Treasure film. He has followed the Traven/Croves question up till Croves's death and given it thought even thereafter. Huston's opinion is that Hal Croves was not B.Traven, and this had been his opinion in the time of the filming already.

Ever since Huston had met Croves at the Bamer hotel in Mexico City he had thought Croves might be B.Traven and he had observed him from this viewpoint. He had gone on with his observations while visiting with his wife Croves in Acapulco.

Even before he began the filming Huston inclined to the view that Croves was not B.Traven, and before he finished he was sure of the thing. Croves was not B.Traven. Before the filming already, in Acapulco, Huston had had a feeling that Croves was acting, he was trying to give people the impression that he was B.Traven but did not want to be recognized.

On the filming site the crew members endeavoured to extract from Croves an acknowledgement that he was the author B.Traven whose novel they were filming. Huston did not take part in this game. One would ask Croves directly or hintingly if he was Traven. Croves denied or at least didn't concede, presumably he mostly kept silent when so asked. But he behaved in such a manner that one was left with the suspicion or belief that just the same he was B.Traven.

The premiere of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre was in New York on January 23, 1948. Some days earlier, on January 18, NY Times (Section 2) ran a story by Leonard Spinrad about B.Traven, the mysterious author upon whose novel the movie was based. Spinrad tells about the extra man on the filming site but doesn't mention his name. Rumour spread, Spinrad tells, among the crew that this man was the author B.Traven himself in disguise, but before the matter could be cleared up the man disappeared. Spinrad says that eventually "the unit publicity man decided that this visitor was B.Traven". Spinrad does not mention Huston in this connection.

Ten days after the premiere, on Feb. 2, both Life and Time had stories about the Treasure film. Life's story "More About Traven" was written by Dwight Whitney, and the Time story was James Agee's (unsigned) review of the picture. Both writers say that Huston was convinced that Hal Croves, the extra man on the filming site, had been the mysterious author B.Traven himself in disguise.

This is all Agee tells about Croves. But Whitney has more. He tells, among other things, what Huston thought about Traven and Croves. Whitney's story in Life contains two photographs, one of Traven in the 1920's, the other of Hal Croves on the filming site 1947. Whitney says that he showed the Traven photo from 20's to Humphrey Bogart and Bogart recognized promptly the man in the photo as Hal Croves.

Hal Croves had disappeared after the filming so media could not reach him for an interview. Now he sent from San Antonio, Texas, letters to the editors of Life and Time; the letters appeared in both magazines on March 15, 1948. Croves denied being B.Traven. He attacked virulently Huston whom he said to be behind the contention that he, Croves, was B.Traven. In the Life letter he was so angry at Huston that he said that Huston would never again be permitted to make a film from a B.Traven text.

On March 15 there was in Time a short rebuttal by Huston. In this rebuttal Huston expresses the same opinion he expressed later in his memoirs: there was no definite proof that Croves and Traven were one.

With these stories in Life and Time began Hal Croves's, and also John Huston's, central roles in the legend of B.Traven.

In the Traven biographies of Recknagel and Guthke the stories of Time and Life, on Feb. 2, and Hal Croves's letters to the editors, on March 15, are the main sources for Huston's part. Neither one mentions Huston's rebuttal. Guthke cites as sources also Spinrad's article and Huston's memoirs, but he does not tell what they say about Huston's opinion. Guthke only wants to show what a great mystery the Traven/Croves case was.

Whitney's article in Life on Feb. 2, 1948 is Traven-legend's main source so far as the filming of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is concerned (and the "travenology" begins with it). I could not read this article, I know it indirectly only, so I don't know if Whitney tells where he got his information from, for example the photo of B.Traven from the 20's.

Discussion about the B.Traven mystery began in America with William Weber Johnson's article "Who is Bruno Traven?" in the Life magazine on March 10, 1947, about a month before the filming of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre began in Mexico. Johnson was the head of Life's bureau in Mexico (1946-1947). According to Hagemann this is the first article in English that attempts to unravel some of the mystery surrounding B.Traven. It seems that Johnson got the information for this article in a long unsigned letter, on which he reports 19 years later in his second important Traven article "The Traven Case" (NY Times Book Review, April 17, 1966). Johnson thought the letter was sent by Esperanza López Mateos or B.Traven himself or the two of them together. This letter contained, among other things, the "authentic" biography of B.Traven which was later published in the BT-Mitteilungen (see below).

About the time of the filming of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre a rumour spread out that the Life magazine had promised a reward of $5000 (or $3000, according to others) to the finder of B.Traven. Life neither denied nor confirmed this.

Ten years later Rafael Arles Ramírez confessed having invented the reward and put the rumour in circulation in order to boost the sales of B.Traven's books in Mexico. Traven's Una canasta de cuentos mexicanos and El tesoro de la Sierra Madre were published in Mexico in 1946 translated by Esperanza López Mateos. Arles confessed his advertising trick in some Mexico City paper in 1956 when he was in charge of publicity for the Traven film Una canasta de cuentos mexicanos.

3. Traven Torsvan

Hal Croves had disappeared after the filming of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre in the summer of 1947. Success of the movie made B.Traven a big name in America. The movie and Life's reward started a great Traven hunt. B.Traven became a "Case". In July 1948 a young Mexican reporter, Luis Spota, found near Acapulco a man who, according to Spota's investigations, was Hal Croves and also author B.Traven. Spota found the man by following the trail of Hal Croves from the filming site, or so he told himself; actually he got a clue from the investigation department of Banco de México.

The name of the man Spota found was Traven Torsvan. He was on the appearance of it an innkeeper. His inn on the outskirts of Acapulco was a decrepit outfit devoid of customers. From neighbours Spota learned that Torsvan had lived in his inn several years, as an hermit, without social contacts. The neighbours called him 'El Gringo'.

Spota found information about Traven Torsvan in official archives. He had come to Mexico in 1914 from the USA via Ciudad Juárez. He had got a passport in 1930 and an identity card in 1942. In both documents the name was Traven Torsvan (Torsvan), birth place Chicago, Ill., and birth date March 5, 1890. Some paper had an additional Christian name Berick (or Berwick): Berick Traven Torsvan.

On the filming site Hal Croves had been suspected to be the author B.Traven. The name Berick Traven Torsvan pointed to the same direction. Spota investigated Torsvan more closely, he used doubtful methods, broke the law. By bribing the postman he got access to Torsvan's mail. Torsvan had received royalty payments from Josef Wieder, Zurich, addressed to B.Traven. Spota penetrated Torsvan's home and spied on a table a book packet with an address written upon it: from Upton Sinclair to B.Traven, c/o Esperanza López Mateos.

Spota thought he now had sufficient evidence that Torsvan was the author B.Traven. He confronted Torsvan with the evidence and asked outright if he was B.Traven. Torsvan became angry and denied categorically, but he got confused with his words and eventually, at least in Spota's opinion, acknowledged that he was B.Traven.

Spota wrote a long report about his investigations for Mañana, August 7, 1948, p. 10-26. His result was that Traven Torsvan was Hal Croves and also the author B.Traven. There was a rejoinder by T.Torsvan in Hoy, August 14, in which he denied being B.Traven.

On August 16, there was in the Time magazine an unsigned synopsis of Spota's report ("The Secret of El Gringo"). Time accepted Spota's evidence and deemed the Traven case solved: Traven Torsvan was the same person as Hal Croves and B.Traven.

Soon after Spota's report Traven Torsvan also disappeared like Hal Croves had disappeared the previous summer. The seekers after B.Traven, of whom there now were many, didn't find either Croves or Torsvan for an interview.

Hal Croves came back from hiding after some time. But Traven Torsvan was seen never more. He had disappeared for good. But he existed still, later on it was found out that he had been granted a Mexican citizenship in 1951.

It was believed that B.Traven really had lived years near Acapulco writing his books in the guise of Traven Torsvan. Now, after Spota had uncovered him, he had moved to some new hiding place so he could carry on with his peculiar hermit's life.

The Traven seekers were left with Hal Croves. From end-40's to his death in 1969 Croves was pestered by reporters and other "travenologists" who tried to bring him to confess that he was Traven Torsvan alias the author B.Traven. Croves never conceded or pretended that he was B.Traven, he either dodged the questions or answered in the negative in such a manner that the suspicion was left lingering that he all the same was B.Traven.

4. The Traven-managers

Before WW2 the copyright of B.Traven's books was by B.Traven. On the title leaves of the German editions it is usually stated thus: "copyright by B.Traven, Tamaulipas Mexiko". On the title leaves of the American editions published by Alfred A. Knopf from English manuscripts sent by B.Traven the copyright holders are B.Traven and Knopf Inc. together.

After WW2, since 1948, as copyright holders on the title leaves of B.Traven's books are stated Esperanza López Mateos, Mexico City, and Josef Wieder, Zurich; always together.

Wieder had managed B.Traven's affairs at Büchergilde Gutenberg since the year 1933, and after 1939 as a free agent. Esperanza López Mateos had become Traven's agent in end-30's.

In 1947 Esperanza López Mateos travelled to Europe as a representative of B.Traven. She met Josef Wieder in Zurich.

Esperanza López Mateos died in 1951 but her name remains in the copyright statements with Wieder up till 1954.

In 1954 the place of Esperanza López Mateos in the copyright statements is taken by B.Traven. So B.Traven comes back in mid-50's after having been away ever since the war. 1954-1960 in some editions by side of Wieder's name in the copyright statements, instead of B.Traven's name, the name of R.E.Luján or Hal Croves is found. In 1960 Josef Wieder's name disappears. He died that year. 1960-1969 (until Croves's death) the copyright holder is usually stated as "R.E.Luján and/or B.Traven".

The existence of Hal Croves is first attested in the summer of 1944. His name is found on the envelope of a letter addressed to him by Esperanza López Mateos. Rosa Elena Luján was the successor of Esperanza López Mateos after her death in 1951.

Josef Wieder, Esperanza López Mateos, Hal Croves, and Rosa Elena Luján are the Traven managers, as Recknagel, for example, calls them. They represent B.Traven in all capacities. The author himself, so the public is given to understand, lives in complete seclusion from the world in some hideaway in Mexico. Only the Mexican managers have access to him. He is so particular about his privacy that he does not even sign papers by his own hand, and therefore he cannot make legal agreements himself.

Texts for new B.Traven editions came to literary agents and publishers from the Mexican managers. Not even Wieder in Zurich did know by whom the texts were edited.

In January 1951 the managers began publishing a mimeographed newsletter about B.Traven, BT-Mitteilungen (B.Traven-News). It was German-language and came out in Zurich, Switzerland, and its editors were Esperanza López Mateos and Josef Wieder, later on in Esperanza's stead R.E.Luján. It was sent for free to publishers and newsmedia. All material could be used in their publications free of charge. It appeared until April 1960, irregularly, about four issues per year.

BT-Mitteilungen was an advertisement sheet for promoting the author B.Traven. Its manner of doing this was crass and vulgar. The mystery was central. To bolster the Traven legend it could publish spurious information, even outright falsehoods. For instance, BT-Mitteilungen advertised the reward purportedly promised by Life even after it had proved an invented publicity trick.

It was rumoured that B.Traven was dead. BT-Mitteilungen knew otherwise: B.Traven lived and was still working busily. This was important to BT-Mitteilungen. It also defended vehemently its "authentic biography" of B.Traven against other propositions for a Traven-biography.

In the first issue, end January 1951, the editors state their aim with the newsletter: After the success of the Treasure film interest among public towards the mysterious author B.Traven had been revived. Much speculation about him had emerged, part of it was erroneous and detrimental to him. The editors wanted to rectify the errors and divulge correct and accurate information about this remarkable contemporary author. Traven was unable to defend himself because of his craving for privacy.

In the June issue 1952 the "authentic biography" of B.Traven was published: B.Traven was born in the American Midwest about the turn of the century. Both parents were Americans of Scandinavian extraction. His mother tongue is English and the books were originally written in English. Since reaching the age of seven he has earned his own living. He never went to ordinary school. He came the first time to Mexico as a 10 years old cabin boy on a Dutch steamer. He has lived in Mexico for 40 years. His books were published first in German in Germany because he found no publisher in America but instead a good Swiss translator.

5. Hal Croves

Hal Croves came back from hiding where he had gone after the filming of the Treasure film, and lived as before in Acapulco. He was a writer by profession and as B.Traven's authorized representative he made agreements with publishers and film producers about Traven's works. Rosa Elena Luján was his secretary from the beginning of the 50's.

In 1957 Hal Croves and Rosa Elena Luján were married. They set up their home in Mexico City. In connection with their flat they established (or presumably Rosa Elena established) a literary agency in which both worked.

The business of this Literary Agency R.E.Luján was the commercialisation of the copyright to B.Traven's literary production. Only now, in the 60's, B.Traven's real commercial success began. Strong and active publishers, Hill & Wang in America, Rowohlt in West Germany, took to publishing B.Traven's books. Literary Agency R.E.Luján in Mexico City sold the rights, procured the texts for new editions, and collected the royalty payments. After Josef Wieder's death Literary Agency R.E.Luján was left sole representative of B.Traven. When Hal Croves died in 1969 he and his wife were wealthy people. In 1963 they had bought for home a house in downtown Mexico City.

Josef Wieder died in Zurich in 1960. His widow sent her late husband's voluminous Traven-archive (seven large chests) to señora Luján to Mexico City. Wieder had managed Traven's literary affairs since 1933. It is possible that Wieder's archive contained even older B.Traven papers from Büchergilde Gutenberg's archives. In 1955 Traven (managers) had bought back the literary rights Traven had sold Alfred A. Knopf in the 30's.

In Germany, both West and East, the Traven fever was, if possible, even hotter than in America. In Germany the "German theory" was prevalent. Ret Marut was a candidate for B.Traven but there were other German candidates also. There were many German expatriates living in Mexico. In Germany too, Hal Croves was suspected because of his identification with Traven Torsvan. One thought one could hear a German accent in his English. Maybe he was a German by origin? One tried to induce him to reveal that he understood German. For example the tales from the Rebellion of the Hanged filming site are illustrative of this.

In October 1959 the B.Traven film Death Ship, a German-Mexican co-production, was released in Germany. Hal Croves and señora Luján travelled to Europe and were present at the premiere in Hamburg as celebrated guests. The producer José Kohn had bought the film rights from Hal Croves at $35 000. Reporters followed Croves with watchful eyes and tried to induce him to expose himself as B.Traven.

The main propounder of the Ret Marut theory was Rolf Recknagel, an East German academic scholar, a docent at Leipzig Library College. He had come across Ret Marut when studying early 20th century leftist political literature, and from Marut he had come to B.Traven the same way as Mühsam in the 20's. Recknagel set forth the notion that B.Traven was Ret Marut in numerous writings from the late 50's onwards (Machinek lists 17 of them). As a sum total of his researches he wrote a B.Traven biography first edition of which appeared at the end of 1966.

There were serious problems within the Ret Marut theory.

Ret Marut had been a Central European coffeehouse intellectual, more than 40 years old at his supposed arrival in Mexico. How could he have written books about the experiences on the sea and in Mexico of a young American tramp, migrant worker and grassroots labour organizer, an outdoors man? And within so short a time?

The Swiss author Max Schmid tried to make things square. In a tentative biography of B.Traven which appeared in 1963-1964 he put forth his theory, Erlebnisträger-theory it is called among the travenologists: Marut came to Mexico from Europe sometime in 1922-1923. Soon after arriving he met an American tramp, the likeness of Gerard Gales. The American had written stories about his own experiences, maybe with the purpose of getting them published. Marut got hold of the manuscripts, translated them into German, added some socialist and anarchist philosophy of his own, and sent the texts to a German publisher. Schmid thought the early B.Traven works came into existence thus. So the author B.Traven was a combination of this American and Ret Marut.

Recknagel and Schmid were so sure of the identity of Ret Marut and B.Traven that they republished Ret Marut's Khundar in 1963 and the whole of Marut's magazine Der Ziegelbrenner in a facsimile in 1967.

In 1961-1962 Recknagel described (in Geheimnis und Geschäft and Verschollen vom Busch) the relation between the author B.Traven and Esperanza López Mateos and Hal Croves as follows. Since about 1930 B.Traven lived withdrawn from the world somewhere in the jungle of Chiapas. Only his assistants and representatives Esperanza López Mateos and Benrick Traven Torsvan / Hal Croves had a contact with him. With years the author isolated himself (or was isolated) completely from the outside world. He died about 1950. Esperanza López Mateos died the next year. Torsvan/Croves was left sole bearer of the B.Traven legacy. Traven had no heirs. Croves usurped B.Traven's literary rights. From about 1950 the texts of new Traven editions are manipulated. Passages pointing at Ret Marut as the author are removed or completely altered.

So according to Recknagel the author B.Traven was Ret Marut, the German revolutionary who had escaped from Europe to Mexico, but Traven Torsvan, the man whom Luis Spota had found near Acapulco, was not B.Traven but a separate person from him. Hal Croves was Traven Torsvan thus not B.Traven. So Recknagel thought in 1962 and threatened Hal Croves with legal proceedings.

In 1966, in the first edition of his B.Traven biography, Recknagel may have slightly changed his opinion. I could not read this first edition but according to Scheibe's review Recknagel thinks it possible that Hal Croves is B.Traven and Ret Marut; according to Goss Recknagel's opinion in this first edition is the same as earlier. In the second edition (1971), after Croves's death, Recknagel deems Ret Marut, B.Traven and Hal Croves one and the same person.

In April 1960 BT-Mitteilungen condemned severely the Ret Marut-theory and Recknagel's researches. But it was BT-Mitteilungen's last number, Josef Wieder died that year and the newsletter died with him.

German and other reporters besieged the house of Hal Croves and Rosa Elena Luján in downtown Mexico City. The circle of those who "knew" that the master of the house was B.Traven grew. Hal Croves was old and half blind and half deaf and one knew he craved for privacy. Señora Luján protected him against the intrusive reporters. She was the only link between Hal Croves and the world outside the house. She chose the visitors who could meet Hal Croves. She imparted herself information to the reporters and checked their articles before publication.

Judy Stone and Luis Suárez interviewed Hal Croves in 1966 and wrote extensive articles. Permission for the interviews had been granted by señora Luján and they were carried out under her eyes. After these interviews the reporters were almost sure that Hal Croves was Traven Torsvan which meant that he was B.Traven also.

In the interviews Croves held on to the notion that he was the representative of B.Traven, not B.Traven himself. But Suárez noticed that when he spoke of Traven he now and then used the first person and when Suárez addressed him as "Mr. Traven" he did not rectify him.

When the interviewers tried to turn the conversation to the author B.Traven Croves dodged the subject. His line was that followed by B.Traven in his (published) letters in the 20's. B.Traven answered to the questions of his publishers and readers: The work is important, the author is not. The works belong to the public, but the author's life belongs only to him. A writer should be known for his works, they are his true biography.

6. Hal Croves's Literary Production

Hal Croves was a prolific writer but most of his literary production seems to have remained in his desk drawer. He tried to sell his stories to publishers, e.g. through his friend Sanora Babb, but his efforts were to no avail, Guthke tells.

According to my knowledge the only work Hal Croves got published under the name Hal Croves was a dramatization of B.Traven's book Death Ship which appeared as a mimeographed edition in Switzerland in 1955. BT-Mitteilungen had advertised this play since 1952.

Croves was very interested in film. According to Guthke screenwriting was his main interest after WW2. Also others stress his work as a screenwriter. He could write a film script rapidly. There are stacks of film scripts by him in his estate, not only scripts adapted from B.Traven's books but others too.

Croves wrote screenplays for several films adapted from B.Traven's books. At least seven B.Traven texts were made into films in the 50's and 60's. But not a single one of Croves's screenplays was accepted by the producers and directors. The films were realized from scripts written by others. Neither do I know of any other film realized on a screenplay written by Hal Croves.

Recknagel and Guthke write much about the making of the B.Traven film Rebelión de los colgados (Rebellion of the Hanged) in Mexico 1954. According to them the screenplay of this film was written by Hal Croves and was Croves's most notable achievement in screenwriting. Croves was present on the filming site as B.Traven's authorized representative. The tales are similar to those told of the filming of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. On the filming site it was a public secret that Croves was B.Traven, and the crew members tried to lure him into exposing himself. The producer José Kohn who had bought the film rights from Croves listened to his opinions attentively. Hal Croves was marked on the credit list as the screenwriter. But in reality the script (Spanish and English) was written by the experienced American screenwriter John Bright. Bright was blacklisted in the US and lived in exile in Mexico. Therefore, his name could not be used. Hal Croves's name was a front for Bright. Credit for the script has since been restored on Bright.

Recknagel and Guthke also say that the screenplay of the B.Traven film Macario (1959) was written by Hal Croves. Macario is after the Treasure the best-known B.Traven film. It was nominated for Oscar as best foreign film in 1961, and for the Palme d'or in Cannes the same year. According to filmographies, however, the screenwriter was the noted Mexican author Emilio Carballido (with the director of the film Roberto Gavaldón). Carballido won awards for the screenplay.

Recknagel's and Guthke's information seems to come from BT-Mitteilungen only. And other writers follow Recknagel and Guthke.

Of the works which appeared under B.Traven's name after WW2 most critics accept Macario, a Mexican legend, as an authentic B.Traven work. It appeared in 1950 translated into German from an English original.

The novel Aslan Norval when published in 1960 under the name of B.Traven was deemed spurious by most critics. The manuscript had been offered to several publishers before it was accepted. BT-Mitteilungen had advertised it in 1958 already. The publisher had accepted it after a former Büchergilde Gutenberg editor, Johannes Schönherr, had edited it and put some Travenesque veneer on it.

After WW2 seven new stories appeared under B.Traven's name, that is stories that do not occur in B.Traven's story collection Der Busch (1930). Three of them appeared first in the Mexican collection of B.Traven's short stories, Una canasta de cuentos mexicanos, edited by Esperanza López Mateos in 1946. The four others appeared first in magazines and were then incorporated in B.Traven's story collections.

The texts of several B.Traven editions of the 50's and 60's are altered. They may differ considerably from the 20's and 30's texts. A case in point is the story "Assemblyline" whose text is more than twice as long as the original "Der Grossindustrielle" of Der Busch.

These new B.Traven works were accepted by the copyright holders and supplied to publishers by them, therefore it is very probable that they were authored by Hal Croves. Macario may be an exception.

7. The Death of Hal Croves

Hal Croves died on Wednesday, March 26, 1969 in Mexico City. The obituaries are in the papers Thursday, March 27 (NY Times) and Friday, March 28 (The Times, Int'l Herald Tribune, Die Welt, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, and Dagens Nyheter (Stockholm)). In the headlines of the obituaries the deceased was the author B.Traven. He died under the name Hal Croves but this name does not appear in the headlines, only in the text.

The day of death on afternoon the widow, señora Luján, addressed the press convened in the house of mourning. She told the reporters that the true name of the deceased was Traven Torsvan Croves. He had been born in Chicago May 3, 1890. The parents' names had been Burton Torsvan and Dorothy Croves. He had been a writer by profession and in his long literary career he had used "names such as" B.Traven and Hal Croves. The widow read this information from the will of Hal Croves which he had signed with his attorney three weeks before his death.

With this announcement of the widow the papers considered the B.Traven riddle solved. The proponents of the "American" theory had been correct. B.Traven had been an American, born as an American citizen in America. Those had been right who had believed that "B.Traven's authorized representative", whom Huston had hired as technical adviser for the Treasure film, had been the author B.Traven himself. This had been a public secret among the publishers who had bought publishing rights to B.Traven's books from Croves.

Berick Traven Torsvan, the hermit of Acapulco, had been B.Traven. After Spota had uncovered him in the summer of 1948, he had transformed himself into Hal Croves in order to continue the hidden life, which he so anxiously craved for. BT-Mitteilungen's "authentic" biography also was applicable for him: born in the American Midwest of North European parents about the turn of the century.

Traven Torsvan Croves was registered as the name of the deceased in the official death certificate. The body of Traven Torsvan Croves was cremated the day after death and the ashes were strewn from an aeroplane over the jungle of Chiapas.

But after some lapse of time the widow came forward with more news. Hal Croves, she told, had authorized his wife to tell after his death to the world the whole truth of his life. He had been earlier in life the German revolutionary Ret Marut. With this last disclosure the widow bound together the "American" and "German" B.Traven theories. Especially right had been Recknagel and other proponents of the Ret Marut theory.

When did señora Luján come out with the announcement that her late husband had been Ret Marut? (Hal Croves does not mention this in his will.)

According to Recknagel (Preface and Zeittafel 1982, in the text otherwise) the widow made this announcement to the press on Friday, March 28, that is two days after Croves's death. Machinek in her Vita says the same. According to Schürer-Jenkins the widow told on the death day, Wednesday March 26, at one time that the deceased had been Ret Marut, Traven Torsvan, B.Traven, and Hal Croves. In the text of his biography Recknagel says that the widow made her announcement about a month after the death. Guthke does not say when the widow made her announcement that Hal Croves also had been Ret Marut.

From the papers one comes to the understanding that between Croves's death and the widow's Ret Marut -announcement there was a rather long interval of time. (The precise chronology can surely be found in the Mexico City papers or LA Times, for example, but these papers were not at my disposal.) The writers of the obituaries of the weekly magazines Der Spiegel (Monday, March 31, p. 224), Time (Friday, April 4, p. 49), and Newsweek (Monday, April 7, p. 67) do not mention the Marut part of the Traven/Croves story, so presumably they have not heard of the widow's last disclosure.

Die Welt newspaper runs Monday, March 31 an article by Ulrich Schnapauff, in which Schnapauff tries to prove by appeal to Recknagel's researches that the author of B.Traven's books was Ret Marut (and no American). One sees from the article that Schnapauff when writing it had not heard of señora Luján's last disclosure that Hal Croves had been Ret Marut also. (Schnapauff was Die Welt's Traven specialist, presumably even the obituary was written by him.)

Only Tuesday, April 8, thirteen days after the death of Hal Croves, there is in Int'l Herald Tribune (last page) a news item: "Mrs. Traven Explains 'B.Traven Mystery'". This is the first item seen by me that shows that señora Luján has told about her late husband's German past. The news is written by Kevin M. Kelleghan and sent by AP from Mexico City April 7.

Kelleghan writes that señora Luján wanted to tell the whole story of her late husband because after his death the media had once again begun to speculate about B.Traven Mystery. Her husband had asked her to tell the truth to the world after his death. Husband and wife had talked about the matter several times.

According to Guthke Hal Croves only on his death bed, by almost his last words, authorized his wife to disclose to the world that he had been the Bavarian anarchist Ret Marut. So had señora Luján told Jonah Raskin whose book is Guthke's source.

The German papers FAZ and Die Welt and the Swedish Dagens Nyheter had told in their obituaries already, two days after Croves's death, the Marut-Traven story. The papers did not allege that the "American" Torsvan-Traven story which the widow had disclosed was incorrect. They only told that new convincing researches (Recknagel's) showed that the author B.Traven was the German revolutionary Ret Marut. The papers told in their obituaries both stories side by side.

Ulrich Schnapauff in his article in Die Welt, Monday March 31, also tries to prove by Recknagel's researches that the author of B.Traven's books was Ret Marut. Not even Schnapauff does claim that the Torsvan-Traven story that the widow had told was wrong, but the reader gets the impression that in Schnapauff's opinion the Torsvan-Traven story and the Marut-Traven story were mutually exclusive, so that if one was correct then the other was incorrect.

In the interview with Kelleghan (Int'l Herald Tribune, April 8, 1969) señora Luján adds to Croves's biography a German phase. The beginning of the biography is the same as in Croves's will. Croves had been born in Chicago as Traven Torsvan, son of a Norwegian father and an English mother. Later the parents "had grown tired of America" and the family had moved to Germany. There Traven Torsvan had begun his literary career and gained fame with his book The Death Ship. Then he had gone over to Mexico. After this first stay in Mexico he had turned back to Germany and edited an antiwar magazine during WW1. Because of his opposition stance he had got into difficulties in a country "where Nazism was rising". He had been sentenced to death but had managed to escape and had gone back to Mexico. There he had lived at times among the Indians of Chiapas gathering material for his book The Cotton Pickers.

In Kelleghan's article Traven Torsvan's birth date is not mentioned, nor are any other dates. Nor does the name of Ret Marut occur. But the events happened to Traven Torsvan in Germany under and after WW1 are those happened to Ret Marut as told for example by Recknagel.

In his will Hal Croves had made his wife sole heir to his property among which the copyright of B.Traven also was considered to be.

Croves had also stipulated that a biography about him could be published only with the permission of his widow. Señora Luján chose William Weber Johnson as the biographer; Johnson was now a professor of journalism at UCLA. This new "authentic" biography of B.Traven is Johnson's article "A Noted Novelist Who Lived and Died in Obscurity" in LA Times Calendar, April 13, 1969. Señora Luján was Johnsons's source for this, his third, important B.Traven article and presumably the biography was such as she liked it. In this biography B.Traven's life is a combination of the lives of Ret Marut, Traven Torsvan and Hal Croves.

I could not read this article, I know it indirectly only. It seems that Johnson (and señora Luján) does not throw new light on the crucial question of chronology of the transition from Ret Marut to B.Traven, from Germany to Mexico. So e.g. Baumann in 1972 still thinks that Marut came to Mexico in 1922-1923, and Recknagel in 1973 says Marut came to Mexico in 1923. After Wyatt and Robinson published their investigations (see below) señora Luján told more about her late husband's journey from Germany to Mexico, among other things that he was in London in 1924.

In 1969 when Hal Croves died B.Traven's books were just in the beginning of their commercial success. Hill & Wang had until then published only five of them, eight were still to come. In the mid-70's B.Traven's original publisher Büchergilde Gutenberg bought Traven's German rights from señora Luján. Enlightened guesses about the price were about 1,5 million Deutschemarks, according to Machinek.

8. Ret Marut

Nothing was known about Ret Marut's life previous to his coming to Munich and beginning publishing the magazine Der Ziegelbrenner in September 1917. Only in 1962 information about his life some years backwards from that point was uncovered. He had been an actor with minor dramatic companies in Germany in 1907-1915.

New information about Ret Marut was found at the end of 70's. Will Wyatt and Robert Robinson made a documentary on B.Traven for BBC-TV. They were well funded. The program was broadcast on Dec. 19, 1978, and Wyatt's book Secret of the Sierra Madre came out in 1980.

The US Freedom of Information Act (FOIA, 1966) made Wyatt's and Robinson's investigations possible. They gained access to State Department's Ret Marut file, and with information found there they followed the trail to British Home Office and London police documents.

They learned the following. Ret Marut had travelled in the summer of 1923 from European Continent through Britain to Canada. He had got a visa of passage from British authorities. He had, however, been turned back from Canada. In autumn 1923 he had been arrested in London as an alien residing in the country without permission. He had been put in the Brixton prison to be examined. He had been set free on February 15, 1924 and had since then been at liberty in London till at least the latter part of April 1924. His name was found marked but struck out in the crew list of a Norwegian steamer, Hegre, which set out from London for Canary Islands April 19.

Interrogated by the London police Marut confessed that his real name was Hermann Otto Albert Maximilian Feige and that he had been born on February 23, 1882 in Schwiebus, Germany (now Swiebodzin in Poland midway between Frankfurt/O and Poznan).

Wyatt and Robinson travelled to Swiebodzin and found out that what Marut had told was in accordance with official records. A son with that name had been born to parents with those names on the day Marut had mentioned. The father of Otto Feige had been a potter and the mother a mill hand. The name of the magazine Marut later edited, Der Ziegelbrenner (Brickburner), seemed to point at his father's trade.

The life of Otto Feige had been normal German life. He had been a clocksmith's apprentice and had served his due time in the Prussian army. But in the year 1904/1905 he had strangely disappeared leaving no trace. Until then there is nothing unusual in his life, no stay abroad, for instance.

In the spring of 1924 in London set free from prison Ret Marut applied to the American consul for being registered as a native born US citizen and being given American papers. His application contains a curriculum vitae. He tells having been born in San Francisco in 1882, father's name was William Marut and mother's name was Helen, born Otorrent. He had gone to sea 10 years old and had thereafter led an eventful life in various parts of the world. Beginning with the year 1907 Marut's story is much the same as the story travenologists already knew.

Earlier, in Germany, Marut had already applied three times for American papers. In all applications the place and date of birth is San Francisco, February 25, 1882.

Both life stories Ret Marut told in London landed in the American consulate. The story Marut told to the police landed in the consulate because Marut had the previous fall, while still in prison, already one time applied for American papers. It is understandable that the consulate did not take Marut's application seriously.

Wyatt was sure that he and Robinson had found the true beginning for the biography of the author B.Traven. Otto Feige, Ret Marut, B.Traven, Traven Torsvan, and Hal Croves were one and the same person. This biography of B.Traven occurs in many books, for example in Schürer-Jenkins, B.Traven, 1986. In many library catalogues throughout the world the real name of the author B.Traven is said to be Otto Feige.

But the Otto Feige - Ret Marut biography does not fit the author B.Traven. Americanism is so every present in B.Traven's books of the 20's that the author must have been for a considerable time deeply immersed in American life. In the Feige-Marut life there is no room for Feige-Marut to have acquired the American experience.

Recknagel, 1982, dismisses the Feige-Marut biography outright. Guthke, 1991, rejects it also but with a longer discussion. According to Guthke the Otto Feige past which Marut confessed in the interrogation of London police in the fall of 1923 was one of many life stories invented by the mystery man Marut-Traven for himself with a view of misleading people from his track.

Guthke believes that the other life story told by Marut in London, that which he told to the American consul, also was invented but meets better the reality than the Otto Feige story. Guthke accepts in a broad outline this other life story. True, it is impossible to document, but it fits e.g. the American traits of the author B.Traven. Guthke comes to the conclusion that Ret Marut-B.Traven-Hal Croves himself did not know his origins, e.g. he did not know who his father was. He had some complex which drove him to confuse and cover up all things of his past.

However, in the interrogation with London police Ret Marut displayed very intimate and detailed acquaintance with Otto Feige's life. He knew e.g. all his four Christian names, his birth day, the Christian names of his parents, his mother's maiden name. If Marut had learned the Otto Feige story by heart for use as an alias story and was lying to the police then he must have had a very good memory indeed.

After publication of the researches of Wyatt and Robinson señora Luján told more about her husband's journey from Europe to Mexico. According to Bittner (Vorwärts, March 18, 1982) she told that in the spring of 1924 in London after being set free from prison Marut hired himself out to a death ship and sailed to Norway and from there with another death ship to Africa and finally came to Tampico on board a ship from the Netherlands. (Bittner cites señora Luján's story between citation marks but doesn't say where he got it from.)

9. The Estate of Hal Croves

Hal Croves left an estate of books and written documents. This archive was in the house of señora Luján, and señora Luján chose the scholars who could study the documents. Access to the archive was not easy.

Recknagel studied the estate about Easter 1976 and Guthke in August 1982. Both were invited by señora Luján. Recknagel describes the estate in Recknagel 1982, p. 328-331, and Guthke in Text+Kritik 1989, p. 64-70. The archive is very large. It contains material as early as the Ret Marut period, mostly books and other printed material. There are also, among other things, railroad tickets and paper money of various Central and East European countries, seemingly vestiges from Ret Marut's travels as a fugitive after the abortive Munich revolution.

Recknagel found in the archive a list of B.Traven's literary manuscripts written by Traven himself. According to it e.g. "Die Baumwollpflücker" ("Cotton Pickers", the serial of Vorwärts = the first book of the novel) had been completed in September 1924 and comprised 105 sheets. Traven had sent it to Kiepenheuer Publishers on January 18, 1925. During the spring he had sent it to 11 more German publishers. This is how Recknagel interprets the manuscript list.

Guthke found, among other things, a little notebook which contained diary entries written in English. This was, it seemed, the diary of Ret Marut begun when he first came to Mexico. The first entry is of July 11, 1924. To Ret Marut as the diarist points particularly the entry under July 26: "The Bavarian of Munich is dead". The Bavarian anarchist Ret Marut left the Old World and his old life behind and began a new life in the New World and with a new language.

Recknagel who had not much time for searching the estate does not mention the diary found later by Guthke. Guthke studied also the manuscript list found by Recknagel.

If the data was all about the same man Ret Marut / B.Traven, then the chronology of the transition from Ret Marut to B.Traven would be as follows. In mid-April 1924 Ret Marut was still in London. In July 1924 he was in Mexico and on July 11 began writing a diary. Before the end of September he had (according to Recknagel's interpretation of the manuscript list) finished the 105 sheet story "Die Baumwollpflücker" (Cotton Pickers). On January 18, 1925 he sent the manuscript to a publisher in Germany, and on June 22, 1925 Vorwärts newspaper ran the first instalment of the serial.

If we suppose that he wrote the "Cotton Pickers" then in Mexico, then the chronology is not believable. It is still less believable if we suppose that he made a cotton picking expedition first and wrote about it then. The cotton picking season of 1924 would be the only one possible for Ret Marut who, if come to Mexico, had arrived only in July that year. He would have written the story after the end of the 1924 cotton picking season and have had it ready for sending to a publisher on January 18, 1925. In the diary the diarist is planning to go picking cotton and makes some other hints pointing to the story told in the "Cotton Pickers" by B.Traven.

Recknagel does not see any problem in the chronology, no doubt therefore that he wrote his relation before he got knowledge of the researches of Wyatt and Robinson and did not alter his text afterwards to fit the newfound facts. Recknagel thought Marut came to Mexico in 1923 at the latest, actually, if he ever came to Mexico, he didn't arrive earlier than in the summer of 1924.

Neither is the chronology a problem for Guthke. For him the evidence of the diary is decisive and sufficient. For Guthke it is evident that the diarist is Marut/Traven. Guthke's explanation is that Marut/Traven was so experienced a writer, and a genius on top of it, that such an accomplishment was possible to him. He needed no experiences for his stories. His imagination was enough.

Come back to Germany from Mexico in the spring of 1976 Recknagel asked Kiepenheuer, the publishing firm Traven had sent the manuscript of "Cotton Pickers" in 1925 according to the manuscript list, if they still had the manuscript in their archive. They had, and they sent it to Recknagel. The manuscript was typed, but one page was rewritten carefully by hand. Recknagel published the handwritten page in a photocopy (Recknagel 1982, p. 331).

Guthke published some manuscripts from the estate in the German edition of his B.Traven biography 1987. In the American edition, 1991 (a picture annex between pages 242/243), he published photocopies of one page of the diary and one page of a handwritten early version of B.Traven's novel Death Ship. These were written in English, and the "Cotton Pickers" manuscript was in German.

Recknagel published in his Traven biography (1982, p. 60, 64-65, 78) handwritten signed letters of Ret Marut.

It seems to me (I am no expert) that the handwriting in these documents is not the same. The literary manuscripts, English "Death Ship" and German "Cotton Pickers", were written by the same hand, so it seems to me, maybe this is the handwriting of B.Traven. But in my opinion this is not the handwriting of Ret Marut in his letters.

Guthke stresses the sameness of the handwriting of Traven and the diarist. By Traven's handwriting he presumably means the handwriting of the literary manuscripts. He writes "Further, the author's [of the diary] handwriting seems relatively uniform. The handwriting is clearly Traven's, etc" (Guthke 1991, p. 172). It would be good if some specialist scrutinized the handwritings.


  • Guthke, Karl S., B.Traven. The Life Behind the Legends. Lawrence Hill Books, 1991.
  • Recknagel, Rolf, B.Traven. Beiträge zur Biografie. Philipp Reclam jun. Leipzig, 1st ed. 1966, 2nd 1971, 3rd 1982; also Berlin 1977 and Frankfurt/M 1983.
  • Schürer, Ernst and Jenkins, Philip (eds), B.Traven, Life and Work. The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1986.
  • Text+Kritik Nr. 102/April 1989 (B.Traven), Hrsg. von H.L.Arnold.

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