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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Virginia Foster Durr, March 13, 14, 15, 1975. Interview G-0023-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Durr describes Mike and Binnie Straight

Mike Straight, one of the early editors of the New Republic and former Soviet spy, befriended Durr. Durr begins an exploration of the Straights, their lineage, and their interactions with the other liberals gathering in Washington, D.C., in the 1930s and 1940s.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Virginia Foster Durr, March 13, 14, 15, 1975. Interview G-0023-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
That's right, but anyway, I got an invitation from Mrs. Pinchot and this must have been right at the end of the Spanish War and she wanted me to come to a meeting, they were going to start a Spanish Aid Committee or something. And so, I went and . . . who was the head of it? You know, the big New Dealer that has got so fat? Leon Henderson. He was a real nice fellow and had a beautiful wife, I don't know what happened to him afterwards, he just swelled up like a balloon, took to drinking, left his wife and children . . . I never have known what happened to him. He was a brilliant fellow and very nice. Well, anyway, he was there and he got to be head of this committee. And Mrs. Pinchot and I can't remember who all, but there was a couple there, Mike and Binnie Straight. Well, they were a beautiful young blond couple and he was extremely handsome and so, after we had had the tea, you know, I spoke to them and they spoke to me and she looked about like Alice in Wonderland. She looked about ten or fifteen years old. I found that they lived in Alexandria. And he was running the New Republic. Now, let me explain who he was. His mother was one of the Whitneys, you know, the big rich Whitneys and she married. . . ..
SUE THRASHER:
Let's place him. (laughter)
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
That's right. Well, you have to find out where the money comes from, after all, he is worth maybe a half a billion dollars, you know and still is. He's probably worth a billion today, I saw his house last summer up in Martha's Vineyard and the house cost a million dollars I'll bet Well, anyway, he was a very handsome boy and his mother had married Williard Straight, who was a member of the Morgan firm, the J.P. Morgan firm, and he built the railroads in China. Of course, they made a good deal of money out of them. But anyway, he died and she went to England and married a Mr. Elmhurst and they have a famous school called Darlington Hall. It was where Sean O'Casey sent his son. Have you ever read Sean O'Casey's autobiography? That is one of the greatest books on the wide world. Put that down. (laughter)
SUE THRASHER:
The bibliography is growing.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Sean O'Casey, his autobiography. Well, anyway, this was a very progressive school and they took the side of the Spanish Loyalists of the Democratic government,Binnie and her sister lived there in England and Mike went to Cambridge University. Binnie and her sister and family lived in Cambridge. Her father was American and was over there on some business thing. And her sister married one of the Spanish generals. We met him too, but I forget his name. If I can ever get one of my Spanish histories, I could find it. So, Binnie married Mike and Mike . . . well, I can't say that he was a member of the Communist party, although I was told he was when he was at Cambridge, but in any case, Mike financed people to go to Spain. He was a great advocate of the Spanish Republic and you remember John Cornford, the English poet that was killed in Spain? Well, he supported him . . . you don't know him? Well, he is one of the most romantic figures in the history of mankind. Good God! John Cornford. He was a poet and there is a book written about him. Haven't you ever read about Virginia Woolf's. . . . [END OF TAPE 3, SIDE B] [TAPE 4, SIDE A] [START OF TAPE 4, SIDE A]
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
haven't you ever read about Virginia Woolf's nephew? Well, these were the great heroes, these were the young men in their twenties who died for the faith, you know. They were all beautiful, all handsome, all wrote poetry and all were just great romantic heroes. And they died in Spain and so, the whole history of the Spanish War is just incredibly fascinating. And you see, these young people came from all over the world to fight. Well, anyway, Mike Straight had wanted to stay in England and run for Parliament and Sir John Simon at that time, was the grand panjandrum or chancellor or whatever and Mike wanted to take out British citizenship and Simon wouldn't let him because he had supported these fellows in Spain or had a connection with the Communist party or something. So, Mike came over to the United States and his family owned the New Republic, you see, his mother was a great liberal do-gooder. So, Mike began to run the New Republic, and Helen Fuller, who was a girlfrom Alabama was one of those running it she wrote a book too, an awfully good book, but she is dead now, poor thing, but anyway, Mike lived in Alexandria. He was very attractive and nice and he was about twenty-one I imagine and Binnie was about seventeen and she was absolutely beautiful.