The Dancing Master Part Two


IN A MATTER OF MONTHS, the Korean press had begun to get word that all was not well at the Foundation headquarters in Sosa. A guard at the dormitories was beaten by the boys and nearly killed after he forced one of them to “duck-walk” around the dormitories. There was a sit-down strike, charges of financial mismanagement, poor food, thievery on the part of some Pearl S. Buck Foundation employees.

Delbert Amos says he tried to tell Miss Buck that there was not enough money and not enough direction from Delancey Place. He says he tried as best he could to get enough money from Harris to operate. In a letter in which Harris describes him as “some underling,” he advises Amos to “get off my back!”

Amos did. In a letter dated October 5th, 1968, Amos outlined his problems and then closed with this paragraph: “We will finish out the two years and then you can take this job and jam it so far you will never have to look for it.”

The letter probably didn't affect Harris terribly much. At the time he was happily reveling in the fact that Miss Buck had just purchased a $38,000 summer home on the Chesapeake Bay near Queenstown, Maryland. Although she was personally paying the mortgage, the deed to the house was in the names of Pearl S. Buck and Theodore F. Harris.

And, too, Harris was in pursuit of another joy: the image of a happily married man with a son. Harris still hoped to adopt Bob Park and he knew he would have a great deal of difficulty doing so until and unless he were married; so he had been steadily wooing Mrs. Clarissa Rahill Brown of Yardley, a divorcee who would eventually prove to him that even the dancing master cannot keep everyone in step.

CLARISSA BROWN had known Theodore F. Harris since the days when he first came to Ray Descher's Arthur Murray Studio in Jenkintown. Although Miss Buck describes Harris in those days as “a man of independent means,” Harris was far from independent. In fact, he once had to borrow some $600 from Ray Descher. Descher says, “It was to pay legal fees or something.”

Clarissa Brown used to have coffee with Harris occasionally, since the gift shop in which she worked was near the studio. In the spring of 1968, Mrs. Brown accepted a job with the Foundation at Harris' urging, she says. There followed a courtship in which he would call her in the middle of the night from some remote spot where he was touring with Miss Buck. Finally, on November 18th, Bulletin society columnist Joseph X. Dever led his day's recital of the social occurrences with the fact that Harris and Mrs. Brown would be married on December 7th.

The marriage never came off. Principally, says Mrs. Brown, because she suddenly came to realize that she was being used by Harris and by Miss Buck.

Nevertheless, Harris was married on December 7th. His bride was Aurora Keckish, a Los Angeles language teacher who also happens to be Jimmy Pauls' aunt. (Old friend Pauls is now listed on the Foundation payroll as a photographer and curator.)

Columnist Joseph Dever dutifully recorded the marriage two weeks later.

Mrs. Brown, meanwhile, has dedicated herself to trying to correct what she sees as “a horrible situation.” She is concerned, she says, with the safety of the young men brought to this country by Harris. She wants, she says, to see changes in the Pearl S. Buck Foundation's leadership that will allow it to do the job it set out to do. Principally, she wants to see Harris removed.

Miss Buck, in a letter to her board of directors, described Mrs. Brown as “a vindictive, rejected suitor” who had ulterior motives. She includes Clarissa Brown among “outsiders” who want to destroy the Foundation. In the letter, which begins, “Dear Friends,” Miss Buck also says that Koreans are the most “distrusted” of all Asians. She also makes the statement that there are no homosexuals in her organization.

The letter, on the face of it, seems unwise. On five single-spaced pages she lashes out at those she believes would bring the Foundation to “the brink of disaster.”

Why this sudden concern? There are perhaps two reasons: The Korean press has been devoting more and more attention to unrest at the Sosa Center, quoting one child as saying, “We do not want Center officials who sell our faces” (meaning raising money by sending pictures of the children to adoptive parents). The second reason is probably more significant. For years, the Foundation operated with an ever-changing board of directors.

But a year ago the Buck-Harris tour once again hit Tucson, Arizona. In the audience, at a tea, was Mrs. Richard F. Wilson. Mrs. Wilson was moved by Miss Buck's speech and pledged $10,000 toward the effort. The money came from the Robert T. Wilson Foundation, a non-profit Tucson corporation which devotes itself to the educational needs of disadvantaged children.

By the autumn of last year, Richard Wilson had given $525,000 to the Pearl S. Buck Foundation, much of which was used to purchase the Sosa Center. Wilson also turned over to the Foundation (on a conditional basis) a large old Spanish-type house and some property in Tucson to be used by it as a Tucson Opportunities Center. In addition, he pledged to give the Foundation $1 million over the next ten years. His generosity earned him a seat on the board.

Wilson is an extremely mild-mannered gentleman who devotes much of his time to teaching at the University of Arizona for the sheer love of it. He holds a Ph.D. in geology, has simple tastes, is devoted to a family of four of his own children and two adopted youngsters, one of mixed American Indian blood and the other an Amerasian girl he adopted through Welcome House.

His suspicions about the manner in which the Foundation was being run were first aroused when he visited Sosa.

Shortly afterwards, Dr. Wilson initiated a private investigation of certain aspects of the Foundation.

Armed with what he thought was a strong case against Harris, he arrived at the regularly scheduled meeting of the board of directors at Delancey Place last May 13th. Miss Buck would hear nothing against Harris. As a matter of fact, she said, Harris was at that moment resting in a Los Angeles hospital after having been rushed home from Korea only a few days before.

That would have been on May 10th.

On May 9th, children at the Center had talked to reporters about money allegedly missing from the Center's office. A severe fire a few weeks earlier, they said, had wiped out all records. They told Korean reporters that Jimmy Pauls had been seen fully clothed 'at the time of the fire (4:30 a.m.) snapping pictures of it. Perhaps it was the testimony of these “distrustful Asians,” but it did prompt Korean officials to begin an investigation of the Center.

Although Miss Buck may well have believed that Harris was in a Los Angeles Hospital, the fact of the matter is that he was not. After arriving in the United States following the flight from Sosa, he had gathered up his new bride Aurora Keckish, flown to New York, rented a 1969 Chrysler Imperial, called a real estate man in Maryland to prepare his and Miss Buck's riverside house, and then had promptly driven to that retreat.

While the board considered the Wilson report, Harris was less than 100 miles away fishing from a dock behind the house. When located by Philadelphia Magazine, Harris refused (through his wife) to discuss any aspect of the Foundation. The reason, according to Mrs. Harris, was that he was “extremely ill and had just had a diathermy treatment.”

Within eight hours following the attempted interview, Harris had left the Maryland house and arrived at Miss Buck's home in Perkasie, Bucks County.

Despite repeated attempts to contact Harris by telephone, in person and through the mails, he has not spoken with Philadelphia Magazine. For weeks, lawyer Charles Solomon reported Harris too ill to discuss the matter. When a firm appointment was set late last month, Solomon at the last, moment reported that Harris would be “out of town that day” and thus unable to keep it.

The Foundation also neatly sidestepped a board member's June attempt to call a special meeting declaring that only its paid secretary could do so.

Recently there has been a careful scrutiny of the Foundation's books by an independent auditing firm, ordered and paid for by Tucson benefactor Richard Wilson. That is, as careful a scrutiny as could be made considering that literally hundreds of vouchers, cancelled checks and pay records were missing from the files.

Foundation personnel seem to have made heavy use of an American Express account, some of it for admitted personal pursuits. Since only 60% of all the American Express vouchers' can be found, however, it may be hard to determine just what use was made of the charge service.

The Foundation owns two other buildings near the Delancey Place central office. One directly behind it on Spruce Street was bought for $87,000, while the other on South 20th Street cost $29,000. There is an extravagant waste of space in both buildings, Wilson's auditors reported.

Both Harris and Davis have lifetime contracts with the Foundation. Harris this year will receive $25,000 plus free board and lodging, free travel, automobiles and clothing. His salary is increased at the rate of $1,000 a year until a maximum of $45,000 is reached. At any time, he can retire because of illness at half his current pay for the rest of his life. Harris, incidentally, is — along with attorney Charles M. Solomon — an executor of Miss Buck's estate. He also enjoys all royalties from Pearl S. Buck, a Biography, which leans heavily on past writings of the author and which was published this spring by the John Day Co. In addition, he owns a country store in Bondville, Vermont, purchased partially through the help of a local coal company owned by Miss Buck. Running that store is his former male secretary, Thomas Leypoldt. Leypoldt is listed as a Foundation employee at $6,500 a year.

The Foundation not only purchased Harris' Daimler automobile for him, but in 1968 paid him $4,000 in auto expenses.

As for Miss Buck, she is paid $24,000 a year for her services as a writer and lecturer for the Foundation. All royalties from books she writes in the future will go to the organization, as will a couple of dozen unpublished manuscripts. She has turned over to the Foundation 300 acres of Bucks County property and 400 acres in Vermont.

There is evidence to show that there was abundant mismanagement in the Foundation's financial affairs and in its bookkeeping. At no time did the organization hire an accountant because, says attorney and board member Solomon, “the job didn't really call for one.”

When the audit ordered by board member Wilson is completed it will be mailed to fellow members, and it may give them pause. But seven of the board's fifteen members are salaried Foundation employees.

Other members are Marvin D. Thorn, an officer of the Girard Trust Bank, which holds more than $600,000 in Foundation loans and mortgages, and Max Aronoff, director of the New School of Music. Also on the board are Mrs. H. Donald Sills, one of the most active charity organizers in New York City, and persons of substantial wealth: industrialist Norman Coates, Mrs. Donald B. Stabler, Mrs. Augustus C. Studer Jr. and the Wilsons.

In her letter to the board of directors, Miss Buck says: “The Pearl S. Buck Foundation is my foundation. To it, I have given myself, my time, my money, my property. My purpose in doing so was and is to provide a tool, a means, an instrument, for the American people, my people, which they can use to fulfill at least part of their responsibility for bringing into the world these new people, the Amerasians, who through no fault of their own have no country to claim them.”

Pearl Buck, yo sa. Great Lady, as the Asians call her. They hope she will awaken from her dream.

For Theodore Harris, the dancing master from the sleepy province of Bamberg, South Carolina, there is no longer any need for dreams.

There remains only the small child who cried last night in the back streets of Seoul or Pusan and who has not yet been heard.

  • JudeGeorge

    And the point of this story…is what?