Christopher S. Blake
Biography: Christopher Stanislas Blake was born on March 10, 1921 in Brooklyn, New York, which is in Kings County. He attended local schools in New York and graduated to go on to the Columbia University, also in New York, where he studied drama with Hatcher Hughes. He found clerical work in the Barnard Library but he had a heart for writing. It would be at a very early age that Chris would find his love of writing and continue in that affair to this day. He wrote his first play “The Umbilical Cord” at the age of 16.
Service Time: Chris entered the service on November 14, 1942 at Camp Upton, NY. He was sent to Camp Hood, TX for his early training and was assigned to the 706th Tank Destroyer Battalion. The unit did two maneuvers in the Mojave Desert as part of Patton’s Desert Training Center. Chris hated his first Sergeant so much that he wrote a play based on him called “A Hero in the Grave”. He entered the play in a national contest and when he returned from a furlough, a telegram informed him that he had won first place, The John Golden Award. Unfortunately, even the John Golden people can’t find a copy of the play. The famous comedic playwrights, George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart were two of contest’s judges.
Chris relates that prior to going overseas, he fell out of a jeep while it was doing sixty miles an hour and broke his collar bone. He would spend some time in the hospital for that maneuver. While stationed at Camp Maxey in November of 1943, Chris and his close friend Francis “Frank” X. Barry became impatient and volunteered to go overseas. As was the desire of the Army to please its soldiers, Chris and Frank along with three other men transferred into the Headquarters Company, 6th Tank Destroyer Group. At the same time, 5 men transferred out of the 6th and into the 706th. For Chris and his friend, the only openings were for chaplain’s assistants. Chris and Frank were good Catholic boys and Frank got Capt. Daniel L. Pfeilshifter, who was Catholic and Chris got Capt. Russell B. Richardson, who was a Protestant. Once they were overseas, Richardson opted for another assistant.
After joining the 6th TD Group, it would not be long until they would find themselves shipping out on the Aquitania. They arrived in Scotland in early February 1944 and moved south to England for more training. They stayed at the Dorchester Barracks in Dorset and from there left to cross the English Channel. It was during his time in England that Chris wrote the short story “A Bed Time Story for Discontented G.I.s”. If you read the forward you can see that Chris dedicates it to both his old outfit, the 706th and his new one, the HQ Company, 6th Tank Destroyer Group.
Once across the channel in France they became involved in the Brittany campaign and since Chris was fluent in French, he became a very valuable asset. From there it was on through France, Belgium and particularly the South Limburg, Hoensbrook and Heerlen areas of Holland. The unit was stationed in Holland during the Battle of the Bulge and put on alert but never received the call to action there. The photo above left shows Chris during his time in Holland. While there he worked with a photographer, Hub Leufkens of South Limburg, on a book in which Chris did the introduction and photo captions. Hub probably took this photo too. The photo was found in the Tulane University archives and provided to Chris only recently.
Chris remembers ending up in Bad Tolz when the war in Germany ended. One memory still vivid in his mind was of him standing in the bombed out window of Hitler’s hide-a-way in Berchtesgaden. A photo of the event was taken but has long since been lost. I did ask Chris if he had had any memories of Dachau as so many others from the unit had. He said he had only been their once and it was after the prisoners had all been liberated. He said he just wanted to get away but many, many years later, the memories of those events would drive him to write a play called “The Sin Eaters”. Morning Reports from July of 1945 indicate that while he was stationed at Bad Aibling, a program was offered at the Sorbonne in Paris to study French Culture and Civilization but knowledge of French was a requirement. Chris’s French skills got him into the course and to Paris.
Chris was interested in the life and works of Gertrude Stein, the famous American Poet, and had written a play about her called “Lady With A Jug”. While in Paris, he got to meet her and her companion, Alice B. Toklas. The couple took Chris, and in his words, “mothered” him. After the bomb was dropped and the Japanese surrendered, Gertrude convinced him to stay in Paris so Chris contacted his unit (from Stein’s living room) and pretended to be an officer. He told them that Chris was doing so well in Paris and that he needed to stay. Obviously they believed it and Chris received his Honorable Discharge in Paris. He never saw his unit again. Chris left the service at the rank of Technician 5th Grade and remained in Paris for the next 6 years.
After the war, Chris would go to New Orleans and continue his education at Loyola University with his Major in English. He left Louisiana for Seattle, Washington for a period of about nine months. During that time he studied under Professor George M. Savage Jr. at the University of Washington. While there, Chris wrote a 2,100 page novel called “It’s Me, Oh Lord” plus a couple of plays, including one called “You Can’t Put That Monkey On My Back, which was produced in New Orleans immediately after he returned. Chris moved back to New Orleans and it was there that he spent many years and made his reputation not only as a writer but also as a restaurateur. Chris lived in a beautiful house on Chartres Street and it was there that he entertained many of the famous people. He wrote a collection of short stories called “ The Fair, Fair, Ladies of Chartres Street” which can be found in most libraries across the country. Also ,a novel called “Fugue For A Typewriter ” was written, which was dramatized for Broadway in the 70s and optioned for a movie, still in the works. Chris has been referred to as America's most famous unpublished author but even at 90+ years, there is quite a bit of activity concerning Chris’ life and works.
For a short period, Chris owned a restaurant in New Orleans, called Christopher Blake's. Although he never had any cooking lessons, it seems making delicious food came as natural to him as writing did. Chris remarked that "The only cooking lesson I ever had was given me by Alice B. Toklas, who taught me how to make mayonnaise when I was in Paris." His talents were recognized by famous New York Times food critic Craig Claiborne and Ned Hemard mentions some areas of his life and cooking skills while writing for the New Orleans Bar Association about New Orleans Nostalgia.
In 1989, Chris traveled to Spain for three weeks to write a play about Gertrude Stein. It was called “5 Rue Christine” but instead of staying the three weeks, he ended up staying there for six years in various levels of drunkenness. Late in life, Chris made his way out to California and it was there that his drinking and alcohol use would catch up to him. He had to be committed to the Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach for detox. From there he moved into the Plumer House Recovery Center in Costa Mesa. Unlike others that would struggle with such a life-change, Chris flourished and has lived a productive and sober life for the past 15 years. He has remained at the facility lending his gourmet talents to their kitchen while continuing to live an active and full life.
Chris enjoys classical music, theater, art, fine food and still writes. For the last eight years he has enjoyed a very close relationship with the Production Manager and Crew of the Hollywood Bowl. Every Friday, during the summer season, Chris is their honored guest and can invite three other guests to come with him. This enables him to show the residents and alumni of the Recovery House, the true meaning of being and staying clean and sober along with how to enjoy a full life. As a thank you to the backstage crew, Chris always brings them a huge cake and some food as well as preparing a picnic supper for himself and the guests out front. Chris was also invited to see the WWII Memorial as part of the Honor Flight program and is looking forward to the trip in the near future.
Comment: When I started the website in January of 2010, it was my hope that someone from my father’s unit would find the site and contact me. Chris is the fulfillment of that dream. When he first emailed me and identified his commanding officers and other men from the unit, it was initially difficult for me to believe I was really communicating with someone that served with my father. For that matter, at ninety years of age, I couldn’t believe he was sending me emails. It wasn’t long before I would check my Wooden Shoes listing of the unit’s men to find his name and his best friend’s name listed on them. Then I also found his name on the Payroll Roster and then the Morning Reports, all confirming his incredible story. I told Chris that he was an answer to prayer and I truly believe he is. He may also be the last surviving man from the unit, which only numbered around sixty.It is my hope that Chris and I will continue to correspond and that we will learn more about each other and the common history we share with the men of the HQ Company, 6th TD Group. I wish Chris many more years of good health and pray he continues to be the example for those at the Recovery House. Who knows, Chris might just have to write a short story about his recent connection back to his old unit.
Chris just recently returned from traveling to the WWII Memorial in Washington D.C., which was sponsored by the Honor Flight San Diego organization. Here is a shot of Chris with another soldier he met there. Chris has also provided a short note about the program...........Honor Flight Information.
Chris passed away on March 25, 2014 at the age of 93. He will be missed by all who knew him. It was his belief that he was the last living member of the 6th TD Group, and sadly, I feel he was probably correct.