His initial success at bookselling was encouraging, but Dean Clute was looking for more, and it came from an unexpected source. His published article had caught the eye of one important reader who was so taken with his story, she became his benefactress. Though often portrayed as anonymous, her name was, in fact, Mrs. Ethel Clyde, whose husband was the principal owner of the Clyde Steamship Line.
Ethel gave Dean $2000 which he used to attain his dream of leaving the hospital and opening a bookstore. The money covered his expenses for one year, and he gave it his best shot, but with the economy in severe depression, prospects were not good. Store sales and his own articles failed to generate enough income to stay afloat.
No further charity was forthcoming, and in late 1931, Dean rented an apartment in Greenwich Village. He moved the store there as well, but had to reduce services and inventory, mostly handling mail orders.
As he struggled to survive, there were others who tried to help. Among them was famed media man Walter Winchell, whose “On Broadway” column in late October mentioned Gary Cooper, Kate Smith, Governor Franklin Roosevelt … and Dean Clute.
Winchell wrote: “Do you know anyone who would like to help Dean Van Clute keep running his book shop at 145 Waverly Place? He once was a pro baseball player and illness knocked him down—now a cripple. He was set up in this shop by a rich woman whose whim for philanthropy died easy—and needs another lift. Maybe you know somebody.” (Note: The family used the surname Clute, but Dean revived the “Van” for his authored pieces.)
Dean’s brother, Walton, was still by his side, assisting him in daily life and handling the store business. Without loyal, helpful friends and a loving brother, Clute’s existence would have been much less enjoyable.
For some time, Dean had been working with Walton on writing an “autobiographical novel.” The book was accepted for publication by Frederick Stokes Company and scheduled for release in late 1932.
In the meantime, there was more bad news. Dean was unable to pay his bills, and in April his phone service was cut off. In May he was $30 short on the rent, prompting the City Marshal to issue an ejection warning. A return to City Hospital was looming, but Dean didn’t seem worried, telling a reporter, “Aw, hell—it’s all in a lifetime.”
Forced to reduce expenses, he moved to a basement studio in Greenwich Village. The book business was mainly a lending service at that point, but another dream of Clute’s was fulfilled when his new digs became a popular stop-off for important figures on the literary scene.
The man Mencken had called “one of the most courageous men ever heard in this world” was further pleased when the book on which he and Walton had collaborated was released in the fall. Pour Wine for Us was well received.
One reviewer wrote: “… so moving a story of the solace to be found within the recesses of one’s own mind from one defeated by all that men hold precious. … It is an intense and throbbing human document, paralleling many of the literary masters, but always retaining a poignant individuality. … His ability to bridge the gap of his disability is no less remarkable than Helen Keller’s achievements.”
His triumphs and struggles were recounted in the media, offering praise for the new book along with admiration for Dean’s incredible courage. How could one so traumatized find positives in a life seemingly filled with negativity? Whatever the answer might be, the public found itself envying the mind of one so enlightened. Said Clute, “My blind eyes are seeing more beauty today than was ever revealed to them when they were perfect.”
For most people, a body so ravaged by disease was nothing less than a prison. The Great Depression alone was reason enough for people to give up, and many did. But not Dean Clute, who had found within himself something special.
Despite the necessity of moving for a fourth time, he remained positive about life and ever hopeful that a cure for his physical impairments might be found. Plans were in place for more articles, more books, a new bookstore, and a life among the educated and inquisitive.
Each summer he and Walton had journeyed north, visiting family on the St. Lawrence River and spending time amid his childhood haunts at Terrace West, about a mile east of Morristown. It was a wonderful time of renewal for the brothers, who shared a terrific bond from the struggles of the past decade.
But there would be no such trip in 1933. On Monday morning, March 6, Dean was found dead in his wheelchair, betrayed one final time by a body that had been in failure for fully 20 years. The coroner’s report cited heart disease as the ultimate cause of death.
The story of Clute’s life was replayed in the columns of writers who had known and admired him during the past decade. Though tragedy and inspiration were necessary themes, every writer concluded that one word above all others defined him: courage.
But that’s not how Dean saw it. The man with a beautiful mind truly felt he had lived a wonderful life. It was a viewpoint that most people simply couldn’t grasp. But in the end, he proved that life was indeed all about one word: Perspective.
Photo: H. L. Mencken admired Clute’s courage and ability to write.
Lawrence Gooley has authored nine books and many articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. He took over in 2010 and began expanding the company’s publishing services. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.