- Park Benjamin, Caruso’s Father-in-law
The lives of great men are populated by a legion of secondary characters, persons who would never emerge from the shadows of obscurity without their association with someone of celebrity and great achievements. Even if they have accomplishments of their own, posterity remembers them for no other reason but their relationship to a person of lasting fame. Without Jesus no one would remember Pontius Pilate, without Napoleon no one would have heard of his empress, Joséphine, and without Enrico Caruso nobody would know, or care to know today, who Dorothy Park Benjamin was.
Be that as it may, those familiar with Caruso's life know not only his wife Dorothy, but a whole host of lesser or insignificant people who played a role in the tenor's life. Such a person of fleeting yet pivotal importance was Park Benjamin, Dorothy's egotistical and autocratic father. Not wanting to take anything away from him or belittle his undisputable merits, father Benjamin was by no means an insignificant person. To refresh the initiated reader's memory, and to take advantage of the fact that for once I don't have to be concerned about author's permission, I offer the following extract in summary:
Without a doubt, Park Benjamin was a brilliant man. His father of the same name was a well-known poet, lecturer, and newspaper publisher and an associate of Horace Greeley. Dorothy's father, then Park Benjamin, Jr., was educated at Trinity School in New York and at the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis. He graduated in 1867 and made several cruises with Admiral Farragut. Following his resignation from the Navy, he studied for a year at the Albany Law School and was admitted to the bar. Intrigued by the scientific advances of his time, he then enrolled at Union College, where he majored in science and received his Ph.D. in 1871. He embarked on a career as a specialist in patent law, becoming the most prominent practitioner in this area and a close friend of many scientists and inventors, including Thomas A. [End Page 389] Edison. Too versatile and many-faceted to limit himself to the practice of law, he served as associate editor of Scientific American from 1872 to 1878 and was editor-in-chief of Appleton's Cyclopedia of Applied Mechanics. He also published many articles on scientific subjects and authored several books, among them The Early History of the Naval Academy and The Early History of Electricity.
Dorothy, in her two books about Caruso and in her autobiography, indicated that her father initially welcomed Caruso's honorable interest in her, but later on made unreasonable demands to sabotage the romance and eventually forbade the marriage.2 When Caruso and Dorothy did marry without his consent he never forgave them. Following the weddings—both civil and religious—Dorothy did not return to the family home and never saw her father again. The stubborn old tyrant did not relent even when their child, Gloria, was born. He did not attend the christening to which he was invited, and as far as it is known, never laid eyes on the baby.
The book I was fortunate enough to write with the collaboration of, and in the voice of, Enrico Caruso Jr. covered the entire Caruso saga, starting with Caruso's parents, following the effect his life and legacy had on his relatives, and ending with the death of his sons Rodolfo and Enrico Jr. The life was indeed populated by a host of secondary characters, and the story told at length demanded some judicious paring. One chapter that ended up on the proverbial cutting-room floor involved Caruso's father-in-law, Park Benjamin. The few years left to him following Dorothy's marriage were [End Page 390] interesting and revealing, but their relevance to the Caruso story was marginal. Although I did not feel that it would clutter the book or that its omission would impair the integrity of the story, I was the first to recognize that in order not to make a large book even larger, it had to go.