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Felix Riesenberg (1879-1939) was a master mariner, explorer, engineer, and writer. His career at sea included time as a merchant marine, a member of the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey, and a lieutenant in the United States Naval Reserve. Riesenberg was the navigator on Walter Wellman's unsuccessful 1907 expedition to travel to the North Pole by airship (dirigible balloon). In 1923, while commanding the U.S.S. Newport, a training vessel, Riesenberg set a school-ship record by traveling from Tenerife, off the coast of Africa, to New London, Connecticut, in 26 days, aided in part by the force of a hurricane. Riesenberg published over fifteen books, including novels, books about the sea, and two technical books about the merchant marine. His New York novel, East Side, West Side (1927), was adapted for the cinema twice. Fellow door signer, Dudley Nichols, served as one of the screenwriters for the second of these adaptations, Skyline (1931).
Felix Riesenberg's "Notes for the production of the sea play The Second Mate," circa 1930
Capturing in writing the technical details of life at sea was important to Riesenberg. When the Dial reviewed his first novel, Under Sail (1918), their critic faulted the volume for being "so overladen with the routine of seamanship that richer elements of the story suffer a rather disastrous partial eclipse." In 1930, Riesenberg and writer Christopher Morley collaborated on a play called The Second Mate, which had a brief engagement at the Old Rialto Theatre in Hoboken, New Jersey. These preliminary staging notes for the play emphasize Riesenberg and Morley's desire to use set and sound design to translate experience of the sea to the stage. "So far no sea play that I know of has ever, for one moment, made me imagine myself on board a ship, whether at anchor, or at sea," Riesenberg complains.