Saul Bellow reads from his novel Henderson the Rain King (“What made me take this trip to Africa?”) before moving on to a question and answer session.
Coming after his breakthrough book The Adventures of Augie March, Henderson confounded critics, who generally gave the book middling praise—at worst being described it as a “failed experiment.” This may have influenced the decision not to award Henderson that year’s Pulitzer Prize, even though the selection committee had recommended it. Listening to the Q&A, it’s interesting to hear Bellow admit that the worst thing he faced as a writer was ‘doubt’ about not being able to finish a project. While the best was either ‘laughing or weeping yourself, and scribbling at that same time. When you’re turned on that way.’
What comes across in this short tape is Bellow’s humanism, diginity and great sense of humor. When asked if he has ever seen any of his novels on the “bargain table,” Bellow replies:
I have seen my books on the bargain table, and I have been very pleased, because the bargain table is usually where I buy books myself.
He then goes onto say how he usually skips the As and the Bs altogether on the book store shelves, as it makes him uncomfortable—‘uncomfortable because I know I can’t correct the mistakes I know are there.’
I’ve been an admirer of Curtis Harrington’s film making ever since discovering Night Tide (starring Dennis Hopper) many years ago. Night Tide has an eerie surreal quality that recalls the films of Val Lewton and B-movie mindfuckers like Carnival Of Souls. It’s an experimental movie in the guise of a horror film in which the horror doesn’t manifest in overt shocks as much as is in the unsettling sensation of the senses deranged.
Harrington’s film work has been getting increased attention over the years as critics and film buffs have come to the revelation that his vision was unique, compelling and subversively avant-garde. It was with great relish that I opened up the pages of his posthumous memoir, Nice Guys Don’t Work In Hollywood, which is being released on June 18 by Drag City. It’s a fascinating read that anyone who has tried to maintain their integrity and sanity while working within a corporate-controlled art medium will find both amusing and painfully familiar.
Here’s some background on Harrington from Drag City’s bio:
What other film director has a) created avant-garde films and was part of Kenneth Anger’s inner circle, b) directed critically acclaimed and cult-adored horror films like Night Tide and Games, and c) directed episodes of Charlie’s Angels and Dynasty? The answer can only be Curtis Harrington.
Starting in the midst of film’s 1940s avant-garde heyday, Harrington made two deeply intuitive and evocative films: Fragment of Seeking, and Picnic, which were heralded by the likes of Maya Deren and Christopher Isherwood. He became a Hollywood insider, working as assistant for Jerry Wald while still keeping a foot in the world of experimental film, collaborating with Kenneth Anger on Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome. As a director, he made the cult classic Night Tide, worked in the Roger Corman stable, and helmed several distinctive horror films including Games and What’s the Matter With Helen? In the 1980s he began what he called his descent down the “slippery slope” of television work and soon found himself directing episodes of Charlie’s Angels and Dynasty. [I think they mean the 1970s]
His career was a constant struggle between his belief in the art of film and the demands of the movie business. He was one of the only directors who survived both worlds and lived to tell the tale.
For more info on Nice Guys Don’t Work In Hollywood check out Drag City’s website.
In this episode of 1980’s cable TV show Sinister Image (aka Cult People), film historian David Del Valle interviews Curtis Harrington.
And here’s the wonderfully wacked-out Night Tide with a semi-dazed Dennis Hopper wrestling with all kinds of mumbo-jumbo. In glorious black and white and featuring Marjorie Cameron in an extremely creepy cameo role.
Roger McGough reads “Blazing Fruit or The Poet as Entertainer,” and talks to critic Michael Billington about his approach to writing poetry.
McGough came to fame in the 1960s, along with Brian Patten and the late Adrian Henri, as part of the Liverpool Poets. Their seminal volume of collected poems The Mersey Sound, brought poetry out of the academies and into the coffee-houses, bars, and working men’s clubs of swinging England. As McGough said at the time:
The kids didn’t see this poetry with a capital p, they understood it as modern entertainment, as part of the pop-movement.
Associated with The Beatles, as part of the “Liverpool Explosion,” McGough went onto form the popular music, comedy and poetry group The Scaffold, with comic John Gorman, and Paul McCartney’s brother, Mike McGear, which famously led to a number 1 hit “Lily the Pink” in 1968. McGough later teamed-up with Neil Innes for GRIMMS, and since the mid-1970s has been one of Britain’s best known and best loved poets.
This picture book for young children presents the traditional, Judeo-Christian view of the family in picture-book format. In school, young Michael learns that God made men to be fathers and women to be mothers. After school, his father takes him to the zoo, where he learns that animal families consist of a male, a female, and their offspring.
Upon observing these phenomena, Michael asks his father two questions:
1. Why does his friend have two fathers?
2. Am I adopted?
His father sensitively addresses both of these questions with love and compassion, and he tells Michael that he needs to pray for his friend and his friend’s two fathers.
By now, you probably already know my thoughts about this. Jesus Christ!
The Burning Ghat is a strange, yet revealing short film that explores the relationship between original Beat Herbert Huncke, and his long-time companion and room-mate, Louis Cartwright.
Huncke was a petty crook and junkie, who hustled around Times Square in the 1940s, where he met William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. It was Huncke who originally introduced these three young writers to the “Beat Life”—a major inspiration on their writing.
Who is Herbert Huncke? When I first knew him I saw him in what I considered the ‘glamorous’ light of a petty criminal and Times Square hustler who was experienced in the ways, thoughts, and activities of an underground culture which is enormously extensive. The attempt to dismiss him because of his social irresponsibility is something that I was never able to conceive as truthful or productive. I saw him as a self-damned soul—but a soul nonetheless, aware of itself and others in a strangely perceptive and essentially human way. He has great charm. I see that he suffers, more than myself, more than anyone I know of perhaps; suffers like a saint of old in the making; and also has cosmic or supersensory perceptions of an extraordinary depth and openness.
The Burning Ghat was directed by James Rasin (Beautiful Darling: The Life and Times of Candy Darling, Andy Warhol Superstar) and Jerome Poynton, and was filmed in Huncke’s apartment on Henry Street, New York.
Allen Ginsberg wrote of the film, “O Rare Herbert Huncke, live on film! The Burning Ghat features late-in-lifetime old partners Huncke & Louis playing characters beyond themselves with restrained solid self-awareness, their brief masquerade of soul climaxing in an inspired moment’s paradox bittersweet as an O’Henry’s tale’s last twist”.
Harry Smith said of the film, “It should have been longer”.
The Burning Ghat was featured at the 53rd Venice Biennial, and included in the Whitney Museum’s “Beat Culture and the New America” show of 1996. It won the Gold Plaque Award for Best Short Film at the 1990 Chicago International Film Festival.
Made the same year Huncke published his autobiography Guilty of Everything, this was to be his only on-screen, acting performance.
A letter from Charles Bukowski to journalist Hans van den Broek in response to Bukowski’s book Tales of Ordinary Madness being removed from the Public Library in Nijmegen in 1985.
Tales of Ordinary Madness was described by the library as “very sadistic, occasionally fascist and discriminatory against certain groups (including homosexuals).”
Dear Hans van den Broek:
Thank you for your letter telling me of the removal of one of my books from the Nijmegen library. And that it is accused of discrimination against black people, homosexuals and women. And that it is sadism because of the sadism.
The thing that I fear discriminating against is humor and truth.
If I write badly about blacks, homosexuals and women it is because of these who I met were that. There are many “bads”—bad dogs, bad censorship; there are even “bad” white males. Only when you write about “bad” white males they don’t complain about it. And need I say that there are “good” blacks, “good” homosexuals and “good” women?
In my work, as a writer, I only photograph, in words, what I see. If I write of “sadism” it is because it exists, I didn’t invent it, and if some terrible act occurs in my work it is because such things happen in our lives. I am not on the side of evil, if such a thing as evil abounds. In my writing I do not always agree with what occurs, nor do I linger in the mud for the sheer sake of it. Also, it is curious that the people who rail against my work seem to overlook the sections of it which entail joy and love and hope, and there are such sections. My days, my years, my life has seen up and downs, lights and darknesses. If I wrote only and continually of the “light” and never mentioned the other, then as an artist I would be a liar.
Censorship is the tool of those who have the need to hide actualities from themselves and from others. Their fear is only their inability to face what is real, and I can’t vent any anger against them. I only feel this appalling sadness. Somewhere, in their upbringing, they were shielded against the total facts of our existence. They were only taught to look one way when many ways exist.
I am not dismayed that one of my books has been hunted down and dislodged from the shelves of a local library. In a sense, I am honored that I have written something that has awakened these from their non-ponderous depths. But I am hurt, yes, when somebody else’s book is censored, for that book, usually is a great book and there are few of those, and throughout the ages that type of book has often generated into a classic, and what was once thought shocking and immoral is now required reading at many of our universities.
I am not saying that my book is one of those, but I am saying that in our time, at this moment when any moment may be the last for many of us, it’s damned galling and impossibly sad that we still have among us the small, bitter people, the witch-hunters and the declaimers against reality. Yet, these too belong with us, they are part of the whole, and if I haven’t written about them, I should, maybe have here, and that’s enough.
Future Sci-Fi great Ray Bradbury looks fresh-faced (he was but 15 years old) and diva’s diva Dietrich, as ever, is just looking fierce when the pair were photographed together outside the gates of Paramount Pictures in 1935.
I tried to figure out how these two would have known each other. All I could find was an interview Bradbury did with Playboy in 1995 which might explain the circumstances of how they met:
Playboy: What brought you to Hollywood in the first place?
Bradbury: The Depression brought me here from Waukegan, Illinois. The majority of people in the country were unemployed. My dad had been jobless in Waukegan for at least two years when in 1934 he announced to my mom, my brother and me that it was time to head West. I had just turned 14 when we got to California with only 40 dollars, which paid for our rent and bought our food until he finally found a job making wire at a cable company for $14 a week. That meant I could stay in Los Angeles, which was great. I was thrilled.
Playboy: With what aspect of it?
Bradbury: I was madly in love with Hollywood. We lived about four blocks from the Uptown Theater, which was the flagship theater for MGM and Fox. I learned how to sneak in. There were previews almost every week. I’d roller-skate over there—I skated all over town, hell-bent on getting autographs from glamorous stars. It was glorious. I saw big MGM stars such as Norma Shearer, Laurel and Hardy, Ronald Coleman. Or I’d spend all day in front of Paramount or Columbia, then zoom over to the Brown Derby to watch the stars coming or going. I’d see Cary Grant, Marlene Dietrich, Fred Allen, Burns and Allen—whoever was on the Coast. Mae West made her appearance—bodyguard in tow—every Friday night.
There’s also this snip from a 1991 LIFE interview:
I still have my autographs and a few roller skate ball bearings left over from those days so long ago. Almost all of the people I met then are gone, but miraculously Marlene and George have survived. The light that comes out of these pictures is a constant rerun of my life as a somewhat silly but always loving boy, terribly reluctant to enter manhood.
In 1964, The British Labour Party was elected into government with a slim majority of 4 seats. Such a small majority made governing the country difficult for canny Prime Minister, Harold Wilson. Therefore, after 17 months in power, Wilson called a second election. In support of winning re-election, the Labour Party’s magazine, Tribune asked a selection of writers and artists who they would vote for in the 1966 General Election. In response, sensing Labour might not hold to their socialist ideals, poet Christopher Logue wrote the poem “I shall vote Labour.”
I shall vote Labour
I shall vote Labour because
God votes Labour.
I shall vote Labour to protect
the sacred institution of The Family.
I shall vote Labour because
I am a dog.
I shall vote Labour because
upper-class hoorays annoy me in expensive restaurants.
I shall vote Labour because
I am on a diet.
I shall vote Labour because if I don’t
somebody else will:
I shall vote Labour because if one person
everybody will be wanting to do it.
I shall vote Labour because if I do not vote Labour
my balls will drop off.
I shall vote Labour because
there are too few cars on the road.
I shall vote Labour because I am
a hopeless drug addict.
I shall vote Labour because
I failed to be a dollar millionaire aged three.
I shall vote Labour because Labour will build
more maximum security prisons.
I shall vote Labour because I want to shop
in an all-weather precinct stretching from Yeovil to Glasgow.
I shall vote Labour because
the Queen’s stamp collection is the best
in the world.
I shall vote Labour because
deep in my heart
I am a Conservative.
Christopher Logue was a poet, writer, journalist, dramatist, screenwriter, actor and performer. Born in Portsmouth, in 1926, Logue was an only child of middle-aged parents. After school, he served in the Black Watch regiment, from which he was given a court-martial for selling stolen pay books, and given a 16-months’ jail sentence.
‘It was so drab. There was nowhere to go. You couldn’t seem to meet any girls. If you went up to London in 1951, looking for the literary scene, what did you find? Dylan Thomas. I thought that if I came to the place where Pound flourished, I might too.’
In Paris, Logue met writer Alexander Trocchi (who saved Logue from an attempted suicide), and the pair set-up and edited the legendary literary magazine Merlin, which premiered work by Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco, Chester Himes, as well as Logue and Trocchi. The pair also wrote pornographic novels for Maurice Girodias’ Olympia Press, and briefly met William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso in the late 1950s.
George Whitman, propietor of Shakespeare and Co., described the pairing of Trocchi and Logue as:
‘True bohemians, Beats before Beats officially existed. Christopher was the scruffy poet, quite down and out most of the time. He definitely fancied himself as Baudelaire or somebody like that.’
In Paris, Logue toyed with Marxism, and was once famously put down by the author Richard Wright.
‘You’ve got nothing to fight for, boy—you’re looking for a fight. If you were a black, boy, you’re so cheeky you’d be dead.’
But Logue lost none of his mettle, or his socialist convictions and he continued to be a gadfly throughout his life. In the 1960s, he collaborated with Lindsay Anderson, giving poetry readings at the National Film Theater between features. He was a pacifist and a member of Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, taking part with Bertrand Russell on the marches to Aldermarston.
He appeared at Peter Cook’s club The Establishment and wrote songs for jazz singer Annie Ross, and had one recorded by Joan Baez. He also appeared at the Isle of Wight Rock Festival, and contributed the wonderfully bizarre “True Stories” to Private Eye magazine. He acted for Ken Russell in The Devils, wrote the screenplay for Russell’s Savage Messiah, and acted in Terry Gilliam’s Jabberwocky. Logue’s poetry was incredibly popular, even appearing in posters throughout the London Underground. His most famous works were Red Bird, a jazz colaboration with Tony Kinsey, and War Music, a stunning and critically praised adaption of Homer’s Illiad. He was awarded the 2005 Whitbread Poetry Prize for his collection Cold Calls.
Logue died in 2011, and Wilson won the 1966 election with a majority of 96 seats.
This is Christopher Logue reading “I shall vote Labour” in 2002, as filmed by Colin Still.
“Never keep up with the Joneses; drag them down to your level. It’s cheaper.”
You might think that arriving in NYC and checking into the Chelsea Hotel only to experience, in rapid succession, a fire, the murder of Nancy Spungen and a robbery that this would put you off the Big Apple, but this was not the case with Quentin Crisp, England’s “stately homo.”
After bringing his famed one-man show, An Evening With Quentin Crisp from London’s West End to the Off Broadway Player’s Theatre in 1978, Crisp relocated to New York City permanently in 1981. To hear Mr. Crisp tell it, after that, he never worked another day in his life, living off the kindness of strangers. That’s, of course, if you don’t count all of the movies he was in, all of the popular one-man shows he performed for adoring audiences, and the books, advice columns and film reviews that he wrote in the years until his death in 1999 at the age of 90.
Crisp famously made sure his phone number was listed (He’d always answer “Yes, Lord?” just in case) and would accept nearly every dinner invitation that came his way, with the understanding that the tab would be picked up. Mr. Crisp would basically do an up-close version of his one-man show. On two occasions I dined with Mr. Crisp at the Odessa Diner on Avenue A and these are memories that I will always treasure. It was like sitting face to face with Mark Twain, in lavender eye shadow. Okay, maybe more like Oscar Wilde.
In the engaging 1985 interview below, Crisp promotes his then new book, Manners From Heaven, discusses British vs American manners, how he was badly bullied as a child, the secret to a happy (heterosexual) marriage, how to get off the phone politely and the main message of his work that: you alone are responsible for your own happiness in life.