Beat Godfather Meets Glitter Mainman

By Craig Copetas

 

David Bowie and William S. Burroughs. Photographs by Terry O’Neill, 1974

 

Terry O’Neill’s photograph hand-colored by Bowie

 

William Seward Burroughs is not a talkative man. Once at a dinner he gazed down into a pair of stereo microphones trained to pick up his every munch and said, “I don’t like talk and I don’t like talkers. Like Ma Barker. You remember Ma Barker? Well, that’s what she always said, ‘Ma Barker doesn’t like talk and she doesn’t like talkers.’ She just sat there with her gun.”

This was on my mind as much as the mysterious personality of David Bowie when an Irish cabbie drove Burroughs and me to Bowie’s London home on November 17th (“Strange blokes down this part o’ London, mate”). I had spent the last several weeks arranging this two-way interview. I had brought Bowie all of Burroughs’ novels: Naked Lunch, Nova Express. The Ticket That Exploded and the rest. He’d only had time to read Nova Express. Burroughs for his part had only heard two Bowie songs, Five Years and Star Man, though he had read all of Bowie’s lyrics. Still they had expressed interest in meeting each other.

Bowie’s house is decorated in a science-fiction mode: A gigantic painting, by an artist whose style fell midway between Salvador Dali and Norman Rockwell, hung over a plastic sofa. Quite a contrast to Burroughs’ humble two-room Piccadilly flat, decorated with photos of Brion Gysin – modest quarters for such a successful writer, more like the Beat Hotel in Paris than anything else.

Soon Bowie entered, wearing three-tone NASA jodhpurs. He jumped right into a detailed description of the painting and its surrealistic qualities. Burroughs nodded, and the interview/conversation began. The three of us sat in the room for two hours, talking and taking lunch: a Jamaican fish dish, prepared by a Jamaican in the Bowie entourage, with avocados stuffed with shrimp and a beaujolais nouveau, served by two interstellar Bowieites.

There was immediate liking and respect between the two. In fact, a few days after the conversation Bowie asked Burroughs for a favor: A production of The Maids staged by Lindsey Kemp, Bowie’s old mime teacher, had been closed down in London by playwright Jean Genet’s London publisher. Bowie wanted to bring the matter to Genet’s attention personally. Burroughs was impressed by Bowie’s description of the production and promised to help. A few weeks later Bowie went to Paris in search of Genet, following leads from Burroughs.

Who knows? Perhaps a collaboration has begun; perhaps, as Bowie says, they may be the Rogers and Hammerstein of the Seventies.

Burroughs: Do you do all your designs yourself?

Bowie: Yes, I have to take total control myself. I can’t let anybody else do anything, for I find that I can do things better for me. I don’t want to get other people playing with what they think that I’m trying to do. I don’t like to read things that people write about me. I’d rather read what kids have to say about me, because it’s not their profession to do that.

People look to me to see what the spirit of the Seventies is, at least 50% of them do. Critics I don’t understand. They get too intellectual. They’re not very well-versed in street talk; it takes them longer to say it. So they have to do it in dictionaries and they take longer to say it.

I went to a middle-class school, but my background is working class. I got the best of both worlds, I saw both classes, so I have a pretty fair idea of how people live and why they do it. I can’t articulate it too well, but I have a feeling about it. But not the upper class. I want to meet the Queen and then I’ll know. How do you take the picture that people paint of you?

Burroughs: They try to categorize you. They want to see their picture of you and if they don’t see their picture of you they’re very upset. Writing is seeing how close you can come to make it happen, that’s the object of all art. What else do they think man really wants, a whiskey priest on a mission he doesn’t believe in? I think the most important thing in the world is that the artists should take over this planet because they’re the only ones who can make anything happen. Why should we let these fucking newspaper politicians take over from us?

Bowie: I change my mind a lot. I usually don’t agree with what I say very much. I’m an awful liar.

Burroughs: I am too.

Bowie: I’m not sure whether it is me changing my mind, or whether I lie a lot. It’s somewhere between the two. I don’t exactly lie, I change my mind all the time. People are always throwing things at me that I’ve said and I say that I didn’t mean anything. You can’t stand still on one point for your entire life.

Burroughs: Only politicians lay down what they think and that is it. Take a man like Hitler, he never changed his mind.

Bowie: Nova Express really reminded me of Ziggy Stardust, which I am going to be putting into a theatrical performance. Forty scenes are in it and it would be nice if the characters and actors learned the scenes and we all shuffled them around in a hat the afternoon of the performance and just performed it as the scenes come out. I got this all from you, Bill… so it would change every night.

Burroughs: That’s a very good idea, visual cut-up in a different sequence.

Bowie: I get bored very quickly and that would give it some new energy. I’m rather kind of old school, thinking that when an artist does his work it’s no longer his…. I just see what people make of it. That is why the TV production of Ziggy will have to exceed people’s expectations of what they thought Ziggy was.

Burroughs: Could you explain this Ziggy Stardust image of yours? From what I can see it has to do with the world being on the eve of destruction within five years.

Bowie: The time is five years to go before the end of the earth. It has been announced that the world will end because of lack of natural resources. [The album was released three years ago.] Ziggy is in a position where all the kids have access to things that they thought they wanted. The older people have lost all touch with reality and the kids are left on their own to plunder anything. Ziggy was in a rock & roll band and the kids no longer want rock & roll. There’s no electricity to play it. Ziggy’s adviser tells him to collect news and sing it, ’cause there is no news. So Ziggy does this and there is terrible news. All the Young Dudes is a song about this news. It is no hymn to the youth as people thought. It is completely the opposite.

Burroughs: Where did this Ziggy idea come from, and this five-year idea? Of course, exhaustion of natural resources will not develop the end of the world. It will result in the collapse of civilization. And it will cut down the population by about three-quarters.

Bowie: Exactly. This does not cause the end of the world for Ziggy. The end comes when the infinites arrive. They really are a black hole, but I’ve made them people because it would be very hard to explain a black hole onstage.

Burroughs: Yes, a black hole onstage would be an incredible expense. And it would be a continuing performance, first eating up Shaftesbury Avenue.

Bowie: Ziggy is advised in a dream by the infinites to write the coming of a starman, so he writes Starman, which is the first news of hope that the people have heard. So they latch onto it immediately. The starmen that he is talking about are called the infinites, and they are black-hole jumpers. Ziggy has been talking about this amazing spaceman who will be coming down to save the earth. They arrive somewhere in Greenwich Village. They don’t have a care in the world and are of no possible use to us. They just happened to stumble into our universe by black-hole jumping. Their whole life is traveling from universe to universe. In the stage show, one of them resembles Brando, another one is a black New Yorker. I even have one called Queenie the Infinite Fox.

Now Ziggy starts to believe in all this himself and thinks himself a prophet of the future starman. He takes himself up to incredible spiritual heights and is kept alive by his disciples. When the infinites arrive, they take bits of Ziggy to make themselves real because in their original state they are anti-matter and cannot exist on our world. And they tear him to pieces onstage during the song Rock and Roll Suicide. As soon as Ziggy dies onstage the infinites take his elements and make themselves visible. It is a science-fiction fantasy of today and this is what literally blew my head off when I read Nova Express, which was written in 1961. Maybe we are the Rogers and Hammerstein of the Seventies, Bill!

Burroughs: Yes, I can believe that. The parallels are definitely there, and it sounds good.

Bowie: I must have the total image of a stage show. It has to be total with me. I’m just not content writing songs, I want to make it three-dimensional. Songwriting as an art is a bit archaic now. Just writing a song is not good enough.

Burroughs: It’s the whole performance. It’s not like somebody sitting down at the piano and just playing a piece.

Bowie: A song has to take on character, shape, body and influence people to an extent that they use it for their own devices. It must affect them not just as a song, but as a lifestyle. The rock stars have assimilated all kinds of philosophies, styles, histories, writings, and they throw out what they have gleaned from that.

Burroughs: The revolution will come from ignoring the others out of existence.

Bowie: Really. Now we have people who are making it happen on a level faster than ever. People who are into groups like Alice Cooper, the New York Dolls and Iggy Pop, who are denying totally and irrevocably the existence of people who are into the Stones and the Beatles. The gap has decreased from 20 years to ten years.

Burroughs: The escalating rate of change. The media are really responsible for most of this. Which produces an incalculable effect.

Bowie: Once upon a time, even when I was 13 or 14, for me it was between 14 and 40 that you were old. Basically. But now it is 18-year-olds and 26-year-olds – there can be incredible discrepancies, which is really quite alarming. We are not trying to bring people together, but to wonder how much longer we’ve got. It would be positively boring if minds were in tune. I’m more interested in whether the planet is going to survive.

Burroughs: Actually, the contrary is happening; people are getting further and further apart.

Bowie: The idea of getting minds together smacks of the Flower Power period to me. The coming together of people I find obscene as a principle. It is not human. It is not a natural thing as some people would have us believe.

Copetas: What about love?

Burroughs: Ugh.

Bowie: I’m not at ease with the word “love.”

Burroughs: I’m not either.

Bowie: I was told that it was cool to fall in love, and that period was nothing like that to me. I gave too much of my time and energy to another person and they did the same to me and we started burning out against each other. And that is what is termed love… that we decide to put all our values on another person. It’s like two pedestals, each wanting to be the other pedestal.

Burroughs: I don’t think that “love” is a useful word. It is predicated on a separation of a thing called sex and a thing called love and that they are separate. Like the primitive expressions in the old South when the woman is on a pedestal, and the man worshipped his wife and then went out and fucked a whore. It is primarily a Western concept and then it extended to the whole Flower Power thing of loving everybody. Well, you can’t do that because the interests are not the same.

Bowie: The word is wrong, I’m sure. It is the way you understand love. The love that you see, among people who say, “We’re in love,” it’s nice to look at… but wanting not to be alone, wanting to have a person there that they relate to for a few years is not often the love that carries on throughout the lives of those people. There is another word. I’m not sure whether it is a word. Love is every type of relationship that you think of… I’m sure it means relationship, every type of relationship that you can think of.

Copetas: What of sexuality, where is it going?

Bowie: Sexuality and where it is going is an extraordinary question, for I don’t see it going anywhere. It is with me, and that’s it. It’s not coming out as a new advertising campaign next year. It’s just there. Everything you can think about sexuality is just there. Maybe there are different kinds of sexuality, maybe they’ll be brought into play more. Like one time it was impossible to be homosexual as far as the public were concerned. Now it is accepted. Sexuality will never change, for people have been fucking their own particular ways since time began and will continue to do it. Just more of those ways will be coming to light. It might even reach a puritan state.

Burroughs: There are certain indications that it might be going that way in the future, real backlash.

Bowie: Oh yes, look at the rock business. Poor old Clive Davis. He was found to be absconding with money and there were also drug things tied up with it. And that has started a whole clean-up campaign among record companies; they’re starting to ditch some of their artists.

I’m regarded quite asexually by a lot of people. And the people that understand me the best are nearer to what I understand about me. Which is not very much, for I’m still searching. I don’t know, the people who are coming anywhere close to where I think I’m at regard me more as an erogenous kind of thing. But the people who don’t know so much about me regard me more sexually.

But there again, maybe it’s the disinterest with sex after a certain age, because the people who do kind of get nearer to me are generally older. And the ones who regard me as more of a sexual thing are generally younger. The younger people get into the lyrics in a different way; there’s much more of a tactile understanding, which is the way I prefer it. ‘Cause that’s the way I get off on writing, especially William’s. I can’t say that I analyze it all and that’s exactly what you’re saying, but from a feeling way I got what you meant. It’s there, a whole wonderhouse of strange shapes and colors, tastes, feelings.

I must confess that up until now I haven’t been an avid reader of William’s work. I really did not get past Kerouac to be honest. But when I started looking at your work I really couldn’t believe it. Especially after reading Nova Express. I really related to that. My ego obviously put me on to the Pay Color chapter, then I started dragging out lines from the rest of the book.

Burroughs: Your lyrics are quite perceptive.

Bowie: They’re a bit middle class, but that’s all right, ’cause I’m middle class.

Burroughs: It is rather surprising that they are such complicated lyrics, that can go down with a mass audience. The content of most pop lyrics is practically zero, like Power to the People.

Bowie: I’m quite certain that the audience that I’ve got for my stuff don’t listen to the lyrics.

Burroughs: That’s what I’m interested in hearing about… do they understand them?

Bowie: Well, it comes over more as a media thing and it’s only after they sit down and bother to look. On what level they are reading them, they do understand them, because they will send me back their own kind of write-ups of what I’m talking about, which is great for me because sometimes I don’t know. There have been times when I’ve written something and it goes out and it comes back in a letter from some kid as to what they think about it and I’ve taken their analysis to heart so much that I have taken up his thing. Writing what my audience is telling me to write.

Lou Reed is the most important definitive writer in modern rock. Not because of the stuff that he does, but the direction that he will take it. Half the new bands would not be around if it were not for Lou. The movement that Lou’s stuff has created is amazing. New York City is Lou Reed. Lou writes in the street-gut level and the English tend to intellectualize more.

Burroughs: What is your inspiration for writing, is it literary?

Bowie: I don’t think so.

Burroughs: Well, I read this eight-line poem of yours and it is very reminiscent of T.S. Eliot.

Bowie: Never read him.

Burroughs: [Laughs] It is very reminiscent of Waste Land. Do you get any of your ideas from dreams?

Bowie: Frequently.

Burroughs: I get 70% of mine from dreams.

Bowie: There’s a thing that just as you go to sleep, if you keep your elbows elevated that you will never go below the dream stage. And I’ve used that quite a lot and it keeps me dreaming much longer than if I just relaxed.

Burroughs: I dream a great deal, and then because I am a light sleeper, I will wake up and jot down just a few words and they will always bring the whole idea back to me.

Bowie: I keep a tape recorder by the bed and then if anything comes I just say it into the tape recorder. As for my inspiration, I haven’t changed my views much since I was about 12, really, I’ve just got a 12-year-old mentality. When I was in school I had a brother who was into Kerouac and he gave me On The Road to read when I was 12 years old. That’s still been a big influence.

Copetas: The images both of you transpire are very graphic, almost comic-booky in nature.

Bowie: Well, yes, I find it easier to write in these little vignettes; if I try to get any more heavy, I find myself out of my league. I couldn’t contain myself in what I say. Besides if you are really heavier there isn’t that much more time to read that much, or listen to that much. There’s not much point in getting any heavier… there’s too many things to read and look at. If people read three hours of what you’ve done, then they’ll analyze it for seven hours and come out with seven hours of their own thinking… where if you give them 30 seconds of your own stuff they usually still come out with seven hours of their own thinking. They take hook images of what you do. And they pontificate on the hooks. The sense of the immediacy of the image. Things have to hit for the moment. That’s one of the reasons I’m into video; the image has to hit immediately. I adore video and the whole cutting up of it.

What are your projects at the moment?

Burroughs: At the moment I’m trying to set up an institute of advanced studies somewhere in Scotland. Its aim will be to extend awareness and alter consciousness in the direction of greater range, flexibility and effectiveness at a time when traditional disciplines have failed to come up with viable solutions. You see, the advent of the space age and the possibility of exploring galaxies and contacting alien life forms poses an urgent necessity for radically new solutions. We will be considering only non-chemical methods with the emphasis placed on combination, synthesis, interaction and rotation of methods now being used in the East and West, together with methods that are not at present being used to extend awareness or increase human potentials.

We know exactly what we intend to do and how to go about doing it. As I said, no drug experiments are planned and no drugs other than alcohol, tobacco and personal medications obtained on prescription will be permitted in the center. Basically, the experiments we propose are inexpensive and easy to carry out. Things such as yoga-style meditation and exercises, communication, sound, light and film experiments, experiments with sensory deprivation chambers, pyramids, psychotronic generators and Reich’s orgone accumulators, experiments with infra-sound, experiments with dream and sleep.

Bowie: That sounds fascinating. Are you basically interested in energy forces?

Burroughs: Expansion of awareness, eventually leading to mutations. Did you read Journey Out of the Body? Not the usual book on astral projection. This American businessman found he was having these experiences of getting out of the body – never used any hallucinogenic drugs. He’s now setting up this astral air force. This psychic thing is really a rave in the States now. Did you experience it much when you were there?

Bowie: No, I really hid from it purposely. I was studying Tibetan Buddhism when I was quite young, again influenced by Kerouac. The Tibetan Buddhist Institute was available so I trotted down there to have a look. Lo and behold there’s a guy down in the basement who’s the head man in setting up a place in Scotland for the refugees, and I got involved purely on a sociological level – because I wanted to help get the refugees out of India, for they were really having a shitty time of it down there, dropping like flies due to the change of atmosphere from the Himalayas.

Scotland was a pretty good place to put them, and then more and more I was drawn to their way of thinking, or non thinking, and for a while got quite heavily involved in it. I got to the point where I wanted to become a novice monk and about two weeks before I was actually going to take those steps, I broke up and went out on the streets and got drunk and never looked back.

Burroughs: Just like Kerouac.

Bowie: Go to the States much?

Burroughs: Not since ’71.

Bowie: It has changed, I can tell you, since then.

Burroughs: When were you last back?

Bowie: About a year ago.

Burroughs: Did you see any of the porn films in New York?

Bowie: Yes, quite a few.

Burroughs: When I was last back, I saw about 30 of them. I was going to be a judge at the erotic film festival.

Bowie: The best ones were the German ones; they were really incredible.

Burroughs: I thought that the American ones were still the best. I really like film…. I understand that you may play Valentine Michael Smith in the film version of Stranger in a Strange Land.

Bowie: No, I don’t like the book much. In fact, I think it is terrible. It was suggested to me that I make it into a movie, then I got around to reading it. It seemed a bit too Flower-Powery and that made me a bit wary.

Burroughs: I’m not that happy with the book either. You know, science fiction has not been very successful. It was supposed to start a whole new trend and nothing happened. For the special effects in some of the movies, like 2001, it was great. But it all ended there.

Bowie: I feel the same way. Now I’m doing Orwell’s 1984 on television; that’s a political thesis and an impression of the way in another country. Something of that nature will have more impact on television. I don’t believe in proper cinema; it doesn’t have the strength of television. People having to go out to the cinema is really archaic. I’d much rather sit at home.

Burroughs: Do you mean the whole concept of the audience?

Bowie: Yes, it is ancient. No sense of immediacy.

Burroughs: Exactly, it all relates back to image and the way in which it is used.

Bowie: Right. I’d like to start a TV station.

Burroughs: There are hardly any programs worth anything any more. The British TV is a little better than American. The best thing the British do is natural history. There was one last week with sea lions eating penguins, incredible. There is no reason for dull programs, people get very bored with housing projects and coal strikes.

Bowie: They all have an interest level of about three seconds. Enough time to get into the commentator’s next sentence. And that is the premise it works on. I’m going to put together all the bands that I think are of great value in the States and England, then make an hour-long program about them. Probably a majority of people have never heard of these bands. They are doing and saying things in a way other bands aren’t. Things like the Puerto Rican music at the Cheetah Club in New York. I want people to hear musicians like Joe Cuba. He has done things to whole masses of Puerto Rican people. The music is fantastic and important. I also want to start getting Andy Warhol films on TV.

Burroughs: Have you ever met Warhol?

Bowie: Yes, about two years ago I was invited up to The Factory. We got in the lift and went up and when it opened there was a brick wall in front of us. We rapped on the wall and they didn’t believe who we were. So we went back down and back up again till finally they opened the wall and everybody was peering around at each other. That was shortly after the gun incident. I met this man who was the living dead. Yellow in complexion, a wig on that was the wrong color, little glasses. I extended my hand and the guy retired, so I thought, “The guy doesn’t like flesh, obviously he’s reptilian.” He produced a camera and took a picture of me. And I tried to make small talk with him, and it wasn’t getting anywhere.

But then he saw my shoes. I was wearing a pair of gold-and-yellow shoes, and he says, “I adore those shoes, tell me where you got those shoes.” He then started a whole rap about shoe design and that broke the ice. My yellow shoes broke the ice with Andy Warhol.

I adore what he was doing. I think his importance was very heavy, it’s become a big thing to like him now. But Warhol wanted to be cliche, he wanted to be available in Woolworth’s, and be talked about in that glib type of manner. I hear he wants to make real films now which is very sad because the films he was making were the things that should be happening. I left knowing as little about him as a person as when I went in.

Burroughs: I don’t think that there is any person there. It’s a very alien thing, completely and totally unemotional. He’s really a science-fiction character. He’s got a strange green color.

Bowie: That’s what struck me. He’s the wrong color, this man is the wrong color to be a human being. Especially under the stark neon lighting that is in The Factory. Apparently it is a real experience to behold him in the daylight.

Burroughs: I’ve seen him in all light and still have no idea as to what is going on, except that it is something quite purposeful. It’s not energetic, but quite insidious, completely asexual. His films will be the late-night movies of the future.

Bowie: Exactly. Remember Pork? I want to get that onto TV. TV has eaten up everything else, and Warhol films are all that are left, which is fabulous. Pork could become the next I Love Lucy, the great American domestic comedy. It’s about how people really live, not like Lucy, who never touched dishwater. It’s about people living and hustling to survive.

That’s what Pork is all about. A smashing of the spectacle. Although I’d like to do my own version of Sindbad The Sailor. I think that is an all-time classic. But it would have to be done on an extraordinary level. It would be incredibly indulgent and expensive. It would have to utilize lasers and all the things that are going to happen in a true fantasy.

Even the use of holograms. Holograms are important. Videotape is next, then it will be holograms. Holograms will come into use in about seven years. Libraries of video cassettes should be developed to their fullest during the interim. You can’t video enough good material from your own TV. I want to have my own choice of programs. There has to be the necessary software available.

Burroughs: I audio-record everything I can.

Bowie: The media is either our salvation or our death. I’d like to think it’s our salvation. My particular thing is discovering what can be done with media and how it can be used. You can’t draw people together like one big huge family, people don’t want that. They want isolation or a tribal thing. A group of 18 kids would much rather stick together and hate the next 18 kids down the block. You are not going to get two or three blocks joining up and loving each other. There are just too many people.

Burroughs: Too many people. We’re in an overpopulated situation, but the less people you have does not include the fact that they are still heterogeneous. They are just not the same. All this talk about a world family is a lot of bunk. It worked with the Chinese because they are very similar.

Bowie: And now one man in four in China has a bicycle and that is pretty heavy considering what they didn’t have before. And that’s the miracle as far as they’re concerned. It’s like all of us having a jet plane over here.

Burroughs: It’s because they are the personification of one character that they can live together without any friction. We quite evidently are not.

Bowie: It is why they don’t need rock & roll. British rock & roll stars played in China, played a dirty great field and they were treated like a sideshow. Old women, young children, some teenagers, you name it, everybody came along, walked past them and looked at them on the stand. It didn’t mean a thing. Certain countries don’t need rock & roll because they were so drawn together as a family unit. China has its mother-father figure – I’ve never made my mind up which – it fluctuates between the two. For the West, Jagger is most certainly a mother figure and he’s a mother hen to the whole thing. He’s not a cockadoodledoo; he’s much more like a brothel keeper or a madame.

Burroughs: Oh, very much so.

Bowie: He’s incredibly sexy and very virile. I also find him incredibly motherly and maternal clutched into his bosom of ethnic blues. He’s a white boy from Dagenham trying his damnedest to be ethnic. You see, trying to tart the rock business up a bit is getting nearer to what the kids themselves are like, because what I find, if you want to talk in the terms of rock, a lot depends on sensationalism and the kids are a lot more sensational than the stars themselves. The rock business is a pale shadow of what the kids lives are usually like. The admiration comes from the other side. It’s all a reversal, especially in recent years. Walk down Christopher Street and then you wonder exactly what went wrong. People are not like James Taylor; they may be molded on the outside, but inside their heads it is something completely different.

Burroughs: Politics of sound.

Bowie: Yes. We have kind of got that now. It has very loosely shaped itself into the politics of sound. The fact that you can now subdivide rock into different categories was something that you couldn’t do ten years ago. But now I can reel off at least ten sounds that represent a kind of person rather than a type of music. The critics don’t like to say that, because critics like being critics, and most of them wish they were rock & roll stars. But when they classify they are talking about people not music. It’s a whole political thing.

Burroughs: Like infrasound, the sound below the level of hearing. Below 16 Mertz. Turned up full blast it can knock down walls for 30 miles. You can walk into the French patent office and buy the patent for 40p. The machine itself can be made very cheaply from things you could find in a junk yard.

Bowie: Like black noise. I wonder if there is a sound that can put things back together. There was a band experimenting with stuff like that; they reckon they could make a whole audience shake.

Burroughs: They have riot-control noise based on these soundwaves now. But you could have music with infrasound, you wouldn’t necessarily have to kill the audience.

Bowie: Just maim them.

Burroughs: The weapon of the Wild Boys is a bowie knife, an 18-inch bowie knife, did you know that?

Bowie: An 18-inch bowie knife … you don’t do things by halves, do you. No, I didn’t know that was their weapon. The name Bowie just appealed to me when I was younger. I was into a kind of heavy philosophy thing when I was 16 years old, and I wanted a truism about cutting through the lies and all that.

Burroughs: Well, it cuts both ways, you know, double-edged on the end.

Bowie: I didn’t see it cutting both ways till now.

 

This story is from the February 28th, 1974 issue of Rolling Stone.

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 Brooke Shields

 

Jacques Cousteau, his wife and “Scaphandrier”

 

David Hockney with Stanley and Boodgie

 

picaPablo Picasso and Lump. Photographer David Douglas Duncan published a book of Picasso’s pictures along his pet, which was titled A Dachshund’s Odyssey

 

The gardener and writer Christopher Lloyd at Great Dixter House, a 450-acre estate restored by Edwin Lutyens. Awarded in 1979 the Victoria Medal of Honour, the highest horticultural accolade, Lloyd was the best informed, liveliest and most innovative gardening writer of our times.

 

Within the Wall Garden of Great Dixter is a terrace, with a pebble mosaic of Christopher Lloyd’s two beloved dachshunds, Dahlia and Canna. The stones for Canna’s eye and nose were acquired from Derek Jarman’s rock-garden, at Prospect Cottage, in Dungeness.

A Hard-Edged Genius Interviewed by His Mum

“I like Alexander McQueen’s work a lot: he’s always pushing boundaries, and he’s rough around the edges. The idea of this hard-edged genius being interviewed by his mum, by the person that spawned him, really appealed to me.”

Sam Taylor-Woods

 
 

 
 

Joyce McQueen: I would have liked to have invited the late Peter Ustinov for dinner, for his wit and conversation. Who would you like as a dinner guest and why?

Alexander McQueen: What, if I could choose anyone?

JM: Anyone in the world.

AM: Elizabeth I …

JM: Why would you want Elizabeth I? The history maybe?

AM: ‘Cause she’s an anarchist.

JM: She’s an anarchist?

AM: She was an anarchist, yeah. Do you want to have a bit of debate on this?

JM: Well, not at the moment, no.

AM: Because, y’know, she kind of founded the Church of England under her father, with all the upheaval from the French and the Scottish …

JM: Who are your other ones?

AM: Jesus of Nazareth, to check if he really exists, and it’s not just we’ve been reading some Peter Pan book for the past 2,000 years. Or Mel Gibson, to be there if Jesus wasn’t true.

JM: If you could live and work as a designer in any era, which one would it be?

AM: Any time? Future as well?

JM: Future as well. But particularly the past.

AM: Let’s stick to the past then. I’m thinking cavemen and loincloths.

JM: What about Tudors and Stuarts?

AM: Er … I’m answering the questions! Most probably …

JM: What about –

AM: I’m thinking ! Fifteenth-century Flemish, Netherlands. My favourite part of art. Because of the colours, because of the sympathetic way they approached life.

JM: Simplicity, you mean.

AM: I’m not going to get into a big art debate with you.

JM: No, I’m trying to get to the bottom of why you like that.

AM: ‘Cause I think they were very modern for their times, in that period and in that part of the world.

JM: You spend as much time as possible in your beautiful cottage in the country. Do you find that the inspiration you get down there features in your work?

AM: I don’t find inspiration there – it gives me a peace of mind, Mum. Solitude, and a blank canvas to work from, instead of the distractions of the concrete jungle.

JM: Right. So it does inspire you in some ways then.

AM: Not technically. Not country life or bobbing rabbits. It’s the peace and quiet.

JM: As you know, I’m a Simply Red and Elton John fan. Who are your favourite artists?

AM: As in singers?

JM: Yeah, well, y’know, groups, whatever. Because at one time, you were very much into classical music.

AM: Beyoncé. No, I’m only joking.

JM: He was about, what, 15. I know because I’ve still got them at home.

AM: I think composers. People like Michael Nyman, who compose an original piece of music – believe it or not, the artists today are inspired by people like Michael Nyman and Philip Glass, who come up with unusual sounds.

JM: I know, I know, that’s where pop music comes from …

AM: Nah, it’s like the architect who designed the Gherkin [Norman Foster and his Swiss Re tower in London] inspires people, or Alexander McQueen does a collection that inspires other people to do different things and move things forward. Rap music’s been around for too long now to be inspirational. The words are, but the music isn’t.

JM: You haven’t given me an answer there. You haven’t come out with a group.

AM: I have – Philip Glass and Michael Nyman.

JM: All right, then. I’ll ask another question. You have traveled extensively around the world but still have not been to the Isle of Skye, which is the root of your McQueen history. Will you ever visit that area?

AM: Mmm … yes.

JM: In the near future?

AM: Yes.

JM: Right. And that follows on to my next question: what do your Scottish roots mean to you?

AM: Everything.

JM: Well, where do I come in?

AM: [laughs] Oh you’re from the Forest of Dean, yeah. What do you mean, where do you come in?

JM: Well, your Scottish roots mean a lot to you. So where does your mother’s side come in?

AM: What does my mother’s side, the Welsh side, mean to me?

JM: I’m not Welsh! I’m Norman!

AM: All right, Norman! Where does this Norman come from?

JM: Well they come from Viking stock.

AM: That answers a lot for an awful lot of people, I think. I feel more Scottish than Norman.

JM: You recently got your deep-sea diving certificate, didn’t you?

AM: Yeah, underwater diving.

JM: Well, two of my family discovered the wreck of the Marie Rose, deep-sea divers. Just explains that you’ve taken up deep-sea diving as well. It’s a follow-on really, isn’t it?

AM: So from the McQueen side I’ve got anarchy, and my mum’s side, underwater diving.

JM: The calm part. You are often described as an architect of clothing, and I know that you have a keen interest in architecture. What is the most breathtaking building you’ve ever seen?

AM: Ronchamps, by Le Corbusier.

JM: What do you think of the modern buildings in London?

AM: I love the Gherkin.

JM: You do?

AM: I think it’s fantastic.

JM: But you don’t like any of the old architecture in London?

AM: Well, yeah, but it’s not as nice as it is in Italy or Paris.

JM: If you hadn’t trained on Savile Row, how would you have entered the fashion industry?

AM: I’d have slept my way there.

JM: Or, I don’t know …

AM: Other ways. I’d have found other ways of getting into it.

JM: Do you look at something else and say, “I could have done that as well”?

AM: Photo-journalism. It’s art for the modern times. I think it captures a moment in time that is spontaneous and that reflects where we are. The one I couldn’t have done is be an architect, because I don’t have the brain capacity or the patience.

JM: No, you haven’t got the patience, have you? You mix with VIPs, celebrities, aristocracy … How does coming home and being the baby of the family make you feel?

AM: I’m never fazed by it, because whenever I get home, Dad will always ask me to make him a cup of tea. So it’s just normal.

JM: If you were prime minister or in government, what policies would you implement to make the UK a better place to live?

AM: More politically correct police officers on the streets. And more focus on the north of England instead of just the south, on not so developed parts of the country.

JM: What do you mean, “politically correct police”?

AM: Well, not homophobic police, not racist police, you know? The police need to come down to street level.

JM: Success has brought you financial security. But if you lost it all tomorrow, what would be the first thing you would do?

AM: Sleep. I’d be pleased.

JM: I said you’d go on holiday.

AM: What with? I’d lost it all!

JM: When you received your CBE last October, you told me and Dad that you locked eyes with the Queen and it was like falling in love. What was it about her presence that captivated you?

AM: I made a pact with myself that I wasn’t going to look into her eyes.

JM: But you did.

AM: I did. There was a simultaneous lock, and she started laughing, and I started laughing …

JM: It was a nice moment, wasn’t it?

AM: It was. We caught it on camera where we’re both laughing at each other. She asked a question, “How long have you been a fashion designer?” and I said, “A few years, m’lady.” I wasn’t thinking straight – because I’d hardly had any sleep.

JM: You were nervous.

AM: I was really tired. And I looked into her eyes, it was like when you see someone across the room on a dance floor and you think, “Whoa!” It was like when I looked into her eyes, it was obvious that she had her fair share of shit going on. I felt sorry for her. I’ve said a lot of stuff about the Queen in the past – she sits on her arse and she gets paid an awful lot of money for it – but for that instant I had a bit of compassion for her. So I came away feeling humbled by the situation, when I wouldn’t have even been in the situation if it wasn’t for you.

JM: I thought it was a great honour.

AM: I didn’t want to do it.

JM: It was an honour for you …

AM: Yeah, but I had my views on what it stands for.

JM: What is your most terrifying fear?

AM: Dying before you.

JM: Thank you, son. What makes you proud?

AM: You.

JM: Why?

AM: No, no, ask the next one: “What makes you furious?” You! [laughs]

JM: No, go on, what makes you proud?

AM: When things go right, when the collection goes right, when everyone else in the company’s proud.

JM: What makes you furious?

AM: Bigotry.

JM: What makes your heart miss a beat?

AM: Love.

JM: Love for children? Love for adults? Love for animals?

AM: Falling in love.

The Sculptor of Images

Originally published on February 11, 2013

 
 

Self-Portrait. Yousuf Karsh (1908-2002)

 
 

“On the stormy New Year’s Eve of 1925, the liner Versailles reached Halifax from Beirut. After a voyage of twenty-nine days, her most excited passenger in the steerage class must have been a seventeen-year-old Armenian boy who spoke little French, and less English. I was that boy.

My first glimpse of the New World on a steely cold, sunny winter day was the Halifax wharf, covered with snow. I could not yet begin to imagine the infinite promise of this new land. For the moment, it was enough to find myself safe, the massacres, torture, and heartbreak of Armenia behind me. I had no money and little schooling, but I had an uncle, my mother’s brother, who was waiting for me and recognized me from a crude family snapshot as I stepped from the gangplank. George Nakash, whom I had not seen before, sponsored me as an immigrant, guaranteed that I would not be a “public charge,” and traveled all the way from his home in Sherbrooke, Quebec, for our meeting — the first of his many great kindnesses.

We went up from the dock to the station in a taxi, the likes of which I had never seen — a sleigh-taxi drawn by horses. The bells on their harnesses never stopped jingling; the bells of the city rang joyously to mark a new year. The sparkling decorations on the windows of shops and houses, the laughing crowds — for me it was an unbelievable fantasy come true. On the two-day journey to my uncle’s home, I marveled at the vast distances. The train stalled in a deep snowdrift; we ran out of food; this situation, at least, was no novelty for me.

I was born in Mardin, Armenia, on December 23, 1908, of Armenian parents. My father could neither read nor write, but had exquisite taste. He traveled to distant lands to buy and sell rare and beautiful things — furniture, rugs, spices. My mother was an educated woman, a rarity in those days, and was extremely well read, particularly in her beloved Bible. Of their three living children, I was the eldest. My brothers Malak and Jamil, today in Canada and the United States, were born in Armenia. My youngest brother, Salim, born later in Aleppo, Syria, alone escaped the persecution soon to reach its climax in our birthplace.

It was the bitterest of ironies that Mardin, whose tiers of rising buildings were said to resemble the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and whose succulent fruits convinced its inhabitants it was the original Garden of Eden, should have been the scene of the Turkish atrocities against the Armenians in 1915. Cruelty and torture were everywhere; nevertheless, life had to go on — albeit fearfully — all the while. Ruthless and hideous persecution and illness form part of my earliest memories: taking food parcels to two beloved uncles torn from their homes, cast into prison for no reason, and later thrown alive into a well to perish; the severe typhus epidemic in which my sister died, in spite of my mother’s gentle nursing. My recollections of those days comprise a strange mixture of blood and beauty, of persecution and peace.

I remember finding brief solace in my young cousin relating her Thousand and One Nights tales of fantastic ships and voyages and faraway people, and always, solace in the example of my mother, who taught me not to hate, even as the oppression continued.

One day, I returned from school, my forehead bleeding. I had been stoned by Turkish boys who tried to take away my only playthings, a few marbles. “Wait,” I told my mother defiantly, “from now on I am the one who will carry stones.” My mother took me in her arms and said, “My son, they do not know what they are doing. However, if you must retaliate — be sure you miss!”

My mother’s generosity, strength, and hope sustained our family. She took into our home a young Armenian girl, shared our few morsels of food with her, and encouraged her to use her hands instead of her eyes, which had been cruelly mutilated. My mother herself seemed tireless. She had to go every day to the distant mountain spring which was the one source of water for the whole community. Allowed only one small pail, she would wait patiently in line for hours to get enough water for her children. Running water, to me, is still a great blessing.

In 1922, our family was allowed to flee. We had to leave our doors open — with us we took no baggage, only our lives. And we had to flee on foot. During our month-long journey with a Bedouin and Kurdish caravan, which would have taken only two days by the forbidden train, my parents lost every valuable they had managed to save. My father’s last silver coin went to rescue me after I was caught foolishly making a sketch of piled-up human bones and skulls, the last bitter landmark of my country.

In the safety of Aleppo, Syria, my father painstakingly tried to rebuild our lives. Only those who have seen their savings and possessions of a lifetime destroyed can understand how great were the spiritual resources upon which my father must have drawn. Despite the continual struggle, day after day, he somehow found the means to send me to my Uncle Nakash, and to a continent then to me no more than a vague space on a schoolboy’s map.

Uncle Nakash was a photographer of established reputation, still a bachelor when I went to live with him, and a man of generous heart. If my first day at Sherbrooke High School proved a dilemma for the teachers—in what grade did one place a seventeen-year-old Armenian boy who spoke no English, who wanted to be a doctor, and who came armed only with good manners? — the school was for me a haven where I found my first friends. They not only played with me instead of stoning me, but allowed me to keep the marbles I had won. My formal education was over almost before it began, but the warmth of my reception made me love my adopted land.

I roamed the fields and woods around Sherbrooke every weekend with a small camera, one of my uncle’s many gifts. I developed the pictures myself and showed them to him for criticism. I am sure they had no merit, but I was learning, and Uncle Nakash was a valuable and patient critic.

It was with this camera that I scored my first photographic success. I photographed a landscape with children playing and gave it to a classmate as a Christmas gift. Secretly, he entered it in a contest. To my amazement, it won first prize, the then munificent sum of fifty dollars. I gave ten dollars to my friend and happily sent the rest to my parents in Aleppo, the first money I could send to them.

Shortly afterward my uncle arranged my apprenticeship with his friend John H. Garo of Boston, a fellow Armenian, who was recognized as the outstanding portraitist in the eastern states. Garo was a wise counselor; he encouraged me to attend evening classes in art and to study the work of the great masters, especially Rembrandt and Velázquez. Although I never learned to paint, or to make even a fair drawing, I learned about lighting, design, and composition. At the Public Library, which was my other home in Boston, I became a voracious reader in the humanities and began to appreciate the greater dimensions of photography.

My interest lay in the personalities that influenced all our lives, rather than merely in portraiture. Fostered by Garo’s teachings, I was yearning for adventure, to express myself, to experiment in photography. With all my possessions packed in two suitcases, I moved to Ottawa. In the capital of Canada, a crossroads of world travel, I hoped I would have the opportunity to photograph its leading figures and many foreign international visitors.

My life had been enriched by meeting many remarkable personalities on this photographic odyssey, the first of many, to record those men and women who leave their mark on our era. It would set a pattern of working away from my studio. Any room in the world where I could set up my portable lights and camera—from Buckingham Palace to a Zulu kraal, from miniature Zen Buddhist temples in Japan to the splendid Renaissance chambers of the Vatican — would become my studio.”

 
 

Tennessee Williams

 
 

Wystan Hugh Auden

 
 

Albert Camus

 
 

Sir George Bernard Shaw

 
 

Ernest Hemingway

 
 

Vladimir Nabokov

 
 

Sir John Buchan, Governor of Canada

 
 

Jacques Cousteau

 
 

Martin Luther King Jr.

 
 

Muhammad Ali

 
 

Nelson Mandela

 
 

Albert Einstein

 
 

Jackie & John Fitzgerald Kennedy

 
 

Queen Elizabeth II & Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh

 
 

Rainier III Grimaldi, Prince of Monaco & Princess Grace Kelly

 
 

Audrey Hepburn & Mel Ferrer

 
 

Humphrey Bogart

 
 

Lauren Bacall

 
 

Audrey Hepburn

 
 

Grace Kelly

 
 

Anita Ekberg

 
 

Ana Magnani

 
 

Brigitte Bardot

 
 

Jacqueline Lee Bouvier

 
 

Elizabeth Taylor

 
 

Joan Crawford

 
 

Sophia Loren with her son Edoardo

 
 

Martha Graham

 
 

Alberto Giacometti

 
 

Max Ernst

 
 

Alexander Calder

 
 

Isamu Noguchi

 
 

Josef Albers

 
 

Henry Moore

 
 

Man Ray

 
 

Joan Miró

 
 

Andy Warhol

 
 

Georgia O´Keeffe

 
 

Pablo Picasso

 
 

Norman Rockwell

 
 

Walt Disney

 
 

Frank Lloyd Wright

 
 

Mies van der Rohe

 
 

Charles Édouard Jeanneret-Gris (Le Corbusier)

 
 

Alfred Hitchcock

 
 

Christian Dior

Warhol and Westwood’s Royalty

The Andy Warhol-esque painted makeup was created by Val Garland and her assistants. “Think the Queen meets a bad Elizabeth Taylor or an odd Marilyn Monroe with a passing nod to Debbie Harry and an occasional reference to Grace Jones,” said Garland.

 
 

Vivienne Westwood Red Label Spring- Summer 2013 collection was inspired by British royal gardens. Throughout history; architecture, aesthetics and fashions from across the globe have influenced these British country gardens. From the squared formality of renaissance style to the pastoral passions of the Victorian era, the garden has remained a favorite and romantic sanctuary for our royal family. Beyond these private enclosures lie flower gardens and orchards, with vast outdoor space for bowling, tennis and croquet as well as picnics, weddings and garden parties- it is these royal occasions that were in mind when the collection was designed. The colour palette references Tudor knot gardens where earth, sand, and rich dusty red bricks were used to fill open spaces between the frosty cold greys, greens and blues of the shrubs. Micro checks and fine wools offer a cool alternative to the summer dress and gingham knits are perfect for impromptu picnics and more informal occasions. For cocktail and evening the colour palette is pale and cold- with impressionistic lily ponds printed on fine, fluid jersey with details of metallic silver embroidery and draped jackets and cigarette pants with duchesse trim to give a softer tuxedo alternative. There are also more glamorous evening dresses in regal midnight blues, black and gold in full & straight silhouettes teamed with steely tones and frosty paillettes somehow reminding you of an early morning summer frost.

 
 

An Adorable Child

Marilyn Monroe and Truman Capote dancing at The Morocco, 1955

 

A.K.A: Abbess in High-heeled Shoes

Short story written by Truman Capote

From Music for Chamaleons

April 28, 1955

 

Scene: The chapel of the Universal funeral home at Lexington Avenue and 52nd Street, New York City. An interesting galaxy packs the pews: celebrities, for the most part, from an international arena of theater, films, literature, all present in tribute to Constance Collier, the English-born actress who had died three days before at age 75.

Born in 1880, Miss Collier had begun her career as a music-hall Gaiety Girl, graduated from that to become one of England’s principal Shakespearean actresses (and the fiancée of Sir Max Beerbohm, whom she never married, and perhaps for that reason was the inspiration for the mischievously unobtainable heroine in Sir Max’s novel Zuleika Dobson). Eventually she emigrated to the United States, where she established herself as a considerable figure on the New York stage as well as in Hollywood films. During the last decades of her life she lived in New York, where she practiced as a drama coach of unique caliber; she accepted only professionals as students, and usually only professionals who were already “stars”—Katharine Hepburn was a permanent pupil; another Hepburn, Audrey, was also a Collier protégée, as were Vivien Leigh and, for a few months prior to her death, a neophyte Miss Collier referred to as “my special problem,” Marilyn Monroe.

Marilyn Monroe, whom I’d met when John Huston was directing her in The Asphalt Jungle, one of her first speaking roles, had come under Miss Collier’s wing at my suggestion. I had known Miss Collier perhaps a half-dozen years and admired her as a woman of true stature, physically, emotionally, creatively; and, for all her commanding manner, her grand cathedral voice, as an adorable person, mildly wicked but exceedingly warm, dignified yet Gemütlich. I loved to go to the frequent small lunch parties she gave in her dark Victorian studio in mid-Manhattan; she had a barrel of yarns to tell about her adventures as a leading lady opposite Sir Beerbohm Tree [Max’s half-brother] and the great French actor Coquelin, her involvements with Oscar Wilde, the youthful Chaplin, and Garbo in the silent Swede’s formative days. Indeed Miss Collier was a delight, as was her devoted secretary and companion, Phyllis Wilbourn, a quietly twinkling maiden lady who, after her employer’s demise, became the companion of Katharine Hepburn. Miss Collier introduced me to many people who became friends: the Lunts, the Oliviers, and especially Aldous Huxley. But it was I who introduced her to Marilyn Monroe, and at first it was not an acquaintance she was too keen to acquire: her eyesight was faulty, she had seen none of Marilyn’s movies, and really knew nothing about her except that she was some sort of platinum sex-explosion who had achieved global notoriety; in short, she seemed hardly suitable clay for Miss Collier’s stern classic shaping. But I thought they might make a stimulating combination.

They did. “Oh yes,” Miss Collier reported to me, “there is something there. She is a beautiful child. I don’t mean that in the obvious way—the perhaps too obvious way. I don’t think she’s an actress at all, not in any traditional sense. What she has—this presence, this luminosity, this flickering intelligence—could never surface on the stage. It’s so fragile and subtle, it can only be caught by the camera. It’s like a hummingbird in flight: only a camera can freeze the poetry of it. But anyone who thinks this girl is simply another Harlow or harlot or whatever is mad. Speaking of mad, that’s what we’ve been working on together: Ophelia. I suppose people would chuckle at the notion, but really, she could be the most exquisite Ophelia. I was talking to Greta last week, and I told her about Marilyn’s Ophelia, and Greta said yes, she could believe that because she had seen two of her films, very bad and vulgar stuff, but nevertheless she had glimpsed Marilyn’s possibilities. Actually, Greta has an amusing idea. You know that she wants to make a film of Dorian Gray? With her playing Dorian, of course. Well, she said she would like to have Marilyn opposite her as one of the girls Dorian seduces and destroys. Greta! So unused! Such a gift—and rather like Marilyn’s, if you consider it. Of course, Greta is a consummate artist, an artist of the utmost control. This beautiful child is without any concept of discipline or sacrifice. Somehow I don’t think she’ll make old bones. Absurd of me to say, but somehow I feel she’ll go young. I hope, I really pray, that she survives long enough to free the strange lovely talent that’s wandering through her like a jailed spirit.”

But now Miss Collier had died, and here I was loitering in the vestibule of the Universal Chapel waiting for Marilyn. We had talked on the telephone the evening before, and agreed to sit together at the services, which were scheduled to start at noon. She was now a half-hour late; she was always late, but I’d thought just for once! For God’s sake, goddamnit! Then suddenly there she was, and I didn’t recognize her until she said…

Marilyn: Oh, baby, I’m so sorry. But see, I got all made up, and then I decided maybe I shouldn’t wear eyelashes or lipstick or anything, so then I had to wash all that off, and I couldn’t imagine what to wear…

(What she had imagined to wear would have been appropriate for the abbess of a nunnery in private audience with the Pope. Her hair was entirely concealed by a black chiffon scarf; her black dress was loose and long and looked somehow borrowed; black silk stockings dulled the blond sheen of her slender legs. An abbess, one can be certain, would not have donned the vaguely erotic black high-heeled shoes she had chosen, or the owlish black sunglasses that dramatized the vanilla-pallor of her dairy-fresh skin.)

TC: You look fine.

Marilyn (gnawing an already chewed-to-the-nub thumbnail): Are you sure? I mean, I’m so jumpy. Where’s the john? If I could just pop in there for a minute—

TC: And pop a pill? No! Shhh. That’s Cyril Ritchard’s voice: he’s started the eulogy.

(Tiptoeing, we entered the crowded chapel and wedged ourselves into a narrow space in the last row. Cyril Ritchard finished; he was followed by Cathleen Nesbitt, a lifelong colleague of Miss Collier’s, and finally Brian Aherne addressed the mourners. Through it all, my date periodically removed her spectacles to scoop up tears bubbling from her blue-grey eyes. I’d sometimes seen her without makeup, but today she presented a new visual experience, a face I’d not observed before, and at first I couldn’t perceive why this should be. Ah! It was because of the obscuring head scarf. With her tresses invisible, and her complexion cleared of all cosmetics, she looked 12 years old, a pubescent virgin who has just been admitted to an orphanage and is grieving over her plight. At last the ceremony ended, and the congregation began to disperse.)

Marilyn: Please, let’s sit here. Let’s wait till everyone’s left.

TC: Why?

Marilyn: I don’t want to have to talk to anybody. I never know what to say.

TC: Then you sit here, and I’ll wait outside. I’ve got to have a cigarette.

Marilyn: You can’t leave me alone! My God! Smoke here.

TC: Very funny. Come on, let’s go.

Marilyn: Please. There’s a lot of shutter-bugs downstairs. And I certainly don’t want them taking my picture looking like this.

TC: I can’t blame you for that.

Marilyn: You said I looked fine.

TC: You do. Just perfect—if you were playing the Bride of Frankenstein.

Marilyn: Now you’re laughing at me.

TC: Do I look like I’m laughing?

Marilyn: You’re laughing inside. And that’s the worst kind of laugh. (Frowning; nibbling thumbnail) Actually, I could’ve worn makeup. I see all these other people are wearing makeup.

TC: I am. Globs.

Marilyn: Seriously, though. It’s my hair. I need color. And I didn’t have time to get any. It was all so unexpected, Miss Collier dying and all. See?

(She lifted her kerchief slightly to display a fringe of darkness where her hair parted.)

TC: Poor innocent me. And all this time I thought you were a bona fide blonde.

Marilyn: I am. But nobody’s that natural.

TC: Okay, everybody’s cleared out. So up, up.

Marilyn: Those photographers are still down there. I know it.

TC: If they didn’t recognize you coming in, they won’t recognize you going out.

Marilyn: One of them did. But I’d slipped through the door before he started yelling.

TC: I’m sure there’s a back entrance. We can go out that way.

Marilyn: I don’t want to see any corpses.

TC: Why would we?

Marilyn: This is a funeral parlor. They must keep them somewhere. That’s all I need today, to wander into a room full of corpses. Be patient. I’ll take us somewhere and treat us to a bottle of bubbly.

So we sat and talked and Marilyn said: “I hate funerals. I’m glad I won’t have to go to my own. Only, I don’t want a funeral—just my ashes cast on waves by one of my kids, if I ever have any. I wouldn’t have come today except Miss Collier cared about me, my welfare, and she was just like a granny, a tough old granny, but she taught me a lot. She taught me how to breathe. I’ve put it to good use, too, and I don’t mean just acting. There are other times when breathing is a problem. But when I first heard about it, Miss Collier cooling, the first thing I thought was: Oh, gosh, what’s going to happen to Phyllis?! Her whole life was Miss Collier. But I hear she’s going to live with Miss Hepburn. Lucky Phyllis; she’s going to have fun now. I’d change places with her pronto. Miss Hepburn is a terrific lady, no shit. I wish she was my friend. So I could call her up sometimes and…well, I don’t know, just call her up.”

We talked about how much we liked New York and loathed Los Angeles (“Even though I was born there, I still can’t think of one good thing to say about it. If I close my eyes, and picture L.A., all I see is one big varicose vein”); we talked about actors and acting (“Everybody says I can’t act. They said the same thing about Elizabeth Taylor. And they were wrong. She was great in A Place in the Sun. I’ll never get the right part, anything I really want. My looks are against me. They’re too specific”); we talked some more about Elizabeth Taylor, and she wanted to know if I knew her, and I said yes, and she said well, what is she like, what is she really like, and I said well, she’s a bit like you, she wears her heart on her sleeve and talks salty, and Marilyn said f—you and said well, if somebody asked me what Marilyn Monroe was like, what was Marilyn Monroe really like, what would I say, and I said I’d have to think about that.

TC: Now do you think we can get the hell out of here? You promised me champagne, remember?

Marilyn: I remember. But I don’t have any money.

TC: You’re always late and you never have any money. By any chance are you under the delusion that you’re Queen Elizabeth?

Marilyn: Who?

TC: Queen Elizabeth. The Queen of England.

Marilyn (frowning): What’s that cunt got to do with it?

TC: Queen Elizabeth never carries money either. She’s not allowed to. Filthy lucre must not stain the royal palm. It’s a law or something.

Marilyn: I wish they’d pass a law like that for me.

TC: Keep going the way you are and maybe they will.

Marilyn: Well, gosh. How does she pay for anything? Like when she goes shopping.

TC: Her lady-in-waiting trots along with a bag full of farthings.

Marilyn: You know what? I’ll bet she gets everything free. In return for endorsements.

TC: Very possible. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised. By Appointment to Her Majesty. Corgi dogs. All those Fortnum & Mason goodies. Pot. Condoms.

Marilyn: What would she want with condoms?

TC: Not her, dopey. For that chump who walks two steps behind, Prince Philip.

Marilyn: Him. Oh, yeah. He’s cute. He looks like he might have a nice prick. Did I ever tell you about the time I saw Errol Flynn whip out his prick and play the piano with it? Oh well, it was a hundred years ago, I’d just got into modeling, and I went to this half-ass party, and Errol Flynn, so pleased with himself, he was there and he took out his prick and played the piano with it. Thumped the keys. He played You Are My Sunshine. Christ! Everybody says Milton Berle has the biggest schlong in Hollywood. But who cares? Look, don’t you have any money?

TC: Maybe about fifty bucks.

Marilyn: Well, that ought to buy us some bubbly.

(Outside, Lexington Avenue was empty of all but harmless pedestrians. It was around two, and as nice an April afternoon as one could wish: ideal strolling weather. So we moseyed toward Third Avenue. A few gawkers spun their heads, not because they recognized Marilyn as the Marilyn, but because of her funereal finery; she giggled her special little giggle, a sound as tempting as the jingling bells on a Good Humor wagon, and said: “Maybe I should always dress this way. Real anonymous.”)

(As we neared P.J. Clarke’s saloon, I suggested P.J.’s might be a good place to refresh ourselves, but she vetoed that: “It’s full of those advertising creeps. And that bitch Dorothy Kilgallen, she’s always in there getting bombed. What is it with these micks? The way they booze, they’re worse than Indians.”)

(I felt called upon to defend Kilgallen, who was a friend, somewhat, and I allowed as to how she could upon occasion be a clever funny woman. She said: “Be that as it may, she’s written some bitchy stuff about me. But all those types hate me. Hedda. Louella. I know you’re supposed to get used to it, but I just can’t. It really hurts. What did I ever do to those hags? The only one who writes a decent word about me is Sidney Skolsky. But he’s a guy. The guys treat me okay. Just like maybe I was a human person. At least they give me the benefit of the doubt. And Bob Thomas is a gentleman. And Jack O’Brian.”)

(We looked in the windows of antique shops; one contained a tray of old rings, and Marilyn said: “That’s pretty. The garnet with the seed pearls. I wish I could wear rings, but I hate people to notice my hands. They’re too fat. Elizabeth Taylor has fat hands. But with those eyes, who’s looking at her hands?”)

(Another window displayed a handsome grandfather clock, which prompted her to observe: “I’ve never had a home. Not a real one with all my own furniture. But if I ever get married again, and make a lot of money, I’m going to hire a couple of trucks and ride down Third Avenue buying every damn kind of crazy thing. I’m going to get a dozen grandfather clocks and line them all up in one room and have them all ticking away at the same time. That would be real homey, don’t you think?”)

Marilyn: Hey! Across the street!

TC: What?

Marilyn: See the sign with the palm? That must be a fortune-telling parlor.

TC: Are you in the mood for that?

Marilyn: Well, let’s take a look.

 

Palmistry photoshoot. Milton Greene. Arizona, 1956

 

(It was not an inviting establishment. Through a smeared window we could discern a barren room with a skinny, hairy gypsy lady seated in a canvas chair under a hellfire-red ceiling lamp that shed a torturous glow; she was knitting a pair of baby booties, and did not return our stares. Nevertheless, Marilyn started to go in, then changed her mind.)

Marilyn: Sometimes I want to know what’s going to happen. Then I think it’s better not to. There’s two things I’d like to know, though. One is whether I’m going to lose weight.

TC: And the other?

Marilyn: That’s a secret.

TC: Now, now. We can’t have any secrets today. Today is a day of sorrow, and sorrowers share their innermost thoughts.

Marilyn: Well, it’s a man. There’s something I’d like to know. But that’s all I’m going to tell. It really is a secret.

(And I thought: That’s what you think; I’ll get it out of you.)

TC: I’m ready to buy that champagne.

(We wound up on Second Avenue in a gaudily decorated, deserted Chinese restaurant. But it did have a well-stocked bar, and we ordered a bottle of Mumm’s; it arrived unchilled, and without a bucket, so we drank it out of tall glasses with ice cubes.)

Marilyn: This is fun. Kind of like being on location—if you like location. Which I most certainly don’t. Niagara. That stinker. Yuk.

TC: So let’s hear about your secret lover.

Marilyn: (Silence)

TC: (Silence)

Marilyn: (Giggles)

TC: (Silence)

Marilyn: You know so many women. Who’s the most attractive woman you know?

TC: No contest. Barbara Paley. Hands down.

Marilyn (frowning): Is that the one they call “Babe”? She sure doesn’t look like any Babe to me. I’ve seen her in Vogue and all. She’s so elegant. Lovely. Just looking at her pictures makes me feel like pig-slop.

TC: She might be amused to hear that. She’s very jealous of you.

Marilyn: Jealous of me? Now there you go again, laughing.

TC: Not at all. She is jealous.

Marilyn: But why?

TC: Because one of the columnists, Kilgallen I think, ran a blind item that said something like: “Rumor hath it that Mrs. DiMaggio rendezvoused with television’s toppest tycoon and it wasn’t to discuss business.” Well, she read the item and she believes it.

Marilyn: Believes what?

TC: That her husband is having an affair with you. William S. Paley. TV’s toppest tycoon. He’s partial to shapely blondes. Brunettes, too.

Marilyn: But that’s batty. I’ve never met the guy.

TC: Ah, come on. You can level with me. This secret lover of yours—it’s William S. Paley, n’est-ce pas?

Marilyn: No! It’s a writer. He’s a writer.

TC: That’s more like it. Now we’re getting somewhere. So your lover is a writer. Must be a real hack, or you wouldn’t be ashamed to tell me his name.

Marilyn (furious, frantic): What does the “S” stand for?

TC: “S.” What “S”?

Marilyn: The “S” in William S. Paley.

TC: Oh, that “S.” It doesn’t stand for anything. He sort of tossed it in there for appearance sake.

Marilyn: It’s just an initial with no name behind it? My goodness. Mr. Paley must be a little insecure.

TC: He twitches a lot. But let’s get back to our mysterious scribe.

Marilyn: Stop it! You don’t understand. I have so much to lose.

TC: Waiter, we’ll have another Mumm’s, please.

Marilyn: Are you trying to loosen my tongue?

TC: Yes. Tell you what. We’ll make an exchange. I’ll tell you a story, and if you think it’s interesting, then perhaps we can discuss your writer friend.

Marilyn (tempted, but reluctant): What’s your story about?

TC: Errol Flynn.

Marilyn: (Silence)

TC: (Silence)

Marilyn (hating herself): Well, go on.

TC: Errol and I once spent a cozy evening together. If you follow me.

Marilyn: You’re making this up. You’re trying to trick me.

TC: Scout’s honor. I’m dealing from a clean deck. (Silence; but I can see that she’s hooked, so after lighting a cigarette…) Well, this happened when I was 18. Nineteen. It was during the war. The winter of 1943. That night Carol Marcus, or maybe she was already Carol Saroyan, was giving a party for her best friend, Gloria Vanderbilt. She gave it in her mother’s apartment on Park Avenue. Big party. About 50 people. Around midnight Errol Flynn rolls in with his alter ego, a swashbuckling playboy named Freddie McEvoy. They were both pretty loaded. Anyway, Errol started yakking with me, and he was bright, we were making each other laugh, and suddenly he said he wanted to go to El Morocco, and did I want to go with him and his buddy McEvoy. I said okay, but then McEvoy didn’t want to leave the party and all those debutantes, so in the end Errol and I left alone. Only we didn’t go to El Morocco. We took a taxi down to Gramercy Park, where I had a little one-room apartment. He stayed until noon the next day.

Marilyn: And how would you rate it? On a scale of one to ten.

TC: Frankly, if it hadn’t been Errol Flynn, I don’t think I would have remembered it.

Marilyn: That’s not much of a story. Not worth mine—not by a long shot.

TC: Waiter, where is our champagne? You’ve got two thirsty people here.

Marilyn: And it’s not as if you’d told me anything new. I’ve always known Errol zigzagged. I have a masseur, he’s practically my sister, and he was Tyrone Power’s masseur, and he told me all about the thing Errol and Ty Power had going. No, you’ll have to do better than that.

TC: You drive a hard bargain.

Marilyn: I’m listening. So let’s hear your best experience. Along those lines.

TC: The best? The most memorable? Suppose you answer the question first.

Marilyn: And I drive hard bargains! Ha! (Swallowing champagne) Joe’s not bad. He can hit home runs. If that’s all it takes, we’d still be married. I still love him, though. He’s genuine.

TC: Husbands don’t count. Not in this game.

Marilyn (nibbling nail; really thinking): Well, I met a man, a stockbroker and nothing much to look at—65, and he wears those very thick glasses. Thick as jellyfish. I can’t say what it was, but—

TC: You can stop right there. I’ve heard all about him from other girls. He’s supposed to be sensational.

Marilyn: He is. Okay, smart-ass. Your turn.

TC: Forget it. I don’t have to tell you damn nothing. Because I know who your masked marvel is: Arthur Miller. (She lowered her black glasses: Oh boy, if looks could kill, wow!) I guessed as soon as you said he was a writer.

Marilyn (stammering): But how? I mean, nobody… hardly anybody—

TC: At least three, maybe four years ago Irving Drutman—

Marilyn: Irving who?

TC: Drutman. He’s a writer on the Herald Tribune. He told me you were fooling around with Arthur Miller. Had a hang-up on him. I was too much of a gentleman to mention it before.

Marilyn: Gentleman! You bastard. (Stammering again, but dark glasses in place) You don’t understand. That was long ago. That ended. But this is new. It’s all different now, and—

TC: Just don’t forget to invite me to the wedding.

Marilyn: If you talk about this, I’ll murder you. I’ll have you bumped off. I know a couple of men who’d gladly do me the favor.

TC: I don’t question that for an instant.

(At last the waiter returned with the second bottle.)

Marilyn: Tell him to take it back. I don’t want any. I want to get the hell out of here.

TC: Sorry if I’ve upset you.

Marilyn: I’m not upset.

(But she was. While I paid the check, she left for the powder room, and I wished I had a book to read: her visits to powder rooms sometimes lasted as long as an elephant’s pregnancy. Idly, as time ticked by, I wondered if she was popping uppers or downers. Downers, no doubt. There was a newspaper on the bar, and I picked it up; it was written in Chinese. After 20 minutes had passed, I decided to investigate. Maybe she’d popped a lethal dose, or even cut her wrists. I found the ladies’ room, and knocked on the door. She said: “Come in.” Inside, she was confronting a dimly lit mirror. I said: “What are you doing?” She said: “Looking at Her.” In fact, she was coloring her lips with ruby lipstick. Also, she had removed the somber head scarf and combed out her glossy, fine-as-cotton-candy hair.)

Marilyn: I hope you have enough money left.

TC: That depends. Not enough to buy pearls, if that’s your idea of making amends.

Marilyn (giggling, returned to good spirits. I decided I wouldn’t mention Arthur Miller again): No. Only enough for a long taxi ride.

TC: Where are we going—Hollywood?

Marilyn: Hell, no. A place I like. You’ll find out when we get there.

(I didn’t have to wait that long, for as soon as we had flagged a taxi, I heard her instruct the cabby to drive to the South Street pier, and I thought: Isn’t that where one takes the ferry to Staten Island? And my next conjecture was: She’s swallowed pills on top of that champagne and now she’s off her rocker.)

TC: I hope we’re not going on any boat rides. I didn’t pack my Dramamine.

Marilyn (happy, giggling): Just the pier.

TC: May I ask why?

Marilyn: I like it there. It smells foreign, and I can feed the seagulls.

TC: With what? You haven’t anything to feed them.

Marilyn: Yes, I do. My purse is full of fortune cookies. I swiped them from that restaurant.

TC (kidding her): Uh-huh. While you were in the John I cracked one open. The slip inside was a dirty joke.

Marilyn: Gosh. Dirty fortune cookies?

TC: I’m sure the gulls won’t mind.

(Our route carried us through the Bowery. Tiny pawnshops and blood-donor stations and dormitories with 50-cent cots and tiny, grim hotels with dollar beds and bars for whites, bars for blacks, everywhere bums, bums, young, far from young, ancient, bums squatting curbside, squatting amid shattered glass and pukey debris, bums slanting in doorways and huddled like penguins at street corners. Once, when we paused for a red light, a purple-nosed scarecrow weaved toward us and began swabbing the taxi’s windshield with a wet rag clutched in a shaking hand. Our protesting driver shouted Italian obscenities.)

Marilyn: What is it? What’s happening?

TC: He wants a tip for cleaning the window.

Marilyn (shielding her face with her purse): How horrible! I can’t stand it. Give him something. Hurry. Please!

(But the taxi had already zoomed ahead, damn near knocking down the old lush. Marilyn was crying.) I’m sick.

TC: You want to go home?

Marilyn: Everything’s ruined.

TC: I’ll take you home.

Marilyn: Give me a minute. I’ll be okay.

(Thus we traveled on to South Street, and indeed the sight of a ferry moored there, with the Brooklyn skyline across the water and careening, cavorting seagulls white against a marine horizon streaked with thin fleecy clouds fragile as lace—this tableau soon soothed her soul.

(As we got out of the taxi we saw a man with a chow on a leash, a prospective passenger, walking toward the ferry, and as we passed them, my companion stopped to pat the dog’s head.)

The Man (firm, but not unfriendly): You shouldn’t touch strange dogs. Especially chows. They might bite you.

Marilyn: Dogs never bite me. Just humans. What’s his name?

The Man: Fu Manchu.

Marilyn (giggling): Oh, just like the movie. That’s cute.

The Man: What’s yours?

Marilyn: My name? Marilyn.

The Man: That’s what I thought. My wife will never believe me. Can I have your autograph?

(He produced a business card and a pen; using her purse to write on, she wrote: God Bless You—Marilyn Monroe.)

Marilyn: Thank you.

The Man: Thank you. Wait’ll I show this back at the office.

(We continued to the edge of the pier, and listened to the water sloshing against it.)

Marilyn: I used to ask for autographs. Sometimes I still do. Last year Clark Gable was sitting next to me in Chasen’s, and I asked him to sign my napkin.

(Leaning against a mooring stanchion, she presented a profile: Galatea surveying unconquered distances. Breezes fluffed her hair, and her head turned toward me with an ethereal ease, as though a breeze had swiveled it.)

TC: So when do we feed the birds? I’m hungry, too. It’s late, and we never had lunch.

Marilyn: Remember, I said if anybody ever asked you what I was like, what Marilyn Monroe was really like—well, how would you answer them? (Her tone was teaseful, mocking, yet earnest, too: she wanted an honest reply.) I bet you’d tell them I was a slob. A banana split.

TC: Of course. But I’d also say…

(The light was leaving. She seemed to fade with it, blend with the sky and clouds, recede beyond them. I wanted to lift my voice louder than the seagulls’ cries and call her back: Marilyn! Marilyn, why did everything have to turn out the way it did? Why does life have to be so rotten?)

TC: I’d say…

Marilyn: I can’t hear you.

TC: I’d say you are a beautiful child.