Archive for the ‘Soap Operas of the Great and Famous’ Category


Philip K. Dick

October 23, 2014

Looking for Philip K Dick

The love life of Philip K. Dick was so complicated I wouldn’t even try to summarize it – there is nothing to do but recommend Lawrence Sutin’s biography of the speculative fiction maestro.

But here is a quote from that book, by one of his short-term romantic interests:

Phil had this marvelous ability to love-blast people, to turn on this incredibly intense affection – I think that was his main attraction to women and also to his friends. When he loved you, he really loved you.

Apparently he was rough on wives – possessive, and either attention-craving or shut off, and threw things and destroyed household goods, and even did some physical violence. That sucks, but he still wrote some great books.

In 1953, in Galaxy, he published “Colony,” a story in which the space expedition leader was Commander Stella Morrison. Do you realize how long ago and how very unusual that was?
Spend half an hour listening to “Colony.”

Other people’s stuff:

What Philip K. Dick learned about women from Ursula K. Le Guin

A Look at the treatment of female characters

Philip K. Dick and Feminism

The words come out of my hands not my brain, I write with my hands.
—Philip K. Dick

Illustration “Looking for Philip K. Dick” by Glenn Fleishman


Prominent Men and Older Women

December 1, 2009

Prominent Men and Older Women:

Cougaring with the Great and Famous

These brilliant men went for older women – and who would dare call them tadpoles?

Honore’ de Balzac was self-aware enough to understand that he preferred older women because he had never known a mother’s love. At age 23, the author embarked on his first affair (which lasted 15 years) with 45-year-old Laure de Berny (so they were together until she was 60).

Raymond Chandler – the love of his life, Cissy Pascal, was 18 years older

Salvadore Dali and Gala (Elena Ivanovna Diakonova), 10 or 11 years older. She ditched Paul Eluard, the surrealist poet, for him.

Benjamin Disraeli, who served as prime minister of England, married Anne Lewis, who was 12 years his senior, and they lasted 33 years until her death..

When he was 14, Gustave Flaubert, was swept off his feet by Elisa Schlésinger, 12 years older. Some of the characters in his novels were partly based on her.

Clark Gable married Josephine Dillon, 17 years older. His second wife was also older, and he once said, “I’ll take the older woman every time.” Well, maybe not every time. He did lead a long life of seduction.

Kahlil Gibran had a history of befriending older women who could be useful to him.

had a ten-year relationship which was “probably platonic” with a married woman, Charlotte von Stein, who was 7 years older. He wrote her at least 1500 letters.

Maxim Gorki
was madly in love with a woman 10 years older, Olga Kaminskaya, whom he married.

Ernest Hemingway as a young man preferred older women. His first wife, Hadley Richardson, was 8 years older.

Henrik Ibsen as a young man had affair with woman ten years older. They had a son when the playwright was only 18.

Samuel Johnson married a woman 20 years older than himself

John Lennon upset a whole lot of people by marrying Yoko Ono, 7 years older, though it wasn’t the age difference that cause the problem.

Sean Lennon, who was 22 at the time, was reported in 1998 to have a 37-year-old girlfriend.

During the war, C. S. Lewis and another soldier made a pact. If only one of them survived, he would take care of the other’s living parent. The other soldier was killed, and Lewis lived with his friend’s mother for more than 30 years. Nobody knows whether they were lovers, but some people are pretty sure of it.

H. P. Lovecraft‘s parents both died in the same insane asylum. He married Sonia Greene, who was 7 years older, but it only lasted a couple of years. She reported that he was an “adequately excellent lover.”

Friedrich Nietzsche claimed in his memoirs (which are not reliable according to historians) that at 15 he was seduced by a 30-year-old countess who was into S&M.

Rainer Maria Rilke had an affair with Lou Andreas-Salome’ who was 13 years older, and they may have had a child.

When Robert Louis Stevenson met Fanny Vandegrift, he published an essay in a popular magazine called “On falling in love.” She was 10 years older, and they eventually married.

Paul Theroux
says even women of 60 can be “intensely sexual.” In 2003 he published a splendid piece called “And here’s to you, Mrs Robinson.” He admits to a longtime fondness for older women, even the “somewhat domineering” kind.

John Travolta
married Diana Hyland, who was 18 years older. She died pretty soon afterward, so we don’t know how that might have worked out.

Thomas Wolfe on his 25th birthday began an affair with 44-year-old Aline Bernstein, who was married to someone else at the time. And Wolfe’s mother was anti-Semitic. And he was a compulsive womanizer. Still, the affair lasted 6 years. It is said that on his deathbed, Wolfe whispered, “Where’s Aline? I want Aline. I want my Jew.”


Prominent Women and Their Younger Men

November 12, 2009

Cougaring with the Great and Famous

MillayJennifer Anniston‘s current boyfriend is 9 years younger, plus she’s making a movie about a woman who pursues younger men.

Sarah Bernhardt was 37 when she got together with Aristidis Damala, who was 12 years younger. Morphine-addicted, probably bisexual, and with a bad case of himself, Damala was a challenge. His bad habits killed him at 42, and Bernhardt mourned him for a long time. When she was 66, The Divine Sarah started an affair with Lou Tellegen who was 27 – that’s, like almost 40 years difference. She was literally old enough to be his grandmother. It lasted four years and was one of the leading scandals of the era.

Halle Berry is 10 years older than her child’s father

At age 43, Catherine II, empress of Russia, had an affair with Grigori Potemkin, who was 35. For the next quarter of a century, Catherine’s numerous lovers were first road-tested by her ladies in waiting. At 60, she got together with 22-year-old Platon Zubov, in a relationship that lasted seven years.

Cher has, or had, a boyfriend she is, or was, 23 years older than.
Cher’s mom – several years ago one of the popular celebrity magazines printed a great photo of Cher’s mother, rollerskating on the Venice boardwalk with her much younger, and very foxy, boyfriend.


Joan Collins married a 36-year-old man when she was 68.

Simone de Beauvoir had an affair with Claude Lanzmann, a journalist 17 years younger.

duncanIsadora Duncan was over 40 when she married the Russian poet Sergei Esenin, who was 17 years younger.

George Eliot, the woman writer with a male pseudonym, was 60 when she married a man 20 years younger. During their honeymoon in Venice he jumped out the window of the hotel into Grand Canal. Gossips back in England said he did it to escape his wife’s insatiable sexual drive.
mata hari 2
Mata Hari, the famous dancer and courtesan, forgot her professional demeanor and fell in love with Vadim Masloff, a Russian military man who was 19 years younger. They wanted to get married, but he was badly wounded and she wanted to get out of the life, but they had not money. So she took employment as a spy, which she was lousy at, and was thrown in prison. The authorities confiscated Vadim’s letters, so she thought he had abandoned her. For some reason, probably government coercion, he wrote a letter to her trial judge, denouncing her and she was executed.

Chrissie Hynde married Jim Kerr, 8 years younger.

Grace Jones at age 43 married a 21-year-old guy.

Historian Catherine Macaulay, at 47, married a man of 21.

Madonna isn’t bothered by the 28 year age difference between her boyfriend and herself.

MagnaniAnna Magnani had an affair with a 19-year-old whose mother raised hell and demanded to know ad an affair with – his mother demanded to know what he was doing with that old lady. The youth protested, “But, Mamma, that’s no old lady, that’s Anna Magnani!”

Edna St. Vincent Millay was involved with a poet named George Dillon, fourteen years younger, who was said to be the only man who broke her heart.

Demi Moore married a guy 15 years younger.

Mary Tyler Moore‘s husband is 17 years younger, and they’ve been married since 1983.

ninAnais Nin, at 42, had an affair with an 18-year-old (that’s a 24 year age gap), and encouraged him to quit college. His father found out and threatened Nin with deportation. Also, he said he squeal to her husband’s bosses. The husband was a bank executive, so this would have meant job loss and serious income deprivation. Nin was 16 years older than her second (bigamous) husband Rupert Pole, and concealed her true age from him for many years. (She had work done, and looked a lot younger than her years.)

When Adelina Patti was 55, she married a man 27 years younger, or half her age.

Edith Piaf

Ayn Rand, who was married at the time, got a wild hair in her 40s and started up with a guy 25 years younger, Nathaniel Branden. It was a stormy fourteen-year relationship Branden described as “full of sexual dominance and surrender and the uncontrollable passion of two noble souls.” He finally broke loose and paired up with a young model.

Actress Rachel Roberts spent years with fashion stylist Darren Ramirez, who was nearly twenty years younger, and bisexual. Biographer Alexander Walker says the young man had a pliant nature, and was able to “calm her first, reason with her afterwards, hold it together with affection.”
george sand
George Sand‘s lover Jules Sandeau was 7 years younger. Frederic Chopin was 6 years younger. At 45 she embarked on an affair with a man 13 years younger, which lasted 15 years. At 60 she acquired a lover who was 21 years her junior. In addition to liking young men, she also liked to dress as a young man.

Susan Sarandon is 12 years older than husband Timothy Robbins.

Acclaimed dancer Ruth St. Denis married a man 14 years younger. As she aged, she shared her favors with more men than ever before. Her husband said about one of her teenage lovers, “If he were any younger he’d be a fetus!”

Okay, technically this isn’t a love affair. But Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Jackson (26 years younger) deserve a few words, paraphrased from Paul Theroux. Jackson offered Taylor a bunch of tickets for one of his shows, but Taylor didn’t like the VIP box so far away from the stage. She and all of her guests turned around and left. Jackson called her up the next day, crying. He apologized for the lousy accomodations, and they ended up talking for a couple of hours. They spent time on the phone pretty much every day for three months, and that was the start of their very close friendship.

Emma Thompson‘s husband is 7 years younger.

Tina Turner has been with a guy for more than 20 years, and he’s 16 years younger than she is.

Alma Mahler Werfel was married to the composer Mahler, then to architect Walter Gropius, then to author Franz Werfel, who was 12 years younger than she.


Colette: Cougar Woman Ahead of the Curve

November 12, 2009

coletteThe novelist Colette had a notorious affair with her stepson that started when he was only 16 (or 19). The age difference was somewhere between 20 and 30 years. (I wish these sources would get together and agree on something.) Colette published a famous and scandalous novel called Cheri, a romance where the woman is 24 years older than her lover!

In those days, a novel typically came out one chapter at a time, in a magazine. In that respect, a novel was more like a TV series. The readers were forced to wait to find out what happened. Somehow they remembered the plot and characters from one episode to the next. People’s minds were less crowded with urgent, exigent matters in those days.

Anyway, people assumed that Colette’s novel was based on the stepson affair, but here’s the weird part – about half of Cheri had already been published in serialized form before she ever met that young man.

At 52, Colette met Maurice Goudeket, who was 16 years her junior, and who became her third husband. He later published a book titled The Delights of Growing Old. The reviewer at The Common Reader says,

Goudeket at thirty found himself at last drawn into the ‘great love’ he’d despaired of ever finding, and in these pages he draws an exquisitely tender picture of this thirty-year relationship, vividly capturing the sense of wonder and awe he unfailingly felt toward his gifted, remarkable wife.



Edith Piaf: Love Conquers All

November 9, 2009

piaf_cerdan“Love conquers all” is one of the mottoes Edith Piaf lived by, and has anyone ever had a more pathetic life story? Born under a lamp-post at three in the morning, cared for by a grandma who put red wine in her baby bottle, as a child she went blind and lived in a whorehouse. On August 19, the proprietress of this institution hung a “closed” sign on the door, mustered all the girls and the 7-year-old child, and led them and to the shrine of St. Theresa of Lisieux where they prayed and burned candles all day. The madame promised to donate ten thousand francs to the church if Edith were cured on August 25. On the appointed day, the little girl regained her sight, which caused the village priest to decree that now, being able to see the disgraceful goings-on, she could no longer live in the brothel. Or maybe he figured the saint would disapprove.

For Edith, it was “out of the frying pan and into the fire.” By 1930, she was a seasoned street performer, successful enough to rescue her half-sister, Simone Berteaut, from their negligent mother. When Edith got pregnant, she and her 14-year-old sister were sharing quarters, and they were both so distracted, nobody thought to prepare for the event with so much as a diaper. They didn’t know how to do laundry, so clothes were worn until they got too rank, and thrown away. Edith was singing in a dive, and the two sisters would leave the baby asleep in their room while they went to work. Sometimes they would rent a room for 12 hours, and spend the other 12 hours out on the streets. It was cheaper than maintaining a continuous residence someplace. There were stretches as long as a week when even that minimal amount of shelter couldn’t be had. Eventually, the baby’s father showed up and appropriated her. The little girl died of meningitis at age two and a half, and Edith turned her first trick to pay for the burial.

A club owner was murdered, and Simone was sent to a detention center for a couple of months. The press went wild connecting Edith with the case, and her career began with shady notoriety. People would come to hear her sing just so they could boo her for being connected with a suspicious death. She took up with American sailors, allegedly locking three or four men in different rooms while she went to work, to be assured of finding them when she returned. She was proud of being able to drink any man under the table.

Simone ran a dry hustle where she’d show some man a photo of her “sick little brother,” or tell him the concierge was holding the child hostage for non-payment of rent. After taking the mark’s money, she would promise to come back and give him a happy ending as soon as the baby got its medicine or the rent was paid. The sisters always lived on the edge, in chaos and squalor. At one point, Edith moved a nine-man singing group into their place. She is said to have invited several former lovers over on the same evening, and they all showed up wearing blue suits she had bought for them. Edith liked to see her men wearing blue. (But come to think of it, those two stories might be the same story. Maybe the sisters were extending hospitality to a whole band, and they wore blue uniforms. So somebody made up this story about the party for the ex-lovers. The gutter press was around in those days, as always. You never know, with these things.)

A boyfriend introduced Edith to an invention called the toothbrush, which was a blessing, since her favorite snack was pickled herring with onions. This same guy was too polite and gentlemanly for Edith’s standards, so she plotted how to get him to hit her. Eventually, a character named Raymond Asso took the songstress in hand to teach her how to act civilized, stop hanging around with whores and pimps, and become a professional with an actual career. He thought Simone was a leech, and forced Edith to abandon her sister and move in with him.

During the war, the Germans who occupied France liked Edith Piaf. She would perform for them, but she also got them to pay for shows in the stalags, and then she’d turn over her fee to the prisoners of war. Visiting a POW camp, the sweet little wren would pose for a photo with a group of prisoners – just a sentimental keepsake for her scrapbook, of course. The pictures then went to the French Resistance, so fake IDs could be made to help Allied POWs escape. Apparently, Edith got away with this more than once.

Edith in love was a fearsome sight – jealous, possessive, demanding, and prone to howling fits. She was lover and mentor to Yves Montand, who was five or six years younger, and already had a wife and children. The pair of them would have monumental physical battles, and scream at each other till they were hoarse, then gargle the hoarseness out of their throats and go onstage. The demands of their respective careers took these lovers away from each other.

When Edith was enmeshed in an affair with boxer Marcel Cerdan, she and Simone sneaked into the training camp and lived in an unused bungalow so the affair could continue. Marcel brought them sandwiches once a day, and they had only tap water to drink. It was, needless to say, a great sacrifice for Edith to drink nothing but water. This, more than anything, proved her devotion.

Ever since becoming her sister’s sidekick again, Simone was the all-purpose gofer and ultimate personal assistant. They’d pick up a couple of men and take them home. Edith always got the better-looking one, and Simone’s role was to take the other guy into another room and keep him there, so he wouldn’t be in the way while Edith seduced the man of her choice. Her whole concept of sex was much closer to the typical masculine attitude. Men existed for her to judge, pick, use, discard, or fall madly in love with. A man was something to enslave, or to be enslaved by.

When Edith found a new sweetheart, she would go broke buying him fancy clothes and pricey watches and cufflinks and so on. There was always a stack of unpaid bills. Her philosophy was, as long as she earned money, she was entitled to spend money, and if the numbers didn’t match up, she didn’t want to hear about it. At a friend’s suggestion, Edith once bought a farm for the sake of the healthy country air. She reportedly paid 15 million francs for the real estate, and another 10 million on renovations, never even spent three weekends there, and ended up selling the place for 6 million francs. Dining in a restaurant with a large party, Edith would pick up the check – but since she was paying, she decided what everyone would eat. She’d buy a man a nice pair of alligator shoes, but a size too small, because she didn’t like big feet.

Marcel took the sisters to New York. Simone was ordered to sample the man’s meals before he ate, because Edith was afraid his opponent would try to poison him. Marcel won the fight and became the new world champion. Soon the lovers were both back in Europe; Edith in Paris, and Marcel in Casablanca. They both had careers, after all. Edith didn’t trust the mail service, or indeed any strangers, with her love letters to Marcel. Guess who wound up flying back and forth three times a week to deliver the letters? Simone, of course.

Then, the tragedy. Edith was in New York working, and Marcel was going to join her. He intended to travel by ship, but she asked him to take a plane because she couldn’t wait. The plane crashed and he was killed. Edith stopped eating, and was only able to fulfill her contractual obligations and sing her songs with the aid of powerful drugs. Marcel’s ghost visited her. She held seances, sitting around a table all night while the spirit of Marcel wrote songs for her. The seances went on for three years, and Edith befriended Marcel’s widow and kids.

If Edith wanted to stay up all night, Simone had to stay up all night too. The singer exercised parental control over her wayward sister for 30 years, supplied her basic needs and put money in the bank for her, and didn’t let her take sugar in her coffee. Edith loved certain movies, and Simone had to accompany her to see The Third Man nineteen times. When Simone got pregnant, Edith felt her trust was betrayed. Simone wasn’t supposed to have anyone in her life more important than Edith. With her substance abuse problems, extensively documented elsewhere, Edith needed a lot of looking after. With the opiates and the alcohol, there was a “nightmare that lasted four years,” during which she got married and divorced and also tried to kill herself.piaf_ Sarapo

The traumatized Edith couldn’t stand to be alone, not even in the bathroom. Somebody had to be with her all the time, man or woman, didn’t matter. She saw spiders and mice that other people couldn’t see. Just before starting a nearly year-long tour of the United States, she was hospitalized for more than month. The tour was the longest and most lucrative of her career, and at the time she was, after Crosby and Sinatra, the best-paid star in the world.

Her third car accident didn’t seem to do too much damage, only some cuts, but a few months later Edith collapsed onstage and vomited blood from a stomach ulcer. By then she weighed about 75 pounds. She was operated on for pancreatitis, diagnosed with cancer, and hospitalized again in a hepatic coma. She resumed touring, but then had two more surgeries for intestinal constrictions. At age 47 she was a wreck.

So, what did Edith Piaf do next? What any celebrity diva would do. She married the beautiful Theo Sarapo, who was 26 when they met, or approximately 20 years younger. Everyone thought he married her for money, but he was truly devoted to Edith, as far as anyone could tell. She came down with double pneumonia, then pulmonary edema. Emerging from another coma, of five days’ duration this time, she suffered “a fit of true madness that lasted two weeks,” which Theo nursed her through. When Edith died, the poor guy didn’t inherit anything but 45 million francs worth of debt. Jean Cocteau died the same day, just when he was getting ready to read a funeral eulogy for Edith Piaf over the radio.



Richard Feynman a.k.a. Dirty Dick: Genius, Hound Dog, and Hero

August 31, 2009

Physicist Richard Feynman, one of a handful of the most intelligent people who ever lived, was more than just another prolifically fertile brainiac. To be a well-rounded human was a priority for him, and in the area of his love life he achieved notable success. One of the world’s best-kept secrets, and one that would surprise a lot of macho men, if they were capable of absorbing a new idea in the first place, is the amount of nookie harvested by poets, physicists, and other supposedly non-virile specimens.

Feynman studied the science of picking up women in coffeeshops and bars. His numerous affairs with the wives of colleagues and grad students scandalized the academic world. In later life his interest in the visual arts grew, and he learned to draw quite passably, but emphasized to friends what a handy gimmick the sketchbook was for getting women to take their clothes off.

There was true love in Feynman’s life, and her name was Arline. Much of his heartless hounddogging seems to have been in reaction to Arline’s early and tragic death. Here’s how it went. The very young couple put off marriage so he could finish college and grad school, but when Arline came down with tuberculosis, Feynman was determined to marry her as soon as possible. They weren’t even supposed to kiss, because of the danger of contagion, and pregnancy would have been a disaster for her. When Feynman was called to New Mexico to help invent the atomic bomb, the kids were even more determined to marry, even though both families objected.

Probably the strongest resistance came from Feynman’s mother. His biography (Genius, by James Gleick) quotes from the letter she wrote, the gist of which was: Richard didn’t have enough money, and his parents would definitely not finance them. Worry and concern about Arline would compromise Richard’s ability to do his job. He would be laden with all the burdens of marriage to an invalid, while “not getting any of the pleasures of marriage.” Being the husband of a TB victim would make Richard a social outcast. “I was surprised to learn that such a marriage is not unlawful,” Feynman’s mother added. “It ought to be.” The subtext was clear: Arline was taking advantage of the innocent, idealistic, romantic young son.

The sweethearts celebrated their wedding, witnessed by two strangers, in a city office. With Arline his legal wife, Feynman was able to move her to a hospital near Los Alamos. They exchanged letters all week, indulging in puzzles and silliness that drove the Army censors crazy, and on weekends Feynman would borrow a car or hitchhike into town. Arline’s knowledge that there were women at Los Alamos made her very nervous, and after months of celibate companionship she insisted that the marriage be consummated. “I really think we’d both feel happier and better dear if we released our desires.” The biography doesn’t note how many times the pair were intimate; that may have been the only time, since Arline was after all a hospital inpatient. As her condition worsened, Feynman wrote desperately to any doctors he heard of who were rumored to have a hint of a cure. Then there was a brief giddy time when it appeared that Arline might be expecting a child – with the medical men insisting that if it were so, the only possible choice would be to “interrupt” the pregnancy. Then she died. Then the Los Alamos project came to fruition, and with the bitter irony: the only thing Feynman had fathered was the worst instrument of death that mankind had ever known.

Feynman’s mother had a change of heart and looked for reconciliation. “I’m proud and glad you married her and did what you could to make her short life happy.”

Two years after Arline died, Feynman wrote Arline a last, long letter, found among his papers after his own death. “I will always love you,” it said. “I want you to love me and care for me… I want to do little projects with you … you were the ‘idea-woman’ and general instigator of all our wild adventures.” He recalled her anxiety over her inability to be a real wife to him. Feynman assured her in this imaginary conversation, “You can give me nothing now yet I love you so that you stand in the way of my loving anyone else…” He noted the stark truth that spelled itself out like an elegant equation: “I love my wife. My wife is dead.”

“Please excuse my not mailing this,” the sad postscript said, “but I don’t know your new address.” This letter, and maybe others like it, were of course part of a therapeutic process, a necessary step for any bereaved person. But along with the decision to get on with his life, there seems to have been a decision, conscious or unconscious, to armor himself against the possibility of another intense and potentially painful attachment.

Eventually he got back into the mating game, but it was a new, cynical and callous Richard Feynman who chased skirts almost obsessively. “He had worked out a kind of “all’s fair” approach to sexual morality and argued that he was using women as they sought to use him,” says biographer Gleick. “Love seemed mostly a myth – a species of self-delusion, or rationalization, or a gambit employed by women in search of husbands.” There was an ill-considered second marriage to a totally incompatible woman, who sued Feynman for divorce on the grounds of cruelty, including excessive bongo drum playing and doing math in bed.

As he juggled a harem of women, the great physicist’s life soon became a nightmare of angry phone calls, abortions, demands for cash, and various sordid scenes. One of his dates received an anonymous note: “Dirty Dick, Filthy Fucking Feynman dates you. He will never marry you. Tell him he made you pregnant. You’ll make a quick $300-$500.” He was often accused of being an inconsiderate lover, and one woman told him that must be why his roster had such a turnover rate – it didn’t take long for any woman to have enough of him. Some men are like that – they know that “making love” can, in some cases, literally make love. And for whatever reason, love is the last thing they want to create, either in themselves or in their partners. So they fuck.

Feynman went on vacation with the wife of a colleague who demanded $1,250 as compensation for the pleasure of her company, or possibly blackmail. Or maybe she paid the fare and he promised to pay her back. You never know, with these things. But it’s all so daytime TV, like one of those shows where the people yell and curse at each other and the stupid sound track bleep-bleep-bleeps like a backhoe on a construction site.

Of course there were other things going on in Feynman’s life too. He was an enthusiastic percussionist and collector of exotic rhythm instruments. One of his hobbies was safecracking, and another was conceptualizing the field of nanotechnology, way back in 1959. He was a terrific professor, and his lectures are available in several media formats. He is renowned for (among many other accomplishments) his Feynman diagrams, which illustrate in visual form some pretty obscure stuff that few people even know exists. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for work in quantum electrodynamics.

Eventually he went to Switzerland and met an English girl in a blue bikini. He wanted to bring her to the U.S. to be his “housekeeper,” but a concerned friend warned him how much trouble one could land in, importing a woman for immoral purposes, so he got someone else to sponsor her instead. After some hesitation, he did end up hitched with this lady. They had two children and remained married for many years until he died.

Richard Feynman knew he was terminally ill with cancer. His last ambition was to go to Tannu Tuva to hear the Throat Singers and other indigenous musicians, but since this was an Iron Curtain country, bureaucratic red tape held up the project until it was too late.

Whatever else Feynman did or didn’t do in his life, and however anyone may feel about it, his greatest achievement was to blow the whistle on the O-rings. Remember the Challenger space shuttle explosion in 1986? Killed seven people including the first Teacher in Space? Working with fellow scientists to figure out what happened, Feynman discovered that the rubber O-rings were responsible. Large matters of engineering safety and corporate ethics were behind this, and he ruined any chance of a cover-up by announcing his findings on live TV during a Rogers Commission meeting. Because he was already under a death sentence, any revenge that could be taken on him was moot, but still it was a brave and true action.

photo courtesy of kandinski, used under this Creative Commons license


Hearts of Bloomsbury

February 14, 2009

Once upon a time in England there flourished a group of friends whose influence on the arts is still felt. They not only wrote and painted innumerable works both famous and obscure, but introduced the British public to the Post-Impressionists and were instrumental in acquiring the works of Degas, Cezanne, and other major French painters for England. They gathered to enjoy each others’ company in the Novel Club, the Memoir Club, Thursday Evenings, and the Friday Club. For fun they put on performances, costume parties, and creative theatricals. For profit they started the Omega Workshops and Hogarth Press. Collectively, they were known as the Bloomsbury Group.

The Bloomsbury philosophy was based on the thought of G.E. Moore, author of the landmark work Principia Ethica. Individual members varied of course, but by and large the attitude was one of seriousness about art, and a tendency toward pacifism, socialism, feminism and agnosticism. The Bloomsbury hierarchy of values was such that it could be debated endlessly whether the pinnacle represented human relationships or creativity; but such qualities as materialism, aggression and intolerance were definitely at the bottom. Self-importance and pomposity were reviled, as were sham and hypocrisy. Most of the Bloomsbury set traveled extensively and lived for long periods in other lands, concerning themselves much more with the values, talent and intelligence of friends, than with their national allegiances.

The artists and writers of Bloomsbury were tireless in observing and describing each other – sometimes lovingly, sometimes not – but in every case they very well deserved to be paid such close attention. They brought what we call “networking” to an art in itself, unfailingly aiding each other in their numerous projects and bring to public attention the young, foreign, or overlooked creative figures whose work they admired.

Humor was an essential ingredient of Bloomsbury – the best minds of a generation were willing to play the clown to please a child or amuse a friend. They never grew old, but retained the qualities of youth: passion, idealism, open-mindedness, imagination, and optimism. They conducted relationships with a creative and pioneering spirit, realizing that a marriage or a friendship can be customized like a car or a suit, since the only people a relationship needs to please are the ones involved in it. Their affairs of the heart were an integral part of life, the private soap operas carried out in a civilized manner and with maximum style. Art critic Roger Fry and painter Vanessa Bell, for instance, enjoyed a brief liaison that was ended by her, but the two remained intensely devoted lifelong friends, colleagues, and traveling companions.

Three Bloomsbury Love Stories

Vita Sackville-West was a best-selling poet and novelist, renowned gardening authority, and mistress of one of the most fabulous of the stately homes of England. She married diplomat Harold Nicholson and they had two sons, one of who grew up to write Portrait of a Marriage about his parents. The remarkable aspect of this union was that Vita liked women and Harold liked men, and they lived quite satisfying separate existences, often in different countries, while enjoying one of the happiest marriages on record. Things got out of hand only once, when Vita, whose androgynous appearance attracted almost everyone, ran away to France with Violet Trefussis, intending to live out her life as a man. Their husbands got together and travelled to Europe to find the women and talk sense into them. Years later when Violet wrote to propose a meeting, Vita declined, referring to a current news story about the leftover munitions from the war the kept turning up, and blowing up. “You,” she told Violet, “are the unexploded bomb in my life.”

Vanessa Stephen (Virginia Woolf’s sister) was a painter who married Clive Bell, author of books about aesthetics. They had two sons but not much else in common. Then Vanessa became attached to painter Duncan Grant and established a household with him. They were lovers for only a short time, as Duncan had always been partial to men and soon returned to his major interest. Thought she remained legally wed to Clive, a frequent visitor and staunch friend, Vanessa lived with Duncan until her death at a ripe old age.

Writer Lytton Strachey was a totally committed homosexual, but artist Dora Carrington (she went by her last name only) was devoted to him. They set up housekeeping and lived quite happily, then Ralph Partridge entered the scene and things really got interesting. Ralph was in love with Carrington, who barely tolerated him for Lytton’s sake – because Lytton was in love with Ralph. In order to keep Ralph, Carrington consented to marry him, and the household was reformatted in a new configuration. Eventually Ralph became unsatisfied with the arrangement and fell in love with Frances Marshall, but would not divorce Carrington for fear that Lytton would then withdraw from the relationship. Instead of breaking up the triangle they merely added to it, with Ralph and Frances living in London during the week and in the country with the others on weekends. So no one lost his or her beloved, and this solution worked for five years until Lytton’s death. A few days later, Carrington shot herself. She botched the job and suffered for several hours, but did manage to die eventually.

I look at our favorites and I try to read them, but without you they give me no pleasure. I only remember the evenings when you read them aloud to me and then I cry.  I feel as if we had collected all our wheat into a barn to make bread and beer for the rest of our lives and now our barn has burnt down and we stand on a cold winter morning looking at the charred ruins. For this little room was the gleanings of our life together. All our happiness was over this fire and with these books.
— From Carrington’s diary, after Lytton Strachey’s death.