Denham Fouts

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Denham Fouts (9 May 1914 – 16 December 1948[1]) was an American male prostitute, socialite and literary muse. He served as the inspiration for characters by Truman Capote, Gore Vidal, Christopher Isherwood and Gavin Lambert.

Biography[edit]

From Jacksonville, Florida, he was born Louis Denham Fouts, a son of Yale graduate Edwin Fouts, who was the president of a broom factory, and his wife, the former Mary E. Denham (1890–1970).[2] He had two siblings, Ellen (born 1916) and Frederic (1918–1994).[3][4]

In 1926, 12-year-old Fouts submitted a letter to Time Magazine, protesting the abuse of animals in the making of movies.[5] In his teens, Fouts worked as a clerk at an ice-cream company in Jacksonville.[6] Later he was sent north by his father to Washington, D.C., having asked a relative, who was the president of Safeway Inc., to give him a job.[7] Fouts left for Manhattan, working for a time as a stock boy and attracting a good deal of attention for his looks, which were described as "thin as a hieroglyph, he had dark hair, light brown eyes, and a cleft chin." Writer Glenway Wescott considered him "absolutely enchanting and ridiculously good-looking."[7]

He was taken up by a series of wealthy male and female patrons.[8][9] His friends, who called him Denny, included Christopher Isherwood, Brion Gysin, Glenway Wescott, Truman Capote, George Platt Lynes, Jane and Paul Bowles, Jean and Cyril Connolly and Michael Wishart. Isherwood described him as a mythic figure, "the most expensive male prostitute in the world"[10] and Capote considered him the "Best-Kept Boy in the World".[7] Fouts was an opium addict, and at one time boyfriend of artist Peter Watson.[11]

In 1938, Fouts introduced Brion Gysin to Paul and Jane Bowles, later shocking them by "shooting flaming arrows from his hotel window onto the busy Champs Élysées below", having spent some time in Tibet, learning archery.[12] Fouts' occasionally outrageous behavior made some uncomfortable. Michael Shelden remarked that Fouts' "'Deep South' charm masked a volatile, sometimes nasty temper. There were rumours about his past and tales of erratic, dangerous behavior."[13]

During World War II, Watson sent Fouts to the US for his safety. He met Isherwood in Hollywood in August 1940. Isherwood's guru, Swami Prabhavananda, refused to accept Fouts as a disciple despite his interest in Vedanta. Isherwood, nonetheless, had Fouts move in with him in the summer of 1941 to "lead a life of meditation".[8] This period is described in Isherwood's Down There on a Visit, where Fouts is represented as the character Paul. Some time into the war, Fouts, who was a conscientious objector, was drafted for the Civilian Public Service Camp. He later completed his high school diploma, studied medicine at UCLA and then settled in Europe.[8] While in Paris, he sent a blank check to Truman Capote with only the word "come" written on it, after becoming enamored of the Harold Halma photograph of Capote on the original back dust jacket of Other Voices, Other Rooms.[14] Capote rejected the check, but accepted his offer to visit, and would spend hours with Fouts in his dark apartment on the Rue de Bac, talking and listening to Fouts' stories.[7]

Fouts was allegedly the lover of numerous notable figures, including Prince Paul of Greece (later King), and French actor Jean Marais.[15] Another of his lovers was Evan Morgan, 2nd Viscount Tredegar.[9] Capote, in exaggeration of his prowess, claimed that "had Denham Fouts yielded to Hitler's advances there would have been no World War Two."[16] Katherine Bucknell, the editor of Christopher Isherwood's diaries, noted "Myth surrounds Denham Fouts",[17] and one of his friends, John B. L. Goodwin said of Fouts, "He invented himself. If people didn't know his background he would make it up."[7]

Fouts spent much of his later life dissolute, spending time "in bed like a corpse, sheet to his chin, a cigarette between his lips turning to ash. His lover [Anthony Watson-Gandy (1919–1952), a writer and translator] would remove the cigarette just before it burned his lips."[15][18] Fouts died in 1948, at the Pensione Foggetti, in Rome, at the age of 34 of a "hypoplastic aorta and hypertrophy of left ventricle".[19] His body was buried in the first zone, 11th row, of the city's Protestant Cemetery.[20] A friend, John Goodwin, told Christopher Isherwood that Fouts was found dead in his bathroom.[21]

Literary references[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ His death date is given on the American Foreign Service form "Report of the Death of an American Citizen," accessed on ancestry.com on 13 September 2011.
  2. ^ Father's occupation given in 1920 U.S. Federal Census, accessed on ancestry.com on 13 September 2011. By 1930 he was working as a branch manager at an ice and milk firm in Atlantic Beach, Florida, according to the 1930 U. S. Federal Census.
  3. ^ Siblings' names given in 1920 U.S. Federal Census, accessed on ancestry.com on 13 September 2011.
  4. ^ Brother's birth and death dates given on tombstone in Florida National Cemetery, Section 308, Site 387
  5. ^ Time, Letters: Monday, Jun. 21, 1926
  6. ^ Employment at Sherks Ice Cream Co. cited in Jacksonville City Directory (1930-1931), accessed on ancestry.com on 13 September 2011.
  7. ^ a b c d e Clarke, Gerald. Capote: A Biography. Pages 171–174. Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2005.
  8. ^ a b c Bucknell, Katherine (editor). Christopher Isherwood: Lost Years, A Memoir 1945–1951. Pages 311–312.
  9. ^ a b Nicholas Haslam, Redeeming Features: A Memoir (Random House, 2009), page 124
  10. ^ Dirda, Michael. Bound To Please: Essays on Great Writers and Their Books. Page 481. W. W. Norton & Company, 2004.
  11. ^ Ford, Charles Henri. Water from a Bucket: a Diary, 1948–1957. Page 4. Turtle Point Press, 2001.
  12. ^ Sawyer-Lauçanno, Christopher. An Invisible Spectator: A Biography of Paul Bowles. Page 200. Grove Press, 1999.
  13. ^ Shelden, Michael. Friends of Promise: Cyril Connolly and the World of "Horizon". Page 33. Hamilton, 1989.
  14. ^ Young, Ian. "Cover Boys: Authors and Models on Gay Books."
  15. ^ a b c d e Leddick, David. Intimate Companions: A Triography of George Platt Lynes, Paul Cadmus, Lincoln Kirstein, and Their Circle. Pages 206–207. St. Martin's Press, 2000.
  16. ^ Rorem, Ned. A Ned Rorem Reader. Page 275. Yale University Press, 2001.
  17. ^ Bucknell, Katherine (1996). Christopher Isherwood Diaries: Volume One 1939–1960 London: Methuen. ISBN 0-413-69680-4 p. 941
  18. ^ Companion's name given on the American Foreign Service form "Report of the Death of an American Citizen," accessed on ancestry.com on 13 September 2011.
  19. ^ Cause of death is given on the American Foreign Service form "Report of the Death of an American Citizen," accessed on ancestry.com on 13 September 2011.
  20. ^ Interment details are given on the American Foreign Service form "Report of the Death of an American Citizen," accessed on ancestry.com on 13 September 2011.
  21. ^ Christopher Isherwood, Lost Years" (Harper Collins, 2009)
  22. ^ Ehrenstein, David. "Gavin Lambert on Natalie Wood, Vivien Leigh and the meaning of stardom". March 11, 2004. [1]
  23. ^ Vidal, Gore. Palimpsest: a Memoir. Page 180. Penguin Books, 1995.