Harold L. Humes
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|Harold Louis Humes, Jr.|
April 11, 1926|
Douglas, Arizona, United States
|Died||September 10, 1992, age 66
New York City, United States
|Education||MIT, undergrad, not completed; Harvard (Adjunct of the Arts, 1954)|
Harold Louis Humes, Jr. (April 11, 1926 - September 10, 1992) was known as HL Humes in his books, and usually as "Doc" Humes in life. He was the originator of The Paris Review literary magazine, author of two novels in the late 1950s, and a gregarious fixture of the cultural scene in Paris, London, and New York in the 1950s and early 1960s. He was a champion talker, activist, filmmaker, architect, and contemporary Don Quixote.
In 1966, in London, he took large amounts of LSD, which was given to him by Timothy Leary, and he became paranoid and sometimes delusional. After this, he no longer published any writing. When he returned to the US in 1969, he reinvented himself as a "guru on campus", a self-appointed visiting professor, and spent the next 20-odd years living on or near-campus at Columbia, Princeton, Bennington, and Harvard, dependent on both his family, and on students who were fascinated by his mixture of erudition and mental illness.
Humes was born in Douglas, Arizona. His father was a chemical engineer from Michigan who studied at McGill. His mother, Alexandra Elizabeth McGonnigle, came from Montreal. Both parents were Christian Science practitioners.
Humes grew up in Princeton, New Jersey, graduating from Princeton High. It was there that he won his lifelong nickname, when his classmates dubbed him Doc after "Doc Huer", a brilliant scientist/nutty professor in Buck Rogers, a popular comic strip.
In Paris, Humes owned an English language magazine called The Paris News Post, edited by Leon Kafka. Humes recruited the young American blueblood Peter Matthiessen as literary editor, not knowing until much later that Matthiessen was working for the CIA at the time. Together they founded The Paris Review, a literary journal, and soon brought in George Plimpton, who would remain its editor for fifty years.
Humes studied fiction writing with Archibald MacLeish at Harvard, graduating in 1954.
He wrote two novels, The Underground City (Random House, 1958) and Men Die (Random House, 1959). Humes was mentioned in Esquire magazine (along with John Updike and William Styron) as among the nation's most promising young novelists.
He also directed Don Peyote, a movie starring Ojo de Vidrio, and designed and built a paper house, which he hoped would be an affordable housing alternative. Although never successfully marketed, the paper house was widely regarded as a substantial improvement over his earlier plans for living inside a hollowed out ox carcass.
Humes was reputed to have worked for several years as a meteorologist in London.
He managed Lord Buckley, the great spoken word artist; fought the New York City Police Department over the Cabaret Card Laws; and was Norman Mailer's campaign manager for Mailer's first run for New York City mayor—a campaign that was aborted by Mailer's stabbing of his wife.
In 1964, Humes wrote a paper entitled "Bernoulli's Epitaph" espousing a theory of the shape of the universe as that of a spherical vortex, noting as an aside that a cross-section of a spherical vortex looks like a yin-yang symbol...
He started a third novel, titled The Memoirs of Dorsey Slade, but never finished it.
By 1967, Humes had developed a detoxification method for heroin addiction that involved, in his terms, micro-doses of LSD, medical-grade hashish, emergency-massage techniques, flotation exercises and breath work, which he claimed - if done correctly - would lead to a 'rebirthing' experience over a 3-5 day length of time. He was practicing these techniques in what he termed 'crash-pad clinics' in Rome, Italy.
By 1968, he was in Paris in time to be jailed in the demonstrations that were part of the student revolution there.
He was back in the United States by April, 1969, which is when he gave away many thousands of dollars in cash on and around the Columbia University campus.
The novelist Paul Auster described him as "a ravaged, burnt-out writer who had run aground on the shoals of his own consciousness." Humes once camped on Auster's sofa and did not leave for some time until politely nudged along. He would "wheel around and start addressing total strangers, breaking off in midsentence to slap another fifty-dollar bill in someone's hand and urge him to spend it like there was no tomorrow."
Humes also frequented the Princeton University campus in the Spring of 1970. He would entertain groups of students with elaborately wrought, delusional accounts of the F.I.D.O. computer system (a supposed underground maze of interconnected computers, run by the Government); disappearing and reappearing "lenticular" clouds (claimed by Humes to be heat sinks for alien UFOs); and systems for decoding the supposed hidden messages embedded in the "snow" that would fill a television screen after a broadcast television station had signed off for the night.
Commercial mortgage broker Olen Soifer confirms Humes' presence as a "drop-in" at his apartment in W. Long Branch, NJ in the spring of 1970: "Three of us shared a 1-BR apartment while attending Monmouth College (now Monmouth University) that semester. We picked up 'Doc' when he was hitch-hiking, and took him back to our apartment because he had no place to stay...and that extended into him "crashing" with us for months. He regaled us with stories about himself: that he had attended M.I.T.; that he had invented and promoted paper houses; that he was a published author; that he had founded The Paris Review; that he was an associate of (and had taken LSD with) Timothy Leary; that the government was spying on him; and so on. But, while he intrigued us, we thought, at first, that these were the ravings of a lunatic...though, an appealing one. Then, a roommate, Michael, started researching 'Doc" and, much to our utter amazement, we found out that most, if not all, of these "fantasies" were completely true. Active in the anti-Vietnam movement, we all found ourselves at an antiwar rally at Princeton U. on May 4, 1970. During the rally, the news came through of the Kent State shootings. As the crowd was told that one, then 2, 3 and 4 students had been shot dead by the US National Guard, the enraged crowd was all set to march en masse to, and burn down, the ROTC building at Princeton...and 'Doc' proved his ability to influence us. Without warning, he leaped up onto the speakers' stage and exhorted the crowd to: "Stop! Think! What you are about to do! Such an act will only demonstrate the shootings might be appropriate retaliation for that very sort of action." And, with a few words, he caused us to "think twice" and he restrained us from such violence. Some time after that day, by the end of the semester, 'Doc' "split" and we never saw him again!"
"After Doc died of cancer in 1992, Immy [his daughter] filed a Freedom of Information Act request that eventually turned up a thick file. It turns out that the U.S. government was keeping tabs on Doc, from 1948 to 1977."  Perhaps some of Mr. Humes' 'paranoia' was not so far-fetched after all.
In 1954, he married Anna Lou Elianoff, daughter of the linens designer Luba Elianoff. They had four daughters. She divorced him in 1966 and married Nelson W. Aldrich Jr in 1967, who had worked at The Paris Review as an editor.
Philosophical and/or political views
Humes was a passionate and early advocate of medical marijuana.
- The Underground City (Random House, 1958) (Random House, 2007)
- Men Die (Random House, 1959) (Random House, 2007)
- Paul Auster, "Hand to Mouth", p. 42
- From PBS
- Paul Auster, From Hand to Mouth: A memoir of early failure; recounts his encounter with Doc in 1969
- Alan Cheuse, article about Doc's books in the anthology Rediscoveries II (1988?)
- Celia McGee, "Burgeoning Rebirth of Bygone Literary Star", The New York Times, 1/13/07
- Gay Talese, "Looking for Hemingway", an Esquire article from the early 1960s about The Paris Review crowd, reprinted in Talese' anthology