a menagerie of three

Bryher (1894 – 1983) was the pen name of the novelist, poet and magazine editor Annie Winifred Ellerman.

Bryher found here

Her father was John Ellerman, who at the time of his death in 1933, was the richest Englishman who had ever lived. He lived with her mother Hannah Glover, but did not marry her until 1908. During the 1920s, Bryher was an unconventional figure in Paris. Her circle of friends included Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, Sylvia Beach and Berenice Abbott. 

James Joyce by Berenice Abbott found here

In 1918 she met and became involved in a lesbian relationship with poet Hilda Doolittle (better known by her initials, H.D.). The relationship was an open one, with both taking other partners. In 1921 she entered into a marriage of convenience with the American author Robert McAlmon, whom she divorced in 1927. Both Bryher and H.D. slept with McAlmon during this time.

Hilda Doolittle found here

That same year she married Kenneth Macpherson, a writer who shared her interest in film and who was also H.D.’s lover. H.D., Bryher, and Macpherson lived together and traveled through Europe in what the poet and critic Barbara Guest termed as a ‘menagerie of three’. In Switzerland, overlooking Lake Geneva, the couple built a Bauhaus-style style structure which they named Kenwin. They formally adopted H.D.’s young daughter, Perdita. In 1928, H.D. became pregnant with Macpherson’s child, but chose to abort the pregnancy. Bryher divorced MacPherson in 1947, she and Doolittle no longer lived together after 1946, but continued their relationship until Doolittle’s death in 1961.

Kenneth Macpherson found here

Although Bryher’s and Macpherson’s marriage lasted for twenty years, both Macpherson and Bryher had many extra-marital affairs. Bryher was lesbian but Macpherson was distinctly bi-sexual. After spending a few months in New York in 1935, Macpherson eventually based himself there to focus on writing and photography. It was during this time that he met Peggy Guggenheim, the wealthy American art collector, who instantly fell in love with him.

Peggy found here

By 1947, Macpherson was spending much of his time in Switzerland and Italy. He bought a home on Capri, “Villa Tuoro”, which he shared with his lover, the photographer, Algernon Islay de Courcy Lyons. In 1965, he retired to Tuscany to work on a book about Austrian doctor, Elisabeth Moor. Moor was Capri’s doctor from 1926 until the early 1970s and was one of the island’s more colourful characters.

Capri found here

For a daughter of the Austrian emperor’s hairdresser, born in 1885 in Vienna, the prophecy of a career in medicine would have been a most unrealistic scenario, requiring not only talent and a strong determination, but also a rebellious spirit. 

son of the last Austrian Emperor found here

She was one of only two women admitted to the medical school, the other being her Jewish girlfriend, whose cousin was one of her first lovers. Her memories from medical school recall more lovers than courses. At the age of 24 she was deeply in love with an 18-year-old Swiss painter, Gigi Moor, whom she subsequently married shortly before obtaining her medical degree. 

She gave birth to a son, but she and her husband maintained an open marriage, with Gigi having an affair with a German cellist and our heroine falling madly in love with a Russian tenor. Elisabeth always boasted that a woman cannot know what real love is if she has not made love with a Russian. After the war she had another child with Gigi in Switzerland, and they subsequently moved to Italy. Her emotional needs seemed satiated by the two children and many lovers, and her marriage subsequently dissolved.

My favourite Russian found here

After the divorce she left Switzerland and arrived at Capri, her favorite place from previous visits. She was poor as a beggar, with two barefoot children, one dress and nothing else, not even underwear. But a license to practice medicine assured her independence.

Why should one care about the memories of an egotistic “impossible woman” whose life was so disorderly? Graham Greene’s preface offered no explanation except his admiration for this small square creature with eyes as blue as the windows of the cathedral of Chartres, big teeth and wild electric hair as alive as a bundle of fighting snakes. She was a woman who was tough and demanding, who frequently bullied her patients. But when she departed, she left a vast emptiness among the inhabitants of the island of Capri. 

snake hair bag found here

Published in: on March 12, 2012 at 8:59 am  Comments (51)  
Tags: , , , , ,


Algernon Swinburne (1837-1909) was a talented writer, remembered best perhaps for his poetry. According to Colin Wilson’s The Misfits, he was also a sexual pervert, although of a fairly harmless variety.

Swinburne by Rossetti

“Ever since he was a child he had an obsession with being flogged. Most biographers assume that this began at Eton, which was notorious for its ‘swishings’ – one headmaster was said to be more familiar with his pupil’s behinds than their faces – but it was almost certainly an inborn tendency.


At the age of twelve, Swinburne was sent to Eton where he lived with his tutor, James Joynes, and his wife. Joynes would prepare the flogging room with burnt scent or make Swinburne put Eau de Cologne on his face before being beaten, which Swinburne found greatly increased his pleasure.

In later life he expressed nostalgia for the ‘glorious Eton beatings’ and said he would ‘give anything for a photo taken at the right moment on the flogging block – say the tenth cut or so.’

Eton flogging block found here

In 1866, with the publication of Poems and Ballads, Victorian England realised with horror that their neo-classical poet was an advocate of vice and profligacy, and a disciple of that unspeakable Frenchman, Baudelaire. Swinburne’s response to this was to become more defiant and to increase his intake of brandy. At the Arts Club in Hanover Square, he drank himself unconscious with dreary frequency, usually passing through a stage in which he talked in a loud voice about lesbianism, sodomy and sadism, or shrieked obscenities while he performed an impromptu dance like a demented puppet.


In 1867, American actress Adah Mencken knocked at his door. She had been asked by Swinburne’s friends to seduce the poet, one rumour asserting that Rossetti had paid her £10.00 to do so. She spent that night, and many subsequent nights, in Swinburne’s rooms but is said to have returned the fee to Rossetti, admitting that she could not ‘get the poet up to scratch’ or convince him that biting was no real substitute for intercourse.


Below: an extract from Swinburne’s Atlanta in Calydon (1865)

For winter’s rains and ruins are over,

And all the season of snows and sins;

The days dividing lover and lover,

The light that loses, the night that wins;

And time remembered is grief forgotten,

And frosts are slain and flowers begotten,

And in green underwood and cover

Blossom by blossom the spring begins.

Published in: on February 16, 2011 at 8:49 pm  Comments (39)  
Tags: , , ,

the Citizen Kane of stag movies

Burlesque dancer Candy Barr was born Juanita Dale Slusher on July 6, 1935, in Edna, Texas.


“At age 16, though she appeared much older, she appeared in the most famous and widely circulated of the early underground pornographic movies, Smart Alec. It was the Deep Throat of its day. Film critic, Phil Hall, calls it the Citizen Kane of stag films.

For her signature striptease, she would walk on stage wearing a full Annie Oakley buckskin get-up. By the time her five-minute routine was up, she would have stripped off everything but her panties, pasties, cowboy boots, white cowboy hat and the twin holsters slung low across her hips.


Offstage, Candy enjoyed hanging out at the Carousel after hours, where owner Jack Ruby became a close friend and father figure. In 1953 she hooked up with Troy Phillips, a nightclub denizen who became her husband and manager. The marriage had fallen apart by the holiday season in 1955, but Phillips was not the sort to walk away without one last dustup.

Jack Ruby and friends

When he showed up at her door Candy refused to answer so he kicked it in and stumbled drunkenly around her apartment. When he got 6 feet away, she leveled the rifle barrel on her husband and pulled the trigger. She hit him in the lower belly near the groin, later claiming her aim was off. The charges were dropped two weeks later, when Phillips acknowledged that he’d been very drunk and ornery.

Candy briefly became the squeeze of Mickey Cohen, the L.A. mob kingpin, whom she met while headlining on Sunset Boulevard. (He was a sucker for strippers; Tempest Storm and Beverly Hills had been in his bed too). Following their breakup she married Hollywood hairdresser Jack Sahakian, the Vidal Sassoon of his day, in Las Vegas in 1959.


In October 1957, Dallas police detectives knocked at Candy’s apartment door. They told her an informant had tipped them off that she had marijuana.

After a brief give-and-take with the cops, Candy dug down into her bosom and pulled out a pill bottle that contained less than an ounce of pot, the equivalent of the tobacco in 25 cigarettes. Her trial was a spectacle, with men elbowing their way into the courtroom to ogle the stripper and the jury sending her away for 15 years. Some time later, a Dallas police official stated that Candy had been convicted because of her occupation. He said the 11 men on the jury would have been mortified to go home to face their wives after acquitting her.


On April 2, 1963 — after three years and three months — she walked out of prison carrying a Bible and holding a $5.70 one-way bus ticket back home to Edna. As a condition of her parole, she was barred from working as an exotic dancer.

Jack Ruby, her old nightclub pal, visited Candy after her release and gave her a getting-out gift of two dachshund puppies. The dogs were about six months old when Ruby’s name popped up on every newspaper front page in America. She said she knew nothing, but to this day some view Candy as a cog in the arcane machinery of the Kennedy conspiracy.


In 1972, she published a slim volume of poetry, “A Gentle Mind…Confused,” some of which she had written in prison. She was lured out of retirement by a $5,000 payday when she posed nude for Oui magazine in 1976, at age 41.


In 1999, she was named on Playboy’s “Most Desirable” list, and she made Texas Monthly’s list of “perfect Texans.” “Of all the small-town bad girls,” the magazine said, Candy Barr “was the baddest.” Copies of her book of poetry now sell for as much as $3,000.


Published in: on October 20, 2010 at 8:11 am  Comments (45)  
Tags: , , ,

the prizefighter, the alleycat and the president


When I think of Groucho Marx I think of cigars and animal crackers and nights at the opera. He also wrote fine letters to people he admired such as T S Eliot

November 1, 1963

Dear Tom

Since you are actually an early American, (I don’t mean you are an old piece of furniture but you are a fugitive from St Louis), you should have heard of Tom Gibbons. For your edification, Tom Gibbons was a native of Minnesota which is only a stone’s throw from Missouri. That is, if the stone is encased in a missile. Tom was, at one time, the light-heavyweight champion of the world.

Tom Gibbons

The name Tom fits many things. There was once a famous Jewish actor named Thomashevsky. All male cats are named Tom – unless they have been fixed. In that case they are just neutral and, as the upheaval in Saigon has just proved, there is no place any more for neutrals.


The third President of the United States first name was Tom…. in case you’ve forgotten Jefferson.

So, when I call you Tom, this means you are a mixture of a heavyweight prizefighter, a male alley cat and the third President of the United States.

Albert the Alley Cat

I have just finished my latest opus, “Memoirs of a Mangy Lover.” Most of it is autobiographical and very little of it is fiction. I doubt whether it will live through the ages, but if you are in a sexy mood the night you read it, it may stimulate you beyond recognition and rekindle memories that you haven’t recalled in years.


I would be interested in reading your views on sex, so don’t hesitate. Confide in me. Though admittedly unreliable, I can be trusted with matters as important as that.

My best to you and Mrs. Tom.

Yours, Groucho


Published in: on September 22, 2010 at 8:52 am  Comments (54)  
Tags: , , , ,