2002-09-27

CHARLES HENRI FORD, American poet, filmmaker, photographer, revolutionary, provocateur and bon vivant, died (b: 1913); Born in Brookhaven, Mississippi, he dropped out of high school and by age 16 he had started his first magazine, Blues; subtitled “A Bisexual Bimonthly,” Ford was openly bisexual. Actress Ruth Ford (1911-2009) was his sister and only known sibling.

Not long after, he became part of Gertrude Stein’s’s salon in Paris, where he met Natalie Barney and Marie-Louise Bousquet and became friends with Man Ray, Kay Boyle, Janet Flanner, Peggy Guggenheim, Djuna Barnes and others of the American expatriate community in Montparnasse and Saint-Germain-les-Pris. He went to Morocco in 1932 at the suggestion of Paul Bowles, and there he typed Barnes’ just-completed  novel, Nightwood (1936), for her.

With Parker Tyler, who would later become a highly respected film critic, he co-authored The Young and Evil (1933), an energetically experimental novel with obvious debts to fellow writer Djuna Barnes, and Gertrude Stein; critic Parker Tyler called it “the novel that beat the Beat Generation by a generation”.

In a series of short, episodic chapters, the novel portrays a collection of young genderqueer artists as they write poems, have sex, move in and out of cheap rented rooms, and duck into the neighborhood’s many speakeasies. The characters’ gender and sexual identities are presented with a candor and artfulness that was unique for the time; it was written concurrently with New York’s Pansy Craze, when the city’s popular culture was bowdlerizing homosexuality for entertainment purposes. Nonetheless, it was this candor even more than the novel’s surrealism that led to its rejection by several American and British publishers. It was picked up by the Obelisk Press in Paris.

Ford returned to New York City in 1934 and brought with him Pavel Tchelitchew, who would be his life partner until the latter’s death in 1957. Ford’s circle at the time included Carl Van Vechten, Glenway Wescott, George Platt Lynes, Lincoln Kirstein, Orson Welles, George Ballanchine and e.e. cummings. Friends from abroad included the Gay glitterati: Cecil Beaton, Leonor Fini, George Hoyningen-Huene and Salvador Dali.