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Meeting Miller ... first encounters & initial impressions.

Samuel Putnam, editor and translator

He did, and it was

Henry was more or less an unknown quantity for us when he arrived in Montparnasse. We knew he was a proofreader on the Paris edition of the Chicago Tribune, and that was about all. By reason of his hours, we saw him chiefly late at night or early in the morning. He would come in after the paper had gone to press and would invariably contrive to make an entrance of it, a broad ingenuous grin on his face and a somewhat timid twinkle behind his spectacles--spectacles which, so it was said, he was forever leaving behind him on the banks of the Seine, where for the sake of Hugoesque color he frequently spent the night with the Parisian lower depths. We also came to know him from the vinous-streaked dawn at the Coupole; and here, when he felt that he had a properly appreciative audience, he would expound his Weltanschauung, principally in words of four letters. Briefly stated, it was to the effect that prostitutes are about the only pure beings to be found in a world of reeking garbage. Not a highly original conception; but provided his listeners had had a sufficient number of pernods, he could lend it all the force of novelty. Once in a while, when the alcoholic fumes began to evaporate, someone would emerge from his trance and mutter: "For Christ's sake, Hank, why don't you write a book? It ought to be a goddamned classic, or maybe even a best-seller." (1931)

Excerpted from Paris Was Our Mistress: Memoirs of a Lost & Found Generation, by Samuel Putnam (Southern Illinois Press, 1970)

Bricktop, nightclub operator

Writing about it

Everybody was sleeping around. It was the thing to do ... I never considered myself promiscuous. As Mama used to say, "If you do it once, you might as well keep it up, 'cause it's gone."

I didn't hold with talking about it, though, or writing about it. Henry Miller gave me a copy of Tropic of Cancer when it was first published. I picked it up and started reading and was so disgusted I put it right back down. I couldn't believe how everyone else could say it was so good, and I told them so. Henry heard about that and came to see me, and as soon as I saw him, I said, "How dare you give me a book like that!"

"Well, it's true, Brick," he said.

"I know that's the way it goes," I said. "I'm grown up. But you don't write about it." In those days you didn't, and, in my opinion, you still shouldn't. (Paris, mid-1930s)

Excerpted from Bricktop, by Bricktop with James Haskins (Atheneum, 1983)

William Saroyan, novelist

Business executive

Sometime late in 1939 I was up at An American Place in New York to have a look at whatever might be there, perhaps some water colors by John Marin which I had long ago enjoyed seeing in Vanity Fair, and perhaps some photographs by [Alfred] Stieglitz, who ran the place. Over in a corner I saw Stieglitz chatting with somebody I didn't know who turned out to be Henry Miller, older than I expected him to be, quite tall, and looking for all the world, I felt, like some kind of business executive. I told him I was glad he had come to America, and then I deliberately took the liberty of telling him I was sure he would have no trouble at all selling pieces to the editors of American magazines. "I mean, if you want to." And of course I meant that I had always wanted to, and even though I wanted to at that particular time I wasn't selling anywhere near as many as I felt I ought to. The older writer seemed offended. At any rate he said, "No, they don't want my stuff."

"Why not?"

"They don't like some of the words I use, for one thing."

Excerpted from After Thirty Years: The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze, by William Saroyan (Harcourt, Brace & World, 1964)

Lillian Ross, writer for The New Yorker

Bohemians on the floor

When I was about fourteen, a friend took me to a party in Greenwich Village that was attended by Henry Miller. At that point, I did not even know that Henry Miller was Henry Miller. (Years later, Norman Mailer explained Henry Miller to me and gave me his books to read.) Miller was sitting on the floor with several other grinning friends. There was no furniture. Everybody was drinking wine and eating chocolate bars. I was horrified. My friend explained to me, in devout tones, that they were Bohemians, poets, intellectuals. To me, they looked unclean and sounded useless and tiresome. I was not drawn to getting down with them, to being part of that kind of life on the floor.... (1940)

Excerpted from Here but Not Here: A Love Story, by Lillian Ross (Random House, 1998)

Dylan Thomas (1), poet

[letter to Vernon Watkins]

Pub crawl

Last week I went up to London to meet Henry Miller, who is a dear, mad, mild man, bald and fifty, with great enthusiasms for commonplaces. Also Lawrence Durrell. We [the trio] spent 2 days together, and I returned a convinced wreck. We talked our way through the shabby saloons of nightmare London. (1940)

Excerpted from Letters to Vernon Watkins, by Dylan Thomas (New Directions, 1957)

Dylan Thomas (2)

[letter to Caitlin Thomas]

Gentle, mellow and gay

Last week I went to Big Sur [California], a mountainous region by the sea, and stayed the night with Henry Miller. Tell Ivy that; she who hid his books in the oven. He lives about 6,000 ft up in the hills, over the blinding blue Pacific, in a hut of his own making. He has married a pretty young Polish girl, & they have two small children. He is gentle and mellow and gay. (1950)

Excerpted from Caitlin: A Warring Absence, Life with Dylan Thomas, by Caitlin Thomas with George Tremlett (Stoddard, 1986)

Carol Matthau, actor and wife of William Saroyan and Walter Matthau

Giant slug

Bill [Saroyan] corresponded frequently with Henry Miller. Bill had given me Henry's books to read, and I thought they were a little boring and a little dirty. He had invited us to visit him in Big Sur, where he lived on top of a steep mountain. It was an arduous drive, ending on a tiny dirt road. At the end of the road, there was a little log cabin, which had no electricity.

Henry came out to greet us, wearing khaki shorts--nothing else. And he didn't have a drop of hair on his body or his head. Also, he was rather pale. All in all, he looked to me like a giant slug. Our entire conversation was "hello"; he directed the rest of the conversation to Bill alone. There was a young girl there in bare feet, pregnant. He didn't introduce her to Bill. Bill asked who she was.

"Oh, yeah. That's my wife."

No name. (California, 1947)

Excerpted from Among the Porcupines: A Memoir, by Carol Matthau (Random House, 1992)

James Feibleman, author

Irrational pornography

... Miller's writings were pornographic and that ordinarily would have prejudiced me in their favor rather than the reverse. But his point of view reminded me of that of the French writer Celine. Both are irrational and worship everything that I hate, and vice versa....

Huntington [Cairns] invited me to attend a broadcast in New York, on my way home from Cape Cod. Afterwards a group of us as Huntington's guests repaired to a bar. I was seated between an executive of the Columbia Broadcasting Company and Henry Miller. This was Huntington's doing, I thought. I had been barely introduced to Miller, but that was enough. I turned to talk with the executive. We were getting along very well when I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was Miller. I turned around to face him.

"I hear you do not like my books," he said. He was the only man I have ever known who could not only kiss and tell but live on the proceeds.

My first thought was that it had been foolish of Huntington to quote me to him; my second, that it was true.

"Yes," I said, and hesitated, about to add: what do you propose to do about it? I suppose that this last must have been in my face, for Miller looked me straight in the eye with his own beady little pupils for almost a minute. Then he said:

"Well, I just want you to know that that is all right with me. I don't mind and I am sure that we are going to be friends."

There was nothing more I could say and little more I could do. The following week he borrowed the money to take my wife and me to lunch, and we invited him to visit us in New Orleans. I liked him despite my intense hatred for his ideas and writings.... (New York, 1940s)

Excerpted from The Way of a Man: An Autobiography, by James K. Feibleman (Horizon, 1969)

Czeslaw Milosz, novelist

Demanded absolute admiration

... I only talked with Miller once, in Paris, probably in 1952.1 did not like how avidly he predicted the end of the world. Besides, I was not lucky in my relations with him. In 1948 I promised to visit him in Big Sur, some obstacles arose, and I did not visit him. Later, in Paris, I promised to find him a rare book which contained a prophecy of catastrophe for the human race, La Clef de l'Apocalypse by O. V. de L. Milosz, which he had been hunting in the bookshops in the Latin Quarter. I did not find the book, I forgot my promise, I had too many troubles of my own at the time. Miller caustically reproached me for all this in his memoirs, where, with his usual lack of precision, he referred to me as the author of a large successful novel. The causes of this vindictiveness are rather plain, Miller demanded absolute admiration and did not like people in whom he sensed any reluctance, and he, perhaps rightly, saw my broken promises as a refusal to honor him.

Excerpted from Visions from San Francisco Bay, by Czeslaw Milosz, translated by Richard Lourie (Farrar Straus Giroux, 1975)

Richard Olney, writer and painter


Henry Miller, who had written of Beauford [painter Delaney] in dithyrambic terms, was passing through Paris. Beauford was proud to count the famous writer among his friends and wanted me to meet him--I invited them to lunch, after which we went to the Guinguette [cafe] for coffee and digestif. Miller uncritically worshipped France and everything French; Pierrette [the proprietress] and her Guinguette were a huge success, (early 1950s)

Excerpted from Reflexions, by Richard Olney (Black Tower Press, 1999)

Tony Curtis, actor

Exchanged paintings

... Henry loved Hollywood stories, and for some reason, he especially loved the stories about Tony Curtis. So [a friend] introduced him to me at one of his dinner parties, and we hit it off right away. Henry did some paintings for me and I did some for him. (1956)

Excerpted from Tony Curtis: The Autobiography, by Tony Curtis with Barry Paris (William Morrow, 1993)

Georges Simenon, novelist

Pure soul

... the visit of Henry Miller, who is arriving tomorrow or the day after by car ...

... four days with Henry Miller ...

... of all those who have come here, he was the least cumbersome, the most tactful, and the one who fitted into the household best. The children adopted him at once.

He is pure soul. Also a child, actually, in spite of his seventy years. Full of experiences, certainly, but always ready to leap to the attack against husbands and against ... women. I shan't put down any indiscretions here. I have respect for my guests and for anyone who confides in me. But in the case of Miller, he himself has written the truth about everything that concerns him so one may talk about him.

A Bohemian, certainly, a sort of anarchist, but in the long run, less so than I, who seem to be a bourgeois because of my externally material life.

Pure? In a sense. He cannot refuse himself a toy, the first woman he sees. And he is incapable of refusing her what she asks, living with her, marrying her. From which results a situation so tangled that he can hardly find a way out. For he cannot break with any of them either. He does not cut ties. He remains bound to all these successive women, legitimate and illegitimate. He has children who go from one wife to another. (Lausanne, Switzerland, 1960)

Excerpted from When I Was Old, by Georges Simenon (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1970)

Colin Wilson, writer

Enormous natural warmth

Chris [Isherwood] and I were both meeting Miller for the first time--he had contacted me at Long Beach State College, where I was lecturing. I started off our acquaintance by asking him why his books were such a strange mixture of pornography and serious ideas; was it simply because they had to sell to American tourists in Paris? He became indignant and told me I was thinking with my head instead of my solar plexus. But he soon relaxed, and an enormous natural warmth flowed from him. He had the faculty of making people like him by seeming to admire them; both Chris and I noticed this. And yet after that first meeting, we completely lost contact. I mentioned this later to a friend of his, who said: "Ah, yes, Henry has a curious attitude to his intellectual equals--he tries to avoid them whenever possible. He prefers disciples, or just ordinary people." (1961)

Excerpted from Voyage to a Beginning, by Colin Wilson (Crown Publishers, 1969)

Erskine Caldwell, novelist

'Dark-nighting' by day

... the United States Information Service, a bureau of the Department of State ... for several years I was to serve as a volunteer speaker on tours in Europe and Asia ... because I could come in contact with readers and other writers.

As a result of my meeting with students at the USIS library in Helsinki, I was asked to make a similar appearance in Germany at the Hamburg USIS library. Still impressed by the midwinter celebrations in Norway and Sweden, I asked Henry Miller, who also was at a USIS library reception in Hamburg, if he had ever had the experience of dark-nighting [the Scandinavian custom of celebrating long winter nights] anywhere in the world.

Knowing of Henry's familiarity with night life in Paris, which had been apparent in some of his writings, it had been interesting to know that he was then engaged in a lengthy program of research in the night life of Hamburg. His reply to my question was not surprising.

"I've heard of that primitive pastime," he said, "but it wouldn't be for me. Why wait for night? If you find a congenial partner, why would you want to postpone bedmating till wintertime?" (early 1960s)

Excerpted from With All My Might: An Autobiography, by Erskine Caldwell (Peachtree Publishers, 1987)

Steve Allen, comedian and TV show host

Not a firebrand

One of the more interesting theme shows I conceived during the run of the Westinghouse series was a 90-minute interview with controversial novelist Henry Miller, which we videotaped at his home.

I'd already met Miller socially but for the life of me cannot recall under what circumstances. He showed us copies of his various books printed in what must've been a dozen languages. He was also kind enough to present me with the gift of one of his watercolors, which has ever since been displayed in our living room.

Henry came off as the meek mild-mannered fellow that he was, not at all the firebrand one might expect from having read his works. In terms of film-role typecasting, he would've been believable as a low-salaried bookkeeper or Christian clergyman in an obscure rural community. (Pacific Palisades, Ca., early 1960s)

Excerpted from Hi Ho, STEVERINO!: My Adventures in the Wonderful Wacky World of TV, by Steve Allen (Barricade Books, 1992)

Herbert Gold, novelist

No time for writer chat

"Henry Miller. Wanna play Ping-Pong?"

The small bald old guy was grinning. The Brooklyn accent was intact despite all the years in many exiles. It was 1963 in Formentor, Mallorca, at an international publishers' boondoggle, and he had accepted a free trip as a member of the American delegation because of old Bohemian habits of accepting anything that cost nothing if it promised drink, food, bed, and the options of idle minds. He preferred blonds, brunettes, redheads--any woman who could breathe. I'm sure he preferred bald women, too. He may have excluded necrophilia.

We played Ping-Pong. I forgot who won (probably he did), and then he took to his room for a nap. The nap lasted for the rest of the week. He was not in the business of wasting his time with international writer prize chat when he could spent it profitably with a fast game of Ping-Pong followed by gracious audiences in his hotel room.

Excerpted from Bohemia: Digging the Roots of Cool, by Herbert Gold (Simon & Schuster, 1993)

Eddie Fisher, singer

Dinner party chat

... Henry Miller, whom I met at a dinner party in Beverly Hills, was astonished to hear that I had read almost all his books. We began to talk before dinner, and as we sat down at the table, I was eager to pursue our conversation, but Miller said in his gruff way, "Let's wait, Eddie. When I eat I don't like to talk." He recommended Isaac Bashevis Singer to me as "the greatest philosopher in the world today," and sent me many of his books. He also sent me copies of all his own books, including Time of the Assassins, his homage to Rimbaud, which he inscribed "To my new Idol"; and The World of Sex, in which he wrote, "And who should know more about it than you?" (late 1960s)

Excerpted from Eddie: My Life, My Loves, by Eddie Fisher (Harper & Row, 1981)

Ellen Burstyn, actor

Tears for June

... the part of Mona in Tropic of Cancer ... Henry arrived from America and came to the set regularly ...

I asked Henry if he was still in contact with his ex-wife June. "I called her a few years ago and went to see her in her little apartment in New York," he said. "But I couldn't stay. It was too upsetting for me.

"What was upsetting, Henry?"

"Why, she was an old woman! A little old lady in her basement apartment! I had to leave. She'd put on a beautiful spread for me and everything--but I couldn't eat it. I had to get out of there!"

As he said this, gesturing with his trembling age-spotted hands, his faded blue eyes brimmed with tears and spilled over onto his old man's cheeks. (Paris, 1969)

Excerpted from Lessons in Becoming Myself, by Ellen Burstyn (Riverhead Books/Penguin, 2006)

Michael York, actor

Birthday invasion

We were invited to a surprise birthday party for Henry Miller. I shall never forget the look of horror he gave the assembled guests invading his home and I vowed never to personally perpetuate such an outrage. Miller recovered, allowing me to add my signature to his wall of fame situated, as befitted a sexual nonconformist, in his bathroom. (Pacific Palisades, 1970)

Excerpted from Accidentally on Purpose, by Michael York (Simon & Schuster, 1991)

Erica Jong, novelist

As an old man

I met him when he was already an old man--met him through literature, not life. Though he never read his contemporaries (except I. B. Singer), though he was said by his detractors to be a sexist and an anti-Semite, though he was blind in one eye and tired quickly, he was coaxed by a friend into reading Fear of Flying, and he responded with a torrent of applause, enthusiasm, and unpaid agentry. Many of my foreign publishers were a gift of his enthusiasms.

Henry was frail when I met him in 1974. Only rarely would he let me take him (and his friends) out to dinner--usually at the Imperial Gardens, a rather seedy Japanese restaurant on the Sunset Strip, which was his favorite eatery in Los Angeles. More usually, Twinka Thiebaud, his cook and devoted caretaker, made us dinner at home and Henry held forth for the assembled throng. His house was full of young people, often including his kids, Valentine and Tony, and Henry would feed everyone--as, in his Paris days, everyone had fed him. In the last months (when I had already moved to Connecticut), it was rumored that one or two of these young people may have exploited him. But that first autumn I knew him, he was still well enough to write in bed, to emerge for garrulous meals before he grew tired and had to be wheeled back into his room, to grope his numerous nubile visitors, though not (he always maintained) to fuck them....

Excerpted from What Do Women Want?, by Erica Jong (HarperCollins, 1998)

[Dana Cook's collections of literary encounters have appeared in numerous newspapers, magazines and journals. Contact: cooks. encounters(at)]
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Title Annotation:Henry Miller
Author:Cook, Dana
Publication:Nexus: The International Henry Miller Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2016
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