Wednesday, 26 December 2007
Ménage à trois, quatre, cinq, six . . .
This is the photo from the website (well, the book covers alone were hardly going to draw in the punters). It’s Gypsy Rose Lee, and she’s writing her novel The G-String Murders, and the date is 1941, and what I hadn’t realised when I first saw the photo and fell in love with it (or those legs) was that this must be her room in 7 Middagh Street, Brooklyn, because that was where she was living at the time. Down the landing was Carson McCullers, also writing. On the floor above were Auden and Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears. Downstairs was George Davis, the magazine fiction editor who had got this unlikely ménage together. Among those who also stayed for a time were Louis MacNeice, Richard Wright and Klaus and Erika Mann (who Auden married, to get her a British passport). When Gypsy Rose Lee moved out (too, too messy, these writers), Paul and Jane Bowles moved in. Salvador Dali dropped by, Leonard Bernstein . . . They were young and their lives were chaotic but a surprising amount got written. (There’s a long Muldoon poem about 7 Middagh Street in Meeting the British.)
Now, let’s say you’re a latter-day George Davis and somehow you’ve acquired a three-storey terraced house in Hackney – who would you put in there? Six names, say, from contemporary literature, music, maybe art, film, fashion . . . Mix them up. It’s all a bit Big Brother-ish.