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Best-Kept Boy in the World

I was so pleased to stumble across this book this week, Best-Kept Boy in the World by Arthur Vanderbilt, due out next February from Magnus Press, and I immediately pre-ordered it.

For a man who has a Wikipedia page just as detailed as the pages of the authors he inspired, instead of telling you who “Denny” was, I’ll share with you information about the book from its own Preface which puts him into perspective quite nicely:

The Best-Kept Boy in the World is the first book ever written about Denham (Denny) Fouts (1914-1948), the twentieth century’s most famous male prostitute. He was a socialite and muse whose extraordinary life started off humbly in Jacksonville, Florida. But in short order he befriend (and bedded) the rich and celebrated and in the process conquered the world.

No less an august figure than the young Gore Vidal was enchanted by Denny’s special charms. He twice modeled characters on Denny in his fiction, saying it was a pity that Denny never wrote a memoir. To Vidal he was “un homme fatal.”

Truman Capote, who devoted a third of Answered Prayers to Denny’s life story, found that “to watch him walk into a room was an experience. He was beyond being good-looking; he was the single most charming-looking person I’ve ever seen.”

Writer Christopher Isherwood, who Denny considered his best friend, was more to the point: he called him “the most expensive male prostitute in the world.” He thus served as the source for the character Paul in Isherwood’s novel Down There on a Visit and appears as himself frequently in his published diaries.

But Denny’s conquests were not limited to the US alone.

Somerset Maugham in England has Denny in his celebrated novel The Razor’s Edge.

To King Paul of Greece he was “my dear Denham” or “Darling Denham,” and the King’s telegrams to Denny from the Royal Palace always were signed “love, Paul.”

Peter Watson, the wealthy financial backer of the popular British literary magazine Horizon, had an erection whenever he was in the same room with Denny.

The artist Michael Wishart met Denny for the first time at a party in Paris and realized instantly he was in love and that “the only place in the world I wanted to be was in Denham’s bedroom.”

And Lord Tredegar, one of the largest landowners in Great Britain, saw Denny being led by the police through the lobby of an expensive hotel in Capri, convinced the police to let him pay the bills Denny owed, and then took Denny to accompany him and his wife as they continued on their tour of the world.

It was because of lofty connections such as these that Capote echoed Isherwood’s remark by quipping that Denny was the “best-kept boy in the world,” thereby coming up with the title of the chapter in Answered Prayers about Denny.

In his short life, Denny achieved a mythic status, and this book follows him into his rarified world of barons and shipping tycoons, lords, princes, heirs of great fortunes, artists, and authors. Here is the story of an American original, a story with an amazing cast of unforgettable characters and extraordinary settings, the book Gore Vidal wished Denny had written.

Denny never did write his own story, but he does move through many memoirs of the times. And for some of the most renowned authors of those times, he was a muse, and that color he brought into a squirrel-gray world inspired them to capture him in their prose. Denny is “Paul” in Christopher Isherwood’s Down There on a Visit. He is a character in Gore Vidal’s novel The Judgment of Paris, and in his short story “Pages from an Abandoned Journal”. He appears in Truman Capote’s infamous Answered Prayers on which the author was working, or not working, when he died. He was proud to find himself a character in Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge.

To be immortalized in a story by a famed author would be enough to earn a footnote in literary history. To have inspired the body of work Denham Fouts did is to become a legend. This is his story.

***

I first met Denny (not in a physical sense) when I became acquainted with Truman Capote back in college. While Denny would just be a common boy toy today, I was mesmerized by the fact that so many men were so enamored by him and wrote about him. Think of him as what Marilyn Monroe was back in the day, or any big Hollywood star that everyone was in love with for that matter.  Only he wasn’t famous.

He must have had just a magnetic personality out of this world and much charisma because I don’t really find him all that attractive. Not attractive enough to stop wars anyway!

But today we are so desensitized by sex thanks to television and the internet which makes it so readily available. Too much of a good thing?  I’d long for the day where a simple boy crush on a man among friends did it for me.

So I’m excited that someone has finally written a book ABOUT Denny! I look forward to reading it.

A Single Man

I watched A Single Man last night with Colin Firth.  Well, I didn’t “watch” it with him.  You know what I mean.  It’s a bit of an artsy film whose DVD cover will deceive most idiots.  Way to go, Hollywood!  But honestly, the DVD cover is pure representation of what the movie is actually about.

Colin Firth plays George Falconer, a teacher who loses his life partner, Jim, of seventeen years after he dies in a car accident.  George receives a phone call telling him what has happened and that he can’t come to the wake because the service is for family only.  Just like that, his entire world is taken away from him and he finds himself alone, unable to accept what has happened and unable to mourn the love of his life.

The movie shows flashbacks to loving moments in their life together, along with the night they first met.  While in present day, George “prepares his papers” and contemplates suicide.  The camera takes long looks into his eyes – blank and starring – which are so true and haunting that you can’t help but feel the pain he must be experiencing.  The music and the silence only aid in conveying the message.

Then there are conversations George has throughout the day with various people: a student of his who has taken up interest in him, a Spanish guido outside a market, a small child in a bank.  When these dialogues are taken place, the dull look to the movie sudden grows bright like a flower blooming, indications of happiness or truth that both George and the movie goer should be paying attention to.

While George is on the bed contemplating what position to lie in while shooting himself, a scene that will make you wince as he tosses and turns with the gun in his hand, the phone rings.  It’s his neighbor, Charlie (Julianne Moore) who is his best friend and all he has left in life as far as companionship goes.  He has a dinner date with her and while she longs for connection beyond their friendship, George refuses to accept their connection beyond what it already is.  He appreciates what she has given him, but she is bored with life too and eager to return to London.  He encourages her to go.  “What are you doing this weekend?” she asks him.  “I’m going to be very quiet,” he answers.  A sad moment between George and the viewer since Charlie has no idea what he really has on his mind.

After going home, George reminisces of the night he first saw Jim and decides to return to the bar where they met.  The male student from campus walks in and he and George spark up a conversation that just may give George hope to keep living.  They go for a swim and return to George’s place for the evening, but fate creeps in and reminds us we truly don’t have control of our destiny.

First, being a gay male, I related to this film in so many ways because I’ve been in a relationship with J for almost seven years now.  While both of our families are accepting of us and probably would not ban either of us from a hospital or funeral service, a lot of gay couples are not as fortunate enough to have such accepting and loving family members.  So, the pain that George is experiencing from such loneliness and loss plays out on the screen like a horror movie for someone like me, and Firth was very deserving of his Oscar nom that he got for it.

Second, the movie explores the thought of loneliness that sadly is a way of life for most humans.  We are so starved for attention or a connection with someone else, but we continue to deny ourselves of such pleasure because we are either too stubborn or too blind.  In the film, George connects with different people all day long, some willing to fill in the gaps in his life temporarily or more permanent, but he can’t see them because his mind his focused on only one thing.

Like I said, the conflict of color in this movie is so striking and certainly sets the tone.  It’s a constant battle between bleak and happy.  The music is trance like and numbing.  It is a sad reality for some of us that director Tom Ford feeds the viewer with shame and loneliness, like words of hurt that fall from our mouths before we can catch them.  It’s the silence in the room when we learn someone is dead, when we only hear our heart beats and question if even our ears are deceiving us.

What a beautiful and honest film!  Based on the novel by Christopher Isherwood, I’d love to hear what Chris would say about it.  He wrote it in 1964 but its underlying theme and message is more true today than ever.