A note on The Young and Evil (Obelisk Press, 1933) by Charles Henri Ford and Parker Tyler

In THE YOUNG AND EVIL, Julien (Charles Henri Ford and Karel (Parker Tyler) are fleeing a homophobic attack by a gang of sailors when they run into the police and get arrested. I start with that because the novel seems so modern. Neither has a problem with their sexuality; each is looking for love or at least a good time; they all too briefly think they may have found it in each other but remain friends. It’s set in Greenwich Village bohemia of the early Thirties, during Prohibition. Julien and Karel drink too much, have parties, take a lot of drugs, go up to Harlem for drag balls, get involved with married men, sometimes trade sex for rent money….or a fur coat, and sometimes even with a woman. Mostly, they fall in love with the wrong people. They don’t suffer psychologically because they’re different. They like being different: they want to be poets. But mamma mia! The world they live in! They’re constantly being robbed, thrown out, beaten up, arrested. Their sexuality is a problem for the world, and that is what creates problems for them, which they mainly shrug off because, l’important c’est d’aimer and to create art. It’s a very uneven book, with some chapters written in a surrealist, stream of consciousness style, others in a more linear narrative. Part of the pleasure of reading is that it is a roman-à-cléf and it’s fun to try and figure out who is who. The book was published in 1933 by the Obelisk Press in Paris and considered so scandalous it wasn’t allowed to become a scandal. 500 copies were seized and burnt at port in the UK; shipments to the US were intercepted and turned back. It’s not a great novel, but it’s a great document of a particular structure of feeling. It was compared to Fitzgerald’s THE FAR SIDE OF PARADISE; and I suspect young queers might recognise more aspects of their conditions and experience in this almost hundred-years-old book than they’d like to . I love the title of the Italian translation: POVERI PERVERSI.


Tyler wrote Screening the Sexes, an early study of homosexuality onscreen. He is a key American film critic who should be studied alongside Manny Farber, Otis Ferguson, and Agee… he was their contemporary…Kael came a bit later… but isn’t, or at least until recently. Adrian Garvey reminds me that Gore Vidal named his film critic Parker Tyler in Myra Breckinridge — Vidal claimed to have resuscitated Tyler’s career as Albee had done for Virginia Woolf — and of this below:

In The Rhapsodes, David Bordwell ranks Tyler, alongside Ferguson, Agee and Farber as the most significant American film critics of the 1940s….’largely ignored  by official culture, they came to a wider recognition decades later, after film criticism emerged as a legitimate area of arts journalism’. (p.3, Kindle edition) but he acknowledges that ‘Tyler is still an obscure figure compared with his contemporaries. James Agee and Manny Farber are celebrated as great critics…and Otis Ferguson occasionally attracts some minor tributes. I’ve been surprised how many people have told me they were unaware of Tyler’s work. (p. 112).

…and Andrew Sarris wrote the foreword to Screening the Sexes, partly to make up for what was, in his own words, ‘a cruel review with more than a tinge of hip homophobia — of Tyler’s MAGIC AND MYTH OF THE MOVIES –to the introduction to the 93 Da Capo Press edition of Screening The Sexes, where he writes of Tyler’s film criticism, ‘He was neither a witty, warm humanist like James Agee nor a brilliantly iconoclastic pop maverick like Manny Farber. Whatever humour emerged in his writing was not derived from his florid, pedantic style, but from a genuinely subversive psychosexual penetration of even the most banal cinematic texts. Only Parker Tyler ever noticed that Red Skeleton was more gracefuland had better legs than the starlets among whom he cavorted in Bathing Beauty. Only Parker Tyler was discerning enough to figure out the homosexual subtext of the extraordinary verntriloquist sequence in Dead of Night with Michael Redgrave in one of the great performances of his career, pp. x-xi)

Ford was lover of Pavel Tchelitchew until his death in 58, the editor of the leading  Surrealist magazine of the day in America, View, and brother of Ruth Ford, part of Welles’ Mercury Theatre, who married Zachary Scott, the oily gigolo in Mildred Pierce.

José Arroyo

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