Tag Archives: Parker Tyler

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.

PS

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

The Young and the Evil: Queer Modernism in New York, 1930-1955, edited by Jarrett Earnest, David Zwirner Books, 2020

Aside from Allan Ellenzweig’s marvellous new biography of George Platt Lynes, my greatest find so far has been THE YOUNG AND THE EVIL, not the notorious novel by Charles Henri Ford and Parker Tyler, but the catalogue of an exhibition curated by Jarret Earnest that set out to map a milieu, to some extent covered in biography, but largely absent from standard accounts of American modernism and which the exhibition labelled as ‘Queer Modernism in New York 1930-1950’. The show illustrates the ‘gravitational forces of emotional, intellectual, artistic and sexual attraction formed by the group’. It was sparked by death.

George Platt Lynes and Monroe Wheeler, photo by George Platt Lynes

An archeology of how some of the materials landed in the exhibition itself speaks a queer history. When Joseph Scott and Vincent Cianni went through the contents of the estate of their deceased friend, Antole Pohorilenko, they discovered a series of boxes marked ‘MW/ GPL PRIVATE’ and ‘INTIMACIES’. Pohorilenko had been the last lover of Monroe Wheeler who had himself inherited from Glenway Westcott. This plus additions from the heirs of Platt Lynes and Lincoln Kirstein form the basis of the exhibition, and what a find it is: erotic reveries of practically every sex act a homosexual can think of, alone and in groups, rendered explicitly but aimed for private consumption, and in a few cases drawn specifically for Kinsey, presumably it took them a while to suss out that Kinsey already knew more than he let on, and from personal experience. The images are by some major twentieth century artists (Cadmus, Jared French, Pavel Tchelitchew) and includes also explicit photographs, famously an early selfie of Platt Lynes giving Monroe Wheeler a blow job). The drawings are characterised by a longing and desire but also a dreaminess, a personal and idealised fantasy of sexual want, direct and unashamed; some romantically rendered; some evoking a roughness, clearly desired; some longing for the particular other; some for the anonymous group. They simultaneously speak an individual, an era, and a personal instance of a structure of feeling: They are marvellous.

George Platt Lynes giving Monroe Wheelr a blow job

 

Apart from Jarret Earnest’s excellent introductory essay, the book also includes, and interview with Jason Yow, Leonard Kirstein’s long-time lover and heir, an explanatory linking of the novel of THE YOUNG AND EVIL to the exhibition, and a superb essay on the paintings Paul Cadmus and Jared French both did of the HERRIN MASSACRE OF 1922 where striking miners laid a siege to the mine, fired on strike-breakers and ended up brutally massacring some of the scabs, Kenneth E. Silver’s essay situating the paintings not only in the labour struggles of the early 20th century but also of the anti-gay ‘clean-ups’ of New York City in the lead-up to the 1939 World’s Fair, and how the paintings lend themselves easily to readings of murderous homophobia, and the significance of that possible anti-labour reading combined with that murderous homophobia.

A wonderful book that offers information, sparks thought, and stimulates the senses.

The Lion Boy by Pavel Tchetlichew. It was owned by Glenway Westcott for many years and hung over his bed.

Drawings by Cadmus, French, Tchelitchew

One of six gouaches Tchelitchew drew to illustrate the original novel

José Arroyo