Partner Anthony Watson-Gandy

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Denham "Denny" Fouts (May 9, 1914 – December 16, 1948[1]) was an American male prostitute, socialite and literary muse. He served as the inspiration for characters by Truman Capote, Gore Vidal, Christopher Isherwood and Gavin Lambert.

From Jacksonville, Florida, he was born Louis Denham Fouts, a son of Yale graduate Edwin Fouts, who was the president of a broom factory, and his wife, the former Mary E. Denham (1890–1970).[2] He had two siblings, Ellen (born 1916) and Frederic (1918–1994).[3][4]

In 1926, 12-year-old Fouts submitted a letter to Time magazine, protesting the abuse of animals in the making of movies.[5] In his teens, Fouts worked as a clerk at an ice-cream company in Jacksonville.[6] Later he was sent north by his father to Washington, D.C., having asked a relative, who was the president of Safeway Inc., to give him a job.[7] Fouts left for Manhattan, working for a time as a stock boy and attracting a good deal of attention for his looks, which were described as "thin as a hieroglyph, he had dark hair, light brown eyes, and a cleft chin." Writer Glenway Wescott considered him "absolutely enchanting and ridiculously good-looking."[7]

He was taken up by a series of wealthy male and female patrons.[8][9] His friends, who called him Denny, included Christopher Isherwood, Brion Gysin, Glenway Wescott, Truman Capote, George Platt Lynes, Jane and Paul Bowles, Jean Connolly and Cyril Connolly and Michael Wishart. Isherwood described him as a mythic figure, "the most expensive male prostitute in the world"[10] and Capote considered him the "Best-Kept Boy in the World".[7] Fouts was at one time the boyfriend of artist Peter Watson, however, they separated because of Fouts' opium addiction.[11]

by George Platt Lynes

Pablo Picasso | Reading at a Table | The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Girl Reading at a Table, by Pablo Picasso

Jean Connolly moved in an entourage of young male couples that included Dwight Ripley and Rupert Barneby, Tony Bower and Cuthbert Worsley, Peter Watson and Denham Fouts, Brian Howard and Toni Altmann. "Drink, night life, tarts and Tonys," complained Cyril Connolly, who referred to the whole entourage as "Pansyhalla." They liked Picasso, Marcel Proust, and Francis Poulenc, favored in architecture the Baroque, admired Josephine Baker and jazz. Someone took a copy of Dwight Ripley's Poems to Jean Cocteau, who responded "Quel néurophate!", a diagnosis that Rupert relayed with wicked relish. When Gerald Heard published two books in 1931 to propose that evolution demanded an evolved human consciousness, Brian Howard called them "the most important that have ever been written since the Ice Age." In Pansyhalla, a compelling example was set by Peter Watson, who joined with Cyril Connolly in 1939 to found Horizon and then financed that influential journal thoughout its career. Until the WWII, Watson lived mostly in Paris; a portrait of Jean Connolly, by Man Ray, was in his apartment. In 1938 he subsized the publication of a first book of poems by Charles Henri Ford, the young poet who was painter Pavel Tchelitchew's lover, and who, back in New York by 1940, would found a counterpart to Horizon, the trendier but likewise influential magazine View. It was View that brought John Bernard Myers from Buffalo to be its managing editor, and Myers who, as director of the Tibor de Nagy Gallery that Dwight himself sponsored, acted as impresario for a cast of painters and poets that seems now, to typify the postwar New York scene.

In 1938, Fouts introduced Brion Gysin to Paul and Jane Bowles, later shocking them by "shooting flaming arrows from his hotel window onto the busy Champs Élysées below", having spent some time in Tibet, learning archery.[12] Fouts' occasionally outrageous behavior made some uncomfortable. Michael Shelden remarked that Fouts' "'Deep South' charm masked a volatile, sometimes nasty temper. There were rumours about his past and tales of erratic, dangerous behavior."[13]

In late 1939, Rupert Barneby and Dwight Ripley lived at Padre Hotel, Hollywood, and they became part of the wartime colony of English expatriates that soon flourished along the southern California coast. At the beginning of WWII, Jean Connolly moved to Los Angeles and brought her close friend, Denham Fouts, a storied young American who was the lover then of Peter Watson, the wealthy publisher of Horizon, and was widely assumed to have been, before that, the lover of Prince Paul of Greece. These are the figures satirized by Christopher Isherwood in his novel Down There on a Visit, a novel in which the portrayal of Jean Connolly as Ruthie is so rude that it confirmed, said Rupert Barneby, Dwight Ripley's longstanding opinion that Isherwood was a snit.

Cyril Connolly blamed his marital difficulties on Jean's friends in Pansyhalla. "WE have still done nothing," he complained, "we have talked, quarrelled, drunk and laughed a great deal, and made love, but constructed nothing and not even really helped out friends, our only creations, Tony Bower and Nigel Richards." Bower believed, as did Dwight Ripley, that the separation (they called it "the parturition") had more to do with Cyril Connolly's being the child to Jean. When she returned to England because of the war, it appeared the marriage might be salvaged after all. Dwight had offered the Spinney, but Jean thought better of it. "The Connollys haven't showed up," he reported to Rupert Barneby. Instead she went biking near Trewyn with Peter Watson's lover, Denham Fouts, proceeded with him to Ireland, and from there the two departed for New York. Fouts was to be entrusted in America with Watson's five-by-four-foot Picasso, Girl Reading at a Table, which had been on view in the Picasso retrospective at the Musuem of Modern Art. Fouts continued south to visit his family in Florida, where Jean panned to join him for a drive cross-country to California. She first had an errand to accomplish on behalf of Cyril, who had asked her to contact a prospective contributor to Horizon and encouraged him to submit material. This was Clement Greenberg, an employee then of the US Custom Service, whose now famous essay, "Avant-Garde and Kitsch" had impressed Connolly when it appeared the previous year in Partisan Review. Jean didn't telephone; she simply knocked at Greenberg's door. In his letters to Harold Lazarus, Greenberg described the resulting affair. Fouts, losing patience, started for California by himself. Jean caught up with him in Dallas, and in Los Angeles they joined their refugee friends, who included, by this time, Tony Bower. The interlude that followed was to inspire the "Paul" chapter in Down There on a Visit by Christopher Isherwood (1962). Jean became "Ruthie," Fouts is "Paul," Bower is "Ronnie," and Gerald Heard is "Augustus Parr."

During World War II, Watson sent Fouts to the US for his safety. He met Isherwood in Hollywood in August 1940. Isherwood's guru, Swami Prabhavananda, refused to accept Fouts as a disciple despite his interest in Vedanta. Isherwood, nonetheless, had Fouts move in with him in the summer of 1941 to "lead a life of meditation".[8] This period is described in Isherwood's Down There on a Visit, where Fouts is represented as the character Paul. Some time into the war, Fouts, who was a conscientious objector, was drafted for the Civilian Public Service Camp. He later completed his high school diploma, studied medicine at UCLA and then settled in Europe.[8]

After WWII, Fouts sold Watson's Picasso and with the proceeds returned to Paris in 1946. It was never clear that Watson intended he should have the Picasso, rather than hold it safely in America through the war, and the story of this painting and its fate became a lasting legend among their friends. The painting, Girl Reading at a Table, was acquired in 1995 by the Metropolitan Musuem of Art.

While in Paris, he sent a blank check to Truman Capote with only the word "come" written on it, after becoming enamored of the Harold Halma photograph of Capote on the original back dust jacket of Other Voices, Other Rooms.[14] Capote rejected the check, but accepted his offer to visit, and would spend hours with Fouts in his dark apartment on the Rue de Bac, talking and listening to Fouts' stories.[7]

Fouts was allegedly the lover of numerous notable figures, including Prince Paul of Greece (later King), and French actor Jean Marais.[15] Another of his lovers was Evan Morgan, 2nd Viscount Tredegar.[9] Capote, in exaggeration of his prowess, claimed that "had Denham Fouts yielded to Hitler's advances there would have been no World War Two."[16] Katherine Bucknell, the editor of Christopher Isherwood's diaries, noted "Myth surrounds Denham Fouts",[17] and one of his friends, John B. L. Goodwin said of Fouts, "He invented himself. If people didn't know his background he would make it up."[7]

Fouts spent much of his later life dissolute, spending time "in bed like a corpse, sheet to his chin, a cigarette between his lips turning to ash. His lover [Anthony Watson-Gandy] would remove the cigarette just before it burned his lips."[15][18] Fouts died in 1948, at the Pensione Foggetti, in Rome, at the age of 34 of a "hypoplastic aorta and hypertrophy of left ventricle".[19] John B. L. Goodwin told Christopher Isherwood that Fouts was found dead in the bathroom.[20] His body was buried in the first zone, 11th row, of the city's Protestant Cemetery.[21]

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