Partner Peter Watson

Queer Places:
Upstate Office, 639 Main St, Buffalo, NY 14203
201 E 38th St, New York, NY 10016

Waldemar Einar Hansen (August 21, 1922 - March 15, 2006) was one of the lovers of Peter Watson. Charming in manner and amusing in speech, with a thin, bony face surmounted by thick glasses, Waldemar was a poet who had worked as Cecil Beaton’s secretary and ghostwriter to edit and doctor his candid, revelatory, hurriedly-written diaries, kept since his student days, into publishable prose.

Waldemar Hansen was born on July 19, 1891 in Buffalo, NY, the son of an English Jew, born in London and daughter of an East End rabbi, and a gentile, a Dane who was a house painter. As a kid he was very precocious and was sent to Technical High School to learn chemistry, a subject in which he was so proficient that when he graduated he knew as much as if he had studied at college. At the age of 19, he was excused from military duty in WWII to work in a large chemical plant testing liquid viscosities, which somehow or other had to do with research in atomic fission. Other than working in the chemistry laboratory, he collaborated to the literary magazine, Upstate, where he first met John Bernard Myers. Reuel Denny, Hansen's English teacher, was a friend of Myers, and he put them in touch because Hansen had an ambition to write verses.

In New York City, Hansen shared an apartment with the flamboyant John Bernard Myers, starting from 1944, and worked as a chemist for New Jersey Zinc, but wanted to be a poet. When Myers invited Grace Hartigan and Alfred Leslie to dinner, she met Hansen, a prickly writer who would be part of Grace’s inner circle for several years. Myers prided himself on his cooking and menu planning, deftly orchestrating a medley of vegetables with no meat—to keep his guests from feeling stuffed and sleepy, he once explained (or, more likely, to save money). Grace, accustomed to living on throwaway scraps, marveled at the eggplant dish Myers served. As she said later, “Enchantment set in.” Typical of this hothouse atmosphere, so delightfully new to Grace, was Hansen’s remark about the temperamental gas stove in the apartment: “I just pretend that it’s Betty Grable and I’m Darryl Zanuck.”

Later Hansen invited Grace Hartigan and Walter for a weekend at his and Myers’s rented summer house in Westchester Country. Hansen, who seems to have been hugely self-absorbed and quick to find fault, bitchily described the entrance of Lee Krasner and Jackson Pollock at a cocktail party as “throwing long shadows of envy and hatred.” A few months later, he sent Grace a postcard with a drawing of the large-eyed, long-nosed George Sand, suggesting that she resembled the great but homely novelist. A year later, he dropped out of the picture completely, writing to her that he had “drifted away...from the painters and poets.”

In 1945 Hansen quit his job at New Jersey Zinc and persisted as a poet even though dissatisfied with what he was writing. He joined a poetry workshop directed by John Malcolm Brinnin, whose work he did no particularly approve of or like, but in truth Brinnin was a fine teacher and a distringuished poet. In December 1945, Peter Watson and Cecil Beaton arrived in New York to visit Pavel Tchelitchew and Charles Henri Ford. John Bernard Myers worked for Ford at View magazine, and through him, Hansen got to meet Watson and Beaton at dinner in March 1946.

In October 1946, Hansen started studying poetry with Kimon Friar at the YMHA. In 1947 Hansen got a job with Cecil Beaton, serving as his secretary, although all-around amanuensis would be a more precise description. They got along well, considering that Hansen approved of little that Beaton wrote or designed or photographed. "Perennial chi-chi," Hansen would say, "but of course the world would be a dull place without a luttle chi-chi." In the end he liked Cecil's character. At the end of 1947, Hansen left New York for London to live with Peter Watson.

In Paris in 1947 with Watson, Waldemar Hansen wrote home to a friend in the USA that the gay nightclubs were ‘like Berlin, 1941’. Travelling through southern Italy, Hansen wrote that ‘Rome is quite gay on the Via Veneto, where American soldier-queens sit in cars and camp with the local belles’. He added, ‘I’m told that everyone in Italy is gay, for money. It’s like pre-Hitler Berlin.’ In a rare moment of self-awareness Watson said in a letter to Waldemar Hansen that his "greatest need [was] to love rather than be love"'.

"Truman Capote is all the rage here," Waldemar Hansen, wrote from London on May 6, 1948, to a friend in the United States, noting he had heard that Denny (Denham Fouts) had sent the beguiling young author a blank check with but one word written on it: "Come." "So now," Hansen added, "Capote will be turning up in Paris soon." Hansen and Capote had been casual acquaintances in New York, and when they met in London, Waldemar volunteered to be his guide. “I was very impressed by Other Voices, and I took him up with open arms,” said Waldemar, who was only twenty-five himself. Through Watson and Beaton, Waldemar knew virtually everybody worth knowing in literary and artistic London; those Truman did not encounter on his own, he was introduced to by Waldemar. “Truman wasn’t interested in seeing things like the Tower of London,” he said, “and we didn’t do the usual tourist route.”

At the end of October 1949, Hansen left Englad aboard the Queen Elizabeth. His luggage consisted of two suitcases, one box and a typewriter, plus enough heartache and self-pity to fill the ship twice over. Just over a month later, Watson also left England; he travelled down through Spain to Portugal, and at Lisbon he boarded the SS Alcantara bound for Rio de Janeiro.

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