Monday, July 02, 2007

Neiman's Phantom Radio And Missing Shoebox

Gilbert and Margaret Neiman gave Henry Miller somewhere to stay during the early 1940s. In 1945, the Neimans lived near Henry by Anderson Creek. Gilbert was a full-blown alcoholic by this point as evidenced in Miller's Big Sur And The Oranges of Hieronymous Bosch. This posting is directly inspired by, and borrows from, a recent posting in These Things Too, a blog maintained by Stan Denski. The article, titled Henry Miller, Man Ray and Me (June 16, 2007) is partly a portrait of Neiman as an alcoholic (as a former student, Denski has a first-person perspective), but also provides a revelation: someone, somewhere, has posession of a shoebox of letters from Miller to Neiman which only three or four people have ever seen, including Denski.
Miller paints a portrait of Gilbert Neiman as both a "kind, gentle, considerate soul" (p.330) with a brilliant, scholarly mind, as well as a "bad drinker" (p.70)--"grotesque"(p.71)--so far into the drink that he was hearing voices and music in his head.
Biographically, Miller describes Neiman at his home in Beverly Glen, when he first met him. Neiman had been hard at work on There's a Tyrnat in Every Country (1947), writing in his garage from midnight to dawn, bothering neighbours with his music. During the day, he would sometimes baste himself in olive oil and catch some sun while listening to loud classical music.
Around 1945, Neiman, his wife Margaret, and their young daughter moved into the former home of the artist Jean Varda at Big Sur; a large house 100 yeards away from Henry's. Soon after moving here, Neiman's Tyrant book was published, and he began work on another book called The Underworld. He spent his days writing, beginning "cold sober and finish[ing] quite otherwise" (p.71). At some point, Neiman began to grow tense at night as he thought he heard music coming from Henry's house; the same song by Varese every night. As a poor sleeper, Neiman came to resent the disruption. The problem with his claim, however, was that Henry owned neither a radio nor a record player.

On pages 73-75, Miller writes of the incident in which Gilbert barged into his home at 2 AM, placed his hands on Miller's throat, and demanded to know where the radio was. Miller tried to make him see that the music was in his head. When that failed, he brought him outside and convinced the drunken Neiman that God had planted a radio buried beneath a rock in Anderson Creek.
"In the beginning, everyone who goes to live at Anderson Creek hears things . [....] Particularly those who live near the canyon creek, which is the source of these eerie, disturbing sounds" (p. 70).
Read the full scene at Henry Miller, Man Ray and Me.
In his These Thing Too blog, Stan Denski recounts a personal story, in which he was in the unique position to have read un-published, private letters from Henry Miller to Gilvert Neiman. Denski:
"When I went into [Al Charley's] office I noticed some bandages on his hands. He told me he’d gone over to visit Gilbert’s widow. She let him in and they went out to the back of the house where she’d built a fire and was burning some of Gilbert’s things. His hands were bandaged because he’d burnt them reaching into the fire to pull out a shoe box. He showed me the box, it was burnt on the bottom and around the edges of the lid. Then he opened it.I’ve never had any experience that is anything like the experience of going through the papers that were inside the scorched box. I wish my memory were better. I wish I’d just made an inventory. Gilbert had been good friends with the artist Man Ray and there was a stack of cards that Man Ray had sent Gilbert over the years to mark special occasions, Christmas, birthdays, etc. These cards were a thick cardboard onto which was stitched with thread an original black & white photograph. The backs were covered with notes in Man Ray’s hand. The photos were all unique and I do not believe they have ever been published anywhere.
"Then there were the letters. There were letters from Hemingway. Letters from Allen Ginsberg’s father filled with worry over his strange son. Letters from various people I was not well read enough to recognize. And one large stack of letters from Henry Miller tied together with a piece of twine.I sat there and read letter after letter. In one, Miller was describing some pornography he’d seen recently; it was hilarious and explicit. There was one that sticks out from all the others. In it, Miller was replying to a letter Gilbert had sent in which he was worried about being drafted. Gilbert was asking Henry's advice, he was thinking about posing as a homosexual or dope addict to get out of the military if he was called up.Miller’s letter was handwritten and his advice to Gilbert was to not do any of those things. Instead, and he wrote this in enormous letters at an angle taking up the better part of the page, 'Be a DOPE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Nobody wants a dope!!!' He went on to describe how Gilbert should be the most positive, helpful, energetic, friendly, eager completely bumbling incompetent moron possible!"
Denski was forbidden from making copies of the letters. Not long afterwards, Charley was killed in a car accident. To this day, Denski has no idea where these letters are, despite his efforts to track them down.
Equally as interesting in this post is the comment left by the Neiman's daughter, Ariane. Besides providing details that make Gilbert seem a particulary despicable human being, she states: "I have the letters Henry wrote to my mother. She also burned a bunch, for reasons undisclosed, at least for now. As for insight into Henry M...does his verbal abuse of a shy girl, whose mother (Margaret Nieman, model for Man Ray and longtime friend of Henry & Lepska) had the effrontery to consider him only a friend count?"

If anyone knows about these shoebox letters and photos, please visit the These Things Too website and let Stan and Ariane know. Following that, maybe the rest of us will know.

The Denski post link, once again: Henry Miller, Man Ray and Me.
Neiman references in Big Sur and the Oranges: pp. 70-75, 119, 330.


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