May 9, 1914 – Denham Fouts
“Denny was about the most beautiful boy anybody had ever seen. His skin always looked as if it had just been scrubbed; it seemed to have no pores at all, it was so smooth.”Cabaret singer Jimmie Daniles (1908 – 1984)
Born in Jacksonville, Florida, Denham Fouts was one of the most famous male prostitutes of the 20th century. He traveled the world to work for wealthy clients. By anyone’s standards, he was uncommonly handsome. He spoke with a genteel Southern accent that everyone who met him found to be exceptionally charming.
Among his many clients were King Farouk of Egypt, Prince Paul of Greece, before he became King, and Evan Frederic Morgan, 2nd Viscount Tredegar.
In 1926, 12-year-old Fouts sent a letter to the editor of Time magazine, protesting the abuse of animals in filmmaking. In his teens, he was sent by his father to Washington, D.C., having asked a relative, who was the president of Safeway Inc., to give him a job. Fouts just wasn’t made for that sort of labor, and he soon left for Manhattan, attracting a great deal of attention for his looks. Writer Glenway Wescott wrote that Fouts was: “absolutely enchanting and ridiculously good-looking”.
He loved having a life where he was constantly pampered. He was noted for staying in bed all day after making lots of money from his vigorous sex work, ordering room service, and asking other people to do things for him.
Once, hee learned from one of his New York clients that the man he had the biggest crush on, writer Truman Capote, was traveling to Paris. This rich benefactor knew about this crush and paid for his plane ticket to Paris to meet Capote. Of course, they met, and they became pals and playmates, but Fouts was already addicted to Opium. Capote convinced him to go to a drug rehab clinic. He promised to meet up with him in Italy once he got out of rehab, but Capote learned from mutual friends that Fouts never completed the program, and started smoking opium as soon as he left, and Capote dropped him. However, their relationship had an immense impact on both, with Capote basing more than one character on Fouts.
Other writers and artists used Fouts as a muse, including Gore Vidal, Christopher Isherwood, Gavin Lambert, Aldous Huxley, Tennessee Williams, painters Peter Watson and Michael Wishart, photographer George Platt Lynes, and actor Jean Marais, plus a long list of international millionaires.
Vidal labeled him: ”un homme fatal”.
Isherwood told him:
”You’re a rather vulgar little not-so-young boy from the most unpleasant state in the Union, whose chief claim to sophistication is having been thrown out of a few European hotels.”
Isherwood also noted:
”He really understood how to give pleasure, to make daily life more decorative and to create enjoyment of small occasions.”
He never recovered from his drug addictions and he died at 35 years old while living in Rome after years of cocaine, opium, cigarettes, alcohol and a wild and promiscuous lifestyle.
Commenting on the fascination of his seductive character, Capote wrote that:
”…had Denham Fouts yielded to Adolf Hitler’s advances, there would have been no World War II.”
In Capote: A Biography (2005), biographer Gerald Clarke wrote:
”Unlike many in his profession, Denny chose his career. When he was growing up, Jacksonville still considered itself part of the reconstructed South. His family thought of itself as part of the Southern aristocracy; it was upright, conservative and intolerant of all those who did not accept its ossified codes. One of those people whose only ambition was to attract other people, Denny was superb at his job, affording it no more thought or effort than a flower gives to enticing the bees that buzz before its fragrant blossoms, or than a tropical fish gives to those who admire its peacock fins from other sides of the aquarium glass: he was a male whore from Jacksonville, Florida. His extraordinary good looks brought stares wherever he went; thin as a hieroglyph, he had dark hair, light brown eyes and a cleft chin.”
He invented himself. If people didn’t know his background, he would just make it up.
It was Nazi-loving Morgan who took him to China, where he discovered opium. He was photographed for Time magazine with an aristocratic lover hunting in Africa. in 1938, Fouts notoriously shocked gay writer couple Jane and Paul Bowles by shooting flaming arrows from his Paris hotel window onto the busy Champs Élysées below, having spent some time in Tibet, learning archery.
He even got arrested in Portugal for practicing his favorite hobby: sex in the outdoors; he claimed that he liked sex so rough and forceful that he popped blood vessels while in the act. His dangerous side was offset by his charm and he lived off his wealthy patrons, both men and women, receiving gifts such as a Pablo Picasso painting and suitcases of cash. He never rented by the hour, but like Blanche DuBois, he always relied on the kindness of strangers.
The way he picked his clients was legendary; after becoming infatuated with the photograph by Harold Halma of Capote on the cover of Other Voices, Other Rooms (1948), Fouts sent a blank check to the writer with one word only: ”Come”. Capote, of course, obliged.
Capote called him the ”Best-Kept Boy in the World” in Answered Prayers (1986), a collection of sordid stories about various social classes mixing, inspired by Fouts tales of his rich lovers.
Fouts only real love was Peter Watson, a margarine fortune heir, and publisher of Horizon, and collector of modern art. When World War II began, Watson sent Fouts to the USA for safe keeping,
In Vidal’s A Thirsty Evil (1956), a subtle yet shocking series of short stories about social behavior and intricacies of gay subculture at the time, Fouts figures in a major way.
Isherwood had Fouts move in with him in the summer of 1941 to withdraw from his hard living lifestyle and instead, lead a life of Eastern meditation. The character Paul in Down There On A Visit (1962) is about Fouts.
The English painter Wishart was introduced to Fouts, and in return Fouts made him an opium addict. He was described by Jean Cocteau, of all people, ”as a bad influence”. Wishart memorably describes Fouts in his memoirs, High Diver (1977), as:
”…seeming like the best-looking boy at a West Coast college. He wore nothing but cream-colored flannel trousers and had the torso of an athlete. Along his beautiful shoulders and golden forearms ran snow-white mice with startled pink eyes, which he stroked gently with the backs of his hands.”
The male hustler is a recurrent literary and film stereotype: the sexually irresistible, but tragic figure, perhaps due to childhood abuse (Fouts said he was beaten by his father when he discovered his gayness), an unattainable object of desire, an idealized misunderstood rebel living outside the law, free of the bourgeois. This image is reflected in the works of Genet, William S. Burroughs and John Rechy.
Capote fudged the details about Fouts’ life, yet he was clearly infatuated:
”I told Denny I would meet him in Rome, for how could I say I never meant to see him again, because he scared me? It wasn’t the drugs and chaos, but the funereal halo of waste and failure that hovered above him: the shadow of such failure seemed somehow to threaten my own impending triumph. So I went to Italy, but to Venice, not Rome, and it wasn’t until early winter, when I was alone one night in Harry’s Bar, that I learned that Denny had died in Rome a few days after I was supposed to have joined him.” Answered Prayers.
In the indispensable Eminent Outlaws, my friend, Christopher Bram writes:
”…all the literature inspired by Fouts helped young gays feel accepted and gay culture, more visible.”
Fouts is now at the Protestant Cemetery in Rome, his grave shows none of the extravagances afforded him in life.
My friend Gavin Lambert’s roman à clef Norman’s Letter is about Fouts. My friend David Ehrenstein was the first to point me in the direction of Fouts and his story. To learn more, try the highly readable The Best-Kept Boy in the World: The Life And Loves Of Denny Fouts (2014) by Arthur Vanderbilt.