Henry lived in a quiet, upper-middle-class residential neighborhood in Pacific Palisades. Tacked to the front door beside the brass knocker was a weathered quotation from some oriental mystic advising all those who would ring and enter to pass by quietly, leaving to peace and contemplation the man inside, who, having passed his 86th year, deserved both.
Anaϊs lived in a glass house overlooking Silver Lake that she referred to as her 'house of mirrors.' She shared the house with her long-time companion Rupert Pole who had the house built for her by his half-brother Eric Lloyd Wright, the grandson of Frank Lloyd Wright. The house was secluded from the street by a long drive leading down to it, and as Nin wrote, "the entire house was one large studio, no separate small partitions. It had the sense of space of Japanese houses; it had the vista of Japanese screen, all sky, mountains, lake, as if one lived out of doors. Yet the roof, held by its heavy beams, gave a feeling of protection while the big windows which separated the roof from the studio framed the flight of birds, the sailing of clouds."
Henry resided downstairs in the two-story home he bought in the sixties to house his former wife Lepska (they had divorced in the early fifties) and their two children, Tony and Val, and himself. By the time I met Henry, Lepska, the third of his five wives, was gone, Val and Tony grown up, and he had just divorced his fifth wife, a Japanese singer he had met at a piano bar a few years earlier. Periodically Tony stayed in the house as did an assortment of itinerant people who came for a while and then moved on.
Henry was a tough old bird, rather like a turkey with his croaky voice, heavily veined, creped hands, parchment-thin skin, wattled throat and indomitable, naked head. As his body failed him, the eyes, the ears, the bowels, the bladder, the bones, he shrugged his shoulders and with head held high said, "We must accept what comes, don't you know?"
The house bore the face of the man. The walls were covered with his paintings, posters, memorabilia, photographs of friends and the famous framed lists. Lists of places he had been, list of places he hadn't been, lists of all the women he never slept with -- but no lists of those he had, lists of favorite foods, of favorite piano music -- Ravel's virtuosic Gaspard de la nuit comes to mind adjacent to a list of his favorite cock and cunt words.
One of the ironies of my life is that I was to meet both Anaϊs Nin and Henry Miller independently of each other when both were nearing the end of their lives. Nin died in 1977; Miller in 1980.
I met Anaϊs in February 1974. "Barbara - This is Anaïs Nin speaking. I have read your work and I think it is very good. We have many affinities. I would like you to come and see me." Two and a half years later my diary, "The Restless Spirit: Journal of a Gemini," was published by Celestial Arts/Les Femmes with a preface by Anaïs. That was how it began.
Three years later this is how it ended: "I can't tell the world about my illness but you can and I want the world to know. I want you to write about this." Anaïs was 74 years old when she died and she so wanted to live, this graceful, elegant, cultivated woman whom Miller had called a 'masterpiece.'
My new book, "Anaϊs Nin: The Last Days," is a memoir drawn from the last three years of Nin's life during which time she fought a heroic battle against the cancer that felled her at the very apex of her long awaited literary success. The artistic renown that she had craved throughout her life finally came in her last decade with the publication of Diaries I-VI; the first volume was published in 1966.
From the moment of our initial meeting until her death, I was captivated by Anaïs, who inspired intense feelings in everyone she came in contact with. Nothing I had read about her had prepared me for this meeting which was to so dramatically change the course of my life.
When she answered the door that balmy February afternoon, the kind we Californians are known to brag about, I was mesmerized by the figure who greeted me. She was Henry Miller's "Être Étoilique." Dressed in a floor-length, gauzy, cerise-hued Indian gown -- the kind popular among the counterculture in those days but one which she wore regally -- she was taller than I had imagined. Perhaps five feet six inches. Her center-parted hair sat on top of her head like a tiny golden crown. There was not a line on the finely-wrought, mother-of-pearl skin to indicate her seventy-some years. She was poetry embodied with a hauntingly accented, slightly husky, flute-like voice. As she led me into the house, I followed in her wake feeling awkward and ungainly while she seemed to glide over the rose-colored carpet like a swan skimming the surface of still water.
Several years later I met Henry Miller. The meeting came about as a result of An Open Letter to Henry Miller that I wrote and broadcast over KCRW in 1977. Someone -- to this day unknown to me -- took a tape of the program to Henry and shortly after the broadcast I received an invitation from his secretary telling me that Henry wanted to meet me. Would I be able to come for dinner?
I went and that dinner was the first of many, many dinners over the next several years. I was to become one of his 'cooks.' The cooks were chosen from a list of people Henry enjoyed conversing with and evolved into a staple of his routine once he became housebound. Always a pragmatic man in practical matters, this was one of the ways Henry stayed plugged into the world. The list was long and the cooks rotated, although a few of us had fixed nights every week, Friday being mine.
Those last few years of his life, Henry shuffled between his old-fashioned, high-set walnut-dark bed, the desk at its foot, the Ping-Pong table in the lanai on which he now painted and the dining table, in fact, a redwood picnic table covered with a red and white checkered cloth. This is where he held court every evening for those invited to cook dinner, attired in his bathrobe, plaid or blue terry cloth, pajamas, fluffy white bedroom skippers and white socks.
One of the dubious benefits of having been a female friend of Henry Miller was and is the raised eyebrows, the insinuations, the questions: "Were you one of his women? Did he talk dirty to you?" As most people have never ventured beyond the Tropic books into the more epiphanic pages of works like "The Colossus of Maroussi" or "Stand Still like the Hummingbird," it is perhaps understandable that these questions were uppermost in people's minds. We had our obligatory 'dirty' talk once only, early on, over a dinner of steamed zucchini, noodles Romanoff, tomatoes Provençale, melon and ice cream. That conversation evolved out of a general one that touched on favorite Miller lovers like Abelard and Héloise, Tristan and Isolde, and Anaϊs.
One evening, leaning on his elbows across the dinner table, Henry laughed as he told me that Anaïs was the "greatest fabulist" he had ever known, and one also possessed of the nine lives of the cat. They had been lovers during the 1930s in Paris when both were struggling to make names for themselves. And now, as he reminisced, the memory of Anaïs's shenanigans, her many, many love affairs, amused him, spread across his wrinkled face in a broad smile. Being of a less sanguine disposition than Miller, Anaïs herself referred to her lies as "mensonges vitals" by which she meant "the lies which give life."
And as Henry spoke to me about Anaϊs, she too spoke to me about Henry. The following is an excerpt from "Anaϊs Nin: The Last Days" published by Sky Blue Press:
One late afternoon as we sat sipping our wine in front of the fire that Rupert had lit for us, she was always cold now, Anaïs reminisced about Henry, her early days with Rupert, her friend Renate Druks, and June Miller, Henry's second wife.
"Henry only wanted the joyful moments. The ecstatic times. He once told me that if I were to become ill he would leave me. If I had ever felt that I could rely on him, perhaps we might have ended up together. But it was the other way around. Henry relied on me to provide the necessities. In fairness he never asked me for anything. He was quite happy in his poverty. But I couldn't bear to see the way he was living. It hurt me that he didn't even own a typewriter so I gave him mine. I told Hugo that I had dropped mine, that it was beyond repair, and he immediately bought me a new one. In order to give Henry some money to live on I had my dressmaker pad my bills. When Hugo paid them, Madame returned the extra francs to me. Henry didn't want to take them but I insisted.
"Henry had a daughter by his first wife. She lived in America with her mother, whom Henry passionately hated. The little girl, her name was Barbara like yours, wrote Henry a heartbreaking letter begging to come live with him in Paris. She was about twelve years old at the time. I felt sorry for her. Her letter brought back all the pain I had suffered when Papa left us. Henry read the letter and wept. Then he put it aside, took his glasses off and went to the sofa to take a nap. Durrell was there as well. When Henry awoke he had forgotten all about it. He never spoke of it again. That is how Henry was. I never saw him sad or unhappy. In that way he was quite inhuman. No matter what happened to him he was always joking and full of life and joyous. He wasn't frightened by solitude. He found it strengthening.
"Our liaison lasted several years. He was actually very much a romantic. People never understood that about him. I would manage to go up to Paris two or three days a week. Often I would spend the night. I cooked while I was there and cleaned the apartment which was always littered with dirty dishes and ashtrays filled with cigarette butts. We talked books, read our work to each other and made love."
She paused, reflecting for a moment. And then in voice filled with nostalgia, she said fondly, "You know, the first time Henry and I made love, afterwards he turned to me and said, 'Was it okay for you?' Can you imagine that, Barbara, from the man who wrote all those books?"
Behind her the day lingered, as did her memories, and a variety of greens glistened under the squatting sun. The scene she described was touching, intimate, domestic, and quite dispelled the racier rumors about Anaïs and Henry and his wife June.
Her evenly-modulated, chant-like voice was like an evening call to vespers as she spoke about those legendary Paris days long gone into the night of another time.
The conversation turned to marriage and Anaïs made it all seem so orderly, so easy.
"The French way is so simple and natural," she said. "A marriage is a friendship and one has the passion outside. For the most part it is impossible to find both the security of kindness and caring and the passion in the same person. When Rupert and I began our relationship it started out as a week-end romance. I had no thought of anything else and look what happened."
Leaning forward in the darkening room, she touched my hand. "In Rupert I found the wedding of marriage and passion. Never deny passion, Barbara. You never know where it will lead. Passion can lead to love. The only thing missing in Rupert was self-confidence. I worked to bring that out in him. He had no real self-image. His father was an actor and was never at home. He let Rupert do as he chose. There was no guidance. Then his mother married Lloyd Wright, who ruled with an iron fist. That was very hard on Rupert with his free nature."
Anaïs had never articulated exactly what her relationship to Pole was, and I never asked. He came and went, fetched the mail, cleaned the pool, offered a glass of wine. Husband or companion? At the time, it didn't matter, and I paid scant attention to him that first year. Alas, I was to learn shortly before her death, that Anaïs had been married to two men at the same time for a number of years and had also engaged in a period of what she called her "erotic madness" with her father after a separation of nearly 20 years. She was 30; "HIM," her, "Roi Soleil,"54. At the time she was on intimate terms with her husband Hugh Guiler and Miller.
Nin married Hugh Guiler in 1923, met Rupert Pole in 1947 (he was 16 years her junior), and married him bigamously in 1955. Once her dairies were published she was forced to annul the Pole marriage for tax reasons. Her legal husband was and remained Hugh Guiler until the end of her life, while Rupert Pole, her constant companion, cared for and nursed her through her long and terrible battle with cancer. A myth in her own time, the Scheherazade of the diary genre, arguably one of the most fascinating women of the twentieth century, both of her husbands's 'spared' her life and by so doing made her creative life possible.
When she died the obituaries in the East listed Hugh P. Guiler as the husband of the deceased; in the West, Rupert Pole.
"Anaïs Nin: The Last Days" is currently available on Amazon and on Smashwords, as well as on iPad (through the iTune store), Nook, the Sony reader, as well as as other Kindle-friendly devices such as the iPhone.
A former reporter for Time magazine and contributor to the Washington Post, People, USA Today, and Architectural Digest, Barbara Kraft is author of "The Restless Spirit: Journal of a Gemini," with a preface by Anaïs Nin, and the recently published memoir "Anaïs Nin: The Last Days," which Nin biographer Noel Riley Fitch calls "intimate and beautifully written." Kraft's work has appeared in the Hudson Review, Michigan Quarterly, Canadian Theater Review, Columbia Magazine, et al, and among the many radio programs she has hosted and produced for KCRW, the award winning Santa Monica-based National Public Radio station, is "Transforming OC," a two-part documentary on the 2006 opening of the Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa. Kraft lives and writes in Los Angeles.