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Monday, September 27, 2021

On the passing of Charles Henri—all these years later.

On the passing of Charles Henri—all these years later. 

Portrait of Charles Henri Ford by Pavel Tchelitchew.

Unbelievably, today marks the 19th anniversary of Charles’s passing at the age of 94. When I wrote about Ruth on the anniversary of her passing, I wondered how she would have fared in the pandemic, and I can’t help but wonder the same about Charles. I do think Ruth and Charles were both very lucky to have had long, exciting lives and to have made their escapes before this happened. Of course there were plenty of terrible diseases to contend with in their own lifetimes, but somehow they managed to live through them all and into their nineties.

In Charles’s youth he had a lot of the usual diseases that kids would get (and sometimes die of).  He spoke of mumps and fevers, and once one of his school roommates was diagnosed with malaria which was not contagious, luckily for Charles. He would write about a terrible bout with gonorrhea he had in the early 1930s and its long and painful treatment, well before antibiotics came along and simplified everything. He got all kinds of bugs and ailments, and he would describe them in letters, such as one he wrote to his friend and co-author Parker Tyler, in 1932:

“I woke up the morning after drinking beer by order of Dr. H. because he wanted to see if it would affect my prostate gland so he could better see if I’m over my own gonorrhea—with a violent headache sore left tonsil and fever 103 which rose that night to 105 the death temperature but back down to normal now the third day. I broke out in a light rash as to forehead and arms and it may have been chickenpox. The Dr. is coming again tomorrow.” 

Among his friends from the time there were a few early deaths from illnesses, things like Typhus or a strange fever caught while traveling. Charles travelled a lot in his young years, and it was really more luck than anything that kept him from catching something fatal. He was ten in 1918 and didn’t get the flu. If he were here now, I would ask him if he remembered much from that period, now that the United States has counted more deaths from Covid than there were during the 1918 flu pandemic. 

Being the social person that he was, I really don’t know how Charles would have fared having to keep away from people. No doubt he would have made good use of lockdown time. He would probably have a book or two worth of collages and poems to show for it. But it’s hard to say what he would have thought. I’ll probably always wonder what Charles would think in every new situation that comes up. I might not always be able to guess at his opinions, but he’d definitely have some, that much I know. Charles always had a good outlook, and he would always find things to be curious about and ways to satisfy his curiosities. His curiosity is one of his most inspiring qualities and even in these uncertain times, curiosity is worth a lot. Keep living, keep looking, there’s still a lot to see. If I could ask him his opinion about everything happening now and what best to do, he might say something like that.

Thinking of you, Charles. Wherever you are, I hope it’s sunny and exciting.

Portrait of Charles Henri Ford by Pavel Tchelitchew.

Charles Henri Ford

Indra Tamang

September 27th, 2021

Copyright © Indra Tamang 2021, all rights reserved.

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

On the Occasion of Ruth’s Birthday 2021

 On the Occasion of Ruth’s Birthday 2021

Ruth Ford with her first husband Peter van Eyck.
Photographed by Carl Van Vechten

One hundred and ten years ago on this day, July 7th, 1911, Ruth Ford was born, and she lived for a very long time. For 35 of those years she was a big part of my life. All last year I thought of her very often during the worst of the pandemic. I wondered what she might have said about it, what it might have triggered in her memory, what would she have thought about how the government handled the whole situation, how many people she might have known who died from the bug. For the last several years of her life, Ruth hardly left the Dakota. Her life wouldn’t have been much different if she’d been present during the pandemic as a very old person. I wondered what she would she have thought of masks and social distancing?

In the first decades of my knowing her, Ruth was very social, so I think it would have been hard on her to feel isolated, and hard on a lot of her friends, as well. Especially the theatre people, who would have suffered from Broadway going dark, the way the actors today have suffered from the loss of their livelihood. Ruth and Charles were both very lucky with their health and their long lives. If either of them had memories about the 1918 flu, I don’t recall them ever mentioning anything about it. I know that Charles had some of the childhood illnesses of their days—like mumps—he wrote about mumps in one of his old diaries from boarding school. But I don’t remember Ruth ever talking about having had a serious illness herself, unless you count being old—Ruth sometimes seemed to consider her advanced age a sickness that she thought she might recover from. 

Ruth Ford at her apartment in Dakota.

Ruth went out rarely as an old lady, but she always liked to talk on the phone. Some of her favorite phone companions were theatre people.  She could talk for hours to Claibe Richardson, a composer who was also born in the South like Ruth, with whom she’d worked in the past. He had created the musical score for The Grass Harp, which Ruth had a role in when it ran on 45th Street at the Martin Beck Theatre in 1971. It was a musical version of the Truman Capote novel, and Ruth sang in it. I would have liked to see her in that show, but I only got to see Ruth on the stage once, in her very last Broadway play. It was the staged version of Harold and Maude, where she played the part of Harold’s mother, in 1980. I really liked seeing her play that part. Her stage career was behind her after that, but she still had many more years of life ahead of her, and I think she enjoyed her life very much. 

And I can’t say I’m not glad that she managed to get out safe and sound well before the plague that came a decade after she left. 

A happy birthday to you, dear Ruth. You’re always on my mind, and I hope that wherever you are there is a celebration in your honor, and that you’re surrounded by all of your favorites.

Ruth Ford during her childhood

Ruth Ford

 Indra Tamang

 July 7th, 2021

Copyright © Indra Tamang 2021, all rights reserved.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

On the Passing of Jim Haynes

 On the Passing of Jim Haynes

Jim Haynes outside of Edinburgh Theater, August 1992 . Photo by Crauford Tait

The first person from my past to leave the earth this year, that I know of, was Jim Haynes, who passed away on January 6th, 2021 at the age of 87. Jim did many things in his life and the Guardian, in his obituary, described him very well as, “someone who made extraordinary things happen.” 

One of the many things he was known for was the Sunday dinners he gave in Paris, where he lived beginning in 1969. It is not an exaggeration to say that everyone was invited, because that was true. I went to many of those dinners with Charles Henri Ford whenever we were in Paris, and they were always crowded with people of all kinds. The invitations were spread by word of mouth among friends and their friends, and Jim knew many, many people. 

He was a Southerner like Charles, born in Louisiana, but in the 1950s he went to Edinburgh, where he founded the first paperback bookshop in the UK, co-founded the Traverse theatre, and organized the first Edinburgh international book festivals, where he featured such writers as Mary McCarthy and William Burroughs, among lots of others, some of whom I was lucky enough to get to know. 

In Paris he operated a little publishing enterprise called Handshake Editions, and it was through his press that Charles and I published two volumes of a book project we did together called Handshake From Heaven. 

The books were spiral-bound, using Xerox and photocopies, and one volume included work by Charles, myself, and by another Nepalese artist named Reepak Shakya. The other one was work by just Charles and me. I was doing a lot of street photography then, and I put a lot of it into those books. 

I always enjoyed Jim Haynes’s Sunday dinners when we went. He would provide the food, and everyone who came knew to bring wine. In a lot of ways those evenings reminded me of the early days in SoHo, in New York, when Charles and I would go to all the gallery openings. Those were big social events as much as anything, and there would always be food. Something else I remember about Jim Haynes was that when Charles and I both needed to see a dentist in Paris, he told us that when it came to dentists he preferred women to men, because women’s hands felt so much softer than a man’s did, tinkering around in your mouth. He recommended someone, and after going to her to for my dental work, I agreed with Jim completely. 

I’m glad to have spent so many entertaining hours in your company, Jim. Bon Voyage and bon appetite wherever you end up.

Jim Haynes 


- Indra Tamang

  February 10th, 2021

Copyright © Indra Tamang 2021, all rights reserved.

Thinking of Charles Henri Ford on His Birthday, February 10th 2021

 Thinking of Charles Henri Ford on His Birthday, February 10th 2021

Charles Henri Ford by Cecil Beaton, 1930s.

It was 113 years ago today that Charles was born, in 1908. When I first met him in Kathmandu he was already past sixty years old, which to me, being eighteen or nineteen at the time, seemed very old. Now I’m past the age that he was then, so I can imagine that he still felt quite energetic then, because I still do. Charles was the youngest 63-year-old in the world when I met him in the dining room of the Panorama Hotel. He was very bright and curious. I remember waiting on him at breakfast time and he would always order porridge, which we made huge pots of in the hotel kitchen. When I eventually went to work for Charles after he’d rented a big house in a nice part of Kathmandu, I could not have imagined myself older than he was, and certainly not older and living on the other side of the world. 

The year 2020 that we just left behind has to be one of the strangest that I have lived, and I think everyone I know feels the same way. I would have liked to know what opinions Charles might have expressed about everything as it happened, the crazy politics included. My youngest daughter Zina got to vote for a US president for her first time in the last election, and it felt very good to vote together. Oddly enough Charles never voted. I don’t think he ever registered to vote. And I wonder if he would have, had he been here to witness the last few years. 

I remember a day, in 1984, when Charles and I had a visit in Paris, in Charles’s apartment on the Île Saint-Louis,  from Judith Malina and Julian Beck from the Living Theatre. Ira Cohen came that day too. Charles had been good friends with Judith and Julian since the 1960s, and usually we would see them after going to one of their plays in New York. That day in Paris they spent an entire afternoon talking and reminiscing about the antics of the Living Theatre, the experimental aspect of which Charles very much liked. He also respected Judith for all that she wrote as a diarist and poet. A lot of her work was political in nature, and in her own unique way she was a tireless political activist, but she was one who did not believe in voting. In the case of Judith Malina, I think her refusal to vote was more of a political statement than Charles’s was. In a simple way of putting it, Charles was not political, and Judith Malina was. She put all of her beliefs into her work with the Living Theatre, staging protests and happenings, and into her writing, such as the title poem of her book Love and Politics, with an introduction by Ira Cohen, which begins with the verse:

While off the isle of Cyprus in a boat,

I saw the head of Aphrodite afloat,

And I told her I’m an Anarchist and do not vote.

She answered, “That’s all right.”

Charles Henri Ford with Ira Cohen, Julian Beck & Judith Malina at Charles' apartment in Paris.
 Photo by Indra Tamang, 1984

I wish I’d thought to record the conversation they all had that day. I’m sure that if I had and then put it into a little book there would be lots of people who would want to read it. What I remember most about that afternoon was Judith smoking. Because that was something Charles never, ever allowed in his apartments. Not in Paris, or at the Dakota. But that day he allowed Judith to smoke, which was a truly selfless gesture of respect on his part, and I don’t remember him ever making such an exception for anyone else. 

I photographed them during that visit, all of them sitting together, with Charles in the foreground and the other three in a row behind him. It’s always struck me that somehow, in a way, Ira, Julian, and Judith all looked alike, like three crows perched on a fence. There was something about their style—their dress and manner—it was a fashion and way of being that was very specific to them. 

It’s odd to think that they’ve all gone on to whatever comes next, Julian, Ira, Judith, and Charles. They were all quite a lot older than me, and now I know very well what it feels like to be the oldest one in the room. But if I’m lucky enough to be anything like Charles Henri Ford, I still have decades of life ahead of me, and I fully intend to aim for that. Happy Birthday, dear Charles. You’re missed but never forgotten, and never too far away.

- Indra Tamang

  February 10th, 2021

Copyright © Indra Tamang 2021, all rights reserved.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

A Note on the Anniversary of Ruth’s Passing

Portrait from Play It As It Lays, 1972

Eleven years ago today Ruth Ford passed away in her bedroom at the Dakota. I’ve been thinking about her a lot lately, and about how lucky she really was. She was lucky in almost every way, and she was lucky in the period of time she got to live in. But the time she died, most of her good friends had already gone on ahead. In March of this year, one of Ruth’s good friends who was still here, and still writing plays, succumbed to the Covid-19 virus. That was Terrence McNally. He had been one of her most regular guests at the Dakota, and was someone she liked and respected very much. 

I remember going to a book signing he gave years ago in Montauk. He was surrounded by his friends and admirers, and I like to think that he found himself surrounded that way again after he died.  In the summers of the 1990s we would often be out there, Charles, me, and sometimes Ruth. Charles would always rent a house not far from the beach. We used to visit Peter Beard at his big house out there, from where we could see the Montauk lighthouse. He was another very interesting person who died within the last year, and has gone on to wherever they all went. 

I like to think that Ruth and her colorful group of friends are re-united in some other place to continue all that they loved doing. They were the people who made beautiful things, the entertainers, the poets. I wonder if she’s gotten to see William Faulkner again, and the youngest of his three brothers, Dean, who she dated for a while. Dean Falkner (he spelled it without the added letter ‘u’ that William put there) died a very long time ago, very young, in a small plane crash. He was a pilot, and the plane had been a gift from William, who felt very guilty for having given it to him.

I like to think of Ruth getting to see her mother, Gertrude Cato, as much as she might like, and of course, I love to think of Ruth and Charles the way I saw them so often here in this life. Charles never liked to carry luggage. He was the lightest traveler I ever knew. Whenever we’d go to Paris, or to Crete, from New York, he would carry the tiniest little bag, and I only had a carry-on bag as well. He would pester Ruth to travel lightly, too. Once when she came to visit in Crete, she came out of the taxi with a very small bag in her hand. Charles was delighted and exclaimed that she’d done it, she’d finally managed to travel with almost nothing, and made it just fine. But Ruth laughed and said, “This is just my makeup bag, Honey,” and the rest of course, was still in the taxi. 

When she left the last time, on this day in 2009, Ruth didn’t take a single thing with her. I know, because I was there beside her, and I know that she left everything behind. I can imagine Charles greeting her on the other side, saying, “See? You made it just fine, without a single bag!” All she had with her was 98 years’ worth of experiences, and it’s lucky that those can all fit so neatly into our spirits. 

Still thinking of you, Ruth. 

Monday, February 10, 2020

112th Birthday of Charles Henri Ford

112th Birthday of Charles Henri Ford

Portrait of Charles Henri Ford in Poppy Field by Pavel Tchelitchew (1933).

Among the curious happenings sharing the date of February 10th was the opening of the collaborative opera by Charles’s good friend Gertrude Stein and Virgil Thomson in New York. Four Saints in Three Acts premiered in New York City on February 10th, 1934. The opera starred an entirely black cast and was directed by the notable black choral conductor Eva Jessye. 

A book was written about all that went into bringing that production to the New York stage called Prepare for Saints: Gertrude Stein, Virgil Thomson, and the Mainstreaming of American Modernism, by Steven Watson. In the index, you’ll find Charles Henri Ford along with many other famous names. Charles lives in the indexes of many books because he was someone who always knew everyone who was busy doing anything interesting and new, and he was usually somehow part of all of those things. 

I think that anyone who is too young to remember, but curious about some of Charles's achievements, will find this video (made by Steve Zehentner) interesting. This was a talk given by Steven Watson about Charles and his life on the occasion of Charles’s memorial, after he passed away in 2002. Charles’s life was spoken of in a lot of details on that day, and every year since, Charles has only been missed more and the interest in him has only increased.

Charles, I’m still getting letters from writers and scholars asking for permission to quote you, and to reproduce your poetry and artworks in books and articles. Since you’ve left, I have not met anyone who I can say is more interesting than you. Happy birthday to you, Charles. I hope there’s a daring new opera being produced just for you, wherever you are. 

- Indra Tamang
  February 10th, 2020

copyright © Indra Tamang 2018, all rights reserved.