Tuesday, February 10, 2015



Charles Henri Ford. Gin Beach. Montauk, NY 1995.

As February 10th approached, I was looking through some old letters from Charles to his mother, Gertrude Cato, and in the one sent from Rome, dated 7 February 1953, Charles wrote, “Thank you, honey, for the birthday greenery. Pavlik’s ordering a cake from the Bar Tranquil in Frascati.” 

He then listed the friends he’d invited to a cocktail-buffet: Channing Hare, Stevie Hensel, Truman Capote, Stark Young, and a few others, including a French fashion illustrator who had a Rolls Royce for everyone to ride in. In the letter, he also told his mother that the night of the 10th was Carnival in Frascati, so after going to that he was planning to celebrate his birthday again in Rome, on February 12th. This means that in 1953 Charles had two birthday parties. 

And why not?

Charles loved birthday parties, his own and other peoples’ too. When I try to think of a favorite birthday party for Charles during my years with him, the Mudd Club comes to my mind. It’s been so long since Steve Mass threw that party for Charles that I no longer remember many details, but I do remember Kimon Friar being there. He was the man responsible for translating all the books of Nikos Kazantzakis from Greek to English, and for writing a book about him called The Spiritual Odyssey of Nikos Kazantzakis. Charles and I saw him many times in Greece, and for some reason he’s the only specific guest I remember from the party at the Mudd Club. I also remember Charles showing his Poem Poster movie that night, a film he made himself at the opening of his Poem Poster Show of 1965. The film “starred” Jayne Mansfield, James Rosenquist and Andy Warhol.

I don’t recall too many big parties at the Dakota. Usually events at the Dakota were small. Certain people, particularly among the poets we all know, would want to come at different times in order to avoid each other. Ted Joans couldn’t stand Ira Cohen, for example, and I don’t know what Ira thought of Ted, but Charles liked both Ted and Ira. Ruth used to buy Ted’s poetry books in bulk, twenty at a time. She’d have him sign them and then give them as gifts to her friends. Sometimes Ted ran out of his own books and then he’d ask Ruth if she still had any. And if she did, she’d give them back. Nothing pleased Charles more than Ted Joans coming to the Dakota with sweet potato pie brought down from Harlem. 

Had Charles lived, he would be 107 years old today. At the end of his life his mind was sharp and clear, and I’m sure he wouldn’t have minded living to be 107. I don’t think either Charles or Ruth ever thought for a minute that they wouldn’t just live forever, at least that’s the impression I always had. Ruth was always thinking she’d be getting ‘better’ soon, even though there was nothing wrong with her but age. 

Thankfully, Charles never seemed the least bit frightened at the end of his life. When it came to living, he always said, “Just play it as it lays,” and that’s what he did. And he enjoyed every birthday, and every other day too, to the fullest.

Happy Birthday, Charles. I hope wherever you are, it’s a good one. 

Marcel Duchamp’s cover design for View magazine (1945). Charles was editor of the magazine.

Indra Tamang

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