Liz Brown’s “Twilight Man”

A number of years ago, looking through one of her late grandmother’s drawers, my friend Liz Brown found a haunting photo of a sultry young man—and a noir fairy tale. The young man turned out to be a shop clerk who fell in love with Brown’s great-great-uncle, the heir to a copper-mining fortune. While the shop clerk was partying with Hollywood stars and taking up horseback riding and bookbinding, the heir created the Los Angeles Philharmonic and had the young man’s face painted onto the ceiling of his library.

Unfortunately, queers lived in a twilight world a century ago, and wealth and glamour could not protect them—especially not from their own families. Liz drew on more than a decade and a half of research to write Twilight Man: Love and Ruin in the Shadows of Hollywood and the Clark Empire, a riveting, heart-breaking tale of intimate betrayal and unlooked-for generosity, as well as of the unexpected fortitude, capable of surviving even Nazi prisons, of a delicate-looking man with excellent taste. It’s a lovely, powerful book, woven together with great narrative skill and told with deep humanity. Highly recommended!

A memoir of two lost worlds

I blurbed the New York Review Books classics reprint of Salka Viertel’s memoir The Kindness of Strangers, which goes on sale today:

Thank goodness Greta Garbo encouraged her confidante Salka Viertel to write. With cameos by Kafka, Sarah Bernhardt, Eisenstein, Schoenberg, and Isherwood, Viertel’s memoir is humane, lightly ironic, and dizzyingly entertaining. It’s a portrait of two lost worlds—the pre-Hitler German-speaking stage and the pre-CGI Hollywood—as well as the story of a actress and screenwriter who all her life was bold in love and passionate for the arts.