Rod McKuen is the Odd Man Out in the history of American pop culture. Music encyclopedias almost never included him even though he released albums for over 40 years. Surveys of contemporary literature overlooked him despite (or perhaps because of) his enormous sales. Rod’s work as a musician and poet didn’t lend themselves to easy categorization. Over the decades, he was associated with the San Francisco beat poet scene, the Twist dance craze of the early ’60, the folk revival, the Great American Songbook school of pop, the early days of New Age environmental recordings and 20thCentury classical music.  Yet none of these genres or movements claim him as even an adjunct member. He remains sui generis by his own choice or otherwise.

His fans didn’t care. Try to see him as they saw him at the height of his fame: a rumpled, slightly stooped 30-ish man with lemon frosting-colored hair ambling into the spotlight to the sound of orchestral fanfare. Inevitably, he is dressed in a sweater, jeans (or chinos) and high-topped sneakers – no amount of success could change his outfit. There’s a laid-back cowboy charm about him, as well as the romantic melancholy of a French cabaret singer. He laughs bashfully, gives wistful sideways glances, rises from quiet murmurs to emotional crescendos. Now close your eyes and hear his voice – hoarse, pitted, compelling in its imperfection. It adds to his pathos and his sexiness.

unnamed (1)Huguette Clark grew up surrounded by famous works of art in her father’s vast 121-room Fifth Avenue mansion in Manhattan. Her father William Andrews Clark, a copper mining mogul and former Montana Senator, bought out the auction houses of Paris, London and New York, amassing more than 200 paintings by masters such as Corot and Gainsborough and sculptures by Rodin. But while collecting art was her father’s passion, Huguette’s passion became creating it.

Furious_Cool_Richard_Pryor_and_the_World_That_Made_HimThe first time Richard showed up for Miss Juliette Whittaker’s Youth Theater Guild at Peoria’s Carver Community Center, they were in the midst of rehearsing a play based on the fairy tale Rumpelstiltskin. All the parts had been cast, but Richard was so eager and insistent, Miss Whittaker gave him a role as a servant.

He was a “skinny little kid” in his mid-teens, she remembered, although “he looked about nine.”

One day, the boy playing the king was absent and Richard begged her to let him fill in. He knew the king’s lines. He knew everyone’s lines. “The other kids just broke up, he was so funny. When the original king returned, even he had to admit that Richard was better in the part. “So Richard stayed on the throne,” she was fond of saying, “and he hasn’t come down since.”

The flames had been gorging on the barn for forty-five minutes. Fire trucks from twelve different stations blocked the perimeter, sirens screaming, water cannons aiming thick shots at the thirty-foot flames rocketing up out of the roof. At least fifty firefighters surrounded the conflagration, outfitted as if they could land on Mars, with oxygen tanks and masks. A couple of frightened horses ran the perimeter. Some of the True Prospect grooms and riders, including his own, were in hysterics.

Boyd raced up the drive toward Dutton, who was standing, stunned, watching the old barn groan with the flames.

Lillian Heard, Martin’s head groom, who had been staying in the apartment upstairs for the weekend, had woken to the smell of smoke wafting through the floorboards. Silliman and her boyfriend, Ryan “Woodsy” Wood, a four-star Australian eventer who worked for Phillip Dutton, lived in the apartment full-time. They heard her call out.

“I have here something that’ll solve all our problems.”

“Well, go on, what is it?”

“A bootleg.”

“Oh great. That’s all we need is another bootleg. What’s this one? Copenhagen, April 30, 1966, reel two, second half missing? We’ve got eight thousand bootleg tapes, man; we’re never going to find enough time to listen to them all in our lifetime.”

“It’s not like that.”

Erotic poet, writer of shocking manifestos, accomplished visual artist, modernist “it” girl, stunning beauty, sexually-liberated feminist, tragic and heartbroken wanderer: Mina Loy was all of these things. With hundreds of appearances in the letters, memoirs, and photographs of many of the greatest minds of the twentieth century, where did Mina Loy disappear to in the decades between then and now? In her day, Loy was ubiquitous in artistic circles. One of Loy’s poems, “Brancusi’s Golden Bird,” appeared with T. S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” in the November 1922 issue of The Dial magazine. Her visual art was shown alongside Paul Gauguin’s in the 1906 Salon D’Automne in Paris. She acted in the play Lima Beans with a fan of her work, William Carlos Williams, and Ezra Pound complimented Loy’s writing in the same breath as Marianne Moore’s. Gertrude Stein, in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, identifies Loy as always “able to understand.” Loy was friends with Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray, she was inspired by her friend Joseph Cornell’s boxes of found objects in her own work, and she wrote the book Insel about her relationship with surrealist painter Richard Oelze. Encountered today, Loy’s work as a poet and manifesto writer, a painter and assemblage artist, a creator of exotic lamps, moves viewers and readers emotionally and challenges them intellectually. So where has Loy been all our lives?

You’d be hard-pressed to find a life that’s been more mythologized than Georgia O’Keeffe’s. By the time she was anointed Most Famous Woman Artist in America so many people had gushed so flagrantly over her singular style, her huge erotic flower paintings, her snappy (and occasionally snappish) bon mots, her long and unconventional marriage to Alfred Stieglitz, the other-worldly landscape of northern New Mexico with its voluptuous land forms and many large dead animals, whose skulls and vertebrae she immortalized, and her prickly devotion to her privacy, that it’s amazing there aren’t more O’Keeffe folk songs, limericks, totems, feast days, rituals, annual pilgrimages, and bank holidays. Given our feelings for everything she represents, it speaks well of the human race that we haven’t fetched up a minor religion around her that worships independence, focus, creativity, and wearing those bad scarves my mother used to don the day before she went to the beauty parlor.

This is a Hollywood story, and it starts simply: A car drives through the streets of Los Angeles. It is March 2, 1994, and behind the wheel sits a man who has found a level of success that eludes the desperate majority here. Simon Lewis is a film producer and, at 35, an accomplished one. His is not a household name, but it is becoming an industry one. He makes light stuff mostly, and brings it in on time.


By Joe Daly


The man behind the typewriter paused to make a very private and profound decision.

Reassessing the risks and benefits for the thousandth time, he made up his mind.

Would he have the guts?

He lowered his head and attacked the keys.

This is a true story. Names and locations have been changed to protect the criminally parochial.

Day One

I was standing in the gym, minding my own business. Minding your own business is often the worst thing you can do, especially when you’re 15, too smart for your own good and surrounded by the lowest form of human life: the high school administrator. An unnerving presence burned into my back, the type of feeling that there’s no logical explanation for. The feeling you can’t describe without resorting to tautology. Being watched feels like being watched. I spun around to see one of my high school’s vice principals making an ugly face, probably the only kind she knew how to make. Her wrinkled face contorted into the shape of an old Yankee woman seeing something she doesn’t understand.

The first thing you notice in Wellington is the wind. A full southerly buster was blowing as I drove in around the bays of the harbour, hurling the waves onto the rocks. At the hotel on Tinakori Road, shutters slapped and banged in a crazy percussion, just as Katherine described in one of her earliest stories, ‘The Wind Blows’. I recognised the way it blew the stinging dust in waves, in clouds, in big round whirls, heard the ‘loud roaring sound’ from the tree ferns and the pohutukawa trees in the botanic garden, the clanking of the overhead cables for the trolley buses. Clinging to the car door to steady myself, the street map levitating from my grasp, I experienced the exactness of Katherine’s images – ‘a newspaper wagged in the air like a lost kite’ before spiking itself onto a pine tree; sentences blew away ‘like little narrow ribbons’.

I watched a tear roll down Valerie’s face. She said nothing for the longest time, then she stepped in close and whispered, “I lost my husband to drugs.”

I didn’t respond.

The Wisconsin primary was a scramble anyhow, a frozen ordeal that started in February and cost the whole of March until the voting on the fifth of April. The Kennedys needed Wisconsin to prove that they could win in white-bread America. March is a lion of a month that far north among the Great Lakes prairies. There are no white-tie receptions in Wisconsin. All Hubert Humphrey, the straw opponent, had, really, was his bus to ride in and the fact that he seemed to understand these Finnish ice fishermen and Croatian-Slovene brewery workers, knew dairy politics and resort problems: This might be enough.

At first Steward occupied the booth on Wednesdays and weekends, Webb the rest of the time. But as Steward established himself as the superior craftsman, customers in search of tattoos began abandoning Webb in favor of Steward. In retaliation, Webb put the word out that Steward was homosexual. “In those days,” Steward later wrote, “you had to keep it hidden. Otherwise [you either risked a beating, or else] would be bartering blowjobs for tattoos.” (Faced with a sudden influx of “barter-boys,” Steward simply told them they had the wrong man, and directed them across the street to a grotesquely ugly and alcoholic tattoo artist named Shaky Jake.)


The First Holly

Traveling was forced upon little Truman Capote from the beginning. By the late 1920s, his mother, Lillie Mae, had made a habit of abandoning her son with relatives for months at a time while she went round and round from man to high-falutin’ man. Gradually the handoffs began to hurt Truman less—either that, or he grew more accustomed to the pain—and in time, his knack for adaptation turned into something like genius. He was able to fit in anywhere.