May 1914 – December 1948
“…if Fouts had slept with Hitler, as Hitler wished, he could have saved the world from the Second World War…” – Ned Rorem recounting a quote by Truman Capote in George Plimpton’s Truman Capote
Denham Fouts was a socialite at best, a hanger-on at worst and undeniably the most influential hustler of the last century. He’s appeared in books by Christopher Isherwood, Gore Vidal and Truman Capote, and popped up in the memoirs of countless artists, writers and royals. He sat for famed photographer George Platt Lynes, and apparently lay down with the French actor, Jean Marais. Mr. Isherwood, one of his closest friends, referred to him as, ‘the most expensive male prostitute in the world,’ and ‘the last of the professional tapettes,’ with ‘a lean hungry-looking tanned face,’ his ‘eyes set on different levels, as in a Picasso painting…’ Mr. Vidal described him as “good looking in a cadaverous way.’ Whatever the case, no one can deny the sheer force of his ability to inspire in others what he was unable to achieve himself.
He was ill mannered and a bit of a brat. One might even call him a mooch, at least in his later life, when the tools of his trade were no longer of any use. There were many lovers, mostly quite a bit older than him. However, contrary to his typical couplings, he was a bit of a pederast – taking on lovers half his age, if not younger. His life as an international party boy and prostitute to the stars started in the early 1930s. Having left his home in Jacksonville, Fla., he moved to Manhattan where he worked as a grocery store stock boy. It was here that a German Baron – a cosmetics tycoon, according to Mr. Capote – discovered the young beauty and whisked him away to Berlin. He was 20, and probably did not look anything like ‘Dorian Gray emerging from the tomb’ – a description repeated in both Mr. Isherwood’s Diaries and his autobiographical novel Down There on a Visit.
After the Baron, he snagged a Greek shipping magnate, whom he robbed with the help of a sailor. He and the seaman then shacked up at a fancy hotel on Capri, where they ran through the small fortune they lifted from the Greek. Once the money ran out, Denham was arrested, but saved by his beauty when Evan Morgan (the Lord Tredegar) took him on. He spent some time with the Lord before bedding a Prince, Prince Paul, eventually King Paul of Greece. Denham wasn’t part of the plan when the Prince became the King, but it wasn’t the end of the road for the intrepid hustler. He was soon after coupled with Peter Watson, margarine millionaire, publisher of Horizon – a literary magazine edited by Cyril Connolly – and collector of modern art. When WWII came around, Watson sent his young lover, along with Connolly’s wife, Jean, to the US for safe keeping, but not before giving him an astounding parting gift – Picasso’s Girl Reading.
Once in the US, Mrs. Connolly and her friend Tony Bower introduced the inspiring young slut to the novelist Christopher Isherwood, who took Denham on as somewhat of a pet project. The two lived in Mr. Isherwood’s home in LA in a non-sexual-tea-totaling-vegetarian-meditation-driven roommate arrangement. That lasted until Denham was sent off to a Civilian Public Service camp for draft dodging, where he picked up a dog that would later follow him to Paris. While at the camp, Denham took up the company of a group of young black workers, which somehow led to the claim that he fucked songbird Lena Horne. Around the same time he picked up a high school diploma and began studying medicine at UCLA. Relations between Denham and Mr. Isherwood subsequently cooled, as his new lover, photographer Bill Caskey, was no fan of the illustrious harlot.
It was time for Denham to move on.
Bored with the US, he returned to Paris, by way of Asia, where he studied archery – leading to the story that he once shot flaming arrows at the Champs Élysées, from the window of his room on the Rue du Bac. That room would later be described by Mr. Vidal in his short story, ‘Pages from an Abandoned Journal,’ and in George Plimpton’s biography of Mr. Capote. According to Mr. Vidal, the room was furnished only with six Venetian chairs and a bed with a ‘magnificent Tchelitchew painting hanging over it.’ This was the setting for the peculiar courtship of Mr. Capote, who was drawn to Denham’s bed-side sometime in the late 40s, after Denham, who’d fallen in love with a dust jacket photograph of the impish author, sent him a blank check, marked simply with the word ‘Come.’ He did, only to find the notorious lothario impotent and addicted to opium. As the story goes, Denham was busted for drugs soon after, and left for Rome, where he died in a bathroom from a malformed heart.
When he was finally laid to rest at the Protestant Cemetery in Rome, his grave showed none of the extravagances afforded him in life. Instead, according to Mr. Isherwood’s longtime lover, Don Bachardy, there stands only a simple reminder of a marvelous man – a bronze plaque that reads:
May 1914 – December 1948
As it turns out, he was an extraordinary hustler with an all too common end. He was only 34-years-old.
Brion Gysin – Artist
Cecil Beaton – Photographer
Christopher Isherwood – Author
Cyril and Jean Connolly – Intellectual and literary critic and his bohemian wife
George Platt Lynes – Photographer
Glenway Wescott – Author
Gore Vidal – Author
Jane and Paul Bowles – Both authors
Truman Capote – Author
Tony Bower – Sometimes writer and friend to Jean and Cyril Connolly
Earl of Whatsit
Evan Morgan – the Lord Tredegar
German Baron (name unknown)
Greek Shipping magnate (name unknown)
Jean Marais – French actor
Lena Horne – American singer and actress
Michael Wishart – Artist
Paul of Greece – King
Paul of Yugoslavia – Prince
Peter Watson – Margarine millionaire and art collector
Shah of Iran
Answered Prayers by Truman Capote Cyril Connolly: A Life by Jeremy Lewis Diaries: Volume 1, 1939-1960 by Christopher Isherwood Down There on a Visit by Christopher Isherwood In Touch: The Letters of Paul Bowles by Paul Bowles and Jeffrey Miller Intimate Companion by David Leddick Lost Years: A Memoir 1945 – 1951 by Christopher Isherwood Norman’s Letter by Gavin Lambert Nothing Is True – Everything Is Permitted: The Life of Brion Gysin by John Geiger Pages from an Abandoned Journal by Gore Vidal Palimpsest: A Memoir by Gore Vidal Paul Bowles: A Life by Virginia Spencer Carr Somerset Maugham: A Life by Jeffrey Meyers Truman Capote by George Plimpton Without Stopping: An Autobiography by Paul Bowles
Editor’s Note: This article was based on literary accounts of Fouts’ life, with varying degrees of accuracy. It was edited to largely exclude reference to those works.