Sunday, February 7, 2016

Anais Nin Is Probably The Most Famous Person To Ever Live In Sierra Madre


Above is a picture of the house that Anais Nin called home when she lived in Sierra Madre. The world famed authoress spent a significant amount of time here, something that has been almost completely ignored by those who see themselves as the local caretakers of this community's historical heritage. There is far more literature to be found in the Sierra Madre Library about local horseshoe nails and buggy roundabouts than the most famous writer to ever reside in town.

Michelle Zack, who wrote the book Southern California Story: Seeking the Better Life in Sierra Madre, was interviewed by the website Hometown: Pasadena in 2009. When asked about Sierra Madre's most famous writer, she told us this story (link).

Anais Nin, the erotic diarist, lived there with the forest ranger Rupert Pole for a decade and helped the Forest Service during the wildfires of 1953. When handling calls about the fire, she started answering with: “Forest Service, Paris Branch,” and some people got distracted by her accent and wanted to know who was on the other end of the line. Pole and Nin married in 1955, but she continued commuting between Sierra Madre and New York City, where she was also married to Hugo Guiler, a filmmaker who was editing her diaries. When these were about to be published, she annulled her marriage to Pole because she was afraid of getting her guys in trouble; both had been claiming her as a spouse and a tax deduction! So a major voice in changing sexual mores in the 1960s was quietly living as a bigamist in this pretty conservative San Gabriel Valley town.

In case you are among those wondering who Anais Nin was, here is a brief description of her fame taken from a Guardian article called "Before Lena Dunham, there was Anaïs Nin – now patron saint of social media" (link).

The Diary of Anaïs Nin was published by Harcourt Brace. The existence of the diary, a monumental life’s work that Nin was completing in secret – even when radically edited down for publication, it spanned seven volumes and 50 years – had long been speculated about in literary circles.

It contained the expected anecdotes about famous friends: Henry Miller, Antonin Artaud, Gore Vidal. Yet these were outnumbered by long, introspective passages about the nature of the self, which proved to be the diary’s biggest draw. Reviews were amazing, and sales were too.

So began the age of Anaïs Nin, feminist icon: worshipped by young women who believed she had provided the first real account of how a woman could thrive in the male-dominated world of literature. She toured the country, giving readings and speeches. Young fans, eager to learn at her feet, gathered at her Los Angeles home. She was the subject of a documentary, Anaïs Observed.

Anaïs Nin died in 1977, at the peak of her fame, beloved by a generation and assured of her place in history.

Rupert Pole and Anais Nin
Upon the 2006 death of Rupert Pole, the West Coast husband, the British newspaper The Telegraph published this interesting account of their very nontraditional relationship (link).

Rupert Pole, who died on July 15 aged 87, published the diaries of his lover, the feminist icon Anaïs Nin, detailing her bigamy, abortion, and multiple relationships. When Pole abandoned an uninspiring career as an actor to elope from New York to Los Angeles with Anaïs Nin in 1947, she wrote in her diary: "I am running away with a most beautiful man." The beautiful man himself, however, was unaware that she was already married. The couple lived in a cabin in Sierra Madre where Anaïs Nin scrubbed the floors, looked after the neighbours' children, and was known as "Mrs Anaïs Pole". Meanwhile Pole joined the forest service, and was assigned as a ranger to a station in the San Gabriel Mountains; he also taught science for several years at the Thomas Starr King Middle School in Silver Lake.

Whether Pole was genuinely unaware that her frequent trips back to the East coast, which she claimed were for writing assignments, were in fact visits to Hugo Guiler, her husband, or whether he simply turned a blind eye to it, is unclear. Regardless, Pole married her in 1955; she admitted in her diary that she had "exhausted all the defences I could invent" against a second marriage. Anaïs Nin continued both relationships, and hid her lies (which became so numerous that she had to record them on a library of index cards she called her "trapeze") so successfully that when she died the Los Angeles Times recorded the death of Mrs Pole, and the New York Times that of Mrs Guiler. Pole later claimed that her marital status was unimportant to him: "We had a wonderful, deep relationship," he said, "and that is what counted."

Pole's marriage was annulled in 1966 after Anaïs Nin admitted to her bigamy, reportedly for fear of the Internal Revenue Service discovering that both her husbands were naming her as their wife to receive tax deductions. However, he made use of his family connections to entice her back by asking his half-brother Eric Lloyd Wright to design her dream house, a "house of light, surrounded by water". It worked, and she returned to him.

Rupert Pole was born in Los Angeles in 1919, the son of actors who named him after the family friend Rupert Brooke. He spent much of his childhood living among Native Americans in an adobe house at Palm Springs, California, where the family had moved to obtain treatment for his father's respiratory problem. After his parents' divorce, Pole's mother married Frank Lloyd Wright Jr, son of the architect, and Pole moved in to his step-father's house in Beverly Hills in 1929.

A music lover who played the guitar and viola, Pole graduated from Harvard with a degree in Music in 1940. He was briefly married to a Wright cousin, Jane Lloyd-Jones, with whom he performed in United Service Organisation shows. It was while he was working as a printer, having just finished acting in a successful Broadway run of The Duchess of Malfi, that he met Anaïs Nin, in an elevator on the way to a party given by the Guggenheim family.

The pair spent the entire evening together, as she was gradually seduced by Pole's appearance, described by one of her biographers as "stunningly handsome, with the finely chiselled facial features and slim, muscular body found more frequently on Greek statuary than human beings". Anaïs Nin was also impressed by his youth (he was 28, she was 44) and his prototype New Age knowledge of Zen philosophy and the signs of the Zodiac. However, she had her reservations; the night she met Pole, she wrote in her diary "Danger! He is probably homosexual." He not only was not, but proved more enticing than her husband, and she took the decision to elope.

After Anaïs Nin's death in 1977, Pole became his wife's literary executor. He continued her own efforts to publish all 69 volumes of her diary, including details of her relationships with, among others, Henry Miller, Edmund Wilson, Lawrence Durrell and Otto Rank, her psychoanalyst, whom she supposedly seduced on his own couch. Pole took the decision that they should be released uncensored. 

The second volume, which detailed Nin's incestuous relationship with her father Joaquin and her late-term abortion of a child (believed to be Miller's), received mixed reviews but sold well. Erica Jong called the diaries "one of the landmarks of twentieth-century literature". Pole met Guiler after their wife's death; according to Eric Lloyd Wright, they communicated periodically "on a friendly basis, or a mutual husband basis".

Pole himself later described the attitude which allowed him to endure his wife's double life with the words: "I don't analyse, I just accept."

I have often thought that this is a story the City of Sierra Madre could develop and use to its advantage. Turning her home into an Anais Nin museum would not only attract tourists and fans from all over the world, but also bring some badly needed commerce to downtown shops and restaurants.

Of course, I also have doubts this could ever happen. In a town where resident literary passions are mostly shown by displaying library lawn signs featuring the nonlinguistic picture of a (heart), this would represent quite an enormous leap into the unknown.

sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

25 comments:

  1. I think there's already a museum in New York dedicated to Anais Guiler.

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    1. Hmm. Then there should be a Sierra Madre museum for Anais Pool. Time to stand up for the west coast husband!

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  2. Fascinating. ..I never knew this.
    Great idea ,Mod, thanks for posting

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    1. Yes! Thank you very much for this. It is part of Sierra Madre's history. Nin's book was a powerful read for me.

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  3. Who? Never heard of this person, lived here my whole life.

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    1. Did you ever go to school?

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  4. Anais Nin was and remains an extremely controversial figure in the literary world. And much of her work is of a sexual nature. It might be easier if the city just confined its celebrations to a flowering plant.

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  5. That house has been divided into units as long as i can recall 60s

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    1. Is it haunted?

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    2. It has been apartments for many years, and there are no ghosts that we know of. Just creaky floorboards. It's on a residential street far from downtown, so it wouldn't work as a museum

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    3. Why would a museum have to be downtown?

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  6. We already have plenty of trade in downtown shops and restaurants. Try to eat on a Friday or Saturday night. Really just trying to eat any evening and you will be met with a crowed. Those of us who go down town at night can tell you that.

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  7. It is not every woman living in Sierra Madre that has a second husband living in New York. Think of the airline travel miles.

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  8. Wouldn't it be wonderful if Tattler could bring more stories like this .Pity we need to keep beating back City Hall instead.I support Tattler's priorities but this is a breath of fresh air.
    Thanks Mod.

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  9. Most "feminist icons" opt for no husband rather than two.

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    1. And the men are very glad for that.

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  10. This serves as a good reminder of the time when Sierra Madre served as home to a bohemian community of artists and writers. Not so much now.

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  11. This is where I presently live! It is a lovely, peaceful estate in the heart of the canyon, perched on a hillside with a wonderful view to the east. Nine units, and all happily occupied. No museum, please. I've known that this was where Anais Nin once lived, which makes this place even more magical. I believe she lived in the "big" house, which faces a lovely fountain, and has stone pathways winding through the grass and trees. Sierra Madre Canyon is well known for inspiring artistic creativity for so many of us who live here. Glad that Anais Nin was one of them!

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    1. Anonymous, you are my neighbor! I'm in the "big house."

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    2. Howdy neighbor! I'm in the "east duplex" with the million-dollar view! :-)

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  12. I lived most my life there in Sierra Madre and Monrovia. I worked there for 34.5 years in the Sierra Madre Post Office. I remember Sierra Madre Canyon being the Foothill Community's Laurel Canyon in the 60s and 70s. There were lots of musicians and artists in the Canyon in those days... I played piano a lot at the Old Time Market--now gone--at the corner of Woodland and Sturtevant. Rick the manager was pretty hip. There were always parties and events in the Canyon then, complete with lots of tie-dyed clothes, long hair and a great deal of weed. One could start up Woodland and before you even got to Mary's Market, there was a cacophony of music assaulting your eardrums from all directions from recordings of a plethora of different bands! It was an amazing time and exciting place then. I often wonder if the Laurel Canyon crowd ever paid us a visit. It would be nice to think that maybe Joni or Neil or David might have come over for a jam.

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  13. Isn't the late film director Frank Capra a heck of a lot more famous than Anais Nin? Raise your hand if you've ever read something by Anais Nin? Okay, raise your hand if you've ever watched "It's a Wonderful Life," or "It Happened One Night." I rest my case. Author Michelle Zack is in some sort of weird denial that Capra even lived in Sierra Madre, even though Capra explicitly discusses it in his own autobiography. He lived up near the canyon when he was a student at Cal Tech. In his autobiography, he also discusses tutoring for the Baldwins at Anoakia.

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  14. For those of us who enjoy reading, Anais Nin remains a world-famous author whose writings are captivating even if you disagree with her life philosophy.

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