It covers some of the author's interactions,
feuds, rivalries, alliances with some well-known
literary figures of the late twentieth century,
including Joyce Carol Oates, Christopher
Isherwood, Robert Chesley, Theatre
Rhinoceros, the Angels of Light, and
Man Behaving Badly [written for Lambda Book Report]
By Philip Clark
The Delicious Memoirs of Daniel Curzon
By Daniel Curzon
IGNA Books / Booksurge.com
PB $22.99, 298 pp.
Reading Dropping Names: The Delicious Memoirs of Daniel Curzon is like spending several hours with everyone’s favorite (least favorite?) catty gay uncle. He has been everywhere, he has met everyone, and now that he has your attention, he is going to let you know exactly what he has been thinking about them all these years. The result is a blunt, hilarious, page-turning ride that is, to use the cliché, impossible to put down.
A professor at City College of San Francisco, Curzon has been publishing regularly since the release of his 1971 novel Something You Do in the Dark. Originally written in 1986, Dropping Names serves as a collection of brief celebrity (“Do you want to read about a lot of nobodies?”) and semi-celebrity vignettes, including many literary names. With most entries no more than two pages, in-depth analysis is generally discarded in favor of anecdotal character portraits and sometimes-brutal one-liners. In sections called “Updates,” Curzon provides post-1986 information about his subjects, including the occasional re-evaluation of their personality. Viewed in total, the entries add up to a sketchy picture of both Curzon’s life and the life of gay literary and artistic circles in the 1970s and early 1980s.
As Curzon says of the memoirs, “I’m leaving them pretty much as they were when I first wrote them.” His audience can be thankful that Curzon didn’t clean them up to make nice with his subjects – the result is more compelling, if seemingly nastier. After recounting the relatively petty incidents that led to the cooling of his friendship with Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy, for example, he writes, “I regret the misunderstanding…but that makes a better memoir than “Chris and Don were just marvelous every minute I knew them!” Curzon knows that dish is compelling, and he serves it up cold.
Isherwood and Bachardy aren’t the only well-known personages in the memoir. Curzon skewers Tennessee Williams (“if you don’t want people to stare at you, you shouldn’t dress like an oversized dead bear!”), Arthur Bell (“a frog trying to be a queen”), and Edmund White’s novels (“dead books, airless mansions of Art”). But his most vituperative prose is reserved for his former friend, Joyce Carol Oates. Curzon has already murdered her in his art – the short story “Hatred,” in his collection The Revolt of the Perverts (1978), is a thinly-veiled portrait of their friendship and falling-out – but apparently Curzon had not gotten over his anger toward her by 1986. The reasons behind Curzon’s antipathy are too good to spoil, but it’s enough to say that his spot-on descriptions and memorable impressions of Oates are must-reading.
Although many entries detail grudges and arguments, Curzon did not spend all of the 1970s feuding with other authors. He is generous with praise where he feels it appropriate. Harold Norse is “such fun” and tells “delightful stories.” James Broughton is “a breath of sweet, fresh air.” Curzon takes pleasure in playwright George Birimsa’s participation in a seniors’ body-building contest. He shows admiration for Richard Hall’s decision to engage in a legal battle with an ex-lover’s family when they attempted to challenge the lover’s will and its formation of scholarships for gay students. While it’s easy to dislike Curzon for some of the actions he admits to taking (see the entry on Felice Picano) and his consistent carping against everyone he feels has slighted him, his dedication to calling them as he sees them, whether negatively or positively, is refreshing.
Curzon also earns points for his willingness to judge himself as harshly as he does others. He gives himself an entry in the memoirs that begins, “I’ve met myself in writing these memoirs, and I’m not completely happy with the person I see here…I’m rather ashamed to see that I’m so base in my emotions.” Much of the memoir features Curzon in angry, petty, vindictive, or jealous moods. He obsesses about whether or not he is well-liked, whether or not he is well-known, whether or not a particular person appreciates his writing. But at the same time, his self-analysis is deadly accurate: “Dan, your problem is maintaining what you see as your honesty while at the same time not doing yourself in because you alienate and annoy people so much they don’t want to have anything to do with you.”
These memoirs will not succeed in solving Daniel Curzon’s problem – even if honest, they’re likely to alienate and annoy a tremendous number of people. But love him or hate him, no one living publishes memoirs like this any more – if, indeed, anyone ever did. That alone is reason enough to pick up Dropping Names.