Best-Kept Boy in the World

Denham Fouts

Denham Fouts died almost 65 years ago, but it is only now that his story is treated to the book-length study it richly deserves. The title and sub-title of Arthur Vanderbilt’s Best-Kept Boy in the World: The Life and Loves of Denny Fouts, Muse to Truman Capote, Gore Vidal and Christopher Isherwood already reveal the core enticements, the USPs – if you will – of Fouts’ story. It’s a story that until now has been told in rumour, hearsay and the fleeting, fictionalised encounters recorded by his literary friends. It was a story its subject never got round to, as Vanderbilt’s preface informs us:

It was a pity, Gore Vidal once remarked, that Denham Fouts never wrote a memoir. Vidal described Denny as “un homme fatal”.

Truman Capote found that “to watch him walk into a room was an experience. He was beyond being good-looking; he was the single most charming-looking person I’ve ever seen.” Capote loved to conjecture that “had Denham Fouts yielded to Hitler’s advances there would have been no World War Two”.

Jimmie Daniels, the nightclub singer who performed at his own Harlem club that bore his name, thought Denny “was about the most beautiful boy anybody had ever seen. His skin always looked as if it had just been scrubbed; it seemed to have no pores at all, it was so smooth.”

To King Paul of Greece he was “my dear Denham” or “Darling Denham”, and the King’s telegrams to Denny from the Royal Palace always were signed “love Paul”.

Peter Watson, the wealthy financial backer of the popular British literary magazine Horizon, had an erection whenever he was in the same room with Denny.

The artist Michael Wishart met Denny for the first time at a party in Paris and realized instantly he was in love and that “the only place in the world I wanted to be was in Denham’s bedroom”.

Best-selling author Glenway Wescott thought Denny “absolutely enchanting and ridiculously good-looking. . . . He had the most delicious body odor; I once swiped one of his handkerchiefs.”

Lord Tredegar, one of the largest landowners in Great Britain, saw Denny being led by the police through the lobby of an expensive hotel on Capri, convinced the police to let him pay the bills Denny owed, and then took Denny to accompany him and his wife as they continued on their tour of the world.

Christopher Isherwood, who Denny considered his best friend, called him “the most expensive male prostitute in the world”.

Today, someone who projects such an instant and potent power of attraction could forge a successful career, perhaps as a male model, as a character in a daytime soap opera, as a tabloid celebrity, as a television or movie star, maybe even as an acclaimed actor. But Denny was born in 1914 when such options were not yet available to those rare individuals endowed with this sort of sexual magnetism. He never did write a memoir that would have told his strange story, that may have explained how it felt to possess those magical powers, to occupy the thoughts of another, to become the obsession of their lives. How would it feel to be Aschenbach’s Tadzio in Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice? To be Humbert’s Lolita in Nabokov’s masterpiece? Jay Gatsby’s Daisy in The Great Gatsby?

Best-Kept Boy in the World is published today.

The Best-Kept Boy in the World

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19 comments

  1. Peter Harrington

    Hi from UK!
    I was very excited to read your blog awhile back to discover that this book was to be published and immediately pre-ordered on Amazon!
    Alas all I get is email updates saying they have no idea when they can deliver as it is out of stock! Never was in stock!
    Do you have any news/knowledge?

    A great fan of your blog
    Pete

    • Hi Pete, and thanks for your commment. I’m in the same position – I’ve had this on order but I’m fairly certain it’s been held back. I don’t have any insight into why and I’m not one to speculate…but…oh OK then, I’ll speculate. Maybe there’s been an injunction? There are still living witnesses to Fouts’ life and they may not have been best pleased at how they were portrayed, or to be mentioned in connection with a paid escort at all. BUT, big capital letters B – U – T this is just speculation.

    • Same! Pre-ordered soon after I read about it here and still nothing… Perhaps we should start a petition.

  2. dan

    Thanks for this – I’ve been frustrated by Amazon in providing information about why this is not available, as the Amazon.com website said it was for quite a while even after it clearly was not. I hoped it might be another revealing book like “Full Service” as while back. Your speculation is the same that I had – I remember a book called Miami Babylon. That book was recalled from retailers… a month after it went on sale because of a lawsuit by people who did not like their portrayal, etc. and another book came out that indicated many of its facts were possibly off. Fortunately, I got a copy of the book sold before it was withdrawn.

  3. Peter Harrington

    Hi James – just thought I would share this, Amazon mailed me to say “Estimated arrival date: December 10 2013”!
    Let’s see!

  4. Pingback: 14 books for 2014 | Strange Flowers

  5. Reblogged this on salonbleu and commented:
    So fascinating is this Denny creature! I recently moved to the historic Riverside area in Jacksonville and live close to Fouts childhood home and his fathers one time broom factory. I stumbled upon this information while researching the history of a house in close by Springfield that a friend is looking to purchase. Turns out that Copotes’ grandmother once owned it and helped raise a very young Truman there. At the time of this post still no book published, the mystery continues I suppose. Enjoy your blog immensely!
    Perry

  6. You ask “How would it feel to be Aschenbach’s Tadzio in Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice?” One answer is in my one-play Tadzio Speaks . . ., which got good reviews when it premiered last year and which is being revived next month in London (Etcetera Theatre 8-13 July) and then at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe (18 – 23 August). Decades after that fateful summer, the once-beautiful youth speaks. Part of Desire and Pursuit: three one-man plays about beauty, faith and obsession – which includes Now We Are Pope: Frederick Rolfe in Venice. More details on arberyproductions.co.uk.

  7. Christopher Hallam

    I note that Amazon UK now has the kindle edition of this text available- no mention of a hard copy edition though (I prefer the touch and scent of paper and card). A promising development, though…

  8. I’ve read the Kindle edition (which has nowhere near the same advertised page count as the physical book; rather mystifying) and can now pronounce this volume Not Worth the Wait. It’s one of those sad compendiums of stories culled from already printed sources, sources most people even casually interested in Denham’s story have probably already read. The pages on the cutting room floor couldn’t have been *that* juicy, since the author’s golden scandal nugget seems to be a diary of Gore Vidal’s that was sealed until his death, which has long ago happened now. Sigh.

    • Oh! That’s a shame. But thanks for reporting back. I hold out hope that an enlightened filmmaker encounters a brilliant scriptwriter and brings the whole fabulous mess of Denny’s story to screen. But who to play the lead? (oh, and I FINALLY found a photo of him other than the two you always see – by George Platt Lynes, no less! http://www.ebay.com/itm/1935-94-DENHAM-FOUTS-10×13-Gay-Male-Prostitute-Literature-Art-GEORGE-PLATT-LYNES-/201214771417)

      • Jay Cunningham

        Denham Fouts was my grandmother’s brother- this picture is NOT Denham Fouts!

      • Well a lot of people seem to think it is, so your claim isn’t especially helpful unless you have some proof.

      • Kay Cunningham

        That is an interesting response from a ‘journalist’- are ANY of those people that ‘think’ this picture is Denham Fouts credible?- did ANY of them KNOW him?!
        We do have additional pics of Denny- they will not be released! Nor are they required as ‘proof’- the burden of proof lies with those claiming they ‘think’ that picture is Denham Fouts. That claim was NOT made by George Platt Lynes nor his estate, as he was obligated by my family. Denham Fouts’ sister Ellen Fouts was my grandmother.

      • JAy Cunningham

        I spoke too soon- my mother- Denham’s niece- who actually MET Denham – agrees with you and believes
        This IS her Uncle Denny! next time, I will
        CHECK my SOURCE Before I SPEAK or BLOG! My apologies!

  9. Pingback: So near… | Strange Flowers

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