Huxley in Hollywood
by David King Dunaway
Harper and Row/A Cornelia and Michael Bessie Book, 458 pp., $24.95
David Dunaway begins with a tabloid tale. Maria, Aldous Huxley’s first wife, was a lesbian who invited “women Aldous might like” to tea, “then booked the restaurant and, in some cases, the motel.” No instances are cited. He tells us, further, that when an attractive female was introduced, Maria regarded her with as much predatory interest as did Aldous; but no evidence of an adulterous liaison by either of them is forthcoming. “Maria had arranged a sexy encounter” for her husband, Dunaway goes on, and, true to the author’s hit-and-run manner, he provides neither any specifics about it nor even any indication that it in fact took place.
Dunaway’s nearest approach to substantiation is the diary confession of Grace Hubble, wife of the astronomer Edwin Hubble (the Hubble space telescope), of an attraction to Huxley that he may or may not have sought to exploit. Interpreting his tête-à-tête remark to her that not enough adultery took place in America as an intimation that they might help to rectify the lack, she was frightened off. Nevertheless, women were attracted to Aldous Huxley because of his fame as an author, his distinguished appearance, his intelligence and gentleness, the witty way in which he imparted bits—often sexually spiced—of his immense knowledge, his inheritance of “the two cultures” via grandfather Thomas Henry Huxley and mother’s uncle Matthew Arnold, and, by no means least, because women wanted to take care of the visually handicapped writer. Surrounded by adoring and in some cases surely willing females, he needed no procuress.
Dunaway puts together an imaginary lesbian circle of Tallulah, Greta, Marlene, Anita (Loos), Elsie (De Wolfe, Lady Mendl), Mercedes (De Acosta), Salka (the wife of Berthold Viertel, not, as Dunaway says, of Bertolt Brecht), and Maria. Not all tomboyish females with Sapphic propensities are practicing lovers of their own sex, however, nor as far as I know was Maria Huxley one from the early 1940s to her death in 1955. She may have been three decades earlier at Garsington, Lady Ottoline Morrell’s wartime refuge for pacifist intellectuals, at which time Maria strongly discouraged Huxley’s courtship and long postponed marrying him. But “Lady Utterly Immoral,” as both Maria and Aldous used to refer to her, seems to have had at least as many promiscuous involvements with men as with women.
Turning from female to male homo-sexuality in Hollywood, Dunaway digresses—inappositely in view of Huxley’s well-known intolerance—on the sexual career of Christopher Isherwood, whom he places at MGM in the mid-1930s instead of the mid-1950s, and grotesquely mis-describes as having “the mind of a de Sade in the body of a football player.”
The chapters on Huxley’s English background recount the traumas of his adolescence: brother Trevenen’s suicide, mother’s premature death from cancer, and the keratitis punctata streptococcus that left him totally blind. The trajectory of the smart novels, Crome Yellow (1921) up to Point Counter Point (1928) and down to Eyeless in …