Why We Remember Charles Henri Ford


Charles Henri Ford: Between Modernism and Post Modernism
by Alexander Howard
Bloomsbury. 251 pages, $114.



IT’S QUITE POSSIBLE that only a few readers of this magazine will know who Charles Henri Ford was. Yet here we have a lengthy and heavily annotated book from Bloomsbury Press about his work—or, rather, about certain aspects of his work. After all, Ford was nothing if not a consummate dilettante in the old sense of the word: he wrote poetry; he edited magazines; he co-wrote a novel banned for decades in the U.S.; he made films; he drew and painted; and in the end he left a diary titled Water from a Bucket (2001), admirably edited by Lynne Tillman, which surpassed all previous literary works for name dropping.

Ford could name-drop so well because he was born in 1908 and died in 2001; he lived in New York, and Paris, and then all over, and then in New York again. He was beautiful when young, and still handsome in his nineties. There’s a famous photograph by Henri Cartier-Bresson of Ford at thirty buttoning his fly outside a Montmartre pissoir. He had love affairs with famous people like Djuna Barnes and the painter Pavel Tchelichev, who were at the culture centers of their time. He befriended André Breton and the Surrealists, and during World War II he brought them to America. He was curious, intellectual, and talented, with a celebrated stage actress sister, Ruth Ford; and he lived as well as anyone of his era (for a time in the Dakota in New York City). All the nastiness of mid-20th-century history seemed to bounce off Ford like bad reviews of a hit show.

One wouldn’t know many of these facts from Alexander Howard’s tome, Charles Henri Ford: Between Modernism and Postmodernism, however, because Howard is after different game: he wishes to show how Ford spanned the two literary movements of the past century.

Felice Picano’s latest book is a memoir titled Nights at Rizzoli (OR Books).


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