8 Scandalous Affairs You Didn't Know About Between Famous Writers And Artists
An excerpt from The Art of the Affair, an illustrated guide to the romantic and personal entanglements of our most beloved writers, musicians, and artists.
1. Jean-Michel Basquiat and Madonna
Madonna and Jean-Michel had a brief relationship in 1982, though he had a girlfriend at the time. The girlfriend, Suzanne Mallouk, found out and violently confronted Madonna at a club, inspiring Jean-Michel’s painting Catfight, which featured Madonna’s name crossed out. When the two split for good, Jean-Michel made Madonna return the paintings he’d given her, painting them solid black.
2. Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas
When they fell in love in 1891, Oscar Wilde was already one of the most popular playwrights in London and Lord Alfred Douglas was a budding poet: beautiful, 16 years his junior, and married with two kids. Lord Alfred’s concerned father began to harass Oscar, even planning to pelt him with vegetables at the premiere of The Importance of Being Earnest. Eventually, Oscar was put on trial for acts of "gross indecency." Among the evidence was Lord Alfred’s poem "Two Loves" and a satirical novel of their affair, The Green Carnation — published anonymously but written by their friend Robert Hichens. Oscar served two years in jail and died in 1900, separated from Lord Alfred for the last three years of his life.
3. Anaïs Nin and Henry Miller
Anaïs met Henry Miller, a broke and balding 40-year-old, at a lunch in Paris in 1932. Both were married, but an affair quickly took root. (Two decades of their heated letters were later published as A Literate Passion.) Anaïs was soon funneling much of her allowance from Hugh to Henry and his wife, June, for rent and other bills. In 1934, she fronted the money for the first printing of Henry’s first published novel, Tropic of Cancer. Banned in America for obscenity, it has become a modern classic.
4. Miles Davis and Juliette Gréco
The young singer and actress Juliette Gréco was already a muse for Jean-Paul Sartre and a close friend of the writer Boris Vian when she met Miles Davis backstage at his first Paris concert. Michelle Vian, wife of Boris, introduced them and despite a language barrier, the two were smitten by the end of the night. They were together for a couple years before Miles returned to the States and fell into a depression, leading to his Blue Period.
Juliette and Miles later met up in New York, where the hostility they received in public was a rude awakening. Still, they kept in touch the rest of their lives. Juliette wrote, "He would leave messages for me in the places I travelled in Europe: 'I was here, you weren’t.'"
5. Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe
After a brief affair in Hollywood in 1951, Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe wed in 1956, with Lee Strasberg, her famous acting teacher, giving her away. The relationship began to deteriorate almost immediately, as Arthur was unable to deal with her depression and addictions. In an attempt to help her career, he wrote a serious role for her in The Misfits. It ended up being the last film for both Marilyn and her co-star, Clark Gable. Arthur and Marilyn divorced in 1961, less than two years before her suicide. Arthur’s next play, After the Fall, depicted a tortured relationship that seemed familiar. It was poorly reviewed.
6. Frank O'Hara and Larry Rivers
Frank O’Hara and Larry Rivers first met at John Ashbery’s Christmas party in 1950. For the next 16 years, the two were intermittently lovers, collaborators, and steadfast friends. Their letters suggest Frank was more smitten, but both prioritized their artistic connection. "My devotion to you and your work," Frank wrote, "will always be strong and important to me no matter how what happens or has happened affects your friendship for me." Larry painted naked portraits of Frank. Frank included Larry as a recurring fixture in his poetry. The two collaborated on a book of poems and lithographs called Stones. When Frank was tragically killed at the age of 40, Larry delivered a bitter and passionate eulogy.
7. Orson Welles and Dolores del Río
Though they were both married when they met, the filmmaker Orson Welles and the actress Dolores del Río started an affair that ended both their marriages. They were together for a few years, through the filming and premiere of Citizen Kane, considered Welles’ greatest work. Dolores broke things off in 1941, and shortly thereafter he married Rita Hayworth, an actress who was being touted as “the new Dolores del Río.” Rita and Orson’s daughter, Rebecca, later said her father was obsessed with Dolores for the rest of his life. Rebecca was intrigued enough that she traveled to Mexico for her 18th birthday to meet Dolores herself.
8. Robert Lowell and Caroline Blackwood
Robert embarked on a cycle of infidelity and repentance until he met British writer Caroline Blackwood, also at the end of her second marriage, in 1970. Almost immediately, he moved to London to be with her and began publishing poems that wove in excerpts from pleading letters Elizabeth (Lowell's second wife) sent from New York. These were collected in a book called The Dolphin, the nickname Robert had for his new wife.
On a solo trip to New York, in the cab en route to Elizabeth’s apartment, Robert had a heart attack and died. It’s said he was clutching a Lucian Freud (Blackwood's ex-husband) portrait of Caroline.
Catherine Lacey is the author of the novels Nobody Is Ever Missing and The Answers. She received a 2016 Whiting Award and is based in Chicago. Read more at http://www.catherinelacey.com/.
Forsyth Harmon is a writer and illustrator based in New York. She is completing her first novel. Read more at http://forsythharmon.com/.
To learn more about The Art of the Affair, click here.