Love Letters Between Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy
Publication Date: May 13, 2014
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The love story between Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy—in their own words
The English novelist and screenwriter Christopher Isherwood was already famous as the author of Goodbye to Berlin when he met Don Bachardy, a California teenager, on the beach in Santa Monica in 1952. Within a year, they began to live together as an openly gay couple, defying convention in the closeted world of Hollywood. Isherwood was forty-eight; Bachardy was eighteen. The Animals is the testimony in letters to their extraordinary partnership, which lasted until Isherwood’s death in 1986—despite the thirty year age gap, affairs and jealousy (on both sides), the pressures of increasing celebrity, and the disdain of twentieth-century America for love between two men.
The letters reveal the private world of the Animals: Isherwood was "Dobbin," a stubborn old workhorse; Bachardy was the rash, playful "Kitty." Isherwood had a gift for creating a safe and separate domestic milieu, necessary for a gay man in midtwentieth-century America. He drew Bachardy into his semi-secret realm, nourished Bachardy’s talent as a painter, and launched him into the artistic career that was first to threaten and eventually to secure their life together.
The letters also tell of public achievements—the critical acclaim for A Single Man, the commercial success of Cabaret—and the bohemian whirl of friendships in Los Angeles, London, and New York with such stars as Truman Capote, Julie Harris, David Hockney, Vanessa Redgrave, Gore Vidal, and Tennessee Williams. Bold, transgressive, and playful, The Animals articulates the devotion, in tenderness and in storms, between two uniquely original spirits.
Christopher Isherwood (1902–1986) was born outside Manchester, England. He lived in Berlin from 1929 to 1933 and emigrated from Europe to the United States in 1939. A major figure in twentieth-century fiction and the gay rights movement, he wrote more than twenty books. Don Bachardy was born in Los Angeles in 1934. His artwork, which parallels David Hockney’s and anticipates Elizabeth Peyton’s, is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the de Young Museum, San Francisco; the Fogg Art Museum of Harvard University; and the National Portrait Gallery, London, among others. He lives in Santa Monica, California.
"Theirs is an enormous love, but it also clearly came with an enormous amount of work and care . . . One of the best surprises of the collection is what an excellent writer Bachardy is—wry, sharp and funny . . . These are tender, sweet, campy love letters we are given the privilege of reading, if we so choose." —Annalisa Quinn, NPR Books
“It is a fascinating sociological document while, like most exchanges between two people wrapped up in the tantalizing subject of themselves and each other, lacking very much real interest in the wider world.” —DJ Taylor, The Spectator (London)
“In her excellent introduction to The Animals, Bucknell does a skillful job of trying to interpret the lovers’ talk for the reader. Apparently Bachardy reminded Isherwood of his younger self—and indeed there was a strong physical similarity. The letters end in 1970 and Isherwood died in 1986, survived by Bachardy. But thanks to The Animals Isherwood’s devotion lives on. As a typical sign-off from Dobbin put it: ‘Love from a devoted old horse who is waiting day and night with his saddle on, ready for his Kitty’s commands.’” —Mark Simpson, The Independent (London)