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The Men in My Life: A Memoir of Love and Art in 1950s Manhattan

Patricia Bosworth

By Jesse Kornbluth
Published: Jan 30, 2017
Category: Memoir

“In the 1950s, Patricia Bosworth acted with the best, married the worst, and lost those she loved.”

That’s the headline of the Los Angeles Times review of Patricia Bosworth’s memoir. It’s an eye-catcher — just as the function of the barker at the carnival is to get you into the tent, the function of a headline is to get you to read the review. And it’s accurate. Bosworth married a monster when she was an 18-year old freshman at Sarah Lawrence. When she was 20, her 18-year-old brother — and her best friend — killed himself. When she was 24, her father, a brilliant and celebrated lawyer who had spiraled into alcohol and drug addiction, fatally overdosed on his fifth suicide attempt.

But “The Men in My Life: A Memoir of Love and Art in 1950s Manhattan” isn’t just a memoir of ruin, survival and triumph. As the subtitle suggests, it’s actually two books in one. One is about perseverance and talent and raw courage — about art. The other is about love — really, about sex. [To buy the book from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.]

Let’s start with the prominent wreck of a family and the bold face names. No one in her childhood was anonymous. When her mother wrote a novel, Bette Davis called to ask about the movie rights. Montgomery Clift was a frequent visitor, Lillian Hellman showed up to talk politics. In addition to his corporate work, her father handled Hollywood divorces. After his death, money was tight, so Bosworth became a model — “a skinny girl in leotards and an old duffel coat wandering around New York City” — and was photographed by Diane Arbus. When she ran away from her husband, she found herself spending an afternoon with Robert Frost.

Modeling led to acting: “I’d always had an unshakeable faith in make-believe.” She auditioned for the Actors Studio, made it, and was soon onstage. She acted with Helen Hayes and Audrey Hepburn, drank with Gore Vidal and Tennessee William, was directed by Arthur Penn and Elia Kazan. And then she became a writer. First, a journalist, writing profiles for New York Times, now for Vanity Fair. And then she became one of our best biographers; she’s written definitive books about Diane Arbus, Montogomery Clift and Jane Fonda.

The second book is more immediately relevant. Because she’d been raised Catholic and her mother’s idea of teaching her about sex was giving her Colette to read, Bosworth had a hard time telling the difference between sex and love. Why did she get married at 18? “I believed I had committed a mortal sin by giving myself to him, so I had to get married. “ When her husband slapped her the first time, she should have left, but the sex was so hot that she stayed until he tried to kill her. Years later, Shelley Winters confirmed what she’d learned the hard way: “When the sex gets better and hotter so you can’t get enough of it, you deceive yourself into thinking your marriage is getting better, when in reality the rest of your marriage is full of shit.”

In her 20s and 30s, Bosworth had many lovers and a ton of sex. Along the way, she came to understand the difference. “Back in the late ‘50s, women bargained with sex for love and money, or they were too repressed and ignorant beyond belief — especially about their bodies.” There is an effort in our country to return to those golden years for men. If you have a young daughter just coming into her womanhood, “The Men in My Life” is a valuable how-to and why-to book.

I’ve been Patricia Bosworth’s friend for 30 years and I’ve heard her tell a great many stories. I’ve never heard any of these. After reading her brave, unsparing memoir, I understand why — this is the kind of page-turner we once read under the covers at night.