In a series of successful biographies, Patricia Bosworth trained the spotlight on four major American artists: Montgomery Clift, Marlon Brando, Diane Arbus, and Jane Fonda. Now, in The Men in My Life: A Memoir of Love and Art in 1950s Manhattan, Bosworth takes center stage.
The memoir follows her life and career from the 50s through the early 60s as she acted on Broadway, suffered the suicides of her brother and father and, through a series of relationships with men, eventually took charge of her own life. Kirkus’ reviewer calls The Men in My Life “[a] forthright memoir of pain and aspirations enlivened by a host of colorful celebrities.”
But writing the book was not easy.
“It took me a long time to come to terms with the tragedies,” Bosworth says. “I didn’t ever mention the suicides. It was only after I began talking with other suicide survivors, like the folk singer Judy Collins and the historian Tony Lukas, that I began to get some insight into myself and I realized that writing a book about what had happened could be cathartic. I had to write this book. I had to get down on paper this tumultuous decade.”
After graduating from Sarah Lawrence College, Bosworth auditioned for Lee Strasberg and Elia Kazan at the Actors Studio. From the hundreds who auditioned, she was one among a handful who were accepted. Soon she began acting on Broadway during its heyday.
“The Broadway of the 1950s was golden,” Bosworth says. “There were big shows like Gypsy, A Raisin in the Sun, and My Fair Lady and I saw them all. Times Square was a community. There was the Automat and Howard Johnson’s and the Astor Hotel with its coffee shop where all the actors hung out. It was a place where many artists lived and worked. It was not a tourist hub or Disneyland. It was totally different from the freak show that it is today.”
But Bosworth’s life was not entirely about making the rounds and seeing great shows. Her brother Bart took his own life while a student at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. “We were as close as twins,” Bosworth says. “I confided in him about everything.”
Bart had been a closeted homosexual at a time when gays were disdained, persecuted, and arrested for their sexual orientation. Bosworth’s parents remained in denial about the matter all of their lives.
Other traumas followed. A few years after her brother took his life, Bosworth’s father, Bartley Crum, a lawyer who had defended the Hollywood Ten (a group of screenwriters blacklisted during the McCarthy era), and a lifetime abuser of drugs and alcohol, committed suicide. In Rome to film a scene with Audrey Hepburn in The Nun’s Story, Bosworth nearly died after having an abortion. A physically and psychologically abusive relationship with a man she eloped with when she was 19 set her on a course to survival.
“My marriage was my wake-up call. I had to take responsibility for myself,” she says. “I ended up supporting both myself and my husband by becoming a model. It was the first of many jobs. I became a working woman, something that many women weren’t doing in those days. Even though that marriage didn’t last long, it gave me my first real taste of independence.”
Gay rights, women’s rights, and political oppression become the themes of Bosworth’s book, matters that now have her looking ahead.
“All these issues were avoided in the ‘50s,” she says. “It was called the Silent Decade, after all. Today gender equality and sexual politics are key subjects in the media and everyday life, discussed openly, supported, fought over. We’re living in a very volatile time and it’s going to become even more volatile. That inspires me.”
Gerald Bartell is a writer living in New York.