Friday, June 22, 2012

On Bill Weatherby

Marilyn Monroe. (Photo by Magnum.)

When I read this letter from Richard Gott, London W11, to the London Review of Books, I thought of my friend Kenneth Caldwell, founder and writer of the blog, Queersage. What Gott has to say about his friend Bill Weatherby, confidant of Marilyn Monroe, is the sort of story that Caldwell documents. Gott writes:

Jacqueline Rose shares Bill Weatherby's apparent surprise that he found himself Marilyn Monroe's confidant (LRB, 26 April 2012). Perhaps she would have understood more quickly if she had known that Bill was gay. Weatherby was an immensely shy and private reporter who had escaped from the Guardian's Manchester newsroom at the end of the 1950s to establish himself in New York as a showbiz correspondent and feature writer; he was also an acute observer of the gathering civil rights struggle in the South. He was part of the gay underworld of the civil rights movement, becoming close friends with James Baldwin and Bayard Rustin (he was proud of the fact that he was the only white pall-bearer at Baldwin's funeral).

Christine, Bill's lover, was a black man whom he met in New Orleans and then traveled with through Georgia and Louisiana. His fictionalized account of their remarkable journey in his book, Love in the Shadows, published in 1956, pretends that they were a heterosexual inter-racial couple. This was extraordinary enough at the time; a book detailing a black and white male partnership would not have found a publisher.

I got to know Bill in the 1980s when I was his remote employer at the Guardian in London, and I can vouch for the fact mentioned by Jacqueline Rose that he shared a fellow feeling with Marilyn for the down and out, and for the excluded, whether black or gay. I went with him to visit tenements in Harlem where he was funding unemployed members of his extended family, and I last saw him in a tiny apartment in Poughkeepsie, up the Hudson River, where he ended up, lame from a stroke and virtually destitute, looked after by James Monroe Parker, his faithful partner. Like many journalists of his generation, he was thoughtless with money and had no pension, vaguely assuming that he would always be able to write. He died in 1992, aged 62.

(The letter appeared in the London Review of Books, 10 May 2012, page 4.)