Prostitute is such an ugly word. And it isn't as if Denham Fouts (1914-1948) stood on a corner in spandex and earned $40 at a time. Fouts, known as Denny, was much more than that. He certainly seemed to enjoy the spoils of his conquests among the fabulously wealthy and powerful, barons, kings, and shipping tycoons. And he both loved and expected to be pampered by well-to-do artists and socialites. But the real currency was adoration. He was destined to be a muse -- that ephemeral quality, impossible to describe, that goads men into rash acts of generosity as well as creative bounty.
Best-Kept Boy in the World by Arthur Vanderbilt finally rounds up all the lore about the mysterious Denny Fouts and lays out the evidence in an entertaining book that gives mini-biographies of each of Fouts's fans. The result is a whirlwind social tour of the social mores of the middle of the 20th century as well as an insider's view of the gay cultural elite. Everyone who came into contact with Fouts seems to have had an opinion about the boy and then wrote it down in their journal, or in the cases of Christopher Isherwood, Gore Vidal, Truman Capote, and Somerset Maugham, their novels.
Ultimately, Fouts was a tragic figure, indescribably beautiful -- although many tried to describe him -- and his appeal was also based in his ability to charm and electrify the atmosphere. People simply felt more alive when he was around. Unfortunately, his drug addictions and excesses took him down. And he was only too willing to try to take his companions down with him, offering opium to anyone who would sit with him in his bed in Paris under the giant red painting Adonis by the gay cult surrealist Pavel Tchelitchew.
Denny was of his era. The very idea of Denham Fouts seems hard to fit into current times. Now, with legally recognized same-sex marriages and paparazzi catching photos of unself-conscious music superstars and fashion icons gamboling on the beach in matching Speedos with their recently retired porn star boyfriends, the discretion of Fouts and his coterie seems quaint. If homosexuality had been legal and Denny had been able to legally marry his keepers, would he just be another Jackie Onassis?
The book is available on Amazon. On the following pages is a cast of Fouts's lovers, admirers, and keepers of the flame.
Glenway Wescott essentially launched Denny on his career, telling the boy, "You must never use the word 'kept.' Think of something you want to do that takes money to learn. Then ask someone for help and guidance. You'll get much more money that way than by coming at it straight on."
Lord Tredegar (Evan Morgan, far left and below) met Denny as he was being arrested in a hotel on Capri for not paying his bill. He swept the boy up and took him off with his wife as they continued their tour around the world.
King Paul of Greece footed Fouts's bills while his wife, Frederica, patiently ignored the obvious.
The greatest love of his life was Peter Watson, above right, with set designer Oliver Messel. Watson was said to have an erection the moment Denny walked into a room. He abandoned his Paris apartment to Denny and his then-17-year-old lover Michael Wishart.
Cecil Beaton was not an admirer. He had nursed a puppy love for Watson for years and detested the way Fouts used him.
Fouts was apolitical, even when it really mattered. He was a favored companion of Wolfram Freiherr von Richtofen, the brother of the famous Red Baron.
Christopher Isherwood and Denny lived in Southern California together in a chaste relationship staying within the tenets of Hinduism. Later Isherwood based his character Paul in Down There on a Visit on Fouts.
Gore Vidal spent hours conversing with Denny in Paris and called him "un homme fatal."
Nightclub singer Jimmie Daniles (photo by Carl Van Vetchen) said Denny was "about the most beautiful boy anybody had ever seen. His skin always looked as if it had just been scrubbed; it seemed to have no pores at all, it was so smooth."
Michael Wishart became addicted to opium at 17 on his adventures with Denham Fouts.
Capote -- who claims to have slept with everyone -- kept his sexual distance from Fouts but was nevertheless engaged enough to base a major character on him in his unfinished novel Answered Prayers.
Denny was proud to find himself a character in Somerset Maugham's The Razor's Edge.
A study for Pavel Tchelitchew's Adonis, a giant red canvas that hung over Denny's bed.