Sleep in a Nest
  of Flames
home page
table of contents

silver flower coo by C. H. .Ford

cast of characters


Berenice Abbott (1898-1991)

Man Ray's studio assistant in Paris, who went on to become one of the most elegant photographers depicting the art and literary world of the left bank in Paris during the 1920's and early 1930's. She returned to the United States and published Changing New York, which celebrated the dynamics of city life. Later she brought her poetic eye to bear on the unlikely subject of industrial parts and scientific phenomena, again transforming the possibilities of that material. Her photographs of Djuna Barnes, Margaret Anderson, and Rene Crevel are all included in Sleep in a Nest of Flames.


Margaret Anderson (1886-1973)

Founder of the avant-garde literary magazine The Little Review, which was first published in Chicago in 1914. Jane Heap was soon made assistant editor and later, in 1916, partner with Anderson. Their romantic relationship would last approximately five years. The magazine was relocated to New York and Ezra Pound became its European editor. From 1918 to 1920 James Joyce's masterpiece Ulysses was published in twenty-three monthly installments. This publication was the cause of a famous obscenity trial brought by "The Committee for the Suppression of Vice." The magazine was fined and in 1923 moved to Paris where it continued its literary vanguardism. Anderson was one of Ford's friends and supporters during the Paris years of the 1930's.


Sherwood Anderson (1876-1941)

American Modernist writer from Ohio, whose prominence was established with his book Winesburg, Ohio, which, as much of his work, examines Midwestern small-town life and limitations and possibilities therein. He had a long friendship with Gertrude Stein, bringing together his own American scene realist sensibility with that of the preeminent practitioner of modernist of word play. It was in Stein's salon that Ford encountered the journalist and novelist.


Arthur Everett "Chick" Austin (1901-1957)

Director of the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut from 1927 to 1944. He made that museum one of the primary centers for innovative modernism in the United States. He arranged for the museum to premier Virgil Thomson's and Gertrude Stein's opera Four Saints in Three Acts in 1934. The Hartford Festival of 1936 featured the Paper Ball, the great fête designed by Pavel Tchelitchew and executed with the help of Charles Henri Ford. Chick Austin is the subject of Eugene Gaddis' recently published biographical study The Magician of the Modern (Alfred A. Knopf, 2000).


George Balanchine (1904-1983)

One of the most preeminent choreographers of the 20th century, he was Russian and a product of the Imperial Ballet School. He moved to Paris and worked for Sergei Diaghelev's Ballet Russe and was brought to New York in 1933 by the American arts patron Lincoln Kirstein to help found the School of American Ballet and later the New York City Ballet. His presence in the city helped turn it into the dance capital of the world. Charles Ford's partner, Pavel Tchelitchew, was one of his favorite stage designers and they worked together numerous times. A rare photograph of these colleagues together by Ford is included in the film.


Djuna Barnes (1992-1982)

American Modernist writer whose work brought a distinctive poetic voice to her prose. T. S. Eliot in his introduction to her masterpiece, the novel Nightwood, wrote that he saw in it "a quality of horror and doom very related to that of Elizabethan tragedy." She was a denizen of bohemian circles in Greenwich Village and the left bank in Paris during the twenties and thirties; it was during 1931 that she had an affair with Charles Henri Ford. There has been a renewal of interest in her work in recent years, a younger generation finding a feminist precedent in her intelligence and self-reliance. A section of her short story "Behind the Heart" is included in Sleep in a Nest of Flames. In it she reveals her love for Ford and also her awareness of the complexity of their relationship.


Cecil Beaton (1904-1980)

British photographer, set and costume designer who was a friend of Charles Henri Ford from the 1930's. He achieved international fame as court photographer for the British Royal Family and won three Academy Awards for his set and costume designs for Gigi and My Fair Lady. Some of his most distinctive work as a photographer was done in the 1930's, when he perfected a style that straightforwardly acknowledged the artifice inherent in the medium. Sleep in a Nest of Flames contains eighteen Beaton photographs, including numerous portraits of Charles Henri Ford.


Eugene Berman (1899-1972)

Russian born painter and designer who was one of the leading Neo-Romantics. He combined in his painting a kind of surreality with frequent references to the neoclassical tradition. He was equally at home in the theatre where he was prominent in producing designs for ballet and opera. He was one of the designers who participated in The Paper Ball of 1936 at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut, which is covered in a special section in the film.


Paul Bowles (1910-1999)

American expatriate writer and composer who was one of Ford's oldest friends, having known one another for over seventy years. His novel The Sheltering Sky is often considered one of the most original since World War II and his musical compositions, mostly completed before 1950, made him one of the most sought after composers of his generation. In addition to works for the concert hall he composed for the theatre, including music for Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre and Tennessee Williams' Glass Menagerie. He was published in Ford's Blues magazine in 1929 and he later became a frequent contributor to View magazine. He wrote the music for Ford's 1946 puppet play A Sentimental Playlet and the version of this play is included in Sleep in a Nest of Flames.


William S. Burroughs (1814-1997)

Among his many books are the underground classics The Naked Lunch, Nova Express and The Soft Machine. Along with Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac he formed the core of the Beat movement. He wrote the directors of Sleep in a Nest of Flames describing his impression of Charles Henri Ford in his unmistakable prose style and the letters are included in Sleep in a Nest of Flames. In these he describes Ford as having the "mark" about him. Ford took a photograph of him in Paris at a street fair and this is included in the Burroughs section along with many images from Ford's 1966 book Spare Parts. The book is a sort of pop art confection gleaned from print media and acts as a complement to Burroughs' very cool prose.


Paul Cadmus (1905-1999)

American painter whose classical drawing and design sense kept alive a tradition going back to the Renaissance at the same time he imbues his paintings with a sort of magic realism that teeters on surreality. His often homoerotic viewpoint seems a precursor of many contemporary artists who incorporate this sort of sensuality into their work. In the story he tells in Sleep in a Nest of Flames he takes the viewer back to a summer night stroll in the 1940's on 42nd Street in New York City where he runs across Charles Henri Ford. It is a slice of life that demonstrates Ford's light humor and Cadmus' very centered charm.


Joseph Cornell (1903-1972)

American artist who created a world of fantasy and dreams in his signature boxes and collages, which drew on memories of the past in art and nature. In this "poetic theatre of memory" a blue swan may cohabitate with a Medici princess, or an old movie star may be idolized as goddess. Charles Henri Ford had a long association with Cornell who produced a cover for his poem ABC's in the 1940's. In January 1943 a Cornell issue of View magazine was published. For the "Americana Fantastica" issue, Cornell produced "The Crystal Cage", a collage and text combination that reveal his longing for a European past of which he had only dreamed. In Sleep in a Nest of Flames images from this visual poem are used, with a selection of text, which make it clear that the transplantation of European culture was something of which he was acutely aware. View itself embodied this welcoming of a European sensibility to this country.


Charles Henri Ford (1908-2002)

American poet, novelist, filmmaker, magazine publisher, photographer and avant- gardist. The picaresque of his life is presented in Sleep in a Nest of Flames in a story that combines a search for art with a daily dose of leavening humor.


Ruth Ford (1912- )

Charles Henri Ford's sister and one of the notable actresses in the American stage. She was part of Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre, appearing in the 1937 production of Shoemaker's Holiday. She played the part of Estelle in the first American production of Jean Paul Sartre's No Exit and originated the starring role on Broadway of her friend William Faulkner's Requiem for a Nun.


Jean Genet (1910-1985))

French writer whose stories, full of moral ambiguities, were recognized by the existentialists as having the blunt and challenging voice of the present. He was canonized by Jean Paul Sartre in his book Saint Genet. It was Genet's 1942 novel Our Lady of the Flowers, which was first published in Paris, that brought him to prominence in France. In Sleep in a Nest of Flames the novelist, critic and Genet biographer Edmund White tells the story of how Charles Henri Ford bought the rights to Our Lady for $500 and how Genet asked to be paid with a used car. The publication by Ford never took place, but we are offered insights into the way that literary matters are navigated behind the scenes.


Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997)

He was described by the New York Times as "the poet laureate of the Beat Generation whose 'Howl' became a manifesto for the sexual revolution and a cause-célèbre for free speech. " He first met Charles Henri Ford when he was a student at Columbia University in the 1940's and he sought out Ford at the offices of his innovative art and literary magazine View. They maintained a relationship under the glow of their mutual respect for William Carlos Williams. An interview with Ginsberg and Ford is interwoven in Sleep in a Nest of Flames and in it they cover the gamut of their concerns, from poetry to love and sex.


Philip Johnson (1906- )

The dean of American architects. His influential Modernist and later Post-Modernist designs have set the pace of much of 20th century American architecture. Johnson was one of the originators of the Department of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art. His glass house, the Pennzoil Building, the AT& T Building and many others have been milestones in architecture and design. In Sleep in a Nest of Flames Johnson is seen in conversation with Charles Henri Ford while Ford makes a photographic portrait of him. In the portrait session Johnson buildings are projected behind the architect and at the same time a lively banter is maintained between the two senior culturatti. The conversation demonstrates how a lively humor can be one of the essential components of successful aging.


Lee Miller (1907-1977)

American photographer and photojournalist who was near the center of many of the major artistic and historical events of the 20th century. Her very particular beauty was spotted on a New York street by Condé Nast and soon she was pictured on the cover of Vogue magazine as an icon of the 1920's independent women. The 1930's found her in Paris involved in a relationship with the America expatriate photographer Man Ray. He immortalized her sensuous mouth by including it flying over Paris in his painting/photomontage "Observatory Time - the Lovers." She photographed many leading members of the artistic avant-garde, both in France and the United States. Her photographs of World War II and its aftermath encapsulate the devastation of war. She was married to Roland Penrose, the British Surrealist painter and Picasso biographer. They went to visit Dorothea Tanning and Max Ernst in Sedona, Arizona and two of the resulting photographs of Tanning are included in Sleep in a Nest of Flames. Our film also includes an earlier surreal photograph of Joseph Cornell revealing the mysterious poetry of this special artist.


Gerard Malanga (1943- )

American poet and photographer. He was introduced by Charles Henri Ford to Andy Warhol and became his principal silk screen assistant. From 1963 through 1970 he was one of the most notable members of Warhol's Factory and in his interview in Sleep in a Nest of Flames gives another facet of the Warhol years.


Paul Morrissey (1938- )

Independent American film director, he managed the career of Andy Warhol during the late sixties and early seventies, discovered and managed the Velvet Underground and Nico and started the newspaper Interview. He directed hundreds of film experiments before writing, photographing and directing a series of films, including Flesh (1968), Trash (1970), Women in Revolt (1971), L'Amour (1971) and Heat (1972), entirely by himself. His later films include Forty Deuce, Mixed Blood, Beethoven's Nephew and Spike of Bensonhurst. Morrissey supervised the Warhol Factory film portrait of Ford. He appears in Sleep in a Nest of Flames and offers his own perspective on this aspect of the culture of this period..


John Bernard Myers ( -1987)

Managing editor of View magazine; had moved to New York City from Buffalo and found a place at the avant-garde magazine working for Charles Henri Ford and Parker Tyler. He brought a youthful enthusiasm to this modernist publication, but also brought his very real talents as a puppeteer to the proceedings. The series of puppet plays View sponsored were in part inspired by Myers' ability at the manipulation of puppets and he provided these skills at the original production of A Sentimental Playlet, which is reinterpreted in Sleep in a Nest of Flames. Later Myers went on to be one of the significant art dealers of his generation, first as director of Tibor De Nagy Gallery and later the John Bernard Myers Gallery.


Ned Rorem (1923- )

American composer, whose often lyrical work kept alive tonal music during a period when it was not in favor. He is also a leading author who has written sixteen books, including a series of diaries, which have set a new standard of candor by their examination of the life of this artist. Time magazine has described him as "the world's best composer of art songs" and he is the recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for music. He is an old friend of Charles Henri Ford and appears in several sections of Sleep in a Nest of Flames, always providing his amused and amusing insider's view of the art and literary world. Ned Rorem is also the subject of the forthcoming Symbiosis film, Ned Rorem: Word and Music.


Jack Smith (1932 -1989)

One of the most innovative filmmakers and performance artists at work in downtown Manhattan from the 1960's onward. His vision of tarnished illusion was informed by Hollywood and the commonplace. In his 1961 Flaming Creatures, one of his most well known films, the characters are caught in a fantastical vision of the Arabian nights. Charles Henri Ford was an actor in his 1968 film No President, which was made in reaction to the 1968 presidential campaign. A clip of the film is included in Sleep in a Nest of Flames. In the clip Ford, as "Lady Dracula", sips champagne and acts as a sensual lounge lizard in a section that is a send-up of Middle America's worst nightmares. Ford seems very at home in its surrealist fantasy setting.


Dorothea Tanning (1910- )

American artist closely associated with the Surrealists, first in the United States and later in France. She was married to the painter Max Ernst until his death in 1976. During the summer of 1947 Charles Henri Ford and Pavel Tchelitchew went to visit Tanning and Ernst in Sedona, Arizona. As part of Sleep in a Nest of Flames Tanning describes an incident in which Tchelitchew was threatened by a rattlesnake and saved by a small dog. It involves the kind of mystery that is part of a surrealist sensibility and integral to the Sedona landscape.


Pavel Tchelitchew (1898-1957)

The Russian expatriate artist who was the most innovative of a group known as the Neo-Romantics. His art, which has a figurative basis, is also visionary in a way that draws on his Russian background. He was Charles Henri Ford's life partner from 1933 in Paris until his death in 1957. He designed for Diaghilev's Ballet Russe in Paris and was patronized by Gertrude Stein. He moved to New York during World War II where he had a retrospective of his work at the Museum of Modern Art in 1942. Tchelitchew designed many of the sets and costumes for the 1936 Paper Ball at Hartford's Wadsworth Atheneum in Connecticut, which is examined in Sleep in a Nest of Flames. In the film Ford acknowledges the deep feeling between them and puts a whole artistic subculture in context.


Parker Tyler (1904-1974)

Novelist, poet and critic who was Charles Henri Ford's collaborator and associate. He was co-author of The Young and Evil, one of whose chapters is dramatized in Sleep in a Nest of Flames and associate editor of View magazine. William Carlos Williams described his 1944 poem The Granite Butterfly as "the best poem written in America since 'The Waste Land'." It was through his film criticism that he may be best remembered because of its penetration of the surface of a film and its analyzing of cinema's iconic potential. His books on film include The Hollywood Hallucination, Magic Myth and the Movies and Underground Film, which was the first critical history of that subject. Perhaps his most notable book on film was Screening the Sexes, which was the first book that decoded gay signifiers in films. It was a precursor by ten years of Vito Russo's examination of gay surrogates and queer influences in The Celluloid Closet. Among Tyler's many writings on art were monographs on Florine Stettheimer and his magnum opus of art biography, The Divine Comedy of Pavel Tchelitchew.


Andy Warhol (1928-1987)

American artist, one of the original Pop group; specifically he was the one who most recognized the deterioration of the division between fame and celebrity. He is noted for his paintings reveling in the banality of the modern consumer culture and his films that reflect the inevitable artificiality of all constructed images. His screen test of Ford from this period in the 1960's is included in Sleep in a Nest of Flames.


home page
table of contents