If there’s one thing we can all agree on it’s that we love our beds. More than a place to sleep, our beds are a place to read, to work, to watch TV, to share, or just stare at the ceiling. Horizontal is good. We’re living in a new world.
I remember visiting the late
Sonny Mehta’s Park Avenue apartment many years ago for a publishing party honoring the book of Nathan Englander, one of the many authors he published at Knopf.
“Where do you keep all your books,” I asked our host. “Under the bed,” he replied.
I daresay that during the COVID-19 lockdown we’re all spending more time, in or on, our beds. I know I am.
Here are some beds I’ve photographed over the years.
Marianne Moore in her bedroom at 35 West Ninth Street. When the poet died in 1972, she left the contents of her Greenwich Village apartment to The Rosenbach Museum and Library annexed to her alma mater, Bryn Mawr College. Additionally, the museum’s Director Clive Driver, when wooing her, had brought along a small lamb from his family farm for her to cuddle while they negotiated the terms of the sale. I enjoyed going through the archive containing my photographs as well as the program from her private service (which I attended) on February 8, 1972 at The Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn. I photographed Miss Moore on nine different occasions; and visited her on a tenth. I remember the last visit vividly with Marianne begging me to eat the carefully prepared dinner sitting on a tray at her bedside so her nurse wouldn’t scold her for not eating. Moore fans should reread her biography, Holding On Upside Down by Linda Leavell, The New Yorker profile on February 16, 1957, and the two collections of her poems edited by Grace Schulman.
Jimmy Breslin, newspaper columnist and investigative reporter for The New York Herald Tribune, chasing down another scoop. At the time he lived in Queens with his wife, “the former Rosemary Dattolico,” as he referred to her in print, and their six children.
Sam and Anna are treated to a naptime lullaby from their father Bob Dylan.
Kurt Vonnegut in our hotel room in Washington, D.C. He is fine tuning his speech to be delivered that evening at The Library of Congress.
William Blatty with his Ouija board on his Beverly Hills bed. His novel and subsequent screenplay of The Exorcist earned the author accolades for being the foremost writer in a new hybrid genre: theological horror.
John Cheever decamped to his daughter Susan’s bedroom when she got older and moved to New York City.
Walker Percy in Covington, a small Louisiana town. The novelist, best known for The Moviegoer, The Last Gentleman, and Love in the Ruins, preferred writing on his bed desk.
Joan Didion in California. Whenever Joan was writing a novel and nearing the end — she felt that she had to sleep with it, literally, in the same room. You can see her bed in the background.
Eudora Welty invited me to stay with her when I flew down to Jackson, Mississippi where she lived. That’s how I happened to take the photograph of her in her bedroom with the unmade bed in the foreground. Years later I saw her at Town Hall in NYC. She had spent the previous evening being honored at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey, where, coincidentally, I had an exhibition of my photographs, including this one. “I hope that you enjoyed seeing my photo of you all blown up and mounted on the wall,” I said. She replied that she had indeed but then went on to say, ”It’s lovely Jill but I just wish you had let me make the bed.” Of course it’s the unmade bed that makes the picture.
Reynolds Price with Eudora Welty at the Algonquin Hotel, her home-away-from home whenever she was visiting New York City. I had photographed Eudora Welty on several previous visits. This time she had written to me in advance saying there was “a wonderful young writer from North Carolina who would be coming to New York” and that I should take pictures of him.
Nikki Giovanni and her son Thomas. Tommy is now 50 and the father of a daughter named Kai. Nikki teaches writing at Virginia Tech telling her students that if they want to go to Mars they can’t smoke. A survivor of lung cancer, Nikki had a lung removed and explained that she is no longer eligible to go into space. “Well, I can GO but I can’t come back because there is a rule that you can’t re-enter the atmosphere with a missing organ.”
Katherine Anne Porter in Baltimore. After I had taken a variety of photographs of KAP in her living room she gave me a full tour which included her bedroom. “Oh, Miss Porter,” I exclaimed, “you look as though you spend a lot of time in your bed.” Her reply: “I only got out of it because you were coming over.” She was delighted when I suggested she make herself comfortable once again and I was equally happy to linger a while longer. She opened a bottle of champagne pouring it into beautiful crystal glasses, one for each of us. I complimented her on the long stemmed flutes. “I agree,” she replied in her Southern drawl. “When I made some money on Ship of Fools, I went out and bought a hundred of them.”
James Jones, author of From Here To Eternity, in Paris where his family lived as ex-pats.
John Knowles, known as Jack, was our neighbor on the East End. He lived in Southampton. His coming-of-age novel A Separate Peace, set at a boys’ boarding school in New England during the early years of World War II, was long required reading for teenagers.
Lawrence Durrell and Henry Miller in Pacific Palisades, California. Henry Miller had replied to my letter asking to photograph him saying it would be fine if he could remain in his pajamas and bathrobe. Prior to my visit I got in touch with both Anais Nin and Lawrence Durrell saying I would be visiting and it would be great if they could stop by. They did. But it wasn’t as simple as it sounds. Anais was punctual and eager to pose with her old friend, admiring his paintings. I had pretty much given up on a visit from “Larry” as his friends called him and had called a car to take me to the airport. By then Henry Miller had retired to his bedroom, turned off the light and tucked himself in for the night. There was a knock on the door. I thought it was my taxi. Much to my surprise it was Mr. Durrell. We said hello and he headed for his old friend’s bedroom. That’s where he jumped under the covers with his pal saying “Take a picture of us in bed together — it will be such a scandal.” It was the first time I ever found a light switch and took a photo simultaneously.
Ross Macdonald’s real name was Kenneth Millar but everyone knew him by the pseudonym he used for his best-selling novels featuring private detective Lew Archer. His wife Margaret Millar was also an accomplished writer of crime fiction as it was called. I had spent a few days with the Millars in Santa Barbara, California while working with Brad Darrach on what ended up as a six-page spread for the second issue of People Magazine. It’s hard to imagine that happening in today’s celebrity-obsessed culture. In 1979 I visited them again, this time with my husband Kurt Vonnegut on our honeymoon.
June 17, 1974: Tammy Wynette and George Jones’ bed in Nashville, Tennessee. Above the headboard are photographs of Tammy and George and their baby Georgette. The surprise triptych was installed by George when Tammy came home from the hospital after their baby’s birth. The proud father also wrote lyrics for a new song for their little girl.
Joe Heller putting the finishing touches on Something Happened. I’ve rarely met a man who was into dust ruffles and Heller was no exception.
September 5th, 1974: Beverly Sills told me that she didn’t know who she was having lunch with the next day but she knew where she would be singing in three years.
Robert Gottlieb reading a bedtime story to his daughter Lizzie. Bob’s most recent book, The Avid Reader, is aptly titled.
Gore Vidal on the road again — packing to return to London. Gore always stayed at the Plaza in New York.
Ntozake Shange in her apartment on West 23rd Street, sitting on her bed — a mattress on the floor — under a pink organdy dress she wore to meet Josephine Baker. “I’m a longtime admirer of Ms. Baker, particularly interested in her escape to Europe,” she told me. She is holding a black Raggedy Ann doll named Baby. “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When The Rainbow is Enuf” was the sleeper Off-Broadway hit in the summer of 1976. Shange, 27 at the time, was hailed as the new poet laureate of black womanhood.
Jeanne Moutoussamy and Arthur Ashe getting dressed for their wedding. The groom-to-be was on crutches because of a heel injury, so Jeanne was helping him with his tie. Their suitcases, packed for their honeymoon, are on the foot of the bed. Arthur died in 1993 at the age of 49. The annual U.S. Open is now underway and I’m guessing Jeanne is there, masked, and greeting players at the Arthur Ashe Stadium which honors the legacy of her late husband.
Elaine Kaufman, owner of the famous “Elaine’s,” with her Persian cat Baby. Generally up until 6 AM hobnobbing with her night crawling clientele, Kaufman would lounge in bed until noon. ”First I talk with my fishmonger, then I usually chat with Bobby Shields from Le Club because he’s home during the day. And I talk with Bobby Zarem.” When Elaine died at the age of 81, the woman who started out as a waitress from the Bronx was as famous as most of her clientele.
Elizabeth Dole and her husband, Republican Senate Leader Robert Dole, shared household chores in their Watergate apartment. Shortly after my photograph was published I heard Senator Dole being complimented on TV for helping his wife make the bed. “You don’t know the half of it,” he quipped. ”If the photographer hadn’t been there my wife wouldn’t have been in the room.”
Later in the day. Elizabeth and her husband enjoyed catching up on their lives.
Shirley MacLaine and her daughter Sachi Parker in Malibu.
Geraldine Ferraro, Walter Mondale’s Vice Presidential candidate, makes an early morning phone call from her motel room while on the campaign trail.
A closer look at Gerry’s balancing act.
Senator Joe Biden working at home. Back in 1987 when Joe Biden was preparing a run for the presidency I spent some time photographing him, at his request, at work and at home. The Senator commuted between Wilmington, Delaware and the Capitol in order to be with his children following the tragic deaths on December 18, 1972 of his wife Neilia and their one-year-old daughter Naomi in a car crash.
Cathleen Schine, with her son Tommy, sheltering in plain sight. “I love my bed. It is larger than a desk and better designed to hold books and papers. It is softer than a desk and better designed for naps. It is the center of good things. And, day or night, everyone knows where to find me.”
Philip Levine was a poet of deep social conscience whose early experience as an industrial worker in Detroit instilled in him a passionate commitment in the lives of American workers. Philip and his wife Franny lived in Washington Square Village where their bed was an extension of his desk.
Robert Bly, the best-selling author of Iron John: A Book About Men (1990), is known as an elder of the men’s movement. After his friend William Stafford’s death in 1993, the poet honored him by writing a poem every morning. “I write in bed,” said Bly, “and don’t get up until the poem is done.”
Saul Bellow, in addition to winning the Nobel Prize in literature, was an accomplished flute player.
Paul Bowles in Tangier where he wrote The Sheltering Sky. I had been on a Mediterranean cruise with Kurt and our daughter Lily when our ship docked for a day at the Moroccan port. Having written in advance to Mr. Bowles, we were greeted by his emissary bearing a tray of mint tea and then whisked off to Rue Kostalyani. The multi-faceted novelist poet and composer was still holding court for his admirers (which had recently included Allen Ginsberg) enjoying hashish, composing on his keyboard, taking a daily walk, and writing in bed. “Like any Romantic I had always been vaguely certain that sometime during my life I should come into a magic place which, in disclosing its secrets, would give me wisdom and ecstasy — perhaps even death.”
Colson Whitehead and David Auburn in David’s Brooklyn apartment. Colson recently won his second Pulitzer for The Nickel Boys while David’s 2000 play Proof won the 2001 Tony Award for Best Play and Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
Deborah Eisenberg’s double-duty daybed with one end for writing, the other for sleeping.