Monday, January 14, 2013


"Leaving a Doll's House," Claire Bloom

Another week, another Physical Book successfully read! We are also 2 for 2 on enjoyment, even if this one is a little uncomfortable at times.

If you are not familiar with "Leaving a Doll's House," it is Claire Bloom's memoir (Amazon | Goodreads) of being alive for a long time, sleeping with all the most amazing men, and then having a horrible divorce from Philip Roth. It is a special treat for people who love literary feuds. It falls short of the sheer glee of Paul Theroux's "Sir Vidia's Shadow" (Amazon | Goodreads) of course, which is about his friend-breakup with V.S. Naipaul. I once ran into a nice couple on a cruise who were very good friends with V.S. Naipaul, and within FIVE SECONDS this happened:

Me - Did you read "Sir Vidia's Shadow"???!
Them – Of course! Of course! We all have, but we pretend not to.
Me - Is it true? Is he that terrible?
Them - Yes. But Vidia is a genius, so we overlook it.

READ IT. Anyway, Claire Bloom. Here are the men Claire Bloom talks about having sex with before Philip Roth shows up:

Richard Burton – "I felt absolutely no guilt about anything, because I knew that to make love with Richard was something that had to happen."

Laurence Olivier – "I was flattered and frankly amazed that he should want to conduct an affair with me, for however short a time, when he was married to one of the most beautiful women in the world."

Yul Brynner – "Yul was very magnetic, his body as stocky and powerful as the trapeze artist he sometimes claimed to have been."

Richard Burton, again (he had that effect on women, it seems) – "His hands were shaking, as were mine."

Rod Steiger – "We went on vacation to Sicily, and I returned two months' pregnant."

Anthony Quinn – "A spent and sweaty Zorba then joined the rest of us mortals at the table and calmly ate his moussaka."

Those parts are all super-fun, and, honestly, even though she's obviously kind of awful, how can you not be a LITTLE bit "get yours, gurl!" about humping Richard Burton? And the stuff on her wartime childhood and breaking into acting and working with Chaplin, etc, are all completely fascinating.

And then, Roth arrives:

Our meeting was typical of us and ridiculously simple. I was walking up Madison Avenue to have tea with my yoga instructor; Philip Roth was walking down on his way to a session with his psychoanalyst.

Annnnd, scene. This is where the whole literary endeavor starts to get dicey. Admittedly, I am a Roth person, having read "Sabbath's Theater" (Amazon | Goodreads) sixty times, but it's not like I don't think he'd be the worst husband in the world. He obviously would. He's written books about it, for heaven's sake.

But Bloom blames him a lot for her own bad decision-making. Okay, he drew up a really awful pre-nup. His lawyer told you to get your own lawyer to look at it. You didn't. Okay, he told you he didn't want your adult daughter staying with you when she visited New York. You're a grown woman, tell him to fuck off or whatever. She never claims he was abusive, just that she preferred not to rock the boat. That's on you, lady.

And then he went crazy, which, I mean, is not really his fault. He's saying awful things to her and sending weirdly aggressive letters, but he's also on lockdown at Silver Hill and profoundly unstable.

It's all EXTREMELY entertaining, but also voyeuristic and a little gross. It's not clear why we should know this much about Philip Roth's medical history. One can be very sympathetic to Bloom (oh, man, the scene when he's all 'here's a draft of my new novel, "Deception," (Amazon | Goodreads) in which a writer named Philip is cheating on his bitchy old actress wife Claire with a bunch of ladies in their house') on the privacy front, but, again, not always cool.

Also, all the parts about Richard Burton were slightly impacted by the fact I kept seeing the actor from "Liz and Dick" instead of...Richard Burton.

Essentially, they're both a little juiceboxy and it seems wise to steer clear of being married to either of them, so continue your shocking pattern of going on non-dates with people who aren't obviously bad at being in relationships, instead. Now, I need to re-read "I Married a Communist" (Amazon | Goodreads).

57 Comments / Post A Comment


I can only see Claire Bloom as the lovely psychic, lesbionic, Mary-Quant-styled Theo in The Haunting. Theo may not have banged Richard Burton, but she also would not have taken any of that Roth nonsense, no she would not.

Nicole Cliffe

She will always be the Doctor's Mom in "The End of Time" to me.


is soooo pretty ^_^@j


"Yul was very magnetic, his body as stocky and powerful as the trapeze artist he sometimes claimed to have been."



@JanieS Marlene Dietrich also gave Yul Brynner, um, very good reviews. But then she turned on him! Viciously! I don't remember why, but I think it was kind of a stupid reason.


@JanieS what IS it about Yul that is so.... ngghhh? I totally get it. I wonder if AHP can do a SOCH about him???? was he scandalous enough?

Nicole Cliffe

Having seen "Westworld" many, many times, I can confidently state that Yul Brynner is the human personification of the uncanny valley.


@Nicole Cliffe yesssss I'm glad I'm not the only one who saw that movie tons.


@noodge his naked pics are a sight to behold.


@queenofbithynia WHAT. WAIT, WHAT.


@JanieS You heard me!

Turn off any obscenity filters you may have on and google image up a batch of "yul brynner naked" if you would like to satisfy your prurient interest. do not do this at work unless you work with penis-related products or services.

you're welcome


@queenofbithynia oh. wow. that's my tuesday made....

irma la douce

"I am a Roth person, having read "Sabbath's Theater" sixty times, but it's not like I don't think he'd be the worst husband in the world. He obviously would."

This! I'm a Roth person too ("Goodbye, Columbus!" Unf!) but...yep. Absolutely.


@irma la douce I'm a Roth person too! But I cannot TAKE Sabbath's Theater. I love all of the Zuckerman books, though.


I don't know who these people are (yes I'm a philistine) so can we talk about the uneffable juiceboxery in the non-dating article?


@iceberg “I don’t like to take girls out. I like to have them join in on what I’m doing — going to an event, a concert.”

Lisa Frank

@iceberg I sent that article to my mom. And she replied, "I'm so sorry." I don't think it's quite as bad as that article makes it out, but yeah, (some...most?) guys today are really lazy and boring.


@iceberg Oh man, it didn't even go into how dudes on online dating sites will send the same message to multiple women at the same time! SOMETIMES they personalize it, but usually not.


@iceberg "mancession" UGHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

Judith Slutler

@iceberg So maybe I'm terrible but this has always been my exact (non)dating strategy. Inviting boys to parties.

I can see how this may become less acceptable once a person hits like, 30 though.


@Emmanuelle Cunt No, it's cute when you do it :)

Judith Slutler

@iceberg Another huge part of this is that I never know what My Intentions Toward A Boy are? Like, even if someone is hot, when I've been single in the past I've usually just been grooving along with my single lifestyle, so my first thought is "hey... we should be friends! You should meet my friends! We should hang out!"

And then maybe things happen or maybe one of my friends snaps up New Boy, or whatever.

These are the words of someone who is super comfortable with the world of nondating, I guess.


@iceberg I am having some weird feelings about this, partly because I haven't ever really been part of the "dating scene", having been in a relationship since college - but talking to my friends, it seems like plenty of them are going on actual dates all the time. And normally I would be all, "data is not the plural of anecdote", but the NYTimes did not exactly conduct a double-blind study, here. I would not deny that these juiceboxes exist, obviously they do, but, is it not possibly better that their juiceboxery is now out in the open, immediately? Rather than shrouded in default "chivalry"? It seems that now you can tell if a dude is not lazy about dating you by whether he actually takes you out on a date, makes plans, etc. (same should go for women, but this article is super heteronormative, men-and-women-are-enemies, etc., so I'm running with that), whereas before that was not an indicator, because all dudes did that by default.

Also I think this is yet another example of the new york times thinking that any trend happening in the social lives of twenty- and thirty-somethings in new york must be representative of all culture everywhere. Where could they be getting those ideas? Certainly not from the lives of the reporters who work there and their friends! Of course not, that would not be good journalism.


@iceberg Oh my god, seriously, "mancession", so upset that the word even exists, let alone that it was basically a given in this article.


@Emmanuelle Cunt well that just sounds adorable. but then like, after that, when you do know your intentions you could at least go out for a meal right?

@highfivesforall yes, you make absolutely good points.

Judith Slutler

@iceberg Yeah dating is then a post-makeout or even post-hookup activity.

Jane Marie


Jane Marie

also, if you tell interested people you would rather go on actual dates, they'll go on actual dates with you.

Nicole Cliffe

I tell this story alllllll the time, but my first "date" with husband was "maybe you'd like to come to Hoboken and help me walk my dog."


(We also saw "300," but that's not better.)

Nicole Cliffe

I am with Jane, though, and also Doctor Phil, on the "we teach people how to treat us" front vis a vis "hanging out" v. "dates."


@Nicole Cliffe yeah I'd like to think that if I was single I would just be like "no thank you" if a guy was doing some of this zero effort BS. then again hanging out at someone's apartment eating mac & cheese sounds pretty good to me, but maybe as a one-on-one thing would come across better.


Post-coital MOUSSAKA. It'd be even better if the post-coital moussaka were in a dish by the bedside.


@werewolfbarmitzvah And labeled as such.


Olivier and Burton? Damn, girl.

Nicole Cliffe

@hands_down Yeah, honestly, when you're ninety, are you gonna be all "oh, thank God I didn't have sex with Olivier and Burton, who were already cheating all over the place?"

Judith Slutler

@hands_down Yul Brenner sounds hottest in her description though, no?

Nicole Cliffe

@Emmanuelle Cunt That is the last nice thing she says about him, trust.

Judith Slutler

@Nicole Cliffe :(


@Nicole Cliffe I wonder who was better? I'm going to guess Olivier.


I remember reading an excerpt of this memoir in VF way back in the day and it made me never want to read anything by Philip Roth. And I have not (I was very young and probably weird for reading it). PROUD IGNORANCE. But I also came away thinking they were both just kind of unpleasant assholes.

Also all her conquests are kinda ick, I just think flabby old alcoholics.

Harriet Kierkegaard@facebook

M/F/K: Burton, Olivier, Brynner. Go.

Nicole Cliffe

M: Burton (diamonds)
F: Brynner (trapeze)
K: Olivier (Maxim De Winter was a pill)


M: Olivier (I'm a theatre kid and he is my god)
F: Brynner (Russians are sexy)
K: Burton (Hot but mean and probably always had whiskey dick)


On an Olivier sidenote, is the Joan Plowright memoir worth a read? I still have a childish love of the Leigh/Olivier romance, so I've avoided it, however that may be a stupid if it's a good read...


I suggest you read this concurrently with Frank Langella's "Dropped Names." Same cast of characters (though no Philip Roth) but from the male perspective.


Yul Brenner sounds hottest in her description.I need check with it.ffxi game


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