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Harry Kiakis, Henry Miller in Pacific Palisades: Selections from a Journal

Wayne E. Arnold

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1Harry Kiakis, Henry Miller in Pacific Palisades: Selections from a Journal

2Kansas City: Nexus: The International Henry Miller Journal, 2017. Pp. 228. ISBN: 978-1-5397-7496-9.

3Wayne E. Arnold

4University of Kitakyushu, Japan

5Recording every encounter with a famous individual may appear a bit on the fanatical side; nevertheless, this is exactly what Harry Kiakis did from March 1968 until February 1971, dutifully writing a journal summary after each of his 59 visits with American author, Henry Miller. His dedication in quickly putting the events down on paper is commendable; it is Kiakis’s style of retelling his experiences, however, that really brings this journal to life. Written in short descriptive bursts that recount fragments of conversations, social outings and people who popped in and out of Miller’s home, Kiakis’s memoiresque journal is a play-by-play glimpse back in time to the heyday of Miller’s life at 444 Ocampo Drive, Pacific Palisades. The journal avoids many of the hazards that have befallen recent memoirs on Miller, as Kiakis neither retells long stretches of presumed conversation nor adds any post-visit or present day reflections. Instead, his journal comes across with a feeling of fresh recollection, not dulled by 36 years of fading memories.

6The journal spans Kiakis’s first to last meeting with Miller, when their friendship ended rather abruptly. In between, we get a glimpse of Miller in his middle- to late-70s, every much his vivacious self as well as showing signs of becoming a bit of a crotchety old man, intentionally cutting himself off from the outside world. Rather than recounting in-depth details of each visit, Kiakis instead gives snippets of the conversations, highlighting what he considered to be of interest, as well as relating important insights into Miller’s philosophy, or jotting down comical comments that Miller was prone to make: “I’m sorry it’s not Sunday—so I could tell you to take the trash out!” Significantly, after the first few get-togethers, Kiakis informed Miller that he was recording the events of each meeting, and the subjects are at times consciously aware of Kiakis’s routine. Thanks to this journal, the lively parties and conversations, as well as some of the drama unfolding under Miller’s roof, are depicted as no biographer could achieve.

7Perhaps the main sources of disturbance at 444 Ocampo Drive revolved around Miller’s fifth marriage to the Japanese jazz pianist, Hoki Tokuda. While Kiakis does not describe any arguments between Miller and Hoki, there are a few dramatic scenes involving the young Japanese women living in the house, causing Miller some annoyance. As Kiakis records, Miller was generous with his upstairs bedrooms and there were times when unwanted guests overstayed their welcome; or, as was often the case, various men pursuing Hoki’s friends would make rather obvious visits to the house. Other distractions bothering Miller were the number of random “fans” who would knock on the front door—or invite themselves over for a swim. There were also personal issues that Miller had to contend with concerning his children and his gradual separation from Hoki; these bits of drama help give a forward momentum, providing the journal with a sense of continuation between each recorded visit as well as a sense of anticipation of the next interesting scene.

8Arguably the most important person in the journal, second to Miller, is Joe Gray, Miller’s bosom friend during this period, and as Miller himself said of Gray, “one of the three best friends I ever had in America” (Miller 100). After Gray’s sudden death in March 1971, Miller wrote about Gray in his Book of Friends trilogy; a few biographers have attempted to give an impression of the friendship between the two men, but it is through Kiakis’s journal that we finally see their true chemistry. Joe Gray appears in several sections and becomes an integral part of the events, right to the end. Many of the traits that Miller describes in “Joe Gray” are shown here in action, as Kiakis records both Gray’s insider status as well as his chiding nature with Miller. For example, during an evening dinner, Gray pokes fun at Miller when he tells Kiakis not to “forget to put in [your book] ‘doesn't like music while eating,’” emphasizing one of Miller’s many particularities. Gray’s charisma and personal connection with Miller was unmatched with anyone else on the scene.

9Another person who regularly appears in the journal is Robert Snyder, Miller’s neighbor and the director of The Henry Miller Odyssey (1969). While gathering material for the film, Snyder occasionally joined in on the gatherings at Miller’s house. Kiakis records ample dialogue concerning three movies related to Miller and his novels: Snyder’s The Henry Miller Odyssey, Tropic of Cancer (1970), and Quiet Days in Clichy (1970). All three films were poorly received by the American public and clearly Miller was disappointed with the efforts. The discussion around the three films often deals with censorship issues, where the film was playing—or not playing—and the attendance numbers; the combination of dismal reports led Miller to feel disillusioned with each film. Various individuals involved with the films make appearances or are mentioned in the journal, and we are provided some insight into the marketing decisions for the films. It is interesting to observe, though, that The Henry Miller Odyssey and Kiakis’s journal are very much in the same vein, as both depict Miller surrounded by his friends, and each medium brings to life Miller’s high-spiritedness.

10There appear some expected pastimes in Kiakis’s journal. The ping pong table is front and center as a hub of activity. People seemed to gravitate around the ping pong table; games began when visitors arrived; there are intervals filled with drinks and discussion and after a final match, people departed. In another decade, Miller would be unable to play ping pong due to his body ailments, but during this period he was agile enough to beat many of his opponents. Visitors sometimes came just to play against Miller and other guests. Kiakis puts significant emphasis on the importance of ping pong in Miller’s Pacific Palisades life, as if it is the ground on which his life’s battles were played out. During one gathering around the table, Miller reveals a very telling secret about his own nature; afterwards, Kiakis returns home still stunned by the impact of Miller’s words: “to blurt it out while watching a ping pong game! That would indicate he is very bothered” (73). The swimming pool is also a popular hangout, and Kiakis recounts several discussions in the backyard with visitors who take dips, sip drinks, or even strangers who unexpectedly emerge from the pool—something that seems to have been a common occurrence. By this point in his life, Miller’s hip was becoming more disabling, at times requiring him to carry a cane. Such being the case, the hip may have limited his ability to ride a bicycle, or it could be that Kiakis was never around when Miller went out for a spin. Either way, there is no real mention of Miller’s fondness for bicycles, an ironic absence considering Peter Gowland’s striking cover photograph of Miller with his bike.

11As noted in numerous places by Miller and in books about Miller, the man was a true cinephile—and a very opinionated one. Throughout the journal, Kiakis, Miller and others take part in several critiques of both contemporary as well as classic films. Kiakis and his wife Connie enjoyed the movie theatre as much as Miller, and Kiakis often advised Miller on what films he might like to see. Since this period of Miller’s life was the peak of his interest in everything Japanese, there are several Japanese films discussed in detail. Furthermore, the journal provides a record of various pictures that Miller liked or disliked, and his reasons for such. One movie that was particularly disparaged by Miller was Midnight Cowboy (1969), due to the way it portrayed the American cowboy. Not surprisingly, many Asian films were highly praised, including The Arch (1968), starring Miller’s good friend and regular visitor, Lisa Lu. Overall, Kiakis’s inclusion of numerous film titles and Miller’s opinions of them highlight the eclectic taste of Miller’s cinephilia.

12This journal, like some of the recent memoirs on Miller, is not meant as a first approach to Miller-the-author or Miller-the-man. It is, however, an enjoyable impression of Miller-the-aged, living his life in Pacific Palisades. Having become a celebrity, Kiakis depicts how Miller dealt with the tribulations of being famous—usually with, “Whoever it is, tell them I’m out”—while at the same time enjoying the perks of fame that came with living near Hollywood. There are scenes narrating Miller’s encounters with famous, and not so famous, stars, some of whom he met at parties or restaurants. Eating at local and popular restaurants or even bar hopping were regular pastimes for Miller and Joe Gray, and as an occasionally wingman, Kiakis dutifully records the restaurant names, thereby ensuring Los Angeles as the geographical place marker. Overall, Kiakis’s journal has ample scenes of merriment and snippets from interesting discussion topics. He admits to being a fan who has been allowed into the master’s house, serving as a temporary archivist of events, and, at times, pandering to Miller’s ego. Across the 33 months of their friendship, Kiakis did indeed record Miller in his element: friends, women, ping pong, films, music, books, food and alcohol—it was all part of Henry Miller’s Pacific Palisades life.

13Bibliography

14Miller, Henry. My Bike and Other Friends. Santa Barbara: Capra Press, 1978. Print.

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Wayne E. Arnold, « Harry Kiakis, Henry Miller in Pacific Palisades: Selections from a Journal », European journal of American studies [Online], Reviews 2017-2, document 9, Online since 01 August 2017, connection on 18 November 2017. URL : http://ejas.revues.org/12176

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Wayne E. Arnold

University of Kitakyushu, Japan

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