In the summer of 1982, while visiting my son, Jesper, in New York City, I decided to call my friend, Betty Dodson, to see how she was doing and to plug into her amazing energy and intellect. She answered the phone and reported she was writing her autobiography, that I was in it and that I should come over for tea and she would read the passage concerning us. I replied that I would like nothing better than to visit her and have a cup of tea, to catch up with her projects, but I had no desire to check-up on what she was writing about me. I trusted her completely and would read the book when it was published. We then agreed that I would come to her Madison Avenue apartment later that afternoon.
Paris Notes: Autos Bios & a Lady Named Betty
Betty is an amazing woman, a painter, a writer and a fighter for sexual freedom. She once had an exhibition of her hyper-realist paintings that completely blew away the blasé New York public. Portraits of men and women of all races in various permutations, all making love and generally having tender erotic encounters. Men together, women together, three-somes and leaving little to the imagination. Betty has also written, illustrated and self-published a book entitled Liberating Masturbation. The last I heard it had sold more than 150,000 copies. Re-titled, Sex for One, the book was later published by Crown in New York and continues to spread her good news. She has also lectured and held workshops for men and women in order to teach them to have an orgasm. Needless to say, I am a fan. She is incredible. She and I had met in the offices of Grove Press in 1969 when I told her about our newspaper, Suck, and a proposed film festival.
When I arrived, I discovered about a dozen people sitting on the carpet in a circle, all drinking tea. Betty welcomed me, introduced me to everyone with kind words about what I was doing for sexual freedom in Europe. Then she began to read. She had been a jury member of the Wet Dream Film Festival in 1970 and she described her wonderful week in Amsterdam, the people, the parties, the films. It was a festival I organized along with my associates on Suck. She captured the atmosphere of this mad week in Amsterdam. When she finished, everyone clapped. I told her not to change a word, that her portrait was impeccable. Then out of the blue, she said to me, “When are you writing your autobiography?” I replied one day I would do it, that there was no hurry, there was still a lot of time and a lot of life to live. She then challenged me to a wager: the winner would be the first person to have their autobiography published by a major British or American publishing house and the loser would have to fulfill the winner’s sexual fantasy. Immediately I said that this was an unfair bet, that Betty had already written eight chapters, that I had not written one word, that she was a celebrity in America and that I was not famous in America or Europe. In fact, it was a sucker’s bet (no pun intended). It was a bet I could not possibly win. The room erupted with cries of “Bet!”, “Bet!”, “Bet!”. I could not avoid accepting Betty’s bet.
After rushing home to Paris, I locked myself inside my atelier for two months and produced two volumes of a “participatory autobiography” (i.e. friends were dragooned into writing short pieces about our meeting and what resulted). Twenty-five photocopies of the “book” were produced by a printer in the neighborhood. In October 1982, I headed for the Frankfurt Book Fair with a stack of copies in hand, and gave them out to British and American publishers. Now all I had to do was sit back and wait.
On the next to the last day of the Fair, no one had declared an interest in the book. Total silence. Then in a crowded aisle, two editors from Faber & Faber (one of the most prestigious literary publishing houses in London) stopped me. Robert McCrum and Fanny Dubes said that they had heard I had an interesting book project and could they have a look. I produced my last copies and they began to peruse. After a few minutes of being knocked about by the crowd, I said to them that I had an appointment, asked for the copies back and merrily continued my meandering. Faber, I thought, would never publish my book.
The final day at the Fair I bumped into Fanny Dubes again. She reported that she and Robert dined with Elisabeth and Jaco Groot and that I had been talked about, that Faber was indeed interested in my book and asked to have the last two copies to take to London. Faber would like to have a verbal option on the book for a week, that they would call on the following Friday at 5 pm to let me know their answer. Not a problem. No one else had expressed an interest in acquiring the rights to the book.
I returned to Paris and waited for the call from Faber, wondering all week will they or won’t they. They called, as promised, on Friday at 5 and asked if I could come to London to sign a contract. They wanted to publish my autobiography. My wager was beginning to look good. Maybe I would not lose. In the end, the book, Thanks for Coming!, was released on February 13th, 1984, in London and later published by Faber in Boston.
Some twenty-eight years have passed since that afternoon in Betty Dodson’s apartment. To date her autobiography has not appeared, but a copy of my 1984 book was posted to her with my winning request. Betty replied, “I was only kidding, that was not a serious bet.” Of course, I was disappointed. But her wager did spur me into action and now I had a book. My motivation was not to win, just not to lose. I did not know where I would find elephants or how I could convince the cast of “A Chorus Line”, the Broadway hit show, to make themselves available. (Betty, I am only kidding….)
Jim Haynes, born in Louisiana, teens in Venezuela, twenties in Edinburgh, thirties in London and since then in Paris where he became a Professor at the newly created University of Paris VIII (Media Studies and Sexual Politics). In the mid-seventies started hosting dinner parties, open to the world. Now busy with a new memoir tentatively entitled Come Again! In a recent email message from Betty Dodson, Jim learned that Betty will be publishing her autobiography in New York City in 2010…