The house was an oddity, in appearance nothing like its Brooklyn neighbors. That was true of its occupants, as well - some of the best creative minds of the wartime years, poets and prose writers and a hopeful stripper trying to break into crime fiction. Her cardboard cutout was left behind for later renters to have a dance with.
The men were gay, the women were wild, and the lights rarely went out. The initial group—W.H. Auden, Carson McCullers, Benjamin Britten, and the remarkable Gypsy Rose Lee—were drawn together by the mercurial energies of George Davis. Davis, a charismatic, handsome failed writer and successful editor had unbounded affection for writers and men of letters, and he and Carson (who preferred her own gender, as well) conceived the idea of renting together, out from the city, where the costs would be lower, even in the monster four-story fixer-upper that Davis claimed to have seen in a dream.
Later incursions were made by such luminaries as Salvador Dali, the Bowleses (Jane and Paul, deemed an “inappropriate addition to the household”) and Richard Wright and family. Auden, who had a true poet’s need for solitude and hard living, got burned out on the party atmosphere when Bowles moved in. Deeply involved in a love affair, not always requited, with Chester Kallman, Auden found both pacifism and God while tapping away in his suite at #7 Middagh Street. Kallman “had no intention of following rules of any marriage, Christian or otherwise,” and his betrayals tested Wystan’s faith.
The ex-pats – Auden, Britten, Klaus Mann – had also to make hard choices about the war and military service. The house was a political hotbed as well as a bohemian haven and a communal home for lost souls: “The long dining table nearly disappeared beneath the quantity of food. The champagne flowed, along with the red wine, and the conversation grew lively as the guests realized how much more they had in common that they had realized.”
Public television producer Sherill Tippins has drawn together these silken skeins and made a tapestry glowing with the heady memories of a bohemian era past but never to be forgotten. Any one of the occupants of the February House merits his or her own bio, but putting them together and showing us how they mixed, or didn’t, is a remarkable feat, for which we thank Ms. Tippins.