It Wasn't Just Idle 'Chatterley' When the Stars Came Out in Taos to Honor D.H. Lawrence
It wasn't exactly a garden party, but Lady Chatterley would have loved it. Fifty years after D.H. Lawrence's death, 350 devotees descended on New Mexico for a four-day homage to the saturnine author of Chatterley and Sons and Lovers. The mountain air was heavy with ideas and academic names, but the main attraction was the stars who turned out to read and discuss the master's work. They ranged from literati like poet Allen Ginsberg and novelist William (Naked Lunch) Burroughs to glitterati like Elizabeth Taylor and Tony Randall. Scholars tussled over Lawrence's place in history, but they all endorsed Liz's litcrit: "Lawrence is one of several writers I've always admired."
The festival, organized by British businessman Anthony Branch, took place in Santa Fe and Taos, the artists' colony where Lawrence, the son of an English coal miner, lived and worked in the early '20s. Lawrence was an eclectic writer whose work ranged from novels and poetry to expositions of his bizarre theory that the human spirit resides in the blood, and the festival was hardly less discrete. Besides seminars and readings, it included a display of Lawrence's paintings of nudes, an Indian rain dance and a resplendent costume bash with guests dressed as Lawrence characters. Local hostesses vied to corral celebrities, and social events had everyone shuttling feverishly the 55 miles between the towns. Still, Lawrence's claim to glory seemed lost on many of the locals. When publicity director Eleanor Steinert pitched the event to the Santa Fe New Mexican, she jokes, "They thought I was talking about Lawrence of Arabia or Lawrence Welk."
What would David Herbert Lawrence himself have made of it all? In his lifetime he appreciated hero worship, but some capricious animus certainly hovered over the event. During a sunset memorial service at the mountainside shrine where Lawrence's ashes are rumored to be mixed with the mortar of the walls to discourage theft, the heavens suddenly opened, sprinkling a dance troupe at the crucial moment when a nymphet trailing rose petals leaped from the shrine. Observed a wry onlooker: "I would have expected at least a thunderbolt."
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