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  • Shaw Furlow

Unknowns who deserve our attention

By guest columnist R. Shaw Furlow

Tucked away, unnoticed, in Rosehill Cemetery in Brookhaven, are the graves of Charles Henri Ford and his sister Ruth Ford. The names may not be familiar to you because they weren’t around here very long. Just long enough to be born here in 1908 and 1911 respectively. Their father managed hotels in the area including Hazlehurst and Brookhaven, but their family left in short order as well.

Yet they made something of a name for themselves in the art world, and, along with that, their births and burials in the area make them worthy of our attention.

Henri was originally Henry, but didn’t want to be confused with Ford the car maker. So he changed the spelling of his name, giving it a suave French air. He would later be recognized in his own right as an actor, painter, director and writer.

Ford is considered the first American surrealist poet. He was friends with author and poet Gertrude Stein and visited her in Paris, where he became a regular of her Saturday evening salon often frequented by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Thornton Wilder, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway.

His contribution to the art world included his gritty novel The Young and Evil, which chronicles the lives of young New York artists and their struggles, successes and loves, while frequenting the speakeasys of Greenwich Village. One critic said his book was one generation ahead of the Beat Generation.

Along with the novel, Ford published books of poetry, had art displays in Europe and was the editor of View, the premiere surrealist and figurative art and literature magazine of the 1940s. Considered a bohemian, he was one of the first of the New York school of writing style. His first poem was published in The New Yorker while he was still a teenager. In all he published 16 books of poetry.

After graduating from Ole Miss, his sister Ruth followed Henri to New York City where she was intrigued by her brother’s group of friends, and fell right into it. She first found success as a model with her pictures appearing on the covers of Vogue, Harpers Bazaar and Mademoiselle. She became great friends with Orson Wells and one of the regular players on his radio show, The Mercury Theatre. She had met and befriended William Faulkner at Ole Miss and was reacquainted with him one evening at her brother’s apartment. Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote cast her in roles in plays they wrote

Ruth eventually moved to Hollywood to try her hand in the movies. She started working in B films, but the quality of her scripts never improved. So she decided to return to Broadway, where the quality was better, and she appeared in Faulkner’s Requiem for a Nun. Ruth and Henri both had apartments in the famed Dakota in New York City. Like Stein, she hosted a weekly salon of artists, musicians and writers.

Henri died in 2002 leaving his apartment to Ruth, who died in 2009. Their two apartments were valued at eight million dollars.

I first learned about the Fords from my son. My research about them wasn’t easy, and there is much more deep digging into their lives to do if you are interested. Our little corner of the world is like so many other places with stories of people about whom you have never heard, but have done extraordinary things. The Fords deserve a bit of our time and attention.

That’s it for this month. Read a book, catch a movie, listen to good music and remember, support the arts, my friends.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Shaw Furlow is a local composer, musician and arts promoter. He produces an internet-based video show -- From the Shadyside -- that spotlights area musical talent and is a consultant to school bands in the region. Bob Arnold is Editor of the Wesson News.

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