Christopher Isherwood has been one of my favorite writers starting in high school when I learned the Cabaret connection. It was a revelation to read at the start of the gay liberation movement in the early 1970s, of Isherwood leaving England & traveling to Berlin in 1929 to meet boys. His enthusiasm for the boy bars & cabarets gives unfading allure to his look at bankrupt Germany entertaining itself during Hitler’s rise to power. As a gay man, Isherwood identified with the crushed, the criminal, the cast-off, he had to hide aspects of his personal life; defying convention to find love.
By the time Goodbye to Berlin ( the basis for the play & screenplay of Cabaret) was published, Isherwood was living in the USA. In 1939, Isherwood had published 4 novels, 3 plays, a memoir & a travel when he landed in NYC in 1939 with his lifelong friend- poet W. H. Auden. Auden settled in Manhattan & Isherwood went to Hollywood. He had been a movie fan since childhood & he soon became a well paid screenwriter.
Isherwood had many friends & lovers in his new country, many of them famous. He met 18 year old Bachardy at the Will Rogers
By Valentine’s Day, they had initiated an intimate relationship that lasted until Isherwood's death in 1986. They were a high profile, openly gay couple during the era of McCarthyism, when homosexuals were being driven out of the government & the film world.
A portrait of the pair by David Hockney
From the start, the men's relationship was challenging: Bachardy was 30 years younger than Isherwood & was so boyishly handsome he seemed underage. A student of theatre at UCLA when they met, Bachardy soon felt overwhelmed by Isherwood's vast array of famous friends. Isherwood encouraged Bachardy's talent for drawing & eventually Bachardy did become an internationally acclaimed visual artist. Bachardy: “I was 18, Chris was 48. He had to move out of his home because the owners, close friends, were very uncomfortable about the age gap, blatantly accentuated by my callow appearance. Chris had other friends who disapproved, too, & he broke with them because of me"
Teaching Bachardy gave Isherwood sizable satisfaction. Bachardy: “We were intensely close while I went to college & then art school. I decided I wanted to be a painter, & Chris encouraged me right from the beginning.”
In a 1960 entry in his diary Isherwood wrote: “Don matters more than any of the others. He imposes himself more, demands more, cares more, about everything he does & encounters. He is so desperately alive.”
Isherwood’s success, & his affairs with Stravinsky, Tennessee Williams, Stephen Rutledge, Truman Capote & others, his experience & his demanding nature made their relationship troublesome to Bachardy: “I needed to establish my own identity. Some of Chris’s friends were kind, but mostly they treated me as the young boyfriend or even just a bit of fluff.”
Bachardy moved to London to study painting. His first shows in London & NYC attracted all kinds of admirers & good reviews, plus he was talented, together, & temptingly young. Bachardy: “Chris had always had sex friends outside our relationship, & he had been frank with me about his sexual adventures in the years before he knew me. Since I had very little sex experience before Chris, I began to feel deprived. I told him it was unfair to deny me the freedom he had enjoyed. I was usually discreet about my adventures, but I know he was tormented. We had a couple of really difficult years & in 1963 I considered leaving him. We did split up for a few months.”
In his misery Isherwood wrote A Single Man; the theme of emotional loss reflected Isherwood’s fear that Bachardy would leave & that he would die alone. Ironically, Bachardy thought up the title A Single Man. He has a cameo in the film, & is credited as a creative consultant.
Bachardy & Isherwood survived the 1963 break-up. Bachardy: “Chris allowed me the freedom to have sex with other men, & the comparison favored Chris. I saw more clearly what a great treasure I had in him.”
They were together for 33 years. Chris & Don: A Love Story, ends with a several scenes of Isherwood, dying of cancer, sitting for a series of portraits by his partner. Bachardy:“Chris was in a lot of pain towards the end. But he had sat for me so often over the years, & I knew this was something we could still do together. Each day, I could be with him intensely for hours on end.”
The last of the series was completed when Isherwood was already dead. Bachardy remained alone with the body, producing some of his finest works when he himself was newly a single man.
"What is exciting is to work with the person and get all the input, all the vibration & the aura of a living personality, how can you do that with a photograph?”
One of Bachardy's most notable works is the official gubernatorial portrait of Governor Jerry Brown hanging in the California State Capitol. The California state official biography page for Jerry Brown features a photograph of the painting. I think highly of his work & I have a nice coffee table book of his portraits.
Governor of California- Jerry Brown
Still strikingly handsome at 78, Bachardy can be spotted riding his bicycle around
Recent self portrait