By Michael Oldham | Special to the Palisadian-Post
In the late fall of 1962, writer Henry Miller wrote his friend, Brassaï, to tell him he was planning to purchase a Pacific Palisades house “to live there with the children, as a family. Oof!” The New York-born Miller may have been joking about the children, but not the move.
In February 1963, Miller moved into his newly purchased home at 444 Ocampo Drive with two of his kids, Tony and Val, in tow. The author of such classic novels as Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn had more than just his kids living there. His ex-wife, Lepska, who was the mother of those two kids, also took up residence there with her new husband.
But Miller would eventually have the home to himself.
The novelist was 71 years old when he took possession of the nearly 4,000-square-foot Ocampo house. The traditional-style home sits on a lot of over 9,300 square feet.
Built in 1946, the two-story house has five bedrooms. Miller hung all sorts of items on its walls. There was a picture of a European castle, Buddha pictures, various posters and many photographs. Some of Miller’s own paintings were also on display.
In film writer Tom Schiller’s short documentary of 1975, Henry Miller Asleep and Awake, Miller spoke of how visitors would spend a lot time in his bathroom just looking at what was on the walls.
Miller’s backyard had a pool, which he would take advantage of to relax. The thin and balding writer can be seen in a 1969 short documentary film called The Henry Miller Odyssey.
Footage from the film shows Miller being interviewed while treading water in his pool. The gravelly-voiced Miller is also shown playing Ping-Pong and partying with his houseguests. There are even clips showing him bicycling around his Palisades neighborhood.
Hobbies that Miller enjoyed while living in his Huntington home included painting abstract expressionist artwork and studying astrology. These were the interests of an accomplished man in the twilight of his life.
But growing old was not something Miller enjoyed.
“Well, I wouldn’t recommend it,” he once told Kenneth Turan, now a Palisadian and LA Times film critic, during an interview inside his home. Miller, a man who led a bohemian-like existence for many years of his life, was 86 years old at the time of the 1978 chat. “From the neck up I’m alright,” he said.
The writer also reflected on his life in a film directed by Tom Schiller. “I don’t know how I ever survived, why I’m still sane,” Miller wondered aloud to the camera lens.
Part of what Miller “survived” were five marriages. The last union began and ended in his Palisades home. In 1967, he married Japanese musician and singer Hoki Tokuda. The couple divorced in 1978 but had separated years earlier.
Single or married, Miller was a man used to having friends, groupies and all sorts of characters dropping in on him while on Ocampo. Such visitors included his close friend and fellow writer Lawrence Durrell. Other guests of Miller’s included actor Jack Nicholson and politician Jerry Brown.
But as he grew tired with age, he tried warding off some of his drop-in visitors by posting the translated Chinese words of Meng-Tse, the Confucian philosopher, on his front door. The words read:
When a man has reached old age and has fulfilled his mission, he has a right to confront the idea of death in peace. He has no need of other men, he knows them already and has seen enough of them. What he needs is peace. It is not seemingly to seek out such a man, plague him with chatter, and make him suffer banalities. One should pass by the door of his house as if no one lived there.
Author Erica Jong read those words straight from the door of Miller’s house in 1974, prior to walking in for her first of many visits. She befriended Miller late in his life after he wrote her a letter praising her recently published novel Fear of Flying.
Jong, who would pen The Devil at Large in 1993, a book with Miller as its subject, was contacted for this article.
Despite having those words of Meng-Tse on his door, Jong offered a memory of her visits to Ocampo Drive: “What I remember most about Henry’s house is that it was always full of young people, particularly Tony and Val’s friends. They all loved him and wanted to hear his stories.”
Schiller too spoke of the joys of hanging with Miller. After a dinner with the colorful writer, Schiller said, “You’d feel enthused with creativity and be yourself.”
Miller’s storytelling ended with his death in 1980. The vibrant conversationalist, who lived a full life and inspired others to do the same, was 88 years old.
Michael Oldham, co-author of Movie Star Homes: The Famous to the Forgotten and author of the novel The Valentino Formula, can be reached at HollywoodLandings@sbcglobal.net.
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