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The Ranger Who Told All About Anais Nin's Wild Life

July 26, 2006|Elaine Woo | Times Staff Writer

The story goes that their love affair began the moment they laid eyes on one another, in the elevator of a swank Manhattan apartment building in 1947. A few weeks later, the exotic-looking writer and the strapping young actor were driving to California on an adventure that would eventually lead to marriage.

There was one problem: Anais Nin, the prolific diarist who would become a feminist heroine, already was married. Rupert Pole, the actor who left New York to become a forest ranger -- and eventually guardian of one of literature's most labyrinthine legacies -- spent years pretending not to care that his wife was a bigamist.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday July 28, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 26 words Type of Material: Correction
Rupert Pole: A story about Rupert Pole and Anais Nin in Wednesday's Section A said Tristine Rainer teaches memoir writing at UCLA. She teaches at USC.

"We had a wonderful, deep relationship," Pole, who was 16 years younger than Nin, told the Vancouver Sun several years ago, "and that is what counted."

Pole, 87, who was found dead in his Silver Lake home July 15 after a recent stroke, was Nin's literary executor. After her death in 1977, he oversaw the publication of four unexpurgated volumes of her erotic journals, which exuberantly detail her affairs with such men as novelist Henry Miller, psychoanalyst Otto Rank and her own father, Spanish composer Joaquin Nin. Seven previous volumes, which had been purged of much of the salacious material -- as well as most references to her husbands -- had established Nin as a cult figure, revered by many in the women's movement for her embrace of sexual freedom and exploration of the female psyche.

The uncensored diaries overseen by Pole sold thousands of copies and introduced Nin's work to a broader audience. Writer Erica Jong, a latter-day advocate of women's sexual freedom, called them "one of the landmarks of 20th century literature." That they would be ushered into literary history by an actor-cum-forest ranger, who later taught science for many years at Thomas Starr King Middle School in Silver Lake, gave a uniquely Los Angeles tale an unexpected twist.

Pole, born in Los Angeles, was the son of actors Helen Taggart and Reginald Pole. Young Rupert spent his early childhood living among Native Americans in an adobe house in Palm Springs, where his father had moved to obtain treatment for a respiratory problem.

After divorcing his father, Taggart married Lloyd Wright, the architect-son of Frank Lloyd Wright. The younger Wright had designed a house for Taggart's mother in Griffith Park, where Pole lived before moving into Lloyd Wright's house in Beverly Hills about 1929.

A music lover who played the guitar and viola, Pole studied at Harvard University and earned a degree in music in 1940. He was briefly married to a Wright cousin, Jane Lloyd-Jones, and performed in USO shows with her.

According to Nin biographer Noel Riley Fitch, Pole had just completed a run on Broadway in "The Duchess of Malfi" and was working as a printer when he met Nin in the elevator. Both were heading to a party given by Hazel Guggenheim McKinley, an heir to the Guggenheim fortune.

Nin chatted all evening with Pole, who was "stunningly handsome, with the finely chiseled facial features and slim, muscular body found more frequently on Greek statuary than human beings," wrote Deirdre Bair, another Nin biographer. Not only did Nin find him physically irresistible but she was impressed by his emotional sensitivity and knowledge of Eastern philosophies. The night she met him, Nin, who was 44 to his 28, wrote in her diary: "Danger! He is probably homosexual."

To her vast relief, she soon discovered that Pole was not only thoroughly heterosexual but far more adept in bed than Hugh "Hugo" Guiler, the New York banker whom she had married in 1923. When Pole, who was under the impression that Nin was divorced, asked her to go west with him, she told Guiler that she was going to help a friend drive to Las Vegas. That pretense was her first step toward bicoastal bigamy.

She accompanied Pole to Los Angeles, where he enrolled at UCLA to study forestry. After a year, he transferred to UC Berkeley and lived with Nin in a San Francisco apartment. Upon graduation, he joined the forest service and was assigned to a station in the San Gabriel Mountains. In contrast to her pampered life in New York, Nin lived with Pole in a cabin in Sierra Madre, where she scrubbed the floors, baby-sat the neighbors' children and was known as "Mrs. Anais Pole," though she and Rupert were not yet married.

Still legally Mrs. Guiler, Nin juggled both relationships by shuttling between the two coasts every few weeks. She told Guiler that she needed to spend time on the West Coast to escape the pressures of New York. She told Pole that she had to go to New York on writing assignments.

Once, when Pole called her at the New York apartment she shared with Guiler, she convinced Guiler that Pole was a deranged admirer.

Both men apparently chose to believe her lies, which became so numerous that she wrote them down on index cards and locked them in a box so that she could keep her stories straight. She referred to the web of lies as her "trapeze."

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