Christopher Isherwood (1902–1986) was born outside Manchester, England. He lived in Berlin from 1929 to 1933 and emigrated from Europe to the United States in 1939. A major figure in twentieth-century fiction and the gay rights movement, he wrote more than twenty books. Don Bachardy was born in Los Angeles in 1934. His artwork, which parallels David Hockney’s and anticipates Elizabeth Peyton’s, is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the de Young Museum, San Francisco; the Fogg Art Museum of Harvard University; and the National Portrait Gallery, London, among others. He lives in Santa Monica, California.
The love story between Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy—in their own words
Christopher Isherwood was the celebrated middle-aged English author of Goodbye to Berlin when he met the Californian teenager Don Bachardy on a Santa Monica beach in 1952. Defying convention, the two created an enduring relationship out of that initial spark—living as an openly gay couple for more than three decades in the closeted world of Hollywood. The Animals is the testimony in letters of their extraordinary partnership, which lasted until Isherwood’s death in 1986—despite a thirty-year age gap, affairs, jealousies, the pressures of literary fame, and the disdain of twentieth-century America for love between two men.
In romantic letters to each other, they invented the private world of the Animals. Chris was Dobbin, a stubborn old workhorse; Don was a rash, spirited white kitten named Kitty. The ability to create a world, a safe and separate milieu, was a great talent of Isherwood’s—and a necessary one as a gay man in mid-twentieth-century America. But Isherwood knew how to spread hay around his stable and attract beauty. He drew Bachardy into his semisecret realm and together they invented a place for their love to thrive. Bold, transgressive, and playful, The Animals shows us the devotion between two creative spirits in tenderness and storms.
“Of all the people I came to know in Los Angeles, their marriage was the only one that endured.” —John Boorman, film director
“It is a fascinating sociological document while, like most exchanges between two people wrapped up in the tantalizing subject of themselves and each other, lacking very much real interest in the wider world.” —DJ Taylor, The Spectator (London)
“In her excellent introduction to The Animals, Bucknell does a skillful job of trying to interpret the lovers’ talk for the reader. Apparently Bachardy reminded Isherwood of his younger self—and indeed there was a strong physical similarity. The letters end in 1970 and Isherwood died in 1986, survived by Bachardy. But thanks to The Animals Isherwood’s devotion lives on. As a typical sign-off from Dobbin put it: ‘Love from a devoted old horse who is waiting day and night with his saddle on, ready for his Kitty’s commands.’” —Mark Simpson, The Independent (London)