Marguerite Littman, a honey-voiced Louisian and literary muse who taught Hollywood to speak of the South but left her most enduring legacy as an early force in the fight against AIDS, died on October 16 in his home in London. She was 90 years old.
Peter Eyre, a longtime friend, has confirmed the death. He said she had been ill for some time.
By all accounts, hypnotically charming, Ms Littman, who landed in Los Angeles in the middle of the century, counted among her closest friends the writer Christopher Isherwood and her partner, artist Don Bachardy, as well as Gore Vidal, David Hockney and, famous, Truman Capote. , who would have distilled this charm in his most famous character, Holly Golightly of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”.
“She was a rarefied creature – generous, restless,” Irish novelist and memoirist Edna O’Brien wrote in an email, adding, “She was like a fictional character.
An oft-told story about Ms Littman is this: Mr Capote and Ms Littman were sitting at Cipriani’s swimming pool in Venice in the late 1970s when Ms Littman pointed out an extremely skinny woman. “It‘s anorexia nervosa,” she said. And Mr. Capote replied, “Oh Marguerite, you know everyone.
“She weaved legends while you were with her,” said Ben Brantley, the New York Times former chief theater critic and longtime friend. “I remember someone saying you couldn’t take her seriously, but there was such seriousness in her frivolity.” It was an existential choice.
“If you were sick, she was there,” Mr. Brantley continued. “She didn’t push the darkness into a corner. She once said that relationships should be “as light as a butterfly, a pale, pale beige hue.” Life was pretty dark.
In 1986, at the height of the AIDS epidemic, Mrs Littman, then living in London, wrote to 100 friends asking them to each contribute 100 pounds to become a founding member of what would become the AIDS Charitable Trust, a UK fundraising hub for over a decade. These famous friends all stepped in and would continue to do so.
A godsend was the sale of “Hockney’s Alphabet”, with letters drawn by the artist and essays by authors such as Iris Murdoch, Ian McEwan and Kazuo Ishiguro, edited by poet Stephen Spender. (Mr. Vidal, writing about the letter E, began his essay with typical acidity, “I never liked the look of E.…”)
And just before her death in 1997, Diana, Princess of Wales, a long-time supporter of AIDS organizations, donated her wardrobe to be auctioned off to benefit the trust, among other charities. It raised over $ 3 million.
“She called me in the morning,” Ms Littman told Cathy Horyn of the New York Times in 1999, when she was honored for her AIDS philanthropy by the Harvard AIDS Institute alongside the bold names Judith Peabody and Deeda Blair. “She said, ‘I have a wonderful idea. I will give you all of my dresses. I didn’t really know what that meant. I thought, Oh, my God, am I dressing badly?
In 1999, Ms. Littman withdrew from the trust and was transferred to the Elton John AIDS Foundation.
“Marguerite was a true vanguard in the war on HIV / AIDS,” wrote Mr. John and David Furnish, the organization’s president, in an email. “In the 1980s, people dying of AIDS were treated like lepers – rejected from society because of fear, ignorance and bigotry. With her habitual wit and tireless life force, Marguerite rode where others feared to step and lifted millions.
Marguerite Lamkin was born on May 4, 1930 in Monroe, Louisiana. His father, Ebenezer Tyler Lamkin II, known as Ebb, was a prominent lawyer. Her mother, Eugenia Layton (Speed) Lamkin, known as Layton, was a housewife.
Marguerite studied philosophy at Newcomb, a women’s college now part of Tulane University in New Orleans, before attending Finch College in New York. When her brother, Hillyer Speed Lamkin, playwright and novelist, traveled to Los Angeles on a contract from producer Jerry Wald, she followed him.
Mr. Wald, she told The Times’ Ms Horyn, thought she looked like a young Susan Hayward and sent her to a vocal trainer to erase her accent. When this exercise failed, she became a coach herself, stretching the vowels of Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”.
She was briefly married to Harry Brown, a screenwriter and a friend of her brother who was reportedly an alcoholic. When he threatened her with a gun one evening, she fled to Mr. Isherwood and Mr. Bachardy’s house, saying she was going to get lamb chops and never returned . Another brief marriage, with Rory Harrity, an actor, ended in divorce. By that time, Ms Littman had moved to New York City and was working for Glamor magazine as an advice columnist.
She also worked for photographer Richard Avedon as a fixer, coaxer, and all-around aide-de-camp when he was editing “Nothing Personal” (1964), his burning portfolio of American identity, with his high school friend James Baldwin. The book’s portraits of civil rights activists, segregationists, children of slaves, American Revolutionary daughters, and crazed asylum inmates offered a surprising collision of humanity, and Ms. Littman helped Mr. Avedon secure most of them.
“No one could resist him,” said Neil Selkirk, a photographer and filmmaker who interviewed Ms. Littman for a documentary about Marvin Israel, the painter and art director who designed “Nothing Personal”. “She also knew everyone. She knew the head of the asylum. She also knew the terrifying Democratic Party boss and segregationist Leander Perez – whom Mr Avedon captured swollen with assault, teeth clenched on a big cigar – because he had slaughtered pigeons with his uncle.
They received death threats during their tour of the south. “We had been kicked out of every town in Louisiana,” Ms. Littman told Mr. Selkirk. “We were scared the whole time.”
Yet Ms Horyn recalled in a phone interview: “She was always comfortable in her skin, comfortable in the places she landed. She could navigate many circles without bragging about it. I don’t think she had to prove anything. Despite all her enthusiasm, there was a seriousness in her. She had missions to accomplish.
In 1965 Ms Littman married Mark Littman, a British lawyer, and they moved to a house in Chester Square in London, the Belgravia district which also housed Margaret Thatcher and Mick Jagger. There, Ms Littman gave what has become legendary breakfasts that started with champagne mixed with orange liqueur, switched to jambalaya made with apricot jam, and ended with a nap. “It was great for starving artists,” Swedish photographer Eric Boman said.
His house “was like a fantasy world, with all these Hockney paintings,” Mr. Eyre said. “You could say she was a bit fantastic herself. A fantasy. His mind and his memory and his accent. Her husband once said to me: “Do you think Marguerite’s accent has grown heavier?” “
Ms. Littman’s brother passed away in 2011 and Mr. Littman passed away in 2015. She leaves no immediate survivors.
“I would say Marguerite had many talents and did a lot of things, but her biggest achievement has been her advocacy against AIDS,” said Ms. Blair, whose decades-long friendship with Ms. Littman has deepened. to their work on AIDS. “I would also say that she was someone, how shall I put it, who stuck on people’s minds.