Clive James, Cultural Amnesia
1. Ford Madox Ford:
According to Clive James, “Ford would spend all day in a dressing gown stained with bacon fat.”
2. W.H. Auden:
Clive James calls him “perhaps the most outstanding slob,” which was a real contrast to his writing, particularly the magnificently composed poem The Fall of Rome. But as luck would have it, he was, and apparently kept a kitchen “that could have doubled as a research facility for biological warfare.” While apparently Mary McCarthy was known as a vexing houseguest — “she earned a bad reputation by taking a long shower with the curtain outside the bath instead of inside: the host would receive no apology for the subsequent inundation” — when compared to Auden, she paled in comparison. Apparently Auden “treated other people’s houses the same way” he treated his hygiene, where “a mere flood would have counted as a thank-you note: he left his benefactors under the impression that they had been visited by the Golden Horde.”
3. Arthur Rimbaud:
If his magnum opus Bâteau ivre is any indication, Rimbaud should have led a flawless life. And yet he was probably the filthiest of all. Sometimes, if he ran out of ink, he would write with “his own excrement, delivered fresh into his hand specifically for the purpose. When any acquaintance made the mistake of offering him hospitality, he trashed the place on principle.”
4. Albert Einstein:
Apparently he was a voracious smoker and would even go so far as to pick up cigarette butts on the street to smoke. In addition, he was allegedly pretty lazy when it came to his physical upkeep, never wearing socks or combing his hair. One thing that’s for certain is his workspace was far from spotless; Einstein once said, “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then is an empty desk a sign?”
5. King James VI of Scotland:
The son of Mary Queen of Scots, King James would supposedly wear the same clothes for months at a time, often sleeping in them too. This extended to accessories too; he only ever took his hat off once it finally came apart at the seams. And yet as gross as this all sounds, it was pretty acceptable during the time he lived, in which bathing oneself was believed to cause poor health.
6. King Louis XIV of France:
Reportedly, the King only took three baths throughout his entire life, and only because his doctors forced him to. Such hygiene obviously had an impact on his health; the King died of gangrene, after refusing treatment for it.
7. Marilyn Monroe:
In Clark Gable: Tormented Star, David Bret writes about Marilyn Monroe’s unsavory habits that not many people knew about. According to Bret, she was “flatulent, dirty, and ate in bed…Like Jean Harlow, she bleached all her pubic hair and never wore panties. She suffered from what today would be described as irritable bowel syndrome…She rarely bathed, slept in the nude, and ate a lot in bed — shoving what was left on her plate under the sheets before going to sleep.
8. Ida Mayfield Wood:
Ida Wood, née Ellen Walsh, husband of American politician Benjamin Wood, is infamous for the apparent filth and squalor in which she lived. For a long time she lived in the New York Herald Hotel as an unofficial hoarder — stuff piled to the ceiling in every room. It was discovered, after her apartment was searched, that there was hundreds of thousands of dollars scattered about the room, hidden in every crevice and corner.
9. Eliza Emily Donnithorne:
This is the Australian woman who Miss Havisham, of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, was apparently based on. Like Havisham, she was dumped by her husband on her wedding day and spent the remainder of her life in a dark house, in her wedding dress, as the wedding cake sat on her table and rotted away.
10. Quentin Crisp:
The British writer was famous for his disgusting living quarters. According to The Independent, “Bare-footed and clad in a dressing gown shiny with grease, which barely covered his buttocks, he also welcomed all callers with great zest.” His east village home, where he spent the remainder of his life, was described as “more liek a disused workshop than a bedroom, clogged with possessions, coated with grime. Bottles of make-up, fixative, medicine and, thank God, a bottle of champagne, hog the floor along with a discarded shirt…To survive in his current abode must require nerves of steel, iron and flint. And he also has to cope with the horrified reactions of friends who do not understand his lifestyle. Three times the police have been called, and once he was dragged off to hospital though there was nothing wrong with him.”
11. Big Edie and Little Edie:
Or perhaps you know them better as the stars of the horrific documentary Grey Gardens. They were cousins of Jackie-O, left with little else but a mansion in the Long Island, NY estate Grey Gardens. They spent the remainder of their life there and lived with unfathomable hoarding tendencies and hygiene. They lived amongst raccoons, cats, and filth, and rarely ever got out of their beds.
12. Howard Hughes:
For all his accomplishments, Howard Hughes was a tremendous slob. After his divorce to actress Jean Peters, he fell further and further into a reclusive lifestyle. After surviving a couple plane crashes, he became addicted to pain killers. A fractured hip was all that he needed to propel him into a bedridden life amongst trash.
13. Henry VIII:
Early in life, Henry couldn’t keep the ladies away. This changed dramatically later in his life, when his hygeine and overall upkeep diminished drastically. Apparently he suffered from a leg wound that “oozed pus and prevented him from getting much exercise.” He also gained so much weight — estimated to be more than 300 lbs — that he had to be carried everywhere by his servants. And he “had swollen gums, loose teeth, and horrible breath.”