In 1937 Bowles met Jane Auer (1917-1973), a lesbian writer from a wealthy Long Island family. She walked with a permanent limp, the result of a riding accident when she was 14 years old. Both were only children who had grown up on Long Island, had lived abroad and spoke fluent French. Although American by birth, they spoke French together for the rest of their lives. Both Bowles and Auer preferred same sex partners, so their friends were baffled when the two married in 1938, having known each other for just a year. As a condition to marriage, they both agreed to be sexually “free,” while knowing that their union would upset their respective families. Paul’s anti-Semitic father, whom he hated, called Jane a “crippled kike.”
Marriage allowed each to express their homosexuality, instead of hiding it. Eighteen months into their marriage, they ceased sexual relations, although they remained devoted to each other for the rest of their lives. They were polar opposites in temperament and habits. Paul was restrained, but Jane was beyond wild. After both inherited some money, they pooled their resources to live a vagabond life free from the necessity of salaried jobs. In 1947 they settled in the city of Tangier, Morocco, living in separate apartments. They became permanent expatriates, remaining in Tangier to live out their lives.
At that time Tangier’s status as an international zone (separate from the rest of Morocco) had been restored, lasting until Morocco’s independence in 1956. The city’s population comprised 31,000 Europeans, 15,000 Jews and 40,000 Muslims. The cost of living in Tangier was extraordinarily cheap, and both Paul and Jane were able to receive guests from the cream of the crop of influential intellectual homosexuals. Paul became a habitual abuser of hashish, Jane of alcohol. Unfortunately, both also entered into dangerous relationships with Arab lovers. Jane, with Cherifa, who dominated and eventually destroyed her life; Paul, with a 16-year-old boy named Ahmed Yacoubi and his successor Mohammed Mrabet, 30 years younger than Paul.
Any search engine can yield a list of Paul’s musical and literary works, but his best and most successful novel was The Sheltering Sky (1949), in which Paul and Jane appear as Port and Kit Moresby, a couple who journey to northern Africa to rekindle their marriage but fall prey to the dangers surrounding them, experiencing horror and tragedy. A distinguished film version was released in 1991, with Bowles himself as narrator, also appearing in a cameo role (at age 79). Unfortunately Jane, whose literary efforts were in direct competition with her husband’s, has not enjoyed an enduring literary legacy.
While continuing to live in Tangier, Jane descended into illness and insanity. Having given away all her money and possessions, she caused Paul to have to cover checks she wrote without funds to support them. She died in a psychiatric clinic in Málaga, Spain, at age 56. Paul died in his modest home in Tangier in 1999, at the age of 88.
A strange relation:
SALLY BOWLES – LIFE IS A CABARET
After writer Christopher Isherwood met Bowles in Berlin, Isherwood borrowed his surname in creating the literary character Sally Bowles, included in a collection of semi-autobiographical stories called Goodbye to Berlin (1939). Isherwood based the character on a woman he had known while living in Berlin. British playwright John Van Druten adapted Isherwood’s story for a 1951 Broadway play, I Am a Camera, for which Julie Harris won a Tony Award for portraying Sally Bowles. Producer Harold Prince commissioned the team of Kander (music) and Ebb (lyrics) to write the score for Cabaret, a musical version of I Am a Camera, which opened on Broadway in 1966, running for three years. It is a little-known fact that Judi Dench debuted the role of Sally Bowles in London’s 1968 West End production of Cabaret (photo evidence below). Judi Dench had never done a musical in her life, but John Kander later said that she was the best Sally Bowles he had ever seen, before or since.
Liza Minelli won an Oscar for her portrayal of Sally in the 1972 film version. Cabaret remains an oft-revived landmark of American musical theatre. A 2014 year-long Broadway revival starred Alan Cumming as the cabaret emcee and Michelle Williams as Sally Bowles.