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Disclaimer:

Go ahead and read this article if you want, but since it was first posted, several things have come to my attention. You might want to wait for the extensive rewrite. For the moment, the only change is to put a space between De and Brier in the subject’s name. Even though you find more instances of it in a search engine with no space, I’m assured by one who knows that there actually should be a space. But that’s the least of it. There is a great mystery here, and quite a few minor inconsistencies too.

Pat Hartman, August 8, 2008

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The consensus seems to be that Samson De Brier was 90% poseur and 10% original eccentric, with the ability to attract and create synergy among people where that equation is reversed – people like Jack Nicholson, for instance. But that was later.

Nazimova and DeBrier in Salome

Nazimova and De Brier (?) in Salome

The early history of Samson De Brier was lived as Arthur Jasmine, the name under which he appeared in more than 20 films in the 1910s and 1920s. In one, he played an Eskimo who pursued his wife and her lover over the ice. In 1922, he appeared in the vanity production of Oscar Wilde’s Salome, a black and white silent film starring the vamp known as Nazimova. It’s unclear whether Jasmine played Herodias or one of Herodias’s servants, but experts seem to agree that it was an all-gay cast. The sets and costumes were designed to resemble Aubrey Beardsley’s spectacular illustrations of the play’s print edition. Glenn Erickson says,

Proving once and for all that bizarre artsiness in film didn’t begin with 40s experiments, or exist only in elitist European circles, Salomé is a home-grown attempt to raise the artistic level of American films.

Then, in another phase of life, Arthur Jasmine was Samson De Brier, who is best remembered for his appearance in Kenneth Anger’s 1954 experimental film, Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome. It was filmed in De Brier’s house, with props and costumes supplied largely by him, and he played five roles: Lord Shiva, Osiris, Cagliostro, Nero, and the Great Beast 666.

Samson De Brier as Shiva

It is said that De Brier was a male witch, and liked to dress as a silent film star (presumably a female one), and was called La Perversa by his intimates. He wore a favorite antique necklace formed like a dragon, and was a great fan of Mary Miles Minter. In the Fifties, Sixties and possibly the early Seventies, he held salons which attracted both the prominent and the marginal. Gavin Lambert (author of Inside Daisy Clover, among other books and screenplays) was introduced to De Brier by filmmaker Curtis Harrington. One of the features of these gatherings was the reading of Tarot cards, long before the Sixties revival of their popularity.

Mary Miles Minter

Mary Miles Minter

Several undergrounds intersected at the point where De Brier held court – not only the shadowy world of occult Hollywood, but the gay network, the drug scene, and who knows what else. We get a personal glimpse from Lambert, who noted in his journal a visit with De Brier:

Sly eyes flashing up at me, he quickly brought up two names, waiting for their effect: J.E. and M. (lost lovers). I didn’t mind. He’s not really malicious, just can’t resist little barbs at everybody.

Lambert notes that De Brier’s mystic-flavored gatherings might include such creative types as “…the sculptor who had modeled James Dean, the astrologer who had written to Jung and received a reply….” James Dean himself also supposedly showed up at the notorious get-togethers, as did Marlon Brando, Vampira, Steve McQueen, Sally Kellerman, and Richard Burton.

In Jack Nicholson’s 1972 Playboy interview, he talked about De Brier, although whoever transcribed it dropped the ball and put the name down as DeVreer. Nicholson said,

He had a sort of a running open house for crazos over there, all the local eccentrics…Every once in a while Samson would turn off all the lights and read from his memoirs. I didn’t know many people who had been Andre Gide’s lover, so it was very exotic to me.

De Brier is said to have resented the strangers who called him up asking to be invited just because it was the stylish thing to do.

DeBrier at 78

De Brier at 78

The picture above was clipped from another magazine, where it accompanied a small piece about De Brier at the age of 78. It says his life as a gentleman of leisure and a collector of movie memorabilia was made possible through a real estate investment he had once made. The house he owned was usually rented out, and he lived in a smaller rear building. But there must have been more real estate, or something, because another source says that when De Brier died, his bank account contained $5 million, despite the fact that he lived like a miser and a scrounger.

Supposedly, the many volumes of his diary, detailing his love affairs and a lot more, were to be published after his death. Why some of the fortune he left behind wasn’t used for the publication is a mystery. Maybe he just never got around to organizing it. A 2008 memoir by David del Valle throws a different light on things:

Samson De Brier is of course a character, not a real person, rather the invention of an aging, self-styled Hollywood courtesan who knew only too well that time was always on his side, especially if you start outliving all the witnesses to your life.

This seems to be a reference to the Gide claim, among other suspected prevarications. Del Valle says De Brier had no life of his own but was only a reflection of other people. He also implies that De Brier bit the hands that fed him. (Although del Valle doesn’t use it, there is an appropriate British expression – he was a tuft-hunter, or what would now be called a star-fucker.) He calls De Brier self-centered and out of touch, although longing to hang out with the hippest set of people. But when he had a chance to meet Quentin Crisp, a personage on a whole different level, De Brier chickened out.

DeBrier cavorting in Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome

De Brier cavorting in Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome

Del Valle discusses the animosity between Kenneth Anger and Curtis Harrington, the flames of which De Brier enjoyed fanning in all the ways open to a gossipy social climber. Apparently, Anger rented a house from De Brier; extensively redecorated by, among other things, painting all the rooms different colors; and then moved out, much to De Brier’s dissatisfaction. But this sounds like what might have been done for the sake of filming Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, if it was indeed the same house, so presumably De Brier would have know what was going on.

The building out back where De Brier actually lived, del Valle calls a shack, and characterizes its kitchen as being the most filthy he had ever seen. Elsewhere, a woman called Eris Andys wrote about being taken to De Brier’s by Jack Nicholson in the 1960s. She was told, and apparently believed, that the hundreds of bottles strewn about the kitchen each contained an imp or small demon.

Del Valle goes on to say,

There were antiques to be sure, but everything was covered in dust and grime, things piled on top of one another. Samson really did live like a bag lady, even clipping coupons and always dining out on everybody else. He slept in a small bedroom off from the parlor in a red and gold Chinese frame bed.

When De Brier died in 1995, he had occupied the property for fifty years, and had not cleaned the interior since he stopped hosting salons in the early Seventies. Maybe he was following the housekeeping philosophy of Quentin Crisp, who once noted that after the first three years, the dust doesn’t get any deeper.

The house, at 6026 Barton Ave., Los Angeles 90038 (between Vine and El Centro) was last offered for sale in the autumn of 2007, described as “Former home of the infamous celebrity warlock, Samson De Brier. Check out this relic from Hollywood’s pre-hippy LA Freak show history.”

In 1979, De Brier published an article titled “On the Filming of The Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome” in Film Culture, No. 67-69. In The Sewing Circle, by Axel Madsen, he is named as a major source of information about the lesbians of old Hollywood. There’s something about him in Richard Lamparski’s Hollywood Diary, and a nice photo of him with director Paul Mazursky and some other folks on this website. Someone even put up a Samson De Brier page on MySpace, but the most recent login is 2006 and there’s nothing on it except the still from the Salome film.

RELATED: Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, Cameron: Artist and Witch

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