English occultist Aleister Crowley’s reputation as the snarling cue ball-headed “Great Beast” has been shattered. A book of Crowley’s aching, lovelorn poems, inspired by his affair with female impersonator Herbert Charles Jerome Pollitt, will be exhibited at the Olympia antiquarian book fair in London this month. “The verse is rather broken-backed, and vulgar where he is trying to be honest. But it was written at a time when he was feeling heartbroken and vulnerable and it does somehow humanize him,” rare book dealer Neil Pearson said of the poems. The dark libertine’s muse didn’t share his appreciation for esotericism, and the relationship ended abruptly — but Pollitt did inspire verses that included lines like, “My passion splashes out at last.” We also felt inspired — taking it upon ourselves to dig up the torrid and fascinating tales of ten male muses. The men whose lives helped shape the works of great painters, writers, and filmmakers often take a backseat to their female counterparts, but they are no less intriguing. Meet the inspiring friends and lovers of ten cultural luminaries.
Ninetto Davoli, muse of Pier Paolo Pasolini
Provocative filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini discovered frequent collaborator Ninetto Davoli at 15 years old and cast the jovial-faced teen in a non-speaking role in his documentary-style biblical retelling, The Gospel According to Saint Matthew. Davoli spoke about their first meeting in a 2013 interview:
Pasolini liked street actors because of their natural qualities. In me, he found the naturalness of the world he knew growing up. It wasn’t so much an ‘ability’ as it was that in these faces — including mine — he could see the story he wanted to describe. He could see the story in potential through these faces and he found a reality in them. He preferred imperfection.
The men eventually became lovers. Pasolini discovered the young star had a true talent for comedic acting, leading him to cast Davoli in his medieval fable The Hawks and the Sparrows, alongside Italy’s celebrated comedian Totò.
Their romantic relationship ended as Davoli came to terms with his desire for women, leaving Pasolini so he could marry and have children. The breakup sunk the director into a devastating depression. “I am insane with grief. Ninetto is finished. After almost nine years, there is no more Ninetto. I have lost the meaning of my life… Everything has collapsed around me,” Pasolini wrote. The men remained loyal companions, but Pasolini was never the same. Davoli became the subject of countless poems penned by the tortured director, many of which were written leading up to Davoli’s wedding.