Henry Valentine Miller (December 26, 1891 – June 7, 1980) was an American novelist and painter. He was known for breaking with existing literary forms and developing a new sort of 'novel' that is a mixture of novel, autobiography, social criticism, philosophical reflection, surrealist free association, and mysticism, one that is distinctly always about and expressive of the real-life Henry Miller and yet is also fictional. His most characteristic works of this kind are "Tropic of Cancer," "Tropic of Capricorn" and "Black Spring." He also wrote travel memoirs and essays of literary criticism and analysis.
In 1940, he returned to the United States, settling in Big Sur, California, and continued to produce vividly written works that challenged contemporary American cultural values and moral attitudes. He spent the last years of his life at his home in 444 Ocampo Drive, Pacific Palisades, Los Angeles, California (below).
While Miller was establishing his base in Big Sur, the 'Tropics' books, still banned in the USA, were being published in France by the Obelisk Press and later the Olympia Press. There they were acquiring a slow and steady notoriety among both Europeans and the various enclaves of American cultural exiles. As a result, the books were frequently smuggled into the States, where they would prove to be a major influence on the new Beat generation of American writers (most notably Jack Kerouac) some of whom would adopt stylistic and thematic principles found in Miller's oeuvre.
The publication of Miller's Tropic of Cancer in the United States in 1961 led to a series of obscenity trials that tested American laws on pornography. The U.S. Supreme Court, in Grove Press, Inc., v. Gerstein, citing Jacobellis v. Ohio (which was decided the same day in 1964), overruled the state court findings of obscenity and declared the book a work of literature; it was one of the notable events in what has come to be known as the sexual revolution. Elmer Gertz, the lawyer who successfully argued the initial case for the novel's publication in Illinois, became a lifelong friend of Miller's. Volumes of their correspondence have been published.
In 1968, Miller signed the “Writers and Editors War Tax Protest” pledge, vowing to refuse tax payments in protest against the Vietnam War.
In addition to his literary abilities, Miller was a painter and wrote books about his work in that field. He was a close friend of the French painter Grégoire Michonze. He was also an amateur pianist.
After his move to Pacific Palisades, he held innumerable dinner parties for a host of famous guests. His cook and caretaker was a young artist's model called Twinka Thiebaud who later wrote a book of his evening chats: "Reflections" published by Capra Press in 1981. In February 2011, extensively rewritten and retitled: "What Doncha Know?" about Henry Miller, Thiebaud's memories of Miller's table talk was published by Eio Books.
During the last four years of his life, Miller held an ongoing correspondence of over 1500 letters with Brenda Venus, a young and vivacious Playboy playmate, actress and dancer. An article detailing their affair ran in a special edition of Playboy in 1996. The article called her Miller's "twilight muse" during the bedridden final years of his life.
Before his death, Miller filmed with Warren Beatty for his film REDS (1981). He spoke of his remembrances of John Reed and Louise Bryant as part of a series of 'witnesses.' The film was released eighteen months after Miller's death.
Miller died in his Pacific Palisades home (above and below) in 1980. After his death, he was cremated and his ashes scattered off Big Sur.
Miller's papers were donated to the UCLA Young Research Library Department of Special Collections. The Henry Miller Art Museum at Coast Gallery in Big Sur, the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin, and UCLA all hold a selection of Miller's watercolors, as did The Henry Miller Museum of Art in Omachi City in Nagano, Japan, before closing in 2003. A portion of the correspondence between the Grove Press and Henry Miller are currently housed in the Special Collections Research Center at Syracuse University. Special Collections at the University of Victoria holds a significant collection of Miller's manuscripts and correspondences, including the corrected typescript for Max and Quiet Days in Clichy, as well as Miller's lengthy correspondence with Alfred Perlès.