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Encounters with Germaine Greer
December 15, 2004
Compiled by Dana Cook

Barry Humphries, actor and impersonator Gallery assistant

...My interest in art revived and I decided to have another 'exhibition'...the staid premises of the Victorian Artists Society. It was a large gallery to fill and I recruited a small team of helpers to realize some of the exhibits. One of my assistants was a beautiful undergraduate in a cobalt-blue shift and provocatively laddered black stockings; her name was Germaine Greer. ... (Melbourne, Australia, late 1950s )

from More Please: An Autobiography, by Barry Humphries (Viking/Penguin, 1992)

Richard Neville, journalist Kneading my nipple

At a party I met a striking young woman whose hair escaped in a shock of dark anarchic curls. Tall and voluble, she flashed her IQ like a searchlight. My Hawaiian shirt, all the rage, was fetchingly unbuttoned to show off a tan.

'Aha, a male nipple.' She took hold of it between thumb and forefinger. 'See how it grows? Just like a dick.'

'Ouch,' I said.

'Nipples are a mass of erectile tissues,' she continued, as I tried to ignore the glances of onlookers. 'You should learn to masturbate all your male parts.' It was my first encounter with Germaine Greer.

Germaine was a brilliant student at Sydney Uni, where she was writing a Master's thesis on Lord Byron, though her expertise stretched far beyond the romantic poets and male anatomy. ... (Australia, 1965)

from Hippie Hippie Shake, by Richard Neville (Bloomsbury, 1995)

Clive James, television critic, essayist and novelist Stunning digs

Slightly older than I and already equipped with a degree from Melbourne, Romaine [Germaine Greer] had descended on Sydney University [in the early 1960s] while I was still a second year. Tall, striking and already famous for her brilliantly foul tongue, she had pursued graduate studies, libertarian polemics, and, for a brief period, me. At the risk of sounding even more conceited than usual, it is important that I record this fact, for a reason which will shortly emerge. At the time I was having published, in the literary pages of the Sydney University student newspaper honi soit, a lot of articles, poems and short stories conveying omniscience, poise and worldly wisdom. Publication was not difficult to arrange, because I edited those pages. Correctly intuiting at a glance that I was grass-green in all matters and emerald-green in the matter of sex, Romaine, at her table in the Royal George Hotel, took bets with the Downtown Push [a countercultural group which espoused libertarian sex and anarchist politics] that she could seduce me within twenty-four hours. Next day the news reached me before she did. When she appeared, striding like a Homeric goddess, at the door of the cafeteria in Manning House, I cravenly escaped through the side entrance and hid behind the large adjacent gum tree. The rumour that I hid up the tree was false but slow to die. .......

...Romaine Rand...had already taken another room [at Cambridge, mid 1960s] on the same floor as mine. Indeed it was the room next to mine. It was the big front room facing on to the street. In something less than a week, Romaine, who in another time and place might have run the sort of salon that Goethe and the boys would have swarmed around like blowflies, had already transformed her room into a dream from the Arabian nights. Drawing on her incongruous but irrepressible skills as a housewife, she had tatted lengths of batik, draped bolts of brocade, swathed silk, swagged satin, ruched, ruffed, hemmed and hawed. There were oriental carpets and occidental screens, ornamental plants and incidental music. The effect was stunning. Arisotle Onassis had married Jackie Kennedy in vain hopes of getting his yacht to look like that. Romaine, however, once she got her life of luxury up and running, did not luxuriate. She had a typewriter the size of a printing press. Instantly she was at it, ten hours a day. Through the lath-and-plaster wall I could hear her attacking the typewriter as if she had a contract, with penalty clauses, for testing it to destruction. As well as finalising her thesis, apparently, she was working on a book.

from May Week Was In June: Unreliable Memoirs III, by Clive James (Jonathan Cape, 1990)

Jay Landesman, dramatist and producer Uninhibited chutzpah

At another of [Nathan] Silver's invitations I met someone as provocative as [George] Steiner, with a line of intellectual one-liners that clearly marked her for a brilliant future as an academic stand-up comic. Germaine Greer arrived late, drenched from the rain, and then proceeded to strip off her wet blouse--she had obviously burned her bra. Even the women present recognized that quality of uninhibited chutzpah she was later to make her trademark. She was beautiful, she was funny, she was smart, and she knew it. After The Female Eunuch, the rest of the world knew it too.

We were completely taken by her. When she moved to London, we met occasionally, often in the oddest places. One night, in the Speakeasy, I watched her challenge Jimi Hendrix to an arm-wrestling match, and win. ... (late 1960s)

from Jaywalking, by Jay Landesman (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1992)

Ned Rorem, composer Poise and panache

Because I am evidently a token something, the Theater for Ideas invited me (late in the day) to sit among the elect in the first six rows of the Town Hall last night for their Women's Liberation Forum. .......

Germaine Greer came across the stage with a marvellous slouch, has poise, panache, posture, studied clothes and high beauty. Her keening on women-as-object this carries for more credence than if heard from, say, Betty Friedan. N'est pas objet qui veut. It seems disingenuous for a good-looking woman to complain of being "used" as sex-object when the situation cannot apply to her plainer sisters, a vast majority. To be desired is rarer and stronger than to desire: it implies far more. The beloved wields the whip, the rapist cowers. To be ignored is the final humiliation. (New York, 1971)

from The Later Diaries: 1961-1972, by Ned Rorem (North Point Press, 1983)

Susan Brownmiller, feminist and author Erudition, raunchy wit

The stage [in the feminist movement] was set for an uninhibited six-foot Australian who strode into view with a thrusting jaw, high cheekbones, and trendy designer costumes. Her name was Germaine Greer and she arrived from London bearing The Female Eunuch, a romping success in her adopted country due in no small part to the author's virtuoso talent for self-promotion. Greer had an uncanny knack in her public appearances for switching from erudition to raunchy wit while she crossed a bare leg and adjusted her stole.

Germaine was an improbable, self-made creation, a woman with a steel-trap mind and a self-professed lust who spun curious appellations for herself such as "Supergroupie" and "Intellectual Superwhore." A decade earlier she had migrated from Melbourne to Sydney in search of kindred spirits among the Push, a small counterculture movement devoted to libertarian sex, anarchist politics, and hoisting a glass at dockside pubs. Almost immediately she became one of the Push's leading female figures, admired for her quick mind and eccentric exhibitionism. "The thing about Germaine," a young Push woman once remarked, "is that she never menstruates. She hemorrhages once a month and gives you a drip-by-drip description." .......

I met Germaine twice, both times on television programs where I was asked to be part of the window dressing. Our interesting exchanges took place off-camera during the breaks. At Cannel 13, the public broadcast station, she looked me in the eye and levelled: "I've worked too hard all my life for this chance and I'm not going to blow it." Our second encounter occurred on a David Susskind Show. Germaine had stripped to a sexy tank top, the male and female guests were trading insults as expected, and the invited audience of movement women was keeping up the heat by screaming at Susskind to take his hands of Germaine's bare shoulder. ... (New York, 1971)

from In Our Time: Memoir of a Revolution, by Susan Brownmiller (The Dial Press/Random House, 1999)

Rosie Boycott, journalist and publisher Uninvited guest

The first issue of Spare Rib went to press on Rosie's twenty-first birthday. The black-and-white cover showed a picture of two women with no make-up, laughing and jaunty. In contrast to the glamour magazines it represented a new ideal; sisterhood, friendship, partnership. .......

Rosie's twenty-first birthday party went on till five in the morning. Seventy people squeezed into the flat, drank and smoked dope, tried to dance in the limited space and generally got wasted. The cast was impressive. Rosie was staggered when Germaine Greer arrived. Uninvited because Rosie had been too nervous to ask her, but there nonetheless. (London, 1972)

from A Nice Girl Like Me: A Story of the Seventies, by Rosie Boycott (Chatto & Windus/The Hogarth Press, 1984)

Kenneth Tynan, drama critic Full frontal evaluation

Germaine Greer visits us in Sardinia to discuss the adaptation of Lysistrata that I have commissioned her to make for the NT [National Theatre]. She talks about the eagerness with which magazines now print everything she writes: 'If I peed on the paper, they'd print the stain.' (1971) .......

Dinner at Drones with (among others) Germaine. She brings a nice little Australian girlfriend named Margaret. I congratulate Germaine on the nude picture of her in Suck which depicts her sitting facing the camera with legs apart and drawn up round her head like a wreath. I tell her (truthfully) that it turned me on far more than full frontals usually do. Germaine is prettily pleased, and bridles like an Edwardian miss whose portrait by Sargent is being praised. 'Did you like my cunt?' she says. 'I certainly did,' I say. 'And what about my arsehole?' 'I didn't notice it, darling.' 'Oh--it's there--rather large, I'm afraid--you can't miss it.' ... (London, 1973)

from The Diaries of Kenneth Tynan, edited by John Lahr (Bloomsbury, 2001)

Betty Friedan, feminist and author Naughty child exhibitionism

...The United Nations had sponsored the Year of the Ocean and the Year of the Child, we pointed out. Why shouldn't the United Nations designate 1975 as the Year of the Woman and have an international conference?

A preliminary meeting was held in Iran in 1974...I was invited to attend, as was the Australian writer Germaine Greer, author of The Female Eunuch.

I liked Germaine well enough. When she first came to America in 1970 to publicize her book, I had invited her out to the commune for a visit and to make her welcome. Her book was more problematic. The Female Eunuch was a combination of good stuff and a sort of naughty child exhibitionism, like having her picture taken nude in a bubble bath. ... .......

I don't know what set her off at the conference in Iran. She would claim later that at one point I purposefully kept everyone waiting when in fact I didn't think there was anything scheduled until evening so I had gone swimming. I didn't know that they were waiting for me to change my clothes. She also had a fit about my apparent commandeering of one of the few nebulizers in Teheran for my asthma when in fact I was having a rather bad asthma attack and simply asked if there was a nebulizer available. But goodness, she would later write the nastiest, bitchiest article about me in Vanity Fair. I still don't understand why. Perhaps it was because she thought I should talk about abortion all the time to women in Iran, and I didn't think that was the thing to do. You have to talk where people are at. You can't go that far ahead.

from Life So Far: A Memoir, by Betty Friedan (Simon & Schuster, 2000)

William F. Buckley, Jr., conservative commentator and television show host Trounced me in a debate

My...debate...with Germaine Greer...at the height of the feminist fever in the mid-seventies. There was a period of progressive suspense as Ms. Greer refused one after another resolution as suggested by the Cambridge Union. In desperation, the president of the Union called me in New York and asked me to suggest a formulation. I said, Why not "Resolved, The women's rights movement is at the expense of women." I received a telegram from Ms. Greer: She found my resolution "preposterous." This was followed by a second telephone call from the desperate president, asking me please to try again, as the Union was close by an urgent journalistic deadline: the BBC, which had undertaken to co-host the debate with Firing Line, absolutely needed the actual resolution for the newspapers.

I remember tapping out on my typewriter a telegram to the president: "How about 'Resolved, Give them an inch and they'll take a mile'?" But good sense intervened: I could not, in any debate involving a double entendre, prevail against the formidable Ms. Greer, who during the period was giving interview after interview to various journals, describing her (myriad) sexual experiences. In desperation, I suggested--knowing that the formulation was suicidal--"Resolved, This house supports the Women's Liberation Movement." That proved eminently satisfactory to Miss Greer. Nothing I said, and memory reproaches me for having performed miserably, made any impression or any dent in the argument. She carried the house overwhelmingly. She could have won on "Resolved, Man should be abolished." (Cambridge, England)

from On the Firing Line: The Public Life of Our Public Figures, by William F. Buckley, Jr. (Random House, 1989)

Elwood Glover, television talk show host Lively, thoughtful, intelligent

Tolerance seems more evident in Germaine Greer than when I first met her. She also seems less militant and when I suggested this [on CBC's Luncheon Date] she replied, "I'd like to be more militant but I don't know who to punch." She was very low key about 1975 being declared Women's Year. "We're not ready for it--maybe by 1980." I asked Miss Greer what was the primary message that the women's movement wanted to put across. "There is no simple message," she explained. "What we're looking for is the real texture of the female experience and so far it has always gone through a sort of male filter. There has always been a mask we put on; there have always been things we didn't say. I suggested to Miss Greer that what appeared to be antagonism toward men in the early days of the feminist movement seems to have dissipated. "Most feminists think our biggest problem is that we love men. And that because of the ludicrous situation that we're placed in politically and economically, we're forced to love them in a away which is beneath us, an ignoble way. We need them as much as we love them. We must cut down on the element of need and build up the element of genuine tenderness and tolerance." A lively, thoughtful, intelligent woman. (Toronto, 1975)

from Elwood Glover's Luncheon Dates, by Elwood Glover (Prentice-Hall, 1975)

Robin Morgan, child actor, poet and feminist On appearing in Playboy

...to Vienna to speak on a panel with...Germaine Greer at the next UN observance of March 8, International Woman's Day... .......

...during the panel Q-and-A, Blake [RM's son] politely asked Germaine Greer why she had granted an interview to Playboy when the magazine was built on contempt for women. Insulted (and hung-over), Greer fumbled her response rather badly, and the audience wound up discreetly hissing her but applauding her twelve-year-old questioner. ... (1981)

from Saturday's Child: A Memoir, by Robin Morgan (New York: W.W. Norton, 2001)

Kenneth Williams, comedian and actor Lovely creature

Friday, January 20

Taxi at 5:45 to Greenwood Theatre for 'Private Lives' [chat show] with Maria Aitken and Germaine Greer...Germaine is a lovely creature: a beautiful woman with a charming presence & full of good humour, but she's not a performer & while the programme (for her) would have been OK in a studio, with a live house in a theatre it was in sharp contrast to mine 'cos she didn't project. (London, 1984)

from The Kenneth Williams Diaries, ed. by Russell Davies (HarperCollins, 1993)

David Suzuki, geneticist and broadcaster Charming

...Meeting Germaine Greer was particularly memorable. She was in North America promoting her book, Sex and Destiny, and we wanted to film her for [the CBC's] "A Planet for the Taking." She had a gruelling schedule but we managed to make an appointment to interview her in Vancouver. We were told that we had no more than one hour. I was pretty nervous about meeting the notorious author of The Female Eunuch, but she turned out to be charming. We interviewed her in my house and she and Tara [wife] got on very well. After we shot the interview, she stayed on for a couple more hours talking about everything from genetics to children to English gardens. (mid-1980s)

from Metamorphosis: Stages in a Life, by David Suzuki (Stoddart, 1987)

Nuala O'Faolain, journalist, television producer and novelist Handsome and assured

...I went to a talk Germaine Greer gave in Dublin a few years ago, hoping to be inspired by her vision of new access to vitality around the age of fifty. The lecture theatre was packed with women, just as eager as I was, I presume, to listen to someone who spoke to our biological and cultural condition. It was worth going, if only to look at her, because he is so handsome and assured. But she chose, as prima donnas do, to confound expectation. She gave a rather dull academic talk. I want a more plausible prophet. I want to believe that old age is not to be dreaded. (early 1990s)

from Are You Somebody: The Accidental Memoir of a Dublin Woman, by Nuala O'Faolain (Henry Holt, 1996)

Marilyn French, novelist Warmth, sparkle, wit

...we drove to Essex to visit Germaine Greer. She was as warm and full of sparkle and wit as ever. She went out to the garden of her beautiful old house and cut herbs and made us a delicious pasta dish with tomatoes and herbs for lunch. That night, she took us to dinner at Newnham, the Cambridge College where she teaches.

I wished that evening that Virginia Woolf were still alive to learn that Oxbridge women no longer had to endure terrible food. ... (England, 1993)

from A Season in Hell, by Marilyn French (Ballantine Boooks, 1998)

Dana Cook is a Toronto editor and collector of encounters with the famous. His compilations have appeared in a wide range of newspapers, magazines and journals.

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