Alice Denham, New York author whose roots are deep in Edgefield, died January 27, 2016, at home. She was in her 80s and was just before coming to Edgefield, in March, to do a reading from her new book being published by the Edgefield County Historical Society.
Denham was a subscriber to The Edgefield Advertiser for many years, having visited here with her husband John as early as in the 80s. Her very first visit predates John. It was following her graduation from UNC. Her father brought her here to her roots, pointing out to her the name Simkins found near the town square. Simkins was the early ancestral line, among several, that she so proudly claimed.
It was after Denham’s graduation from Rochester College, where she received a Masters in English, that she went to New York City to find work as a writer. Her great regret was that a woman could not find work in that capacity so easily – women had to start out as secretaries in that day, not to her liking — so she, being a striking beauty, began modeling to bring income. Along the way she became intimately connected to many of the New York intelligentia and famous artists, resulting in a book published in 2006, Sleeping with Bad Boys. Among those she knew well were James Dean, Norman Mailer and William Gaddis.
Her acquaintance eventually with Hugh Hefner gave her the opportunity to publish a story in the Playboy magazine. She is the only centerfold to ever have that distinction, of having a story published along with the centerfold photo.
The Advertiser editor first met her, following correspondences and phone calls initiated by Denham, at the Algonquin Hotel in NYC in January 2005. Alice was anticipating at the time a return to Edgefield to read from her books in progress, one being the historical novel which at that time was named Bloody Florida (the name has since changed).
In addressing her early writing and being published in Playboy, Ms. Denham stated: “I would not have to do that today, [to survive as a writer].” She noted she “would be an assistant editor or a freelance writer, neither job available to women in the time of her arrival in New York (early 50s).
(In the interview her husband John was asked what were his thoughts about her having served as model for a centerfold. He answered: “She is much more than that.”
Ms. Denham was married twice, the first time was a difficult marriage and resulted in an early book My Darling From the Lions, This novel tells of abuse in marriage which was a rather hush-hush topic in the 60s. It was reprinted in 2009.
Sometimes called a lyrical writer, her style showed through well in Darling From the Lions and Secrets of san Miguel which brought her to the most recent trip to Edgefield (May 2014) for a reading. This memoir type novel (Secrets) is based in San Miguel de Allende, an artist colony in Mexico, where she and John first met and continued to journey there every year for summer writing among the colonists.
The book to be published by the local historical society is a historical novel that traces her family in Edgefield and Florida, where warring with Seminoles involved her family. She was due to read from this book next month, here, but she contracted cancer and died in late January. The very first line of the book, which she read for publication in 2005, began: “If Behetheland Butler Brooks Simkins Bird had known the gruesome fate of her son, Tom Bird, she’d have raced to Florida. . . . and never mind if Oakley Park rotted.”
It is believed that her husband John Mueller will be in Edgefield for the March event.