Maurice Sendak, the 81-year-old author/illustrator of one of the world’s most famous and beloved children’s books, Where the Wild Things Are, came out as gay last year in an article in the New York Times.
Now Lance Bangs and Spike Jonze, the director of the feature film adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are, which opens on Friday, have put together a documentary on Sendak, Tell Them Anything You Want: A Portrait of Maurice Sendak, where he talks about being gay and many other things.
The film, which premieres tonight on HBO, is very modest — less than an hour of what simply seems to be Jonze and Bangs with a hand-held video camera, asking Sendak about his life and work.
It’s also a fascinating portrait of a very dark, sometimes bitter, occasionally unbalanced artist who, in retrospect, seems to have been perfectly suited to revolutionize the field of children’s literature.
As for being gay, Sendak told the Times that he lived with the same man, psychoanalyst Eugene Glynn, for 50 years, until Glynn’s death in 2007. But he never told his parents he is gay and, while they were living, was terrified that they might find out.
"I don’t think I ever stopped beating myself up about [being gay]," he says the documentary.
When as a young man in his 20s he first realized that he was gay, he thought "more bad news" in a life of trauma and tragedy.
"I missed a lot of fun," he says. "To me, it’s dilemma. How do you cross the Alps, how do you have fun?"
His parents inability to accept his being gay — not to mention his
being an artist — is part of why Sendak says in the documentary that he
"hated" them. He says they never wanted to have kids in the first place
and were terrible at parenting, giving him a miserable childhood.
Clearly, this is part of the reason Sendak never wanted kids
himself. "If you don’t do it well, why do it?" he says.
Finally, there is Sendak’s eerie obsession with death, which is
nothing new — he explains exactly how it first arose in childhood — but it has
apparently become more profound as he himself grows older.
So how did this unhappy, neurotic man end up revolutionizing the world of children’s literature? Both Tell Them Anything You Want, the documentary, and Sendak himself agree that the answer is quite simple.
Next Page! The secret to Maurice Sendak’s success!