Remembering Alice Denham (1927-2016) in San Miguel
By Signe Hammer
Alice Denham was a paradox: the Playboy centerfold whose short story, “The Deal,” was published in the same issue. She first arrived in San Miguel de Allende by bus in the late 1950s—not long after that centerfold—to work on her first novel. She kept returning for almost 60 years.
“I really miss Alice, my hardworking, adventurous friend since the 1970s,” says longtime San Miguel resident Sue Beere. “Alice was 5-foot-2, 105 pounds, with a gentle southern voice and manner, a Phi Beta Kappa scholar, and a university professor. On the other hand, she wrote Sleeping with Bad Boys: A Juicy Tell-All of Literary New York in the Fifties and Sixties.” Bad boys in that 2006 memoir included James Dean, Philip Roth, and Hugh Hefner.
She was “a small, feisty woman with a big sense of the importance of writing,” recalls Spanish-professor emerita Elizabeth Starčević. “She called me ‘darling.’ She liked and spoke Spanish with my friend Getulio, who was her size.”
Alice met her second husband, John Brady Mueller, now her widower, in 1980. “Picked him up on the street in San Miguel,” she wrote. Her most recent book, Secrets of San Miguel (2013), tells juicy stories of her years here, “mostly true, fictionalized to be legally proper.”
She never stopped promoting her writing. That first novel, My Darling from the Lions (1967), republished in 2003 through an Authors Guild program, enabled her to give more readings and sell the books she brought to San Miguel. (She told me gleefully how she’d beguiled a customs inspector with the story of her centerfold; he never noticed her box of 40 books.)
Lucina Kathmann, PEN activist and former actress, recalls that Alice, helping her prepare a biography, told her, “Don’t say you appeared in some show, Honeychile. Say you starred in it.”
“But, Alice,” I said, “I was not the star.”
“Makes no difference,” said Alice. “You have to put your best foot forward.”
Yet if she “was extremely good at promoting herself, she was also generous in promoting others,” says author Deborah Kent Stein, who met Alice here in the late ’70s. “At readings, she would insist on introducing me to some writer or editor she had just met, someone she thought might be willing to help me professionally.”
Alice “was a supporter of PEN and freedom of expression and expressed her own views freely,” recalls Starčević, former president of San Miguel PEN. She also kept her sense of humor. “I’m world famous in San Miguel,” she would say to me, laughing.
“She never stopped writing,” says Beere. “The last communication I got from her, in December, said, “Feliz Año Nuevo … New Mexican story in spring Confrontation magazine. My historical novel, Bloody Florida: South Carolina & Scotland Settle During the Seminole Wars, will be published March 2016 by the Edgefield County Historical Society, S.C. At my advanced and grateful age!” Alice was irreplaceable. We won’t see her like again.