Phyllis Playter (1893-1982)

Phyllis Playter in France, 1923
(photo courtesy of Louise de Bruin)

    ...for your old John's finding of his Phyllis 22 years younger than he is the most important event that ever happened to him for we exactly suit each other. I have so much of the wicked old woman in me and so much of the ex-cerebralist half-mad unrealistic imaginative sadist in me that any ordinary female would be intolerable but she has the brain of an imaginative artist & critic with the look of a Nymph or of that Egeria in a cave who was the aide de camp of Numa! (Letters to Henry Miller, June 1950)

    Phyllis Playter was born in Kansas City, the grand-daughter of pioneers who opened up the Middle West by building the first railroad from Pittsburg to Kansas City. Her father was Canadian by origin. He had mining interests but was also interested in literature. His daughter inherited his literary interests. Phyllis and John Cowper first met on March 25th 1921, probably at one of his lectures in Joplin (Missouri). She was then twenty-seven. In 1922, she took a job with the Haldeman-Julius company of Girard, Kansas. It is fascinating to learn that one of her first tasks was to proof-read John's One Hundred Best Books! From 1923 until his death, they would be living together, except for the times when John Cowper was lecturing. When she came back with him to England in 1935 they lived in very secluded places, in England first, and then in Wales, whereas her own tastes leaned to a life in a big city, for its concerts and theatres. She had incommensurable influence over his work, which he modified in the light of her criticisms and suggestions. In his diaries, she is most of the time referred to as the T.T. (the Tiny Thin or The Tao) but in the letters, he calls her 'my Miss Playter' or 'Phyllis' or 'My American Phyllis, a staunch American citizen'. She survived him by almost twenty years. Admirers of John Cowper Powys's work owe her a great deal.

When she died, Dr. Glen Cavaliero, President of the UK Powys Society who knew her well wrote:
Phyllis Playter, who died on March 10, was for over forty years the companion of John Cowper Powys.
A woman of unusual charm and intellectual distinction, she came from Kansas, where she acted as reader for Haldeman-Julius, publishers of the Little Blue Books, to which Powys was a contributor.
She combined an adventurous, pioneering spirit with a perceptive appreciation of literature and the arts, and accompanied Powys back to England in 1934, following their five years together in up-state New York, where A Glastonbury Romance, Weymouth Sands and Autobiography were all written.
After Powys' death in 1963 she continued to live in their tiny house at Blaenau Ffestiniog, North Wales, offering warm hospitality to the many scholars and devoted readers of his work who came to see her there.
Those who had the privilege of her friendship will mourn someone to whose devoted companionship of a great writer we are probably indebted for the achievement of his finest work and who in her own right was a person it was both a pleasure and an education to have known.
(The Times, 30 March 1982.)