by Douglas Messerli
On Saturday, January 3rd, 2009 the world lost one its "great ladies"—as Earl Powell III, the former director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art once described Betty Freeman. She died in her Beverly Hills home at the age of 87 of pancreatic cancer.
Like so many wealthy citizens of Beverly Hills, Betty could have easily spent the rest of her life as the "housewife" type as David Hockney had portrayed her, a woman living in relative ease in her well-appointed home. And, in fact, Betty remained in that famed house for the rest of her life.
Yet Betty was anything but the iconic image Hockey had portrayed in his 1966 painting. In 1964, two years earlier, she met the American composer and inventor of unusual instruments, Henry Partch, who was living in his car. Freeman provided him with a studio and covered his living expenses for ten years until his death in 1974. She had already taken a great interest in contemporary music, and in 1961 contributed to the bail out of Fluxus composer La Monte Young, who had been arrested on marijuana charges in Connecticut. He responded by dedicating a work to her.
While Freeman was a magnanimous individual, with the ability to inspire a true dedication to the new, she was not without her eccentricities. People who attended more traditional concerts with her found her intolerant of older work. And in the last years of her life she had seemingly abandoned American composers for contemporary European figures, the fact of which understandably upset many friends.
Los Angeles, January 13, 2009
Reprinted from Green Integer Blog (January 2009).