Behind the Mask: The Singular Life of James Dean's Analyst

Living back in Amsterdam, he once spent 35 guilders -- to be paid in seven monthly installments -- on a Guro mask from the Ivory Coast, which he possessed until his death. Muensterberger survived the Nazi occupation, because his girlfriend kept him in hiding. In 1947 he emigrated to the United States and became a successful psychoanalyst, treating patients such as James Dean and Nelson Rockefeller. He traveled some dozen times to Africa, moved to London in 1974 for a decade with his third wife, then moved back to the US, where he continued to practice as a psychoanalyst.

A Man Obscurred

After reading Zeitz's book, one is left wanting to know more about the private Muensterberger, who never fully removed his mask during his time with the young art historian. Where did he derive the self-confidence that propelled him through such an eventful life? How did he feel about living among the elite and being offered membership, for instance, into the exclusive London Century Club?

And one would certainly like to know more about a psychoanalyst who was bisexual but also married three times. About a man who left the girlfriend who risked her life for years to hide him from the Nazis, and whose third wife, a successful and composed woman, killed herself in Morocco possibly out of loneliness. And Muensterberger barely mentioned his father, who was deported and murdered in the Holocaust.

The best glimpses we have of what lies under the mask are descriptions by others -- by a German collector, for instance, who describes him as a "likeable rogue." Louise Bourgeous, on the other hand, once dismissed him as a "name-dropper" chiefly interested in "social prestige, wealth and the English aristocracy." Who was he really? That may remain forever hidden behind his masks.

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