Charlotte Selver
Charlotte Selver

Early Years in New York

Touching on a few weeks of her life in New York City in the spring of 1947, Charlotte Selver remembers getting help talking about her work from Ruth Cohn, the founder of TCI (Theme Centered Interaction); introducing Heinrich Jacoby to her friend, the homeopath Dr. Wilhelm Gutman; being present for the tears of a student, Bee Lamm, and those of Fritz Perls, who she met in March 1947.

In the spring of 1999, Charlotte and I went through her old appointment books, page by page, to see what she would remember about the entries. In this small excerpt I begin by telling Charlotte that, on March 1, 1947, the name Ruth Cohn appears for the first time in her schedule books.

SLG: “Call Ruth Cohn for decision.”

CS: Yeah, Ruth Cohn was a teacher of Carola when she was very young, and Carola was very young. And I met her and we became friends. And Ruth Cohn always said, “You must tell the people how you do what you do.” And I said, “I cannot tell it. I can only work.” And she said, “Now then, come every Wednesday morning at 8 o’clock to me and will work together.” And so I would come every Wednesday morning to her and she would asked me questions and I would answer them. And so, by and by, I became able to speak about the work.

SLG: Oh, that’s wonderful!

CS: Yeah.

SLG: So, she helped you find words.

CS: She helped me, yeah, that’s right. She was very helpful. She became a very good friend.

SLG: Dr. Gutmann.

CS: He was the president of the Society for Homeopathic Medicine. And he was a friend. My parents always wanted me to marry him. He was a – he was a little, now, how can I say it? He didn’t have really blood and bones in his.... he was very tall, and very thin and very delicate, and eh..... There was a beautiful thing with – he wanted to know what Heinrich Jacoby was doing. So he came to Switzerland to visit me and to go visit Heinrich Jacoby. And Jacoby said, “Let us go and make a walk together.” So, this very long.... and Heinrich Jacoby was very small. They both went off. And then, at last, when they came back, Dr. Gutmann said, “How terrible. I wanted to know what Heinrich Jacoby is doing but all what happened was that he knows now what I am doing. So Jacoby did not let him look into his cards. That was Dr. Gutmann.

SLG: So, how did you meet him?

CS: He – his parents lived in the same house as my parents. They were neighbors. And so they knew each other.

SLG: And you had dinner with Bee Lamm [Lamb? spelling?].

CS: Bee Lamm. . . . Yes. Bee Lamb was one of my students. A very, very powerful woman. Very intelligent. And . … .one day, when we were working, she began to weep. And I had her head in my hand. And . . . I did not ask anything, I just let her weep and she became quiet and then she wrote me a letter later, saying: “Nobody in my life has touched me so gently.” And we became quite good friends. She was a very, very intelligent woman. But she wanted to possess me.

SLG: Possess?

CS: Yeah.... And I wasn’t very much for being possessed.

SLG: Oh, here! For the first time: March 20, 1947, 7:30 pm: “Perls”

CS: Yeah. Fritz Perls….. yeah?

SLG: Yes.

CS: ... had come from South Africa back to New York. And he visited Erich Fromm. And he said he was very much interested in what he called the body. And Erich Fromm said, “If you are interested in the body you have to go and meet Charlotte Selver.” And so Perls came to me. And he was overwhelmed with the work. And I helped him, as a matter of fact, I helped him on, on – with second hand stores furnish his office in New York City and chose the curtains and helped him in many ways. And then in – otherwise he was coming to classes – not to classes, private sessions.

SLG: Yes.

CS: And he was overwhelmed, he wept. He actually wept. And he wanted me to work with his students always, before he would take them. And I said, “No, that you have to do yourself. I don’t want to do that.” Then he offered a big amount of money to my best student; this Teri Modlin, I think I have told you about her.

SLG: I don’t remember.

CS: And Teri also said no. And then he became my best enemy. And for years, for years we have – when we met in company, he had very big black eyes, he would stare at me and I would stare at him. No word, no sign of recognition, no greeting.

SLG: Because of that he was so angry?

CS: He was so angry. So … then, much later, when Esalen was started, we became friends again. He made such remarks [inaudible]: You – he said to me: “You have trouble with hearing? Go to Charlotte Selver! She will help you.” He was a beast. Besides that he had everybody in his bed. Not me!

CS: They would say: “Fritz is still the best kisser!”

SLG: Ohhh.

CS: He had such [inaudible] lips, you know. Just to think of him kissing was horrible for me.


Charlotte Selver Oral History and Book Project
Pathways of Sensory Awareness LLC
PO Box 185, Hancock, NH 03449, USA / Tel.: (603) 525-7289