THE LATER YEARS 1937 - 1976

A Grand Life with Tiny

While his first novel was hitting the bestsellers list, Cloete's fraught love life also took a fantastic turn. He met a petite American, Mildred Elizabeth West, a 22 year old fashion artist and divorcee. They later wed and she was his close companion until his death. She changed her name to the petname he called her by, Tiny.    

They met aboard the Normandie on the way to America in 1937 and Cloete initially thought their four day romance would be insignificant: ‘She was the kind of girl who would cause no trouble, someone I could not fall in love with, just a companion for the voyage.' But later he marvelled at how easily and meaningfully they had communicated, having both become disillusioned with religion and conventional society. He was amazed at how vulnerable they had been.

‘I had tried to possess Eileen and failed, with this woman there was a beautiful merging. I did not know at the time how deeply she had struck me.'

He contacted Mildred later in the summer and together they explored New York, where they eventually kept two adjoining but separate suites and shared only one. Their bond was so strong that they became convinced they had met before as lovers or twins.  

The married couple finally settled in Hermanus and were highly acclaimed on the social and literary scene in the Cape in the 1960s and 1970s. Tiny wrote two light-hearted books, Nylon Safari, about her adventures with Cloete in Africa, and How to catch a man. She could never equal the success of her husband but then, she never tried to.

While living in the Cape Cloete also re-established contact with his first wife, Eileen. After years of estrangement they developed an honest friendship that played out through cross continental letters. He dedicated both parts of his autobiography to both his wives.

Cloete admitted he found the fruits of career success astonishing: ‘For the first time in my life I was to find myself with some money, a position in society, my name in Who's Who. I was to meet a lot of well-known people, to travel, to make a thousand acquaintances and a few friends.'

In Depth