Role models of greatness.

Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Prince Johannes von Thurn und Taxis

Dateline 1979, Bavaria. Openly bisexual Prince Johannes von Thurn und Taxis (1926-1990) was the richest man in Germany and its largest land owner. His fortune cast a web of banks, breweries, enormous land holdings in Brazil, vast private forest lands (80,000 acres) in Germany, extensive fine art collections and eleven palaces and castles. The 53-year-old bachelor prince resided in his 500-room St. Emmeram Palace in Regensburg, some 60 miles northeast of Munich, where his family had lived since 1748.

In the fifteenth century his ancestors had developed a European postal system that earned them a great fortune. Soon the postal coaches began accepting paying passengers, so we get the term “taxi” from the family enterprise. For over 300 years the family held a monopoly on the postal system of the Holy Roman Empire.

The 12th-century Italian Dukes de la torre, based near Bergamo, were the ancestors of the Thurn und Taxis dynasty. Emperor Ferdinand III recognized the Thurn und Taxis line as successors to the Torriani dukes. The Italian word Torre (tower) became Thurn, and Tasso (badger) became Taxis, and their family tree dates back to 1445.

During WW II Prince Johannes served in German intelligence and was imprisoned by the British from 1945 to 1947. For the next 35 post-war years he kept a relatively low profile among his royal and noble peers. But after the death of his father in 1982, the prince became head of the Thurn und Taxis family as full inheritor, and he began to spend money like a Vanderbilt. His 210,000 sq. ft. palace was furnished with 400 clocks, maintained by a full-time servant whose only task was to wind them in perpetual rotation. All the windows were washed weekly. Johannes retained 70 liveried footmen and parked 20 cars in his garage. But his idea of a fun night out was to troll the gay bars in Munich.

Imagine then the surprise when he announced he was ready to settle down with an impoverished  distant aristocratic cousin, Countess Gloria Schönburg-Glachau, a high school dropout and onetime waitress some 34 years his junior. Upon their marriage she was 20 years old and three months pregnant with their first daughter. A second daughter arrived two years later, but Prince Johannes could not breathe a sigh of relief until Albert, their only son, arrived the next year.

Prior to the birth of a son, Johannes had a pressing inheritance problem. According to tradition, his wife had to be a noble descendant of the Holy Roman Empire who would bear him a son. Otherwise his fortune would be splintered into numerous fractions of its $2.5 billion value. When the prince ran into his distant cousin Gloria in a Munich café, a lightbulb went off. Gloria not only fit the bill of proper lineage, she was willing to accept his sexual preference for men. It was a win-win; she was rescued from poverty, and he would be able to keep his vast estate intact. Young Prince Albert II would be full-inheritor.

The couple lived a life of debauchery, a wild, hedonistic jet-set lifestyle. Gloria drove around town on a lipstick red Harley-Davidson. She sported outrageous clothing, makeup and hairdos, and she proudly bore the moniker “Princess T-N-T.”

Encouraged by her husband, Princess Gloria enjoyed a lifestyle of extreme decadence. In 1986 she spent $20 million on a three-day 60th birthday party for Johannes, crowned by a costume ball held at their St. Emmeram palace, where Gloria appeared as Marie-Antoinette.  She ordered a birthday cake lit by 60 pink, phallus-shaped candles, a not-so-subtle hint at her husband’s sexual preference. 500 guests had been flown in on private jets to enjoy days of over-the-top debauchery. Mick Jagger, J. Paul Getty Jr. and Saudi Arabian businessman Adnan Khashoggi were among the guests.

Prince Albert II was just seven years old when his father died of complications following two heart surgeries in late 1990. That day Albert became the 12th Prince of Thurn und Taxis and the youngest billionaire in the world. The 6'4" tall bachelor Prince Albert II turned 32 years old a few days ago, on June 23. He is an extraordinarily rich business man and professional race car driver (he has crashed a Lamborghini or two). Albert became full-inheritor of the Thurn und Taxis fortune on his 18th birthday in 2001.

Princess Gloria stands above her two daughters and son Prince Albert.

Prince Albert today makes his home at the ancestral Schloss St. Emmeram (below). At 500 rooms, it is the largest home in Europe still maintained by a princely family. It even contains a throne room and a riding hall for the practice and performance of extreme dressage.


Sources: Gloria, die Fürstin (Peter Seewald, 2004), Wikipedia & Tim Allis for People Magazine (1991)

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Bill Tilden, Tennis Champion

In 1920 Bill Tilden, who made no effort to hide his homosexuality, won the men’s singles title at Wimbledon. He was the first American to compete at Wimbledon and went on to win two more Wimbledon titles, in addition to seven U.S. championships. As well, he led U.S. teams to seven Davis Cup victories. From 1920 to 1934, Tilden was generally considered the world's greatest tennis player. In 1925, Tilden won an astonishing 57 matches in a row. Although Tilden lost part of his finger in an accident in 1922, he simply modified his grip and continued to play at the same level as before the injury. He won the moniker “Big Bill Tilden,” since he was tall and had a vast reach. His extraordinary serve was so powerful it was often compared to a cannonball.

A 1950 survey of sportswriters named Tilden the greatest tennis player of the half-century. Historically he is generally considered above the caliber of later champions such as Björn Borg, Pete Sampras and Roger Federer.

There was also an aura of scandal around Tilden, because of his sexual orientation. In Vladimir Nabokov’s novel “Lolita,’ Tilden is depicted as a has-been tennis champion with “a harem of ball boys,” whom Humbert Humbert hires to coach Lolita, knowing that the coach will not try to seduce her, due to his homosexuality. Nabokov told editor Alfred Appel that the novel’s anonymous tennis coach was actually a real person who had won three Wimbledon championships, was born in 1893, and died in 1953. Tilden is the only person who fits this description. The name of Nabokov's character is "Ned Litam", which is “Ma Tilden” spelled backwards.

Tilden incurred two scandalous arrests for sexual misbehavior with teenage boys in the late 1940s, and his career suffered because of it. He began traveling with hand-picked teenaged ball boys, and many clubs would not allow him on the courts. However, in 1945 Tilden and long-time doubles partner Vinnie Richards won the professional doubles championship; Tilden was 52 years old at the time.

Tilden was a devout believer in sportsmanship above all other aspects of the game, including the final score; he would readily (and dramatically) cede points to his opponent if he thought the umpire had miscalled a shot in Tilden's favor. He still remains the only known professional tennis player (perhaps the only professional at any sport) to have refunded money to a promoter when the gate was not as good as it should have been and it appeared the promoter was going to lose money.

He loved the glamour of movie stars. Tilden moved to Hollywood and coached Greta Garbo, Katharine Hepburn, and Tallulah Bankhead. He also became a good friend of Charlie Chaplin. Tilden played at Chaplin’s tennis parties, where he coached Errol Flynn, Joseph Cotten, Montgomery Clift, Spencer Tracy, and Olivia deHavilland.

He fashioned himself a master of genres outside the world of sports, never to successful ends. He wrote short stories and novels about misunderstood but sportsman-like tennis players, and dreamed of being a star on Broadway and in Hollywood. He appeared on stage as well as off, as a producer. Much of his vast earnings were invested in these pursuits, with failure the invariable result. He was also a contract bridge champ, musicologist and playwright. He was once quoted as saying. "If I had to choose between music and tennis, I'd choose music."

In 1953 he was preparing to leave Los Angeles for the U.S. Professional Championship tournament in Cleveland, Ohio, when he died of a stroke at age 60. He was buried at Ivy Hill Cemetery in his home town of Philadelphia, where he had been born into wealth and privilege. At the time of his death Tilden was living in a rented apartment in Hollywood with $288 in the bank, a tragic end to a great life. Tilden was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1959.

In 2004, a play titled “Big Bill,” based on the life of Bill Tilden, played at Lincoln Center in NYC. The playwright was acclaimed dramatist A. R. Gurney. Frank Deford's biography, "Big Bill Tilden: the Triumphs and the Tragedy" has been optioned for a film.

Fashion note: During the early part of the 20th century male tennis players dressed virtually indistinguishably from cricket players. Men wore cuffed white flannel trousers and white shirts, sometimes with v-neck or cable-knit sweaters to add an element of style. Bill Tilden is generally regarded as having been the first male tennis fashion icon, transforming the image of men’s tennis from a sport played by wealthy, leisured young men unable to handle the physical demands of team sports, into a man’s game played by the toughest athletes. Tilden’s enormous fame led many to emulate his style of dress, which included long shirts rolled up to the elbows, cuffed trousers and a selection of elegant sweaters.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Cary Grant & Randolph Scott - Part I

Deeply closeted Hollywood Lovers

Cary Grant and Randolph Scott

Cary Grant & Randolph Scot share an intimate moment outside their Santa Monica beach house (1930s).

Though he married women five times, movie star Cary Grant (1904-1986) enjoyed many gay relationships during his early career in New York and Hollywood. His most famous same-sex romance was with fellow actor Randolph Scott (1898-1987), the rugged star of numerous westerns.

Grant and Scott met at Paramount Studios in 1932 and were immediately attracted to each other. Soon after, they moved in together, sharing a house at 2177 W. Live Oak Drive near Griffith Park in Hollywood. The arrangement was explained away by studio public relations agents as a way for two young actors to “cut costs and share expenses,” even though both men could easily afford their own homes. Even after Grant’s marriage to Virginia Cherrill, the two men continued co-habiting. Cherrill simply moved into the house with the two lovers for the duration of her 13-month marriage. In her 1935 divorce settlement from Grant, she received $50,000, which was equivalent to 50% of their community property at the time.

Randolph Scott

Randolph Scott (above), beyond handsome.

Between liaisons with other men and women, Grant and Scott’s relationship endured, well known to their colleagues in the industry. In the late 1930s, Grant and Scott occupied a Santa Monica beach house at 1019 Ocean Front (since renumbered – now 1039). In fan magazines, they were  photographed together in domestic bliss, wearing aprons and cavorting pool side or on the patio. According to Grant’s biographer, they believed their public openness and flamboyance would raise them above suspicion of homosexuality. The public bought it, and Grant enjoyed a screen career as a suave ladies’ man for the next three decades, while Randolph Scott made popular westerns, always playing rugged, masculine characters.

Don’t miss My Favorite Wife (1940 - available from NetFlix), a film featuring Grant and Scott as co-stars in a screwball comedy. In this trailer for the movie, Scott appears with Cary Grant at the 1:45 mark.