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.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Titanic Memorial: A Tribute to "Friendship"

Just a few yards from the White House south lawn sits a little-known monument related to the ill-fated passenger ship Titanic, which struck an iceberg on its maiden voyage on April 15, 1912. Described as a “tribute to friendship,” this fountain along E St. honors Francis Davis Millet and Archibald Butt, two men who went down with the vessel, selflessly assisting women and children as the ship sank. Millet was 60, and Butt 46 at the time of the tragedy.

The two “devoted friends” shared a house in DC, even though Millet had married (his wife lived elsewhere). Butt described Millet as “my artist friend who lives with me.” Their only recorded spat was over the wallpaper Millet had chosen for their home (too many red and pink roses for Butt’s taste). Their live-in Filipino houseboys served presidents, cabinet members, ambassadors and Supreme Court justices during lavish parties and dinners the male hosts were famous for. President Taft wept openly when he learned that Butt had perished in the Titanic tragedy, yet the two well-connected men have been forgotten with the passage of time.

The joint monument is a stone fountain designed by the sculptor Daniel Chester French and architect Thomas Hastings. Among other of French's works here in Washington are the seated statue of Lincoln inside the Lincoln memorial and the Dupont Circle Fountain. Hastings was architect of the elegant amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery, but his best known building is the New York Public Library. At any rate, the design team boasted impeccable pedigrees.

This memorial was paid for by funds raised privately by friends of the two men, both of whom were widely known in Washington's cultural, social, and political circles. Frank Millet (right), a skilled painter, was a member of the Fine Arts Commission who also directed the American Academy in Rome, Italy. Major Butt had been a military aide to both President Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. The fountain today sits not far from where Major Butt's White House office was located.

The two men had a tenant in their Washington home, a young diplomat named Archie Clark Kerr, who worked at the British Embassy. He returned to Washington 35 years later as Lord Inverchapel, the British Ambassador. Kerr caused quite a stir among diplomatic circles by suddenly disappearing to Eagle Grove, Iowa, to stay with a strapping farm boy Kerr had come upon while the lad was waiting for a bus on the streets of Washington. So there you have it.

Frank Millet had a studio in Rome in the early 1870s, and one in Venice a few years later. While in Venice Millet lived with Charles Warren Stoddard, a well-known American travel journalist and poet who had a sexual interest in men. Historian Jonathan Ned Katz published letters from Millet to Stoddard that confirm they lived a bohemian life together in a romantic and intimate relationship. But the most important relationship of Millet’s life was not with Stoddard or even his wife – it was with Archibald Butt.

Fast forward to the early spring of 1912. Millet and Butt (left) together boarded the steamship Berlin for a six-week trip to Europe. To say that they were a conspicuous pair is understatement. Butt wore bright, copper-colored trousers with a Norfolk jacket, fastened by big ball-shaped buttons of red porcelain, a lavender tie, a tall collar, broad-brimmed hat, patent leather shoes with white tops, a bunch of lilies in his buttonhole and a handkerchief tucked into his sleeve. The two men returned home to America together, too, in first class cabins aboard the “unsinkable” Whitestar liner RMS Titanic. On the night of April 14, the ship struck an iceberg and sank the next morning with Butt and Millet among the 1,517 victims of the disaster.

Although the intimate relationship between Millet and Butt was never mentioned publicly, it was common knowledge among Washington insiders, and the fact that their friends erected a joint monument to their memory is a remarkable and poignant tribute, considering the mores of the day.

The 8-foot tall marble fountain displays bas-reliefs of both men. On one side of the shaft placed atop the fountain is a military figure with sword and shield representing Major Butt, and an artist with palette and brush represents Millet. Besides being a memorial, the fountain was designed to double as a water fountain for the horses ridden by U.S. Park Police while on patrol.

Inscription carved around the upper rim of the fountain:

IN MEMORY OF FRANCIS DAVIS MILLET · 1846 - 1912 ·
AND ARCHIBALD WILLINGHAM BUTT · 1865 - 1912 ·
THIS MONUMENT HAS BEEN ERECTED BY THEIR FRIENDS WITH THE SANCTION OF CONGRESS

Friday, July 19, 2019

Keith Haring

Pop culture artist Keith Haring (1958-1990), was a gay man whose simplistic images were influenced by New York City graffiti artists. His art had a strong graphic quality, with figures or objects drawn in outline form with rays emanating from them – instantly recognizable the world over. Unfortunately, his short life was halted by AIDS, and he succumbed to the disease at the age of thirty-one.

Keith Allen Haring was born in Reading, Pennsylvania, and he was raised in a nearby rural farming community. He showed artistic promise from his childhood years, when he was an avid drawer of cartoons. As a teenager he became aware of Andy Warhol’s work and was fascinated by the prospect of mass-produced pop art that celebrated common objects. He moved to Pittsburgh after graduating from high school and it was there that he realized his homosexuality and art were interconnected, prompting a move to NYC, the center of both the art world and gay culture.


In the early 1980s he began creating his iconic graffiti drawings in the city’s subways. Haring worked at the Tony Shafrazi gallery, and in 1982 his employer launched his first major show, in which many of the works displayed homoerotic content. His images, bereft of detail, were ideal for social awareness campaigns, and his designs were soon used for UNICEF causes, AIDS prevention, literacy campaigns and even to fight apartheid in South Africa.

Within five years of his arrival in NYC, Haring’s popularity and unique artistic expression made him a rich man and a cultural celebrity. Madonna, one of his biggest fans, explained that Haring’s art had such a vast appeal because, "there was a lot of innocence and joy that was coupled with a brutal awareness of the world."

Among his projects included a mural created for the 100th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty in 1986, on which Haring worked with 900 children,  a mural on the exterior of Necker Children’s Hospital in Paris, France in 1987, and a mural painted on the western side of the Berlin Wall three years before its fall. Haring also held drawing workshops for children in schools and museums in New York, Amsterdam, London, Tokyo and Bordeaux, and produced imagery for many literacy programs and other public service campaigns.

Influenced by Andy Warhols’ commercialism, Haring opened the Pop Shop in NYC’s SoHo neighborhood, where products bearing his images could reach a mass market. Responding to critics who said he had “sold out” his art, Haring explained that fine art was an expensive commodity beyond the reach of the middle class, and his retail outlet allowed ordinary people to own his work. More than twenty years after his death, the Pop Shop lives on and has expanded to encompass Internet operations.

Portrait of Haring (at left)



Saturday, June 8, 2019

Umberto II of Savoy

Last King of Italy

The only son of Italian King Victor Emmanuel III, King Umberto II (1904-1983) is found on many lists of the shortest-reigning monarchs in history. He was regent of Italy from May 9 to June 12, 1945. Thus known as the “May King”, he was Italy’s last king before the monarchy was abolished and the nation became a Republic. After a dubious 1945 plebiscite, Umberto of Savoy was forced into exile in Cascais, Portugal, to avoid a civil war. His family ties to Musolini did not favor his fate.

Umberto had earlier entered into an arranged marriage to a Belgian Princess, carrying out a tradition common to European royalty, but he lived apart from his wife except for public appearances. It is confirmed that he spent his wedding night and entire honeymoon apart from his wife, instead enjoying the company of male “friends” to whom Umberto gave diamond-studded fleur-de-lis shaped mementos and jewels in the shape of the letter “U” (the fleur-de-lis was the symbol of the Savoy dynasty). Those young men flaunted the gifts in public. When Umberto later called on his wife, he was always in the company of someone else and had himself formally announced. Their first child was not born until after four years of marriage, and rumors persisted that they were born by artificial insemination or were fathered by men other than Umberto. Umberto and his wife kept separate apartments, separate beds and had separate circles of friends. Hmm...

He also engaged in relations with many homosexuals of both high and low born pedigree. Many of them were oung military officers, such as Enrico Montanari, who recounted that in the city of Turin during 1927, as a lieutenant he was persistently courted by Prince Umberto. Montanari wrote that Umberto gave him a silver cigarette lighter inscribed with "Dimmi di sì!" (Say yes to me!). Further, a biography of film-director Luchino Visconti revealed explicit details about the director’s sexual relationship with the Prince. Others have come forward with evidence that Umberto’s lovers included French actor Jean Marais and boxer Primo Carnera.


Various actresses have been forthcoming with details of how Umberto (1944 photo at right) surrounded himself with glamorous women to give the impression that he was a gallant playboy, but all of them said their relationships with Umberto were platonic, and that these “romances” were merely staged to deflect rumors of his homosexual activity.

When Umberto became ill in his late seventies, he was not allowed to return to Italy to die. His death occurred in 1983 in Geneva, Switzerland, but he was buried on French soil in the Savoy family tomb in Haute-Combe. No representative of the Italian government attended his funeral.

Source:
Giovanni Dall’Orto in “Who’s Who in Gay and Lesbian History” (Vol. I, 2001), edited by Aldrich and Wotherspoon.