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, September 24, 2020

Herbert May



Herbert A. May (1891-1968), an executive vice president of Westinghouse, was a socialite and avid fox hunter who liked to entertain at Rosewall, his 28-room mansion in Pittsburgh. When his wife died of pneumonia in 1937, he was left to raise three young sons and an adopted daughter. In the ensuing years he enjoyed a quietly successful career in the railroad and banking industries and became a patron of the arts. May was head of the Pittsburgh Civic Opera and enthusiastically pursued his interest in ballet

After a gap of 20 years, he married for a second time, and he rose to fame with this social upgrade. His bride was none other than Marjorie Merriweather Post (wedding photo, above), one of the richest women in the world. On June 18, 1958, the couple married at her daughter’s Maryland estate. In a reply to a congratulatory telegram from her granddaughter, Marjorie replied, “Walking on fluffy pink clouds.” The reception was held at Hillwood, Marjorie's Washington DC estate. It featured an orchestra and a ballet performance. The latter should have sounded alarm bells.

Herb was the last of her husbands – number four – and at age 67* on his wedding day, he was four years younger than Marjorie, who was vibrant, energetic, youthful looking and the undisputed queen of Washington DC society. Her philanthropy kept the capital city alive. But Mr. May kept a big secret from Marjorie. He actively engaged in homosexual activity.

Although Marjorie had been warned, she brushed it off as mere gossip. After all, Herb had been married and fathered three sons. Although she had met him thirty years earlier, she was happy to become reacquainted in 1957, two years after her acrimonious divorce from diplomat Joseph Davies. There was much to like about Herb. He was handsome and silver haired, but fit. As well, he was soft-spoken, diplomatic, charming, well-liked and kind.  He loved parties and loved to dance, and he had mastered the art of blowing through money. Herb had told his children not to expect any inheritance.

Before the wedding, Marjorie’s daughter had been told that Herb was homosexual, and some of Marjorie’s friends repeated tales about Herb’s attachment to a certain male dancer from the Washington National Ballet and one of his handsome male personal secretaries. Incredibly, Herb brought this secretary along on their honeymoon (!). Still, none of this deterred Marjorie. She was at the peak of her power in Washington, and Herb shared so many of her interests, while serving as a partner for entertaining in carrying out her various duties associated with her numerous charities.

Mr. May was the poorest of Marjorie’s four husbands (the second  had been E. F. Hutton), so she set up a trust fund for Herb. She was attracted to his intelligence, patronage of the arts, success in business, etc., but she was really won over by his warmth, enjoyment of people and his obvious pleasure in her company. They were both tall, thin, elegant and handsome people who looked for all the world like a king and queen. 

But Herb did not want to abandon his home and family in Pittsburgh, and Marjorie did not want to leave Washington, where she exerted major influence. They compromised by agreeing to commute between the two cities, and Marjorie retired from the board of General Foods, the primary source of her fortune. This gave her time for concentrating on ramping up the cultural scene in Washington, which she thought to be woefully inadequate for a capital city. She installed her husband as chairman of the board of the National Ballet, from which Herb was soon selecting individual male dancers for special interest and attention.


Marjorie's plane, named the "Merriweather":




However, Herb soon did Marjorie a huge favor by helping her overcome her fear of flying. She had been commuting to Pittsburgh by train, but for one trip Herb arranged for one of his company planes, a Lockheed Lodestar, to transport Marjorie to Pittsburgh. The flight was ultra smooth, and the weather was calm. A half hour into the trip she told her husband that she was enjoying the flight, then a few minutes later said to him, “Herb, I want one.” He explained that a plane like that cost several million dollars, plus a crew and maintenance. She replied, “I didn’t ask how much it costs. I want one.” Shortly thereafter she purchased a British-made Vickers Viscount turbo-jet (above) powered by four Rolls-Royce turboprop engines, capable of accommodating 44 passengers. Herb suggested the name "Merriweather", his wife’s middle name. 

She was best pleased. Of course, she ripped out all those economy class seats and refurnished the interior as a living room, with sofas, chairs and tables. Instantly, this became her favorite mode of transportation. She began using “Merriweather” to transport all her friends to and from her estates in Palm Beach and the Adirondacks.


In a short time, however, cracks began to develop in their dream world of connubial bliss. Herb grew to resent Marjorie’s restrictions on alcohol, and he complained about it. She was known to be notoriously stingy with cocktails and wine at her parties, which were otherwise lavish beyond description. To the amazement of her guests, she subsequently extended the cocktail hour to a full thirty minutes and began stocking guest rooms at her retreats in Florida and New York with liquor. As a life-long Christian Scientist, her personal limitation of alcohol consumption remained a steadfast personal practice, but she was eager to please Herb. 

Marjorie also included Herb’s four children in stays at Mar-a-Lago (Palm Beach, Florida) and Top Ridge (the Adirondacks in New York). Mar-a-Lago, the spectacular winter social haven, had been shuttered since Marjorie’s divorce from Joseph Davies in 1955, but Herb talked her into reopening it in 1961. Marjorie was thrilled once more to be at the top of the heap of Palm Beach society. However, it was there at Mar-a-Lago (below) that Herb was to meet his downfall.




Mar-a-Lago is now owned by Donald Trump, who runs it as a very profitable membership club.

Herb was well aware that, by being married to Marjorie, he had become one of the most powerful men in Washington. But trouble was brewing. In spite of her age, Marjorie had a voracious sexual appetite. Herb was complaining to friends that he was astonished that a woman in her seventies desired daily sex. Also, by the 1960s Margaret Voigt, Marjorie’s social secretary who ran all of her social affairs, had become Marjorie’s most powerful staff member. Herb and Marjorie’s children voiced concerns that Margaret had become too influential as the social gatekeeper for access to the heiress. Margaret even ate at Marjorie’s table. When Herb made the mistake of criticizing Margaret’s inefficient office practices, a resentful standoff ensued. Shortly thereafter, a set of photographs arrived on Marjorie’s desk. They showed graphic evidence that Herb was a practicing homosexual.

The pictures showed Herb naked as he cavorted with much younger men and boys around the oceanfront pool of Mar-a-Lago. Next a blackmail attempt was made, with threats to publish the incriminating photographs unless hush money was paid. Marjorie was astonished and equally surprised that her daughter, actress Dina Merrill, knew about Herb’s proclivities before the marriage had taken place. Nevertheless, friends and family knew that until that moment, Herb and Marjorie had enjoyed a warm, romantic and sexual relationship.

With irrefutable evidence presented to her, Marjorie decided that divorce was the only option. By 1964, it was a done deal. Their marriage had lasted a scant six years, and Marjorie was relieved to have the embarrassing incident behind her.

She was not vengeful, however. When Herb suffered a stroke after the divorce, Marjorie paid all the medical bills and provided an apartment in Fort Lauderdale, where Herb lived until his death in 1968*. And she continued to be in contact with Herb’s children, particularly Peggy, who had formed an especially close relationship during the marriage. Marjorie’s loyalty to Herb’s children was mutual, and they knew they were fortunate to be allowed to maintain a relationship with a great lady. Marjorie died in 1973, at age eighty-six.




*Note: 
The New York Times obituary, published on March 13, 1966, offered facts that clash with those stated in Rubin’s book. According to the Times, Mr. May died at a hospital on St. Thomas at age 71. He had suffered a stroke while on a cruise. If he had been 71 years old in 1966 (the year of his death), he would have been born in 1895, making him eight years younger than Marjorie, who was born in 1887. Yet Rubin declares that May was four years younger than his wife – 67 years old to Marjorie’s 71 years on the day of their marriage. She also stated that he died in 1968, whereas the NYT obituary was published on March, 13, 1966. Typos, perhaps?
 

Sources:
American Empress – Nancy Rubin (1995)
http://www.paulbowles.org/marjoriemerriweatherpost.html


Monday, August 31, 2020

Steven Saylor a.k.a Aaron Travis

Steven Saylor (b. 1956, photo above) is a Texas-born gay author of popular historical novels about ancient Rome. He studied history and classics at the University of Texas at Austin, where he graduated with honors in 1978. From 1979 he wrote heavy S/M gay erotic fiction under the pen name Aaron Travis. This year fourteen of the Aaron Travis books have been re-published in Nook and Kindle e-reader formats. One of the short stories, “Blue Light”, a psychological mind-bender, has become an S/M classic. Every gay man should acquaint himself with this 35-page tale of erotic seduction fantasy; trust me, this story will remain in your head for days and weeks: $.99 in Kindle format.

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0076F14KC/stevensaylorwebsA

In the early 1980s, following a move to San Francisco, Saylor became an editor at Drummer magazine, a popular gay S/M publication at the time. He explained in a later interview that the erotic fiction he wrote in his twenties emphasized the seriousness with which he undertook the task, stating, “I probably did more actual rewriting on those stories than anything I've done since, because for me, writing erotic fiction is like writing a piece of music, because if one note is wrong, you lose the audience.”


His porn writing is highly intelligent and atmospheric, but also brutally sadistic at times. His characters come together not just for intercourse, but to play mind tricks on one another (as well as on the reader). He dives into your subconscious, grabs hold and completely wrings it out – a rape not of the body, but of the mind.

In his short story “Eden”, a young man has a fantasy about a reunion with a classmate named Bill. Even this short sample indicates that Travis is head and shoulders above the average male porn writer:

“Bill would open the door, smiling. I would step inside and throw down my duffel bag. Then he would take me in his arms and kiss me – for the first time, because we had never kissed. He would undress me, and when I was naked, he would push me to my knees. I would look up at his face, so happy to be back – he would take out his cock and tell me to suck it. I could close my eyes and see it. After such a long time apart, he would want to reclaim my ass. I could tell him, honestly, that no one else has had it, as I walked naked to his bed to lie face down, spreading my legs for his cock....

It wasn’t really Bill’s cock I was lusting for. It was Bill. His cock was just the part of him that he gave me to love.”

“Blue Light”, the BDSM tale mentioned above, is a story in which a top loses control of a scene; it's a psychological terror, the equal of an Edgar Allan Poe horror story. Proof that Saylor/Travis could wrote porn of high literary quality lies in this description of a penis from “Blue Light”:

“It hovered over me, white and thick. It was perfect, like the rest of his body. Alabaster white and enormously thick, tapered slightly at the base. The head was huge. The skin was pearly white and translucent, as smooth as glass, showing deep blue veins within. The circumcision ring was almost unnoticeable, the color of cream. The shaft looked as hard as marble, but spongy and fat, as if it were covered by a sheath of rubbery flesh. I could feel its heat on my face.”


The Aaron Travis erotic novel “Slaves of the Empire” gave glimpses of his later (non-erotic) historical novels published under his own name. The best known of them is Saylor’s Roma Sub Rosa series of thirteen novels set in ancient Rome. The first was published in 1991, and the most recent in 2016. The hero is a detective named Gordianus the Finder, active during the time of Sulla, Cicero, Julius Caesar, and Cleopatra. He has also written two epic-length historical novels about the city of Rome: Roma (2007) and Empire (2010). These books have been published in 21 languages and have earned numerous awards, including Lambda Literary Awards, the Crime Writers of America Ellis Peters Historical Dagger Award, the Herodotus Award from the Historical Mystery Appreciation Society, and the Hammett Award of the International Association of Crime Writers.

Saylor has lived with fellow University of Texas student Richard Solomon since 1976; they registered as domestic partners in San Francisco in 1991 and later legally married in October, 2008. The couple shares residences in Berkeley, California, and Austin, Texas.


The Seven Wonders, a prequel to the Roma Sub Rosa series, dates from 2016. Synopsis: In the year 92 BC, Gordianus has just turned 18 and is about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime: a far-flung journey to see the Seven Wonders of the World. Gordianus is not yet called “the Finder” – but at each of the Wonders, the wide-eyed young Roman encounters a mystery to challenge his powers of deduction. Gordianus travels to the fabled cities of Greece and Asia Minor, then to Babylon and Egypt. He attends the Olympic Games, takes part in exotic festivals, and marvels at the most spectacular constructions ever devised by mankind – encountering murder, witchcraft, and ghostly hauntings along the way.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Composer Francis Poulenc

French composer Francis Poulenc, who engaged in a long string of homosexual relationships, was born January 7, 1899, into a wealthy Parisian family. In 1920 he became a member of a group of young composers dubbed “Les Six.” The others were Darius Milhaud, Arthur Honegger, Georges Auric, Germaine Tailleferre, and Louis Durey. Their music was a reaction against the music by the Impressionists (Debussy and Ravel) and late Romantics (Wagner, Puccini, etc.).

During the late 1920s Poulenc first acted on his homosexuality when he met painter Richard Chanlaire, who became his lover. Poulenc’s second lover, the bisexual Raymond Destouches, was a chauffeur and dedicatee of several of Poulenc’s compositions.
Musicologists suggested that Poulenc considered gay sex impure and thus had a difficult time with making homosexuality his identity.

The success of his 1924 ballet score for Diaghilev’s “Les biches” (The Deer) led to the commissions of his Concerto for Two Pianos* (1932) and the Organ Concerto (1938), both commissioned by fabulously wealthy lesbian American expatriate Winnaretta Singer, known as Princesse Edmond de Polignac. The organ concerto was premiered in the music salon of her private home, which housed a pipe organ. Famed organist Maurice Duruflé was the soloist.

Poulenc would later have a brief affair with a woman known as Frédérique and have a daughter by her in 1946. They did not marry. In a tour of the United States Poulenc met a friendly gay couple, Arthur Gold and Robert Fizdale, accomplished duo pianists who commissioned the Sonata for Two Pianos (1953). Poulenc found tours difficult, because they separated him from Lucien Roubert, his lover who died of pleurisy in 1955, just after Poulenc completed his masterpiece, the opera “Les dialogues des Carmélites.” In 1957 he met his last significant lover, Louis Gautier, who helped to revive his spirits. In that year, Poulenc produced his Flute Sonata (middle mvt. in YouTube excerpt below). 

Poulenc also composed a significant body of first-rate art songs, numbering more than 200; they remain staples of the genre.

"Hôtel" from a set of five songs "Banalités" (1940). Régine Crespin.



Leonard Bernstein commissioned Poulenc to write "Sept répons des ténèbres" (1961) for the opening of the Philharmonic Hall (hence  known as Avery Fisher Hall, now David Geffen Hall since 2015) at Lincoln Center, NYC. Shortly thereafter Poulenc died of a heart attack on January 30, 1963. One of the most honored composers of his time, he left an enduring legacy.

 

Sources:


Poulenc: A Biography by Roger Nichols

Poulenc: The Life in the Songs by Graham Johnson

 

*French conductor Georges Prêtre championed the works of Poulenc. I’ll never forget a performance in Paris (November 2004) of Poulenc’s Concerto for Two Pianos, selected by Prêtre to be performed on his 80th Birthday concert at the magnificently restored Art Deco masterpiece, the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées. Prêtre owns this piece. Here he conducts the Orchestra National de la RTF with the composer (piano on the left) and Jacques Février (piano on right) in the first movement of the concerto for two pianos.


Next: Poulenc at the piano with Jean-Pierre Rampal on flute (Rampal was the dedicatee). This middle movement of Poulenc's Flute Sonata (1957), marked Cantilena, is typical of his light, accessible style. This sonata has the honor of being the most often performed work in the entire repertoire of pieces written for flute and piano.