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.

Friday, October 21, 2016

U.S. Ambassador Gifford as reality TV star

My regular blog readers may recall a post from exactly a year ago reporting the marriage of Rufus Gifford, the U.S. Ambassador to Denmark, to his partner, a veterinarian named Stephen DeVincent, at Copenhagen’s city hall. Denmark just sort of yawned – no big deal.*

The front page of Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal, however, carried a feature article reporting the viral sensation of the ambassador’s reality TV show, “Jeg er ambassadøren fra Amerika” (I Am the Ambassador from America), which averages about 200,000 viewers per episode. So far there have been 10 installments. Ambassador Gifford won the Danish equivalent of an Emmy for his role, in which he muses about being a gay ambassador and his regrets at not seeing more of his husband, who spends long stretches of time stateside to attend to his job.

Contributing to the success of the show is that Gifford, 42 years old and Hollywood handsome, makes sharp, witty comments about what is essentially a boring job – there is virtually no strife between the two nations. The show has followed him around the grand ambassador’s residence, traveling home to Boston to see his parents, making sojourns to Greenland, celebrating a birthday, even spending a night with the elite Danish Frogmen Corps. Gifford steps into his limousine, he steps out of his limousine, he goes to the gym, etc. The series culminates with the ambassador’s wedding to his male partner. A 35-year-old Danish female fan of the show says she isn’t looking for false drama, like that of other reality shows, but that she savors the scenes when Gifford is at home with Mr. DeVincent and their dog, Argos. But there is that one time when Gifford strips down to his Calvins to change into a SWAT suit (not disappointing).

As a result of this show, Gifford’s celebrity in Denmark is such that people on the streets shout, “Hey, Rufus!” and ask him to stop for a selfie, completely forsaking the honorific of his office. And that’s the way he likes it.

All 10 episodes are available for streaming on Netflix: “I Am the Ambassador”. Note from your blogger: Ambassador Gifford is charming beyond description.

*Note: last year six gay male ambassadors currently representing our country gathered for an event at D.C.’s Newseum: Ambassador to Australia John Berry, Ambassador to the Dominican Republic James Brewster, Ambassador to Denmark Rufus Gifford, Ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Daniel Baer, Ambassador to Spain James Costos and Ambassador to Vietnam Ted Osius. All were appointed by President Obama and approved by congress. Amazing, since homosexuality was until recent times grounds for dismissal from foreign service. When President Bill Clinton nominated openly gay James Hormel for ambassador to Luxembourg in 1997, Hormel was strongly opposed by some Republican members of congress for his sexual orientation, and the appointment was thus stalled. Clinton then used a recess appointment to install Hormel as ambassador in 1999, making him the first openly gay ambassador to represent the U.S.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Walter P. Chrysler Jr.

Automotive industry heir Walter P. Chrysler Jr. (1909-1988) was the son of a man who had amassed a great fortune in founding the Chrysler Corporation. Walter Jr., knowing that he would inherit vast sums of money, could thus indulge his passion for collecting art, an obsession that resulted in transforming a minor provincial museum in Norfolk, Va., into one of the nation’s best, the Chrysler Museum of Art.

Walter Jr., who was a theatrical producer*, hung out in locations that had strong ties to the homosexual community. Although throughout his life he was a gay man trying to appear to live a life as a straight man, he had a home in Key West and displayed his growing art collection in Provincetown, Massachusetts, in a 19th-century church building he bought from the Methodists. The museum was nicknamed by locals as “The First Church of Chrysler” or “St. Walter’s”. The structure today serves as the Provincetown library.

*Among many others, he produced New Faces of 1952, which launched the careers of Eartha Kitt, Paul Lynde and Carol Lawrence.  Chrysler also produced the film "The Joe Louis Story." 

In 1956, Chrysler retired from business to devote his full-time attention to the arts. Soon thereafter an article appeared in Confidential magazine that exposed his homosexual activity, and there had been persistent reports that he had been discharged from the Navy because “he was found to be homosexual.” It was extraordinary for a healthy man to be discharged from the military during wartime.* Again, according to Earle, “That Chrysler led something of a double life was widely acknowledged. The fact that he was gay was noted by many of those who knew him professionally and personally. As Chrysler biographer Vincent Cursio mentioned, ‘ 1938 there was enormous social pressure on gay men to marry and give the appearance of living a normal life.’ ” Walter Jr. married twice, but there were no children. His first wife, Peggy Sykes, whose marriage to Chrysler lasted less than two years, left a man with few friends. She noted that the major love of his life was "art collecting." Peggy stopped inviting people to their home for socializing, because Chrysler would usually freeze out everyone, often refusing even to speak to their guests. Further alienation arose from his tendency to pay bills late, or not at all.

*Peggy Earle, “Legacy, Walter Chrysler Jr. and the Untold Story of Norfolk’s Chrysler Museum of Art.”

While a 14-year-old boy attending prep school, Walter Jr. purchased his first painting, a watercolor nude, with $350 in birthday money from his father. A dorm master considered the piece lewd and destroyed it – a Renoir! Undeterred, he continued to collect art, but there were scandals along the way. Many of the artworks he purchased and displayed were called out as fakes. For that reason, Newport, RI, refused to accept the gift of his collection, which had outgrown its home in Provincetown. In spite of such notoriety, Walter Jr. had impressive credentials – he had been a key figure in the creation of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. However, much of his personal collection had to be stored in warehouses and lent out to museums across the country.

Walter Jr.’s second wife was from Norfolk, and he had himself been a Navy man stationed there, so he ultimately found success in 1971 when he presented Norfolk, Va., with his impressive collection of 10,000 art objects, to be housed in the Norfolk Academy of Arts and Sciences, which had been built in 1932. A condition of the gift was that the academy be renamed the Chrysler Museum of Art. As New York Times art critic John Russell said, "It would be difficult to spend time in the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk, Virginia, and not come away convinced that the most underrated American art collector of the past 50 years and more was the late Walter P. Chrysler, Jr." Chrysler's collection is especially strong in art glass and incorporates a large body of Tiffany lamps. Louis Comfort Tiffany had been his neighbor when Walter Jr. was growing up on Long Island.

Walter P. Chrysler Jr. enjoying a light-hearted moment with artist Andy Warhol:

Update: Your blogger’s determined effort to enjoy yesterday’s splendid fall weather resulted in a drive to Warrenton, VA, a sleepy town in the center of fox hunting country. A brief conversation with locals informed me that North Wales, the estate formerly owned by Walter P. Chrysler Jr., had been sold recently. This morning I enjoyed researching the estate’s history to provide an update to this blog post about Mr. Chrysler.

In 1941, one year after his father’s death, Walter P. Chrysler Jr. used a portion of his recent inheritance to buy North Wales Farm (above), a fabled estate just outside Warrenton, Va., 45 miles west of Washington, DC (and a mere 30 miles from the home of your blogger).  With a purchase price of $175,000, the property soon saw further expansion and improvements. The recently divorced Chrysler spent an additional $7.5 million on the estate, expanding the property to 4,200 acres. At the epicenter was a 56-room stone mansion (38,500 sq. ft. including 22 bedrooms, 17 baths and 16 fireplaces), formal gardens, tennis courts, ponds, bridges, fountains, a racing stable of 40 stalls and a six-furlong race track, not to mention miles of stone and board fences enclosing more than 35 out-buildings.

While the oldest part of the house, dating back to 1776, was a mere 5-bay two-story stone manor house (above), the greatly expanded mansion of more than 50 rooms provided plenty of space for Chrysler to display highlights of his vast art collection of Monets, Picassos, Rodins, Braques, Matisses and the like. He then set about constructing more than 35 miles of internal, paved roads while adding a conservatory to the mansion (for his mother’s orchids), a swimming pool, an arcaded entrance to the equestrian center and a brick isolation barn. Under Chrysler’s ownership, North Wales, with sweeping views of the Blue Ridge mountains, essentially functioned as its own community, home to a commercial poultry operation and various agricultural enterprises. Although he also raised cattle and sheep, Chrysler ensured that the estate retained its fame as a center for fox hunting and thoroughbred horse breeding. The splendidly furnished mansion was the site of many lavish charity events. Chrysler remarried in 1945, and his new bride used North Wales Farm as a center for raising champion long-haired Chihuahuas. However, in 1957 Chrysler sold North Wales Farm, a year after he retired from business in order to devote himself full time to the arts. The following year he opened the Chrysler Museum of Art in Provincetown, Massachusetts, in a former church.

Now reduced to 1,470 acres, North Wales was purchased in 2014 by former Goldman Sachs partner David B. Ford of Greenwich, CT, for $21 million. The property is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Mr. Ford had made headlines eight years earlier when he purchased the 30,000 sq. ft. French neoclassical-style Miramar mansion in Newport, RI, built in 1915 for the widow of Philadelphia mogul George Widener. Ford currently owns both mansions, all the better to avoid a cramped lifestyle (38,500 + 30,000 = 68,500 sq. ft. of luxe living). Impressive. Ford is also Director of the Philadelphia Orchestra Association and Chairman of the National Audubon Society.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Cesar Romero

Tall, suave and sophisticated Cesar Romero (1907-1994) was a star of Hollywood films and television. At the start of his career he was known as the "Latin lover/gigolo" type in  a string of  film musicals and romantic comedies, but he was also famous as the rogue bandit, The Cisco Kid, in a spate of low-budget western movies. However, to a younger generation reared on television, Romero was best recognized for his role in the campy 1960s Batman TV series as the white-faced, cackling villain called The Joker. As well, he starred as a bumbling corporate villain in a series of Walt Disney comedies, such as The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1969). Fans and critics alike agreed that Romero was a major talent who proved himself an enduring and versatile star in a variety of roles during his more than 60-year career as an actor, dancer and comedian.

He was also a deeply closeted gay man to his fans. When he was interviewed by author Boze Hadleigh, Romero gave a revealing, often comic account of what life was like in the Golden Age of Hollywood for a closeted gay man (in Romero's instance, also Catholic and Latino). Because he was "out" to all his entertainment industry colleagues, it was often stated that Romero's homosexuality was Hollywood's worst kept secret. That interview is included in Hadleigh's book, Hollywood Gays.

Cesar Romero was born to wealthy parents in New York City in 1907. His Italian-born father had made a fortune as an importer/exporter of sugar refining machinery, and his Cuban mother was a concert singer. Romero’s first job after attending Collegiate and Riverdale County Schools was as a ballroom dancer, and for years he served as the dancer/escort of major stars such as Barbara Stanwyck, Marlene Dietrich, Joan Crawford, Carmen Miranda, Lucille Ball and Ginger Rogers.  Romero first appeared on Broadway in Lady Do (1927), and his first film role was in The Shadow Laughs (1933).

His life was a full-out pursuit of superficial social events such as art exhibit openings, movie premiers and fashion shows. At the time there was a running joke that Romero would attend the “opening of a napkin.” He was uniquely equipped for this lifestyle, since he was handsome, tall (6-ft. 2-in.), suave, wealthy, witty and a real fashion plate. His wardrobe contained more than 30 tuxedos, 200 sport coats and 500 tailored suits. He practically lived at the Ambassador Hotel’s Coconut Grove nightclub (Los Angeles), dancing and flirting the night away. Romero’s signature trimmed moustache was so identified with his persona that he refused to shave it off for his TV role as the Joker in the Batman series. Makeup artists grudgingly applied the heavy white facial makeup on top of his moustache.

He took a break from his acting career during WW II to serve in the U.S. Coast Guard in the Pacific (at left) but immediately returned to his acting career. Ever charming and discreet, Cesar Romero earned the reputation as the quintessential "confirmed bachelor," although Hollywood insiders knew all about his long-term relationship with Tyrone Power (photo at end of post) , Gene Raymond and other actors of screen and stage. As an interesting aside, Romero’s Hollywood social nickname was “Butch.” I’m not making this up.

Critics and fans generally agree that Romero's best performance was as Spanish explorer Cortez in Captain from Castile (1947). In 1953 he starred in the 39-part espionage TV serial Passport to Danger, which earned him a considerable income from a lucrative profit-sharing arrangement. Although Romero became quite wealthy and had no further need to work, he could not stay away from the cameras. He surprised everyone in Hollywood by taking on the role of The Joker in the hugely successful TV series Batman (from 1966). He also guest-starred on dozens of TV shows, including Rawhide (1959), 77 Sunset Strip (1958), Zorro (1957), Fantasy Island (1978), Falcon Crest (from 1985) and Murder, She Wrote (1984).

Romero died of a pneumonia-related blood clot on New Years Day in 1994 in Santa Monica, California, just six weeks shy of his 87th birthday. He has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: at 1719 Vine St. (for television) and at 6615 Hollywood Blvd. (for motion pictures).

Tyrone Power (left) and Romero on a trip to South America (shown below).

Note from your blogger: In researching Romero’s life, I was surprised how many writers used the words, “rumors of homosexuality.” Romero’s sexual orientation is based on fact, not rumor or speculation – he freely admitted his homosexuality during his lifetime and allowed writer Boze Hadleigh (Hollywood Gays) to write about his dalliances with other gay or bisexual men. Many fans of Hollywood stars dismiss reports of their favorites’ homosexual activity, but they fail to realize that, for most stars, a public “outing” would have been the end of their careers. Those who knew about a star’s true sexual orientation waited until the actor/actress was deceased to speak about it, out of respect for their colleagues’ careers. Hollywood is disproportionately populated by gays and bisexuals, on both sides of the camera.

Cesar Romero sings and dances his way through Romance and Rhumba (1941) co-starring Alice Faye and John Payne. Such roles were typical of his early movie career. Many examples of Romero's TV and film appearances may be found on