Monday, May 20, 2013
Hirschfeld was born to Jewish parents in the Prussian city of Kolberg (now in Poland) on the Baltic Sea. He studied modern languages in various German cities and eventually took his degree in Berlin in 1892.
In 1896, he wrote Sappho and Socrates, a pamphlet on homosexual love. The following year he joined leaders of the gay journal, Der Eigene (The Self-Possessed), to establish the Scientific Humanitarian Committee. Their first order of business was to work toward the overturn of Paragraph 175, the 1871 German law that criminalized male homosexuality. They collected more than 5,000 signatures on their petition to repeal the law, including such notables as Albert Einstein, Leo Tolstoy, Thomas Mann, Hermann Hesse and Rainer Maria Rilke. When their efforts failed in an unsuccessful vote before the Reichstag in 1898, Hirschfeld was so infuriated by the hypocrisy of certain members of parliament that he threatened to out some of those who had voted against it. The committee pressed on, working tirelessly to have their bill reintroduced repeatedly over the following decades. Unfortunately, they were never successful.
The Scientific Humanitarian Committee’s motto, "Through Science to Justice", describes an encompassing sexological platform that moves from acknowledgment of biological facts of human sexuality to a vision of a culture capable of coping with endless sexual diversity. Hirschfeld was convinced that scientific understanding of sexuality would lead to tolerance and acceptance of sexual minorities. Thirty-four years before Kinsey, Hirschfeld collected detailed information about sexual behavior in surveys from 10,000 people, and he published the results in his book, Homosexuality in Men and Women (1914).
During the height of the Weimar Republic, Hirschfeld co-wrote, co-funded and acted in a movie called Anders als die Anderen (Different from the Others, 1919), a silent film whose main character comes out to thwart his extortionist gay ex-lover, but subsequently loses his job and commits suicide. The project was intended as a polemic against Paragraph 175. The film's basic plot was used again in the 1961 British film, Victim, starring Dirk Bogarde (see entry in sidebar).
The Institute and its work also increasingly came to the notice of the Nazi party. At one point, following a lecture Hirschfeld gave in Munich, he was set upon by a group of Brown Shirts, who fractured his skull and left him for dead in the street. They were bent on eradicating the triple evils of socialists, homosexuals and Jews – and Hirschfeld was all three.
Then things got worse. Unfortunately, on the heels of Hitler’s ruthless elimination of a powerful band of hyper-masculine homosexuals (including many of Hitler’s friends) known as the “Night of the Long Knives”, the Nazis ransacked the institute’s archives on May 6, 1933, confiscating names and addresses. Four days later the Nazis held a massive book burning in Berlin’s Opernplatz, destroying the institute’s collection of 20,000 volumes and 5,000 images on the basis that they depicted “deviants” and “ideas that were un-German.” The institute’s buildings were confiscated and sold to the state. At the time Hirschfeld was on a lecture tour in Paris and never returned home. Hirschfeld learned of the ruinous acts while watching newsreels in a Paris cinema, seated next to his Chinese lover, Li Shiu Tong, who was also Hirschfeld’s life-long traveling companion and fellow researcher.
Barnhard Schapiro (left), a Latvian Jew, was the medical director of the Institute for Sexology at the time it was closed and plundered by the Nazis in 1933. Li Shiu Tong (right) was Hirschfeld’s young Chinese lover.
In France, on his sixty-seventh birthday in 1935, Hirschfeld died from a heart attack, and his remains were buried in a cemetery in Nice. Hirschfeld was survived by Li Shiu Tong, his young partner, colleague, former student, and heir, who lived until 1993. Li was eighty-six years old at the time of his own death in Vancouver. While Hirschfeld was on a round-the-world lecture tour, the two met in Shanghai, and despite the difference in age (Li 24, Hirschfeld 63), the attraction was immediate, and Li joined Hirschfeld’s tour as his “interpreter”. Li, the handsome son of a wealthy Hong Kong businessman, inherited Hirschfeld’s personal letters and effects.
That Which Is Hidden (1939) a novel by Robert Hichens, is based on the relationship between Hirschfeld and Li. The novel opens with the protagonist visiting the tomb of a famed Austrian sex expert, Dr. R. Ellendorf, in a cemetery in Nice. At the tomb, he meets the late doctor's protégé, a Chinese student named Kho Ling. The character of Ling refers to the memory of his mentor at numerous points in the novel.
In 1982, a group of German researchers and activists founded the Magnus Hirschfeld Society in Berlin, in anticipation of the then-approaching 50th anniversary of the destruction of Hirschfeld's Institute for Sexual Research. Ten years later, the society established a Berlin-based center for research on the history of sexology.
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Though he has not been involved in the realm of gay rights, his photography often addresses gay themes. He is noted for two innovations in artistic photography, which he developed in the 1960s and 1970s. First, he used a series of photographs to tell a story (Sequences, pub. 1970), and second, wrote text by hand above or below his photographs, giving information that the image itself could not convey (examples below).
The most beautiful part of a man’s body
I think it must be there,
where the torso sits on and, into the hips,
those twin delineating curves,
feminine in grace, girdling the trunk,
guiding the eyes downwards
to their intersection,
the point of pleasure. (1986)
The unfortunate man could not touch the one he loved
It had been declared illegal by the law
Slowly his fingers became toes and his hands gradually became feet
He began to wear shoes on his hands to disguise his pain
It never occurs to him to break the law.
His work is in demand and highly collectible. Elton John is one of the high profile collectors of Michals’ photographs.
Michals grew up in McKeesport, Pennsylvania (near Pittsburgh), to a Slovak immigrant family. Determined not to follow his father into the steel mills, he left home at seventeen on scholarship to the University of Denver and, after two years in the Army (driving tanks in Germany), took up residence in New York City, where he has lived a not quite quiet life for many decades, working his way into the textbooks of photographic history.
His photographs are highly manipulated, moody and often philosophical. Traditional photographers were aghast when Michals began writing directly onto his prints in his signature scrawl, thus creating an artistic scandal. Nevertheless, his work has been exhibited all over Europe and the U.S., and his globetrotting career is the envy of most professional photographers.
When The New Yorker hired him, at age 72, to photograph gay activist Larry Kramer, Michals revisited the house where he was born in McKeesport. The experience led to a book, “The House I Once Called Home” (2003 ), which Duane refers to as a “photographic memoir with verse”.
Michals lives in the Grammercy Park neighborhood of New York City with architect Fred Gorree, his partner of 53 years.
Friday, May 10, 2013
Montand became Reda Caire's private secretary and was his lover for nine months. Caire taught the uncultivated Montand a great deal about singing, stage presence, wardrobe, and the like. Helene Hazara, a cultural critic, radio hostess and expert on French chanson, reported that in Montand’s memoir, he wrote that Reda Claire had made advances to him, which he refused, but became his secretary. It was a cover-up attempt, and Brialy's recent outing of Montand's gay affair was no surprise to Parisians in the know. “In fact," Helene wrote, "everyone in show business knew that Montand had been Claire's lover. In the '50s, Montand used to make homophobic jokes about Reda, who called him up one day and said, 'If you say nasty things about me, I can also tell stories about you!' "
In an interview with the now-defunct French weekly Gai Pied in the 1980s, Montand admitted as a youth having had sex with boys "like all the boys from the Meditérannée".
Well, there you have it. Fancy a vacation in the south of France?
Tuesday, May 7, 2013
Attractive young men came to Los Angeles with the hope of Hollywood stardom. When the offers didn't materialize, many of them came to Bob Mizer's garage for a few dollars and a photo shoot that put them in the catalogue of the Athletic Models Guild. As his photographs and models became more and more popular, Mizer developed a trademark style that included projected backgrounds and lavish props. His mother and brother assisted his endeavors, and Mizer turned the family home into a haven for the young men he loved to photograph. After more than 20 years of work that showed no genitalia, he advanced to taking photographs of his models that displayed full frontal nudity, and sales skyrocketed. Even later he moved into hard-core content, and Mizer worked at his homoerotic craft every day until his death.
Model Dick Dubois, 1956
Mizer’s diaries, kept from the age of eight, make it clear that he was openly homosexual from his late teens, but until the age of 42 he lived and worked in his mother’s Los Angeles rooming house, where a strict ethical code prevented him from fully expressing his gay fantasies. For 24 years he worked in black and white and never showed a completely naked man, but following his mother’s death in 1964 Mizer plunged full force into the pleasures of male flesh, photographing fully nude men in explicit poses, often in psychedelically saturated colors.
In the 1970s and ’80s Bob Mizer’s compound, centered around the old rooming house, became home to dozens of his young models, who lived outdoors on couches and porch gliders among the chickens, geese, goats, monkeys, Roman statuary, cast off Christmas trees and other sundry props that featured in his increasingly quirky films and photography.
Upon his release from prison, Mizer continued working undeterred, founding the groundbreaking magazine Physique Pictorial in 1951, which also debuted the work of artists such as Tom of Finland and Quaintance. This was America’s first male physique magazine, and certainly the gayest. Mizer's photographs were playful, tame images of young men posing, flexing, wrestling, and goofing off, while in states of near nudity. On the surface, they were marketed as physique materials, supposedly intended for bodybuilding and physical culture adherents, but they were really targeted toward for gay men, walking a fine line as to what was legally permissible.
Models included future Andy Warhol superstar Joe Dallesandro and actors Glenn Corbett, Alan Ladd, Victor Mature. Throughout his long career Mizer produced a dizzying array of intimate and idiosyncratic imagery, some bereft of explicit content but bathed nevertheless in an unmistakable homoerotic aura, tributes to the varieties of desire. Mizer’s influence on artists ranging from David Hockney (who moved from England to California in part to seek out Mizer), Robert Mapplethorpe, Francis Bacon, Jack Smith, Andy Warhol and many others is only now beginning to be widely appreciated.
The bulk of the effects of Mizer's estate was unceremoniously thrown into a dumpster in 1992, after his death in Los Angeles. Fifty-year-old boxes of correspondence, studio props and personal artifacts from one of America’s most controversial artists were gone forever. Luckily the core of his life's work, consisting of about one million photographic negatives and thousands of 16mm films and videotapes, survived this irresponsible action and was boxed up and locked in storage for the next decade.
Bob Mizer’s mid-20th century photography helped shape the modern aesthetic and even some of the civil rights and censorship laws that we take for granted today. His classic images of muscled young men are reflected in today's advertising campaigns (Hollister, Abercrombie & Fitch), but in the 1940s, these types of photographs landed him in prison. Many Hollywood stars began their careers in Mizer’s studio, including sword-n-sandal film star Ed Fury, Glenn Corbett of Route 66, Andy Warhol’s protege Joe Dallesandro, and even former governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger.
His work mirrored our nation’s popular culture at the moment. Images of young hoodlums in leather jackets sneered across his photographs as Marlon Brando and James Dean brawled on the big screen. Mizer’s Greek statues and Roman gladiators mimicked the ancient world as Charlton Heston reigned on the screen in Ben-Hur. It was all very kitschy and delicious fun.
In 2003, through a series of fortunate mishaps, photographer and filmmaker Dennis Bell made the decision to keep Mizer’s work together by acquiring the remainder of the estate from a storage locker. This occurred just days before the contents were slated to be completely split apart and sold off piecemeal, which would have removed this material from the public eye forever. Bell founded the non-profit Bob Mizer Foundation and has become the new guardian of Mizer’s work.
The 1999 film “Beefcake” chronicled Mizer’s life and work.
This 93-minute docu-drama pays homage to the muscle magazines of the 1940s, '50s, and '60s – in particular, Physique Pictorial magazine, published by Bob Mizer of the Athletic Model Guild. It was inspired by a picture book by F. Valentine Hooven III (pub. by Taschen) and was directed by Thom Fitzgerald. The film features pastiche recreations of life at the Athletic Model Guild, mixed with interviews with models and photographers whose work actually appeared in the early magazines, including Jack LaLanne and Joe Dallesandro.