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.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Roger Vadim, Daniel Gélin & Christian Marquand

...sowing their youthful, bisexual oats

In 1949 Roger Vadim (photo at left) was living in Paris with his best friend, actor Christian Marquand. At the time Vadim had worked as a stage actor and journalist, but had not yet become a film director. The two were having lunch on the terrace of La Coupole, a former hangout of Hemingway and Henry Miller in Montparnasse. They noticed a startlingly handsome man seated alone at a nearby table, where he had removed his shoe to massage an aching foot. At the time Marlon Brando was having an affair with one of the waiters, Jacques Viale. Vadim and Marquand overheard Brando muttering in English and introduced themselves. They knew nothing of Brando’s recent success on Broadway, taking him for an out of work actor bumming around Paris. When Brando mentioned that he was suffering in an uncomfortable fleabag of a hotel,* Vadim and Marquand invited Brando to come live with them, and all three became intimately acquainted, if you get my drift. In fact the normally heterosexual Marquand soon became besotted with Brando. Christian Marquand (photo below) became best known to English-speaking audiences in Lord Jim (1965) and Apocalypse Now (1979). Marlon introduced his new friends to his waiter friend, Jacques Viale, who joined their circle. Viale later said that his time with Brando and his friends was the greatest moment of his life. “It was all downhill after Brando.”

Roger Vadim told his friends that during the previous month he had stayed at the legendary Hotel du Cap Eden Roc** (Antibes), where a 32-year-old man from Massachusetts claiming to be the son of an ambassador to England moved into his room, sensing that this was where all the “action” took place. Jack and Roger shared many a three-way with the most beautiful women of the French Riviera. As with Brando, Vadim did not realize the fame of his new-found friend. John Kennedy had yet to be elected Senator and, ultimately, President. Interestingly, in the late 1960s the Hotel du Cap’s address became 10, boulevard John F Kennedy, when the street leading to the hotel was renamed after him.

All this was before Vadim captivated three of the world’s most voluptuous women: in 1952 he married Brigitte Bardot, in 1961 he began an affair with Catherine Deneuve (who was 17 at the time, half his age) and in 1965 he married Jane Fonda. Vadim would later cast his friend Christian Marquand opposite Brigitte Bardot in his groundbreaking film, And God Created Woman (1956). He likewise cast wife Jane Fonda in his sci-fi film Barbarella (1968), based on French comic book stories. A real hoot, but hot stuff, nonetheless!

Vadim later wrote a book about them: “Bardot • Deneuve • Fonda: My Life with the Three Most Beautiful Women in the World (1986).”

But I digress. When Roger and Christian moved to larger quarters in Paris, they took in another actor, Daniel Gélin (at left), to help with expenses. Even though Brando and Christian were immersed in a deeply sexual and emotional relationship, Brando set his sights on Gélin, as well. He was an easy, willing target. Ironically, Gélin later had an illegitimate daughter, actress Maria Schneider, best known for playing Marlon Brando’s young lover in Last Tango in Paris (1972). Schneider met her father only three times, so took her mother’s last name. Two years after Last Tango in Paris was released, she declared her bisexuality; Schneider died of cancer in Paris earlier this year. Late in life Brando said, “I have truly loved only three men in my life: Wally Cox, Christian Marquand and Daniel Gélin. All others were merely ships passing in the night.”

In a way this youthful exploration of various facets of one’s sexuality was evocative of the atmosphere of all-male British boarding schools, where most of the students had physical and romantic relationships with each other. It was taken for granted that they would divest themselves of such activity after they left school, and women became available, but many did not. These schools were veritable hotbeds of bisexual activity.

*In fact, Brando was holed up at the Hotel d’Alsace in the very room in which Oscar Wilde had died penniless and disgraced (numbered rm. #16 today). This building now houses one of the most elegant Left Bank hotels and restaurants of Paris, named L’Hotel at 13, rue des Beaux-Arts. Once a fleabag, perhaps, but after a stunning transformation by decorator Jacques Garcia, this hotel is today an expensive indulgence. The on-site eatery (at the back of the ground floor), Le Restaurant, holds a Michelin star, but the elegant bar located between reception and the restaurant gets my vote as one of the chicest places on Paris for an early or late evening drink. A favorite pastime of mine is playing cards at one of the bar’s upholstered alcove banquettes to the left. Be sure to visit on your next trip to Paris, if for no other reason than to soak up the vibes of Wilde and Brando – not to mention former guests Salvador Dalí, Princess Grace, Frank Sinatra, Jorge Borges and Elizabeth Taylor & Richard Burton.

When Oscar Wilde and Marlon Brando occupied this room, it was a dreary fleapit. Now suite #16 at l'Hotel in Paris is all romantic luxury (photo below). The framed letters above the lamp on the desk are requests from management demanding that Wilde pay his bill, and the large peacocks painted above the wainscot are exceptional. Oscar Wilde died in this room in 1900, and Marlon Brando occupied it in 1949.

Note: A trip from the ground floor bar to the washrooms involves a descent by a stone semi-circular staircase to the basement. On my first visit I was astonished to find myself standing in an elegant circular subterranean  lounge with draped openings ringing the room. None was marked, and all the draperies were closed, so I went about opening them one by one, looking for the toilets. To my shock (and to that of the guests, as well), I was staring at a group of naked bathers, who were enjoying a sensual dip in the stone-walled indoor hammam pool. Oops. This hotel is small (20 rooms) and achingly romantic. The standard rooms are quite snug, but over-the-top luxurious. It's one block from the Seine on a quiet street that runs between Rue Bonaparte and Rue de Seine. It is the only hotel I know of where the (candle-lit) pool may be reserved for a guest's private use. If your budget cannot accommodate a long stay, try a night or two here before moving to less costly digs. You won't regret it.

**Unfortunately, I have yet to stay at the Hotel du Cap Eden Roc. Aware that this famous hostelry was where Gerald and Sara Murphy had hosted Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald (fodder for a later post), I dropped by in the mid 1990s to inquire about a room, but was told, to my amazement, that they did not accept credit cards. Imagine! This archaic policy was not dropped until 2006.