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.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Alan Shayne & Norman Sunshine

Gay marriage is at the forefront of today's political battles, and a book was published Tuesday that puts a human face on this contentious debate:

Double Life: A Love Story
By Alan Shayne and Norman Sunshine

It’s a dual memoir by a gay male couple who have been in a relationship for more than 50 years. With high profiles in the entertainment, advertising and art communities, the authors share inside stories from film, television and media, featuring Marlon Brando, Rock Hudson, Laurence Olivier, Truman Capote and Robert Redford. A standout is their neighbor Rock Hudson’s generosity in lending the couple his house after a fire had made their own home uninhabitable for many months. A nosy Katherine Hepburn invited herself over to see what changes Rock Hudson had made to the house, since she knew the previous owner. The book is brimming with tantalizing anecdotes such as this.

“We both grew up at a time when homosexuality was not even spoken about,” the couple writes. “There were certainly no books that could help a young person understand that two people of the same sex could build a happy, productive and loving life together. We wanted to show people who were not gay that our life was not unlike theirs. We are all pretty much the same, so we deserve equal protection under the Constitution.”

Alan Shayne retired as President of Warner Brothers Television in 1986, following a career that included Broadway, playing opposite Lena Horne in his early years. As a leading casting director, he worked on such films as Catch 22, All the President’s Men and many others. At Warner Brothers, he shepherded long-running television series such as as Alice, Night Court and The Dukes of Hazard.

Norman Sunshine was a successful magazine illustrator in New York who went on to be a painter and sculptor whose works are in museums as well as in important private collections. In the early years of his career, he was vice president, creative director of an advertising agency, and coined the phrase, “What Becomes a Legend Most?” (for Blackglama Mink) as well as “Danskins are not just for Dancing.”

Upon the two men meeting in New York in 1958, “We didn’t want to live together,” says Shayne. “We didn’t have any examples of what a good love relationship between two men could be. And there was always the problem of hiding so no one would know we were gay. There was no question that if I were known to be gay, living with another man, it would make it more difficult for me to get work as an actor.”

As an artist, Sunshine was able to maintain a moderately out lifestyle. But when the first exhibition of his paintings in New York brought on a profile in The New York Times in 1968, he was photographed in the apartment that he revealed sharing with Shayne. At both his advertising agency and Shayne’s television production company, the article was met with icy, absolute silence.

Shayne and Sunshine flank their good friend and neighbor, Joan Rivers, who hosted their book release party at New York’s 21 Club.

Even in the 1970s, when Sunshine won an Emmy for the graphics and title design he had created for one of Shayne’s television productions, “Alan and I agreed it was not a good idea for us to be seen together at an industry event,” he remembers. “Alan, after all, was one of the very few homosexuals who had such a powerful, high profile job, and who lived openly with a man. Homophobia had its adherents and some ruthless climber up the executive ladder would certainly love an opportunity to use it…‘Better to be seen with a woman,’ we were advised by a very trusted friend. ‘Makes everyone more comfortable.’”

In 2008 the State of Massachusetts allowed the opportunity for the couple to be married on a beach in Nantucket. “We were like a long, empty, closed-up house where the windows have just been opened,” writes Shayne. “The fresh air thrilled through us, and after years of only being who we were in the privacy of our homes or with a few friends, we were out in the world, under the sky, no longer pretending. We were at last free.”

The couple also collaborated on several literary projects, including the popular Christmas classic, The Minstrel Tree (published 10 years ago), an old-fashioned family Christmas story. Equally popular with children and adults, it appeared in condensed form in Good Housekeeping magazine in December, 2001. That book, along with this just-published memoir, would make a fine pair of holiday gifts.

1 comment:

  1. I read the book, and found it very interesting, especially since I had never before heard of either man. It didn't matter if I was unfamiliar with them. Afterwards, I had a warm, fuzzy feeling inside. Well worth reading.