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, December 26, 2011

Archduke Ludwig Viktor

The Habsburg dynasty had a wee problem with inbreeding, resulting in a family that, how shall we say, lacked handsome physical attributes (translation: if not downright ugly, they were way weird looking). Archduke Ludwig Viktor was no exception. His only advantage was the fact that his older brother, Franz Josef, was the Emperor of Austria-Hungary.

The archduke (1842-1919) had a face only a mother could love (evidence above). After having produced three male heirs, Ludwig’s mom ignored the fact that he wasn’t the girl she had wanted and dressed him like one. As if not to disappoint her, he grew up gay as a goose. It didn’t help that everyone called him Lutzi-Wutzi (pronounced Loot-see Voot-see). He was an impetuous pleasure-seeker whose life revolved around the theatre and collecting art and antiques. He wore women’s clothing (photo below; thanks, mom!), kvetched and gossiped incessantly and couldn’t be trusted with a secret from anyone. His über-vain sister-in-law Sissi, adored by the Austrians as an antidote to their dull, stuffy emperor, was initially kindly disposed toward Ludwig Viktor, until things she told him in confidence got back to her. It got so bad that she eventually refused to have a conversation with him unless a third party was present to verify what transpired. Incredibly, Sissi’s favorite sister Sophie was singled out as a possible bride for Ludwig Viktor (yeah, right), but she rejected him, only to become engaged to and then dumped by another gay Ludwig, the King of Bavaria, Ludwig II, of Neuschwanstein fame. It appears poor Sophie seemed destined for tragedy; she eventually died in a fire in Paris. I’m not making this stuff up.

Trivia: In related tragic family news, another of Ludwig Viktor’s older brothers, Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico (emperors seemed to run in the family), was assassinated by firing squad while on assignment in Mexico City in 1867.

Photo at right. Yep. Just who you think it is.

But I digress. At age 21, the archduke needed new digs to host his notorious and extravagant “stag” parties, so he built an Italian Renaissance palace on the new Ringstraße, the grand boulevard encircling central Vienna sited along the path of the recently razed city walls. Built on Schwarenbergplatz just two blocks from the State Opera House, Ludwig Viktor’s city palace, designed by famed architect Heinrich von Ferstel, had a glaring deficiency – it had no swimming pool. This oversight gave the archduke reason to patronize a nearby public establishment, the Centralbad, Vienna's "largest and finest bathhouse." The archduke, a frequent visitor, went there regularly for “Turkish baths.”

Ludwig Viktor’s homosexuality was an open secret. Even his brother Franz Josef joked about it. But in 1906, at the age of 64, the archduke was slapped and knocked to the ground by one of the young Centralbad* patrons, an athletic middle-class man, apparently as the result of an unwanted advance by the archduke. Ludwig Viktor used his family ties to have the young man arrested, but it was determined that the man’s actions were warranted, and he was released from jail. When informed of his brother’s scandalous behavior, Emperor Franz Joseph became extremely angry and banished Ludwig Viktor to the archduke’s summer palace, Schloss Kleßheim, a former residence of the Archbishops of Salzburg, and ordered him not to return to Vienna during his brother's lifetime. Ludwig Viktor was also forced to resign his patronages, and most of his staff was moved to other positions.

*Trivia: the Centralbad is now the Kaiserbründl, one of Europe’s most luxurious gay saunas. Kaiserbründl means "Emperor's Well." Again, I’m not making this up.

At Schloss Kleßheim (above) Ludwig Viktor finally had a grand blue and white pool installed. He invited army officers to use it, but could never seem to find swimsuits for them to wear. In Salzburg the archduke eventually won the hearts of the locals for his charitable efforts, and by an amazing coincidence, outlived the Habsburg empire, dying in 1919 on the first day of the post-WW II conference in Versailles, which would abolish the royal order of which Ludwig Viktor was one of the most “entertaining” representatives.

Both of Ludwig Viktor’s palaces can be visited today. Schloss Kleßheim was used as a dance school in the 1920s, but the Nazis later took it over as a guest house. The scene of a number of meetings between Hitler and Mussolini, the palace was notoriously riddled with listening devices. During the Cold War, the neutral Austrian government used Schloss Kleßheim to hold conferences and host international guests, among them U.S. President Richard Nixon, who met here with Chancellor Bruno Kreisky on his way to Moscow in 1972. It now serves as Salzburg’s main casino.

As for the Vienna palace on Schwarenbergplatz (above), the military used it as an officer’s casino before the First World War. Ludwig Viktor would turn over in his grave if he saw the TGI Friday’s on the ground floor (below), but he’d take more kindly to the fact that today, the palace’s great hall functions both as a rehearsal space for the Burgtheater and alternative venue for the theater’s smaller productions. The restaurant (below) and theater entrances (above) are around the corner from each other. With only two hundreds seats, “Burgtheater im Kasino,” as it is known, offers a small and intimate setting for one of Vienna’s best theater companies.

1 comment:

  1. In her memoir MY OWN AFFAIRS (1921) Princess Marie of Belgium claims (pp. 103-107 of the English edition) that L-V developed a lustful fixation on her, propositioned her at an Austrian court function, and when she turned him down (married, you see) he turned into her persecutor out of jealousy. This seems extremely unlikely as L-V was known by all to be gay as pink paint.