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.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Thomas Mann

Thomas Mann (1875-1955) was perhaps the greatest German novelist of the early twentieth century. In 1929 he won the Nobel Prize in Literature for his novels Death in Venice*, Buddenbrooks and The Magic Mountain (Buddenbrooks had sold more than a million copies in German before the Hitler era). Mann was referred to as the “heir to Goethe” during his lifetime.

Because his wife was Jewish, his family fled to the U.S. after Hitler took power in Germany; the Nazi Party revoked his German citizenship in 1936 in response to Mann’s public denunciations of Nazi politics. After teaching at Princeton in New Jersey, Mann moved west to California. Mann subsequently became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1944. From 1941-1953 he lived in Pacific Palisades above Santa Monica, California, a dozen miles west of downtown Los Angeles. A few years ago I tracked down two of his former homes at 740 Amalfi Drive and 1550 San Remo Drive, both in Pacific Palisades. I parked the car and peeped through the shrubbery, like a true stalker. The houses remain private residences, so be cautious if you want to mimic my questionable behavior.

While in California Mann recorded a series of anti-Nazi radio speeches, which were broadcast from Britain, so that they could reach German listeners. Ironically, the FBI kept a file on Mann from the late 1920s until his death in 1955, primarily to track any communist leanings. The last three years of his life were spent in a town close to Zürich, Switzerland.

Homoerotic, often unrequited, love was a significant feature in much of his writing. In Death in Venice (1912), for example, an older man’s hopeless affection for a young boy leads to tragedy. Mann’s personal experience contributed to that story: in the summer of 1911, Mann had been staying at the Grand Hôtel des Bains on the Lido of Venice with his wife and brother when he became enraptured by the angelic figure of Władysław Moes, an adolescent Polish boy.

Papers that were unsealed twenty years after his death revealed that Mann had been exclusively homosexual through his late twenties, and that Mann remained intensely attracted to men throughout his life. His diaries told of his struggle with his sexual orientation, as when he described his feelings for the young violinist/painter Paul Ehrenberg as “the central experience” of his heart. Shattered by the failure of this homosexual relationship, Mann fled into marriage, repressing for decades his homosexual yearnings. Nevertheless, at the age of 53 Mann fell in love with a 17-year-old boy, Klaus Heuser. At the age of 75 (!), Mann set his sights on a young waiter at a hotel in Zürich, immortalizing him in “Felix Krull.” After Mann’s diaries were unsealed, German reporters tracked down the waiter and found him working at the St. Regis Hotel in NYC. The aging hotel employee became a minor celebrity in Germany and appeared on television numerous times.

Embarrassingly, Mann’s diaries were embellished by sketches of shirtless gardeners, soldiers, and even his own son Klaus, who was a homosexual drug addict who ultimately committed suicide, as did another of his sons. Mann had three daughters and three sons, all of whom were bisexual or homosexual. Each became an artistic or literary figure, as well.

Thomas Mann achieved a cult status during his lifetime, a status that seemed to intensify after his death. Although there was always a net of latent homosexuality cast over Mann's life, his most ardent heterosexual fans chose to dismiss it as probable gossip or wishful thinking on the part of Mann's gay fans. The publication of his once-sealed diaries put an end to that line of thought.

*Death in Venice was made into both a 1971 film and an opera, the latter written by homosexual composer Benjamin Britten in the early 1970s. Britten's last opera, the work is unusual in that it is written for only three singers: a tenor (Von Aschenbach), a counter-tenor (the voice of Apollo) and a baritone who covers all the other roles; the young Tadzio (the object of Von Aschenbach's lustful obsession) and his family are portrayed by dancers. Excerpts from a production at Teatro La Fenice in Venice are contained in the following video:



The trailer for the 1971 film Death in Venice, directed by Luchino Visconti and starring the great homosexual actor Dirk Bogarde:



Thomas Mann (Quote from Death in Venice):
Solitude produces originality, bold and astonishing beauty, poetry. But solitude also produces perverseness, the disproportionate, the absurd and the forbidden.”

The entire novel Death in Venice can be downloaded in English translation for free at:
http://www.ebook3000.com/Death-in-Venice_59705.html
There is a link for a PDF format download as well (Rapidshare), using Adobe Reader software.

2 comments:

  1. Very nice article, I just finished The magic mountain and I just thought: this man was certainly gay. So I checked out wikipedia and what do you know, close to no reference at all on his homosexuality. It's great there is a site that presents gay people of value that can serve as role models to other gay people

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  2. The issue of the cause of Klaus Mann's early death is unresolved. Current writing (Spotts) would suggest that it was perhaps a drug overdose rather than suicide

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