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.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Hermann Kallenbach, Gandhi's Gay Lover
















Bodybuilder pal Kallenbach, on front row with hat on his knee, is seated next to Gandhi in a photo taken at a political reception in Durban, South Africa.



Hermann Kallenbach (1871–1945) was a South African architect who was best known for his close association with Mahatma Gandhi (Gandhi’s name was Mohandas – Mahatma is an honorific title). Kallenbach was a German-Jewish bodybuilder who moved to South Africa in 1896. He met Gandhi (who was then working as a lawyer in South Africa) in 1904 in a vegetarian restaurant and soon thereafter became the love of his life. In fact, Gandhi left his wife for Kallenbach in 1908.

Two years later Kallenbach, a rich man, donated to Gandhi a thousand acre farm near Johannesburg. The property was used to run Gandhi's famous "Tolstoy Farm" that housed the families of satyagrahis (those who countered evil by non-violent means). Abandoning the life of a wealthy, sport-loving bachelor, Kallenbach adopted a simple lifestyle, vegetarian diet and the equality politics of Gandhi. In Gandhi’s autobiography he frequently referred to Kallenbach as his “soulmate,” a euphemism if ever there were one. Gandhi’s personal life was rife with hypocrisy.

Gandhi wrote to Kallenbach that Kallenbach’s was the “only” portrait in his bedroom, and that he placed it prominently opposite the bed. “You have completely taken possession of my body,” Gandhi wrote in a letter. He made Kallenbach promise not to look lustfully upon any woman, and the two pledged undying love to each other “as the world has not yet seen.”    

Gandhi required members of his ashram to be celibate, even married couples. Gandhi said: 'I cannot imagine a thing as ugly as the intercourse of men and women." He bragged that he was capable of “lying naked with naked women, however beautiful they may be, without being in any manner whatsoever sexually excited.”Gandhi also endeavored to bring his "feminine" side to the surface and extolled androgeny.

Right. So that explains it.

When Gandhi returned to India in 1915, Kallenbach was unable to get permission to travel to India, since England and Germany were at war. Even so, Gandhi never gave up hoping to get him back into his arms. Decades later Gandhi continued to write impassioned letters to Kallenbach, stating that “you are always before my mind’s eye.” Kallenbach reunited with Gandhi in 1936, when at last he was allowed to travel to India. He lived with Gandhi for weeks on end, and when Kallenbach became ill, Gandhi personally nursed him back to health.

Gandhi’s pet name for Kallenbach was “lower house” (to Gandhi’s “upper house”), and he signed each letter to Kallenbach with undying love.

Sounds like a “soulmate” to me.

The above details are revealed in Joseph Lelyveld’s new book about Gandhi: “Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi And His Struggle with India.” Knopf. 425 pages.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Prince Andrew of Greece

Queen Elizabeth II’s husband, Prince Philip the Duke of Edinburgh, had a mother who was born profoundly deaf and a father who was bisexual. His father, Prince Andrew of Greece (1882-1944), was a disgraced military commander, charged with treason for failure to carry out orders in the Greco-Turkish War (1919-1921) and subsequently stripped of his royal titles. Blamed for the loss of Greek territory in that disastrous war, he was imprisoned and sentenced to death. His wife, Princess Alice of Battenberg*, arranged for intervention by British King George V, who negotiated for Andrew’s release and ultimate rescue. The photo at right shows Prince Andrew and Princess Alice in 1905, two years into their ill-fated marriage.

Andrew had always lived a lascivious lifestyle, carrying on one affair after another with both men and women, so it is not surprising that he largely ignored his wife and children. After they drifted apart, Alice sent Prince Philip (at the age of nine) to England to be cared for by his relatives, the Mountbattens, while she and her four daughters returned to Germany. Prince Andrew lived out the rest of his life in exile in Monaco, all the while continuing a string of bisexual affairs. Prince Andrew, who had been near-sighted from his early days, was always seen wearing glasses, but in later years he sported a monocle as a dashing accessory. Before things fell apart, Andrew, tall and good looking, cut a fine figure with Alice of Battenberg, one of Europe’s loveliest princesses, as the photo attests. They were living in Corfu when their only son (their fifth and youngest child), Prince Philip, today's consort of Queen Elizabeth II, was born in 1921.

Andrew (shown in painting at left) had grown up the son of King George I (a German speaking Danish Prince and King of Greece) and the Russian Grand Duchess Olga Konstantinova. After his father was assassinated, Andrew’s brother Constantine became King of Greece. Unfortunately, Constantine was forced to abdicate because of his neutral stance during WW I, and Prince Andrew and his family lived in exile in Switzerland for three years, until his brother was reinstated in 1920. In the following year Prince Philip was born on Corfu.

Unfortunately, Andrew died before his son married the English Queen Elizabeth II in 1947, having succumbed to a heart ailment. He died at the Hotel Metropole in Monaco in 1944 and is buried in the gardens of Tatoi, the Greek royal residence to the north of Athens. Just before his marriage to Elizabeth in 1947, Prince Philip became a British subject, taking his mother's surname, Mountbatten, thus renouncing his right to the Greek and Danish thrones. A more detailed chronology of Prince Andrew’s life can be discerned from the video at the end of this post.

Note: The current British Prince Andrew (born 1960) was named after his bisexual Greek grandfather. It is widely known that Prince Andrew is the favorite son of Queen Elizabeth, in spite of all that scandalous Fergie business.

*Prince Philip’s mother, Princess Alice of Battenberg, was born profoundly deaf at Windsor Castle in the presence of her great grandmother Queen Victoria. She grew to become one of Europe’s most beautiful princesses, adept at lip reading and speaking German and English. At the coronation of King Edward VII in 1902, Alice met Prince Andrew, ultimately marrying him in Darmstadt, Germany, the very next year. She spent her early married life in the turbulent political arena of Greece. After being ignored by her husband and shamed by his blatant affairs and political disgrace, she suffered a severe nervous breakdown and eventually entered the Greek Orthodox Church to became a nun, founding a female religious order. She creating quite a stir as a nun who chained smoked and played canasta. Princess Alice lived out her final years in Britain and died at Buckingham Palace, where she had been invited to live after the fall of King Constantine II of Greece (her brother-in-law) and the imposition of military rule there in 1967. Upon her death in 1969 she was interred in the royal crypt at Windsor Castle, but her wish to be buried in Jerusalem was finally realized in 1988, when her remains were transferred to a crypt below a convent in Gethsemane.

Princess Alice had attended the royal wedding of Queen Elizabeth II to her son Prince Philip in 1947, but her four daughters (Prince Philip’s sisters) were conspicuously excluded, because all of them had married German nobles, three of them high ranking Nazi officers. Oddly, Prince Philip never told Princess Diana that his mother had been born severely deaf, all the more astonishing in light of the tireless work Princess Diana did on behalf of the deaf community in Britain.

In this photo a young Prince Philip is shown holding his mother's hand. Philip learned sign language to be able to communicate with his mother. Prince Andrew is shown seated and surrounded by his four daughters. Philip was the only male child in the immediate family.


Prince Philip’s German ancestry was always problematic. When his sister Cécile died in a plane crash in 1937, her funeral was attended by Hermann Göring. There are photographs of the then 16-year-old Prince Philip at the funeral, surrounded by relatives in SS and brownshirt uniforms. Philip’s sister Sophia was photographed sitting opposite Hitler at the wedding of Hermann and Emmy Göring. Sophia herself was married to Prince Christopher of Hesse-Cassel, an SS Colonel attached to Himmler's personal staff. Their eldest son, Karl Adolf (Prince Philip’s nephew), was named in Hitler's honor. During WW I the Battenbergs “translated” their name from German to the English word Mountbatten (remember that Prince Philip’s mother was a Battenberg; "berg" in German means "mountain"). Accordingly, Prince Philip anglicized his name to Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten (the German House of Battenberg was a branch of the House of Hesse), to distance himself from his actual German family name of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg (on his father’s side). Similarly, the House of Hanover (German) changed its name to the House of Windsor. The late Queen Mother was strongly opposed to the marriage of her daughter Elizabeth to Philip, but eventually gave in to her daughter’s entreaties.

Prince Philip the Duke of Edinburgh and his young bride, Queen Elizabeth 11, in 1947.


The British royal family has spent more than sixty years trying to downplay or disguise Prince Philip’s infamous heritage. Queen Elizabeth II’s own grandmother, Queen Mary, had been born a German princess, and the British Royal family’s strong German roots caused uneasiness during the two world wars. Hoping to sweep all this German business under the carpet for good, in 1960 Queen Elizabeth II decreed by special order that all of her children and grandchildren were to use the name Mountbatten-Windsor (which sounds a lot less German than Battenberg-Hanover). Thus the recently married Prince William has the official name: William Arthur Philip Louis Mountbatten-Windsor.


Prince Andrew of Greece and Princess Alice of Battenberg



Prince Philip’s cousin, Prince Charles Edward, had a career that further embarrassed England. Charles Edward was born into the British royal family at Claremont House (Surrey, England) in 1884. He accepted a German dukedom and found himself fighting for the Kaiser in World War I. Later he was deprived of all his British titles and branded a traitor. But the worst was his assistance in Hitler's rise to power, so Prince Charles Edward ended his days as a convicted Nazi. Charles Edward had been Queen Victoria's favorite grandson, and he was first cousin to three European monarchs: English King George V, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, and Nicholas II, Russia’s last Tsar. Unfortunately, Queen Victoria made a decision that ruined his life by decreeing that Prince Charles Edward would become the Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, the German principality from which Victoria’s husband Albert originated. At 16 years of age and speaking no German, Charles Edward left England to become Carl Eduard, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, with 13 castles in Germany and Austria, hunting lodges, hotels, a power station, tens of thousands of acres of farmland in Bavaria and a duchy with an income worth £17 million pounds at today's value. In no time flat the German Kaiser married him off to his own niece, Victoria. In retrospect, I’m sure Charles Edward realized that sometimes it’s better to stand up to one’s grandmother, even if she is the queen.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Composer Francis Poulenc

French composer Francis Poulenc, who engaged in a long string of homosexual relationships, was born January 7, 1899, into a wealthy Parisian family. In 1920 he became a member of a group of young composers dubbed “Les Six.” The others were Darius Milhaud, Arthur Honegger, Georges Auric, Germaine Tailleferre, and Louis Durey. Their music was a reaction against the music by the Impressionists (Debussy and Ravel) and late Romantics (Wagner, Puccini, etc.).

During the late 1920s Poulenc first acted on his homosexuality when he met painter Richard Chanlaire, who became his lover. Poulenc’s second lover, the bisexual Raymond Destouches, was a chauffeur and dedicatee of several of Poulenc’s compositions. The success of his 1924 ballet score for Diaghilev’s “Les biches” (The Deer) led to the commissions of his Concerto for Two Pianos* (1932) and the Organ Concerto (1938) by lesbian American expatriate Winnaretta Singer, known as Princesse Edmond de Polignac.

Poulenc would later have a brief affair with a woman known as Frédérique and have a daughter by her in 1946. They did not marry. In a tour of the United States Poulenc met a friendly gay couple, Arthur Gold and Robert Fizdale, accomplished duo pianists who commissioned the Sonata for Two Pianos (1953). Poulenc found tours difficult, because they separated him from Lucien Roubert, his lover who died of pleurisy in 1955, just after Poulenc completed his masterpiece, the opera “Les dialogues des Carmélites.” In 1957 he met his last significant lover, Louis Gautier, who helped to revive his spirits. In that year, Poulenc produced his Flute Sonata (middle mvt. in YouTube excerpt below).

Leonard Bernstein commissioned Poulenc to write "Sept répons des ténèbres" (1961) for the opening of the Philharmonic Hall (now known as Avery Fisher Hall) at Lincoln Center, NYC. Shortly thereafter Poulenc died of a heart attack on January 30, 1963. One of the most honored composers of his time, he left an enduring legacy.

Poulenc at the piano with Jean-Pierre Rampal on flute. Poulenc (in a close-up) takes at bow at the 4:05 mark. This middle mvt. of Poulenc's Flute Sonata is typical of his light, accessible style.



*French conductor Georges Prêtre champions the works of Poulenc. I’ll never forget a performance in Paris (November 2004) of Poulenc’s Concerto for Two Pianos, selected by Prêtre to be performed on his 80th Birthday concert at the magnificently restored Art Deco masterpiece, the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées. Prêtre owns this piece. Here he conducts the Orchestra National de la RTF with the composer (piano on the left) and Jacques Février (piano on right) in the first movement of the concerto for two pianos.


Friday, August 26, 2011

Modeste Mussorgsky (1839-1881)

Mussorgsky was a homosexual composer born in Russia. His father was a wealthy man, and his mother was an English woman who had relocated to Russia. His land-owning family, the noble Mussorgskys, was descended from the sovereign princes of Smolensk.

At six, Mussorgsky began taking piano lessons from his mother, herself a trained pianist. His progress was sufficiently rapid that three years later he was able to perform a John Field concerto and difficult solo piano works by Franz Liszt. At 10 years old, he and his brother were taken to Saint Petersburg to study at the elite St. Peter's School. At the age of 12 (1852) Mussorgsky wrote his first piano piece to be published (at his father's expense). As a mature composer Mussorgsky became one of "The Mighty Five" group of Russian nationalist composers, the others being Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakov, Cesar Cui, and Mily Balakirev.

His monumental opera Boris Gudnov (1869) was produced in St. Petersburg, and his popular Night on Bald Mountain was first performed in 1867 (known to millions from Disney’s 1940 film Fantasia*).

During his life Mussorgsky formed many homosexual attachments, unfortunately some of them to heterosexual men. One of the most popular pieces in the classical repertoire, Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition (1874 – written for solo piano, later orchestrated by Maurice Ravel) was based on an exhibit of watercolors by the handsome, young, and straight architect and painter Viktor Hartmann*, with whom Mussorgsky was hopelessly and painfully smitten. Hartmann was a Jew of Polish/Ukranian descent, so this serious infatuation is astonishing, given that the influential Mussorgsky family was both blatantly anti-Semitic and anti-Polish.

Tragically, Mussorgsky was a helpless alcoholic (with a permanently red nose to prove it), addicted to spirits from his army days. At the age of 17 Mussorgsky had received a commission from the regiment of the Russian Imperial Guard, where he served at a military hospital in Saint Petersburg with fellow Russian composer Alexander Borodin. The two were soon on good terms.  Borodin later wrote of Mussorgsky:

“His uniform was spic and span, close-fitting, his feet turned outwards, his hair smoothed down and greased, his nails perfectly cut, his hands well groomed like a Lord's. His manners were elegant, aristocratic – his speech likewise, interspersed with French phrases, rather precious. There was a touch of foppishness, but his politeness and good manners were exceptional. The ladies made a fuss over him. He sat at the piano and, throwing up his hands coquettishly, played with extreme sweetness and grace, eliciting responses such as ‘charmant, délicieux!’ and the like.”

In 1858 Mussorgsky resigned his military commission to devote himself full time to composition. However, the 1861 emancipation of the serfs on private Russian estates caused his family to be deprived of half its land and income; in two year’s time the estate had been liquidated. His mother died soon thereafter, prompting Mussorgsky to lapse into an extended bout of alcoholism at the age of 26. His frustrated, repressed homosexuality further tethered him to the bottle.

At the age of 29 Mussorgsky started to write an opera based on the story of Boris Godunov, using text from Pushkin's play. He completed the large-scale score the following year while living with friends and working as a civil servant for the Forestry Department (such was the extent of his family’s waning fortunes).

In the end, however, he was a man caught in a painful spiral of self-destruction, often afflicted with delirium. For years Mussorgsky spent day and night in a Saint Petersburg tavern of low repute. His frequent absences and “illnesses” led to his dismissal from his civil servant job, and one week after his 42nd birthday he died, essentially from drinking himself to death.

Phil Disley, acknowledged as one of Britain’s foremost illustrators, draws an all-too-accurate rendering of Mussorgsky.



*Viktor Hartmann, the artist who was the object of Mussorgsky's obsession, was straight (photo below). He was the inspiration for PICTURES AT AN EXHIBITION.




















*Night on Bald Mountain (from Disney's FANTASIA (1940)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Alexander the Great

King of Macedonia (a state of Ancient Greece) and eventual conqueror of most of the world known to the Greeks, Alexander III (365–323 BCE) famously overthrew the Persian Empire and extended his rule from Greece to Egypt to India and the Himalayas. Alexander's achievements laid the foundation for the Hellenistic world, the Roman Empire, and even the spread of Christianity: all the New Testament writings are in Greek as a result of Alexander's influence.


Alexander had the reputation for being handsome and stood out among his peers by being clean shaven. Many portraits and sculptures were made in his lifetime, so we can be fairly convinced of his appearance. He was a prodigious athlete and loved strenuous exercise. He loved to show off by jumping off and back onto a chariot moving at full speed. Alexander was rather short and stocky, with one blue and one brown eye. His male lover Hephaestion was taller and even more handsome, so much so that the Persian queen bowed to Hephaestion instead of Alexander when she was presented to them. Alexander said to the mortified queen "Never mind, Hephaestion is also Alexander".

At the time Alexander lived, it was common for Greek men to have wives as well as lovers of either gender; wives were merely for procreation. Alexander, who had become King of Macedonia at the age of twenty  when his father was assassinated, did not marry and produce an heir before he set out from Macedonia to conquer the Persians. He was not known to show much interest in women. Even at the height of his power, historians recount that he used his harem “sparingly.” However, Alexander loved his boyhood friend, Hephaestion. Both brilliant adolescents, they were tutored by Aristotle by arrangement with Alexander’s father. Aristotle instilled in the lads a great desire for knowledge and a love for philosophy. Thus Alexander became an avid reader. Hephaestion started off as a regular cavalry soldier and rose through the ranks on merit, carrying out important military and administrative assignments. Later, Alexander also took as a lover a male courtier from the conquered Persian court, scandalous not because the courtier was male, but because he was Persian, since most Greeks thought that all other people were barbarians.

Hephaestion and Alexander wanted their children to be cousins, so Hephaestion married the sister of Alexander’s new wife, who was the daughter of the defeated Persian emperor Darius III (a purely political marriage).

A coin depicting Alexander the Great.

Greece enjoyed a period of peace and prosperity during Alexander's campaign in Asia. Alexander sent back vast sums from his conquests, which helped stimulate the economy and increased trade between the new areas of his empire.

However, soon after Hephaestion and Alexander conquered Asia, Hephaestion died suddenly of typhus. Alexander's grief was boundless and devastating. He ordered an official observance of public mourning for his lover. It was recorded that for two days Alexander neither ate nor drank, cut his hair short and ordered that the horses in his army should have their manes cropped, as well. Alexander resolved that his lover should begin his life in the Unseen World with unstinted wealth, and the precious things he ordered stacked upon Hephaestion’s funeral pile represented a sum of nearly two million and a half pounds sterling. Alexander declared publically that his relationship with Hephaestion was like that of Achilles to Patroclus, male lovers and bothers-at-arms mentioned in the Iliad – Hephaestion and Alexander had been inspired by them in their youthful studies with Aristotle. Alexander asked the Oracles of Egypt if Hephaestion was a god, because in those days a person could become a god through achievements. Alexander was told that Hephaestion was indeed a hero, albeit a lesser type of god. Alexander, who had no doubt about his own divinity, then knew that he would meet his beloved again in the Blessed Realm, where gods and heroes lived in eternity.

Within eight months of Hephaestion's death, Alexander died in Babylon, twelve days after contracting a fever. Historians propose that his death was the result of poisoned wine or contaminated water. In any event, he had yet to realize a series of campaigns that would have begun with an invasion of Arabia and the eventual conquering of the entire Mediterranean basin and all of Africa. It was his desire to conquer the entirety of the known world. He was 32 years old at the time of his death, and never defeated in battle.

Alexander's lasting legacy was not his reign, but the cultural diffusion his conquests afforded. His establishment of Greek colonies (among them Kandahar in Afghanistan) and culture in the conquered lands resulted in a new Hellenistic culture, which was still evident in the traditions of the Byzantine Empire until the mid 15th century. Alexander became the measure against which generals, even to this day, compare themselves, and military academies throughout the world still teach his tactical exploits.


Alexander according to Hollywood:
Colin Farrell (at left, with hilariously highlighted hair) played Alexander and Jared Leto portrayed Hephaestion in Oliver Stone’s 2004 film Alexander, a major box office flop ($34 million domestic gross against costs of $155 million). The public hated it, critics hated it, and historians hated it. Even though the film depicted a sanitized version of the relationship between Alexander and Hephaestion, it proved too much for the American public. Roxana’s attempt to kill her husband Alexander after her discovery of his relationship with Hephaestion, included in the 2004 theatrical release, was deleted from the Director’s Cut (2005 DVD). Alexander’s wife, Roxana, was played by Angelina Jolie. Likewise, the scene in which Roxana is prevented from entering Alexander's tent by Hephaestion was also excised. In part due to damning by historians and critics, Stone released a third version, titled Alexander Revisited: The Final Unrated Cut (2007 DVD, three hours and thirty-four minutes!), in which the deleted scenes were restored and unreleased footage included. Nobody liked that version, either. In response to historians, who howled at his misrepresentation of the Persians, Stone commented that he could not let historical facts get in the way of telling his dramatic story. Right. At least Jared Leto had his musical career to fall back on.

Note: During the Middle Ages, Alexander was included in the group of Nine Worthies, heroes who personified the ideals of chivalry. Representatives of soldierly courage and generalship, the study of the life of each of them formed a good education for those who aspired to chivalric status. They nine were Hector, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Joshua, David, Judas Maccabeus, King Arthur, Charlemagne and Godfrey of Bouillon. All brought glory and honor to their nations and were noted for their personal prowess in arms. As individuals, each displayed some outstanding quality of chivalry, which made them exemplars of knighthood.

Trivia:
In later years Julius Caesar wept upon seeing a statue of Alexander, since he himself had achieved so little by the same age.
Alexander the Great is mentioned in Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost (1598) and in Cervantes’s Don Quixote (1605).
Napoleon Bonaparte encouraged comparisons with Alexander, whose fame as a commander and conqueror was unequaled.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Matthew Mitcham: Olympic Diver


Born March 2, 1988 in Brisbane.

One of only a handful of openly gay athletes to participate at the Beijing Olympics, Australian diver Matthew Mitcham won gold in men's 10m platform diving. He ruined China’s hopes of going 8 for 8 gold medals and received the highest single-dive score (112.1, including four perfect 10 scores) in Olympic history. He is the first Australian male to win an Olympic gold medal in diving since Dick Eve at the 1924 Summer Olympics.

Few know that Mitcham originally competed as a trampoline gymnast. As such he represented Australia at the World Junior Championships in 1999 and 2001, winning the double mini-tramp event. He also competed at the Australian Youth Olympic Festival in 2003, finishing sixth. From 2002 he competed as a diver. He took a year-long break from diving in 2006 and began training in 2007 with a new coach. The rest is Olympic history.

After viewing the scoreboard, Mitcham cried and bounced around the pool deck before climbing up to the stands to embrace his boyfriend, Lachlan Fletcher. "It's going to take a while to sink in," Mitcham said. "My cheeks hurt from smiling. My face hurts from the chlorine. My legs are sore from jumping up and down. I'm in pain and I'm tired. But I'm so happy."

Mitcham’s boyfriend Fletcher attended the 2008 Summer Olympic Games as a spectator, and his trip expenses were covered by Johnson & Johnson's Athlete Family Support Program. In the following photo, Mitcham gives Fletcher some sugar and his Olympic bouquet following his Olympic gold moment.















Mitcham's medal was followed by the Australia Post issuing a 50 cent stamp of him on September 26, one day after his Olympic victory.

In 2009, Mitcham secured financial support from the Australian telecommunications provider Telstra, proof that openly gay athletes can win major endorsement contracts. In March 2010, Matthew Mitcham was announced as the new face of Funky Trunks, an Australian brand of swimwear seeking expansion into international markets. The photo below is from a Funky Trunks print ad campaign.



















Here’s a video recap of the dive that brought the glory to Australia and pride to gay men all over the world.


Matthew Mitcham - Final Dive Beijing
Uploaded by Cecilyn. - News videos from around the world.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Gerald Murphy, jazz-age dilettante

Gerald and Sara Murphy were handsome and beautiful American expats. Charming, wealthy, and well-connected, they showed the world how to have a royal good time. Amanda Vaill's "Everybody Was So Young: A Lost Generation Love Story" (1998) provides all the details and ambiance.

Gerald, born into the wealthy family that owned Mark Cross luxury leather goods, and Sara Wiborg, his older wife from a "better" family of printing magnates, knew everyone: Cole Porter*, Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald (who characterized them in "Tender Is the Night"), Jean Cocteau, Man Ray, Dorothy Parker*, John O’Hara and Robert Benchley.

In 1921, primarily to escape their families’ dissatisfaction with their marriage, they moved to Paris, where Gerald took up painting. He started by painting sets for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, then went on to study painting formally. His paintings created a sensation at the 1924 Salon des Indépendants, in Paris. Gerald’s hard-edged still lifes were in a cubist, precisionist style, prefiguring the Pop Art style that produced imagery of mundane objects culled from American commercial products. Today Gerald’s works hang in prestigious museums, such as the Museum of Modern Art and Whitney museums (NYC), and a major retrospective was mounted in 2007.

Gerald Murphy’s painting Boatdeck, installed at the Salon des Indépendants, Grand Palais, Paris, 1924. Unfortunately, the painting, which depicts giant smokestacks of an ocean liner, has since been lost.


Gerald Murphy was a repressed homosexual, which he called his "defect" in a 1931 letter to Archibald MacLeish, saying that his post-adolescent life had been a protracted “process of concealment of the personal realities” of his sexual orientation. Sara had known Gerald for eleven years before they married, and she seemed to take in stride his confessed attraction to men. Archibald MacLeish based the main characters in his play J.B. on Gerald and Sara Murphy. Hemingway characterized them in Garden of Eden.

In 1923, to celebrate the première of Stravinsky’s ballet “Les Noces,” Gerald and Sara threw an all-night party on a barge on the Seine in Paris. The same year, Gerald and Cole Porter collaborated on a riotously successful jazz ballet, “Within the Quota,” a burlesque on American culture.

The Murphys convinced the Hotel du Cap (Antibes) to stay open for the summer of 1923 so that they might entertain their friends, helping to establish the Riviera as a fashionable summer haven. Prior to this time the wealthy flocked there only for the winter season. They also introduced sunbathing on the beach as a fashionable activity. Sara stunned her guests by wearing her pearls to the beach, and Gerald wore his trademark horizontally striped shirt, shorts and sandals.

The Murphys purchased a villa in Cap d'Antibes, midway between Nice and Cannes, and named it Villa America*, where they resided for many years. They impressed Picasso, who painted Sara in several of his 1923 works, and inspired Coco Chanel. More importantly, they introduced American style and taste to their European circle – breezy, informal, jazzy and insouciant. They made art out of their lives. Ultimately, they became myth.

Tragedy struck, in the form of the early deaths of their two young sons (a daughter survived to old age). After the Depression hit, Gerald returned home to take over the family business, Mark Cross leather goods, serving as president of the company from 1934-1956, bringing it back from the brink of bankruptcy. He gave up painting completely, lived in Snedens Landing (on the Hudson north of NYC) and East Hampton, NY, and worked for decades in midtown Manhattan, living out a life of romantic disappointment. Gerald died in 1964 in East Hampton, and Sara died in 1975 in Arlington, Virginia.

A nude Gerald Murphy in 1925, standing against the sail of the Picaflor, photographed by Man Ray. Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris.


Wasp and Pear, 1929. Museum of Modern Art (NYC).


*Cole Porter had been Gerald’s classmate at Yale.

*Dorothy Parker was refused entrance to the Casino in Monte Carlo because she was not wearing stockings. “I went to retrieve my stockings and then came back to lose my shirt.”

*Villa America has since been torn down and replaced by another villa. The address is 112, Chemin des Mougins.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Langston Hughes

Born February 1, 1902, Langston Hughes, a deeply closeted gay man, was an African-American poet, novelist, lecturer, columnist and playwright who became one of the foremost interpreters of racial relationships in the United States. Born in the south, he dropped out of Columbia University to experience the world of jazz and nightclubs and went on to become a major component of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. He was one of the innovators of the new literary art form called jazz poetry. He worked menial jobs, and was “discovered” as a poet while working as a busboy at the Wardman Park Hotel in Washington, DC. The story goes that Hughes dropped his poems beside the poet Vachel Lindsay's dinner plate, and Lindsey included several of them in his next poetry reading. Lindsay’s interest and support launched a major career for Hughes.

This event spawned a local chain of restaurants in the Washington, DC area called “Busboys and Poets” (I have enjoyed many evenings there drinking, dining, playing cards, watching films and taking in live shows and poetry readings). Hughes, who went on to become one of the first black authors who could support himself by writing, became a friend of Ernest Hemingway, with whom he attended bullfights. He wrote lyrics for “Street Scene,” an opera by Kurt Weill and Elmer Rice, as well as screenplays for Hollywood films. His original works portrayed people whose lives were impacted by racism and sexual conflicts; he often wrote about southern violence. In 1967, Hughes died at the age of 65 from complications after abdominal surgery, related to prostate cancer. He left an enduring legacy.

A poem written when Hughes was 18 years old:

“The Negro Speaks of Rivers”

I've known rivers:
I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the
flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I danced in the Nile when I was old
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln
went down to New Orleans, and I've seen its muddy
bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

I've known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

– from "The Negro Speaks of Rivers," 1920

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Alan Bennett

"The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone who is even long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours."
The History Boys – Alan Bennett

Alan Bennett (born 1934) is a bisexual British playwright, professor, screenwriter, actor and author. He first gained acclaim with the brilliant satirical revue Beyond the Fringe (1960), which he co-wrote and performed with Dudley Moore, Peter Cook, and Jonathan Miller. His first stage play was produced in 1968, and he later wrote works for television, which were marked by his characteristic mixture of wry comedy and sadness. His screenplays include Prick Up Your Ears (1987) and The Madness of King George (1994), which had been a successful stage play in 1991.

Likewise, his play The History Boys (2004) was made into a film in 2006. The History Boys garnered both the Critics' Circle Theatre Award and the Laurence Olivier Award for best new play. Set in Yorkshire in the 1980s, the play featured a clash of values between two teachers coaching a class of state-school boys through their university entrance examinations. It succeeded both as a serious-minded critique of Britain's education system – then and now – and as a comic entertainment. A 2006 film version, which used the original London cast, appeared the same year of its debut on Broadway, the latter winning six Tony awards (see quote at beginning of post). This is an extraordinarily entertaining and enlightening film, which is available from Netflix. Note: about an hour of the play's running time was cut for the film version.

In 1987 Talking Heads, a series of monologues for television, made him a household name and earned him the first of six Lawrence Olivier Awards. He went on to write television, stage and radio plays, as well as screenplays, short stories, novellas and non-fictional prose. He also made many appearances as an actor.

At the National Theatre in late 2009 Bennett's newest play, The Habit of Art, premiered. It is about the relationship between gay poet W. H. Auden and gay composer Benjamin Britten. In 1997 Bennett was diagnosed with cancer and began writing biographical sketches, Untold Stories, which were eventually published in 2005. He wrote of his homosexuality and touched on a few relationships with women. While he had a long-term relationship with his former housekeeper, Anne Davies, he makes his home in London today with Rupert Thomas, the editor of World of Interiors magazine.

Bennett declined a knighthood in 1996. He stated that he would never wish to be knighted, because “it would be a bit like having to wear a suit for the rest of ones life.”

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Rock Hudson: Closeted Hollywood Star

Hudson at home his Beverly Hills residence: 9402 Beverly Crest Dr.

Looking down over Beverly Hills, “The Castle” was the 3.5 acre estate of actor Rock Hudson (1925-1985), where he lived from 1962 until his death. At the height of his career, Universal Studios purchased it for him as part of his contract renewal. Constructed with a stucco finish and red tile roof, the house was protected by a massive gate in the front (always left open) and steep cliffs on three sides, which ensured the closeted actor’s privacy.

Hudson gave a detailed description of the house to his authorized biographer. He loved his home and spent 23 years meticulously restoring it. The interior boasted two living rooms, four fireplaces, a steam room and gym, and a theater with stage and footlights. Anyone who entered became aware of his sexual orientation, even though he led a closeted public life. His bed was carved with a large male figure and on the pool deck stood large slightly abstract sculptures of naked boys; one depicts a boy throwing a smaller lad into the pool (photo below).

One of his favorite spots was the home theater, which had originally been a garage. It housed a vast collection of films and up-to-date projection equipment, while a collection of rare records filled one wall. He rehearsed upcoming roles on the wooden stage. Also on the grounds was a greenhouse overflowing with orchids.

The Castle was decorated in what one of Hudson‘s friends termed “early butch” – dark wood, pewter candlesticks, zebra skins, and heavy doses of wrought iron. The patio led to a 40-foot pool with jacuzzi and lion’s head fountain. A 20-foot barbecue that could cook enough meat to feed a hundred people. Hudson liked to give large pool parties, to which he’d invite a hand-picked assortment of handsome youthful males. He cruised Melrose Ave. in Hollywood in the vicinity of the Spike and the Eagle (gay bar), riding around in a chauffeured limo with black out windows, pulling over when someone young and handsome caught his eye. Invariably, they returned to Rock’s “Castle” in Beverly Hills.

Rock Hudson did what most other gay movie stars did at the time. He agreed to a studio sanctioned smoke-screen marriage to Phyllis Gates (now a Beverly Hills based interior designer); the studio also promoted the wedding and the honeymoon. Three years later it was all over. Shortly thereafter Rock Hudson bought his favorite house on Beverly Crest Drive. However, everyone he worked with in Hollywood knew his story. Hudson found an acceptance and compassion among show people that he feared he would never find among his fans. His greatest accolade was an Academy Award nomination for his performance in Giant (1956), co-starring Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean, although his fans most fondly remember his many romantic comedy films with co-star Doris Day.

Hudson lived most of his years at his “castle” with just his female housekeeper and seven dogs. But occasionally, he had a live-in male lover. When he did, he was careful to maintain two separate phone lines for “appearances,” and to make sure he was never photographed with the other man. His years of diverting the truth about his sexual orientation from the general public came to an end in 1985. He died in seclusion at his “castle” from complications of AIDS on October 2 of that year.

Photo below: Rock Hudson and co-star Elizabeth Taylor in Giant (1956).




Shown below with actor George Nader, the lover of Mark Miller, who was Hudson's personal secretary:


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

James Dean

Hollywood Bisexual and Tortured Soul

James Dean was born February 8, 1931, in Marion, Indiana. He had a very short Hollywood career, just two years, before his untimely death at the age of 25. However, he became a lasting icon of American film, one of disaffected non-conformity.

A basketball player in high school, Dean lost his front teeth in a sports related accident and had to wear false teeth for the rest of his life. He had terrible eyesight, as well. However, he excelled at acting, and his brooding handsomeness helped lead to a successful television, stage and film career.

When Dean was living in NYC, studying at the Actors Studio under Lee Strasberg, he was supported by an older homosexual gentleman, Rogers Brackett, who had become his lover and mentor. Brackett was the radio director for an advertising agency. While attending a class conducted by Marlon Brando in 1951, Dean stayed after the session to meet his idol, beginning an intense sexual affair with Marlon that lasted through the winter. Dean was completely smitten with Brando, often stalking him when Marlon was out on dates with others. Dean groomed himself to become a Brando clone, copying his walk, speech and acting style. Dean immersed himself in the techniques of method acting, and he landed a role on Broadway as a boy who seduces a male tourist in André Gide's The Immoralist (1954). He quit the show after just three weeks in order to fly to Hollywood in April, 1954, to film East of Eden (1955). On the set Dean had disagreements with director Elia Kazan, but he delivered an outstanding performance. Dean had several romances with actresses and with men, as well. Cited by biographers as having had affairs with Dean are actors Clifton Webb, Bill Bast, and Jack Simmons, as well as Brando and producer Rogers Brackett.

Dean's engagement to actress Pier Angeli quieted rumors of his bisexuality, but he was widely quoted as saying, when pressed about his sexual orientation, that he wouldn't go through life with one hand tied behind his back. Angeli's abrupt breaking off of the engagement and her subsequent marriage to singer Vic Damone left Dean the subject of further speculation. Bill Bast, one of Dean’s closest friends and his roommate at UCLA, stated that he and Dean had been lovers. It is known that Dean frequented gay bars, and people who knew him at the time said he was homosexual (not bisexual), including screenwriter Gavin Lambert and “Rebel without a Cause” director Nicholas Ray.

Dean busied himself with work on Rebel without a Cause (1955, photo above), the film that would establish him as an enduring Hollywood star, even though it was released after his death. A classic film about teenage alienation and angst, it features prominently a gay subtext embodied in the relationship between the characters portrayed by Dean and Sal Mineo. In its honesty and tenderness, the coded relationship between these characters has touched generations of gay youth. Dean portrayed a non-conformist masculinity that challenged the rigid gender-role expectations of 1950s America.

After completing Rebel without a Cause, Dean began working on the epic film Giant (1956, photo at left with Elizabeth Taylor), based on the Edna Feber novel. In this film, Dean's transformation from farmhand to oil baron is masterful, although on-set tempers flared between Dean and closeted co-star Rock Hudson. Soon after finishing all his scenes for Giant, Dean went for a drive with a mechanic friend in his Porsche on September 30, 1955, in which Dean was nearly decapitated in a car accident near Salinas, California. His untimely death, just as he was on the verge of a major acting career, catapulted him to fame and helped make both Rebel without a Cause and Giant huge box office hits.

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.
www.l-hotel.com

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.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

James Duke Mason

Founder of Trailblazer Campaign

I was reminded of this young man when I read yesterday that his mother had been awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. This 19-year-old guy has credentials. Actor/activist James Duke Mason (b. April 27, 1992) is the son of singer Belinda Carlisle (Go-Gos) and Morgan Mason (a politico turned film producer/agent), and the grandson of the great actor James Mason*, for whom he is named. In May 2011, James was included in AfterElton.com's “Hot 100" list. In April 2010, The Advocate listed Mason as one of the most influential young LGBT Americans in its "Forty Under 40" issue. In March 2011 he was voted into AfterElton.com's list of the top 50 gay/bisexual male celebrities in the world.

Instead of making headlines for disorderly behavior and drug arrests like many teens from show business families, Mason has loftier goals. “I’m going to use my voice and power as a human being to change history, even if it’s in a small way,” says Mason.


In April 2011 he founded the Trailblazer Campaign, a YouTube project designed to encourage LGBT entertainers to come out of the closet. Among the first batch of entertainers to take the bait are up and coming actor Nicholas Downs, from the movie, "Is It Just Me?", and Mike C. Manning, from MTV's The Real World, DC.


James Duke Mason (above left) with mom Belinda Carlisle and a friend.

James came out at 14, worked as a congressional page, filmed PSAs for marriage equality, has written civic-minded op-eds for Frontiers magazine and was the first openly gay student body president at his international high school on France’s Côte d’Azur. “For me, it’s about knowing every day that I’m doing my part to encourage other young gay people to be proud of who they are,” he says.

Mason participated in a roundtable discussion of LGBT youth on Dr. Phil’s TV show. He has completed work on his first film, What Happens Next (2011), which was screened to acclaim at recent gay/lesbian film festivals in Philadelphia and Miami. Mason, who resides in California, is currently pursuing a college degree in political science.

*You'll remember James Mason for his starring role opposite Judy Garland in "A Star Is Born." You likely don't know that James Mason, his wife Pamela and famed director Joseph Mankiewicz were involved in a three-way affair that was the talk of Hollywood in the 1950s.


Although embedding is not allowed for this video, you can click this link to watch an 8-minute interview between young James and his mother, Belinda Carlisle (Go-Gos!). It is astonishing in its honesty. They speak about what suspicions she had that her son might be gay and how his father had a difficult time dealing with it at first. My favorite part is when James relates that his father told Nancy Reagan that, when he showed affection for his son (hugging, touching) in public, others mistakenly assumed he was not a relative, but a “sugar-daddy” to the young man. Note: Mason's father served in Ronald Reagan’s State Department.

http://youtu.be/a0V21A9VGpA

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Marlon Brando

Hollywood’s Rogue Bisexual

He was a tough guy with a stunningly beautiful face. He got kicked out of high school for riding a motorcycle through the hallways. He once came to the rescue of a skinny kid being taunted and beaten by schoolyard thugs, helped him up, threw his arm around him and said, “I’m your new best friend.”

Thus began a bizarre, intimate relationship with fellow actor Wally Cox that would last a lifetime. After Cox died in 1973, Brando kept the ashes for safekeeping, because he wanted his own ashes to be commingled with Wally’s when the time came. Sure enough, in 2004, Brando’s family honored his request. The Associated Press reported, “The ashes of Brando’s late friend Wally Cox, who died in 1973, were also poured onto the desert landscape of Death Valley as part of the ceremony of scattering Brando’s ashes.” Brando not only kept his friend’s ashes for more than 30 years, but, when lonely, would sometimes dine with the urn, holding conversations in which he would perfectly imitate Cox’s distinctive voice.

Unlike many bisexuals (like Cary Grant), who denied their homosexual activity all their lives, Marlon Brando brazenly admitted it. In a 1976 interview, Brando said, “Homosexuality is now so much in fashion it no longer makes news. Like a large number of men, I, too, have had homosexual experiences, and I am not ashamed. I have never paid much attention to what people think about me.”


Brando was bisexual and possessed of a voracious libido. There were plenty of homosexual experiences to report – among his partners were Burt Lancaster, Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, Leonard Bernstein, Noël Coward, Clifford Odetts, Tyrone Power, Montgomery Clift (on a dare, they once ran naked down Wall Street together), James Dean and Rock Hudson. Striving for a balanced diet, however, his conquests also included Marilyn Monroe, Marlene Dietrich, Grace Kelly, Rita Hayworth, Shelley Winters, Ava Gardner, Gloria Vanderbilt, Hedy Lamarr, Tallulah Bankhead, Ingrid Bergman, Edith Piaf and Doris Duke (the world’s richest woman at the time).

By the age of 23 Brando had achieved stardom as Stanley Kowalski in Tennessee Williams's stage play, A Streetcar Named Desire (1947). When he reprised this role in the 1951 film version, Brando received an Oscar nomination for best actor. By the time of his death, the American Film Institute had named Brando the fourth greatest male film star, and Time Magazine included him in its list of the 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century.

He was a generous and tireless advocate for social justice, particularly for the rights of African-Americans and Native Americans. He supported statehood for Israel, and in 1946 he performed in Ben Hecht's Zionist play, A Flag is Born. When Brando read in a newspaper that actress Veronica Lake had fallen on hard times and was working as a cocktail waitress in Manhattan, he had his accountant mail her a check for $1,000; she never cashed it, out of pride, but framed it and hung it on a wall to show to her gay friends.

The roles he lived off-screen were even more provocative than those he created on film. When filming Mutiny on the Bounty in Tahiti in the early 1960s, he fell in love with the place and purchased a private 12-island atoll. He married the Tahitian actress who played his love interest in the film and became fluent in French, her native tongue (he conducted many interviews in French). After Brando’s death, a portion of his ashes (along with those of Wally Cox) were scattered in Tahiti.

The world knew of his predilection for “dark-skinned women”, particularly those of Tahitian and American Indian descent. That Brando had a skinny, bespectacled male lover called Wally didn’t fit the image. Yet he once admitted that he had never been happy with a woman, adding: “If Wally had been a woman, I would have married him, and we would have lived happily ever after.” Wally Cox was the only person Brando allowed to berate him – many was the time that Cox would put Brando in his place.

In his youth Brando was an electrifyingly handsome and talented star. Exuding a sense of brooding power and bottled-up anger, he changed the way stars, both male and female, acted and even the way young men dressed. James Dean based his entire charisma on Brando, whom he worshiped. Marlon’s blue jeans and tight T-shirts became standard issue while  he reigned as the male sex symbol of the 1950s. But he was much more than just a rebel. He later chalked up two Oscar-winning performances in On the Waterfront and The Godfather.

In later years he admitted, “I searched for, but never found, what I was looking for either on screen or off. Mine was a glamorous, turbulent life – but completely unfulfilling.” At the time of his death at 80 years old in 2004, he weighed well over 300 pounds and was suffering from diabetes, pulmonary fibrosis, congestive heart failure, liver cancer and failing eyesight. I found a photo of a hugely bloated, fat Brando taken shortly before his death, but I couldn't bear to post it. I'd rather be in denial of what came at the end of this remarkable life.

Born 1924, Omaha, Nebraska
Died 2004, Los Angeles, California

Brilliant, stubborn, eccentric actor



A performance on the night of December 3, 1947, made theatrical history. A Streetcar Named Desire opened at the Ethel Barrymore Theater in NYC, and no one could remember an actor or actress so electrifying an audience. For days people had lined up around the block to buy tickets. Theater doyenne Jean Dalrymple said, “From the moment Brando walked out on stage, all eyes were riveted on him. He was like an animal in heat, with those tight jeans and sweaty T-shirt. His Stanley was violent and crude, totally mesmerizing. I don’t recall having seen such utter rapture in a drama. It was more than a new star being born – we were devastated by the performance, as if a quart of our blood had been drained from us. I knew that I had witnessed Broadway history – in this performance acting, and theater itself, had changed for all time.”

Marlon Brando, at the tender age of 23, gave a performance that caused people to leap to their feet in a 30-minute ovation after the curtain went down. Jessica Tandy (portraying Blanche) was furious, because she knew the applause was not for her. In the audience were Cary Grant, David Selznick, Montgomery Clift, Edward G. Robinson, Geraldine Page, George Cukor and Paul Muni – all gasping for air. Tandy, whom younger readers might know from her Oscar-winning performance in Driving Miss Daisy, somehow coped with Brando's wildly erratic performances, each varying from night to night.

Note: Elia Kazan also directed the 1951 film version. This time Blanche was portrayed by Vivien Leigh, an actress with whom Brando had greater chemistry than Tandy. For younger readers who might know Brando only from his role in The Godfather, this clip will be a revelation. But don’t take my word for it, watch Brando in action:


Marlon Brando & Vivien Leigh in A Streetcar Named Desire: