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.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Anderson Cooper's Firehouse Fantasy

Anderson Cooper (b. 1967) is the grandson of Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney and son of Gloria Vanderbilt, earning him status as a true blue-blood. While there is scarcely a soul alive who does not know that he is gay, he does not talk about such personal details*. He lets Kathy Griffin tease him about it, even while on the air, and he is seen all over NYC riding bikes with his male partner. He has not denied being gay, but he will not discuss his private life publicly.

*UPDATE. Cooper came out publicly July 1, 2012, in a casual, off-handed way by commenting on his sexual orientation in response to a friend's blog post.


His recent real estate project, however, can lead us to speculate that the silver fox might indulge in a fireman fantasy or two. Cooper purchased the historic Fire Patrol House No. 2, at 84 West Third Street (between Sullivan & Thompson in NYC's Greenwich Village) and then restored it for use as his personal residence. Removal of many coats of exterior paint revealed the original handsome brick, terra cotta and limestone architectural details. The garish red and white paint job on the face of the ground floor was replaced by a more somber black with original limestone accents. The man has taste, and apparently bucketloads of money.

But this was a Fire Patrol House, not a NYC fire department station. In the early 19th century, insurance companies hired citizens to walk about at night to watch out for fires, an idea first proposed by Benjamin Franklin. These Fire Patrol people would spot and extinguish fires, saving insurance underwriters significant payouts. Their fire wagons would deliver heavy tarps to cover broken windows and protect furniture and delicate equipment in order to minimize water damage from fire fighter’s efforts. Among the patrolmen’s duties were water removal and salvage work after a fire had been put out, providing the insurers with an on-site link to the extent of fire damage. Modern inventions such as telephones and electric streetlights made the Fire Patrol largely obsolete, but the tradition prevailed in some cities, with NYC being the last holdout. The city’s fire patrol was not disbanded until 2006.



Anderson Cooper moved into his fire house in January, 2012, sharing the deluxe restored quarters with his partner, gay bar owner Benjamin Maissani (above). Cooper's work crew removed the paint from the brick and stone detailing (above right), including the head of Mercury, which represents the speed at which the fire patrolmen respond to fires.

Built in 1906, Fire Patrol Station Number 2 had never been updated. When Cooper bought it, the structure still had the original wood flooring, windows, spiral staircase, fire poles and hand-sawn ceiling beams. Even the stables that once housed the patroller’s horses remained intact at the rear of the building.

That was the good news. Over time the fire patrolmen had exercised much misplaced taste in "improving" the look of their home. The stone sculpture of Mercury above the double entry doors had been painted in flesh-colored enamel with bright yellow hair. The limestone at street level had been painted glossy white with bright "fire engine red" enamel covering the ground floor brickwork. The upper stories' brick, tile and stone façade had been painted over in a dull red. Mr. Cooper had his work cut out for him.

Until 1906 Fire Patrol Number 2 had operated at 31 Great Jones Street in Greenwich Village, but a boarding house at 84 West 3rd Street, one block south of Washington Square Park, was purchased and razed for the construction of a new red brick four-story patrol house.

The façade was embellished by limestone quoins with terra cotta accents, and a carved head of Mercury above the truck entrance signified the speed of the responders. When the fire patrollers moved into their new home in 1907, an elevated railroad covered 3rd Street directly in front of the building (see vintage photo).

During their hundred years at West Third Street, the men engaged in many acts of heroism, but a recent event brought renewed interest in the Fire Patrol system, which in modern times was involved mostly with salvage work at commercial fire sites. Among the emergency responders to the World Trade Center disaster on the morning of September 11, 2001, was 27-year-old fire patrolman Keith Roma. A member of Fire Patrol Number 2, he had worked for over an hour evacuating World Trade Center employees – eyewitnesses estimate that he personally removed more than 200 individuals. Roma himself, however, was never seen again after that day. On Christmas Eve, 2001, his body, with fire helmet at his side, was discovered alongside those of nine civilians he was trying to save. He was the first fire patrolman to die in the line of duty in more than three decades. A plaque outside Fire Patrol Number 2's building honors his sacrifice. Throughout their history, 32 patrolmen had died in the line of duty.

When NYC’s Fire Patrol was disbanded in 2006, the New York Board of Fire Underwriters offered the building for sale. The Greenwich Village Historic Society panicked, quickly requesting landmark status from the Landmarks Preservation Commission. Their fears were for naught, because Anderson Cooper hired architect Cary Tamarkin to preserve and renovate the fire patrol house into a private residence.

“We could not be happier with the gorgeous exterior renovation that highlights and respects the unique history of the building,” the Society said in its blog on September 1, 2011. Tamarkin restored the stone and terra cotta detailing, removed the layers of paint and replaced the windows with replicas. The architect retained interior details such as the herringbone brick floor, brass fire poles and cast iron spiral staircase. When Cooper moved in earlier this year, among the original features he retained was the old firemen’s gym, which he outfitted with old-fashioned bar bells and weights. It is a praiseworthy example of the reuse of vintage structures and a fitting testament to the history of the New York Fire Patrol, which had operated in the city from 1839 until 8:00 a.m. on October 15, 2006.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Andrew Goldstein: Ivy League & Pro Lacrosse



















Andrew Goldstein (b. 1983) was the first American male team-sport professional athlete to be openly gay during his playing career. He was a goalkeeper for the Long Island Lizards of Major League Lacrosse, but was originally drafted in 2005 – as an out, homosexual athlete – by his hometown team, the Boston Cannons. “Not a single person ever mentioned my sexuality to me,” Goldstein remembered. “It was only about lacrosse.”

During his time as a two-time All-American Dartmouth College lacross goalie, Andrew said: “I have always been an athlete. I just wanted a chance to go out there and play the sport that I love without having to hide my sexuality from my teammates, who are most of my closest friends.” And play the sport he did. Andrew was the first goalie in 30 years to have scored a goal in an NCAA tournament game. Watch him (#6) in action as he scores that goal for Dartmouth against Syracuse:



In a column for OutSports, Andrew wrote about the aftermath of his decision to come out to his team at Dartmouth during the summer of 2003. “It isn’t strange anymore, being the gay one amongst my friends, in my fraternity, on my team. It all happens in one moment, when you realize that the people who care about you will always care about you, and what is most important is to care about yourself. I told myself that I would have to be strong. I thought that people might talk about me behind my back as I walked down the street, and I worried that, on my first road trip this year with the lacrosse team, the unlucky guys who had to be my roommates would complain about sleeping in the same room as the homo. I thought that the first time I walked into the showers after a long practice, the other guys would all walk out or at least ask me to leave.

It didn’t happen like I had planned. I never had to be strong after that first moment. My friends, brothers, and teammates don’t treat my any differently because I am not any different now. I am still the loud one with my friends, the jock in my frat, and the goalie on my team. The only thing that has changed? Now girls are not afraid to approach me in a social setting and put their arm around me or even worse, grab me in an inappropriate place. I waited for people to stare at me or ask me questions or say names but it turns out I was worried about nothing all that time.

On a national level, I knew that news would spread. I wondered how this would affect my status as an athlete, but I found that the preseason honors and expectations only got higher. The world is ready for us. They may not be accustomed to us playing on their fields, dressing in their locker rooms, or taking home their MVP trophies, but when we gain their respect and show that we belong, the transition is smooth. What is new and different scares people. It might be a while before people accept gay marriages and adoptions as normal. But a bright group of 20-year-olds just trying to string together enough wins to take home the Ivy League title for a second straight year really don’t mind if I call up a boyfriend on the phone after a big game.”

Andrew made headlines off the field in 2005, when he was dubbed by ESPN to be “the most accomplished male, team-sport athlete in North America to be openly gay during his playing career.” In 2006, Andrew Goldstein was honored by being named to the OUT 100. He also received a prestigious 2006 GLAAD Media Award for the feature titled 'Andrew Goldstein', which aired on ESPN 's Sportscenter. That same year he left professional lacrosse to pursue a Ph.D. at UCLA.

Goldstein hails from a family of talented athletes. His father and sister played hockey for Brown University, and his brother played lacrosse for Amherst. A biochemistry and molecular biology major while at Dartmouth, Goldstein recently received his Ph.D. in biology from UCLA with a specific emphasis on cancer. Andrew is now a professor at UCLA, where he runs a lab focusing on prostate cancer.

With his professional sports-playing days behind him, Goldstein has turned to amateur gay athletics. It was not easy finding a lacrosse game in Los Angeles, so he returned to ice hockey. He played with the Los Angeles Blades for several years, and Andrew won a gold medal in ice hockey playing with a Toronto-based team at the 2010 Gay Games.

Now Goldstein regularly works the speech-making circuit, talking directly to athletes and coaches. His new challenge to gay athletes and allies is simple: “Coming out isn’t enough anymore, you’ve got to get in the trenches, talk to more coaches, athletes and administrators and affect real change.” His partner, Jamie, is a TV writer – not much of a sports fan – but he supports Andrew in his athletic endeavors and his advocacy against homophobia and homophobic language in sports.

What follows is from ESPN's Sportscenter, the finest TV produced segment about gay athletes that I have seen. Please share it with your families and friends.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Hart Crane

The 32-year-old poet was a passenger on the SS Orizaba, sailing to the U.S. from Mexico, where he had been serving a Guggenheim fellowship post. His father, who had invented Life Savers and was a successful candy manufacturer, had died the year before. The poet had been waiting for an inheritance from his millionaire father, but just learned that the family fortune had been sucked away by debt and losses at the onset of the Great Depression. The poet too often dealt with this and other complications in his tumultuous life by taking solace in alcohol. He was leaving behind Peggy Baird, the former wife of a close friend, with whom he had the only heterosexual affair of his life. They had even talked of possible marriage and a new beginning.

But alcohol regained the upper hand. His grand design of writing an epic poem abut the Aztecs had resulted in a mere handful of verses, so he was coming home nearly empty-handed in late April, 1932. Although he was revered by the likes of Tennessee Williams and other prominent writers, he felt his career and personal life were failures. Worse, the poet’s homosexual demons could not be tamed, and he ventured down to the crew quarters and made a drunken sexual advance on a male worker, who reacted by beating him up. Somewhere north of Havana the next morning, April 27, a passenger watched in horror as the poet, dressed only in pajamas and an overcoat, walked purposefully to the ship's stern, mounted the railing, slipped the coat from his shoulders and then jumped overboard to his death.

The son of a successful Ohio businessman who made a fortune in candy manufacturing, Hart Crane (1899-1932) dropped out of high school in 1917 and fled to New York City. Hart had suffered a difficult home life under the roof of his parents, who were always fighting. They divorced a year after Crane moved to NYC. For seven years he moved back and forth between New York and Cleveland, all the while writing poems that gained publication in literary journals. His menial jobs as a copywriter in NYC were interspersed with periods of working in his father's candy factories in Cleveland.

He lived a peripatetic life, moving in and out of apartments and rooms with friends in New York City; for a time he shared farmhouses with friends in southern Connecticut. His family owned a vacation home on the Isle of Pines off the coast of Cuba, where he wrote most of The Bridge, a collection of poems depicting New York City with a vibrancy that was rare in poetry. Unable to complete the book, he sought inspiration by traveling to Europe, and when he was awarded a Guggenheim in 1931, he settled in Mexico temporarily.

Although tormented by his attraction to men, his affair with Emil Opffer, a Danish merchant marine, is reflected in  Crane was tortured by his love for men far worse than Walt Whitman decades before him. He did have one felicitous affair with a Danish merchant marine named Emil Opffer, who inspired his epic poem titled Voyages*, a highlight of his first book, White Buildings (1926). Opffer, whom he had met in 1924, lived in Brooklyn, but Crane also had an affair with the internationally famous Wagnerian tenor Lauritz Melchior, who was then singing at the Metropolitan Opera in Manhattan.

While Crane struggled to complete The Bridge (1930), in which the Brooklyn Bridge was the central object of the poem, he suffered tortured affairs and increasing alcoholism. The photo at left was taken when he was barely 30 years old, but alcohol had prematurely aged him. He did not cope well as a gay male in a culture that was largely homophobic. He realized that he was homosexual after an affair in Akron, Ohio, where he was employed at age 20 as a clerk in one of his father’s candy stores. His homosexual affairs were mostly anonymous, temporary, often violent, flings. Crane’s writing after 1926 was stymied by the conflict between his identity as a gay male and his identity as a poet. Numerous unpublished verses written between 1927 and 1931 reveal the struggle Crane undertook to invent a discourse that would honestly translate aspects of his homosexual experience into poetry.

Publication of The Bridge in 1930 brought Crane notoriety and fame, but he seemed unable to live up to his own standard after that. At the time of his death in 1932, much of his verse was dismissed as incoherent. It was not until 50 years later that his works were reassessed and became part of a contemporary curriculum taught in colleges and universities. The Bridge now appears in its entirety in the Norton Anthology of American Literature.

Thomas E. Yingling wrote Hart Crane and the Homosexual Text (1992), which saw that Crane’s authority rested on his position as an outsider, whose writings were not only expressions of his personal psychological division, but also eloquent records of cultural and social divisions.

*Voyages (1924) is a poetic sequence in praise of the transforming power of love. The work's metaphor is the sea, and its movement is from the lover's dedication to a human and changeable lover to a beloved beyond time and change. The sea represents love in all its shifting complexity from calm to storm, and love, in turn, serves as the salvation of us all:

Bind us in time, O Season clear, and awe.
O minstrel galleons of Carib fire,
Bequeath us to no earthly shore until
Is answered in the vortex of our grave
The seal's wide spindrift gaze toward paradise.


With its dazzling poeticism and mysteriously inspiring perspective, Voyages is often hailed as Crane's greatest achievement. R. W. B. Lewis called it Crane's lyrical masterpiece.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Vincent Price

On the set of the film Gods and Monsters, gayness was the subject of lunch discussion among the cast and crew. "Was Vincent Price gay?" someone asked, to which Sir Ian McKellen loudly replied, "Well, he was married to Coral Browne, wasn't he?!"

Vincent Leonard Price, Jr. (1911-1993) was married three times, the last a lavender marriage to lesbian actress Coral Browne. Upon their engagement, the Australian born Browne told critic Bernard Drew: "We've both decided to give up boys". In order to marry, Price converted to Catholicism, and Coral Browne became a U.S. citizen.

Vincent Price was an accomplished art critic and collector, a gourmand, a generous benefactor to those in need, a concerned and active political man, a devoted father – and a celebrated actor (who had a drinking problem). His bisexuality was an open secret to Hollywood insiders, and Scotty Bowers’s recent Hollywood tell-all book, Full Service, mentions that Price used his services to procure men, and Browne to procure women, for sexual gratification. But Price’s sexual predilection was surely the least interesting thing about him.

Price had a “grey” listing by the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings during the McCarthy era, and he made a somewhat shocking deal with them. He was a noted art lecturer in London. Price was involved in the 1959 rigged TV quiz-show hearings for his part in The $64,000 Question. He witnessed the Nazi regime first-hand while living overseas, even attending one of Adolph Hitler's many rallies. He played a young parasitic playboy from Kentucky in the Oscar-winning film Laura (1944, with Clifton Webb and Gene Tierney). Price graduated from Yale, plied the London stage, wrote a cookbook (A Treasury of Great Recipes, 1965), bore a son and a daughter (Victoria, a lesbian who wrote a book about her father), and developed a fine art sales division (1962-1971) for Sears-Roebuck (!). In the late 1960s he played the villain Egghead on ABC’s Batman television series. Back in the 1940s and 50s he was a popular radio actor (The Saint), while decades later Price provided a Sprechstimme “rap” contribution to Michael Jackson’s 1983 Thriller song track and video. He hosted BBC radio and PBS television series. In 1976 he was a featured guest on The Muppet Show. And that’s not the half.

Somewhere in there I forgot to mention the horror movies, his greatest legacy. Price's first venture into the horror genre was the 1939 Boris Karloff film Tower of London. There followed House of Wax (1953), The Fly (1958) and a string of movies based on the writings of Edgar Allan Poe: House of Usher (1960), The Pit and the Pendulum (1961) and The Raven (1963) chief among them.

Not bad for the son of a candy company president from St. Louis (Vincent Leonard Price Sr.). A lifelong smoker, Price died of lung cancer in 1993 at the age of 82, by which time he had packed in enough activity for three or four lifetimes. If you find yourself in the Los Angeles suburb of Monterrey Park, stop by the East Los Angeles College campus to visit the Vincent and Mary Price Gallery and the Vincent Price Art Museum, the repository of Price’s art collection, comprising some 9,000 items valued at more than $5 million.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Alan Turing

British mathematician Alan Turing (1912-1954) masterminded cracking the German Enigma code during WW II, thus helping to shorten the war. He is also considered the father of computer science and the modern digital computer, with his invention of the Turing Machine (1936). His work continues to influence the field of artificial intelligence and the application of computer techniques in understanding biological forms and systems. He was a mathematical genius, and he was also homosexual.

While attending a noted independent school in Dorset, sixteen-year-old Turing fell in love with an older male schoolmate, Christopher Morcom, who died unexpectedly of bovine tuberculosis at the age of nineteen. Socially inept, Turing exhibited symptoms of autism, and Morcom had brought him out of his shell. Grief stricken following Morcom's death, Turing spent the next few years studying the question of how the human mind might survive death – Morcom's mind in particular. This research led to the study of quantum-mechanical theory and ultimately to the concept of thinking machines. He went on to study at Cambridge but moved to the U.S., where he earned a doctorate at Princeton (1938). He later became a specialist in the field of cryptanalysis.

For his work for the British government at the top-secret Bletchley Park facility (museum display with Turing's photo sown at right) during WW II, Turing was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1946. Shortly thereafter he became a professor at Cambridge University, where he fell in love with Neville Johnson, a student. Turing was surprisingly open about his sexual orientation, given the mores of the time. In 1952 a young man from Manchester attempted to blackmail Turing for his homosexuality, leading Turing to go to the police to report the attempt at extortion. Instead of deciding to prosecute the extortionist, they arrested Turing on twelve counts of gross indecency. Turing would not deny the charges, taking the stance that he had done nothing wrong. The court disagreed, and Turing's security clearances were withdrawn, putting an end to his brilliant work. To avoid a prison term, Turing agreed to be subjected to experimental hormone treatments designed to curb his homosexual desires. Massive doses of estrogen caused him to grow breasts and become chemically depressed. His life thus ruined, he committed suicide in 1954, by ingesting a cyanide injected apple two weeks before his 42nd birthday. In 2009 the British government issued a formal apology for the way Turing was treated after WW II.

The year 2012 will be a centennial celebration of Turing’s life and scientific impact, with a number of major events taking place throughout the year. Most of these will be linked to places with special significance in Turing’s life, such as Cambridge, Manchester and Bletchley Park. 

Trivia: A blue plaque outside the 4-star luxury Colonnade Hotel in London indicates where Turing was born one hundred years ago, on June 23, 1912, when the hotel served as a hospital.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

India's Prince Manvendra

Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil, born the son of a Maharaja in 1965, is the 39th Gohil ‘Raja’ of Rajpipla, a direct descendant of a 650-year-old Indian dynasty. As a prince of the Kingdom of Rajpipla in western India, he grew up pampered by servants in a pink palace which his father now operates as a heritage hotel, the Ravjant Palace Resort (photo below). Such an arrangement is now common, after the Republic of India de-recognized all princely families in 1971, when Prince Manvendra was six years old.




As expected in a culture of arranged marriages, Manvendra took a wife in 1991. Because he was homosexual, the marriage was not consummated, and a divorce was granted in 1992, after he confessed his sexual orientation to his wife.

“I regret ruining her life. I feel tremendously guilty.”

Manvendra has stated that he thought his homosexual urges would dissipate upon marrying, because his isolated and artificially protected upbringing did not afford him access to a modern understanding of homosexuality. His only male/male sexual experiences had been during his adolescent years, in physical explorations with one of his servants.


After a hospitalization due to a nervous breakdown, Manvendra’s doctors revealed his homosexual orientation to his parents, who eventually disowned him for bringing shame to the royal family. In an unusual move, he has since chosen to be honest with his citizens, speaking publicly in 2006 about his sexual orientation with the hope of changing how Indians viewed homosexuality. That year the story of Manvendra's coming out made headlines in India and around the world. His effigies were burnt in Rajpipla, where traditional society was shocked.

In 2007 Manvendra appeared as a guest on the Oprah Winfrey Show as one of three persons featured in a segment titled 'Gay Around the World'. He stated that he had no regrets about coming out, and that he believed the people of his state respect him for his leadership in preventing and educating his citizens about HIV/AIDS. As well, he revealed that he had become involved in a social network to help gay people in Gujarat. Manvendra explained that 85 percent of India’s gay men are married to women, most of them forcibly, through arranged marriage. At the time of his TV appearance, homosexual acts were still a crime in India, but decriminalization legislation was passed in 2009.



“The people in Rajpipla look up to us royals in times of crisis, and  I try to carry out the duties of my forefathers from the past. My main purpose in coming out openly was that I wanted to break the myth that prevails in Indian society that homosexuality is a Western influence and that homosexuality only exists among those in the lower economic status.” The prince recently participated in Adam Bouska's NoH8 world-wide photographic protest against California's Proposition 8.


Somewhat surprisingly, Prince Manvendra has thrived since coming out and reappeared on Oprah last year to tell how his life has moved forward. He has reconciled with his father and has founded the Lakshya Trust, which supports sexual minorities in India. The prince was a recent keynote speaker for a symposium on gay tourism in India. In his state of Rajpipla, there is now a restaurant with out, HIV-positive employees, a Transgender Welfare Board, and plans for a retirement home for LGBT individuals.

“It was difficult to be gay in my family. The villagers worship us and we are role models for them. My family didn't allow us to mix with ordinary or low-caste people. Our exposure to the liberal world was minimal. Only when I was hospitalized after my nervous breakdown in 2002 did my doctor inform my parents about my sexuality. All these years I was hiding my sexuality from my parents, family and people. I never liked it, and I wanted to face the reality. When I came out and gave an interview to a friendly journalist, my life was transformed. Now, people accept me.”

Prince Manvendra, still unattached romantically in his mid-40s, uses gay dating websites in India.

“The problem is that people don't believe it is actually me. Whenever they see my profile and photographs, they tell me to take my profile down. They think I am a fake and ask me not to spoil the image of the prince they respect so much. I have a difficult time convincing them.”

Manvendra recently announced that he planned to adopt a child in the near future. If the adoption proceeds, it will be the first known case of a single gay man adopting a child in India.

“Adoption has been common in most royal families in India. The male is very important to carry on the family lineage. I made this announcement to answer the questions of the people in Rajpipla, who are looking forward to the next in line. I have not yet reached the stage where I have taken action, since my father still has the authority to make decisions. Once I take charge, then I will adopt a full-grown male from our extended family.”

Gohil serves as a sort of touchstone for closeted men and women the world over. Lately, it seems, everywhere he turns, someone is desperate to come out to him. “A lot of people have confided in me,” he says, “and they’ve been from royal families, not only in India but across the world. They’ve been industrialists, business tycoons, men and women with high-profile lives. Almost every week someone comes out to me.”

There are plans to turn Prince Manvendra's life story into a major motion picture. The script is to be written by another royal, Prince Amarjit Singh, a member of the Kapurthala royal family.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Vaslav Nijinsky

Ballet dancer Vaslav Nijinsky (1889-1950), was born in Kiev, Ukraine, to ethnic Polish parents who were on tour as dancers in their own troupe. He was later christened Wacław Niżyński in Warsaw. Vaslav was later responsible for reestablishing the prominence of the male ballet dancer, and he achieved fame as a brilliant, controversial choreographer. He was also one of the few male dancers to perform en pointe. Unfortunately, for all the brilliance of his technique, charisma and talent, his avant-garde career lasted only a few short years before ending in tragedy.

While still a teenager, Nijinsky, possessed of a distinctly androgynous appearance, had a  homosexual affair with the much older Prince Pavel Dimitrievitch Lvov, who showered him with luxuries, providing an apartment, splendid clothes and diamond rings; as well, the prince assisted Nijinsky’s mother financially. His affair with the prince was quickly followed by one with Count Tishkievitch. During that time Nijinsky became the leading star of the Mariinsky Ballet and was a frequent guest star at the Bolshoi Ballet, in spite of his being short and having a stocky build. His most famous partner was none other than Anna Pavlova, and his talent and fame were such that he counted Tsar Nicholas II among his patrons. By the time he was nineteen, Vaslav had begun his romantic and professional partnership with dance impresario Sergei Diaghilev, a Russian nobleman under whose tutelage Nijinsky became known as the God of Dance. Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes dance company was without peer in Europe, and Nijinsky became its star by the age of twenty.

Vaslav had been admitted to the St. Petersburg Imperial School of Ballet at the age of 10, and upon  graduation joined the Imperial Ballet as a soloist, a rare feat. His reputation grew with each dance performance in Russia and Paris, and soon he was choreographing his own works, which broke with classical tradition, to put it mildly. At 22 as principal of the Ballets Russes, he performed his own creation in Paris, based on Claude Debussy’s music, L'Après-midi d'un faune (1912), which ended with Nijinsky, dressed as a faun in a skin tight costume (above), miming masturbation into a wisp of fabric while on stage. Nijinsky said, “I don’t know what happened, but I had an orgasm right there on stage.” The public and critical responses were what you might expect for 1912. While in Paris the next season his angular, jerky choreography for Stravinsky’s throbbing, primitive sounding Le Sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring) incited a public riot during its premiere. His works incorporated voyeurism, sexual primitivism, bisexuality, autoeroticism, and sexual ambiguity.

While on tour in South America later that year, he impulsively married Romola de Pulszky, a Hungarian corps-de-ballet dancer who had been chasing him around the globe. Their wedding in Buenos Aires resulted in professional tragedy. Enraged when he got the news, Diaghilev fired him. Nijinsky attempted to strike out on his own, but was unsuccessful in starting his own dance troupe. Accustomed to being adored, pampered and lavished with luxuries, he found himself broke, unemployed and responsible for supporting a manipulative, domineering wife and children in Hungary, while still in his mid-20s. When WW I broke out, he was living in Budapest and, as a Russian citizen, was incarcerated as an enemy prisoner of war. In 1916 Diaghilev rescued him by arranging for Vaslav and his family to arrive in New York City, so he could join a Russian touring company. Nijinsky’s wife was jealous of the former lovers’ reunion and thwarted their reconciliation at every turn. As a result, Diaghilev abandoned Nijinsky and returned to Europe, while the tour company struggled under Nijinsky’s inept management.

His career in ruins and bereft of a patron, Nijinsky realized that his marriage had been a grave mistake. He was also depressed by the war and began to recede into delusion. His homophobic wife was also delusional, in that she perceived Vaslav as a passive victim of Diaghilev’s lechery, and herself as her husband’s savior, when, in fact, she had single handedly ruined his career. But she was just getting started. Romola committed Nijinsky to a mental institution in Switzerland in 1919, where drugs and experimental shock treatments were administered in an attempt to cure his homosexuality and depression. He was only 29 years old at the time, and his wife’s actions effectively destroyed him – he never danced again. For the next 30 years he was shuttled between private homes and institutions until he died of kidney failure in London in 1950.

Vaslav lay buried in London until 1953, when his body was moved to the Cimetière de Montmartre in Paris, over the strong objections of Romola. When she died of cancer in 1978, Nijinsky's family refused to bury her beside him. In 2005, after a long legal battle, Nijinsky's sepulcher was opened and Romola was re-buried next to Nijinsky, but her name was not added to the tombstone.



La Danse Siamoise (The Siamese Dance 1910) to music by Carl Sinding; the choreography was Nijinsky’s own. This was but one movement from the ballet suite, Les Orientales, with music by various composers, including Edvard Grieg, Anton Arensky, and Alexander Glazunov.

From your blogger -- none of this information is original research. I pieced together bits and pieces from various sources by using the Google search engine.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Pope Julius III

Julius III, who reigned as head of the church from 1550 to 1555, was famous as an expert in canon law. As well, he fortuitously appointed Michelangelo as chief architect of St. Peter's and engaged composer Giovanni Palestrina as choirmaster of St. Peters Basilica. But his greatest legacy was a notorious homosexual scandal, perhaps the greatest in the history of the papacy. Julius had an infamous reputation for having sex with male juveniles, and he flaunted his bent for pedophilia, making no effort at discretion. Julius had a tendency to appoint hot underage studs to the position of Cardinal and an unfortunate habit of mixing business and pleasure.

Decades before becoming pope, Julius was traded as a hostage by the cowardly Pope Clement VII to Emperor Charles V during the sacking of Rome. Julius would have been killed, but in a complicated twist Cardinal Pompeo Colonna, enemy of Clement VII and "rogue commando" cardinal, rescued the hostages, including Julius, from the clutches of the Emperor.

Just before he was elected pope, then-Cardinal Giovanni Maria del Monte, age 61, fell head over heels for a beautiful 15-year old beggar named Fabian, whom he picked up off the streets of Parma. Two years later, del Monte, as Pope Julius III, renamed the young man “Innocenzo” (oh, the irony!) and made him a Cardinal who served as his chief diplomatic and political agent. Julius's brother legally adopted the 17-year old boy, at Julius's insistence, endowing him with the Pope’s family name, as Innocenzo Ciocchi del Monte. The pope outrageously appointed Innocenzo cardinal-nephew*, and showered the boy with so many benefices** that his income was one of the highest in all of Europe. The young cardinal was functionally illiterate and incapable of performing the duties of his office. Even though he had the demeanor of a foul-mouthed gay slut, Innocenzo was endowed with power and prestige by his patron. The entire sordid affair raised many eyebrows and thus inspired more than a century of anti-papacy sentiment throughout Europe. Pope Julius III died in 1555, at age 67, after having suffered many painful attacks of gout.

*Cardinal-Nephew: Every Renaissance Pope appointed a blood relative(s) to the College of Cardinals, and a nephew was the most common choice. The term “nepotism” rose from this practice – the Latin term for Cardinal-nephew was “cardinalis nepos”.

**Benefice: the permanent and irrevocable right given to a cleric by the church to receive revenue in exchange for the performance of a spiritual service (such as the care of souls, the exercise of jurisdiction, the celebration of Mass, etc.). A benefice is based on the scriptural teaching that those who serve the altar should live by the altar.


Pope Julius III had been elected against the backdrop of fierce political infighting within the conclave of cardinals, especially between the acrimonious Spanish, German and French representatives. After 10 long weeks, Julius won election as pontiff in 1550, a man considered equally objectionable to all factions. The celebrations for his election had more of a carnival festivity than of a religious ceremony. The man knew how to party.





Once he was elected pope, however, Julius III looted the papal coffers to build a pleasure palace on the outskirts of Rome. The Villa Giula, as it is known, became the full-time residence of Julius III, and the pope personally oversaw the construction. He hired only the best, including Michelangelo, and had little interest in taking care of the affairs of the papal office. Julius spent the bulk of his time, and a great deal of Papal money, on entertainments at the Villa Giulia (above), where putti (cherubs) play with one another's genitals amidst the vine-covered trellis of the ceiling frescos (see less explicit examples in the photo below). Other art throughout the complex depicts scenes of bacchanals, nymphs and satyrs. The villa was sited along the banks of the Tiber a short distance from Rome, where the Papal party would disembark for day-long picnics and various acts of debauchery.




A nymphaeum (below) featured corridors, secret passages and artificial grottoes where the pope and his guests loved to play hide-and-seek, although not in the same innocent way children do. I’m not making this up. The villa serves today as home to the National Etruscan Museum, located a stone’s throw from the Villa Borghese park (take tram 3 or 19 from the center of Rome).



It was reported that Julius, awaiting Innocenzo's arrival in Rome to receive his cardinal's hat, showed the impatience of a lover awaiting a mistress, and that he boasted of the boy's sexual prowess. The Venetian ambassador to the Vatican further stated that the young Innocenzo shared the pope's bedroom and bed.

But there were others grave offenses, as well. Pope Julius III opened St. Peters and other major churches to sexual orgies that emphasized homosexual behavior. Innocenzo continued to embarrass the church even after the Pope’s death. A pair of unfortunates dissed him on his way to the conclave, and their insolence cost them their lives. The newly elected Pope, Pius IV, arrested Innocenzo and imprisoned him for double homicide. Officials let him out of confinement a few years later, but he was soon charged with raping a woman and again incarcerated. Yet again he was released through the intervention of Pope Julius’s friends. When Innocento died in 1577, he was buried next to his former lover, Pope Julius III.

And there you have it.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Dustin Lance Black

December 2013 Update: Click on Tom Daley in the sidebar for details of Mr. Black's personal life.

A personal comment: I have no problem with accommodating people who hold views that differ from my own. That’s what’s great about our country, the USA – we have free speech rights. One thing I’ve come to realize over the years is that I learn more from people whose ideas and causes differ from my own than I do by associating only with those whose thoughts align with mine. The old “two sides to every story” bit actually holds water. However, people who lie or just make up stuff to support their prejudiced diatribes give free speech a bad name.

Academy Award winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black has done something about it. In 2010 he actually sat in the California federal courtroom (Perry v. Brown) over a three week period to get a first person take on the bigoted defenders who, under oath, revealed one after the other that there were no facts to back up their claims in fighting gay marriage. Proposition 8, which banned same sex marriage, was overturned and ruled unconstitutional – but it’s still not over; the case is surely headed for the U.S. Supreme Court. Black wrote “8", a 90-minute play about the trial, quoting actual transcripts and first hand interviews for a script. A successful reading in NYC led to a YouTube version with a cast that included George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Bomer, Kevin Bacon, Jamie Lee Curtis, Chris Colfer, Jane Lynch, Matthew Morrison, George Takai, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Martin Sheen (who gives a speech that will make your hair stand on end) – all directed by Rob Reiner.  The play 8 is a powerful account of the case filed by the American Federation for Equal Rights (AFER) in the U.S. District Court in 2010 to overturn Proposition 8, a constitutional amendment that eliminated the rights of same-sex couples to marry in the state of California. Framed around the trial's historic closing arguments in June 2010, 8 provides an intimate look at what unfolded when the issue of same-sex marriage was on trial.

Take six minutes of your time to watch gay screenwriter/activist Dustin Lance Black as he is interviewed about his play “8":



200,000* computers captured the live-streamed YouTube premiere on March 3, now archived on YouTube. Following is the entire broadcast (the play itself is the last 90 minutes of the 2-hr. broadcast; there is an option to skip the first 30 minutes to jump to the start of the play):

*This is an arresting statistic. It would take 21 weeks (5 months) of sold-out performances in a 1,200 seat theatre to reach an audience of 200,000, based on 8 performances a week. Thanks to YouTube, that many people saw it in two hours (at the time I punched in "post" this morning, that number had increased to more than 527,000). It is important to note that the defendants, who had launched a campaign of fear and prejudice, had tried to suppress having the videotapes of the trial released, because they were cast in such an unflattering light. Our laws require that the transcripts of the case, however, be made available. All of the words of the actors in the trial scenes are exactly as recorded in the transcripts.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Truman Capote

Truman Capote (1924-1984) was a notorious, back-stabbing liar who had a keen facility for making enemies. He tossed off outrageous, barbed comments like hand grenades, and his life –  a non-stop orgy of drinking, parties and gossip – was a sordid mess, almost from day one. While attending prep school he worked as a copyboy for New Yorker magazine, but was summarily fired after angering Robert Frost.

Capote was openly homosexual, with physical and vocal affectations that alienated many people. He was five-feet three-inches tall with a lisping, high pitched voice. Capote’s rehab treatments (for drugs, depression and heavy drinking) and various breakdowns frequently became public.

He hobnobbed with authors, critics, business tycoons, philanthropists, Hollywood and theatrical celebrities, royalty and members of high society, both in the U.S. and abroad. He was also an extraordinarily talented writer.


His novel Other Voices, Other Rooms (1948, on the New York Times best seller list for nine weeks) was a thinly veiled autobiography of his Alabama childhood. It introduced the character Joel, a young man who, through a meeting with a transvestite, discovers and learns to accept his own homosexuality; he wrote about what was going on sexually in own his life. The Harold Halma photograph on the dust jacket created a sensation, inspiring Andy Warhol to craft his first NYC one-man show as Fifteen Drawings Based on the Writings of Truman Capote (1952). The Halma photo (not shown here) was widely reproduced and often satirized.

The novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1958) introduced the character of Holly Golightly, becoming  one of Capote's best known creations, and the prose style prompted Norman Mailer to call Capote "the most perfect writer of my generation." Most critics agree that in the 1961 film version, Holly Golightly was Audrey Hepburn’s defining role (shown at right), although Capote was highly critical of the film’s many digressions from the original source. But it was a 1959 Kansas quadruple murder that inspired Capote’s 1966 non-fiction novel and movie that made him rich and famous: In Cold Blood. The highly praised biopic film Capote (2005), in which Capote was played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, spanned the years Capote spent researching and writing the wildly successful book.

While he had two serious relationships with men – Smith College professor Newton Arvin (1946-1949) and ballet dancer/novelist/playwright Jack Dunphy (1949 until Capote’s death) – they were not exclusive; Arvin lost his teaching job after his homosexuality was exposed, but Dunphy became the chief beneficiary of Capote’s will. Capote confessed to a sexual liaison with actor Errol Flynn and other high-profile bisexuals, but he famously claimed to know many high-profile people he had in fact never met, such as Greta Garbo. Capote and Gore Vidal were arch rivals. Vidal once observed, "Truman Capote has tried, with some success, to get into a world that I have tried, with some success, to get out of." Lee Radziwill, the sister of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, supplanted the older Babe Paley as Capote’s primary female companion in public appearances.

In 1966 Capote hosted a gala honoring Katherine Graham, Washington socialite and publisher of The Washington Post. Held in the grand ballroom of the Plaza Hotel, the Black and White Ball was a legendary social event. Capote dangled the prized invitations for months, snubbing early supporters as he determined who was “in” and who was “out”. In this photo Capote, host of the Black and White Ball at the Plaza Hotel, escorts the guest of honor, Katharine Graham (1966).

The much-delayed publication of Answered Prayers (1986, posthumously) brought about his fall from grace with high society. Various chapters published in Esquire magazine (1975-76) betrayed the confidences of high profile friends such as Tennessee Williams and William S. and Babe Paley. Although Capote subsequently underwent a facelift, lost weight and experimented with hair transplants, he became a recluse after the revocation of his driver's license and a hallucinatory seizure in 1980. He died of liver cancer in 1984 at the Los Angeles home of Joanna Carson, ex-wife of TV host Johnny Carson, on whose show Capote had been a frequent guest. After Capote’s death, rival Gore Vidal described Capote's demise as "a good career move".

Photo of Truman Capote by Henri Cartier-Bresson:


A Christmas Memory, narrated by Truman Capote. This 1966 Emmy-award winning television version of his 1956 short story (published in Mademoiselle magazine) reveals Capote’s distinctive, quirky voice, starting at the 0:47 timing mark. Have a listen.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Raúl Esparza

Stage actor and singer Raúl Esparza (b. 1970) is a noted performer in Broadway productions – both musicals and straight plays – who also ventures into film and television roles. He was the subject of a 2006 New York Times profile in which he revealed that, although he had been married to his high school sweetheart since 1993, he was bisexual and engaged in same-sex relationships. While he and his former wife remain close friends, Esparza revealed that he was involved with an unnamed male actor at the time; he and his wife quietly divorced in 2008.

Raúl stars in a new Broadway musical Leap of Faith (see video clip at end of post), which begins previews April 3 at the St. James Theatre. Esparza has received numerous Tony award nominations, among them his portrayal of flamboyant Philip Salon in the Boy George musical Taboo (2004), as Bobby, an empty man devoid of connection, in Stephen Sondheim’s Company (2006), a lazy and snarky man in Harold Pinter's The Homecoming, and an aggressive movie producer in David Mamet's Speed the Plow. He played the role of Riff Raff in the Broadway revival of The Rocky Horror Show. Esparza is widely regarded for his versatility on stage.

His work on film includes Sidney Lumet's Find Me Guilty and Wes Craven's My Soul to Take. His television credits include roles on Medium and Pushing Daisies. As well, he has recorded the audio-book for Stephen King's Under the Dome and performs as a singer in concerts from coast to coast.

Company is the story of Bobby, a charming single man, who is unable to commit to a relationship and who may have questions about his own sexual identity. Raúl’s own romantic conflicts were far deeper than that of the character he played and had no easy fix; he was no longer truly married, but not entirely separated. Still, the parallels were striking.

Esparza's separation from his wife came after finally acknowledging that his attraction to men wasn't something transient. It's a journey he observed in his stage character as well: "I think the real thing that Bobby is going through is that he’s trying to grow up, and that means accepting things you can’t change, and it also means that in spite of all the messiness and failure you make a choice to love someone and live your life in the way that’s right for you. It’s messier than the pretty picture you painted for yourself. I had a romanticized idea of what it means to be an adult: all husbands and wives who love each other get to stay together forever – love is enough."

The following video is of his performance of Being Alive (Company’s Broadway revival) from the 2007 Tony Awards broadcast.




LEAP OF FAITH
Raúl Esparza plays con-artist Jonas Nightingale, who finds himself stranded in a backwater Kansas town, attempting to separate the locals from their cash by holding a revival meeting. The musical is based on the 1992 film that starred Steve Martin, and the familiar story line channels such classic dramas as Elmer Gantry, The Rainmaker (and its musical version 110 in the Shade) and The Music Man.

Here Esparza sings Step into the Light from Leap of Faith, which opens on Broadway April 26 (previews begin April 3):

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Stephen Sondheim


































On September 15, 2010, eighty-year-old Stephen Sondheim, one of the greatest theater composers of our time, joined other legendary theatre artists who have had Broadway theatres named after them – Ethel Barrymore, David Belasco, Edwin Booth, George Broadhurst, George Gershwin, Alfred Lunt & Lynn Fontanne, Richard Rodgers, Helen Hayes, Eugene O'Neill, Neil Simon and August Wilson.

Sondheim (born March 22, 1930) gave a speech during the unveiling ceremony of the new marquee on the former Henry Miller’s Theatre at 124 W. 43rd Street. The signage on the marquee is Sondheim’s signature. The  restored neo-Georgian brick façade, which dates back to 1918, fronts an entirely new 1,055 seat theatre placed below street level. The restoration retained the “Henry Miller’s Theatre” letters, still visible etched in stone high above the Stephen Sondheim marquee (see photo above).

This was a rare instance of a Broadway theatre being named for a living person in recent times. The Neil Simon Theatre (formerly the Alvin) was dedicated in 1983 in the presence of the playwright, and while August Wilson knew that the Virginia Theatre was to be renamed in his honor in 2005, he died before the dedication took place later that year.

The first show to open in the newly renamed theatre was The Pee-wee Herman Show, which began performances on October 26, 2010. At present a revival of Cole Porter’s Anything Goes is playing here. It should not be lost on my readers that Cole Porter and Stephen Sondheim are/were both homosexual Broadway artists. Sondheim did not come out as a gay man until he was 40 and did not live with a partner (dramatist Peter Jones) until he was 61.

Sondheim wrote the lyrics for the landmark musical West Side Story (1957) in collaboration with bisexual Leonard Bernstein’s music and gay Arthur Laurents’s book. Laurents, born in 1918 (the same year as Bernstein), died less than a year ago in May, 2011. Sondheim, the baby of that creative team, was just 25 years old when he was hired to work on West Side Story. He followed with another smash hit with his lyrics for Gypsy in 1959.

Sondheim helped establish what is known as the “concept” musical, which sought to tell stories in fresh ways – Company (1970), Follies (1971) and Pacific Overtures (1976), for example. He changed the nature of musical theatre forever and has influenced subsequent generations of writers.

Sondheim is the winner of a Pulitzer Prize (Sunday in the Park with George), an Academy Award (for Sooner or Later, as performed by Madonna in the film Dick Tracy) and multiple Tony and Grammy Awards. He was the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Kennedy Center Honors (1993), the National Medal of Arts (1996), the American Academy of Arts and Letters' Gold Medal for Music (2006) and a special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre (2008).


Sondheim (above left) with Leonard Bernstein in 1965.

Among the many shows for which Sondheim wrote the music and lyrics are Into the Woods (1987), Sunday in the Park with George (1984), Sweeney Todd (1979), A Little Night Music (1973), Anyone Can Whistle (1964) and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1962). Five shows are anthologies of his works: Side by Side by Sondheim (1976), Marry Me a Little (1981), You're Gonna Love Tomorrow (1983), Putting It Together (1993/99) and Sondheim on Sondheim (2010).

It is a lesser known fact that he has composed film scores, written songs for television productions and provided incidental music for stage plays.

Sondheim is currently working on a new musical, tentatively titled All Together Now, in collaboration with playwright David Ives, whose play Venus in Fur (2010) is enjoying an extended run at Broadway’s Lyceum Theatre.

In 2009 the Signature Theatre, in my home state of Virginia, established a new honor, The Sondheim Award, as “a tribute to America's most influential contemporary musical theatre composer.” The first award was presented at the Arlington, VA, theatre’s gala fund-raiser. Sondheim himself was the first recipient of the award, which includes a $5000 honorarium for the recipients' choice of a nonprofit organization. The 2010 honoree was Angela Lansbury, and in 2011 the recipient was Bernadette Peters.

Trivia: Sondheim is the only living composer with a quarterly journal published in his name, The Sondheim Review.


Bernadette Peters and Mandy Patinkin perform "Move On" from Stephen Sondheim's Sunday in the Park with George with the New York Philharmonic for Sondheim's 80th birthday celebration, which was aired on PBS in November, 2010.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Gus Van Sant

Gus Van Sant (b. 1952) is an Academy Award-nominated film director, photographer, musician, and author who is pointedly based in Portland, Oregon, instead of L.A. or NYC. It is Van Sant's view that living in the city where he attended high school and learned his craft is a way to keep his head and art clear of a sort of alien residue that it might take on if he worked somewhere else.

Openly gay, he has dealt unflinchingly with homosexual themes in which his characters are more often misfits than role models. As a writer and director, he created My Own Private Idaho (1991) and an adaptation of Tom Robbins' novel Even Cowgirls Get the Blues (1993). His mainstream triumph, as director of Good Will Hunting (1997, photo with Matt Damon, below), led to an unusually faithful remake of the Alfred Hitchcock classic Psycho, a disappointment that met with equal parts curiosity, skepticism, and derision from industry insiders and the public alike.

Van Sant seems equally at home with major studio projects and low-budget independent films, and he is known for being a low-key writer/director who tailors his characters to the cast. The Columbine-themed Elephant (2003) unexpectedly won the Palme d'Or and a Best Director award at Cannes. With the period film Milk (2008) Van Sant returned to mainstream film making; its budget of $20 million was more than his four previous films combined. Milk was a biopic of openly gay San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk (portrayed by Sean Penn, photo at end of post)), who was assassinated in 1978. The film was released to much acclaim and earned accolades from film critics and guilds and was a major hit with the public. Ultimately, it received eight Oscar nominations, including Best Director for Van Sant. It won two Academy Awards, Best Actor in a Leading Role for Penn and Best Original Screenplay for writer Dustin Lance Black.

His next project will star Taylor Lautner (who has had to remind us for the thousandth time that he’s “straight” – funny how that concept just doesn’t stick in our heads) in a movie about illegal underground boxing matches in NYC’s Chinatown in which the participants are buffed male models. Based on a non-fiction  article that appeared in New York magazine on February 13, 2011 (Fight Like a Pretty Boy by Alex Morris), it will give Mr. Lautner (abs-featured photo below) an excuse to take off his clothes for “his art” (not his fan base) and Van Sant an excuse to inject heaps of homoerotic subtext in a film for a mainstream audience.

Ms. Morris wrote, “They come for the sheer violence – the wormhole back to a long-lost New York. But they’ve also come for the spectacle of beautiful boys stripping to the waist and submitting their features to a thorough pummeling.”

Alrighty then. I give the project my vote, as it seems a perfect match for Van Sant and Lautner, and I hereby cease my bitchy comments about the über-straight Mr. Lautner. Filming is to commence any day now.

I should also note that Gus Van Sant has written one novel, Pink, and published a book of his photography, called 108 Portraits. He has also exhibited original art works (watercolors), made music videos and has released two CD albums on which he sings and plays all instruments.


Below: Van Sant with Sean Penn, star of Milk.




My Own Private Idaho stars Keanu Reeves (Scott) and River Phoenix (Mike) as street hustlers. In this scene drug-addicted Mike, who suffers from narcolepsy, professes his unrequited love to Scott; Phoenix himself expanded Van Sant’s original 3-page scene into an 8-page confessional that clears up the ambiguity of his character's sexual orientation. The film, whose title is derived from the song "Private Idaho" by the B-52s, is a retelling of Shakespeare’s Henry IV plays, with the character of Scott (Keanu Reeves) based on Prince Hal. The plot, which centers on death and betrayal, provides roles of great density, rare offerings for such young actors. River Phoenix received enormous praise for his performance. Tragically, two years after the release of this film, Phoenix collapsed and died of drug-induced heart failure on the sidewalk outside West Hollywood’s Viper Room nightclub, at the age of 23.

"Campfire Confessional" scene from My Own Private Idaho:

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Chris Hughes: New Republic Owner


Three weeks ago (February 15) I featured Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes and his partner Sean Eldridge, who are busy as activists for marriage equality. Today Hughes announced that he has purchased the venerable The New Republic magazine, a progressive political periodical.

Hughes will become Editor-in-Chief and will place emphasis on delivering the magazine content via tablet computers. He did not speculate on ending the print edition, but he mentioned that sooner than we think most readers will be reading The New Republic on a tablet.

The magazine currently employs a small staff of just 29, but Hughes announced plans to increase the magazine’s budget for reporting and analysis, so we can assume he’ll be hiring for an expanded staff.

Editor Richard Just, who will retain his post, stated in a letter to his staff:

For all of us at TNR – and, really, for anyone who believes in the enduring value of intellectual magazine journalism – this is a wonderful day. My colleagues and I can’t wait to work with Chris to bring the vision of magazine journalism we all share to more and more readers, and to continue the process of figuring out how this kind of journalism can thrive in the age of the Internet and the iPad.

Hughes told National Public Radio that "People still want independent, rigorous reporting and The New Republic has been a place where that happens." He also emphasized "freedom, equality and American responsibility" as core values written into the publication's DNA.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Edward Field

Gay poet Edward Field was born in 1924 in Brooklyn and attended New York University before enlisting in the Air Force in 1943. During the war, as a navigator in heavy bombers, he flew 25 missions over Germany. Field began writing poetry during his military service but did not gain recognition until his collection of poems, Stand Up, Friend, With Me, was awarded the Lamont Poetry Selection prize in 1962. The collection was published the following year.

Field uses words in a straightforward way, and he does not expect his audience to have arcane knowledge. He says he was asked to translate a book of Eskimo poems for children, because he was the only writer the publisher could find whose poetry could be understood by ten-year-olds.

There is also a confessional nature to his poetry. While earlier poems contained subtle references to homosexuality, A Full Heart (1977), is a collection of genial poems in which Field came out as a gay poet. His gay manifesto is "The Two Orders of Love." In this poem, he sees homosexuality as a natural and necessary condition:

Nature needs both to do its work
and humankind, confusing two separate orders of love
makes rules allowing only one kind
and defies the universe.

Terrence Johnson sums up Field’s place in the genre of contemporary literature: “Field's poetry is a pleasurable and valuable account of coming to terms with homosexuality in the literary world of New York in the second half of the twentieth century.”

His honors include an Academy Award for the documentary film “To Be Alive” (1965) for which he wrote the voice-over narration, the Shelley Award, a Lambda Award, and the Bill Whitehead Lifetime Achievement Award.

Field, who maintains a web site at www.edwardfield.com, has given readings at hundreds of colleges and other institutions, including the Library of Congress. You can hear him reading poetry at:

www.YouTube.com/fieldinski

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Adam Bouska

Celebrity photographer, NOH8 Campaign Co-Founder, Activist

www.noh8campaign.com

Adam Bouska's NOH8 Campaign is a charitable organization whose mission is to promote marriage, gender and human equality through education, advocacy, social media, and visual protest.

NOH8 is a photographic silent protest launched on February 1, 2009, by celebrity photographer Adam Bouska (at right) and partner Jeff Parshley in direct response to the passage of Proposition 8 in California. Photos feature subjects against a white background with duct tape over their mouths, symbolizing their voices being silenced by Prop 8 and similar legislation around the world, with NOH8 painted on one cheek in protest.

On November 4, 2008 Proposition 8 passed in California, amending the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage. Same sex Californians had been able to marry since mid-June, 2008, and the passage of Prop 8 reversed that decision. The legislation provoked a groundswell of initiative within the GLBT community at a grassroots level, with many new political and protest organizations being formed in response.

Three years since its inception, the NOH8 Campaign (pronounced No Hate) has grown to over 20,000 faces and continues to grow at an exponential rate. The campaign began with portraits of everyday Californians from all walks of life and soon rose to include politicians, military personnel, newlyweds, law enforcement, artists, celebrities, and many more. Perhaps two of the most famous NOH8 models have been Cindy McCain, wife of U.S. Senator John McCain (Arizona), and daughter Meghan McCain.

The NOH8 Campaign has received overwhelming support from around the world, and has appeared in various local and national news programs and publications. The images are widely used on various social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter to spread the message of equality. Eventually the images will be compiled for a large-scale media campaign.

www.noh8campaign.com



Mr. Bouska's high profile photographic portraits of models and celebrities are recognized the world over. Can there be a gay man alive who has not seen Adam's photo of actor/model Marco Dapper? Worth another look:

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Michael Stipe (R.E.M.)

As lead singer for R.E.M., Michael Stipe (b. 1960) headed one of the most influential alternative rock bands of the 1980s and ‘90s. R.E.M. was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007, in recognition of having produced a string of classic hits such as Losing My Religion, It’s The End of the World As We Know It, The One I Love, Man on the Moon and Everybody Hurts – a testament to Stipe’s unique style of singing and songwriting ability. R.E.M.’s debut album, Murmur (1983) received critical acclaim, beating out Michael Jackson’s Thriller for Album of the Year in the Rolling Stone Critic’s Poll. In 1996, R.E.M. signed the largest contract of its kind with Warner Brothers Records, valued at $80 million.

After Stipe wore a hat in 1992 that proclaimed, “White House Stop AIDS,” rumors began circulating about his sexual orientation. At the time Stipe responded that he was an “equal opportunity lech,” and did not call himself gay, straight or bisexual. In 1994 he stated publicly that he was attracted to, and had relationships with, both men and women. Finally Stipe ended years of speculation by coming out in Time magazine in 2001. He revealed that he had been in a three-year relationship with an amazing man and referred to himself as a queer artist. He divulged that he felt that public figures and celebrities should be open about their sexuality in order to “help kids somewhere out there.” Subsequently Stipes became known for his social and political activism – all the while turning out hit after hit, featuring his surreal lyrics.

On September 21, 2011, the members of R.E.M. announced their retirement in a news release on the band’s website. The band had been performing for thirty-one years, and Stipe was 51 years old.






To our Fans and Friends: 
As R.E.M., and as lifelong friends and co-conspirators, we have decided to call it a day as a band. We walk away with a great sense of gratitude, of finality, and of astonishment at all we have accomplished. To anyone who ever felt touched by our music, our deepest thanks for listening – R.E.M.

Bad Day (2006)

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Ferdinand I of Bulgaria: Part II

Fancy Uniforms, Palaces, Lavender Walls
And a Stable of Blond, Blue-Eyed Chauffeurs


When Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha became Prince of Bulgaria in 1887 at age 26, he found himself ruler of a rag-tag country struggling to be taken seriously by the rest of Europe. Though he was bowled over by the country’s picturesque landscape and captivating antiquities, there was little else to enchant a spoiled young Prince. The centuries-old monasteries, mosques and churches, monuments to the successive Thracian, Roman and Byzantine civilizations that had thrived in the lands of Bulgaria, were all well and good, but Ferdinand needed a place to live that was suited to his lifestyle, which tilted toward grand opera, formal French etiquette and other bastions of luxury, particularly fine cuisine and wine.


A modest, leaky, unfinished “palace” awaited him in downtown Sofia**, whose citizens had to navigate muddy, rutted unlit streets with no drainage and few trees. Ferdinand  (1861-1948), the bisexual subject of today’s post, had grown up in the lap of luxury at his parent’s palace in downtown Vienna, which then had a population approaching 2 million. When he arrived in Sofia, he took one look around that Balkan backwater and realized he needed to take drastic, immediate action.

**Sofia (pronounced SOH-fee-uh, accent on the first syllable) has a population today of 1.2 million, quite a growth spurt from 19,000 residents in 1887.

It was fortunate that his fantastically wealthy mother, herself the daughter of a French king, wanted to help out. In fact, she dedicated the rest of her life working to get her son established on a European throne (unfortunately she died one year shy of Ferdinand's elevating himself from Prince to Tsar of Bulgaria, thus re-establishing the country's monarchy). You may recall from an earlier post that, as a birthday gift, she gave her son a railroad connecting Bulgaria to the rest of Europe. He essentially set out to create a world capital from scratch. Over the next twenty years Ferdinand had to create departments for nearly everything found lacking when he first arrived in Sofia in 1887: for administration, police, finance, army, public education, commerce and industry.

Ferdinand rolled up his sleeves and got to work. In 1888 he founded both a zoo and a university, the first-ever institution of higher learning in all of Bulgaria. The following year he established a National Museum of Natural History along with opera and ballet companies, then charged on to commission a fine building for the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences (1893), which he had founded earlier. He continued to seek recognition by world leaders; in 1903 he established diplomatic relations with the United States. Ferdinand founded a National Archeological Museum in 1905, housing it inside a former Ottoman mosque built in 1474.


Ferdinand established a National Theater and dedicated its magnificent new neoclassical building in 1907 (photo above).

When Ferdinand first took up residence in Sofia, the great and ancient sixth-century basilica of Hagia Sophia lay in ruins, abandoned after suffering damage from two earthquakes. Ferdinand oversaw restoration work on Hagia Sophia while simultaneously witnessing construction of the adjacent Alexander Nevsky Eastern Orthodox cathedral, which was dedicated in 1912 in his presence. This enormous gold-domed neo-Byzantine cathedral (photo below) has become the principal tourist attraction in Bulgaria.



Sofia had been famous for its mineral springs. In 1911 Ferdinand oversaw the opening of a grand Public Mineral Bath House and Spa (left) built in Vienna-Secessionist architectural style with noted embellishment of majolica tile work inside and out; at present a section of this magnificent edifice is being converted for use as the Museum of Sofia. Also in 1911 the great Central Market Hall complex of 170 shops and stalls opened, occupying an entire city block; this Renaissance/Neo-Byzantine complex was recently restored to its original function and appearance. The façade bears a bas-relief of the coat of arms of Sofia above the main entrance.







Among the ways Ferdinand countered Bulgaria’s inferior international standing was to wear imposing, extravagant military uniforms; the other was to build/renovate a collection of castles, palaces and country homes furnished with the same sorts of chandeliers, carpets and table settings that were found in the great palaces of Europe. When he hosted foreign dignitaries, Ferdinand put on quite a show, and no detail was too insignificant to involve his direct oversight.


Guests would arrive at the official Sofia palace (above) to find bodyguards placed on every step, handsomely clad in splendid scarlet uniforms embellished with silver-braid. They were led into welcoming chambers that had been scented with pine. Violet and mauve, Ferdinand’s favorite colors, were represented in silk wall coverings, fabrics and elaborate floral displays. Crystal chandeliers, fine French china and porcelains, uniformed servants, rare Oriental carpets, extravagant silver services and the finest cutlery wowed his visitors. He took pains to place quartets of musicians behind upholstered screens, so that their sound was not so loud as to disrupt conversation. Here Ferdinand hosted private theatricals, fancy balls, dinners and parties that were over the top in pomp and luxury. Ferdinand himself chose the menus, music, flowers, entertainments and dinnerware.

Before you knew it, Ferdinand could chose among a growing collection of fine official residences. The city-center palace in Sofia (now housing the National Art Gallery) had been so woefully inadequate that he more than doubled its size just after moving in. The photo above shows the wing Ferdinand added to house his private apartments. As well, he planted hundreds of trees and established a garden surrounding the residence.

Ferdinand next purchased a vast tract of land twenty miles southeast of Sofia to build Vrana Palace (1906), set in a large park with a hunting lodge. This became Ferdinand’s favorite residence and the place where his family spent most of its time. Ferdinand indulged his horticultural interests to great effect there and kept three elephants, bison and antelope on the vast grounds. Vrana Palace was much larger than his in-town official palace in Sofia. Still not satisfied, Ferdinand kept royal apartments in monasteries, numerous country houses and hunting lodges*. Not to mention purpose-built chalets and cottages in the Rila mountains, for which he had to build access roads. Once his son Boris converted from Roman Catholicism to the Greek Orthodox church, rooms were kept for the royal family in the 10th-century Greek Orthodox monastery in Rila, where today Tsar Boris III lies buried.

*Tsarska Bistritsa, in the Rila mountain town of Borovets, is a very large, fanciful  hunting lodge built by Ferdinand along a course of cascading waterfalls. It was recently returned to the royal family of Tsar Simeon II, and in 2002 the wedding of Princes Kalina, Simeon’s  daughter, took place there.

About five miles from the Black Sea resort of Varna, visible only from the sea, sat Euxinograd, which Ferdinand developed into a splendid royal summer residence surrounded by exotic flowers, fountains, shrubbery, trees and vineyards. This palace was built from scratch and reflected Ferdinand’s most idiosyncratic tastes, so I will make a more elaborate description of it.

Shielded from the main coastal road by a small woodland, Euxinograd palace was built as a replica of the right hand wing of France’s royal Chateau de Saint-Cloud. It would have pleased Tsar Ferdinand of Bulgaria to know that since 2007 this palace has hosted the annual opera festival, Operosa. Ferdinand was an accomplished musician who habitually played piano arrangements of his favorite opera excerpts by Gluck and Wagner before retiring to bed, and he saw to it that each of his many palaces and country homes had a music room. The spacious music chamber in his palace in Sofia, for instance, was outfitted with a pipe organ, harp and three pianos.

Euxinograd was constructed in French château style, a reminder to all that Ferdinand was the grandson of a French king. Boasting a high metal-edged mansard roof, figured brickwork and a clock tower, this summer palace was the scene of splendid royal dinners and entertainments. A disused monastery on the property was transformed into a summer dining room. Jutting out over a cliff, the structure afforded guests the impression of floating in mid-air out over the sea.

As always, there was on staff a veritable stable of blond haired, blue-eyed male chauffeurs to drive Ferdinand around the magnificent landscape surrounding Varna in his ever-expanding collection of fine motorcars. He spent a lot of quality time in the company of his chauffeurs, if you get my drift. Cabinet ministers and affairs of state often had to wait until Ferdinand and his chauffeurs returned from their long "drives" through the forests.

Through his French mother, Ferdinand had acquired a part of the ruined Chateau de Saint-Cloud,  located outside Paris. The palace had been burned by the Prussian armies in 1870 during the Franco-Prussian War and was subsequently pulled down. Ferdinand had surviving architectural elements of the French palace incorporated into his new seaside summer home. He loved pointing out to guests the main pediment of Saint-Cloud palace, now embedded into the wall supporting Euxinograd’s main terrace. Depicting the French royal coat-of-arms (above), these architectural remnants had been transported stone by stone from Paris to the Black Sea on the Orient Express railway coaches.

The palace, sited on a promontory jutting into the Black Sea, can be visited today. It still contains the walnut and mahogany furniture from Ferdinand’s family, and a sundial, a gift from Queen Victoria, adorns the grounds. An enormous chandelier sporting gilded lilies and a royal crown still illuminates a reception room; it had been a present from the French royal house of Bourbon,  from which Ferdinand’s mother was descended. Every door handle in the palace is engraved with Tsar Ferdinand’s coat of arms, including those leading to the toilets.

The palace boasts an underground wine cellar that covers two floors. Constructed in 1891 to house an extensive collection of wine for royal consumption, a scandal erupted in 2002, when it was discovered that extraordinarily valuable vintage bottles (left), some dating from Bulgaria's 1878 liberation from the Ottoman empire, were missing from the Palace's cellar. Three French wines, well-preserved and each worth thousands of dollars, were among 137 bottles that disappeared. Last seen in April, 2002, the 124-year-old French wines had been a gift to Bulgarian Tsar Ferdinand I and his son, Tsar Boris III. The wine master was immediately dismissed, amidst scandalous charges. The Euxinograd estate grounds are surrounded by vineyards, which still produce white wine and brandy that are among the best in the country. The root stocks were selected and brought here by Ferdinand himself, who was an avid and expert naturalist. Today’s Euxinograd Chardonnay is world famous.

The palace grounds lead down directly to the Black Sea. It took several decades to complete the gardens, and today they are home to more than 300 species of plants from Asia, Latin America, North Africa and the South of France. Ferdinand ordered 50,000 trees from Marseille and planted them in especially rich soil transported from the mouth of Bulgaria’s Kamchiya River. Coniferous shrubs and evergreens were brought to the estate from Europe, Syria and Algeria, each species chosen by the Tsar himself. The palace gardens are a most pleasing fusion of French and English design devised by noted French landscape architect Edouard André. The grounds include two ornate bridges (one of which is made to look like a fallen tree) under which flows the Kestrichka Bara River. Embellishments include French bronzes, a statue of Neptune (above) and a lake filled with water lilies. Not to mention a Japanese garden. And a butterfly garden.


Ferdinand’s second wife Eleonore Reuss-Kostritz died at Euxinograd in 1917, and the next year, at the close of WW I, Ferdinand abdicated to his son Boris, in order to preserve the crown. When the Bulgarian monarchy was abolished after WW II, the palace became a summer home for Communist party bigwigs. When the Communist regime fell in 1989, the palace was used as a presidential residence, and during the summer, cabinet meetings are still held there.





















Palace building was apparently in the blood of the Saxe-Coburg-Gothas. When Ferdinand’s son, Tsar Boris III, visited the town of Banya in southern Bulgaria in 1925, he was captivated by the climate and local curative mineral springs. He built a large residence there in 1929, and subsequently supplied the village with electricity and had it connected to the Plovdiv-Karlovo railway line. After the fall of the Communist regime in 1989, Banya Palace was eventually returned to Boris’s son, the deposed Tsar Simeon II (born in this palace in 1937), who emerged from exile in Spain to serve as Bulgaria’s Prime Minister from 2001 through 2005. Simeon, who became Tsar at age six, has never renounced his throne.

As well, Tsar Ferdinand had ancestral palaces in Germany, Austria and Hungary. He was the last occupant of St. Anthony Castle (photo at left), a well-preserved Baroque palace (1749) in a mountain setting near Banská Štiavnica, Slovakia,  in what was then Hungary.

Today’s visitors admire its famous Chinese Parlor (photo below). Ferdinand delighted in the manor house’s quirky “year” symbolism, with 4 wings for each of the 4 seasons, 12 chimneys for 12 months, 52 rooms for 52 weeks, 7 arcades for 7 days in a week and 365 windows for the number of days in a year. Well honestly.





After Ferdinand’s abdication in 1918, he retired to Coburg, Germany, cradle of the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha dynasty, where he had a spare palace, Bürglaß-Schlösschen, in reserve. Stll in possession of his vast fortune, he lived the remaining thirty years of his life there as a bachelor, indulging his interests in horticulture, travel and male companionship. Ferdinand continued his month-long visits to the Italian island of Capri, in the Bay of Naples, infamous as a hang out for wealthy homosexuals in pursuit of young men. As well, he sustained his interest in fine motorcars and the young blond men who drove them.

The previous post (Part I) about Tsar Ferdinand of Bulgaria can be found through this link:
gayinfluence.blogspot.com/2012/02/ferdinand-i-of-bulgaria.html