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.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Horatio Alger Jr.

Horatio Alger, Jr. (1832-1899) was a 19th-century American author who published more than 130 novels written for young boys. Of poor literary quality, these inspirational tales repeat the constant theme of rags to riches, illustrating how down-and-out boys might be able to achieve wealth and success through hard work, courage and determination. Alger thus became a significant figure in the history of American cultural and social mores, but his novels, which sold over 100 million copies, are rarely read today.

After graduating from Harvard Divinity School in 1860, Alger took a job as a minister in a Unitarian Church in Brewster, Massachusetts. This post was to provide a painful lesson that influenced his later literary career.

Alger wrote stories about handsome, poor boys who found themselves cast into the world to seek their fortune. Along the way, they inevitably encountered an older, richer man who took an uncommon interest in them. Through the guidance of the older man, the youths were led into a better society. Each and every one of his novels described homoerotic relationships between lonely, older men and needy, handsome youths. In today’s cruder terms, the plots of these books could be described as “rich sugar daddies and the boys who loved them.”

It should come as no surprise then, to learn that Alger had been dismissed from his job as a minister for the “abominable and revolting crime of unnatural familiarity with two young boys.” He was run out of town by a howling mob and subsequently fled to New York City, where he lived out his days as a deeply closeted homosexual, trying to escape and sublimate his sexuality – with varying degrees of success. In New York Alger discovered the world of street boys who lived by their wits, eking out a living peddling newspapers or shining shoes. Although he was nearly 40 years old, Alger practically lived at the Newsboys’ Lodging House, surrounded by the boys that enticed him. His erotic fantasies resulted in dozens of books about benevolent older men and needy young men, who often advanced their position by youthful good looks and charm.

A typical Horatio Alger novel is Digging for Gold. A handsome 16-year-old Iowa farmboy, Grant, becomes lost while making his way to California. Nearing starvation, he comes upon a cabin in the woods, occupied by an older bachelor millionaire, Mr. Crosmont, who takes a liking to him. The older man gives the youth a home, clothes, money and a job.

“I give it to you because I feel an interest in you, Grant. I can’t explain why, for I have met a good many young persons in my travels, but  never was drawn to any one as I am drawn to you.”

“I am glad to have so good a friend, Mr. Crosmont.”

“And I am glad to have found some one in whom I can feel an interest.”

Later, after Crosmont has settled in San Francisco, he writes a letter to Grant:

“I confess that I feel lonely. I am not a man to take many friends, and I have met no
one in whom I feel an interest since I parted with you. I begin to think that I should like
to have you with me, and I promise that you will lose nothing by transferring yourself to
San Francisco.”

Grant recognizes a sweet deal and hoofs it to San Francisco. The first day Crosmont greets Grant, he buys the boy a suit, gives him two building lots in the city, takes him into his home (rent-free) and offers him a job paying so much that Grant could buy another three building lots per month. Grant is just 16 years old, and Crosmont almost 50. Hmmm.

Well, there you have it. A typical Horatio Alger story.

Alger eventually gave away most of his royalties to needy young men, in keeping with the story lines of his novels. After his death in 1899, however, his sister destroyed all of his personal papers in an effort to avoid scandal. Alger's 1928 biographer, Herbert R. Mayes, fabricated many sources. Mayes's book became the basis for subsequent biographical sketches. Fifty years later, in 1978, Mayes admitted that the work was a hoax, and today few people realize that the stories about street urchins who make their way in the world were written by a man who had "a natural liking for boys," as Alger himself described it. In popular culture, his name has become synonymous with financial achievement of the "rags to riches" sort.

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