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.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Merle Miller

On January 17, 1971, American writer Merle Miller (1919-1986) came out of the closet in an article titled “What It Means To Be a Homosexual”, which appeared as the lead story in the New York Times magazine. He was among the first American homosexual men to reveal publicly the travails connected with their sexual orientation. Miller’s roommate at their house in the country had purchased a shotgun for protection the day before the original piece appeared, but Miller was ultimately buoyed by the experience of finally coming clean about his homosexuality.

The newspaper received more than 2,000 letters in response, setting a record. As a result, the article was expanded and published as a book – On Being Different. What It Means To Be a Homosexual (1971) – making Miller a spokesman for the gay movement.

Both the newspaper article and book represented a tremendous leap forward, because they did much to humanize the homosexual’s predicament. During the next ten months much of the correspondence that Miller received was from gay readers who wrote things along the lines of  “Nothing I have ever read has helped as much to restore my own self-respect” and “so much of what you have to say I have experienced myself and have rarely been able to trust anyone to ‘let go’.”

Some straight readers realized for the first time that “homosexuals were people, too, with feelings, just like anybody else.” One reader, who had always blanched at bigoted labels such as kike, Dago, spic and nigger wrote, “Yet for every time I've said homosexual, I've said ‘fag’ a thousand times. You've made me wonder how I could have believed that I had modeled my life on the dignity of man while being so cruel, so thoughtless to so many.”

The mother of a gay son wrote to Merle Miller: “Being a nice human being, my son is accepted by people everywhere. Above all, as he grows older he knows his family loves him always. Families of young gay men should not treat them as ‘sick’. Different, yes – but not sick. I think we’d have fewer suicides and better adjusted ‘different’ males if the family unit stayed close to these boys. The whole problem in our generation is that we worry so much about what our neighbors think...” At the time it was radical thinking that a parent's proper role might be to accept a child's sexual orientation, and Miller’s article paved the way for this turn around in philosophy.

As a bookish boy who wore thick glasses and played the violin and piano, Miller had been called a sissy when he started school. He said, “I heard that word at least five days a week for the next 13 years until I skipped town and went away to college.” At the University of Iowa, he wrote a satirical column in the Daily Iowan and had a job as a radio commentator. In 1938 Miller won a scholarship to study at the BBC in London.

During World War II Miller was combat correspondent and editor of the European edition of Yank – The Army Weekly. He later worked as an editor at Time and Harper’s magazines and wrote frequently for The New York Times and Esquire magazine. He was a book reviewer for The Saturday Review of Literature and a contributing editor for The Nation. As well, his work appeared frequently in The New York Times Magazine. From 1947-1951 Miller was married to Eleanor Green, who worked for publisher Farrar-Straus.

Miller’s postwar career as a television script writer and novelist was interrupted by inclusion on Senator Joseph McCarthy’s "Blacklist." In 1962 he was hired to write the script for a proposed TV series on ex-President Harry Truman. Miller spent hundreds of hours with Truman, but major networks didn’t show interest in airing the documentary. Miller felt  one of the reasons it was never shown on TV was because he had been a blacklisted writer. Miller once again stirred up controversy in 1967, when he signed the “Writers and Editors War Tax Protest,” vowing to refuse to pay taxes raised to fund the Vietnam War.

In 1974 Miller published Plain Speaking, a book based on his interviews with Truman, and it landed in the number one spot on the New York Times best seller list and remained on the list for over a year. This success led to two best-selling biographies on presidents Eisenhower and Johnson.

Merle Miller (center) with Truman Library director Benedict Zobrist (left) and Milton Perry, Truman Library curator, at the library in 1974.

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