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, December 31, 2013

Yannick Nézet-Séguin

A native of Montreal, Canada, Yannick Nézet-Séguin (Yah-NEEK Neh-ZAY Say-GUN) was named Music Director of The Philadelphia Orchestra in 2012. He is also Music Director of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra and Principal Guest Conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Since 2000 Mr. Nézet-Séguin has also been Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the Orchestre Métropolitain (Montreal), and he has conducted all the major ensembles in his native Canada.

Nézet-Séguin is also a notable opera conductor; he has a long-term relationship with the Metropolitan Opera, where he has been talked about as a credible successor to James Levine as music director, so stay tuned...

He is also the first openly gay conductor of one of the “big five” orchestras in the United States.
Mr. Nézet-Séguin’s partner of sixteen years, Pierre Tourville (shown in sunglasses behind Yannick), is the assistant principal violist of the Orchestre Métropolitain (Montreal), and they appear everywhere together. When the conductor was fêted by the city of Philadelphia a couple of years ago, Pierre Tourville was also introduced at every stop – amazing, considering that Philadelphia is not exactly known to be a progressive city.

In a New York Times profile by Daniel Wakin earlier this year, it was reported that “Nézet-Séguin is what the orchestra world is desperate for: a young, charismatic maestro who can win the respect, even affection, of grizzled orchestra veterans, the enthusiasm of audiences and the praise of critics, which has for him been pretty exalted.”

The 37-year-old conductor’s youth is reflected in his flouting of certain traditions – he frequently leads from the podium in a business suit and tie (Carnegie Hall), and he’s partial to tight V-neck sweaters and skinny jeans. While on vacation in Tahiti he acquired a turtle tattoo on his right shoulder, and his compact five-foot-five frame bursts with energy.



Again from Mr. Wakin’s NYT profile: “He seemed stunned by the ovation” (conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra in Verdi’s Requiem at Carnegie Hall). “Applause from his inner circle greeted him in the crowded dressing room. Attendants broke open bottles of sparkling wine. Mr. Nézet-Séguin embraced his companion, Mr. Tourville, looked him in the eyes and said, ‘Oui?’

‘Oui,’ Mr. Tourville answered. With an air of coronation, orchestra and Carnegie Hall executives toasted Mr. Nézet-Séguin. “

The conductor’s honors include a prestigious Royal Philharmonic Society Award, Canada’s highly coveted National Arts Centre Award and the Prix Denise-Pelletier, the highest distinction for the arts in Quebec, awarded by the Quebec government.  In 2011, he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Quebec in Montreal and was appointed a Companion of the Order of Canada in 2012.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Tchaikovsky: Tragic Gay Composer

Until recently, Russian musicologists have long denied that composer Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) was a gay man. He had a string of relationships with men, back from his student days up until his death. Tchaikovsky had a distinct taste for younger men, and his lovers included poets, musicians, servants and other members of the lower classes. Several sources report that when traveling abroad he sometimes used male prostitutes for sexual gratification.

Tchaikovsky was tormented by his suppressed homosexuality and the constant fear of exposure. Although he married one of his students, his attempt at straight family life was disastrous. Even though they remained married, he and his wife had no children and did not live together. Within two weeks of his wedding Tchaikovsky tried to kill himself, hoping to catch pneumonia by plunging himself into the Moscow River. At the urging of his doctor, he fled to St. Petersburg and never saw his wife again, although he continued to support her. She had several children by other men, giving each infant to an orphanage; she spent her final twenty-one years in a home for the certifiably insane.

All of Tchaikovsky’s successes were musical. He enjoyed world-wide fame, and the czar bestowed honors upon him and even granted him a life-long pension. The most significant of these awards was when Czar Alexander III conferred upon him the Order of St. Vladimir, which conveyed hereditary nobility. Tchaikovsky went on to achieve the greatest degree of popularity ever accorded a Russian composer. In 1891 he even conducted the inaugural concert at New York City’s Carnegie Hall.

Modest, his brother, was also gay. In an exchange of letters between the brothers, Tchaikovsky’s homosexuality is confirmed and openly acknowledged. Tchaikovsky had a nephew nicknamed “Bob” – Vladimir Lvovich Davïdov (1871-1906) – to whom he dedicated the Symphonie Pathétique (1893). The photo at left shows Tchaikovsky seated next to his nephew.

Bob, who was thirty-one years his junior, became Tchaikovsky’s lover from the late 1880s. Tchaikovsky was usually homesick during his musical tours abroad, hating the loneliness of large cities; he always longed to get back home to be with his beloved nephew, whom he called “my idol.” Tchaikovsky made Bob his heir, and his letter to Bob from a hotel room in London in May 1893 shows the nature of their relationship: “I am writing to you with a voluptuous pleasure. The thought that this paper is soon going to be in your hands fills me with joy and brings tears to my eyes.” In another letter Tchaikovsky wrote to his nephew, “If only I could give way to my secret desire, I would leave everything and go home to you.”

In late 1893 Count Stenbok-Fermor wrote a letter addressed to Tsar Alexander III complaining of the attentions the composer was paying the Duke's young nephew. Exposure would have meant public disgrace, loss of civil rights and exile to Siberia for Tchaikovsky and for his fellow former students of the School of Jurisprudence. According to some reports, the letter was intercepted, and a court of honor of the “old boys” of the school required Tchaikovsky to kill himself; Tchaikovsky promised to comply with their demand. A day or two later his “illness” was reported (Tchaikovsky poisoned himself in an act of suicide), and official accounts reported a death from cholera (Tchaikovsky’s relatives later confirmed the account of suicide, also relating that Tsar Alexander III was shown the incriminating letter from Stenbok-Fermor after Tchaikovsky’s death). When he died, at fifty-three, sixty thousand people applied for tickets to his funeral, which was paid for by the Tsar; for only the third time in Russian history, a Tsar ordered a state funeral for a commoner.

There are many theories about the actual cause of Tchaikovsky's death – both natural (cholera) and by suicide (poisoning). Conflicting reports arose within days of his death. Suicide would have been a crushing blemish on the reputations of both Tchaikovsky and his countrymen. Nevertheless, Tchaikovsky was adored in his native Russia, and he was perhaps the best cultural ambassador Russia had ever had.

Thirteen years after Tchaikovsky’s demise, his nephew “Bob” tragically took his own life, as well.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Ben Whishaw

Earlier this month it was announced that British actor Ben Whishaw (b. 1980), best-known for playing Q in the recent James Bond film Skyfall, has been chosen to replace Sacha Baron Cohen in the role of Freddie Mercury in Mercury, a film about the rock group Queen. The movie, slated for a 2014 release, will focus on Queen's formative years and the period leading up to the celebrated performance at the 1985 Live Aid concert. Cohen, who had been cast in the role back in 2010, left the much-delayed project over creative differences with surviving members of the band.

Stage, film and television star Whishaw, meanwhile, is currently appearing on stage in London’s West End in a revival of the award-winning play Mojo. Generally regarded as one of the most naturally gifted actors of his generation, when he was cast as the youngest-ever Hamlet at the Old Vic in 2004, one critic said: “This is the kind of evening of which legends are made.” This past spring Whishaw again appeared in a project with Judy Dench, this time in the world premiere of Peter and Alice, a play by John Logan.

In an interview in Out magazine, Ben said that he prefers not to talk about his personal life, because he deplores the scrutiny of celebrity. “I have no understanding why we turn actors into celebrities.”  He added, "For me, it’s important to keep a level of anonymity. As an actor, your job is to persuade people that you’re someone else. So if you’re constantly telling people about yourself, I think you’re shooting yourself in the foot.”

However, in August of this year his representative confirmed that Ben Whishaw had entered into a civil partnership with his lover, Australian composer Mark Bradshaw, in Sydney, Australia, in 2012.  The couple met on the set of Bright Star (2009), a film in which Whishaw portrayed poet John Keats. Bradshaw composed the score for that film, and Ben and Mark have been together ever since.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Allen Klein & Bliss Hebert

Long-time partners Allen Klein (age 73, left) and Bliss Hebert (age 82) were married on October 15, 2013. Opera scenery/costume designer Klein and opera stage director Hebert have worked together since 1962. They have collaborated on more than 100 productions since they met while working at the Washington Opera in DC, where Hebert was General Manager from 1960-1964.

Allen Klein created productions for the Vienna State Opera, Deutsche Oper Berlin, La Fenice in Venice, the Scottish Opera, the Edinburgh Festival and the Glyndebourne Festival. Bliss Hebert, who earned a master’s degree in piano performance from Syracuse University, worked with Igor Stravinsky on three of his operas, including five productions of “The Rake’s Progress.” According to Rosalie Radomsky of the New York Times, Klein and Hebert encountered Stravinsky and his wife Vera, along with conductor Robert Craft, in front of Carnegie Hall after a screening of Disney’s film “Fantasia,” which included an excerpt from Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring.”

“They greeted Bliss with great happiness and many kisses,” Allen Klein said, adding that, “Stravinsky was tiny and glowing with electricity.” Bliss then introduced Allen to Stravinsky. While Bliss was speaking with Robert Craft, Allen remained alone with Stravinsky. At one point, Stravinsky took Allen by the arm and asked, “Tell me, my dear, do you love our Bliss very much?”

“I recall being rather shocked by such a question,” Allen said. “Remember, this was 1964. I stuttered out, ‘Yes, I do,’ to which the composer responded, ‘Well then, my dear, you must take very good care of our Bliss.’ ”

Allen added, “ I’ve tried to do that ever since.”

Source:

Rosalie R. Radomsky, The New York Times

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Billy Strayhorn

Out & Gay in the Jazz World

Billy Strayhorn (1915-1967) attended high school in Pittsburgh, while studying classical music on the side. His trio played daily on a local radio station, and he wrote a musical for his high school. He also wrote “Lush Life,” a jazz classic, while still a teenager.

At 23 his life changed completely when he met Duke Ellington, who was performing in Pittsburgh in 1938. Ellington was so impressed that he took him into his household, where he lived as part of the family. Strayhorn worked for Ellington for the next 29 years as an arranger, composer, pianist and collaborator until his early death from esophageal cancer. As Ellington described him, “Billy Strayhorn was my right arm, my left arm, all the eyes in the back of my head, my brain waves in his head, and his in mine.”

Strayhorn was openly gay, but his association with Ellington helped protect him from discrimination. Until his death, Strayhorn continued a relationship with his partner, Bill Grove, who was Caucasian; however, they kept separate apartments.

Strayhorn influenced the career of Lena Horne, who recorded many of his songs. Strayhorn’s compositions are known for the bittersweet sentiment and classically infused harmonies that set him apart from Ellington.

Strayhorn to the rescue:

In a dispute over royalties in late 1940, ASCAP forbid its members from broadcasting any of their compositions over the radio. But Ellington, one of ASCAP’S most celebrated composers, needed radio broadcasts to promote record sales, which paid his orchestra’s salaries. Strayhorn rallied to save the day. During a hurried cross-country train ride to join Ellington in Los Angeles, Strayhorn (not an ASCAP member), got almost no sleep for six straight days, writing song after song after song. Strayhorn’s prolific, engaging new works kept the Ellington Orchestra afloat for months. When it was time for a new radio theme (Ellington’s own “Sepia Panorama” was still forbidden on the airwaves), Ellington chose Strayhorn’s “Take the A Train,” premiering it in early 1941. The rest is jazz history.

Queen Latifah (who lives in the Hollywood Hills with her partner Jeanette Jenkins) sings “Lush Life,” written when Strayhorn was a young, unseasoned song writer. Most performers say it’s difficult to sing and sounds like no other song in the standard repertoire.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Erté

The name Erté was the French pronunciation of the initials R.T., which stood for Romain de Tirtoff (1892-1990), a Russian-born Art Deco graphic artist and designer of jewelry, costumes, interiors, and sets for opera, film and the stage. Not to mention textiles, handbags, watches and perfume bottles. As his career played out, Erté and Art Deco became virtually synonymous. His 240+ covers for Harper's Bazar* magazine (1915-1937), which often depicted women draped in furs and jewelry, are today collectors’ items.

*Spelling later changed to Bazaar.

The son of a wealthy Russian Admiral in the Imperial Fleet, Tirtoff took the pseudonym Erté while working as a fashion designer/illustrator in Paris, so as not to disgrace his aristocratic Russian family, which expected Romain to follow in his father’s footsteps as a military officer. His artistic talent was discovered early, and his mother had a dress made after one of Erté's designs he had sketched at the age of five. At age 22 he appeared at a Parisian ball in 1914 clad in a self-designed silver lamé costume, complete with pearl wings and ebony-plumed cape.

In 1925, MGM studios (Culver City, CA) brought Erté and his partner, Russian Prince Nicolas Ouroussoff, from Paris to Hollywood, picking up the considerable expenses for both. When their ocean liner arrived in New York, they disembarked with fifteen steamer trunks and three assistants. Erté’s black, white and gray Monte Carlo atelier was reproduced in Culver City. He was treated like a star, installed in a hilltop house in Hollywood, given a chauffeured limousine, two bi-lingual secretaries and was interviewed by the press 200 times.

MGM head Louis B. Mayer, who was known to be intolerant of homosexuals, even invited the couple to his house for dinner. Erté reported that his relationship with Mayer was always pleasant, and Mayer expressed regret when Erté asked to be let out of his contract after designing costumes for just six films. Erté lived with Ouroussoff for nearly twenty years, until the Prince's premature death in 1933. By the 1920s homosexuals in film studio wardrobe, makeup and set departments enjoyed an extraordinary freedom and tolerance, an environment found virtually nowhere else in American industry. It wasn’t just tolerated, but being gay actually carried with it some cachet.

Graphic Art: Symphony in Black



In his 1975 autobiography, Things I Remember, Erté catalogued his homosexual encounters, starting at the age of 13. Readers learned that after the death of Prince Ouroussoff, he had a serious relationship with a champion Danish swimmer and decorator named Axel. Erté’s openness regarding his sexuality was in marked contrast to others in his field at that time.

Erté designing sets and costumes for the Folies-Bergère, the Ziegfeld Follies and the Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. Performers who wore his costumes included Josephine Baker, Anna Pavlova, Mata-Hari and Sarah Bernhardt.

Erté worked up until just a few weeks before his death from kidney problems in 1990, at age 97. Very wealthy by the end of his life, he was building a house in Majorca at the time of his death.  During his long career he produced Art Deco designs for furniture, lamps, sculptures, seriographs, lithographs and even playing cards.



Rooms from Chateau de la Sorcere, decorated by Erté:



Sources:

Behind the Screen: How Gays and Lesbians Shaped Hollywood
– William J. Mann

Wikipedia

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Kerwin Mathews

Kerwin Mathews (1926-2007) was an American film and television actor best known for action, adventure and fantasy films of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Mathews said that "a kind high school teacher put me in a play, and that changed my life." According to a classmate, he was a "handsome rascal".

After serving in the Army Air Corps during WWII, he entered into a seven year studio contract with Columbia Pictures. Although Mathews said his favorite role was that of Johann Strauss, Jr. in the Disney two-part telefilm biopic The Waltz King (1963), he is perhaps best known for his leading roles in children’s fantasy films such as The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958), The Three Worlds of Gulliver (1960) and Jack the Giant Killer (1962). He was convincing, and sometimes brilliant, in playing opposite animated figures. Mathews also acted in a number of horror and science fiction films.

In 1961, he met Tom Nicoll, a British display manager at Harvey Nichols, a luxury department store chain, and Mathews and Nicoll became partners for the next 46 years. When Mathews retired from acting in 1978, they moved to San Francisco, where they ran a clothing and antiques shop. At the age of 81 Mathews died in his sleep in San Francisco and was survived by his partner Nicoll. The City of Janesville, Wisconsin, where Mathews attended high school, subsequently renamed a street adjacent to the school "Kerwin Mathews Court". The renovated building now houses the Janesville Performing Arts Center.


Mathews opposite Nadia Sanders in OSS117:


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Tom Daley

Nineteen-year-old British diver Tom Daley (born May 21, 1994) won the bronze medal for Great Britain in the individual competition at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games held in London. Shortly thereafter he took a role in a British television diving reality TV show, Splash! He made his debut in the show's premiere as a mentor to the celebrity competitors taking part. The show was a ratings success, with an average audience of 5.6 million viewers, and has been renewed for 2014.

On December 2, 2013, Daley released a YouTube video announcing that he has been in a personal relationship with another man since spring of this year. He said, "I still fancy girls, but at the moment I've never been happier.” The video reveals that, while his mother and close friends have been supportive after he revealed his bisexuality, some members of his extended family reacted with “mixed” results.

The man he is dating is Oscar-winning gay rights activist Dustin Lance Black (see sidebar), who is twenty years older than Daley. The two celebrities met at the Kids' Choice Awards in Los Angeles last March and hit it off straight away. Since then Tom has been joining Dustin on trips abroad to Paris, Barcelona and Miami. Dustin’s work as a high-profile gay activist gave Tom the courage to come out by posting his YouTube video yesterday. Apparently the couple think nothing of their age difference and don't care what anyone else might think of it.

Daley has won medals in international diving competitions since 2007. He was just twelve years old when he won a silver medal in synchronized diving at the Australian Youth Olympic Festival, and awards have piled up ever since. However, his participation in competitive diving during most of 2013 has been restricted because of elbow and triceps injuries. Currently Mr. Daley is training for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games that will be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.




Saturday, November 30, 2013

Charles XII, King of Sweden

Charles (Swedish: Karl XII) was a dashing, handsome* 15-year-old when he became king of Sweden in 1697. During the next 20 years he brought Sweden to its pinnacle of prestige and power through his brilliant military campaigning and victories.

The Great Northern War, as it was called, dominated his life, and he was called “Alexander of the North” by his admirers. He devastated the armies of Denmark, Russia and Poland. In the Battle of Holowczyn, for instance, despite being outnumbered over three to one against the Russian army, Charles pulled out a victory. Other than his military acumen, he was known for two things, his abstinence from alcohol – and a similar abstinence from women.

Charles was also brave to the point of folly. He led his men into battle believing that his example would spur on his men to follow his example. Unfortunately, he was killed on the battlefield at Fredriksheld by a bullet to the head, directly above his right ear. He was 36 years old at the time. Without his leadership, Sweden’s involvement with the Great Northern War ultimately ended in defeat three years after his death.

While his admirers explained away his lack of interest in women by saying he was “married to the military,” Charles had a robust sexual taste for military men. Two of his lovers were military leaders from his army – General Behnsköld and General Stenbock (Count Magnus Gustafsson Stenbock). He also had a serious affair with Prince Maximillian of Württemberg, a younger admirer who had volunteered to serve in his army at the age of 14. Charles called him his “Little Prince” after Maximilian was wounded at age 19 trying to protect Charles from bullets. As well, Charles was involved in a relationship with the much older Swedish field marshal Count Axel Wachtmeister, who had been a close friend of his father.

Voltaire so admired Charles that he wrote a biography in 1731, thirteen years after Charles was killed on the battlefield in 1718, and Samuel Johnson praised Charles in his poem "The Vanity of Human Wishes" (1749).

Sources:
The Gay Book of Days (1987) – Martin Greif
Queers in History (2009) – Keith Stern
Jonathan to Gide: The Homosexual in History (1964) – Noel Garde

*Speaking of dashing and handsome Swedish men, 34-year-old bachelor Prince Carl Philip was involved in a crash last week when a bus rear-ended his Porsche. He has a taste for fast cars and knows how to fill out a royal uniform. He is shown here with his sister Madeleine while attending the recent wedding of their sister Princess Victoria.
 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

François Le Metel de Boisrobert

French lawyer, playwright, poet, courtier of Cardinal Richelieu and audacious, irreligious cleric, Boisrobert (1592-1662) was a founding member of the French Academy (Académie française). While Richelieu is given credit for establishing the French Academy, it was in fact Boisrobert who suggested to Richelieu the plan of that august institution whose forty governing members are referred to as “the immortals”. Boisrobert was one of its earliest and most active members.

He was also never far from scandal, and his blatant homosexual proclivities resulted in his being banished from courts and high society time and again, but never for long. His wit, humor and gifts as a  raconteur made him a favorite of both Cardinal Richelieu and Pope Urban VIII.

Although not high born, he became quite wealthy and gained access to the court of King Louis XIII, easily insinuating himself into the circles of noble women, whom he flattered and entertained. His sexual dalliances with the handsome male pages and servants of those in high places earned him the moniker “the Mayor of Sodom.” A contemporary remarked that, “He could have given the Greeks lessons in how to make love.” As a token of his favor, Richelieu conferred the title of canon at Rouen on Boisrobert, but this title of respectability did nothing to change his lifestyle, which was marked by the practice of feminine pursuits of gossip, sartorial excesses, entertainment, literature and art. His innate charm enabled him to play the role of courtier with skill and audacity.

Sources:

Wikipedia

Encyclopedia of Homosexuality (Dynes, 1990)

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Rex

When the artist known as Rex began working in New York City in the mid 1960s, his erotic pointillist style drawings gained immediate notoriety. At the time, photographic erotica was still illegal, but drawings and stories were protected by U.S. Supreme Court Free Speech rulings. His art was showcased in various gay magazines, such as Drummer, Straight to Hell, Honcho and The Advocate, and for a brief time his work illustrated S&M and leather-themed paperback erotic novels.

In addition to his hardcore illustrations, Rex produced poster art for gay venues in NYC and San Francisco. A famous series of iconic posters, calendars and T-shirt designs were commissioned by the legendary New York sex club, The Mineshaft. However, it was his depraved, hardcore fetish drawings in a series of self-published portfolios circulated underground that cemented his reputation as a leading artist of homoerotica. Rex was to illustration what Mapplethorpe was to photography.

A numbered limited edition hard cover portfolio of his drawings was published in Paris in 1986, and Rex Verboten, a retrospective hardcover volume on his work, was distributed by the German publishing house Bruno Gmünder.

As a creator of sexually perverse and psychologically disturbing imagery, his subject matter fell victim to the political correctness and self-censorship that intimidated gay media during the Reagan era. For this reason, Rex relocated to Europe, where he continues to live and work.
 
Among his contemporaries, Rex’s work stands out for its challenging content. His art continues to be confrontational and controversial as he dares to produce images of marginal and perverse sexual urges that many of his viewers may not ever want to admit to but nevertheless find savagely erotic.

Because this blog does not contain adult content, it was difficult to find examples to illustrate this post. Enter "Rexwerk" into a search engine, however, and mind-blowing examples of his art will sear into your mind. Amazing, singular stuff.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Napoleon Bonaparte

French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) was the first French monarch in a thousand years to bear the title of emperor. So much has been written about his influence on history that I will not attempt a summary. However, I will bring up Napoleon’s being compared to Adolf Hitler by historians Pieter Geyl and Claude Ribbe and the response by David G. Chandler, a historian of Napoleonic warfare: "Nothing could be more degrading to the former [Napoleon] and more flattering to the latter [Hitler].”

An 1805 portrait of Napoleon by Andrea Appiani:



In Frank Richardson’s Napoleon: Bisexual Emperor (1973), the author, a British medical doctor,
points out that Napoleon always surrounded himself with inordinately handsome young men, most of whom were given extraordinary military promotions.

Evangeline Bruce, whose biography is titled Napoleon and Josephine: An Improbable Marriage (1995), refers to a note written by the emperor during his exile on St. Helena, an island a thousand miles off the shore of Africa. Bruce relates that Napoleon confided that whenever he met a handsome man, his admiration was felt “first in the loins and then another place I will leave unnamed.” Bruce’s volume also explores the gradual reversal of roles in the marriage between Napoleon and Josephine. 

Keith Stern (Queers in History, 2009) mentions that Napoleon was particularly inclined toward same-sex love with his fellow soldiers, and that many of his aides were notoriously effeminate. General Duroc, who served as Grand Marshal of the palace, was widely rumored to be the emperor’s lover. As well, Gaspard Gourgaud*, one of Napoleon’s aides/lovers, jealously guarded access to his master.

The work of these researchers gives new meaning to the phrase, “Not tonight, Josephine.”

Note: For those of us who live in the U.S., we should recall Napoleon’s fire sale known as the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, in which President Thomas Jefferson accepted Napoleon’s offer to sell over 825,000* square miles of land for 60 million Francs (11.2 million dollars). This equated to less than eight cents a square mile – quite a sweet deal for the United States.

*Thanks to the alert blog reader who corrected my spelling of the name "Gourgaud."
** Thanks to another alert reader who corrected these numbers.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Clifton Webb

Born in Indianapolis as Webb Parmelee Hollenbeck, Clifton Webb (1889-1966) was an unlikely movie star. He began his career as a professional ballroom dancer at age nineteen, and by 1924 he was appearing on Broadway, eventually working his way into a few roles in silent films. During the 1930s Webb was under contract to MGM, but was little used. He continued to work mostly as a stage actor, notably in operettas, musical reviews and Noel Coward’s comedies Blithe Spirit and Present Laughter.

It was not until he was fifty-five years old that he had a chance at movie stardom. Webb found himself cast by Otto Preminger as columnist Waldo Lydecker in Laura (1944), over the objections of Darryl F. Zanuck, the head of 20th Century Fox. The film was a huge success, and Webb received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. A scant two years later he received his second Oscar nomination for his role in The Razor’s Edge (1946).

According to Scotty Bowers (Full Service, 2012), Webb was “obsessively proper, correct and well-mannered...polite to the point of being irritating.” Webb lived with his overbearing mother Mabelle his entire life. “Even though she knew he was gay, she would never discuss the fact with anyone. He took his mother everywhere: to movie sets, dinner parties, and even on vacation. They were inseparable.” Bowers writes that “Cliff was so outlandishly camp that he advertised his sexuality to all and sundry merely by walking into a room.” When asked if he were gay by director Jean Negulesco in 1952, Webb drew himself to full height and replied, “Devout, my boy, devout.”

Webb played the cantankerous and snide babysitter Lynn Belvedere in the huge hit comedy film Sitting Pretty (1948), for which he received yet another Academy Award nomination, this time for Best Actor. He appeared in two sequels as Mr. Belvedere, a role that was not far off from his personal life.

According to Jerry Frebowitz, “Clifton’s public social life...was legendary, as the star and his omnipresent mother Mabelle threw lavish Hollywood parties. He was inseparable from Mabelle, who called her son “Little Webb” his entire life. He lived with his mother until she died at age ninety-one in 1960. When she passed, Webb withdrew into relative seclusion, causing his good friend, noted playwright Noel Coward, to remark, as only he could, ‘It must be difficult to be orphaned at seventy.’ ” Clifton was not able to recover from his mother’s death, and when he died six years later, he was buried next to her in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles. Their graves remain a popular tourist destination in star-obsessed Hollywood.

Clifton Webb (in tub) with Dana Andrews in Laura (1944):


Webb appeared in twenty films after his success in Laura. His only film role after his mother’s death was Satan Never Sleeps (1962), in which he played Father Bovard, a self-sacrificing priest. Webb continued to mourn the loss of his mother until his own death from a heart attack in 1966.

Sources:

Jerry Frebowitz at moviefanfare.com

Scotty Bowers – Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood (2012)

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Darren Young


In a TMZ video interview released on August 15, 2013, WWE wrestler Darren Young (b. 1983) publicly discussed his homosexuality. Thus Young became the first WWE star wrestler ever to come out while still signed to a major promotion. WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) wrestlers Pat Patterson, Chris Kanyon & Orlando Jordan had come out as gay or bisexual after leaving the company or retiring. Darren Young (real name Fredrick Douglas Rosser III) has been in a relationship with his partner Nick Villa for more than two years. The couple resides in Miami.

Nick Villa (left) with “Fred” Rosser, aka Darren Young:




Photo by Jeffery Salter
















Later that day WWE released a statement in support of Rosser for being open about his sexuality, and various fellow wrestlers tweeted their support for him. Young also discussed having to overcome his childhood stuttering issues. To the wrestler’s astonishment and relief, he was greeted with open arms by not only the organization's management and fans, but also by his colleagues in the ring.

"They all embraced me, and that was just shocking to me. I truly love them," said Rosser. "It was such a relief. I'm not hiding anymore, and I'm living the dream."

Fred and his partner Nick later appeared as talk show guests on Ellen:


Saturday, November 9, 2013

Marsden Hartley

The American painter, poet, and essayist known as Marsden Hartley (1877-1943) was born Edmund Hartley in Lewiston, Maine. After studying at the Cleveland School of Art, he won a scholarship to further his education in New York City, where he became one of the first American artists to paint in the modernist style of Picasso, Paul Klee and Kandinsky. He launched his public career as an artist under the name Marsden Hartley (Marsden was his step-mother's maiden name). Through modern art promoter Alfred Stieglitz (noted photographer and husband of Georgia O’Keeffe), Hartley was given his first one-person show at Stieglitz’s noted 291 gallery, and Hartley gained immediate entrée into New York's avant-garde world.

Hartley went to Paris in 1912 and was welcomed into the influential artistic sphere of Gertrude Stein. While in Paris he was introduced to the abstract art of Franz Marc and Vassily Kandinsky. A year later Hartley settled in Berlin, where he fell in love with a German lieutenant, Karl von Freyburg. Tragically, his lover was killed in battle on October 7, 1914. Grief stricken, Hartley created some of his finest paintings to memorialize their relationship.

Portrait of a German Officer (1915):

 

He returned to New York in 1915, and by the fall of 1916 Hartley was sharing a house in Provincetown, Massachusetts, with Charles Demuth, another modernist artist. Demuth was one of the earliest American artists to reveal a gay identity through explicit yet positive depictions of homosexual desire. Demuth was also well acquainted with the gay scene of New York, where Hartley became friends with lesbian writer Djuna Barnes.

Hartley returned to Europe in 1921 and pursued his literary bent. He soon published Twenty-Five Poems, a book issued by Robert McAlmon's Contact Publishing Company in Paris. The Great Depression forced Hartley to return to the United States, but a Guggenheim fellowship allowed him to spend 1932 in Mexico, where he became a close friend of Hart Crane, who was also in Mexico on a Guggenheim fellowship. On his return voyage to the U.S., Crane was severely beaten after making sexual advances to a male crew member. Crane subsequently jumped overboard off the coast of Florida, and when Hartley learned of his suicide, he painted Eight Bells Folly (1933, below), a surrealist tribute to Crane.



During the middle years of the Depression Hartley supported himself in New York by participating in the Public Works of Art Project. He struck up a friendship with the Francis Mason family in Nova Scotia, and he was to live with them in a Canadian fishing community for several intervals during the rest of his life. Hartley returned to Maine in 1937, after declaring that he wanted to become "the painter of Maine" and depict American life at a local level. This aligned Hartley with the Regionalism movement, a group of artists who attempted to represent a distinctly American art.

Madawaska, Acadian Light-Heavy, Third Arrangement, 1940



He continued to paint in Maine, primarily scenes around Lovell and the Corea coast, until his death in Ellsworth in 1943.

Hartley's work belongs to an American current of expressionism in which he was a pivotal figure. During his lifetime, however, his shifts of style and the relative immaturity of the American art world prevented his receiving full recognition. This neglect augmented a loneliness that his shyness about his homosexuality induced. However, a full-scale 1980 retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York cemented his reputation.

The portrait below captures artist Marsden Hartley mourning the death of another man whom Hartley admired. A shadowy man haunting the background of this 1942 photographic portrait taken by photographer George Platt Lynes alludes to the loves of Hartley’s life that were lost and unspoken.



Sources:

Wayne Dynes: Encyclopedia of Homosexuality (1990)

Wikipedia

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Lee Hoiby

Composer Lee Hoiby (1926-2011) was best known for his operas and songs, although he originally sought a career as a concert pianist. After studying composition with Gian Carlo Menotti he made a career change, going on to make a significant contribution to American music. His vocal repertoire is favored by singers everywhere, especially his art songs, which are championed by such luminaries as Leontyne Price and Frederica von Stade. Many of the texts were selected by his partner, Mark Shulgasser.

Hoiby’s musical style and language were old fashioned. Critics wrote that much of his music could have been written a hundred years previously. When he encountered atonal music for the first time, Hoiby reacted with revulsion. “If music doesn’t have melody and harmony and rhythm as I understand it,” he said, “I’m not interested. A lot of that stuff sounds like wallpaper to me.”

For the most part Hoiby eschewed dissonance and rejected compositional “fads” such a serialism, minimalism and eclecticism. Over a span of sixty plus years of composing music, his style remained consistent and has now come full circle, in that today’s young composers are writing music that is in step with Hoiby’s lifetime output. 

Hoiby wrote only to please himself. He was not part of the musical establishment, instead keeping his distance. In a 2010 profile by Zachary Woolfe, Hoiby stated, “All I did was compose. I never went anywhere, I didn’t know anybody. I never went to any parties. I never met anybody. I’m basically not interested in social life, I guess.”

While composing his best known opera Summer and Smoke (1971), a musical setting of the play by Tennessee Williams, Hoiby had a breakdown that led him to a search for spiritual fulfillment. He joined a New Age group that was also attended by his future partner Mark Shulgasser, a writer and astrologist. “He’s the Jewish intellectual I’ve always wanted,” Mr. Hoiby said.

To mark its tenth anniversary in 2006, Minnesota-based male chorus Cantus commissioned Hoiby to set to music a letter written by Pfc. Jesse Givens, who was killed in Iraq in 2003. Addressed to his pregnant wife, unborn son and six-year-old stepson, it was to be opened only in the event of his death. The closing lines are "Go outside and look at the stars and count them. Don't forget to smile."

Last Letter Home performed by the Cornell University Glee Club:



Hoiby photographed with CANTUS male chorus performers at the premiere of Last Letter Home.



Hoiby died on April 8, 2011, at the age of eighty-five, and he was actively composing at the time of his death. He was survived by Mr. Shulgasser, who shared a home with Hoiby in a remote location in the Catskills.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Michael Huffington

Republican politician, LGBT activist, philanthropist, business executive and film producer Michael Huffington (b. 1947 in Dallas, Texas) was born rich. His father, Roy Huffington, was founder of the natural gas exploration company, Huffco, and Michael served as the company’s vice chairman from 1976 to 1990. He married Greek-born socialite Arianna Stassinopoulis (of Huffington Post fame) in 1986, but by 1998 he was a divorced man with two daughters who had revealed that he was bisexual.

In a Time magazine article by John Cloud (December 1998), it was revealed that openly gay financial guru Andrew Tobias, an old Harvard chum, said he was the first person Huffington told about his sexuality, forty years ago. In an Advocate interview (2006), Huffington stressed that he is bisexual, not gay. He claimed that on the Kinsey scale (from 0 as totally straight to 6 as totally gay), he is a 4.

According to a 1998 Esquire magazine profile by David Brock, Huffington said he began dating men in the 1970s while working at his family’s energy company in Houston, but suffered guilt and depression over the relationships. An affair with one man lasted about a year, but Huffington also continued to date women. At one point he made a private vow to stop sleeping with men. The profile makes the distinction that Huffington is homosexual, but not “gay”. Brock wrote, "Gay means so much more, carries so much cultural baggage, and he's not that. The word gay just doesn't describe him. It really doesn't.”

In a 2008 New Yorker profile of Arianna, we learned that before their marriage Michael Huffington informed her about his interest in men. “In my Houston town house I sat down with her and told her that I had dated women and men so that she would be aware of it.”   

During the 1990s Michael won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, where he served one term as a Republican from California. By just 1.7 percent of the vote he lost his subsequent bid for the U.S. Senate when Californians re-elected Dianne Feinstein. In the 2003 California recall election, Michael endorsed Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger instead of his ex-wife, Arianna Huffington, who was an opposing candidate. Although she withdrew before the election, her name remained on the ballot.

Since his coming out as bisexual, Michael has worked with various organizations such as GLAAD, GLSEN, the Human Rights Campaign, the Log Cabin Republicans, the Point Foundation and other groups to help educate Americans about gay, lesbian and bisexual people. Earlier this year Huffington was a signatory to an amicus curiae brief submitted to the Supreme Court in support of same-sex marriage during the Hollingsworth v. Perry case.

Huffington's philanthropic activities and commitments are varied and worldwide. A partial list of those organizations that he has supported financially and on which he has served on the Board of Directors include: the Aspen Institute (Aspen, Colorado), the Cathedral of St. John the Divine (NYC), the Culver Educational Foundation (Culver, Indiana), Georgetown University (Washington, DC), the Greek Orthodox Archdioceses of America (NYC), the Music Center of Los Angeles, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NYC), the Salzburg Seminar (Salzburg, Austria) and the University of California at Santa Barbara.

From 1991 to 2000 he was the co-owner of Crest Films Limited, a full-service film production company known for its Emmy-winning commercials, documentaries, and adventure films as well as its work on behalf of non-profit organizations. He produced or executive produced many award-winning films, including For the Bible Tells Me So, an insightful non-fiction film which was shortlisted for the 2008 Academy Award nominations for best documentary. Some of his other credits include Bi the Way, Dissolution, American Primitive, Grassroots and Father vs. Son. Huffington is also a producer of The Geography Club, a gay/bisexual-themed film that opens in limited release on November 15, 2013.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Colin Higgins

Openly gay film director, actor, producer and screenwriter Colin Higgins (1941-1988) was born in New Caledonia, a French island nation east of Australia, although most of his formative years were spent in Australia and California. His father was an American, and his mother Australian. After earning a bachelor's degree in English from Stanford University, he went to UCLA, where he received an M.F.A. in screenwriting.

Although he had solid hits with Silver Streak (screenwriter, 1976), Foul Play (director and screenwriter, 1978), Nine to Five (director and screenwriter, 1980), and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (director and screenwriter, 1982 – the film adaptation of the stage musical), he is best remembered for an earlier film for which he wrote the screenplay – Harold and Maude (producer and screenwriter, 1971), which has become a cult classic. It tells the tale of a suicidal young man (Bud Cort) who falls in love with a 79-year-old woman (Ruth Gordon). Higgins wrote the screenplay, which formed the basis for his thesis while he was still a student at UCLA.

After graduating Higgins went to work for a rich man and his wife in Los Angeles as a part-time chauffeur and pool cleaner in exchange for free accommodation. The man was film producer Ed Lewis, and Higgins showed him a draft of Harold and Maude. Lewis took it to Robert Evans at Paramount, where the film project got the green light. Higgins wanted to direct the script himself, but Hal Ashby was hired as director. Ashby and Higgins were highly compatible, and both were pleased with the result of their collaboration, although it was not a great box office success upon its initial release.



Later Higgins (above left) received an offer from Jean-Louis Barrault (right) in Paris to turn Harold and Maude into a play for French actor Madeleine Renaud. Higgins took on the project, working on the French translation with Jean-Claude Carriere, and the play ran for seven years. The film of Harold and Maude continued to run in cinemas around the world, with some fans having seen it over a hundred times. By 1983 the film had turned a profit, twelve years after its original release.

In this clip from the beginning of the film, Harold meets Maude:



Higgins’ last film project was a 1986 television miniseries based on Shirley MacLaine's book, Out on a Limb. Sadly, Higgins died of AIDS-related illness in Beverly Hills, CA, in 1988, at the tender age of forty-seven.

Trivia: When Colin Higgins was having a hot tub and deck built for his backyard, he hired a young carpenter to do it. That carpenter was Harrison Ford. 
   
Sources:

Queers in History (2009) – Keith Stern

Wikipedia

Aggie Song: Best Little Whorehouse in Texas

Sunday, October 27, 2013

E. M. Forster

Edward Morgan Forster (1879-1970) was an English writer of novels, short stories and essays. After his father died before he was two years old, Forster was raised by female relatives who were affiliated with a stern evangelical sect. At the age of ten, a great aunt left him an inheritance that afforded him a private education while allowing himself to attempt a career as a writer. Forster detested public school, but found King's College, Cambridge, almost a paradise by contrast, with its strongly homoerotic atmosphere among students and faculty.

In 1901 Forster was elected to the elite Cambridge secret society The Apostles, leading to close ties with other members such as John Maynard Keynes and Lytton Strachey of the Bloomsbury group. After traveling for a year in Italy Forster taught a course at the Working Mens’ College, a part-time commitment he maintained for over twenty years in order to affirm his belief in reducing class barriers. Then four novels appeared in a five year period of creativity: Where Angels Feared to Tread (1905), The Longest Journey (1907), A Room with a View (1908) and Howards End (1910). This brilliant body of work, openly critical of Edwardian pieties, secured his fame.

In 1914 Forster completed the first draft of a homosexual novel, Maurice. Realizing that it was not publishable in England after the persecution of Oscar Wilde, he shared the manuscript with only a few friends, including Christopher Isherwood and D. H. Lawrence, who used it as the model for his heterosexual Lady Chatterley's Lover. Forster continued to revise Maurice* until 1960, but it was not published until 1971, after his death the previous year. After completing Maurice, Forster felt that his novel writing was over, as he had exhausted his insights into heterosexual relationships, yet could not publish the works with homosexual themes that affected him personally.

*The film version of Maurice, released by the Ivory-Merchant-Jhabvala team in 1987, was a success and remarkably true to the novel. In Maurice, an upper class man comes to find his true destiny with a working-class boy, the gamekeeper at an estate.

Scholars have long speculated about the reason for Forster’s low productivity after a string that included the aforementioned classics plus A Passage to India (1924), considered by most to be his masterpiece. A Passage to India delivered a sharp critique of British imperialism. Newly revealed papers from Forster, including his sex diary, reveal that his first sexual encounter with a man and the way it compounded his lifelong struggle with homosexuality killed his creative drive. He did not write any novels between 1924 and the time of his death in 1970. Forster lost his virginity to a wounded soldier on an Egyptian beach when he was 38 and later met Bob Buckingham, a married policeman, in 1930. Forster and Buckingham remained lovers until Forster’s death.

After 1924 Forster published only essays and reviews. The broadcasts of his essays on the BBC during the early years of the Second World War (published in Two Cheers for Democracy) delivered to the British people some of the most important writing of the mid-twentieth century, according to Adrian Barlow, a Forster scholar. In 1946 Forster accepted an offer to become an honorary fellow at King's College Cambridge, where he lived for the rest of his life. Although Forster struggled to reconcile the heterosexual English middle-class themes of his famous works with the reality of his affairs with working-class men, he went on to become an influential President of the National Council for Civil Liberties and a committed advocate of free speech.

Sources:

Wayne R. Dynes – Encyclopedia of Homosexuality (1990)

Julie Bolder for The Advocate (2010):
http://www.advocate.com/arts-entertainment/entertainment-news/2010/06/06/gay-sex-halted-em-forsters-career

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Christian VII

Born in Copenhagen, Christian VII (1749-1808) became King of Denmark and Norway and Duke of Schleswig and Holstein upon his father’s death, just a few weeks shy of Christian’s seventeenth birthday. Soon after his marriage at age seventeen to his 15-year-old cousin Caroline Mathilde (the sister of British King George III), Christian abandoned his conjugal duties and indulged in various debaucheries, notably sex with young men. He publicly declared that he could not love Caroline Mathilde, because it was "unfashionable to love one's wife."

Christian became progressively submissive to his physician, Johann Friedrich Struensee, who rose steadily in power in the late 1760s. Christian was a chronic masturbator, and this practice often interfered with his duties, since he prioritized it over his job in many instances. He indulged himself so much that the court physicians, Struensee included, were actually worried that he would eventually render himself infertile.

From 1770 to 1772 Struensee was "de facto" regent of the country and introduced reforms that were signed into law by Christian VII. The neglected and lonely Caroline Mathilde drifted into an affair with Struensee, but in 1772 the 23-year-old king's marriage was dissolved, and Struensee was arrested and executed. Under pressure from his mother, Christian himself signed the arrest warrant.

After the divorce, Caroline Mathilde had to give up her two children, one of which, Princess Louise Auguste, was widely believed to be the daughter of Struensee. Portraits of Princess Louise and Struensee bear a remarkable similarity. Caroline died of scarlet fever at age twenty-three.   

Christian was only nominally king from 1772 onwards, since he was considered mentally unstable. Until 1784, Denmark was ruled by Christian's stepmother Juliana, his physically disabled half-brother and Danish politician Ove Guldberg. From 1784 onwards, his son Frederik served as Regent, until Christian VII's death in 1808.

Sources:

Craig Kaczorowski for glbtq.com

Wikipedia

Sunday, October 20, 2013

David Armstrong

Photographer David Armstrong (at right, portrait by Deidre Schoo) was born in 1954 in Massachusetts and studied painting at the Boston Museum School and Cooper Union (NYC). He soon switched to photography and earned a B.F.A. from Tufts University in 1988.

Armstrong first received critical attention for his intimate sharp focus portraits of men, who were either lovers or friends. In the 1990s he began to photograph cityscapes and landscapes in soft focus,  to contrast his portraits. Street lights, electric signs and automobiles were reduced to a sensual, mottled blur (collected as All Day Every Day). A series of black/white portraits appeared as The Silver Cord. His most recent art book publication is 615 Jefferson Avenue (2011).

Armstrong’s photographs have been included in numerous group exhibitions here and abroad, in such prestigious venues as the Hamburger Kunsthalle (Germany). A large body of David’s work has appeared in print media: French Vogue, L’Uomo Vogue, Arena Homme+, GQ, Self Service, Another Man and Japanese Vogue, among others.  As well, he has contributed to advertising campaigns for a variety of clients, such as Ermenegildo Zegna, René Lezard, Kenneth Cole, Burburry, Puma, and Barbara Bui.

In 1996, Elisabeth Sussman, curator of photographs at the Whitney Museum (NYC), enlisted Armstrong’s help in composing Nan Goldin’s first retrospective. She gained such respect for Armstrong’s eye that she acquired a few of David’s pieces for the Whitney permanent collection. He was subsequently featured in the Whitney 1994 biennial.

David is based in Brooklyn, New York, where his primary subjects remain young boys and men. “It has to do with issues of my own,” he says. “This thing about male youth, this idea that something is fading. I get older and still take pictures of boys that are the age I was when I was first shooting them.”








Sources:

New York Times interview:
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/01/fashion/interview-with-david-armstrong-photographer.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Wikipedia

http://davidarmstrongphotographs.com