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.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Dirk Bogarde

Handsome British film actor Dirk Bogarde’s lawyer, Laurence Harbottle, said, “I share the view of every friend of his whom I have ever known – that Dirk’s nature was entirely homosexual in orientation.

Well, there you have it.

Dirk Bogarde (1921-1999), who portrayed numerous gay and bisexual men on the screen, spent his entire career sublimating or denying his true sexual orientation. He wanted more than anything to be regarded as a straight leading man. He was called the British Rock Hudson for his good looks and appealing on-screen persona, but the two actors had more than beauty and acting style in common.   

English actor John Fraser wrote in his memoir, Close Up (2004):

“But (Dirk) could not accept, could not understand, and could not see when he watched his own performances, that he was effeminate.”

Bogarde aspired for an international film career, not one limited to British audiences. Yet he blamed the utter failure of his sole Hollywood film, Song Without End, in which he portrayed Hungarian pianist Franz Liszt, on anyone other than himself. He blamed his contract with the Rank Organization for limiting him to a long stream of British films, and he complained that he was grossly underpaid.

He was a gifted painter and art restorer, a talented interior decorator and a successful writer, authoring six novels and multiple volumes of autobiography in which not a word about his true sexual orientation appeared. His lover of 50 years, Anthony Forwood (left), was referred to as “Forwood”, in an attempt to portray their relationship as merely one of employer and employee (everyone else called him Tony). Forwood had left his actress wife, Glynis Johns, and their son to move in with Bogarde to become his “manager.” Rare photo of Forwood and Bogarde together (below):










Bogarde’s talent as a writer was often put to good use in embellishing screenplay dialogue.

From The Victim (1961):

In the film Dirk’s character, lawyer Melville Farr, is confronted by his beautiful wife, Laura (portrayed by Sylvia Syms*), who demands an explanation of who this boy Barrett was, how they knew each other, and why Mel stopped seeing him.

Dirk’s character responds:

Alright – alright, you want to know. I’ll tell you – you won’t be content until I tell you, will you? – until you’ve RIPPED it out of me. I stopped seeing him because I WANTED him. Can you understand – because I WANTED him. Now what good has that done you?”

The dialogue as it appeared in the original script went this way:

You won’t be content till I tell you. I put the boy outside the car because I wanted him. Now what good has that done you?


*Younger readers might recall Ms. Syms as the Queen Mother to Helen Mirren in “The Queen” (2006).

The powerful scene starts at the 4:39 timing mark, and the above bit of dialogue is at 8:35
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Am9xWQrvnRA&list=PL692D14268C966A3C

Well, this was a film in which a real life gay man was portraying a gay character, a lawyer who tries to right an injustice involving blackmail for being gay. The Victim was the first movie in which the word "homosexual" was spoken on screen, and Bogarde later took credit for writing-in the scene that was the first instance of a man saying "I love you" to another man. Unfortunately, this film all but ended his career as a leading man, yet it opened the door to later brilliant film portrayals as a character actor. Bogarde was knighted in 1992 for his contributions to acting.

The impact of this film cannot be overstated. As American film makers were struggling to make homosexual material acceptable to the Hays Code** and the Legion of Decency***, this British film appeared in which an explicitly gay character actually stood up to fight a system that oppressed homosexuals. In "Victim," Dirk Bogarde was the screen's first gay hero.

**Hays Code (1930-1968): film censorship standards named after Presbyterian elder Will Hays of Indiana, who served as Postmaster General in the cabinet of President Warren Harding. Hays had also served as head of the Republican National Committee. The Supreme Court had already decided unanimously in 1915 that free speech did not extend to motion pictures, and the Hays Office codified objectionable material. Enforcement began in 1934, when the release of any film was held up until the movie studio acquired a certificate of approval from the Hays Office. If a gay character was allowed in a film, that character was open to scorn and ridicule, and most often died by the end of the movie. It was not until after the Hays Code was replaced by the current rating system in 1968 (G, PG, R, N17) that a movie appeared in which gays celebrated their sexual orientation, not to mention that all the gay characters were still living when the end credits rolled – Boys in the Band (1970).

***Legion of Decency was established by the American Catholic Church in 1933, with even stricter standards. Their clout was the constant threat of massive boycotts against films that did not meet their moral standards.

The entire film can be seen on YouTube in 10 installments:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y7Nzrq1jKNM&list=PL692D14268C966A3C

Three stages of Dirk Bogarde: early, middle and late:



Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Alexander von Humboldt



Prussian naturalist, explorer of Central and South America, author of a 23-volume work on his travels, and of the seminal Cosmos, which laid the foundations for modern physical geography and meteorology, Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) was a leading European figure of his day, considered second only to Napoleon in influence. A major Pacific current, numerous cities, counties, and other landmarks bear his name. In fact, more places and species are named after Humboldt than any other person. To this day things continue to be named after him. When the grand, rebuilt City Palace in Berlin opens next year (September 14, 2019), it will be named the Humboldt Forum. Humboldt was born and died in Berlin, and the forum’s opening will be exactly 250 years since the day Humboldt was born.  It will be the German equivalent of the British Museum.

During his lifetime Humboldt’s same sex attraction was widely noted. While some biographers say that there is no “proof” that he was gay, there is plenty of incriminating evidence. When he died, his sister burned all of his love letters. Humboldt left his entire estate to his male “servant,” Johann Seifert, who was some thirty years younger. During the nineteenth century, a common way to “hide” a same sex relationship was to pass off one’s lover as a servant, especially if the two were of different social classes. Humboldt was of the monied class; Seifert was not. Humboldt was also somewhat effeminate and masochistic. Seifert was domineering and bullying by nature. To your blogger, this seems a perfect fit.

When Humboldt was 25 years old he met a 21-year-old Lieutenant named Reinhard von Haeften. Humboldt was so besotten with von Haeften that he desired his presence at all times, so Humboldt invited him to live under his own roof. At Humboldt’s invitation and patronage, the two traveled extensively. Humboldt used the code letter “R” when referring to von Haeften in letters to colleagues and friends. This went on for two years, and after von Haeften married his pregnant fiancée, Humboldt lived with the newlyweds for six months. Must have been cozy. In fact, Humboldt was so brazen that, before the marriage, he contacted von Haeften’s fiancée to tell her that he had found the perfect house in Switzerland for the three of them to live in. As if.


Likewise with esteemed French botanist Aimé Bonpland, another favored male companion who lived and traveled with Humboldt for five years. In attentive detail they wrote descriptions of the masculine beauty of South American Indians. From 1799-1804 they explored the Amazon and Orinoco rivers, the Andes mountains and parts of Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador, Columbia and Mexico, collecting specimens of rocks and plants. They investigated volcanoes, ocean currents, the earth’s magnetism, climate and animal life. Humboldt funded this five-year exploration with his own inheritance.

Humboldt died from a stroke at age 89, but he was still publishing scientific works right up to the time of his death. When biographers started poking around, they discovered letters written to friends and travel companions that revealed that Humboldt had been amorously corresponding with men. Even skeptics admit that it seems hard not to confirm suspicions  that Humboldt was gay. But further "proof" went up in flames, literally, when Humboldt's sister burned all his love letters. And why might that have been? Hmmm.....



Sources:

Encyclopedia of Homosexuality (Wayne Dynes)

Vincent Gabrielle (California-based gay scientist and blogger)

The Humboldt Society lecture, Philadelphia, 1996

The Life of Alexander von Humboldt (Maren Meinhardt)

Alexander von Humboldt: A Metabiography (Nicolaas Rupke)

Wikipedia


NOGLSTP (National Organization of Gay and Lesbian Scientists and Technical Professionals)
 
 

Monday, September 24, 2018

Langston Hughes

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

This event spawned a local chain of restaurants in the Washington, DC area called “Busboys and Poets” (your blogger has enjoyed many evenings there drinking, dining, playing cards, watching films and taking in live shows and poetry readings). Hughes, who went on to become one of the first black authors who could support himself by writing, became a friend of Ernest Hemingway, with whom he attended bullfights. He wrote lyrics for “Street Scene,” an opera by Kurt Weill and Elmer Rice, as well as screenplays for Hollywood films. His original works portrayed people whose lives were impacted by racism and sexual conflicts; he often wrote about southern violence. However, he felt he had to remain sexually closeted in order to maintain the financial support and respect of various black churches and other cultural institutions.

Hughes had more life experience to draw upon than most, and his world view was vast. Having been born in the segregated deep south of Joplin, Missouri, he later lived in Mexico, Paris and Italy. He worked as a seaman on jaunts to Africa and Europe, spent a year in the Soviet Union, and served as a Madrid correspondent for the Baltimore Afro-American.

His career successes helped break the chains of poverty into which he had felt trapped. For the last twenty years of his life he owned his own home in Harlem, a brownstone at 20 E. 127th Street. 

In 1967, Hughes died at the age of 65 from complications after abdominal surgery, related to prostate cancer. He left an enduring legacy.

A poem written when Hughes was 18 years old:

“The Negro Speaks of Rivers”

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

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

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

I've known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

– from "The Negro Speaks of Rivers," 1920

Sources: Wikipedia, Charles H. Hughes, The Oxford Companion to African American Literature (1997), Out Magazine

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Ludwig Wittgenstein

The great philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) was of half Jewish and half Catholic heritage. He was also a homosexual. One of eight children sired by an Austrian millionaire steel industrialist, Ludwig sought simplicity and solitude, rejecting the privileged and highly cultured lifestyle of his father and sister. Margaret, his sister, helped arrange Freud’s escape to England in 1938, and his father took a violin with him on business trips.

House guests at the Viennese home of the Wittgensteins included Johannes Brahms, Richard Strauss, Clara Schumann, Gustav Mahler and Bruno Walter, and private musical performances in the Wittgenstein's city palace in Vienna (staircase shown in photo) were coveted invitations. Ludwig was himself an accomplished musician and had perfect pitch. There were seven grand pianos in this house, just one of thirteen mansions they owned in downtown Vienna. The palace interior's Red Salon (below) affords a glimpse into the level of opulence Wittgenstein experienced while growing up. Unfortunately, the city palace was demolished by developers in the early 1950s. There was also a summer palace, of course, called the Hochreith, located in the countryside outside Vienna. At the time, the Wittgensteins were second in wealth only to the Rothschilds.


Ludwig’s brother Paul became a famous concert pianist, but three other brothers committed suicide. His brother Rudolph (Rudi), took his own life in a very public way. He mixed a packet of potassium cyanide into a glass of milk and drank it while having dinner in a Berlin restaurant. Two minutes later he was dead. Rudi killed himself because he was petrified that he would be identified in a case report by famous sexologist, Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld (himself a homosexual), describing in detail the problems of a homosexual student in Berlin. Rudi, a homosexual student in Berlin, was not at all comfortable with his sexuality. Their brother Johannes, also homosexual, took his own life, as well. Their father, Karl Wittgenstein, was humiliated by these acts and thereafter forbade family members to mention the name of either Johannes or Rudolph. A third brother, a military officer, shot himself when his troops deserted him. Paul, who lost an arm during the war, later settled in New York to teach music. Paul commissioned a piano concerto for the left hand only from composer Maurice Ravel. This photo shows Ludwig (on the left) with his brother Paul, the pianist (wearing glasses), before the tragic loss of Paul's right arm.

After serving in the Austrian Army during WW I, Ludwig Wittgenstein gave away his considerable fortune, always refused to wear a tie, furnished his rooms with simple deck chairs, played the clarinet, and wolfed down plates of cream doughnuts while watching his favorite John Wayne films. Wittgenstein gave up philosophy and taught in elementary schools in Lower Austria from 1920 to 1926. For a time he even took up a job as a gardener's assistant at a monastery. From 1926 to 1928 he became involved in the design of a modernist mansion for his sister, a testament to the aesthetic austerity that he championed (no baseboards, bare light bulbs for illumination). The house still stands in Vienna and serves as the Bulgarian Cultural Institute. I forgot to mention that Ludwig also took up sculpture – a true polymath.

Extraordinarily handsome as a youth, he counted Adolph Hitler among his classmates. They were the same age, but Wittgenstein was two grades apart from Hitler (Ludwig had been advanced a grade and Hitler held back one); there has been much speculation as to whether or not they were friends. At the age of nineteen Ludwig took up aeronautical studies in Manchester, England, where he designed a jet engine; the complex mathematics needed for such an endeavor led him to explore the foundations of mathematics. While at Cambridge he studied with an influential teacher, Bertrand Russell, and it is difficult to discern which had the greater impact on the other. Wittgenstein’s work was primarily in the philosophy of mathematics, the foundations of logic, the philosophy of mind, and the philosophy of language. His two great published philosophical works are densely crafted and thus difficult to read and comprehend. Nevertheless, Wittgenstein is generally regarded as one of the twentieth century's most important philosophers.

In November 1912, on the recommendation of fellow student John Maynard Keynes (with whom Wittgenstein shared a male lover), Ludwig was elected to the elite Cambridge society known as the Apostles, which at that time maintained an aura of homoeroticism. An atmosphere that teetered on the brink of male/boy worship made Wittgenstein so uncomfortable that he stopped attending meetings. Ludwig was unsettled by his homosexuality and quite secretive about his sexual interests and activities. He wrote his diary in code, identifying the males with whom he had relations by a letter (Ben Richards was code named “Y”). This was perhaps to be expected, given the fact that homosexuality was illegal in Austria and Britain at the time. Historian Julie Anne Taddeo wrote, "The Cambridge Apostles transformed the definition of sodomy from an illegal and sinful act to an alternative creed of manliness and transcendental love and hoped to spread the gospel of the Higher Sodomy among their enlightened contemporaries."

During his student days in Vienna, Wittgenstein was known to cruise the Prater, a large public park where he hooked up with rough trade youths. He also frequented a café that was a chess club during the day, but a raucous gay bar by night. However, Wittgenstein went on to have several serious affairs with Englishmen of his own class – mathematics student David Pinsent, philosopher Frank Ramsey, the much-younger medical student Ben Richards, and architect Francis Skinner (at left in photo, shown walking with Wittgenstein). In 1929 Wittgenstein returned to Cambridge, where he became a professor in 1939. He resigned that post in 1947 to move to Ireland, where he hoped he’d find the solitude to complete his second great work, Philosophical Investigations. This plan didn’t come to fruition, unfortunately. It was published in its incomplete form in 1953, two years after his death from prostate cancer at the age of sixty two.

Ludwig died in Cambridge, housed in his doctor's home, since he did not wish to die in a hospital. He celebrated his 62nd birthday by taking a walk. Three days later, he was dead. His last words were, "Tell them I've had a wonderful life."

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Erasmus

The Dutch humanist Erasmus (1466-1536) fell madly in love with a tall young monk named Servatius Roger. Erasmus wrote him scores of passionate, love-sick letters, to which Roger reacted by asking him to tone it down – way down, lest there be a scandal. Roger never gave in to the constant, overwrought advances. Here is a typical exchange:

Erasmus: Don’t be so reserved. I have become yours so completely that nothing of myself is left...I have wooed you both unhappily and relentlessly.

Roger: What is wrong with you?

This portrait of Erasmus by Hans Holbein the Younger (1523) hangs in London's National Gallery.

While later teaching in Paris, Erasmus instructed a 21-year-old English-born student, Thomas Grey, who later became Marquis of Dorset. Erasmus was abruptly dismissed as Grey’s teacher, for making unwanted advances towards him. It seems Erasmus had a thing for straight men.

Erasmus was born Gerrit Gerritszoon (Dutch for Gerard Gerardson) in Rotterdam as the illegitimate son of a physician's daughter and a man who later became a monk. On his parents' death his guardians insisted he enter a monastery, where he adopted the name Desiderius Erasmus. After taking priest's orders, Erasmus went to Paris, where he earned a living as a teacher. His life-long clashes with theologians and clergy took root while in France. Among his pupils was English Lord Mountjoy, who invited Erasmus to visit England in 1498. He lived chiefly at Oxford, and through the influence of John Colet, his contempt for theologians was heightened. He returned to Paris and later made a much longed for trip to Italy, but returned to England from time to time.

While residing at Cambridge Erasmus served as professor of Divinity and Greek. In 1519 the first edition of Colloquia appeared. Usually regarded as his masterpiece, Colloquia critiqued the abuses of the Church with audacity and incisiveness, preparing men's minds for the subsequent work of Martin Luther. In future works Erasmus promoted a more rational conception of Christian doctrine, emancipating men's minds from the frivolous and pedantic methods of contemporary theologians. Members of the clerical establishment became his sworn enemies, driving him to live out the rest of his days in Basel, Switzerland. Fortunately, during his last years Erasmus enjoyed great fame, fortune  and high regard.

Erasmus stands as the supreme example of cultivated common sense being applied to human affairs. He rescued theology from the pedantries of theologians, exposed the abuses of the Church, and did more than any other single person to advance the Revival of Learning.

A popular European student exchange program, established in 1987, is named after him. The Erasmus Programme is a major European Union higher education initiative; there are currently more than 4,000 higher education institutions participating in 33 countries, and more than 2.2 million students have already taken part.