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.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Michael Tilson Thomas, American Conductor

UPDATE to the original post (9/7/2011):

MTT will be one of five recipients of a Kennedy Center Honors Award to be broadcast December 15, 2019 at 8pm on CBS.

Michael Tilson Thomas (b. 1944) is an American conductor, composer, and pianist – and a gay man. A California native, he has been music director of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra since 1995, and beginning this evening he will lead the orchestra in the opening performances of the orchestra's 100th anniversary season.

Tilson Thomas is the first conductor to achieve prominence without concealing his homosexuality. For more than thirty years he has been partnered with Joshua Robison, who shares Tilson Thomas's  Edwardian house in San Francisco and a 1925 pink stucco palace in Miami. He has pushed audiences to rethink the relationship between classical music and homosexuality by celebrating gay composers and commissioning works that explore the experiences of gay men and lesbians.

After winning the 1968 Koussevitzky Prize at Tanglewood, Tilson Thomas became the youngest assistant conductor in the history of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, when he garnered great critical praise by conducting the second half of the symphony’s 1969 New York concert after its musical director became ill.

From that point on, Tilson Thomas steadily rose in the world of classical music, serving as conductor of a number of prestigious orchestras. In 1987 he founded the New World Symphony, an orchestra academy in Miami Beach, which moved into its permanent new home designed by Frank Gehry for an inaugural concert on January 26, 2011. The academy prepares gifted graduates of distinguished music programs for leadership positions in orchestras and ensembles around the world (www.nws.edu). Notably, four of them have been hired by the San Francisco Symphony. 

In 1988, Tilson Thomas became principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra, and in 1995 the music director of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. In June, 2000, he organized the American Mavericks music festival in San Francisco, highlighting the works of such gay composers as Lou Harrison, David Del Tredici and Meredith Monk.


In May 2001, Tilson Thomas conducted the premiere of Del Tredici’s “Gay Life,” a series of pieces he commissioned that explore the experiences of gay men in America, including the challenges that gay men have faced in their struggle to survive the AIDS epidemic. In addition, two of Tilson Thomas’ own compositions have added to the small but growing classical music repertoire focused on gay subjects. “Three Poems by Walt Whitman,” for baritone and orchestra, and “We Two Boys Together Clinging,” for baritone and piano, which use Whitman’s poetry to explore intimacy between men.

In February 25, 2010, President Obama presented Tilson Thomas with the National Medal of Arts, the nation’s highest award for artistic achievement.











Maestro Tilson Thomas narrates a history of the San Francisco Symphony. His commentary begins at the 1:36 mark in this video. Until I viewed this fascinating chronicle, I was unaware that the San Francisco Symphony was our nation's first professional orchestra to hire women to play instruments other than the harp.



Tilson Thomas embraced the YouTube genre in 2009 to help create the “YouTube Symphony Orchestra,” whose 96 members were selected from 30 countries based on more than 3,000 video auditions on YouTube. Here Tilson Thomas conducts gay composer Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Finale from Symphony No. 4, leading the YouTube Symphony Orchestra on April 15, 2009 at Carnegie Hall.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Alexander Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton was a United States Founding Father, soldier, economist, political philosopher, one of America's first constitutional lawyers and the first United States Secretary of the Treasury. As Treasury Secretary, Hamilton was the primary author of the economic policies of George Washington’s administration – specifically the funding of state debts by the Federal government, the establishment of a national bank, a system of tariffs and friendly trade relations with England. He became the leader of the Federalist Party, created largely in support of his views.

On March 3, 1777, forty-five year old President George Washington hired twenty-two year old Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804) to be his personal secretary and aide-de-camp, subsequently promoting him to lieutenant colonel. Of illegitimate birth and raised in the West Indies, Hamilton was educated in New York, where he lived with a 32-year old bachelor male haberdasher, Hercules Mulligan. After his studies, Hamilton was elected to the Continental Congress from that state. He resigned to practice law and subsequently founded the Bank of New York. In 1789, after Hamilton returned from further military service, Washington appointed Hamilton as the first ever Treasury Secretary of the United States. Many researchers suggest that Washington, who was in a life-long childless marriage, and Hamilton likely had an intimate relationship, as well (Hamilton was known to have intimate relations with both men and women). Washington’s otherwise warm relations with Hamilton turned somewhat frosty after Hamilton married a woman following the death of the object of Hamilton’s devotion, John Laurens (1754-1782).

Hamilton and Laurens had an intense, intimate relationship and often compared each other to Damon and Pythias* (!), a euphemism used to denote a devoted gay couple. In 1779, chiding Laurens for not corresponding as often as he would have liked, Hamilton wrote, "like a jealous lover, when I thought you slighted my caresses, my affection was alarmed and my vanity piqued." In 1781 Hamilton requested a transfer from Washington’s staff to be able to serve in combat with Laurens, and the request was granted. Hamilton and Laurens engaged in several military campaigns together, but Laurens was tragically killed in a skirmish in 1782. Hamilton was completely devastated.

*In Greek mythology, Pythias, who had been condemned to death by Dionysius, wanted to return home first to put his affairs in order. Damon agreed to be put to death in his friend’s stead, should Pythias not return to face his execution. Pythias returned as promised, sparing Damon’s life. Dionysius was so impressed by the friends’ devotion to each other that he pardoned Pythias and asked to be friends with the two lovers.

Four months prior to John Laurens’s death on the battlefield, Hamilton wrote to Laurens playfully suggesting that Laurens find a wife for him, offering an exaggerated and amusing description of the ideal candidate’s appearance, personality and financial standing ("as to fortune, the larger stock of that the better"). Hamilton then withdrew the suggestion, writing, "Do I want a wife? No – I have plagues enough without desiring to add to the number that greatest of all."

Bronze statue of Alexander Hamilton outside Hamilton Hall, overlooking Hamilton Lawn at his alma mater, Columbia University in New York City.

Yet Hamilton did marry late the following year, entering into a union with the daughter of one of the wealthiest men in New York City, where Hamilton resumed his law practice. After the war he  participated in the Constitutional Convention of 1787. When he became president, Washington appointed Hamilton the nation’s first ever Secretary of the Treasury in 1789. However, Hamilton left the poorly-paid Treasury position in 1795 to resume his more lucrative law practice, but he remained a valued adviser to the president and a leader of the Federalist Party.

When the contentious presidential race of 1800 ended in an Electoral College tie, the House of Representatives was charged with resolving the impasse. Hamilton famously put the good of his young nation above party loyalty. Because he believed the Federalist candidate, Aaron Burr, would be a disastrous president, Hamilton went on a campaign to urge his fellow party members to vote instead for his longtime political adversary, Thomas Jefferson. Aaron Burr, who received the second highest number of votes, became Vice President, but he  never forgave Hamilton for his defeat. When Burr ran for governor in New York State in 1804, Hamilton's influence in his home state was strong enough to prevent a Burr victory. Taking offense at some of Hamilton's comments, Burr challenged him to a duel in July, 1804, and wounded Hamilton, who died of his injuries shortly thereafter.

Although Hamilton had a fruitful marriage (and eight children), researchers and biographers deem that Hamilton’s relationship with Laurens was the most important romantic and emotional bond of his life. Earlier biographers edited out the most embarrassing and damning paragraphs from Hamilton’s effusive letters to Laurens, but a 1902 biography relates that Laurens "took Hamilton by storm, capturing judgement as well as heart, and loving him as ardently in return." In describing Hamilton's reaction to the death of Laurens, "Hamilton mourned him passionately, and never ceased to regret him. Betsey [Schuyler Hamilton, his wife] consoled, diverted, and bewitched him, but there were times when he would have exchanged her for Laurens." She added, with some regret, "The perfect friendship of two men is the deepest and highest sentiment of which the finite mind is capable; women miss the best in life." Hamilton's grandson, Allen McLane Hamilton, wrote that many of his grandfather's male friends were attracted to his "almost feminine traits." So there you have it.

The memory of Alexander Hamilton and John Laurens lives on in San Francisco at the Alexander Hamilton Post 448 of the American Legion, the organization’s only branch comprised primarily of GLBTQ veterans.


Hamilton and Laurens are depicted standing together on the "Surrender of Cornwallis" commemorative U.S. postage stamp released in October of 1981. The stamp was based on a  painting of the same name commissioned by the U.S. Government in 1817 from painter John Trumbull. In the extreme right of the painting, Hamilton, with hands clasped in front of him, stands in the front row immediately to the right of the ash colored horse with the prominent neck; the similarly dressed John Laurens stands next to him (click to enlarge). This painting hangs in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol building.

And of course, Hamilton’s image graces the U.S. ten-dollar bill in commemoration of the first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

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.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Felix d'Eon

Born in Guadalajara, Mexico, artist Felix d'Eon had a Mexican mother and a French father. Upon his father’s death while Felix was still a boy, the family moved to Pacific Palisades area of Los Angeles. Felix demonstrated an early aptitude for art and began drawing students, boyfriends, and other members of his swim team while he was in high school.

At age 15, his mother enrolled him in figure drawing courses at a local community college, but shortly thereafter Felix and his brother ran away from home and spent nearly a year living on a beach in Mexico, then working as models in Mexico City, drawing sidewalk portraits and at times being “kept boys.” Upon returning to Pacific Palisades and graduating from high school, Felix went to live in San Francisco, where he graduated with honors from the Academy of Art University.

From his web site:
“Felix has spent time since college in various cities around the world, such as New Orleans (where the brothers were strippers at The Corner Pocket), New York (a job as an erotic cake decorator), Milan, Italy (a kept boy), Tennessee (a gentleman farmer) and Buenos Aires (a man of leisure). His permanent home is in Mexico City, where he lives with two lesbian roommates, a charming houseboy, an erstwhile boyfriend, occasional lovers, and two cats.”




Much of D’Eon’s art is evocative of a Victorian style, although far more explicit than would have been allowed in those times. Your blogger first became aware of d’Eon when a reader sent an image of a vintage sheet music cover with an R-rated illustration incorporated into the design. Rather startling, because it looked authentic. He has also completed portfolios of super-hero comics, book covers and the like. His web site is NSFW, and accordingly, most examples of his art cannot be shown on this blog.




Do yourself a favor and amble on over to d’Eon’s Instagram site to have a look at his singular illustrations.

https://www.instagram.com/felixdeon/?hl=en


Sunday, October 6, 2019

Prince Andrew of Greece

Queen Elizabeth II’s husband, Prince Philip the Duke of Edinburgh, had a mother who was born profoundly deaf and a father who was bisexual. His father, Prince Andrew of Greece (1882-1944), was a disgraced military commander, charged with treason for failure to carry out orders in the Greco-Turkish War (1919-1921) and subsequently stripped of his royal titles. Blamed for the loss of Greek territory in that disastrous war, he was imprisoned and sentenced to death. His wife, Princess Alice of Battenberg*, arranged for intervention by British King George V, who negotiated for Andrew’s release and ultimate rescue. The photo at right shows Prince Andrew and Princess Alice in 1905, two years into their ill-fated marriage.

Andrew had always lived a lascivious lifestyle, carrying on one affair after another with both men and women, so it is not surprising that he largely ignored his wife and children. After they drifted apart, Alice sent Prince Philip (at the age of nine) to England to be cared for by his relatives, the Mountbattens, while she and her four daughters returned to Germany. Prince Andrew lived out the rest of his life in exile in Monaco, all the while continuing a string of bisexual affairs. Prince Andrew, who had been near-sighted from his early days, was always seen wearing glasses, but in later years he sported a monocle as a dashing accessory. Before things fell apart, Andrew, tall and good looking, cut a fine figure with Alice of Battenberg, one of Europe’s loveliest princesses, as the photo attests. They were living in Corfu when their only son (their fifth and youngest child), Prince Philip, today's consort of Queen Elizabeth II, was born in 1921.

Andrew (shown in painting at left) had grown up the son of King George I (a German speaking Danish Prince and King of Greece) and the Russian Grand Duchess Olga Konstantinova. After his father was assassinated, Andrew’s brother Constantine became King of Greece. Unfortunately, Constantine was forced to abdicate because of his neutral stance during WW I, and Prince Andrew and his family lived in exile in Switzerland for three years, until his brother was reinstated in 1920. In the following year Prince Philip was born on Corfu.

Unfortunately, Andrew died before his son married the English Queen Elizabeth II in 1947, having succumbed to a heart ailment. He died at the Hotel Metropole in Monaco in 1944 and is buried in the gardens of Tatoi, the Greek royal residence to the north of Athens. Just before his marriage to Elizabeth in 1947, Prince Philip became a British subject, taking his mother's surname, Mountbatten, thus renouncing his right to the Greek and Danish thrones. A more detailed chronology of Prince Andrew’s life can be discerned from the video at the end of this post.

Note: The current British Prince Andrew (born 1960) was named after his bisexual Greek grandfather. It is widely known that Prince Andrew is the favorite son of Queen Elizabeth, in spite of all that scandalous Fergie business.

*Prince Philip’s mother, Princess Alice of Battenberg, was born profoundly deaf at Windsor Castle in the presence of her great grandmother Queen Victoria. She grew to become one of Europe’s most beautiful princesses, adept at lip reading and speaking German and English. At the coronation of King Edward VII in 1902, Alice met Prince Andrew, ultimately marrying him in Darmstadt, Germany, the very next year. She spent her early married life in the turbulent political arena of Greece. After being ignored by her husband and shamed by his blatant affairs and political disgrace, she suffered a severe nervous breakdown and eventually entered the Greek Orthodox Church to became a nun, founding a female religious order. She creating quite a stir as a nun who chained smoked and played canasta. Princess Alice lived out her final years in Britain and died at Buckingham Palace, where she had been invited to live after the fall of King Constantine II of Greece (her brother-in-law) and the imposition of military rule there in 1967. Upon her death in 1969 she was interred in the royal crypt at Windsor Castle, but her wish to be buried in Jerusalem was finally realized in 1988, when her remains were transferred to a crypt below a convent in Gethsemane.

Princess Alice had attended the royal wedding of Queen Elizabeth II to her son Prince Philip in 1947, but her four daughters (Prince Philip’s sisters) were conspicuously excluded, because all of them had married German nobles, three of them high ranking Nazi officers. Oddly, Prince Philip never told Princess Diana that his mother had been born severely deaf, all the more astonishing in light of the tireless work Princess Diana did on behalf of the deaf community in Britain.

In this photo a young Prince Philip is shown holding his mother's hand. Philip learned sign language to be able to communicate with his mother. Prince Andrew is shown seated and surrounded by his four daughters. Philip was the only male child in the immediate family.


Prince Philip’s German ancestry was always problematic. When his sister Cécile died in a plane crash in 1937, her funeral was attended by Hermann Göring. There are photographs of the then 16-year-old Prince Philip at the funeral, surrounded by relatives in SS and brownshirt uniforms. Philip’s sister Sophia was photographed sitting opposite Hitler at the wedding of Hermann and Emmy Göring. Sophia herself was married to Prince Christopher of Hesse-Cassel, an SS Colonel attached to Himmler's personal staff. Their eldest son, Karl Adolf (Prince Philip’s nephew), was named in Hitler's honor. During WW I the Battenbergs “translated” their name from German to the English word Mountbatten (remember that Prince Philip’s mother was a Battenberg; "berg" in German means "mountain"). Accordingly, Prince Philip anglicized his name to Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten (the German House of Battenberg was a branch of the House of Hesse), to distance himself from his actual German family name of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg (on his father’s side). Similarly, the House of Hanover (German) changed its name to the House of Windsor. The late Queen Mother was strongly opposed to the marriage of her daughter Elizabeth to Philip, but eventually gave in to her daughter’s entreaties.

Prince Philip the Duke of Edinburgh and his young bride, Queen Elizabeth 11, in 1947.


The British royal family has spent more than sixty years trying to downplay or disguise Prince Philip’s infamous heritage. Queen Elizabeth II’s own grandmother, Queen Mary, had been born a German princess, and the British Royal family’s strong German roots caused uneasiness during the two world wars. Hoping to sweep all this German business under the carpet for good, in 1960 Queen Elizabeth II decreed by special order that all of her children and grandchildren were to use the name Mountbatten-Windsor (which sounds a lot less German than Battenberg-Hanover). Thus the recently married Prince William has the official name: William Arthur Philip Louis Mountbatten-Windsor.


Prince Andrew of Greece and Princess Alice of Battenberg



Prince Philip’s cousin, Prince Charles Edward, had a career that further embarrassed England. Charles Edward was born into the British royal family at Claremont House (Surrey, England) in 1884. He accepted a German dukedom and found himself fighting for the Kaiser in World War I. Later he was deprived of all his British titles and branded a traitor. But the worst was his assistance in Hitler's rise to power, so Prince Charles Edward ended his days as a convicted Nazi. Charles Edward had been Queen Victoria's favorite grandson, and he was first cousin to three European monarchs: English King George V, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, and Nicholas II, Russia’s last Tsar. Unfortunately, Queen Victoria made a decision that ruined his life by decreeing that Prince Charles Edward would become the Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, the German principality from which Victoria’s husband Albert originated. At 16 years of age and speaking no German, Charles Edward left England to become Carl Eduard, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, with 13 castles in Germany and Austria, hunting lodges, hotels, a power station, tens of thousands of acres of farmland in Bavaria and a duchy with an income worth £17 million pounds at today's value. In no time flat the German Kaiser married him off to his own niece, Victoria. In retrospect, I’m sure Charles Edward realized that sometimes it’s better to stand up to one’s grandmother, even if she is the queen.

While things are much more progressive these days, royals are perpetual sources of scandal and gossip. Prince Harry, who for years supplied the tabloid press with ample fodder, recently married Meghan Markle (a bi-racial commoner), and just a year ago Lord Ivar Mountbatten married his male partner, James Coyle. This was the British royal family's first ever same sex wedding (held in the Mountbatten family's private chapel). Fifty-something Lord Ivar Mountbatten is a cousin of Queen Elizabeth, and like the Queen, he is a direct descendant of Queen Victoria. He is also a great-nephew of Earl Louis Mountbatten, who was Prince Philip's uncle.


Sources:

Wikipedia
Vanity Fair
http://crownstiarasandcoronets.blogspot.com/2016/07/princess-alice-of-battenberg-princess.html

Thursday, September 19, 2019

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 "Chelsea Bridge", "Take the A-Train", "Lotus Blossum" and “Lush Life,” all of which have become jazz classics. He started composing both words and music for "Lush Life" at age 16, which became a prophetic anthem for his life. He did indeed get to Paris, become a socialite and suffer from alcoholism. That such a world-weary lyric could come from the pen of a teenager is astounding.

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. Ellington's nickname for Billy was "Sweet Pea." Strayhorn worked for Ellington for the next 29 years as an arranger, composer, pianist and collaborator until his early death from esophageal cancer, the result of a lifetime of cigarette use. 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 age 33 Strayhorn lived with his partner Aaron Bridgers, a jazz pianist and composer who moved to Paris in 1948. Until his death, Strayhorn then maintained a relationship with his subsequent partner, Bill Grove, who was Caucasian; however, they kept separate apartments, likely as the result of Strayhorn's higher profile and interracial prejudices of the day.

Strayhorn significantly 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.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Prince Henry of Prussia

A little-known fact of American history is that there had been a real possibility that our fledgling nation's first leader could have been a gay Prussian royal from the House of Hohenzollern.

Seriously.

Born Friedrich Heinrich Ludwig in Berlin, Prince Henry of Prussia (1726-1802) was the younger brother of Frederick the Great. Prince Henry was a distinguished soldier and statesman who in 1786 was backed by Alexander Hamilton, Baron von Steuben and other disgruntled American politicians as a cultured and liberal-minded candidate for “king” of the United States, when Americans were considering a constitutional monarchy form of government (George Washington had declined an offer to serve as "king"). Prince Henry was 60 years old at the time. In the end, a republic form of government won out, headed by a president, so the offer was not open long enough for Henry to accept, and George Washington was selected as the unanimous choice of the electors to serve as our first president.

While it might seem far-fetched that a Prussian man would be accepted by the American people as their leader, it must be recalled that without the military leadership of the Prussian Baron von Steuben, our continental army would likely not have prevailed against the British. Benjamin Franklin, while based in Paris, recommended Baron von Steuben to General George Washington, who brought von Steuben to Valley Forge. Von Steuben affected an astonishing military turnaround, whipping into shape Washington’s rag-tag band of soldiers.

Prince Henry (childless), Frederick the Great (childless), and Baron von Steuben (never married) all had one thing in common, and that is sexual relations with men (some historians promote an opinion that Alexander Hamilton's intense relationship with John Laurens included intimate physical relations). Benjamin Franklin was well aware of Baron von Steuben’s proclivity for young men but did not tell Washington that von Steuben was about to be run out of France for his “immoral” acts, which von Steuben never denied. Fellow countryman Prince Henry was also brazenly open about his sexual interest in young men. Both Prussians had advanced military skills, and Prince Henry led Prussia’s troops so successfully during the Seven Years' War that he never lost a battle. Baron von Steuben never married, but Prince Henry entered into a childless marriage of convenience, as was the custom of high-born homosexuals of the time.

Three of Prince Henry’s affairs with younger men are documented: the 17-year-old French émigré Count of Roche-Aymon, Major Christian Ludwig von Kaphengst (1743-1800) and an actor known as Blainville. It is known that Major Kaphengst exploited the prince's interest in him to lead a dissipated, wasteful life on a Prussian estate not far from Rheinsberg, Prince Henry's castle near Berlin. It was also reported that Henry often chose the officers in his regiment for their handsomeness rather than for their military competence.


After the death of his brother Frederick the Great, Henry became an advisor to his nephew, the new King Frederick William II of Prussia (regent 1786-1797), and during the last five years of his life advised his grand nephew, King Frederick William III, who reigned over Prussia from 1797 to 1840.

Sources:

Keith Stern’s Queers in History (2009)


Warren Johansson essay in Wayne R. Dynes’s Encyclopedia of Homosexuality

Wikipedia

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Baron von Steuben

I’ve written about gay king Frederick the Great of Prussia. However, I just learned that a former aide of his had to flee Prussia amid allegations of taking familiarities with young boys. Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, an experienced military officer, made his way to America with the aid of Benjamin Franklin, who was based in Paris at the time, trying to convince the French to come to our aid in fighting the British. George Washington asked for the Baron’s assistance in bringing order to the tattered Continental troops serving in the Revolutionary War. General Washington sent him to Valley Forge in February, 1778.

The soldiers were unaccustomed to the Baron’s – well, let’s call it "style". Von Steuben showed up in a grandiose sleigh (sporting 24 jingling bells) pulled by black Percheron draft horses. The Baron was wearing a robe of silk trimmed with fur, all the while petting his miniature greyhound, Azor, who was curled up on his lap. Behind him were his retinue of African servants, a French chef, his French aide-de-camp Louis de Pontière and the Baron’s 17-year-old lover/secretary Pierre-Étienne du Ponceau.

Impressive, if not entirely appropriate.

However, von Steuben proved his worth and soon shaped a hundred soldiers into a model company that, in turn, trained others in Prussian military tactics. He was a mere captain, but was so invaluable to Washington, that he was promoted to Major General.  In 1781, he served under the Marquis de Lafayette in Virginia when the British General Charles Cornwallis invaded. He also served at the siege of Yorktown, where he commanded one of the three divisions of Washington's army.

Steuben spoke little English, and he often yelled to his translator, "Hey! Come over here and swear for me!" Steuben punctuated the screaming of his translator with fierce-sounding shouts in German and French. In an effort to codify training, Steuben wrote a Revolutionary War Drill Manual, which became the standard method for training army troops for over thirty years. It addresses the arms and accoutrements of officers and soldiers, formation and exercise of a company, instruction of recruits, formation and marching, inspection, etc., etc.

Steuben became an American citizen by act of the Pennsylvania legislature in March 1784. In 1790, Congress gave him a pension of $2,500 a year, which he received until his death, and an estate near Utica, NY, granted to him for his military service to our nation.

But wait, that’s not all. Steuben legally adopted two handsome soldiers (one of them, William North, became a U.S. Senator). A third young man, John Mulligan, considered himself a member of the stable of Steuben’s “sons.” Before moving in with Steuben, Mulligan had been living with Charles Adams*, the son of then-Vice President John Adams. Adams was concerned about the intense “closeness” between his son and Mulligan, insisting that they split up, so Mulligan wrote to Von Steuben with his tale of despair. Actually, Von Steuben offered to take both men into his arms home. Charles Adams, the handsomest son of one president and brother of another (John Quincy), resided with Von Steuben and Mulligan for a while. The 19-year-old Mulligan received – how shall we say – a very warm welcome. Von Steuben was a 62-year-old bachelor at the time. Hmmm.

Adams left the cozy love nest after a short while, but Mulligan stayed on for several years, serving as Von Steuben’s “secretary” until the Baron’s death. Mulligan inherited von Steuben’s library, maps and $2,500 cash, a considerable amount at the time, especially considering that the Baron was not a wealthy man.

Every year since 1958 the German-American Steuben Parade has been held in New York City. It is one of the city’s largest parades and is traditionally followed by an Oktoberfest celebration in Central Park. Similar events take place in Chicago and Philadelphia. Chicago’s Steuben Day Parade was featured in the movie Ferris Bueller's Day Off. To further honor von Steuben, the Steuben Society was founded in 1919 as an educational, fraternal, and patriotic organization of American citizens of German background. In the difficult post-WW I years the Society helped the German-American community reorganize.

Steubenville, Ohio, is named in the Baron’s honor. As well, numerous submarines, warships and ocean liners were named after him. A statue of the Baron stands in Lafayette Square opposite the White House in Washington, DC*. Even one of the cadet barracks buildings at Valley Forge Military Academy and College is named after Von Steuben. Really.

Steuben was cited by Randy Shilts in his book, Conduct Unbecoming, as an early example of a valuable homosexual in the military.

*I traipsed over to Lafayette Park yesterday afternoon to inspect the statue of Baron von Steuben. It’s a tall bronze life-size statue placed upon a high stone pedestal. The statue shows von Steuben in military dress uniform surveying the troops at Valley Forge. The monument, which stands opposite the White House, was erected in 1911 and sculpted by Albert Jaegers. At the rear of the pedestal is a medallion with the images of von Steuben's adopted aides-de-camp, William North and Benjamin Walker, facing one another.  It says:  "Colonel William North - Major Benjamin Walker - Aides and Friends of von Steuben". On each side of the pedestal are bronze Roman soldiers. Above the carved words “military instruction” on one side is a seated, helmeted Roman soldier “instructing” a naked youth (photo at left). Appropriate, no?

Check it out the next time you come to Washington DC.

*In 1796 Charles Adams was one of a group of men who frequented the theater in New York City and wrote critiques of what they saw for further distribution. Others in the group, called the Friendly Club, were John Wells, Elias Hicks, Samuel Jones, William Cutting and Peter Irving. This is noted in William Dunlap's "History of the American Theatre," published in 1832 (p. 193). Adams, whose father vowed never to see him again after Charles abandoned his wife and two daughters, drank himself to death in 1800, succumbing to alcoholism at the tender age of 30. Some scholars believe this was caused by his inability to deal with his homosexual leanings. Charles Adams, who streaked naked across the campus of Harvard during his student days, had a reputation as a rogue and renegade, and his family's wall of silence after his death may support that theory. Charles certainly spent much time in the company of men who engaged in homosexual activity. In researching this post, I enjoyed a cheap smile over the fact that the law office of young Adams was located on Little Queen Street (since renamed Cedar St. in the financial district).

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Titanic Memorial: A Tribute to "Friendship"

Just a few yards from the White House south lawn sits a little-known monument related to the ill-fated passenger ship Titanic, which struck an iceberg on its maiden voyage on April 15, 1912. Described as a “tribute to friendship,” this fountain along E St. honors Francis Davis Millet and Archibald Butt, two men who went down with the vessel, selflessly assisting women and children as the ship sank. Millet was 60, and Butt 46 at the time of the tragedy.

The two “devoted friends” shared a house in DC, even though Millet had married (his wife lived elsewhere). Butt described Millet as “my artist friend who lives with me.” Their only recorded spat was over the wallpaper Millet had chosen for their home (too many red and pink roses for Butt’s taste). Their live-in Filipino houseboys served presidents, cabinet members, ambassadors and Supreme Court justices during lavish parties and dinners the male hosts were famous for. President Taft wept openly when he learned that Butt had perished in the Titanic tragedy, yet the two well-connected men have been forgotten with the passage of time.

The joint monument is a stone fountain designed by the sculptor Daniel Chester French and architect Thomas Hastings. Among other of French's works here in Washington are the seated statue of Lincoln inside the Lincoln memorial and the Dupont Circle Fountain. Hastings was architect of the elegant amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery, but his best known building is the New York Public Library. At any rate, the design team boasted impeccable pedigrees.

This memorial was paid for by funds raised privately by friends of the two men, both of whom were widely known in Washington's cultural, social, and political circles. Frank Millet (right), a skilled painter, was a member of the Fine Arts Commission who also directed the American Academy in Rome, Italy. Major Butt had been a military aide to both President Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. The fountain today sits not far from where Major Butt's White House office was located.

The two men had a tenant in their Washington home, a young diplomat named Archie Clark Kerr, who worked at the British Embassy. He returned to Washington 35 years later as Lord Inverchapel, the British Ambassador. Kerr caused quite a stir among diplomatic circles by suddenly disappearing to Eagle Grove, Iowa, to stay with a strapping farm boy Kerr had come upon while the lad was waiting for a bus on the streets of Washington. So there you have it.

Frank Millet had a studio in Rome in the early 1870s, and one in Venice a few years later. While in Venice Millet lived with Charles Warren Stoddard, a well-known American travel journalist and poet who had a sexual interest in men. Historian Jonathan Ned Katz published letters from Millet to Stoddard that confirm they lived a bohemian life together in a romantic and intimate relationship. But the most important relationship of Millet’s life was not with Stoddard or even his wife – it was with Archibald Butt.

Fast forward to the early spring of 1912. Millet and Butt (left) together boarded the steamship Berlin for a six-week trip to Europe. To say that they were a conspicuous pair is understatement. Butt wore bright, copper-colored trousers with a Norfolk jacket, fastened by big ball-shaped buttons of red porcelain, a lavender tie, a tall collar, broad-brimmed hat, patent leather shoes with white tops, a bunch of lilies in his buttonhole and a handkerchief tucked into his sleeve. The two men returned home to America together, too, in first class cabins aboard the “unsinkable” Whitestar liner RMS Titanic. On the night of April 14, the ship struck an iceberg and sank the next morning with Butt and Millet among the 1,517 victims of the disaster.

Although the intimate relationship between Millet and Butt was never mentioned publicly, it was common knowledge among Washington insiders, and the fact that their friends erected a joint monument to their memory is a remarkable and poignant tribute, considering the mores of the day.

The 8-foot tall marble fountain displays bas-reliefs of both men. On one side of the shaft placed atop the fountain is a military figure with sword and shield representing Major Butt, and an artist with palette and brush represents Millet. Besides being a memorial, the fountain was designed to double as a water fountain for the horses ridden by U.S. Park Police while on patrol.

Inscription carved around the upper rim of the fountain:

IN MEMORY OF FRANCIS DAVIS MILLET · 1846 - 1912 ·
AND ARCHIBALD WILLINGHAM BUTT · 1865 - 1912 ·
THIS MONUMENT HAS BEEN ERECTED BY THEIR FRIENDS WITH THE SANCTION OF CONGRESS

Friday, July 19, 2019

Keith Haring

Pop culture artist Keith Haring (1958-1990), was a gay man whose simplistic images were influenced by New York City graffiti artists. His art had a strong graphic quality, with figures or objects drawn in outline form with rays emanating from them – instantly recognizable the world over. Unfortunately, his short life was halted by AIDS, and he succumbed to the disease at the age of thirty-one.

Keith Allen Haring was born in Reading, Pennsylvania, and he was raised in a nearby rural farming community. He showed artistic promise from his childhood years, when he was an avid drawer of cartoons. As a teenager he became aware of Andy Warhol’s work and was fascinated by the prospect of mass-produced pop art that celebrated common objects. He moved to Pittsburgh after graduating from high school and it was there that he realized his homosexuality and art were interconnected, prompting a move to NYC, the center of both the art world and gay culture.


In the early 1980s he began creating his iconic graffiti drawings in the city’s subways. Haring worked at the Tony Shafrazi gallery, and in 1982 his employer launched his first major show, in which many of the works displayed homoerotic content. His images, bereft of detail, were ideal for social awareness campaigns, and his designs were soon used for UNICEF causes, AIDS prevention, literacy campaigns and even to fight apartheid in South Africa.

Within five years of his arrival in NYC, Haring’s popularity and unique artistic expression made him a rich man and a cultural celebrity. Madonna, one of his biggest fans, explained that Haring’s art had such a vast appeal because, "there was a lot of innocence and joy that was coupled with a brutal awareness of the world."

Among his projects included a mural created for the 100th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty in 1986, on which Haring worked with 900 children,  a mural on the exterior of Necker Children’s Hospital in Paris, France in 1987, and a mural painted on the western side of the Berlin Wall three years before its fall. Haring also held drawing workshops for children in schools and museums in New York, Amsterdam, London, Tokyo and Bordeaux, and produced imagery for many literacy programs and other public service campaigns.

Influenced by Andy Warhols’ commercialism, Haring opened the Pop Shop in NYC’s SoHo neighborhood, where products bearing his images could reach a mass market. Responding to critics who said he had “sold out” his art, Haring explained that fine art was an expensive commodity beyond the reach of the middle class, and his retail outlet allowed ordinary people to own his work. More than twenty years after his death, the Pop Shop lives on and has expanded to encompass Internet operations.

Portrait of Haring (at left)



Saturday, June 8, 2019

Umberto II of Savoy

Last King of Italy

The only son of Italian King Victor Emmanuel III, King Umberto II (1904-1983) is found on many lists of the shortest-reigning monarchs in history. He was regent of Italy from May 9 to June 12, 1945. Thus known as the “May King”, he was Italy’s last king before the monarchy was abolished and the nation became a Republic. After a dubious 1945 plebiscite, Umberto of Savoy was forced into exile in Cascais, Portugal, to avoid a civil war. His family ties to Musolini did not favor his fate.

Umberto had earlier entered into an arranged marriage to a Belgian Princess, carrying out a tradition common to European royalty, but he lived apart from his wife except for public appearances. It is confirmed that he spent his wedding night and entire honeymoon apart from his wife, instead enjoying the company of male “friends” to whom Umberto gave diamond-studded fleur-de-lis shaped mementos and jewels in the shape of the letter “U” (the fleur-de-lis was the symbol of the Savoy dynasty). Those young men flaunted the gifts in public. When Umberto later called on his wife, he was always in the company of someone else and had himself formally announced. Their first child was not born until after four years of marriage, and rumors persisted that they were born by artificial insemination or were fathered by men other than Umberto. Umberto and his wife kept separate apartments, separate beds and had separate circles of friends. Hmm...

He also engaged in relations with many homosexuals of both high and low born pedigree. Many of them were oung military officers, such as Enrico Montanari, who recounted that in the city of Turin during 1927, as a lieutenant he was persistently courted by Prince Umberto. Montanari wrote that Umberto gave him a silver cigarette lighter inscribed with "Dimmi di sì!" (Say yes to me!). Further, a biography of film-director Luchino Visconti revealed explicit details about the director’s sexual relationship with the Prince. Others have come forward with evidence that Umberto’s lovers included French actor Jean Marais and boxer Primo Carnera.


Various actresses have been forthcoming with details of how Umberto (1944 photo at right) surrounded himself with glamorous women to give the impression that he was a gallant playboy, but all of them said their relationships with Umberto were platonic, and that these “romances” were merely staged to deflect rumors of his homosexual activity.

When Umberto became ill in his late seventies, he was not allowed to return to Italy to die. His death occurred in 1983 in Geneva, Switzerland, but he was buried on French soil in the Savoy family tomb in Haute-Combe. No representative of the Italian government attended his funeral.

Source:
Giovanni Dall’Orto in “Who’s Who in Gay and Lesbian History” (Vol. I, 2001), edited by Aldrich and Wotherspoon.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Pete Buttigieg

Gay Rust Belt Mayor Pete Buttigieg Qualifies for First Presidential Debate; Pinch Yourself


For the first time in history, an openly gay man will participate in a Democratic party presidential debate. South Bend (Indiana) Mayor Pete Buttigieg announced on Saturday, March 16 that he had reached the 65,000* individual donor goal which qualifies him to be invited to the first DNC debate (June 2019) before the 2020 presidential election. He also met the requirement that donors must come from at least 20 states.

*76,025 donors as of Saturday morning, March 16, 2019

Buttigieg is competing for the Democratic presidential nomination in the 2020 national election. If successful, he would be the first openly gay president, as well as the youngest (39 on inauguration day 2021). Mayor Pete, as he likes to be called, considering that tongue stopping last name (BOOT-edge-edge), turned in a star performance March 10, 2019, on a live CNN Town Hall held in Austin, TX. If you have not listened to this broadcast, see the YouTube link below. 

Your blogger was born (and continues to live) in the Washington DC suburbs, so I have been saturated with politics my entire life, yet I have never heard a politician speak so calmly and eloquently, with a quiet determination and assurance. He answers every question! No deflections! He mentions solutions and policies that need to be explored, all delivered with a refreshing candor and vision. And relatable. I’m still pinching myself. Consider it your civic duty to listen to the entire broadcast of 43 minutes. If nothing else, he should be hired by any candidate on how to handle an interview or town hall session.

My favorite quote from the CNN Town Hall:

When asked how he would respond to criticism from Trump:

"I'm a gay man from Indiana. I know how to handle a bully."




This man is only 37 (born January 19, 1982), openly gay (married public school teacher Chasten Glezman in June 2018; photo below), informed and eloquent. A Harvard graduate (BA) and a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford (MA), where he received a “first” in economics. Not to mention a veteran of the war in Afghanistan; he remains a lieutenant in the Naval Reserve. Mayor Pete speaks English, Arabic, Dari, Spanish, Norwegian, French, Italian and Maltese (his father emigrated from Malta, where Buttigieg is a common name). When he ran for reelection for mayor as an out gay man in 2015, he won with more than 80% of the vote. In red state Indiana. Believe it.


P.S.: Interested in learning more about Mayor Pete? He has a new book out, a memoir -- Shortest Way Home: One Mayor’s Challenge and a Model for America’s Future (pub. Feb. 12, 2019). The Guardian (British daily newspaper) stated that Buttigieg “has written the best political autobiography since Barack Obama”. 


An excerpt:


(Buttigieg met his husband online, and their first date included a visit to the South Bend Cubs. They made it to the sixth inning before they ditched the game for a walk by the river.)


“I felt the slight brushing of his hand coming closer to mine,” he writes, “and I took hold of it. Nothing in my life, from shaking hands with a president to experiencing my first rocket attack, matched the thrill of holding Chasten’s hand for the first time. I was electrified. We got back to the car just as the post-game fireworks began, and as the explosions and lit colors unfolded over us, he went in for a kiss … It only took a few weeks for me to acknowledge the obvious: I was in love.”

Photo below: Buttigieg upon returning from deployment in Afghanistan.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Johann Rosenmüller



2019 is the 400th anniversary of the birth of Johann Rosenmüller (1619-1684), an important baroque composer of instrumental and sacred vocal music in Germany and Italy at the middle of the seventeenth century. He was an organist, trombonist, teacher and composer who survived a homosexual scandal in Leipzig and escaped to Italy, where he resurrected a major career in Venice.


After graduating from the University of Leipzig, he became the assistant to the Thomasschule Cantor (director of music). Working his way up, he was next appointed organist at the Nicolaikirche, one of the three important churches in the city. As his boss became increasingly ill, Rosenmüller was assured he would be next in line for the position of Cantor at the Thomasschule, the same position that Johann Sebastian Bach would assume seventy years later. In 1655, however, Rosenmüller was arrested on charges of seducing several of his choir boys; he subsequently escaped from jail and fled to Venice, where he supported himself by playing trombone at St. Mark’s Basilica.



Some years later, he attained a position as maestro di coro (master of the chorus), at the Ospedale della Pietà, an orphanage school that featured an acclaimed all-girl* choir and orchestra that performed liturgical functions and gave concerts on Sunday afternoons. A generation later Antonio Vivaldi famously directed the musical activities at this orphanage school, elevating the female choir and orchestra to world-wide fame, attracting many tourists. Today the Metropole Hotel is the former music building, and guides point out (erroneously) that the church to the left of the hotel was the church where Vivaldi’s girls performed. In fact, the church was built many years after Vivaldi’s death.



*Many of these girls were the illegitimate children of Venetian nobles, who lavishly supported the school. The girls performed behind screens so that their “comeliness would not distract those in attendance”. Your blogger surmises that a more plausible cause might have been to hide any physical resemblance of the orphans to their noble (actual) parents. Scandal!



Rosenmüller’s sacred compositions reflected an obvious Italian influence, and students who came from Germany to study with him took these works back to their homeland, thus introducing Italian musician idioms to Germany. In 1682, considering that the coast was clear after an interval of nearly 30 years, he left Italy and returned to his homeland, Germany, where he became court composer for a duke at Wolfenbüttel in Lower Saxony. He died there in 1684, at age 65. In the annals of classical music history, Rosenmüller is hardly a household word, but his name is frequently mentioned as the man who held two posts eventually filled by much more famous men, J. S. Bach and Antonio Vivaldi. Not to mention the well-documented homosexual scandal.

Sources:

Graeme Skinner: “Who's Who in Gay and Lesbian History from Antiquity to World War II”.

Robert A. Green, Professor at the School of Music, Northern Illinois University. GLBTQ Archive.

Wikipedia