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, September 24, 2020

Herbert May



Herbert A. May (1891-1968), an executive vice president of Westinghouse, was a socialite and avid fox hunter who liked to entertain at Rosewall, his 28-room mansion in Pittsburgh. When his wife died of pneumonia in 1937, he was left to raise three young sons and an adopted daughter. In the ensuing years he enjoyed a quietly successful career in the railroad and banking industries and became a patron of the arts. May was head of the Pittsburgh Civic Opera and enthusiastically pursued his interest in ballet

After a gap of 20 years, he married for a second time, and he rose to fame with this social upgrade. His bride was none other than Marjorie Merriweather Post (wedding photo, above), one of the richest women in the world. On June 18, 1958, the couple married at her daughter’s Maryland estate. In a reply to a congratulatory telegram from her granddaughter, Marjorie replied, “Walking on fluffy pink clouds.” The reception was held at Hillwood, Marjorie's Washington DC estate. It featured an orchestra and a ballet performance. The latter should have sounded alarm bells.

Herb was the last of her husbands – number four – and at age 67* on his wedding day, he was four years younger than Marjorie, who was vibrant, energetic, youthful looking and the undisputed queen of Washington DC society. Her philanthropy kept the capital city alive. But Mr. May kept a big secret from Marjorie. He actively engaged in homosexual activity.

Although Marjorie had been warned, she brushed it off as mere gossip. After all, Herb had been married and fathered three sons. Although she had met him thirty years earlier, she was happy to become reacquainted in 1957, two years after her acrimonious divorce from diplomat Joseph Davies. There was much to like about Herb. He was handsome and silver haired, but fit. As well, he was soft-spoken, diplomatic, charming, well-liked and kind.  He loved parties and loved to dance, and he had mastered the art of blowing through money. Herb had told his children not to expect any inheritance.

Before the wedding, Marjorie’s daughter had been told that Herb was homosexual, and some of Marjorie’s friends repeated tales about Herb’s attachment to a certain male dancer from the Washington National Ballet and one of his handsome male personal secretaries. Incredibly, Herb brought this secretary along on their honeymoon (!). Still, none of this deterred Marjorie. She was at the peak of her power in Washington, and Herb shared so many of her interests, while serving as a partner for entertaining in carrying out her various duties associated with her numerous charities.

Mr. May was the poorest of Marjorie’s four husbands (the second  had been E. F. Hutton), so she set up a trust fund for Herb. She was attracted to his intelligence, patronage of the arts, success in business, etc., but she was really won over by his warmth, enjoyment of people and his obvious pleasure in her company. They were both tall, thin, elegant and handsome people who looked for all the world like a king and queen. 

But Herb did not want to abandon his home and family in Pittsburgh, and Marjorie did not want to leave Washington, where she exerted major influence. They compromised by agreeing to commute between the two cities, and Marjorie retired from the board of General Foods, the primary source of her fortune. This gave her time for concentrating on ramping up the cultural scene in Washington, which she thought to be woefully inadequate for a capital city. She installed her husband as chairman of the board of the National Ballet, from which Herb was soon selecting individual male dancers for special interest and attention.


Marjorie's plane, named the "Merriweather":




However, Herb soon did Marjorie a huge favor by helping her overcome her fear of flying. She had been commuting to Pittsburgh by train, but for one trip Herb arranged for one of his company planes, a Lockheed Lodestar, to transport Marjorie to Pittsburgh. The flight was ultra smooth, and the weather was calm. A half hour into the trip she told her husband that she was enjoying the flight, then a few minutes later said to him, “Herb, I want one.” He explained that a plane like that cost several million dollars, plus a crew and maintenance. She replied, “I didn’t ask how much it costs. I want one.” Shortly thereafter she purchased a British-made Vickers Viscount turbo-jet (above) powered by four Rolls-Royce turboprop engines, capable of accommodating 44 passengers. Herb suggested the name "Merriweather", his wife’s middle name. 

She was best pleased. Of course, she ripped out all those economy class seats and refurnished the interior as a living room, with sofas, chairs and tables. Instantly, this became her favorite mode of transportation. She began using “Merriweather” to transport all her friends to and from her estates in Palm Beach and the Adirondacks.


In a short time, however, cracks began to develop in their dream world of connubial bliss. Herb grew to resent Marjorie’s restrictions on alcohol, and he complained about it. She was known to be notoriously stingy with cocktails and wine at her parties, which were otherwise lavish beyond description. To the amazement of her guests, she subsequently extended the cocktail hour to a full thirty minutes and began stocking guest rooms at her retreats in Florida and New York with liquor. As a life-long Christian Scientist, her personal limitation of alcohol consumption remained a steadfast personal practice, but she was eager to please Herb. 

Marjorie also included Herb’s four children in stays at Mar-a-Lago (Palm Beach, Florida) and Top Ridge (the Adirondacks in New York). Mar-a-Lago, the spectacular winter social haven, had been shuttered since Marjorie’s divorce from Joseph Davies in 1955, but Herb talked her into reopening it in 1961. Marjorie was thrilled once more to be at the top of the heap of Palm Beach society. However, it was there at Mar-a-Lago (below) that Herb was to meet his downfall.




Mar-a-Lago is now owned by Donald Trump, who runs it as a very profitable membership club.

Herb was well aware that, by being married to Marjorie, he had become one of the most powerful men in Washington. But trouble was brewing. In spite of her age, Marjorie had a voracious sexual appetite. Herb was complaining to friends that he was astonished that a woman in her seventies desired daily sex. Also, by the 1960s Margaret Voigt, Marjorie’s social secretary who ran all of her social affairs, had become Marjorie’s most powerful staff member. Herb and Marjorie’s children voiced concerns that Margaret had become too influential as the social gatekeeper for access to the heiress. Margaret even ate at Marjorie’s table. When Herb made the mistake of criticizing Margaret’s inefficient office practices, a resentful standoff ensued. Shortly thereafter, a set of photographs arrived on Marjorie’s desk. They showed graphic evidence that Herb was a practicing homosexual.

The pictures showed Herb naked as he cavorted with much younger men and boys around the oceanfront pool of Mar-a-Lago. Next a blackmail attempt was made, with threats to publish the incriminating photographs unless hush money was paid. Marjorie was astonished and equally surprised that her daughter, actress Dina Merrill, knew about Herb’s proclivities before the marriage had taken place. Nevertheless, friends and family knew that until that moment, Herb and Marjorie had enjoyed a warm, romantic and sexual relationship.

With irrefutable evidence presented to her, Marjorie decided that divorce was the only option. By 1964, it was a done deal. Their marriage had lasted a scant six years, and Marjorie was relieved to have the embarrassing incident behind her.

She was not vengeful, however. When Herb suffered a stroke after the divorce, Marjorie paid all the medical bills and provided an apartment in Fort Lauderdale, where Herb lived until his death in 1968*. And she continued to be in contact with Herb’s children, particularly Peggy, who had formed an especially close relationship during the marriage. Marjorie’s loyalty to Herb’s children was mutual, and they knew they were fortunate to be allowed to maintain a relationship with a great lady. Marjorie died in 1973, at age eighty-six.




*Note: 
The New York Times obituary, published on March 13, 1966, offered facts that clash with those stated in Rubin’s book. According to the Times, Mr. May died at a hospital on St. Thomas at age 71. He had suffered a stroke while on a cruise. If he had been 71 years old in 1966 (the year of his death), he would have been born in 1895, making him eight years younger than Marjorie, who was born in 1887. Yet Rubin declares that May was four years younger than his wife – 67 years old to Marjorie’s 71 years on the day of their marriage. She also stated that he died in 1968, whereas the NYT obituary was published on March, 13, 1966. Typos, perhaps?
 

Sources:
American Empress – Nancy Rubin (1995)
http://www.paulbowles.org/marjoriemerriweatherpost.html


Monday, August 31, 2020

Steven Saylor a.k.a Aaron Travis

Steven Saylor (b. 1956, photo above) is a Texas-born gay author of popular historical novels about ancient Rome. He studied history and classics at the University of Texas at Austin, where he graduated with honors in 1978. From 1979 he wrote heavy S/M gay erotic fiction under the pen name Aaron Travis. This year fourteen of the Aaron Travis books have been re-published in Nook and Kindle e-reader formats. One of the short stories, “Blue Light”, a psychological mind-bender, has become an S/M classic. Every gay man should acquaint himself with this 35-page tale of erotic seduction fantasy; trust me, this story will remain in your head for days and weeks: $.99 in Kindle format.

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0076F14KC/stevensaylorwebsA

In the early 1980s, following a move to San Francisco, Saylor became an editor at Drummer magazine, a popular gay S/M publication at the time. He explained in a later interview that the erotic fiction he wrote in his twenties emphasized the seriousness with which he undertook the task, stating, “I probably did more actual rewriting on those stories than anything I've done since, because for me, writing erotic fiction is like writing a piece of music, because if one note is wrong, you lose the audience.”


His porn writing is highly intelligent and atmospheric, but also brutally sadistic at times. His characters come together not just for intercourse, but to play mind tricks on one another (as well as on the reader). He dives into your subconscious, grabs hold and completely wrings it out – a rape not of the body, but of the mind.

In his short story “Eden”, a young man has a fantasy about a reunion with a classmate named Bill. Even this short sample indicates that Travis is head and shoulders above the average male porn writer:

“Bill would open the door, smiling. I would step inside and throw down my duffel bag. Then he would take me in his arms and kiss me – for the first time, because we had never kissed. He would undress me, and when I was naked, he would push me to my knees. I would look up at his face, so happy to be back – he would take out his cock and tell me to suck it. I could close my eyes and see it. After such a long time apart, he would want to reclaim my ass. I could tell him, honestly, that no one else has had it, as I walked naked to his bed to lie face down, spreading my legs for his cock....

It wasn’t really Bill’s cock I was lusting for. It was Bill. His cock was just the part of him that he gave me to love.”

“Blue Light”, the BDSM tale mentioned above, is a story in which a top loses control of a scene; it's a psychological terror, the equal of an Edgar Allan Poe horror story. Proof that Saylor/Travis could wrote porn of high literary quality lies in this description of a penis from “Blue Light”:

“It hovered over me, white and thick. It was perfect, like the rest of his body. Alabaster white and enormously thick, tapered slightly at the base. The head was huge. The skin was pearly white and translucent, as smooth as glass, showing deep blue veins within. The circumcision ring was almost unnoticeable, the color of cream. The shaft looked as hard as marble, but spongy and fat, as if it were covered by a sheath of rubbery flesh. I could feel its heat on my face.”


The Aaron Travis erotic novel “Slaves of the Empire” gave glimpses of his later (non-erotic) historical novels published under his own name. The best known of them is Saylor’s Roma Sub Rosa series of thirteen novels set in ancient Rome. The first was published in 1991, and the most recent in 2016. The hero is a detective named Gordianus the Finder, active during the time of Sulla, Cicero, Julius Caesar, and Cleopatra. He has also written two epic-length historical novels about the city of Rome: Roma (2007) and Empire (2010). These books have been published in 21 languages and have earned numerous awards, including Lambda Literary Awards, the Crime Writers of America Ellis Peters Historical Dagger Award, the Herodotus Award from the Historical Mystery Appreciation Society, and the Hammett Award of the International Association of Crime Writers.

Saylor has lived with fellow University of Texas student Richard Solomon since 1976; they registered as domestic partners in San Francisco in 1991 and later legally married in October, 2008. The couple shares residences in Berkeley, California, and Austin, Texas.


The Seven Wonders, a prequel to the Roma Sub Rosa series, dates from 2016. Synopsis: In the year 92 BC, Gordianus has just turned 18 and is about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime: a far-flung journey to see the Seven Wonders of the World. Gordianus is not yet called “the Finder” – but at each of the Wonders, the wide-eyed young Roman encounters a mystery to challenge his powers of deduction. Gordianus travels to the fabled cities of Greece and Asia Minor, then to Babylon and Egypt. He attends the Olympic Games, takes part in exotic festivals, and marvels at the most spectacular constructions ever devised by mankind – encountering murder, witchcraft, and ghostly hauntings along the way.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Composer Francis Poulenc

French composer Francis Poulenc, who engaged in a long string of homosexual relationships, was born January 7, 1899, into a wealthy Parisian family. In 1920 he became a member of a group of young composers dubbed “Les Six.” The others were Darius Milhaud, Arthur Honegger, Georges Auric, Germaine Tailleferre, and Louis Durey. Their music was a reaction against the music by the Impressionists (Debussy and Ravel) and late Romantics (Wagner, Puccini, etc.).

During the late 1920s Poulenc first acted on his homosexuality when he met painter Richard Chanlaire, who became his lover. Poulenc’s second lover, the bisexual Raymond Destouches, was a chauffeur and dedicatee of several of Poulenc’s compositions.
Musicologists suggested that Poulenc considered gay sex impure and thus had a difficult time with making homosexuality his identity.

The success of his 1924 ballet score for Diaghilev’s “Les biches” (The Deer) led to the commissions of his Concerto for Two Pianos* (1932) and the Organ Concerto (1938), both commissioned by fabulously wealthy lesbian American expatriate Winnaretta Singer, known as Princesse Edmond de Polignac. The organ concerto was premiered in the music salon of her private home, which housed a pipe organ. Famed organist Maurice Duruflé was the soloist.

Poulenc would later have a brief affair with a woman known as Frédérique and have a daughter by her in 1946. They did not marry. In a tour of the United States Poulenc met a friendly gay couple, Arthur Gold and Robert Fizdale, accomplished duo pianists who commissioned the Sonata for Two Pianos (1953). Poulenc found tours difficult, because they separated him from Lucien Roubert, his lover who died of pleurisy in 1955, just after Poulenc completed his masterpiece, the opera “Les dialogues des Carmélites.” In 1957 he met his last significant lover, Louis Gautier, who helped to revive his spirits. In that year, Poulenc produced his Flute Sonata (middle mvt. in YouTube excerpt below). 

Poulenc also composed a significant body of first-rate art songs, numbering more than 200; they remain staples of the genre.

"Hôtel" from a set of five songs "Banalités" (1940). Régine Crespin.



Leonard Bernstein commissioned Poulenc to write "Sept répons des ténèbres" (1961) for the opening of the Philharmonic Hall (hence  known as Avery Fisher Hall, now David Geffen Hall since 2015) at Lincoln Center, NYC. Shortly thereafter Poulenc died of a heart attack on January 30, 1963. One of the most honored composers of his time, he left an enduring legacy.

 

Sources:


Poulenc: A Biography by Roger Nichols

Poulenc: The Life in the Songs by Graham Johnson

 

*French conductor Georges Prêtre championed the works of Poulenc. I’ll never forget a performance in Paris (November 2004) of Poulenc’s Concerto for Two Pianos, selected by Prêtre to be performed on his 80th Birthday concert at the magnificently restored Art Deco masterpiece, the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées. Prêtre owns this piece. Here he conducts the Orchestra National de la RTF with the composer (piano on the left) and Jacques Février (piano on right) in the first movement of the concerto for two pianos.


Next: Poulenc at the piano with Jean-Pierre Rampal on flute (Rampal was the dedicatee). This middle movement of Poulenc's Flute Sonata (1957), marked Cantilena, is typical of his light, accessible style. This sonata has the honor of being the most often performed work in the entire repertoire of pieces written for flute and piano.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Gary Cooper



Bisexual American Screen Idol
1901-1961

For three years during the late 1920s über-rich Howard Hughes maintained a sexual relationship with a young, unknown but upcoming actor named Gary Cooper, buying him cars, watches, clothes and other lavish gifts along the way. At the time, Cooper, while playing only bit parts in silent films, was being supported financially by handsome silent film actor Rod La Rocque, who refused to buy him a car. Hughes to the rescue! 


La Rocque later entered into a marriage of convenience with Hungarian actress Vilma Banky, who had strong lesbian tendencies, and during their marriage both La Rocque and Banky continued to dally in same-sex relations. Freshly arrived from Helena, Montana, Cooper was tall (6’3”), devastatingly handsome and possessed of a legendary endowment, using his physical assets to acquire material goods from older, much wealthier men and women. Hughes was also bisexual, also well-endowed, and possessed of an obsession for bedding the most beautiful and glamorous people, regardless of their sex. For Cooper (b. 1901), his arrangement with Hughes was unusual in that Hughes (b. 1904) was actually a few years younger than he.



At the tender age of 26, Cooper’s two-minute appearance as Cadet White (above) in the silent film masterpiece Wings (1927) became his breakthrough role, leading to his career-making star turn in the talking film The Virginian (1929).


Hughes’s attention span was notoriously short, however, and his infatuation with Cooper cooled as he next set his sights on the dashing William Boyd, later known to millions as Hopalong Cassidy. Boyd’s costar Louis Wolheim once mentioned that the dazzlingly handsome Boyd, although basically heterosexual, wasn’t averse to letting a man service him if he felt it would advance his career. On this point Boyd and Cooper had a lot in common. Both Boyd and Cooper would attend the all-nude male beach parties on Catalina Island hosted by bisexual actor Richard Arlen, and a member of the Hollywood paparazzi once snapped a picture of the naked Hughes and Boyd sharing an intimate kiss in a secluded cove on the island. Hughes had to pay $10,000 to secure the negatives, thus preventing their publication. The man had enough money to make trouble disappear. Serious money. He received $10,000 PER DAY from a trust fund.



Photographed in 1932 by Cecil Beaton

Cooper had entered Hollywood as a hungry film extra in 1925. Later, on the cusp of stardom in 1929, Cooper met the Paramount contract actor Andy Lawler, a popular and flamboyant homosexual who became his closest friend. They even lived together until mid-1930. Lawler, born in Alabama, coached  Cooper's southern accent for the film, The Virginian. He also introduced Cooper to a wider, more sophisticated social circle that incuded openly gay actor Billy Haines and gay director George Cukor, whom Lawler had trailed out to Hollywood.

After Cooper became an American film icon, however, references to his relationships with Hughes and Lawler were whitewashed from his back story, a common practice by actors and actresses during the era dominated by the moral strictures of the 1930s Hays Code. Joan Crawford is a prime example. No more photos of Cooper and Lawler “out on the town” appeared in the press, and Cooper stopped attending Cukor’s notoriously gay social gatherings.



City Streets 1931

Most all of Cooper’s biographers mention the relationship between Lawler and Cooper, but few describe the relationship as sexual. At the most they report that aspect as “rumor”. However, E. J. Fleming, in his book The Fixers, accurately labeled Cooper “bisexual”. But the most reliable witness was William Kizer, Lawler’s cousin, who insisted that Gary Cooper was enmeshed in a serious relationship with Andy Lawler. They took cozy weekend trips and even moved in together in 1929/30, while Cooper was also dating the volatile Mexican actress Lupe Velez. “Volatile” is understatement; she once stabbed him and later fired a shot at Cooper as he was boarding a train in LA in 1931. Velez tolerated Cooper’s dalliances with men, so long as she could participate as well (!). Cooper confessed to Hughes that he had slept with both La Rocque and Velez.



Paramount Lot 1933

According to Hollywood chronicler William J. Mann, Gary Cooper suffered a devastating breakdown after the studio-engineered split from Lawler. Nevertheless, after an initial distancing, Cooper and Lawler reunited as lifelong friends. Their special relationship is referenced in both Jeffrey Meyer's biography Gary Cooper: American Hero and Larry Sidwell's The Last Hero: A Biography of Gary Cooper. 

Cooper's subsequent career as a major film star is well documented, so your blogger refers younger readers to his Wikipedia page, for starters.

Sources (other than those mentioned above):
Patrick McGilligan -- George Cukor: A Double Life (2013)
Darwin Porter – Howard Hughes: Hell’s Angel (2005)

The following glamor shots, mostly from the 1930s, further reveal Cooper's legendary good looks, a far cry from his later somewhat weathered "lonesome cowboy" persona.










Sunday, May 17, 2020

Dominick Dunne

No one could drop names like the bisexual celebrity chronicler Dominick Dunne (1925-2009). For a quarter of a century he contributed regular columns to Vanity Fair magazine, starting the year after VF relaunched in 1983. Dunne began his career at the magazine with a gut-wrenching dispatch from the trial of his daughter’s killer. As VF’s resident diarist, he hobnobbed with legends of Hollywood and high society and chronicled the great scandals of the times. He contributed articles about Claus von Bülow, Imelda Marcos, the Lyle and Erik Menendez murder trial, Adnan Khashoggi, William Kennedy Smith’s rape trial, the death of multi-billionaire banker Edmond Safra, Brooke Astor’s neglect by her son, Phil Spector’s murder trial, the Princess Diana inquest, the O.J. Simpson trial, and even Monica Lewinsky. 

Dunne came to own this sort of gossipy reporting, and no one of his caliber has emerged to take his place. He reported on the underbelly of the world of the rich and famous for an audience of the world's literary and social elite. His monthly column provided an insider’s glimpse into high society, captivating VF’s readers. Justice, a collection of articles that had appeared in Vanity Fair, was published in 2001.
                   
Shortly after Dunne died at age 83, his son Griffin outed him publicly as a "bisexual" during an interview on Good Morning America, as he was promoting his father’s last book (Too Much Money). In the semi-autobiographical book Dunne wrote,  “I’m nervous about the kids, even though they are middle-aged men now, not that they don’t already know. I just don’t talk about it. It’s been a life-long problem.” In Frank Langella’s tell-all book, Dropped Names – Famous Men and Women As I Knew Them, Langella devotes a chapter to Dunne, who commiserates with the author about the agonies of being a closeted gay man.

Griffin said it was just like his dad to “finally come out and then leave. It was hardly a big deal either way.” His son said that when Dunne was getting stem cell treatments in Germany to fight his fatal cancer, a man named Norman was “looking after him,” and that they obviously had a “long loving relationship.”


Dominick with wife Ellen and their three surviving children (two others had died in infancy): Griffin, Dominique, and Alexander (photo from the early 1960s).

Dunne was married for 11 years and was the father of five children, only three of whom lived to adulthood. Born into a wealthy family in Hartford, Connecticut, at age 19 Dunne was awarded the Bronze Star for his service in World War II, for saving the life of a wounded comrade. His family, however, was outside full acceptance by the New England old money society. A Catholic family surrounded by wealthy Protestants, the Dunnes were also considered nouveau riche – two major strikes against them. Dunne’s grandfather, who ultimately became a tycoon, had worked as a butcher. Of his grandfather, Dominick wrote: “He was simply a remarkable man, my grandfather. He was knighted by the Pope for his philanthropic work, but he never forgot he had been born poor. Never!”

Dominick’s father, dismayed by his son’s artistic leanings, called him a sissy and beat him for it, once so viciously that his left ear swelled to three times its size and turned purple. Throughout adulthood, Dominick remained partially deaf in his left ear.

In 1965 his marriage to socialite Ellen Beatriz Griffin ended in divorce. He began his career in New York as stage manager of The Howdy Doody Show but moved his family to Hollywood in 1957, where he worked as a television executive producer. He subsequently produced feature films, including the gay-themed classic, The Boys in the Band (1970). Dunne threw grand parties attended by celebrities such as Dennis Hopper, Natalie Wood, Tuesday Weld, Paul Newman, and Steve McQueen. Unfortunately, drugs and alcohol became an unmanageable part of his life, and in 1974 he escaped to a cabin in Oregon (without a phone or television), where after six months he regained sobriety and began a career as a writer, at the age of 50. When he learned of his brother’s suicide, he moved back to New York City.

Eight of his books became best sellers, and it is for his career as a novelist and investigative journalist that he is best remembered. Several of his books were made into TV movies, and he became the master American chronicler of crime and celebrity.

On Halloween of 1982, Dunne was informed that his actress daughter, Dominique (best known for her portrayal of the teenage daughter in Poltergeist) had been found strangled. Her assailant was her ex-boyfriend, John Sweeney, a chef in Los Angeles. Dunne wrote about the murder trial in the newly relaunched magazine Vanity Fair. On the basis of dollars per word, Dunne became the highest-paid magazine writer in America.

In August of 2009, Dunne lost a long battle with bladder cancer while in residence at his East Side apartment in NYC. He was survived by two sons, Alexander and Griffin. The latter has acted in films such as An American Werewolf in London and After Hours.

Dunne’s country house in Hadlyme, Connecticut, was featured in Architectural Digest in May, 1992. The colonial-style home on five acres included a garage apartment, which Dunne turned into an office and work space for writing. Although he lived alone, he had frequent house guests from all over the world and made close connections with local citizens.

Note from your blogger -- this is a revision of a post originally published in 2012.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Ramón Novarro




Revision of previous post:
Mexican born Ramón Novarro (1899-1968) was Hollywood’s silent-film Latin superstar. While he was still a teenager his well-off family moved to California to flee the Mexican Revolution, and Novarro immediately found work in films, accepting nine uncredited bit parts. Possessed of a fine voice, he supplemented his income by working as a singing waiter. Novarro then worked in three silent films under his real name, Ramón Samaniego, and at age 22 he appeared in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921), a major studio release starring Rudolph Valentino. Rex Ingram, that film’s director, worked hard to make Ramón a star and suggested that he change his surname to Novarro. By 1922 studio publicity was calling Novarro “the next Valentino.” 

Photo below: In The Midshipman (1925) Novarro’s co-star was Joan Crawford.


Then two things happened that changed Novarro’s life forever. Valentino died of a ruptured appendix in 1926, and Novarro appeared in the title role of the critically acclaimed Ben Hur (1925), an epic film that took the country by storm, making Novarro a major star. Ben-Hur, which cost between $4-6 million in the mid-1920s, was the most expensive film ever made, adjusted to today’s dollars. Its original theatrical release lasted for years, and the film was re-released in 1931 with added music and sound effects. Photos below:




Novarro, who had appeared in Ben Hur "as naked as the censors would allow", brought to the screen a delicate masculine body and boyish eroticism that unsettled many male viewers. Although his screen persona was usually that of "a boy in love", he displayed an androgynous quality similar to that of Valentino. However, there was a natural style to Novarro's acting that distinguished him from his rivals, and critics praised the ease and charm of his performances. By the mid-1920s Novarro was commanding $100,000 per picture, a fortune at the time.






Above: 
Novarro reading in a still from The Flying Fleet (1929) 

Great successes followed with The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg (1927) and the talking film Mata Hari (1931, photo below), opposite Greta Garbo. He made a successful transition to talking films and played opposite some of Hollywood’s greatest female stars, including Joan Crawford and Myrna Loy.


Here is a clip from Mata Hari, with Novarro helplessly enthralled by Greta Garbo.










However, Novarro’s homosexuality brewed trouble for his career. MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer demanded that Novarro marry to cover up his true sexual orientation, but Novarro refused. He defiantly shared a home with Herbert Howe, his publicist, enjoying a romance in a house they sold to Joan Crawford. Novarro, a devout Catholic, had difficulties reconciling his sexuality with his deep religious convictions. Along with the pressures and demands of Hollywood, these factors led to the actor’s eventual alcoholism, which ruined his career. When Novarro's contract with MGM Studios expired in 1935, the studio did not renew it.








His next career moves resulted in one failure after another. He pursued a career as an opera singer, planned to reinvent himself as a star of the stage and accepted smaller and smaller film roles in B movies. During the last ten years of his life he worked as a guest star on TV episodes. He appeared as a priest on NBC’s western series The High Chaparral the year of his death (see photo).

What happened next was a great tragedy. Because Novarro had made wise investments at the peak of his career, he was able to live out his life in a comfortable style, in spite of the collapse of his career. During his last years he lived as a near recluse in his fabulous home, usually drinking until he passed out. For sexual gratification, he set up liaisons through male escort services. In late October, 1968, 70-year-old Novarro was brutally tortured and beaten to death by Paul and Tom Ferguson, two brothers/hustlers who believed that the actor had a large sum of cash in his home. Finding just $20 in the pocket of Novarro’s bathrobe, they left the actor to choke on his own blood. The sordid press coverage of the murder outed Novarro as a homosexual to those who did not already know.



 
In this clip Novarro sings “The Night Is Young” in a highly-accented tenor voice. Novarro fashioned himself as possessed of a voice capable of an operatic career, an opinion held by no one other than himself. Fortunately, the clip offers a fine series of photographs that play up the actor’s great good looks.


  


Sources:
André Soares
Peter J. Holliday
Richard C. Bartone
Jesse Monteagudo