Role models of greatness.
Friday, November 27, 2020
He and film director Stanley Kubrick gave us the classic science fiction film 2001: A Space Odyssey; they were jointly credited with the screenplay. Astronomer Carl Sagan, cosmonauts and media producers alike credited Clarke with influencing the public’s attitudes toward space exploration. Gene Roddenberry acknowledged Clarke’s influence for the courage it took to pursue his “Star Trek” project in the face of ridicule from television executives. Clarke is almost universally proclaimed the preeminent science fiction writer of the 20th century. He delighted in confronting his fictional characters with obstacles they could not overcome without help from forces beyond their comprehension.
“I’m rather proud of the fact that I know several astronauts who became astronauts through reading my books,” he admitted. Yet he did not acknowledged his sexual orientation until 2004, even though he was known to host orgies with young Sri Lankan men for nearly fifty years. Many commented that he thus did a disservice to gay writers throughout the world who admired his work. However, it should be noted that the main character of Imperial Earth was bisexual and lived in a futuristic society in which exclusive heterosexuality and homosexuality were not practiced. Also, the main character of his novel Firstborn was gay.
Among his output of nearly 100 books are some, such as Childhood’s End, that have been in print continuously. His works have been translated into 40 languages. In 1962 he suffered an attack of poliomyelitis, which returned in 1984 as post-polio syndrome, a progressive condition characterized by muscle weakness and fatigue, forcing him to spend the last years of his life in a wheelchair. Still, he kept writing, and accolades continued unabated. English born, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1998.
In an effort to keep his homosexual proclivities private, he married an American diving enthusiast named Marilyn Mayfield in 1953. They separated after a few months. An important relationship was with male diver Leslie Ekanayake, who lived with him in Sri Lanka; in fact, the two are buried next to each other. As well, many of Clarke’s young male partners were installed as servants in his Sri Lankan household. Although Clarke was likely spooked by the traumatic false accusations of pedophilia by an English tabloid, his efforts to remain closeted were so successful that few acknowledgments of his homosexuality are extant, even after his 2004 self-outing and subsequent death in 2008. Kubrick biographer John Baxter cites Clarke's homosexuality as a reason why he left England, due to more tolerant laws with regard to homosexuality in Sri Lanka. Fellow science fiction writer Michael Moorcock commented, “Everyone knew he was gay. In the 1950s I'd go out drinking with his boyfriend” (Clarke himself was a teetotaler).
Wednesday, November 11, 2020
Back in the days when your blogger was a university piano performance major, I knew nothing about Richter’s personal proclivities, but most of my fellow students repeated the rampant (and true) gay rumors about Horowitz and Shura Cherkassky, another Russian keyboard titan.
Richter, who was stunningly handsome as a young man, suffered from many personal demons. He was withdrawn and not given to interviews, and often he insisted on performing in completely darkened halls illuminated by a single light bulb above the keyboard. Subject to periods of keen depression, he went through a period during which he had to travel with a plastic lobster in order to cope with the rigors of constant performing to unrealistic public expectations. I’m not making this up.
Nevertheless, Richter left us with recordings that remain benchmarks of certain repertoire. His vast repertoire encompassed eighty-odd recital programs, everything from Bach and Handel to Gershwin. He was also a quick study. He learned Prokofiev's Sonata No. 7, which was dedicated to him, in four days, thus able to meet the deadline for its premiere.
But enough words. Let’s listen to his music while we marvel at his astonishing technique.
Friday, October 30, 2020
The Emmy-nominated star’s role on TV’s popular Modern Family (2009-2020) gave him the opportunity to reshape public perception of same-sex relationships and their families. Ferguson played Mitchell Pritchett, an uptight gay lawyer raising an adopted Asian-American baby with his excitable, over-the-top screen partner, Cameron.
At left: Ferguson with husband Justin Mikita.
In an Advocate magazine interview, he said, “I feel like there are a lot of people who still aren’t comfortable with gay characters on television, but what I admire about our show is that it has a plethora of characters for people to attach to, and slowly those people are becoming attached to Mitchell and Cam...It’s kind of like a Trojan horse. We sneak into a lot of people’s living rooms when they aren’t expecting it and maybe change some minds through the back door.
Mitchell is basically me, so when people tell me I’m stereotypical and cliché in that role, then Jesse Tyler Ferguson is stereotypical and cliché, because I’m basically doing no acting at all.”
Nonetheless, his performance as Mitchell earned him five consecutive Emmy Award nominations for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series.
Jesse and his fiancé Justin Mikita, a lawyer, were married in New York in July, 2013. They met in a gym, where Justin recognized Jesse and came over to say he enjoyed Jesse’s portrayal of Mitchell on the hit television show. They started dating several months later and became engaged in late 2012. Their son, Beckett Mercer Ferguson-Mikita, was born a few months ago, on July 7, 2020.
At about the same time the couple became engaged they launched Tie the Knot, which sells custom bow ties and donates all proceeds to various organizations fighting for marriage equality and LGBT civil rights in general.
Says Ferguson, “Justin came up with the idea. I’ve definitely become more of an advocate, philanthropist, and do-gooder because of him. He has really ignited the civil rights passion within me.”
The couple says they would have loved to have gotten married in California, which is where they reside, but, “unfortunately it was not legal there. We spent a lot of money on the wedding, and that’s money California did not get. But congratulations to New York!”
Currently Jesse hosts Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, the revival of a television reality show on the HGTV channel (premiered February 16, 2020). In each episode a family facing hardship receives a makeover of their home.
Friday, October 23, 2020
The brilliant philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) wore several awkward labels. He was of half Jewish and half Catholic ancestry. He was also a homosexual who was not comfortable with his sexual orientation.
One of eight children sired by an enormously rich Austrian steel industrialist, Ludwig sought simplicity and solitude, rejecting the privileged and highly cultured lifestyle of his father and sister. For example, his sister Margaret had helped arrange Freud’s escape to England in 1938, and Ludwig's father took a violin with him on business trips. Highly cultured, indeed.
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. The photo above 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. True.
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 – the man was 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 (for example, 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."
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, October 14, 2020
In June, 2011, New York native Frank Bruni, age 46, became the first gay op-ed columnist in the 160-year history of The New York Times. He takes on a wide variety of subjects in his writing.
Andrew M. Rosenthal, editor of the Opinion Pages said, “Frank’s column, a new anchor feature of the section, is a sharp, opinionated look at a big event of the last week, from a different or unexpected angle, or a small event that was really important but everyone seems to have missed, or something entirely different.”
Mr. Bruni has covered presidential campaigns for the paper and served as chief restaurant critic for five years. Frank joined The New York Times as a metropolitan reporter in August, 1995. For three and a half years he worked at the metropolitan desk and also wrote for the Sunday magazine, profiling a diverse group of characters. Mr. Bruni also wrote articles for the Sunday Arts and Leisure section and other feature sections of The Times.
Frank Bruni is the author of the NYT bestseller about George W. Bush called "Ambling into History" (2002) and co-author of "A Gospel of Shame: Children, Sexual Abuse and the Catholic Church" (1993). He has worked for the New York Post and the Detroit Free Press and has been a movie critic.
Thursday, October 8, 2020
In 1969 he married fashion designer Diane Halfin, a Jewish Belgian-American whose mother was a Holocaust survivor. The marriage was opposed by Egon’s father, mostly for anti-Semitic reasons. Diane’s marriage to Prince Egon brought her a noble title and helped her fashion design business rise to international prominence.
However, the couple became estranged and lived apart after 1972, just one year after their second child was born. In 1983 Prince Egon remarried, this time to an American, Lynn Marshall. That union was childless. But during and between those marriages Prince Egon had many male partners. He was frank about his bisexuality and the openness of his first marriage. He even professed his bisexuality and drug abuse to New York magazine and the Italian daily La Repubblica. Many of his friends remember that among his favorite hangouts were the NYC gay bars Flamingo (for drugs – they had no liquor license at that time) and The Barefoot Boy – not to mention his legendary gay partying on Fire Island.
Fürstenberg certainly didn’t need to work, but he was fascinated by the fashion world. He later published two books on fashion and interior design: The Power Look (1978) and The Power Look at Home: Decorating for Men (1980). After a lowly start as a buyer for Macy’s department store and a designer of plus-size women’s clothing, he launched a successful men’s clothing line. Eventually he opened an interior design firm in New York City, but his career was forever in the shadow of his first wife. It was Diane, not he, who made the name “von Fürstenberg” a famous brand.
Nevertheless, Diane and Egon remained life-long friends, and she gave him a professional push or two, helping to assure his success. His signature logo reflected noble blood and love for high society – a crown with a star (upper right in photo below).
In 2004 he died in Rome at the age of 57, survived by his two children and both wives. There was a delay in revealing a cause of death, leading many to confirm what was known by his intimate friends, that his death was from AIDS. Later it was reported “officially” by his second wife that he had died from liver cancer.
Egon with Errol Wetson and his wife Margaux Hemingway,
and model Pat Amari (right).
Photographed by celebrity photographer Gary Bernstein.
Egon was born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth. He was the son of Prince Tassilo zu Furstenberg and Clara Agnelli, the sister of Fiat mogul Gianni Agnelli. Egon was also a cousin of Princess Caroline of Monaco (b. 1957) and the King of Sweden, Carl XVI Gustaf (b. 1946). Although he was born in Switzerland, Egon grew up in a Venetian palazzo with a staff of 21 servants, one of the perks of having a mother with the last name Agnelli.
In 1965, while studying economics at the University of Geneva, he met fellow student Diane Halfin, from a wealthy German family. After their marriage, they settled in New York City, where Diane started her dress business, and Egon abandoned a career in banking to attend classes in fashion design. The von Fürstenbergs were lionized for their trendy life-style and frank discussion of sexual escapades outside of marriage. They maintained a frantic social life and were among the revelers who participated in drug infused nights at Studio 54.
The Fürstenberg family first rose to prominence as a thirteenth-century noble house in southwestern Germany (Swabia), as part of the Holy Roman Empire. Their noble status was elevated to a princely house during the seventeenth century. Today there are two Fürstenberg ancestral residences: a magnificent Baroque palace in Donaueschingen (first image below) and a Renaissance palace in Heiligenberg (second image).
*Note: A German noble with “zu” before the surname meant that the family still owned the hereditary feudal land holdings and residence, while many un-landed commoners who were subsequently ennobled simply placed a “von” before the surname. Thus, “zu” carried far greater prestige. I know, I’m always telling you more than you want to know.
Wikipedia, People Magazine profile (Dec. 21, 1981), NYT obituary, Village Voice
Thursday, September 24, 2020
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.
Updated September 24, 2020
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, but disturbing that editors did not reconcile these disparities.
American Empress – Nancy Rubin (1995)
Monday, August 31, 2020
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.