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.

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Archduke Ludwig Viktor


The Habsburg dynasty had a consequential problem with inbreeding, resulting in a family that, how shall we say, lacked handsome physical attributes. Archduke Ludwig Viktor was no exception. His only advantage was the fact that his older brother, Franz Josef, was the Emperor of Austria-Hungary.

The archduke (1842-1919) had a face only a mother could love (evidence at left). After having produced three male heirs, Ludwig’s mother ignored the fact that he wasn’t the girl she had wanted and dressed him like one. It didn’t help that everyone called him Luzi-Wuzi (pronounced Loot-see Voot-see). He was an impetuous, openly homosexual pleasure-seeker whose life revolved around the theatre and collecting art and antiques. He wore women’s clothing (photo below), kvetched and gossiped incessantly and couldn’t be trusted with a secret from anyone. His über-vain sister-in-law Sissi (Empress Elizabeth), adored by the Austrians as an antidote to their dull, stuffy emperor, was initially kindly disposed toward Ludwig Viktor, until things she told him in confidence got back to her. It got so bad that she eventually refused to have a conversation with him unless a third party was present to verify what transpired. Incredibly, Sissi’s favorite sister Sophie was singled out as a possible bride for Ludwig Viktor, but she rejected him, only to become engaged to and then dumped by another gay royal, the King of Bavaria, Ludwig II, of Neuschwanstein fame.

Trivia: In related tragic family news, another of Ludwig Viktor’s brothers, Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico (emperors seemed to run in the family), was executed by firing squad while in Mexico City in 1867. Maximilian and Ludwig looked so much alike (unfortunately) they could have been twins. To be a Habsburg royal was a big deal. From the early thirteenth century to 1918 this dynasty controlled vast properties in which more than a dozen languages were spoken, and not just in Europe. A Habsburg was Emperor of Mexico, and another the Empress of Brazil. In addition to Austria and Hungary, the Habsburg dynasty at one time ruled over major portions of Spain, Slovenia, Serbia, Switzerland, Croatia, Poland, Italy, Ukraine, the Czech Republic, Portugal, Slovakia and Romania. Impressive.

Photo at right. Just who you think it is.

But I digress. At age 21, the archduke needed new digs to host his notorious and extravagant “stag” parties, so he built an Italian Renaissance palace on the new Ringstraße, the grand boulevard encircling central Vienna sited along the path of the recently razed city walls. Built on Schwarzenbergplatz just two blocks from the State Opera House, Ludwig Viktor’s city palace, designed by famed architect Heinrich von Ferstel, had a glaring deficiency – it had no swimming pool. This oversight gave the archduke reason to patronize a nearby public establishment, the Centralbad, Vienna's "largest and finest bathhouse." The archduke, a frequent visitor, went there regularly for “Turkish baths.”

Ludwig Viktor’s homosexuality was an open secret. Even his brother Franz Josef joked about it. But in 1906, the archduke was slapped and knocked to the ground by one of the young Centralbad* patrons, an athletic middle-class man, apparently as the result of an unwanted advance by the archduke. Ludwig Viktor used his family ties to have the young man arrested, but it was determined that the man’s actions were warranted, and he was released from jail. When informed of his brother’s scandalous behavior, Emperor Franz Joseph became disgusted and banished Ludwig Viktor to the archduke’s summer palace, Schloss Kleßheim, a former residence of the Archbishops of Salzburg, and ordered him not to return to Vienna during his brother's lifetime. Ludwig Viktor was also forced to resign his patronages, and most of his staff was moved to other positions.

*Trivia: the Centralbad is now the Kaiserbründl, one of Europe’s most luxurious gay male saunas, complete with chandeliers, erotic frescos, marble columns, restaurants and bars. Kaiserbründl means "Emperor's Spring."

At Schloss Kleßheim (above) Ludwig Viktor had a grand blue and white swimming pool installed. He invited army officers to use it, but could never seem to find swimsuits for them to wear. As a result, Austrian soldiers were subsequently forbidden to go there. In Salzburg the archduke eventually won the hearts of the locals for his charitable efforts, and by an amazing coincidence, outlived the Habsburg empire, dying on January 18, 1919, on the first day of the post-WW I conference in Versailles, which would abolish all royal orders. He is buried just a mile or so south of Schloss Kleßheim in the cemetery of the local Pfarrkirche in Siezenheim. Notice the "LV" on the pedestal supporting the cross. It is noteworthy that he was not buried in the Imperial Crypt in Vienna, along with all his other family members.

Both of Ludwig Viktor’s palaces can be visited today. Schloss Kleßheim was used as a dance school in the 1920s, but the Nazis later took it over as a guest house. Hitler and Mussolini held meetings here, and the palace was notoriously riddled with listening devices. During the Cold War, the neutral Austrian government used Schloss Kleßheim to hold conferences and host international guests, among them U.S. President Richard Nixon, who met here with Austrian Chancellor Bruno Kreisky on his way to Moscow in 1972. The palace now serves as Salzburg’s main gambling casino and features glamorous bars and restaurants.

As for Ludwig's downtown Vienna palace on Schwarzenbergplatz (above), the military used it as an officer’s casino before the First World War. Ludwig Viktor would turn over in his grave if he saw the TGI Friday’s restaurant on the ground floor, but he’d take more kindly to the fact that today, the palace’s great hall functions both as a rehearsal space for the Burgtheater and an alternative venue for the theater’s smaller productions. Fortunately, the restaurant and theater entrances are around the corner from each other. With only two hundred seats, “Burgtheater im Kasino,” as it is known, offers a small and intimate setting for one of Vienna’s best theater companies.

Sources: James Conway (Strange Flowers), Wikipedia

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Sir Ian McKellen

English born Sir Ian McKellen (b. 1939) is perhaps the most famous openly gay actor who has played more straight than gay characters. His work is known to generations of movie, TV and theater-goers. During the 1960s he began his career as a classical actor specializing in Shakespeare. Six decades later, he was playing King Lear during the 2017 season of the Chichester Festival Theatre.

Although he began a modest film career in 1969, it was not until he appeared in several Hollywood blockbusters that he was introduced to an entirely new generation of movie-goers. The X-Men (as Magneto) and Lord of the Rings (as Gandalf) franchises of the early 2000s and the more recent Hobbit films have brought world-wide fame and recognition. Recently he was seen in the live-action film version of Beauty and the Beast, in which he portrayed Cogsworth. As well, his December 2016 London stage performance of Harold Pinter’s No Man’s Land with Patrick Stewart was broadcast to movie theaters worldwide as part of the National Theatre Live Encore series.

Sir Ian came out publicly on BBC television in 1988, just shy of his fiftieth birthday. Since then, he has been involved as an activist for multiple LBGT rights issues. He freely uses his name recognition to advance international causes that could use a boost. 

McKellen was knighted twice. In 1991 he was appointed Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (which granted him the use of the title “Sir”) and again in 2008 for services to the performing arts, becoming a part of the Order of the Companions as Companion of Honor (CH).
Sir Ian’s official web page, launched in 1997, contains an in-depth look at his enduring career. There are hundreds of photographs, both personal and professional biographies, essays and links to his blog and the many causes he champions.

He has received a Tony award, a Golden Globe award, a SAG award, two Oscar nominations, five Emmy Award nominations and four BAFTA nominations – as well as every major theatrical award in the UK.

McKellen’s performance as Gandalf the Grey in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring brought him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor and a Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Award. He received his first Academy Award nomination, for Best Actor, for his portrayal of gay film director James Whale, in Gods and Monsters (1998). McKellen starred as Richard III (1995) in his own screen-adaptation of Shakespeare's play, which he also produced. Other film credits include Six Degrees of Separation, Cold Comfort Farm, Bent and The Da Vinci Code.

McKellen has also been honored for his extensive television work, from the miniseries The Prisoner to his monumental performance in King Lear, from his reincarnation of Tsar Nicholas II in the tele-film Rasputin, to his classic guesting as himself in HBO's Extras. He co-starred with Derek Jacobi and Frances de la Tour in two seasons of ITV's series Vicious, which aired on PBS in the US. On the first night of Channel 4 in the UK, McKellen played a mentally handicapped man in Stephen Frears' Walter. He delighted everyone with his 10 episodes in Britain’s longest running soap, Coronation Street.

Sir Ian is also a co-founder of Stonewall UK, which lobbies for legal and social equality for gay people.

Monday, November 21, 2022

Charles-Camille Saint-Saëns: 1835-1921

NOTE: Your blogger recently performed an organ work by Saint-Saëns, so this post has been expanded and updated.

When his father died when he was only three months old, Charles-Camille Saint-Saëns was raised by his mother in Paris and continued to live with her until her death. He became one of the world’s most famous composers in his day, and he was a homosexual possessed of a complicated private life, which often revealed his dark side.

Saint-Saëns was a child prodigy (on the level of Mozart), and made his debut as a concert pianist in 1846, before his eleventh birthday. As an encore, Saint-Saëns offered to play any of Beethoven's 32 piano sonatas from memory. Word of this incredible experience spread across Europe and as far as the United States, where it was mentioned in an article in a Boston newspaper. Having all 32 of Beethoven’s sonatas in ones fingers, ready for concert performance, was an unheard-of feat (then as now), all the more astonishing when offered by a ten year old.

By the age of 13, Saint-Saëns was attending the Paris Conservatory. He soon gained recognition among his peers as an organ virtuoso, eventually attaining the highly coveted position of chief organist at the Madeleine Church in Paris, a post he held from 1858, at the age of 23, until he was 42 years old. His weekly organ improvisations captured the attention of all Paris. As a composer, he was highly versatile, writing operas, symphonies, concertos, much chamber music, masses and other choral works, songs and solo literature for organ and piano. His opera Samson et Dalila still ranks among the standard repertoire of opera houses all over the world. His music was wildly popular during his lifetime, and he was well-connected with other composers, particularly Hector Berlioz and Franz Liszt. Gabriel Fauré, who was Saint-Saëns's favorite pupil, soon became his closest friend.

His now popular Le Carnaval des animaux (The Carnival of the Animals, 1886), for two pianos and orchestra, was intended as a private entertainment for friends, and Saint-Saëns forbade its public performance during his lifetime. The part of the narrator, now frequently included during performance, was added by others after his death. It is a little-known fact that Saint-Saëns had the distinction of being the first noted composer to write a musical score for a motion picture, The Assassination of the Duke of Guise (L'assassinat du duc de Guise, 1908), featuring actors of the Comédie Française in Paris.

Once called a second Mozart, Saint-Saëns soon made many enemies, who were envious of his stellar success and disdainful of his biting sarcasm. Later in life he was declared to be a “composer of bad music well written.” In old age he came to be mocked for his rabid conservatism, his dislike of modern music, the campaigns he mounted against French composers Claude Debussy and Cesar Franck, his shocked disapproval of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring (allegedly infuriated over what he considered the misuse of the bassoon in the ballet's opening bars) and his insistence, during World War I, that all German music be suppressed. He was never shy with opinion.

Saint-Saëns was a true polymath. In addition to conquering the world of music as composer, conductor, critic, teacher and concert organist and pianist, he excelled in the fields of geology, archaeology, botany, mathematics and lepidoptery. He held discussions with Europe's finest scientists and wrote scholarly articles on acoustics, occult sciences, ancient theatre decoration, and early musical instruments.  Saint-Saëns wrote a philosophical work that spoke of science and art replacing religion, and his pessimistic and atheistic ideas foreshadowed Existentialism. Other literary achievements included poetry and a successful farcical play. He was also a member of the Astronomical Society of France, giving lectures on mirages; he had a telescope made to his own specifications and planned concerts to correspond to astronomical events, such as solar eclipses.

The private life of Camille Saint-Saëns was filled with turmoil. He was homosexual but realized how much marrying would bolster his reputation. Understandably, he showed little outward sign of wanting to marry. However in 1875, at the age of almost 40, he began an affair with nineteen year old Marie-Laure Truffot, which led to marriage. Immediately after their wedding, Saint-Saëns declared that he was too busy for a honeymoon and took Marie straight home to live with his mother. Thereafter the composer treated his wife with deep disdain, until the arrival of children brought out a more sympathetic side. But tragedy intervened when both children died within six weeks of each other in 1878. André, aged two, fell from a fourth floor window, and soon afterward his baby brother Jean became ill and died. Saint-Saëns blamed Marie for the children's deaths, and a short time later he walked out on her in the middle of a holiday trip. Though there was no divorce, Marie never saw him again.

Saint-Saëns was solitary and secretive, prone to disappearing for weeks at a time. He could also be a remarkable host, often entertaining friends lavishly at his Paris home, where his performances in drag were well-known among his circle, particularly his impersonation of Marguerite, the female soprano lead in Charles Gounod's opera Faust. He is reputed to have danced in ballerina tutus for the entertainment of fellow gay composer, Tchaikovsky.

After abandoning his wife, Saint-Saëns traveled extensively. He began spending winters in French-speaking Algeria, which became a favored holiday spot for European homosexuals who enjoyed the adolescent male companionship easily available there. He was quoted as saying, "I am not a homosexual, I am a pederast." Saint-Saëns died of pneumonia in Algiers, at the age of 86, on December 16, 1921.

Have a listen to his hugely popular orchestral work, Danse Macabre. I’m sure you’ll recognize it.

Trivia: Pianist Franz Liszt made an astonishing piano solo transcription of this piece.