Role models of greatness.
Wednesday, July 28, 2021
New Orleans based painter, sculptor and photographer George Dureau (1930-2014) died from complications of Alzheimer’s disease. His black and white photographs, charcoal sketches and arresting paintings captured the spirit of New Orleans at its highest and lowest levels. Many of his art works were strongly homoerotic in nature, and he favored nymphs and satyrs, as well as live male models who were dwarfs and/or amputees. His art was placed all over New Orleans, in restaurants, bars, museums and outdoor public spaces.
Dureau was a larger than life character, often seen on his bicycle or black Jeep cruising through the old quarter. His unkempt long hair and beard, coupled with his booming bass voice spewing forth bawdy comments, led some to label him Mephistopheles. Dureau called himself a “neo-classical homosexual,” a reference to elements depicted in his paintings. He had a rare talent for being able to paint outsiders, often picked up off the streets, in a way that elicited no pity. There was always a dignity in the expression of his subjects.
George was a legend in his own time, and seemingly every citizen of New Orleans knew who he was. While it would have been to his professional advantage to relocate to NYC, he stayed put, reigning over his home town art scene. In fact, Dureau managed to forge a national and international reputation while staying home.
He had a vibrant personality and sharp wit, and he was a great entertainer. His buffet spreads looked like still life paintings, everything arranged just so. His youthful work as a window dresser was evident. Dureau’s apartment/studios were a riot of “arranged” clutter, a delight to the eye, which joyfully darted from one surprise and treasure to the other.
When recent medical costs led him to sell artworks and furnishings, his friends rallied and made sure the bills got paid. They were more than willing to give back to a local denizen who had brought such quirky interest and joy to their lives.
Friday, July 23, 2021
He was also a deeply closeted gay man to his fans. When he was interviewed by author Boze Hadleigh, Romero gave a revealing, often comic account of what life was like in the Golden Age of Hollywood for a closeted gay man (in Romero's instance, also Catholic and Latino). Because he was "out" to all his entertainment industry colleagues, it was often stated that Romero's homosexuality was Hollywood's worst kept secret. That interview is included in Hadleigh's book, Hollywood Gays.
Cesar Romero was born to wealthy parents in New York City in 1907. His Italian-born father had made a fortune as an importer/exporter of sugar refining machinery, and his Cuban mother was a concert singer. Romero’s first job after attending Collegiate and Riverdale County Schools was as a ballroom dancer, and for years he served as the dancer/escort of major stars such as Barbara Stanwyck, Marlene Dietrich, Joan Crawford, Carmen Miranda, Lucille Ball and Ginger Rogers. Romero first appeared on Broadway in Lady Do (1927), and his first film role was in The Shadow Laughs (1933).
His life was a full-out pursuit of superficial social events such as art exhibit openings, movie premieres and fashion shows. At the time there was a running joke that Romero would attend the “opening of a napkin.” He was uniquely equipped for this lifestyle, since he was handsome, tall (6-ft. 2-in.), suave, wealthy, witty and a real fashion plate. His wardrobe contained more than 30 tuxedos, 200 sport coats and 500 tailored suits. He practically lived at the Ambassador Hotel’s Coconut Grove nightclub (Los Angeles), dancing and flirting the night away. Romero’s signature trimmed moustache was so identified with his persona that he refused to shave it off for his TV role as the Joker in the Batman series. Makeup artists grudgingly applied the heavy white facial makeup on top of his moustache.
He took a break from his acting career during WW II to serve in the U.S. Coast Guard in the Pacific (at left) but immediately returned to his acting career. Ever charming and discreet, Cesar Romero earned the reputation as the quintessential "confirmed bachelor," although Hollywood insiders knew all about his long-term relationship with Tyrone Power (photo at end of post) , Gene Raymond and other actors of screen and stage. As an interesting aside, Romero’s Hollywood social nickname was “Butch.” I’m not making this up.
Critics and fans generally agree that Romero's best performance was as Spanish explorer Cortez in Captain from Castile (1947). In 1953 he starred in the 39-part espionage TV serial Passport to Danger, which earned him a considerable income from a lucrative profit-sharing arrangement. Although Romero became quite wealthy and had no further need to work, he could not stay away from the cameras. He surprised everyone in Hollywood by taking on the role of The Joker in the hugely successful TV series Batman (from 1966). He also guest-starred on dozens of TV shows, including Rawhide (1959), 77 Sunset Strip (1958), Zorro (1957), Fantasy Island (1978), Falcon Crest (from 1985) and Murder, She Wrote (1984).
Romero died of a pneumonia-related blood clot on New Years Day in 1994 in Santa Monica, California, just six weeks shy of his 87th birthday. He has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: at 1719 Vine St. (for television) and at 6615 Hollywood Blvd. (for motion pictures).
Tyrone Power (left) and Romero on a trip to South America (shown below).
Note from your blogger: In researching Romero’s life, I was surprised how many writers used the words, “rumors of homosexuality.” Romero’s sexual orientation is based on fact, not rumor or speculation – he freely admitted his homosexuality during his lifetime and allowed writer Boze Hadleigh (Hollywood Gays) to write about his dalliances with other gay or bisexual men. Many fans of Hollywood stars dismiss reports of their favorites’ homosexual activity, but they fail to realize that, for most stars, a public “outing” would have been the end of their careers. Those who knew about a star’s true sexual orientation waited until the actor/actress was deceased to speak about it, out of respect for their colleagues’ careers. Hollywood is disproportionately populated by gays and bisexuals, on both sides of the camera.
Cesar Romero sings and dances his way through Romance and Rhumba (1941) co-starring Alice Faye and John Payne. Such roles were typical of his early movie career. Many examples of Romero's TV and film appearances may be found on YouTube.com
Tuesday, July 13, 2021
Long-time partners Allen Klein (left) and Bliss Hebert were married on October 15, 2013, at the ages of 73 and 82, respectively. The couple resides in Miami.
Opera scenery/costume designer Klein and opera stage director Hebert have worked together since 1962. They have collaborated on more than 100 productions since they met while working at the Washington Opera in DC, where Hebert was General Manager from 1960-1964.
Allen Klein created productions for the Vienna State Opera, Deutsche Oper Berlin, La Fenice in Venice, the Scottish Opera, the Edinburgh Festival and the Glyndebourne Festival. Bliss Hebert, who earned a master’s degree in piano performance from Syracuse University, worked with Igor Stravinsky on three of his operas, including five productions of “The Rake’s Progress.” According to Rosalie Radomsky of the New York Times, Klein and Hebert encountered Stravinsky and his wife Vera, along with conductor Robert Craft, in front of Carnegie Hall after a screening of Disney’s film “Fantasia,” which included an excerpt from Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring.”
“They greeted Bliss with great happiness and many kisses,” Allen Klein said, adding that, “Stravinsky was tiny and glowing with electricity.” Bliss then introduced Allen to Stravinsky. While Bliss was speaking with Robert Craft, Allen remained alone with Stravinsky. At one point, Stravinsky took Allen by the arm and asked, “Tell me, my dear, do you love our Bliss very much?”
“I recall being rather shocked by such a question,” Allen said. “Remember, this was 1964. I stuttered out, ‘Yes, I do,’ to which the composer responded, ‘Well then, my dear, you must take very good care of our Bliss.’ ”
Allen added, “ I’ve tried to do that ever since.”
Rosalie R. Radomsky, The New York Times