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.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Rudolph Nureyev

ballet dancer par excellence

Russian born dancer Rudolph Nureyev (1938-1993) was a last-minute replacement for an injured male star on the Kirov Ballet’s European tour of 1961. Nureyev electrified audiences in Paris and famously defected to the west at Le Bourget airport NE of Paris, with the assistance of French police. He changed the perception of a male ballet dancer’s being only an accessory to female principals.

His muscular, dramatic style of dancing and strengths in both classical and modern dance led to a career in which he attained pop-star fame. He socialized with the likes of Gore Vidal, Freddie Mercury, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Mick Jagger, Liza Minnelli and Andy Warhol. Gossip about Nureyev’s generous male endowment seems to be validated by this 1961 photograph by Richard Avedon (shown below), taken a month after the Russian star’s defection.

A little-remembered fact is that Nureyev starred as Rudolph Valentino in Ken Russell’s 1977 film Valentino, which was vociferously condemned by the Catholic Church.

His lover for many years was Eric Bruhn, the noted Danish ballet dancer, choreographer, actor and author. Bruhn died in 1986, and Nureyev in 1993, both from complications from AIDS related illnesses.

Friday, July 29, 2011

U.S. Congressman Barney Frank

Barney Frank is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives (D-Massachusetts) and is the most prominent gay politician in the United States. He is the former chairman of the powerful House Financial Services Committee (2007–2011). Democratic speech writer Josh Gottheimer describes Frank as "one of the brightest and most energetic defenders of civil rights issues."

Frank often refers to himself self-deprecatingly as a “gay, left-handed Jew.” His frequent quick witted, blunt, brash and painfully honest comments have earned him a reputation that he is not to be messed with, and to say that Frank is outspoken on matters of civil rights is understatement. Just one example: In 2006, Frank and incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi were accused by Rep. John Hostettler (R-IN) of having a "radical homosexual agenda." Frank responded, "I do have things I would like to see adopted on behalf of LGBT people: they include the right to marry the individual of our choice, the right to serve in the military to defend our country, and the right to a job based solely on our own qualifications. I acknowledge that this is an agenda, but I do not think that any self-respecting radical in history would have considered advocating people's rights to get married, join the army, and earn a living as a terribly inspiring revolutionary platform."

Frank and "driver" Steve Gobie (right)

In 1987, Frank revealed his homosexuality to the public. He was the first U.S. congressman to do so voluntarily. Just two years later he was embroiled in a scandal. He had engaged the services of a male escort some years before and subsequently befriended him, housed him and hired him as a driver, despite knowing that the driver was on probation. Worse, Frank used his House of Representatives privileges to void the driver’s parking tickets. Then Frank found out that his driver was running a prostitution service out of his Capitol Hill apartment and fired him. With that, the driver went public and told his story to the media. Surprisingly, attempts by the House Ethics Committee (led by Larry Craig - I’m not making this up) to censure or expel Frank failed, and he has won reelection ever since (fifteen times).

Although Frank brought shame to the doorstep of the House of Representatives, he did not hide from his sins. His skills at bi-partisan brokering served him well. At the same time as the Frank-Gobie Capitol Hill prostitution scandal erupted, sex-related cases were brought up against congressmen Gus Savage, Jim Bates, and Buz Lukens. One Republican congressman said,  "I don't give a damn about Buz Lukens. . . I don't give a damn about Gus Savage . . . I don't give a damn about Jim Bates. . . . but if I were dying in the hospital, Barney Frank would come see me.  The others would be filing for my office space."

Shortly after coming out, Frank met and began dating Herb Moses, an economist and LGBT activist; their relationship lasted for eleven years until an amicable break-up in July, 1998. Moses was the first partner of an openly gay member of Congress to receive spousal benefits, and the two were considered “Washington's most powerful and influential gay couple.”

During the sub-prime mortgage crisis, Frank was characterized as a key congressional deal-maker, an unlikely bridge between his party's left-wing base and free market conservatives in the Bush administration. Hank Paulson, the U.S. Treasury Secretary for the Bush administration, said he enjoyed Frank's penchant for brokering deals. "He is looking to get things done and make a difference; he focuses on areas of agreement and tries to build on those.”

Frank resides in a modest studio apartment in Newton, Massachusetts, and a small apartment in Washington, DC.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Tom Tryon

actor and author

American film, stage and television actor Thomas Tryon (1926-91) was best known for his portrayal of an ambitious Catholic priest in the film The Cardinal (1963 - photo at end of post), for which he received a nomination for a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor (Motion Picture Drama). He also appeared in two epic films about World War II, The Longest Day (1962) and In Harm's Way (1965). His television career was centered around roles in westerns.

Although he had been married for three years during the 1950s, by the 1970s Tryon was in a romantic relationship with Clive Clerk, one of the original cast members of the Broadway sensation, A Chorus Line. Clerk was also an interior designer, and the apartment he decorated for Tryon on Central Park West in New York City was featured in Architectural Digest. Tryon was also involved in a relationship with Cal Culver, also known as Casey Donovan, a famous gay porn star (see photo below). Culver’s best known film, Boys in the Sand, is a classic of the genre.

Disillusioned with Hollywood, Tryon retired from acting in 1969 and began a successful second career as a writer. His most popular novel was Crowned Heads (1987), a collection of four novellas inspired by Hollywood legends. The first of these novellas, Fedora, about a reclusive former film actress whose relationship with her plastic surgeon is similar to that between a drug addict and her pusher, was later filmed by Billy Wilder. It is considered to be a minor classic of the thriller/horror genres. Other novellas in the collection were based on the murder of former gay silent screen star Ramón Novarro, and the quasi-Oedipal relationship between gay actor Clifton Webb and his mother.

Another popular book was The Other (1971), an influential psychological horror novel about personality transference between twins. It was made into a film about a boy whose evil twin brother may or may not be responsible for a series of deaths in a small rural community set in the 1930s. A later novel, Lady, written in 1975, concerns the friendship between an eight-year-old boy and a charming widow in 1930s New England and the secret he discovers about her.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Michael Guest

Trail-blazing former U.S. Ambassador to Romania

One week after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Secretary of State Colin Powell presided over the swearing in of Michael Guest, an openly gay longtime state department employee, as U.S. ambassador to Romania. During the ceremony Powell took the time to respectfully acknowledge Guest's partner of six years, Alex Nevarez. The Human Rights Campaign called Powell’s acknowledgment of Nevarez a “small gesture that spoke volumes.”

Michael Guest was the first publicly gay man to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate to serve as a U.S. Ambassador. But serving as an openly-gay ambassador under the Bush administration did not prove to be as pleasant as his swearing-in. Guest retired in 2007, and at his retirement ceremony, “he did what few people do — displayed uncommon courage and threw a rhetorical hand-grenade into his own party,” the New York Times reported. “Guest took Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (who was not present) to task for failing to treat the partners of gay and lesbian foreign service officers the same as the spouses of heterosexual officers.” Guest said that was the reason for his departure from diplomatic service.

Quotes from his retirement speech:

“Most departing ambassadors use these events to talk about their successes . . . But I want to talk about my signal failure, the failure that in fact is causing me to leave the career that I love,” said Mr. Guest, 54, whose most recent assignment was dean of the leadership and management school at the Foreign Service Institute, the government’s school for diplomats.

“For the past three years, I’ve urged the Secretary and her senior management team to redress policies that discriminate against gay and lesbian employees. Absolutely nothing has resulted from this. And so I’ve felt compelled to choose between obligations to my partner — who is my family — and service to my country. That anyone should have to make that choice is a stain on the Secretary’s leadership and a shame for this institution and our country,” he said.

“Unlike heterosexual spouses, gay partners are not entitled to State Department-provided security training, free medical care at overseas posts, guaranteed evacuation in case of a medical emergency, transportation to overseas posts, or special living allowances when foreign service officers are assigned to places like Iraq, where diplomatic families are not permitted.”

“This is not about gay rights. … It’s about equal treatment of all employees, all of whom have the same service requirements, the same contractual requirements,” said Guest.

While the Bush administration had previously indicated an unwillingness to outlaw employment discrimination, Guest courageously highlighted the fact that the administration was also practicing it.

Historical note:
When Bill Clinton tried to appoint openly gay Jim Hormel ambassador to Luxembourg in 1997, the Senate blocked him for 21 months. Clinton finally appointed Hormel in 1999 without Senate confirmation while the Senate was in recess.


• Former ambassador Guest today serves as senior advisor to the Council for Global Equality. In April of this year a Congressional briefing, moderated by Amb. Michael Guest (ret.), was hosted by the LGBT Equality Caucus to mark the release of the US State Department’s annual Human Rights report. The briefing highlighted trends in the LGBT human rights records of the 194 countries reviewed in this year’s report. Members of the international human rights advocacy community and congressional staff attended the briefing.

• Last month (June 17, 2011), for the first time, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution expressing concern at acts of violence and discrimination committed against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. The vote was 23 countries in support, 19 against and 3 abstentions. The United States voted for the resolution. This is the first official UN resolution to focus exclusively on human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity, and it is the first time that gender identity has ever been included in such a formal UN text. The resolution calls for a study to identify and make recommendations on how to put an end to such fundamental human rights abuses. The study’s release date is set for next year. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, “Gay rights are human rights. So are the rights of religious minorities, the disabled and so many others who have been historically ignored or persecuted, not for what they do, but for what they are. This is an important step in the quest for dignity for all. And I am proud that the U.S. is a part of it.”

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

U. S. President James Buchanan

Closeted homosexual in the White House
James Buchanan and William Rufus King

Buchanan (above) was the only U.S. bachelor president, and King (right) was the only bachelor vice president. They also had the hots for each other. King was vice-president under Franklin Pierce, who was president immediately before Buchanan. King and Buchanan lived together for fifteen years in a house in Washington, DC, beginning in 1836. Buchanan was a one-term president, serving from 1857-1861, in the years immediately preceding the U.S. Civil War.

King, a senator from Alabama, was five years older than Buchanan, but King was called “Miss Nancy” by Andrew Jackson, “Mrs. James Buchanan” by James K. Polk’s law partner, and “Buchanan’s better half” and “Aunt Fancy” by others. Senator King was noted for his “fastidious habits and conspicuous intimacy with bachelor Buchanan.” Around Washington, Buchanan and King’s sexual orientations were widely rumored to be gay. They were known as the “Siamese twins,” slang at the time for gays and lesbians.

When King was appointed envoy to France in 1844, Buchanan lamented, in a letter to a friend that “I am now solitary and alone, having no companion in the house with me. I have gone wooing to several gentlemen, but have not succeeded with any of them.” King died of tuberculosis five years before Buchanan became president.

Buchanan and King must have had something to hide, because the two men’s nieces destroyed all their uncles’ correspondence; as well, Buchanan ordered that all his letters be burnt upon his death.

Historical footnote: 
Senator King was elected Vice President of the United States on the Democratic ticket with Franklin Pierce in 1852, but took the oath of office while in Cuba, where he had gone due to ill health. This unusual inauguration took place because it was believed that King, who was terminally ill with tuberculosis, would not live to return to U.S. soil. The privilege of taking the oath on foreign soil was extended by a special act of Congress for his long and distinguished service to the government of the United States. Even though he took the oath 20 days after the president’s inauguration day, he was still Vice President during those three weeks. Shortly afterward, King left Cuba to return to his Chestnut Hill plantation in Alabama, where he died within two days, at age 67.

Monday, July 25, 2011

King James of England, Scotland & Ireland

I am a native of Virginia, which traces its beginnings to Jamestown, named after King James I of Ireland and England, who granted the Virginia Company a charter in 1606. He had also ruled Scotland as King James VI since 1567, from the age of thirteen months. James was the son of Mary, Queen of Scots, who had been forced to abdicate in her infant’s favor (when she married her husband’s likely murderer). James reigned over all three crowns until his death in 1625. And he was a flaming homosexual.

When he was fourteen (see portrait at right), James fell in love with a Catholic Frenchman, Esmé Stewart, who was nearly three times his age. The besotted James made Esmé the only duke in Scotland, the 1st Duke of Lennox. According to eyewitness accounts, he was “in such love with him as in the open sight of the people oftentimes he will clasp him about the neck with his arms and kiss him." The disapproving Scottish nobles first made Lennox choose between James and his Catholicism (he chose James), then eventually forced Lennox to flee back to France. James comforted himself by writing Scottish poetry (see second portrait of an older and wiser Scottish King).

When Elizabeth I died and James became King of England in 1603, his exploits with men were well known. Londoners sneered, “Elizabeth was King, now James is Queen.”

In 1607, the same year Jamestown was founded, he attended a jousting tournament, where he saw 17-year-old Robert Carr thrown from a horse, breaking his leg. James rushed to his aid and promptly fell in love. James made Carr a gentleman of the bedchamber and gave him many gifts, including the title 1st Earl of Somerset and a country estate. Seven years later James fell in love with George Villiers, whom he later made the 1st Duke of Buckingham. When restoration of Apethorpe Hall was completed in 2008, a previously unknown passage linking the bedchambers of James and Villiers was discovered. Faithful to the end, Buckingham was at his side when James died in 1625 following a stroke.

The contemporary playwright and poet Théophile de Viau wrote:
“Apollo with his songs
debauched young Hyacinthus,
And it is well known that the king of England
fucks the Duke of Buckingham.”

Oh, and the King James Bible is named after him. In 1604 James charged 47 scholars within the Church of England to undertake a new translation of the Bible into English, which was published in 1611 and still in use today. This year marks the 400th anniversary of its publication. This illustration is of the title page of the first edition.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Mark Tewksbury: Gay Olympic Athlete

Canadian Olympic gold medalist swimmer Mark Tewksbury turned forty-three years old this year. Born in Calgary on February 7, 1968, he realized he was gay in elementary school. To avoid facing up to it, he poured all of his energy into swimming. Some of his junior high classmates vandalized his locker with anti-gay slurs. Without coming out to them, Mark told his parents about the attack, who told the principal, who decided the best solution was for Mark to change schools. When boys at his new school discovered why he had transferred, they made his life even worse. Tewksbury considered suicide.

Swimming was his salvation, and by age seventeen he was one of the best in Canada. At the 1988 Olympics when he was twenty, he won a silver medal for relay and placed fifth in backstroke. At the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, he won the gold and broke the world record for 100m backstroke. At age twenty-four, still closeted even to his family, he was named Canada's male athlete of the year, appeared on the cover of Time, and was inducted into three halls of fame.

At the end of 1998, two months before he turned thirty-one, he finally came out, with mixed results. Tewksbury lost lucrative speaking engagements and a few endorsements, but was hailed for his bravery and character. He went on to become a founding member of the Gay & Lesbian International Sports Association, sponsors of the 2006 and 2009 Out Games. During the Athens and Beijing Olympics, Mark covered swimming for Canadian Broadcasting Corp. Today he is a gifted and much sought after motivational speaker.

Tewksbury, who now resides in Montreal, Canada, has written an engaging book: Inside Out: Straight Talk from a Gay Jock (2006), in which he lays bare the infighting among organizers of the Olympics, as well as the Gay Games and newly formed Out Games. He resigned from the International Olympic Committee over their cronyism and lack of accountability, accusing the IOC of rampant corruption. He was also part of a group of former Olympic athletes who pushed for the resignation of IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch. Only months after the scandal surrounding the Salt Lake City Games broke, Tewksbury became prominent around the world as a critic of the IOC and demanded reforms to the system. Available in hardcover, paperback and Kindle editions.

In this book, Tewksbury eloquently sums up his ability to win Olympic gold in the 1992 Olympics this way: “I gazed around the room slowly. The best swimmers from Russia, Cuba, the United States, Spain, Germany and France were in front of me. And I was different. I was the fag. And in that moment I owned my truth completely. I thought, ‘If these guys knew how hard it was for me to get here, they wouldn't believe it. They have no bloody clue what I have been through. Or how strong I am.’ ”

He also revels embarrassing, humorous and often unflattering things about his personal life, including his involvement in a serious three way relationship with a gay couple and his persistent pursuit of a professional male escort. Not to mention that, as a child, he liked to dress up in his grandmother’s clothes.

Spoiler alert! The book ends with Tewksbury being contacted by one of those (now grown up) junior high school classmates who had vandalized his locker, painting "FAG" for all to see. He revealed to Tewksbury that at the time none of the boys knew (or even suspected) that Mark was gay. They just did it for sport and chose Mark's locker at random to be the victim of a schoolboy prank. But after reading about the incident in his now famous classmate's book, "Inside Out," the resulting guilt made him contact Tewksbury to correct the false perception of the act of vandalism -- decades of trauma and paranoia over a misunderstanding.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

American Composer Samuel Barber

Samuel Barber was born in 1910 to a distinguished and well-to-do Irish-American family in Pennsylvania. His father was a doctor and his mother a pianist. He began composing music seriously in his late teens, and it was during his musical studies at the Curtis Institute that he met Gian Carlo Menotti, who became his lover, partner and musical collaborator. “Johnny” and Sam were soon inseparable.

Barber’s most famous composition by far is his “Adagio for Strings,” written while he and Menotti spent a summer in a rented house on Wolfgangsee, Austria (near Salzburg) in 1936. This eight-minute piece was originally the second movement of a string quartet. Menotti sent a version he had arranged for string orchestra to Arturo Toscanini, who championed it two years later. The rest is musical history.*

While a student at Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute, Menotti spent much of his time at the Barber family home in West Chester, Pennsylvania. After graduation, the two men bought a house together in Mount Kisco, New York, which they named "Capricorn" and shared for over forty years. Capricorn boasted two independent studios, one for each composer, connected by a central room for living and entertaining. The surrounding grounds were secluded and beautifully landscaped.

Over the decades, as Barber aged, Menotti’s interest in him waned. Barber was badly affected by the adverse criticism of his later compositions and spent many years thereafter in isolation, suffering from depression. He was humiliated to see Menotti engage in relationships with men half his age. Barber died of cancer at the age of 71 in 1981 in New York and is buried in West Chester next to his parents and beloved sister. There was an empty plot next to Barber's grave that was reserved for Menotti, but when the former lover died in 2007, he was buried in Scotland.

Menotti, who lived to the age of 95, always had an eye and taste for much younger men. Well into his eighties, he had a handsome, young driver in Charleston, SC, for the duration of the Spoleto Festival (founded by Menotti). When the driver was replaced one year by someone less blessed by pulchritude, Menotti threw a fit, insisting that the former driver be found immediately.

Francis Phelan (b. 1938) was an actor and figure skater who appeared as a mime in several of Menotti’s operas. The two developed a physical relationship, and in 1974, Menotti legally adopted Phelan (known as “Chip”) as his son. Phelan took the last name of Menotti. Phelan was 36 at the time; Menotti was 63. In a perverse twist, Chip went on to marry a woman; both composer and adopted son were nearly impossible to work with as directors of international music festivals.

As time goes on, however, Menotti’s star fades, while Barber’s shines ever brighter.

Gay American composer Aaron Copland (left), with Barber (center) and Menotti.

*Many do not know that Barber himself arranged his Adagio for Strings for vocal choir (1967) under the title “Agnus Dei” (text from the Latin Mass: Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us; grant us peace). This composition, in both instrumental and vocal forms, is often performed during state funerals (Franklin Roosevelt, Princess Grace of Monaco, Albert Einstein, etc.). Many first heard it when used in the soundtrack for the film “Platoon.”

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Matthew Bomer

Ridiculously Handsome Gay TV Actor

Matthew Bomer, born in 1977, currently stars in White Collar, a crime drama on the USA television network, but he is a veteran of film and stage work, as well. He is one of the handsomest men working in entertainment today. Bomer is an out gay actor in a committed relationship with publicist Simon Halls, who has three surrogate children: Kit, Walker and Henry. Earlier this year Bomer mentioned their three children on nationwide TV while co-hosting the Today Show with Hoda Kotb.

Bomer and Halls attended the most recent Golden Globe Awards and were seated next to each other; however, they did not walk the red carpet together. Bomer wears a wedding band to signal his committed relationship.

Even though he has not denied his homosexuality, he does not discuss details of his sexual orientation, in part because he does not want to be anyone’s poster child. He wants to concentrate on his career, his partner and raising their children.

Texas native Bomer was working in NYC as a hotel bellhop ten years ago when 9-11 happened. When tourists stopped coming to the city, he auditioned for a part in a soap opera in order to earn money to pay his bills. The rest is television history. White Collar, in which Bomer plays a reformed con man, debuted in October, 2009, and has been renewed for a third season.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Architect Philip Johnson

Philip Johnson (1906-2005) was one of the twentieth century’s most influential architects. His career spanned more than seventy five years. When Cleveland-born Johnson died just shy of his 99th birthday, he was survived by his partner of 45 years, David Whitney, who died six months later. Whitney, 33 years younger than Johnson, was an art collector and curator who had been a friend and confidant of Andy Warhol. Johnson did not officially come out publicly until 1994, when his biography by Franz Schulze was released.

Johnson designed a new sanctuary and chapel for Dallas's Cathedral of Hope, at 4,000 members the nation's largest gay and lesbian religious congregation. The chapel was dedicated in 2010, but the 2,000 seat main sanctuary remains unbuilt because of a lack of funds. The design has no parallel lines; the walls twist, tilt, and bend into ceilings and floors. Monumental, unconventional, and ever-changing, the proposed building will be a symbol of strength, hope, and unity. It will minister to society's need for the wisdom to perceive that homosexuals are integral to society, not alien from it. The Cathedral of Hope complex was Johnson's last project before his death in 2005.

While in his twenties Johnson visited landmark architectural sites and structures in Europe. It was a meeting with Bauhaus architect Mies van der Rohe that changed his life. The two became instant collaborators and competitors. They also incurred the pique and envy of Frank Lloyd Wright, who rejected their stripped down International Style, pared of ornament.

In 1949, after service in the U.S. Army, Johnson created his masterpiece, the "Glass House" in New Canaan, Connecticut, a profoundly influential work (above). The all glass house set in a landscape with views as its real walls served as his own residence. The building is an important achievement in minimalism, geometry, proportion, and the effects of transparency and reflection.

Johnson went on to design important buildings in NYC, particularly the Seagram Building (1956) on Park Avenue and the coordination of the overall plan of Lincoln Center (1960s). The AT&T Building (now the Sony Building) in Manhattan (1984) set the world of architecture on its ear by introducing a new style known as post modernism. That building boasts a Chippendale pediment, as if it were a highboy or wardrobe, instead of an office building (photo at top of post shows Johnson holding the model).

I am lucky to live within a few miles of one of Johnson’s quirkier buildings, the Pre-Columbian Pavilion at Dumbarton Oaks (Washington DC), a little-known architectural masterpiece. Completed in 1963, it is part of an estate property best known for its gardens designed by Edith Wharton's niece, Beatrix Farrand. Now owned by Harvard University, the museum was originally the home of philanthropists Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, who filled it with their extensive collection of rare books and Meso-american art.

The pavilion, a perfect square which consists of a series of eight undulating glass circular galleries with domed ceilings (each 25 feet in diameter), wide marble-clad columns and a central, elegant open-air fountain, perhaps outshines the objects it displays. Curved walls of glass integrate the building into the garden setting, and teak floors are laid in radiating patterns in alignment with the domes.Think of it as the way a set of dice indicates "nine," a grid of three rows set in three columns, with the middle dot missing (that's the open air fountain, below).

The noble beauty of the small structure in this intimate setting proves that Johnson could deliver a significant intimate structure other than his famed 1949 Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut. Johnson said his inspiration for the Dumbarton Pavilion came from the great 16th century Turkish architect Sinan, who designed all those mosques in Istanbul. It is interesting to note that both Johnson and Sinan lived well into their nineties.

Friday, July 15, 2011

JFK's Best Friend Was a Gay Man

Lem was a closeted gay man who was in love with his best friend, Jack. They had been friends since they were teenagers, sharing a similar sense of humor and fun and a mutual hatred of their strict, stuffy school (Choate). Jack had been a ladies’ man from his teenage years. When Lem sent a letter to Jack that contained a sexual overture, his best friend’s response was, “Sorry. I’m not that kind of boy.” Well, that’s nothing extraordinary; many gay men have hopeless crushes on their straight male friends.

Except Jack grew up to be John F. Kennedy, president of the United States. Lem was his lifelong friend and confidant (full name Kirk LeMoyne Billings, 1916-1981). But Jack didn’t abandon his friend when he learned he was homosexual. He rejected the sexual overture, but not the friendship. He invited Lem on family vacations, later sought his counsel on matters of state, and gave him his own room in the White House, where he was in residence most weekends. Their friendship endured uninterrupted for 30 years, and Lem was Jack’s closest friend during all that time, outside of family. Ted Kennedy said, "I was three years old before it dawned on me that Lem wasn't one of my older brothers. So often did he come home with Jack that Lem kept more clothes in the closet than Jack did,” Ted added.

Jack and Lem met as teenagers in 1933, when homosexuality was a dangerous secret. Laws of the times made homosexual activity a criminal offense. They were roommates at Choate and took a two-month trip to Europe together. But Jack did not turn his back on his gay friend, even after moving into the political arena. It was a friendship that turned into a life connection without crossing sexual boundaries. When he became president, Jack showed even deeper loyalty to Lem by offering him a position in his administration. Instead, Lem, an advertising executive in New York City, decided to take the unofficial role of First Friend. His intense friendship with Kennedy is chronicled in the 2007 biography, “Jack and Lem: The Untold Story of an Extraordinary Friendship,” by David Pitts (available in paperback and Kindle editions).

Kennedy offered to put Lem in charge of the newly-created Peace Corps, but he declined (the post went to Jack’s brother-in-law, Sargent Shriver.) In instances where Jackie Kennedy was unavailable to go to a dinner or on a foreign trip, Jack took Lem along. Lem remained close to the Kennedys after Jack’s and Bobby’s assassinations, but he reacted to their deaths by lapsing into despondency and use of alcohol. JFK had displayed a whale scrimshaw on his desk in the Oval Office; it had been a gift from Lem, and the item was buried with Jack.

Photo below: Jack and Lem with locked arms (right), sporting matching bathing suits in Palm Beach at Christmas, 1940.

When Kennedy married Jackie in 1953, he had already known Lem for 20 years. When the British invited Jackie to England for the unveiling of a memorial for JFK at Runnymede, she asked Lem to go with her. She frequently visited him in Manhattan when she lived there in the 60s, and she also went to his funeral.

Lem died of a heart attack at age 65 (1981), and is buried in Allegheny Cemetery in his hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It was a cohort of young Kennedy men who carried Lem’s coffin to its final resting place.

In the photo below, Lem and JFK pose with a dog they purchased for $5 in 1937, while traveling through Europe. Unfortunately, Jack's resulting respiratory problems revealed that he was allergic to it.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Tab Hunter

Hollywood Heart Throb
not to mention competitive equestrian, skater and singer

As a teenager, Art Gelien (later dubbed Tab Hunter) worked as a soda jerk at Wil Wright’s Ice Cream Parlor in Hollywood, where his most memorable experience was serving ice cream to Gene Kelly. As a young boy he lived for a while on Catalina Island, where he dove for coins tossed into the harbor by tourists departing on cruise ships for the Los Angeles mainland. He played trombone in the marching band at St. John’s Military Academy, a Catholic boarding school. He sang in the choir at St. Paul’s, where he was terrified when the choirmaster once kissed and fondled him. He used to go swimming in the private pool belonging to the uncle of one of his St. Paul’s classmates, in exchange for raking leaves off the tennis courts. The owner of the fabulous mansion (complete with indoor theater and footlights) was Ramόn Novarro. Tab Hunter had never heard of him.

By the age of fourteen his movie-idol good looks attracted hordes of giggling school girls and made all the boys jealous. When playing the lead in his junior high school’s play, his role called for planting a kiss on the female lead just before the final curtain. On opening night the kiss incited a riot, with students jumping on their seats and throwing hats, books and sweaters. He was just learning the effect his looks could have on people, although he forever remained embarrassed by it.

He and his brother Walt rode rented horses through Griffith Park every Saturday morning, beginning a love of all things equestrian that became a life-long passion. Tab Hunter mucked stalls and fed the horses in exchange for riding time. He lied about his age in order to join the Coast Guard when he was only 15, and he spent all his leave time riding horses. When the Coast Guard found out his real age, they booted him out. Realizing that he’d never have the money to breed and show horses, he took up figure skating, quickly becoming good enough to win major competitions in the late 1940s.

However, the life of 19-year-old Art Gelien changed forever in 1951, when he was invited to take a screen test at Samuel Goldwyn studios for the role of a marine in God’s Little Island. The female screen writer took one look at the gloriously fresh and handsome novice and said, “That’s the boy I want,” before he had so much as opened his mouth. He was asked to take his shirt off, and the next thing he knew the film’s director said, “If this kid can read his name off a sheet of paper, we want him.” His entire screen test consisted of planting a smoldering kiss (while shirtless) on Linda Darnell, a major female star of 20th Century Fox during the 1940s. Art Gelien was dubbed “Tab Hunter” by his agent, Henry Willson, and the rest is Hollywood history.

Instead of mucking stalls and practicing skating maneuvers, Tab Hunter was on a plane to Jamaica for three months of filming, followed by seven weeks of interior shots in London. The film’s name was changed to Island of Desire, and Hunter’s screen kiss with Linda Darnell launched a major career as a male heart-throb, even though his reviews as an actor were scathing. On the plus side, he looked great without a shirt. A handsome face, flawless skin, sparkling blue eyes, perfect teeth and natural blond hair didn’t hurt things a bit.

Within two years he was pulling in a thousand pieces of fan mail a week and "dating" Debbie Reynolds and Natalie Wood as part of studio-engineered publicity machines. One year he received 62,000 valentines from his rabid female admirers. He was also an overnight singing sensation; his 1957 recording of “Young Love” topped the billboard charts at #1 for six weeks. But Tab Hunter had a big secret: he was also dating Ronnie Robertson, a celebrated male figure skater. He went on to have a long-term relationship with Anthony Perkins and a steady stream of other always younger men, before settling down with his partner of 30 years, producer Allan Glaser.

Hunter's breakout film was 1954’s "Battle Cry," in which he played a young Marine recruit. In one scene he embarks on a midnight swim with an officer's wife, played by Dorothy Malone. He wears her husband's bathing trunks, giving the waistband a tug to show how much slimmer he is than his rival, while a wolfish grin lights up his face. Hunter was sensationally sexy and attractive as he strode toward sexual conquest. Women all across America melted in their seats (see clip at end of post).

In all, Hunter has made over fifty films, but there were long stretches of underemployment while making the rounds of dinner theater. His “comeback career” revolved around campy films, such as 1981’s “Polyester” (directed by John Waters) and “Lust in the Dust” (written by Tab Hunter himself).

Photo at right: Tab Hunter today.

Tab's career includes many stage and television performances. He starred in his own television series for NBC, was nominated for an Emmy for his performance opposite Geraldine Page in Playhouse 90’s "Portrait of a Murderer" and guest starred in over 200 television series episodes. He also appeared on Broadway with Tallulah Bankhead in Tennessee Williams’s "The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore," an experience he'd rather forget, since Miss Bankhead played her role for camp, making a mockery of the other talent sharing the stage.

In his autobiography “Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star” he acknowledges that he is gay, confirming rumors that had circulated since the 1950s. Hunter also confesses to having two serious, but unconsummated affairs with women. He was passionately in love with co-star Etchika Choureau, while simultaneously secretly dating actor Anthony Perkins. Hunter wanted to marry Choureau but called it off after realizing he would not be able to suppress his homosexual proclivities. He also had a relationship with Joan Cohn, widow of Columbia Pictures mogul, Harry Cohn. She proposed to Tab Hunter after her divorce from her second husband. No dice. These days Hunter lives in Santa Barbara, California, with his partner Allan Glaser; both men continue to work on producing film projects while surrounded by Tab Hunter's beloved dogs (whippets) and horses.

Scene from Battle Cry: Tab Hunter & Dorothy Malone 1954

Dorothy malone in battle cry scene 1 by tobiagorrio

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Denton Welch

Painter and Writer

Ever feel as if you didn’t quite fit in as a child? Well, whatever your experience, your adolescence was likely not as colorful or “different” as that of Orvil Pym, a 15-year-old creative child who had lost his mother to a mysterious disease. The damaged lad wandered around the grounds of a hotel where he had been taken by his father to vacation with his older brothers. When he discovered an old book on physical culture and began working out to improve his body, he worried that he wasn’t sweating enough, so he locked himself into the bottom drawer of a dressing chest, fantasizing that he was in a sweat-box dungeon. Orvil instinctively welcomed the guilt of these thrilling, vaguely sexual yearnings, unable to understand his incipient homosexual fetishes. He knew he was not like other boys, but the allure of deviancy far outweighed any desire to fit in with his peers.

Orvil yearned to be butch. Endlessly experimenting with fashion and different looks, he painted the toes and heels of his white gym shoes black (in the manner of saddle shoes), hoping to appear daring and vulgar. While he left his hair “rough” and appeared in his new, supposedly masculine outfit, his brother humored him by saying, “My God, you look tough.” Orvil didn't understand that his brother was mocking him. But young Orvil couldn’t mask his feminine side. He had always been intrigued by perfume bottles and broken bits of china he found at thrift shops, and he would press his purchases into his side, giving in to the peculiar pleasure of a forbidden obsession.

It wasn’t easy being a creative child. Orvil, happiest when he was alone, felt the urge to create his own drama. When he sneaked into an empty ballroom at the hotel, the little master of masochism discovered a double bass enclosed in a case with a broken strap when he entered the musician's gallery. Suddenly inspired, Orvil ran to the cloakroom and locked himself in, stripped off his clothes, and started whipping himself with the strap. His brother caught him in full fantasy. “Christ! What are you doing?” he howled in utter amazement. "You’d be locked up if anyone else found you doing this sort of thing.”


Orvil loved to spy on the gruff and rugged schoolmaster and two older male students, who were camping in the nearby woods. When the schoolmaster caught Orvil spying on them, he was invited inside for tea. Orvil was ordered to take off his wet clothes. The erotic tension between Orvil and the schoolteacher was so thick you could cut it with a knife. Orvil decided he wanted to be this man’s slave, and after washing up the dishes for the schoolmaster, he asked if there would be “anything else.” The older man said Orvil could polish his shoes. This triggered another erotic fantasy as he thrust his hands inside the damp leather, which to him seemed like “caves of lust.”

(Let me know if I’m going too fast for you – please take time to savor every detail)

Photo of Welch from the late 1930s:

The Orvil described above was the main character in a book called “In Youth Is Pleasure” (1945), an autobiographical novel by Englishman Denton Welch (see his self portrait at the start of this post), who was born in Shanghai in 1915. He spent his earliest years there with his English father and American mother, who died in 1926. Welch, then 11 yeas old, was devastated. He suffered the double blow of losing a mother and being sent to be educated in England, which was such an unhappy experience that at the age of 16 he ran away from school.

Welch had better luck at Goldsmiths' School of Art. Intending a future as a painter, his life changed forever at age 20, when he was knocked off his bicycle by a woman driving a car and subsequently run over. The injuries to his spine and kidneys were severe, and he never fully recovered. He was in constant pain. His altered circumstances caused him to take up writing, and he is today best-known for his three semi-autobiographical novels, Maiden Voyage (1943), In Youth Is Pleasure (1945), and the posthumous A Voice Through a Cloud (1950). All three are suffused with nascent homosexuality. William Burroughs claimed that In Youth Is Pleasure was a major influence on his own work, and none other than E. M. Forster praised Welch's writing.

Welch met his companion and lover, Eric Oliver, in November 1943 while he was convalescing. Oliver was a farm-worker living nearby and was a regular visitor. He acted as nurse for Welch, then his secretary, and finally as his literary executor when Welch died at the age of 33 on December 30, 1948. Unfortunately, Oliver was given  to drinking binges lasting several days, during which time he would simply disappear to parts unknown.

All his life Welch was open about his homosexuality, which was unusual, and even brave, at the time he lived. Welch's writings make clear what gay literature, and modern literature generally, lost when the accident that made him a fine writer finally claimed his life (spinal tuberculosis).

Maiden Voyage (1943), his first major work, was published under the patronage of Edith Sitwell. It is an account of Welch's sixteenth year, when he ran away from his English public school and was then sent to Shanghai to live with his father. The book created a sensation on publication in 1943; its frank and unflattering description of English public schoolboy life forced the book’s publisher to seek advice from libel lawyers. The narrator’s homosexual awakening is explored through masochism and voyeurism. Winston Churchill's private secretary gossiped in a letter that, "the book was reeking with homosexuality. I think I must get it."

William Burroughs said he directed students to the writing of Denton Welch when they complained that they had nothing to write about. Welch possessed uncanny powers of observation. His descriptions of ordinary things were exceptional, often over-the-top. He thus described a tray of pastries offered with afternoon tea (from In Youth Is Pleasure): "the phallic chocolate and coffee eclairs oozing fat worms of cream, the squares of sponge cake dressed with wicked green beauty spots of pistachio nuts." When young Orvil asked a fellow hotel guest if he could borrow his bicycle, the bicycle owner replied, " 'Oh yes, you can borrow it for as long as you like. I loathe riding it. The saddle seat seems designed especially to deprive one of one's manhood; but perhaps you won't mind that.' Orvil was too happy to be pricked into any retort by the intended insult. Orvil wished passionately that he had no body, so that these remarks could never be applied to him. He felt ashamed of being in a position to be deprived of his manhood."

You get the idea. New and used copies of Denton’s works are available from

Welch's books were often embellished with his own dust wrappers, end paper designs and illustrations, generally of great (often Gothic) originality, thus combining his talents of art and writing.

Trivia: Lesbian author Sarah Waters wrote a wartime novel, The Night Watch (2006), which includes a prickly and sensitive character named Duncan, based on Denton Welch.

Photo below: Welch particularly enjoyed the time he invested in restoring an antique Doll House (circa 1783), now on permanent display in the Homes Gallery of the Museum of Childhood, Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Herb Ritts

Gay photographer (1952-2002)

Los Angeles born Herb Ritts began his photographic career by taking pictures of his struggling actor friend Richard Gere in 1978 (Ritts later introduced Gere to future wife Cindy Crawford), when they stopped to repair a flat tire (see photo below right). By 1980 he had gained a reputation as a master of art and commercial photography. Ritts produced portraits and editorial fashion photographs for Vogue, Vanity Fair, Interview and Rolling Stone magazines. As well, he created successful advertising campaigns for cream of the crop clients: Calvin Klein, Chanel, Gianni Versace, Giorgio Armani, Levis, Polo Ralph Lauren and Valentino, among others. His fine art photography has been the subject of exhibitions worldwide, with works residing in significant public and private collections.

Completely self-taught, Herb Ritts used clean lines and strong forms for a graphic, sculptural simplicity that engaged the viewer. Most always shot in black and white, the images challenged conventional notions of gender or race. Social history and fantasy were captured in his memorable photographs of noted individuals in film, fashion, music, politics and society.

Starting in 1988 he directed numerous influential and award winning music videos and commercials. He worked on notable music videos for Madonna, Michael Jackson, Britney Spears, Chris Isaak, Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey, Jennifer Lopez and Tina Turner.

Sadly, Herb Ritts died on December 26, 2002, from pneumonia, at the age of 50. Though he was HIV-positive, the pneumonia was not HIV-related, although his immune system had been compromised. At the time of his death his partner was Erik Hyman, an entertainment lawyer who is now raising twin daughters with husband Max Mutchnick, one of the creators of the wildly successful TV sitcom “Will & Grace.”

Matthew McConaughey for Vanity Fair:

"I think knowing people by first names, not by what they do sexually, is really what it's about. Not being afraid. Fear is the enemy. I've always been comfortable with being gay." – Herb Ritts