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, August 31, 2011

Hermann Kallenbach, Gandhi's Gay Lover

Bodybuilder pal Kallenbach, on front row with hat on his knee, is seated next to Gandhi in a photo taken at a political reception in Durban, South Africa.

Hermann Kallenbach (1871–1945) was a South African architect who was best known for his close association with Mahatma Gandhi (Gandhi’s name was Mohandas – Mahatma is an honorific title). Kallenbach was a German-Jewish bodybuilder who moved to South Africa in 1896. He met Gandhi (who was then working as a lawyer in South Africa) in 1904 in a vegetarian restaurant and soon thereafter became the love of his life. In fact, Gandhi left his wife for Kallenbach in 1908.

Two years later Kallenbach, a rich man, donated to Gandhi a thousand acre farm near Johannesburg. The property was used to run Gandhi's famous "Tolstoy Farm" that housed the families of satyagrahis (those who countered evil by non-violent means). Abandoning the life of a wealthy, sport-loving bachelor, Kallenbach adopted a simple lifestyle, vegetarian diet and the equality politics of Gandhi. In Gandhi’s autobiography he frequently referred to Kallenbach as his “soulmate,” a euphemism if ever there were one. Gandhi’s personal life was rife with hypocrisy.

Gandhi wrote to Kallenbach that Kallenbach’s was the “only” portrait in his bedroom, and that he placed it prominently opposite the bed. “You have completely taken possession of my body,” Gandhi wrote in a letter. He made Kallenbach promise not to look lustfully upon any woman, and the two pledged undying love to each other “as the world has not yet seen.”    

Gandhi required members of his ashram to be celibate, even married couples. Gandhi said: 'I cannot imagine a thing as ugly as the intercourse of men and women." He bragged that he was capable of “lying naked with naked women, however beautiful they may be, without being in any manner whatsoever sexually excited.”Gandhi also endeavored to bring his "feminine" side to the surface and extolled androgeny.

Right. So that explains it.

When Gandhi returned to India in 1915, Kallenbach was unable to get permission to travel to India, since England and Germany were at war. Even so, Gandhi never gave up hoping to get him back into his arms. Decades later Gandhi continued to write impassioned letters to Kallenbach, stating that “you are always before my mind’s eye.” Kallenbach reunited with Gandhi in 1936, when at last he was allowed to travel to India. He lived with Gandhi for weeks on end, and when Kallenbach became ill, Gandhi personally nursed him back to health.

Gandhi’s pet name for Kallenbach was “lower house” (to Gandhi’s “upper house”), and he signed each letter to Kallenbach with undying love.

Sounds like a “soulmate” to me.

The above details are revealed in Joseph Lelyveld’s new book about Gandhi: “Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi And His Struggle with India.” Knopf. 425 pages.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Modeste Mussorgsky (1839-1881)

Mussorgsky was a homosexual composer born in Russia. His father was a wealthy man, and his mother was an English woman who had relocated to Russia. His land-owning family, the noble Mussorgskys, was descended from the sovereign princes of Smolensk.

At six, Mussorgsky began taking piano lessons from his mother, herself a trained pianist. His progress was sufficiently rapid that three years later he was able to perform a John Field concerto and difficult solo piano works by Franz Liszt. At 10 years old, he and his brother were taken to Saint Petersburg to study at the elite St. Peter's School. At the age of 12 (1852) Mussorgsky wrote his first piano piece to be published (at his father's expense). As a mature composer Mussorgsky became one of "The Mighty Five" group of Russian nationalist composers, the others being Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakov, Cesar Cui, and Mily Balakirev.

His monumental opera Boris Godunov (1869) was produced in St. Petersburg, and his popular Night on Bald Mountain was first performed in 1867 (known to millions from Disney’s 1940 film Fantasia*).

During his life Mussorgsky formed many homosexual attachments, unfortunately some of them to heterosexual men. One of the most popular pieces in the classical repertoire, Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition (1874 – written for solo piano, later orchestrated by Maurice Ravel) was based on an exhibit of watercolors by the handsome, young, and straight architect and painter Viktor Hartmann*, with whom Mussorgsky was hopelessly and painfully smitten. Hartmann was a Jew of Polish/Ukranian descent, so this serious infatuation is astonishing, given that the influential Mussorgsky family was both blatantly anti-Semitic and anti-Polish.

Tragically, Mussorgsky was a helpless alcoholic (with a permanently red nose to prove it), addicted to spirits from his army days. At the age of 17 Mussorgsky had received a commission from the regiment of the Russian Imperial Guard, where he served at a military hospital in Saint Petersburg with fellow Russian composer Alexander Borodin. The two were soon on good terms.  Borodin later wrote of Mussorgsky:

“His uniform was spic and span, close-fitting, his feet turned outwards, his hair smoothed down and greased, his nails perfectly cut, his hands well groomed like a Lord's. His manners were elegant, aristocratic – his speech likewise, interspersed with French phrases, rather precious. There was a touch of foppishness, but his politeness and good manners were exceptional. The ladies made a fuss over him. He sat at the piano and, throwing up his hands coquettishly, played with extreme sweetness and grace, eliciting responses such as ‘charmant, délicieux!’ and the like.”

In 1858 Mussorgsky resigned his military commission to devote himself full time to composition. However, the 1861 emancipation of the serfs on private Russian estates caused his family to be deprived of half its land and income; in two year’s time the estate had been liquidated. His mother died soon thereafter, prompting Mussorgsky to lapse into an extended bout of alcoholism at the age of 26. His frustrated, repressed homosexuality further tethered him to the bottle.

At the age of 29 Mussorgsky started to write an opera based on the story of Boris Godunov, using a text from Pushkin's play. He completed the large-scale score the following year while living with friends and working as a civil servant for the Forestry Department (such was the extent of his family’s waning fortunes).

In the end, however, he was a man caught in a painful spiral of self-destruction, often afflicted with delirium. For years Mussorgsky spent day and night in a Saint Petersburg tavern of low repute. His frequent absences and “illnesses” led to his dismissal from his civil servant job, and one week after his 42nd birthday he died, essentially from drinking himself to death.

Phil Disley, acknowledged as one of Britain’s foremost illustrators, draws an all-too-accurate rendering of Mussorgsky.

*Viktor Hartmann, the artist who was the object of Mussorgsky's obsession, was straight (photo below). He was the inspiration for PICTURES AT AN EXHIBITION.

*Night on Bald Mountain (from Disney's FANTASIA (1940)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Alexander the Great

King of Macedonia (a state of Ancient Greece) and eventual conqueror of most of the world known to the Greeks, Alexander III (365–323 BCE) famously overthrew the Persian Empire and extended his rule from Greece to Egypt to India and the Himalayas. Alexander's achievements laid the foundation for the Hellenistic world, the Roman Empire, and even the spread of Christianity: all the New Testament writings are in Greek as a result of Alexander's influence.

Alexander had the reputation for being handsome and stood out among his peers by being clean shaven. Many portraits and sculptures were made in his lifetime, so we can be fairly convinced of his appearance. He was a prodigious athlete and loved strenuous exercise. He loved to show off by jumping off and back onto a chariot moving at full speed. Alexander was rather short and stocky, with one blue and one brown eye. His male lover Hephaestion was taller and even more handsome, so much so that the Persian queen bowed to Hephaestion instead of Alexander when she was presented to them. Alexander said to the mortified queen "Never mind, Hephaestion is also Alexander".

At the time Alexander lived, it was common for Greek men to have wives as well as lovers of either gender; wives were merely for procreation. Alexander, who had become King of Macedonia at the age of twenty  when his father was assassinated, did not marry and produce an heir before he set out from Macedonia to conquer the Persians. He was not known to show much interest in women. Even at the height of his power, historians recount that he used his harem “sparingly.” However, Alexander loved his boyhood friend, Hephaestion. Both brilliant adolescents, they were tutored by Aristotle by arrangement with Alexander’s father. Aristotle instilled in the lads a great desire for knowledge and a love for philosophy. Thus Alexander became an avid reader. Hephaestion started off as a regular cavalry soldier and rose through the ranks on merit, carrying out important military and administrative assignments. Later, Alexander also took as a lover a male courtier from the conquered Persian court, scandalous not because the courtier was male, but because he was Persian, since most Greeks thought that all other people were barbarians.

Hephaestion and Alexander wanted their children to be cousins, so Hephaestion married the sister of Alexander’s new wife, who was the daughter of the defeated Persian emperor Darius III (a purely political marriage).

A coin depicting Alexander the Great.

Greece enjoyed a period of peace and prosperity during Alexander's campaign in Asia. Alexander sent back vast sums from his conquests, which helped stimulate the economy and increased trade between the new areas of his empire.

However, soon after Hephaestion and Alexander conquered Asia, Hephaestion died suddenly of typhus. Alexander's grief was boundless and devastating. He ordered an official observance of public mourning for his lover. It was recorded that for two days Alexander neither ate nor drank, cut his hair short and ordered that the horses in his army should have their manes cropped, as well. Alexander resolved that his lover should begin his life in the Unseen World with unstinted wealth, and the precious things he ordered stacked upon Hephaestion’s funeral pile represented a sum of nearly two million and a half pounds sterling. Alexander declared publically that his relationship with Hephaestion was like that of Achilles to Patroclus, male lovers and bothers-at-arms mentioned in the Iliad – Hephaestion and Alexander had been inspired by them in their youthful studies with Aristotle. Alexander asked the Oracles of Egypt if Hephaestion was a god, because in those days a person could become a god through achievements. Alexander was told that Hephaestion was indeed a hero, albeit a lesser type of god. Alexander, who had no doubt about his own divinity, then knew that he would meet his beloved again in the Blessed Realm, where gods and heroes lived in eternity.

Within eight months of Hephaestion's death, Alexander died in Babylon, twelve days after contracting a fever. Historians propose that his death was the result of poisoned wine or contaminated water. In any event, he had yet to realize a series of campaigns that would have begun with an invasion of Arabia and the eventual conquering of the entire Mediterranean basin and all of Africa. It was his desire to conquer the entirety of the known world. He was 32 years old at the time of his death, and never defeated in battle.

Alexander's lasting legacy was not his reign, but the cultural diffusion his conquests afforded. His establishment of Greek colonies (among them Kandahar in Afghanistan) and culture in the conquered lands resulted in a new Hellenistic culture, which was still evident in the traditions of the Byzantine Empire until the mid 15th century. Alexander became the measure against which generals, even to this day, compare themselves, and military academies throughout the world still teach his tactical exploits.

Alexander according to Hollywood:
Colin Farrell (at left, with hilariously highlighted hair) played Alexander and Jared Leto portrayed Hephaestion in Oliver Stone’s 2004 film Alexander, a major box office flop ($34 million domestic gross against costs of $155 million). The public hated it, critics hated it, and historians hated it. Even though the film depicted a sanitized version of the relationship between Alexander and Hephaestion, it proved too much for the American public. Roxana’s attempt to kill her husband Alexander after her discovery of his relationship with Hephaestion, included in the 2004 theatrical release, was deleted from the Director’s Cut (2005 DVD). Alexander’s wife, Roxana, was played by Angelina Jolie. Likewise, the scene in which Roxana is prevented from entering Alexander's tent by Hephaestion was also excised. In part due to damning by historians and critics, Stone released a third version, titled Alexander Revisited: The Final Unrated Cut (2007 DVD, three hours and thirty-four minutes!), in which the deleted scenes were restored and unreleased footage included. Nobody liked that version, either. In response to historians, who howled at his misrepresentation of the Persians, Stone commented that he could not let historical facts get in the way of telling his dramatic story. Right. At least Jared Leto had his musical career to fall back on.

Note: During the Middle Ages, Alexander was included in the group of Nine Worthies, heroes who personified the ideals of chivalry. Representatives of soldierly courage and generalship, the study of the life of each of them formed a good education for those who aspired to chivalric status. They nine were Hector, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Joshua, David, Judas Maccabeus, King Arthur, Charlemagne and Godfrey of Bouillon. All brought glory and honor to their nations and were noted for their personal prowess in arms. As individuals, each displayed some outstanding quality of chivalry, which made them exemplars of knighthood.

In later years Julius Caesar wept upon seeing a statue of Alexander, since he himself had achieved so little by the same age.
Alexander the Great is mentioned in Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost (1598) and in Cervantes’s Don Quixote (1605).
Napoleon Bonaparte encouraged comparisons with Alexander, whose fame as a commander and conqueror was unequaled.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Matthew Mitcham: Olympic Diver

Born March 2, 1988 in Brisbane.

One of only a handful of openly gay athletes to participate at the Beijing Olympics, Australian diver Matthew Mitcham won gold in men's 10m platform diving. He ruined China’s hopes of going 8 for 8 gold medals and received the highest single-dive score (112.1, including four perfect 10 scores) in Olympic history. He is the first Australian male to win an Olympic gold medal in diving since Dick Eve at the 1924 Summer Olympics.

Few know that Mitcham originally competed as a trampoline gymnast. As such he represented Australia at the World Junior Championships in 1999 and 2001, winning the double mini-tramp event. He also competed at the Australian Youth Olympic Festival in 2003, finishing sixth. From 2002 he competed as a diver. He took a year-long break from diving in 2006 and began training in 2007 with a new coach. The rest is Olympic history.

After viewing the scoreboard, Mitcham cried and bounced around the pool deck before climbing up to the stands to embrace his boyfriend, Lachlan Fletcher. "It's going to take a while to sink in," Mitcham said. "My cheeks hurt from smiling. My face hurts from the chlorine. My legs are sore from jumping up and down. I'm in pain and I'm tired. But I'm so happy."

Mitcham’s boyfriend Fletcher attended the 2008 Summer Olympic Games as a spectator, and his trip expenses were covered by Johnson & Johnson's Athlete Family Support Program. In the following photo, Mitcham gives Fletcher some sugar and his Olympic bouquet following his Olympic gold moment.

Mitcham's medal was followed by the Australia Post issuing a 50 cent stamp of him on September 26, one day after his Olympic victory.

In 2009, Mitcham secured financial support from the Australian telecommunications provider Telstra, proof that openly gay athletes can win major endorsement contracts. In March 2010, Matthew Mitcham was announced as the new face of Funky Trunks, an Australian brand of swimwear seeking expansion into international markets. The photo below is from a Funky Trunks print ad campaign.

Here’s a video recap of the dive that brought the glory to Australia and pride to gay men all over the world.

Matthew Mitcham - Final Dive Beijing
Uploaded by Cecilyn. - News videos from around the world.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Gerald Murphy, jazz-age dilettante

Gerald and Sara Murphy were handsome and beautiful American expats. Charming, wealthy, and well-connected, they showed the world how to have a royal good time. Amanda Vaill's "Everybody Was So Young: A Lost Generation Love Story" (1998) provides all the details and ambiance.

Gerald, born into the wealthy family that owned Mark Cross luxury leather goods, and Sara Wiborg, his older wife from a "better" family of printing magnates, knew everyone: Cole Porter*, Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald (who characterized them in "Tender Is the Night"), Jean Cocteau, Man Ray, Dorothy Parker*, John O’Hara and Robert Benchley.

In 1921, primarily to escape their families’ dissatisfaction with their marriage, they moved to Paris, where Gerald took up painting. He started by painting sets for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, then went on to study painting formally. His paintings created a sensation at the 1924 Salon des Indépendants, in Paris. Gerald’s hard-edged still lifes were in a cubist, precisionist style, prefiguring the Pop Art style that produced imagery of mundane objects culled from American commercial products. Today Gerald’s works hang in prestigious museums, such as the Museum of Modern Art and Whitney museums (NYC), and a major retrospective was mounted in 2007.

Gerald Murphy’s painting Boatdeck, installed at the Salon des Indépendants, Grand Palais, Paris, 1924. Unfortunately, the painting, which depicts giant smokestacks of an ocean liner, has since been lost.

Gerald Murphy was a repressed homosexual, which he called his "defect" in a 1931 letter to Archibald MacLeish, saying that his post-adolescent life had been a protracted “process of concealment of the personal realities” of his sexual orientation. Sara had known Gerald for eleven years before they married, and she seemed to take in stride his confessed attraction to men. Archibald MacLeish based the main characters in his play J.B. on Gerald and Sara Murphy. Hemingway characterized them in Garden of Eden.

In 1923, to celebrate the première of Stravinsky’s ballet “Les Noces,” Gerald and Sara threw an all-night party on a barge on the Seine in Paris. The same year, Gerald and Cole Porter collaborated on a riotously successful jazz ballet, “Within the Quota,” a burlesque on American culture.

The Murphys convinced the Hotel du Cap (Antibes) to stay open for the summer of 1923 so that they might entertain their friends, helping to establish the Riviera as a fashionable summer haven. Prior to this time the wealthy flocked there only for the winter season. They also introduced sunbathing on the beach as a fashionable activity. Sara stunned her guests by wearing her pearls to the beach, and Gerald wore his trademark horizontally striped shirt, shorts and sandals.

The Murphys purchased a villa in Cap d'Antibes, midway between Nice and Cannes, and named it Villa America*, where they resided for many years. They impressed Picasso, who painted Sara in several of his 1923 works, and inspired Coco Chanel. More importantly, they introduced American style and taste to their European circle – breezy, informal, jazzy and insouciant. They made art out of their lives. Ultimately, they became myth.

Tragedy struck, in the form of the early deaths of their two young sons (a daughter survived to old age). After the Depression hit, Gerald returned home to take over the family business, Mark Cross leather goods, serving as president of the company from 1934-1956, bringing it back from the brink of bankruptcy. He gave up painting completely, lived in Snedens Landing (on the Hudson north of NYC) and East Hampton, NY, and worked for decades in midtown Manhattan, living out a life of romantic disappointment. Gerald died in 1964 in East Hampton, and Sara died in 1975 in Arlington, Virginia.

A nude Gerald Murphy in 1925, standing against the sail of the Picaflor, photographed by Man Ray. Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris.

Wasp and Pear, 1929. Museum of Modern Art (NYC).

*Cole Porter had been Gerald’s classmate at Yale.

*Dorothy Parker was refused entrance to the Casino in Monte Carlo because she was not wearing stockings. “I went to retrieve my stockings and then came back to lose my shirt.”

*Villa America has since been torn down and replaced by another villa. The address is 112, Chemin des Mougins.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Alan Bennett

"The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone who is even long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours."
The History Boys – Alan Bennett

Alan Bennett (born 1934) is a bisexual British playwright, professor, screenwriter, actor and author. He first gained acclaim with the brilliant satirical revue Beyond the Fringe (1960), which he co-wrote and performed with Dudley Moore, Peter Cook, and Jonathan Miller. His first stage play was produced in 1968, and he later wrote works for television, which were marked by his characteristic mixture of wry comedy and sadness. His screenplays include Prick Up Your Ears (1987) and The Madness of King George (1994), which had been a successful stage play in 1991.

Likewise, his play The History Boys (2004) was made into a film in 2006. The History Boys garnered both the Critics' Circle Theatre Award and the Laurence Olivier Award for best new play. Set in Yorkshire in the 1980s, the play featured a clash of values between two teachers coaching a class of state-school boys through their university entrance examinations. It succeeded both as a serious-minded critique of Britain's education system – then and now – and as a comic entertainment. A 2006 film version, which used the original London cast, appeared the same year of its debut on Broadway, the latter winning six Tony awards (see quote at beginning of post). This is an extraordinarily entertaining and enlightening film, which is available from Netflix. Note: about an hour of the play's running time was cut for the film version.

In 1987 Talking Heads, a series of monologues for television, made him a household name and earned him the first of six Lawrence Olivier Awards. He went on to write television, stage and radio plays, as well as screenplays, short stories, novellas and non-fictional prose. He also made many appearances as an actor.

At the National Theatre in late 2009 Bennett's newest play, The Habit of Art, premiered. It is about the relationship between gay poet W. H. Auden and gay composer Benjamin Britten. In 1997 Bennett was diagnosed with cancer and began writing biographical sketches, Untold Stories, which were eventually published in 2005. He wrote of his homosexuality and touched on a few relationships with women. While he had a long-term relationship with his former housekeeper, Anne Davies, he makes his home in London today with Rupert Thomas, the editor of World of Interiors magazine.

Bennett declined a knighthood in 1996. He stated that he would never wish to be knighted, because “it would be a bit like having to wear a suit for the rest of ones life.”

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Rock Hudson: Closeted Hollywood Star

Hudson at home his Beverly Hills residence: 9402 Beverly Crest Dr.

Looking down over Beverly Hills, “The Castle” was the 3.5 acre estate of actor Rock Hudson (1925-1985), where he lived from 1962 until his death. At the height of his career, Universal Studios purchased it for him as part of his contract renewal. Constructed with a stucco finish and red tile roof, the house was protected by a massive gate in the front (always left open) and steep cliffs on three sides, which ensured the closeted actor’s privacy.

Hudson gave a detailed description of the house to his authorized biographer. He loved his home and spent 23 years meticulously restoring it. The interior boasted two living rooms, four fireplaces, a steam room and gym, and a theater with stage and footlights. Anyone who entered became aware of his sexual orientation, even though he led a closeted public life. His bed was carved with a large male figure and on the pool deck stood large slightly abstract sculptures of naked boys; one depicts a boy throwing a smaller lad into the pool (photo below).

One of his favorite spots was the home theater, which had originally been a garage. It housed a vast collection of films and up-to-date projection equipment, while a collection of rare records filled one wall. He rehearsed upcoming roles on the wooden stage. Also on the grounds was a greenhouse overflowing with orchids.

The Castle was decorated in what one of Hudson‘s friends termed “early butch” – dark wood, pewter candlesticks, zebra skins, and heavy doses of wrought iron. The patio led to a 40-foot pool with jacuzzi and lion’s head fountain. A 20-foot barbecue that could cook enough meat to feed a hundred people. Hudson liked to give large pool parties, to which he’d invite a hand-picked assortment of handsome youthful males. He cruised Melrose Ave. in Hollywood in the vicinity of the Spike and the Eagle (gay bar), riding around in a chauffeured limo with black out windows, pulling over when someone young and handsome caught his eye. Invariably, they returned to Rock’s “Castle” in Beverly Hills.

Rock Hudson did what most other gay movie stars did at the time. He agreed to a studio sanctioned smoke-screen marriage to Phyllis Gates (now a Beverly Hills based interior designer); the studio also promoted the wedding and the honeymoon. Three years later it was all over. Shortly thereafter Rock Hudson bought his favorite house on Beverly Crest Drive. However, everyone he worked with in Hollywood knew his story. Hudson found an acceptance and compassion among show people that he feared he would never find among his fans. His greatest accolade was an Academy Award nomination for his performance in Giant (1956), co-starring Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean, although his fans most fondly remember his many romantic comedy films with co-star Doris Day.

Hudson lived most of his years at his “castle” with just his female housekeeper and seven dogs. But occasionally, he had a live-in male lover. When he did, he was careful to maintain two separate phone lines for “appearances,” and to make sure he was never photographed with the other man. His years of diverting the truth about his sexual orientation from the general public came to an end in 1985. He died in seclusion at his “castle” from complications of AIDS on October 2 of that year.

Photo below: Rock Hudson and co-star Elizabeth Taylor in Giant (1956).

Shown below with actor George Nader, the lover of Mark Miller, who was Hudson's personal secretary:

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

James Dean

Hollywood Bisexual and Tortured Soul

James Dean was born February 8, 1931, in Marion, Indiana. He had a very short Hollywood career, just two years, before his untimely death at the age of 25. However, he became a lasting icon of American film, one of disaffected non-conformity.

A basketball player in high school, Dean lost his front teeth in a sports related accident and had to wear false teeth for the rest of his life. He had terrible eyesight, as well. However, he excelled at acting, and his brooding handsomeness helped lead to a successful television, stage and film career.

When Dean was living in NYC, studying at the Actors Studio under Lee Strasberg, he was supported by an older homosexual gentleman, Rogers Brackett, who had become his lover and mentor. Brackett was the radio director for an advertising agency. While attending a class conducted by Marlon Brando in 1951, Dean stayed after the session to meet his idol, beginning an intense sexual affair with Marlon that lasted through the winter. Dean was completely smitten with Brando, often stalking him when Marlon was out on dates with others. Dean groomed himself to become a Brando clone, copying his walk, speech and acting style. Dean immersed himself in the techniques of method acting, and he landed a role on Broadway as a boy who seduces a male tourist in André Gide's The Immoralist (1954). He quit the show after just three weeks in order to fly to Hollywood in April, 1954, to film East of Eden (1955). On the set Dean had disagreements with director Elia Kazan, but he delivered an outstanding performance. Dean had several romances with actresses and with men, as well. Cited by biographers as having had affairs with Dean are actors Clifton Webb, Bill Bast, and Jack Simmons, as well as Brando and producer Rogers Brackett.

Dean's engagement to actress Pier Angeli quieted rumors of his bisexuality, but he was widely quoted as saying, when pressed about his sexual orientation, that he wouldn't go through life with one hand tied behind his back. Angeli's abrupt breaking off of the engagement and her subsequent marriage to singer Vic Damone left Dean the subject of further speculation. Bill Bast, one of Dean’s closest friends and his roommate at UCLA, stated that he and Dean had been lovers. It is known that Dean frequented gay bars, and people who knew him at the time said he was homosexual (not bisexual), including screenwriter Gavin Lambert and “Rebel without a Cause” director Nicholas Ray.

Dean busied himself with work on Rebel without a Cause (1955, photo above), the film that would establish him as an enduring Hollywood star, even though it was released after his death. A classic film about teenage alienation and angst, it features prominently a gay subtext embodied in the relationship between the characters portrayed by Dean and Sal Mineo. In its honesty and tenderness, the coded relationship between these characters has touched generations of gay youth. Dean portrayed a non-conformist masculinity that challenged the rigid gender-role expectations of 1950s America.

After completing Rebel without a Cause, Dean began working on the epic film Giant (1956, photo at left with Elizabeth Taylor), based on the Edna Feber novel. In this film, Dean's transformation from farmhand to oil baron is masterful, although on-set tempers flared between Dean and closeted co-star Rock Hudson. Soon after finishing all his scenes for Giant, Dean went for a drive with a mechanic friend in his Porsche on September 30, 1955, in which Dean was nearly decapitated in a car accident near Salinas, California. His untimely death, just as he was on the verge of a major acting career, catapulted him to fame and helped make both Rebel without a Cause and Giant huge box office hits.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Roger Vadim, Daniel Gélin & Christian Marquand

...sowing their youthful, bisexual oats

In 1949 Roger Vadim (photo at left) was living in Paris with his best friend, actor Christian Marquand. At the time Vadim had worked as a stage actor and journalist, but had not yet become a film director. The two were having lunch on the terrace of La Coupole, a former hangout of Hemingway and Henry Miller in Montparnasse. They noticed a startlingly handsome man seated alone at a nearby table, where he had removed his shoe to massage an aching foot. At the time Marlon Brando was having an affair with one of the waiters, Jacques Viale. Vadim and Marquand overheard Brando muttering in English and introduced themselves. They knew nothing of Brando’s recent success on Broadway, taking him for an out of work actor bumming around Paris. When Brando mentioned that he was suffering in an uncomfortable fleabag of a hotel,* Vadim and Marquand invited Brando to come live with them, and all three became intimately acquainted, if you get my drift. In fact the normally heterosexual Marquand soon became besotted with Brando. Christian Marquand (photo below) became best known to English-speaking audiences in Lord Jim (1965) and Apocalypse Now (1979). Marlon introduced his new friends to his waiter friend, Jacques Viale, who joined their circle. Viale later said that his time with Brando and his friends was the greatest moment of his life. “It was all downhill after Brando.”

Roger Vadim told his friends that during the previous month he had stayed at the legendary Hotel du Cap Eden Roc** (Antibes), where a 32-year-old man from Massachusetts claiming to be the son of an ambassador to England moved into his room, sensing that this was where all the “action” took place. Jack and Roger shared many a three-way with the most beautiful women of the French Riviera. As with Brando, Vadim did not realize the fame of his new-found friend. John Kennedy had yet to be elected Senator and, ultimately, President. Interestingly, in the late 1960s the Hotel du Cap’s address became 10, boulevard John F Kennedy, when the street leading to the hotel was renamed after him.

All this was before Vadim captivated three of the world’s most voluptuous women: in 1952 he married Brigitte Bardot, in 1961 he began an affair with Catherine Deneuve (who was 17 at the time, half his age) and in 1965 he married Jane Fonda. Vadim would later cast his friend Christian Marquand opposite Brigitte Bardot in his groundbreaking film, And God Created Woman (1956). He likewise cast wife Jane Fonda in his sci-fi film Barbarella (1968), based on French comic book stories. A real hoot, but hot stuff, nonetheless!

Vadim later wrote a book about them: “Bardot • Deneuve • Fonda: My Life with the Three Most Beautiful Women in the World (1986).”

But I digress. When Roger and Christian moved to larger quarters in Paris, they took in another actor, Daniel Gélin (at left), to help with expenses. Even though Brando and Christian were immersed in a deeply sexual and emotional relationship, Brando set his sights on Gélin, as well. He was an easy, willing target. Ironically, Gélin later had an illegitimate daughter, actress Maria Schneider, best known for playing Marlon Brando’s young lover in Last Tango in Paris (1972). Schneider met her father only three times, so took her mother’s last name. Two years after Last Tango in Paris was released, she declared her bisexuality; Schneider died of cancer in Paris earlier this year. Late in life Brando said, “I have truly loved only three men in my life: Wally Cox, Christian Marquand and Daniel Gélin. All others were merely ships passing in the night.”

In a way this youthful exploration of various facets of one’s sexuality was evocative of the atmosphere of all-male British boarding schools, where most of the students had physical and romantic relationships with each other. It was taken for granted that they would divest themselves of such activity after they left school, and women became available, but many did not. These schools were veritable hotbeds of bisexual activity.

*In fact, Brando was holed up at the Hotel d’Alsace in the very room in which Oscar Wilde had died penniless and disgraced (numbered rm. #16 today). This building now houses one of the most elegant Left Bank hotels and restaurants of Paris, named L’Hotel at 13, rue des Beaux-Arts. Once a fleabag, perhaps, but after a stunning transformation by decorator Jacques Garcia, this hotel is today an expensive indulgence. The on-site eatery (at the back of the ground floor), Le Restaurant, holds a Michelin star, but the elegant bar located between reception and the restaurant gets my vote as one of the chicest places on Paris for an early or late evening drink. A favorite pastime of mine is playing cards at one of the bar’s upholstered alcove banquettes to the left. Be sure to visit on your next trip to Paris, if for no other reason than to soak up the vibes of Wilde and Brando – not to mention former guests Salvador Dalí, Princess Grace, Frank Sinatra, Jorge Borges and Elizabeth Taylor & Richard Burton.

When Oscar Wilde and Marlon Brando occupied this room, it was a dreary fleapit. Now suite #16 at l'Hotel in Paris is all romantic luxury (photo below). The framed letters above the lamp on the desk are requests from management demanding that Wilde pay his bill, and the large peacocks painted above the wainscot are exceptional. Oscar Wilde died in this room in 1900, and Marlon Brando occupied it in 1949.

Note: A trip from the ground floor bar to the washrooms involves a descent by a stone semi-circular staircase to the basement. On my first visit I was astonished to find myself standing in an elegant circular subterranean  lounge with draped openings ringing the room. None was marked, and all the draperies were closed, so I went about opening them one by one, looking for the toilets. To my shock (and to that of the guests, as well), I was staring at a group of naked bathers, who were enjoying a sensual dip in the stone-walled indoor hammam pool. Oops. This hotel is small (20 rooms) and achingly romantic. The standard rooms are quite snug, but over-the-top luxurious. It's one block from the Seine on a quiet street that runs between Rue Bonaparte and Rue de Seine. It is the only hotel I know of where the (candle-lit) pool may be reserved for a guest's private use. If your budget cannot accommodate a long stay, try a night or two here before moving to less costly digs. You won't regret it.

**Unfortunately, I have yet to stay at the Hotel du Cap Eden Roc. Aware that this famous hostelry was where Gerald and Sara Murphy had hosted Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald (fodder for a later post), I dropped by in the mid 1990s to inquire about a room, but was told, to my amazement, that they did not accept credit cards. Imagine! This archaic policy was not dropped until 2006.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

James Duke Mason

Founder of Trailblazer Campaign

I was reminded of this young man when I read yesterday that his mother had been awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. This 19-year-old guy has credentials. Actor/activist James Duke Mason (b. April 27, 1992) is the son of singer Belinda Carlisle (Go-Gos) and Morgan Mason (a politico turned film producer/agent), and the grandson of the great actor James Mason*, for whom he is named. In May 2011, James was included in's “Hot 100" list. In April 2010, The Advocate listed Mason as one of the most influential young LGBT Americans in its "Forty Under 40" issue. In March 2011 he was voted into's list of the top 50 gay/bisexual male celebrities in the world.

Instead of making headlines for disorderly behavior and drug arrests like many teens from show business families, Mason has loftier goals. “I’m going to use my voice and power as a human being to change history, even if it’s in a small way,” says Mason.

In April 2011 he founded the Trailblazer Campaign, a YouTube project designed to encourage LGBT entertainers to come out of the closet. Among the first batch of entertainers to take the bait are up and coming actor Nicholas Downs, from the movie, "Is It Just Me?", and Mike C. Manning, from MTV's The Real World, DC.

James Duke Mason (above left) with mom Belinda Carlisle and a friend.

James came out at 14, worked as a congressional page, filmed PSAs for marriage equality, has written civic-minded op-eds for Frontiers magazine and was the first openly gay student body president at his international high school on France’s Côte d’Azur. “For me, it’s about knowing every day that I’m doing my part to encourage other young gay people to be proud of who they are,” he says.

Mason participated in a roundtable discussion of LGBT youth on Dr. Phil’s TV show. He has completed work on his first film, What Happens Next (2011), which was screened to acclaim at recent gay/lesbian film festivals in Philadelphia and Miami. Mason, who resides in California, is currently pursuing a college degree in political science.

*You'll remember James Mason for his starring role opposite Judy Garland in "A Star Is Born." You likely don't know that James Mason, his wife Pamela and famed director Joseph Mankiewicz were involved in a three-way affair that was the talk of Hollywood in the 1950s.

Although embedding is not allowed for this video, you can click this link to watch an 8-minute interview between young James and his mother, Belinda Carlisle (Go-Gos!). It is astonishing in its honesty. They speak about what suspicions she had that her son might be gay and how his father had a difficult time dealing with it at first. My favorite part is when James relates that his father told Nancy Reagan that, when he showed affection for his son (hugging, touching) in public, others mistakenly assumed he was not a relative, but a “sugar-daddy” to the young man. Note: Mason's father served in Ronald Reagan’s State Department.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Billy Bean

Gay Major League Baseball Player

Forty-six year old Billy Bean was a high-scoring outfielder in a baseball career that lasted from 1987-1995. He played for the Detroit Tigers, Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres. When he joined the Detroit Tigers in 1987, he tied a MLB record with four hits in his first major league game.

He acknowledged that he was gay in a front page story in the New York Times in 1999. Bean went on to write a book, “Going the Other Way: Lessons from a life in and out of Major League Baseball.” Bean is only the second former major league player to reveal his homosexuality; the late Los Angeles Dodger and Oakland Athletic Glenn Burke is the other.

When Bean left behind his life as a professional baseball player, he let go of a dream he had pursued since childhood. But his life as a closeted gay man created so much stress that he chose to give up his career. As a closeted player (not even his agent knew he was gay), he had divorced his wife and secretly moved in with his lover, Sam. When Sam died of AIDS, Bean was so frightened of his secret being revealed that he didn't attend his lover's funeral, a tragic decision that ultimately led to his coming out. He became the center of attention of a gay and lesbian community looking for ways to break down barriers of homophobia in sports. Bean, however, was blunt about how strong that barrier remains – he doesn't foresee any professional baseball player coming out while continuing to play.

He says of his book, "This is not a sad story about a victim of homophobia, or baseball mistreating me. It's about what it's like to live in the closet and try to realize a dream under those restrictions." Throughout the book Bean also reveals his love of the sport, while exploring some of the darker side of baseball, especially the humiliation of being sent to the minors. It is a tale of self denial turned around into self acceptance.

Bean now has a successful career in real estate in Miami, Florida. He is also a board member of the Gay and Lesbian Athletics Foundation.

Review by Brad Ausmus (all-star catcher, Houston Astros):

"Millions of American boys dream of playing Major League Baseball. Just when Billy Bean's dream was coming true, self-realization and tragedy came crashing down on him. Through it all, he had a remarkable will and the mental fortitude to withstand both the nightly pressures of playing in front of 35,000 fans and living a secret 'forbidden' life. In the end, this gut-wrenching story is an amazing triumph of character over consequences. Billy Bean is an inspiration."

280 pages. Da Capo Press (2003).

Monday, August 8, 2011

Howard Hughes

Bisexual Billionaire, Film Maker & Aviator

A recent magazine article made mention of the whitewashed version of the life of Howard Hughes as depicted in the movie, Aviator. I decided to go digging for a bit of dirt, and believe me, there was plenty -- too much for one post.  I was astonished by the sheer quantity of homosexual activity, so here goes:

Hollywood 1921: Bisexual film director William Desmond Taylor, Mexican born film star Ramon Novarro, Spanish born star Antonio Moreno, and a teenaged Howard Hughes were all involved with each other sexually – sometimes all at the same time. Taylor was mesmerized by Hughes, who was attending a private school east of Santa Barbara, and planned to star him in a film custom tailored for him. Howard’s uncle, Rupert Hughes, a powerful Hollywood screen writer, was to write the script. It was Uncle Rupert who had introduced Howard to William Desmond Taylor.

Included in their circle was silent film star Blanche Sweet, who regularly gave Howard blow jobs, marveling at the young man’s generous endowment. But it was Taylor who became completely obsessed with Howard. He knew he could make Hughes the biggest star in all of Hollywood, and he couldn't keep his hands off him. Unfortunately, Taylor was murdered in 1922, and the case remains one of the great unsolved mysteries of Hollywood.

Immediately after Taylor’s funeral, Hughes abandoned plans to become a movie star. He told Sweet and Moreno that he had decided to become a producer, a field in which he could be the boss. He also continued to pursue his passions for horses and airplanes. Howard was a magnificent rider and a fearless aviator.

He was also handsome, tall (6'3"), well-endowed and rich – and accustomed to getting his way. Howard lived a warped reality of instant gratification. He played by no one’s rules, sampling whatever drugs, alcohol, women and men he fancied. Hughes, the son of a fabulously wealthy father, lived on an open-ended allowance, enabling him to buy cars and wildly expensive clothes for his boyfriends. One of the most important of them, Dudley Sharp, was later involved in an affair with Howard’s doting mother, who became pregnant by Dudley. Based in Houston, Allene (Howard’s mother) died from complications of the pregnancy, and a day later Dudley, Howard's boyfriend from just a few years before, attempted suicide. Howard and his father took these unsavory complications in stride and immediately returned to California to live their lives of unbridled excess. Hughes Sr. continued his torrid affairs with Gloria Swanson and Eleanor Boardman, and had Howard moved into a private bungalow at a Pasadena polo club – all paid for by his father, of course. Howard was sixteen.

Howard’s father bribed officials at Cal Tech to accept his son, who did not have a high school diploma, as an uncredited student. Such was the power of money. Its corrupting influence was not lost on Howard. After accepting a blow job from silent film star Billy Haines (see post on August 5), Howard bragged to Haines that he had received intimate invitations from both Eleanor Boardman and Charlie Chaplin. Haines felt he should warn Howard that Boardman was one of Howard Sr.’s mistresses. Howard told Haines that he was aware of that, and “it would make taking her all the sweeter.” When Howard Sr. found out about it, he actually encouraged the affair, even telling Boardman that he was pleased by his son’s brazenness. Unknown to Boardman was the fact that Howard Sr. wanted to move on, focusing his attentions on Gloria Swanson. Morality of convenience – thanks, son!

Haines and Hughes forged a close friendship, even though Billy Haines was 100% gay and Hughes was bisexual. Billy knew everybody in Hollywood and made sure Hughes was invited to all the right parties. Haines was also a close friend of Eleanor Boardman. In fact, both Haines and Boardman had been winners of their respective divisions of the “New Faces of 1922" contest sponsored by Goldwyn Pictures. Both were sent from New York to Hollywood for screen tests, and both became big stars. Upon arrival in L.A., Boardman was already an established stage actress, but Billy Haines was 100% raw talent.

Note: Some readers might doubt that these photos are of Howard Hughes, since his appearance changed so radically from his mid-thirties. Both photographs in this post are from 1930-1931, when Hughes was 25-26 years old, before the plane crash and resulting plastic surgery.

At a New Year’s Eve party in Houston, Howard’s father had humiliated him in front of other guests. After a heated argument about aviation (it was Howard’s passion, but his father refused to support his son’s desire to fly), Hughes Sr. yelled at his son, “Just like your Uncle Rupert, you’re nothing but a queer.” Turns out Hughes Sr. knew all about both his son’s and brother’s sexual dalliances with men. Howard collapsed into tears as his father slammed the door and stormed off. It is important to note that the person into whose arms Howard collapsed was none other than Dudley Sharp*, father of his mother’s unborn child, as well as being Howard’s boyhood lover. For two weeks Hughes Sr. and his son kept an icy distance from each other. On January 14, 1924, Howard’s father died suddenly of an embolism while working in his Houston office. When Howard was approached on the golf course to be told that his father had died, the first thing he did was call the family attorney. He asked the lawyer to read him his father’s will. Howard had just turned eighteen.

*Sharp later suffered the humiliation of having to ask Howard for money in order to continue his studies at Princeton. Hughes refused. Dudley Sharp later married and became U.S. Secretary of the Air Force under Eisenhower.

To be continued...

Howard Hughes: The Secret Life (1993) by Charles Higham
Howard Hughes: Hell’s Angel (2005) by Darwin Porter

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Howard Hughes, Part II

Hughes in 1930

According to his father’s will, Howard had been left with 75% of the Hughes Tool Company – not what Howard had in mind. He badgered his grandparents, aunts and uncles into selling him their stock so that he would have complete control of the company. He even engaged in homosexual activity with his Uncle Rupert in order to have Rupert petition his stubborn parents into selling.

This became the norm to Howard – he’d use whatever ammunition it took to accomplish his task – usually in the form of sex combined with lots and lots of cash. He was also young, rich, handsome and virile at a time when the Hollywood lifestyle was a temple to debauchery, and Hughes was at its epicenter.

As a school boy, Howard had been rebuffed by a young girl named Ella Rice, daughter of the prominent Houston family for whom Rice University is named. When Howard was six years old, Ella had humiliated him by returning his Valentine card. Howard vowed to get even with her some day. Fast forward to 1925, when Howard was back in Texas tending to business at the Hughes Tool Company. Ella was still around, and Howard hatched a plan to woo her, then humiliate her. Trouble was, she was now engaged to a fellow known as James Winston. James never knew what hit him. Howard focused all his attention on the boy, seduced him, gifted him with a yellow Duesenberg and an envelope containing $25,000. Worked like a charm. With James Winston out of the way, Ella and Howard were married on June 1, 1925. Dudley Sharp was Howard’s best man. At the age of nineteen years and seven months, Howard owned 100% of the Hughes Tool Company and had talked a young lady, who had humiliated him when a child, into marrying him. He was just getting warmed up.

Later Howard told his Hollywood pal Billy Haines (see post of August 5) that, on the day of the wedding, “I was so nervous I had to get sucked off by Dudley to calm my nerves before the ceremony.” Just after the ceremony, while embracing Dudley in private, Howard said, “You should never have let me go through with the ceremony. Ella will never mean as much to me as you do.” While on his honeymoon on Long Island, Howard wrote to Dudley, “My marriage is a disaster. Ella and I are not sexually compatible!”

A debonaire pilot:

Upon returning to Los Angeles, the first person Hughes called was Billy Haines, who asked, “Are you a staid old married man now, or can we go out on the town and raise hell?” Hughes answered that he was married “in name only.” Upon checking into the same hotel where his father had bedded countless women, Howard asked to be placed in a suite with separate bedrooms, instead of the honeymoon suite, which had been reserved. Hughes left his newlywed to her own devices and went out with Haines, not returning until eight o’clock the next morning. Thus began a time of protracted humiliation of Ella (she should never have returned that Valentine!). By this time, Hughes was already displaying eccentric traits that would dominate his later years. He seldom shook anyone’s hand for fear of germs. He was later to display obsessive-compulsive behavior of such exaggerated proportion that it boggles the mind. He was also dealing with a serious loss of hearing.

Hughes had a brief affair with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., who went on to marry Joan Crawford. After their divorce, Miss Crawford forever rebuffed Howard’s requests for a date. Said Joan, “I adore homosexuals, but not in my bed after midnight.”
Howard was somewhat alarmed to learn that he had quite the reputation as a bisexual around Hollywood. When he was approached by actress Madge Bellamy (who famously turned down the female lead in Ben-Hur, Ramón Novarro’s greatest triumph), she said, “I hear you’ve already had Ben-Hur (a reference to Novarro), so why not sample the actress who turned down the picture?”

Hughes formed a Hollywood film production company and scoured the town for star material. He had uncompromising taste in beauty. He didn’t care if a person was male or female – Howard just had to have whoever was the handsomest, the most beautiful. For three years Hughes maintained a sexual relationship with a young, upcoming Gary Cooper, buying him cars, clothes and other lavish gifts along the way. Cooper’s eventual replacement was a young, blond William Boyd*, later known to millions as Hopalong Cassidy.

*Bisexual actor Richard Arlen was hosting an all male nude beach party at a secluded cove on Catalina Island, and Hughes asked William Boyd to tag along with him. Somehow a photographer got close enough to snap nude photos of Hughes and Boyd, which became the talk of Hollywood. RKO, Boyd’s studio, was having apoplexy (an interesting aside is that later, in 1948, Hughes took over the reins at RKO and ran it into the ground; they were out of business ten years later). When Hughes and Ben Lyon were having an “off-the-record” weekend in Mexico, they were photographed engaging in a torrid kiss. It took thousands of dollars to buy back the negative. Pocket change for Hughes.

Howard Hughes as film director, wearing his trademark argyle socks:

Obsessed with aviation and movie making, in 1927 Hughes began shooting an epic film about fighter pilots, Hells’ Angels, that would not be completed until 1930, an astonishing circumstance at a time when the average film was completed in three or four weeks. Hughes, who made the film with $3.8 million of his own money, directed the dogfight scenes himself and performed some of the aerial stunts. Amazingly, the film went on to earn a $4 million profit and made Jean Harlow a star.

The next years were a blur of activity. By 1928 Hughes had his pilot’s license. Two Arabian Nights, a film Hughes produced, won an Academy Award in 1929. Howard and Ella, who had been separated for over a year, divorced in 1929. Hughes decided that Hell’s Angels would have to be a talking film and reshot all the scenes with dialogue, doubling the film’s cost. He was seriously injured in a plane crash while making Hell’s Angels (he did some of the stunt flying himself). Moving on, Howard founded the Hughes Aircraft Company in 1932, and  Hughes was chasing fame and fortune with unbridled zeal. He was twenty seven years old.

By the 1930s Howard learned that sharing details of his private life could get him into trouble. Soon Cary Grant (photo at right) became his only confidant, a friend to whom he could tell anything. Since Grant himself was miles deep in the closet, this was a safe policy (insiders say that Cary Grant was the one great love of Howard’s life). Hughes soon became obsessed with his own privacy, and like most things in his life, he carried it to wild extremes.

To be continued...

Howard Hughes: The Secret Life (1993) by Charles Higham
Howard Hughes: Hell’s Angel (2005) by Darwin Porter

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Howard Hughes, Part III

After the plane crash, Hughes had plastic surgery, and his looks changed considerably – and not for the better. Even so, Hughes was able to entice the 6'4" tall newcomer to Hollywood, Randolph Scott, into an affair. Turns out their fathers had been friends back in the day. When Scott was out trolling for male flesh one night in Griffith Park (a popular place for gay cruising), he propositioned a vice cop and was arrested. Hughes bailed him out and paid a $3,000 bribe to make the arrest disappear. Scott was grateful, but eventually moved on to Cary Grant, with whom he would have a long-term, volatile relationship. However, Jean Harlow claimed that Hughes had three signed photographs of Randolph Scott in his bedroom and stared at them in order to become aroused while having sex with her. During a heated argument with Billie Dove, whom Howard intended to marry, she called him an impotent bastard and a faggot – and she wasn’t kidding. Jean Harlow called him a “deaf faggot.”

Things started to go south for Howard in a big way. After the plane crash he started having debilitating migraine headaches, and his hearing loss worsened. He was having more and more frequent bouts of impotence, especially with women. He started to use cocaine, and he suffered a nervous breakdown, to boot. Once the best dressed man in Hollywood, Hughes began to appear in public in wrinkled, sloppy clothes. Hughes was also becoming involved in dealings with the mob, particularly Bugsy Siegel. Even worse, Howard turned into a scathing bigot, disdainful of Jews and blacks. A rare bright note was the enormous success of The Front Page, a film Hughes produced in 1931.

Howard was blackmailed by Billie Dove’s husband to the tune of $350,000 (Hughes paid up). By the early 1930s Hughes had blown through most of the profits of the Hughes Tool Company. He had used the company’s earnings to bankroll a string of money-losing projects in aviation and film production.

However, his taste in the handsomest men in Hollywood continued unabated: Robert Taylor, Tyrone Power, George O’Brien, Johnny Mack Brown and many, many others. When Clark Gable first arrived in Hollywood, he dropped trou for several influential men, including Billy Haines and Howard – anything to get ahead and become a star. When über-gay George Cukor was directing Gable in Gone with the Wind, he teased him about his earlier dalliances with Haines and Hughes. Gable never spoke to Cukor again while on the set, and he led a successful effort to get Cukor fired (Cukor was replaced by Victor Fleming).

Howard’s attention drifted away from making films to the field of aviation. He became more and more eccentric. For example, all he would eat was rare steak and peas (but they had to be very small peas), and he started buying his clothes from thrift stores. He became hopelessly paranoid and insanely jealous of anyone who threatened to topple him from the mountaintop. His jealousy over the feats of aviation by Charles Lindbergh manifested itself into fits of screaming and profanity. After the kidnaping of Lindbergh’s child, Hughes became obsessed with security.

And that’s where I’m going to stop. Hughes went on to design and manufacture aircraft and forever change the face of Las Vegas. However, his life from this point was a sad lapse into mental illness, self destruction and bizarre behavior, much of it too unsavory to relate. A second plane crash in 1946 left him scarred and addicted to morphine. He ran RKO Pictures into the ground, and did much the same with Trans World Airlines. He later fled to the Bahamas and Mexico to have easier access to codeine, which he personally injected into his arms. He also suffered the effects of tertiary syphilis. His legacy was that of the world’s most eccentric billionaire, and today only his medical research institute carries his banner in a positive light.

Because of his wealth and power, his homosexual proclivities were not well known to the public during his lifetime. However, enough of his employees and colleagues survived after his death in 1976 to be able to speak openly about the subject without fear of reprisal. Turns out they had plenty to talk about.

Howard Hughes: The Secret Life (1993) by Charles Higham
Howard Hughes: Hell’s Angel (2005) by Darwin Porter