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.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Prince Friedrich of Prussia

Friedrich Georg Wilhelm Christoph
Dec. 19, 1911 – Apr. 20, 1966

I'm about convinced Prussia must have been the gayest country in Europe. I've written about Frederick the Great (link to post in sidebar) and Baron von Steuben (likewise in sidebar, and we'll get back to him in a bit*), and today we have Prince Friedrich of Prussia. He was a member of the German House of Hohenzollern, which never relinquished its claims to the throne of Prussia and the German Empire after they were abolished and replaced by the Weimar Republic in 1918. Educated at Cambridge University in England, Prince Friedrich settled in Britain in his late twenties just before war broke out in 1939. He became a British citizen, living in England as George Mansfield. For a time interned in Canada, he was able to return to England. However, in the 1950s he resumed his German titles, and to this day his descendants use the surname “von Preussen” (of Prussia).

He came to a mysterious end. Two weeks after he was reported missing in 1966, Friedrich’s body was recovered from the Rhine River, and it could not be determined whether he committed suicide or died accidentally. He was 55 years old. At that time his wife, Lady Brigid Guinness (heiress to the great brewing fortune), was living openly with Major Anthony Ness, whom she married in 1967, after Friedrich's death.

Lady Guinness had cause to be living with another man. Prince Friedrich had tempestuous, painful affairs and encounters with handsome young men. He was also notoriously unstable and caused his family much suffering. Friedrich did not choose his friends wisely. He was a close friend of the infamous Sir Henry "Chips" Channon (photo at end of post), who was married to Lady Honor Guinness, the older sister of Prince Friedrich's long-suffering wife, Lady Brigid Guinness, who died in 1995. Why both these attractive, fabulously wealthy women each married a gay man is a mystery.

Chicago-born Channon also became a naturalized British citizen, and he regarded America and its citizens with disdain. He was a promiscuous homosexual who made no effort to conceal it, and his wife, Lady Honor Guinness, finally left him. His published diaries are quite a revelation of scandalous self-serving behavior, even in their expurgated form. Channon was somewhat reviled as a poseur and social climber who cruelly exploited his wife.

In 1939 Channon met the landscape designer Peter Daniel Coats (nicknamed “petticoats”), with whom he began an affair that led to Channon's divorce. Among others with whom he is known to have had affairs was the playwright Terence Rattigan, the Duke of Kent (who resided next door to Channon on Belgrave Square in London) and Prince Paul of Yugoslavia. Chips named his only son Paul, and Terence Rattigan dedicated his play, The Winslow Boy, to Channon’s son.

Well, honestly.

All the while the two Guinness sisters – young, beautiful and exceedingly rich – were providing ready cash for the fortune hunters Prince Friedrich and Sir Channon. With facts such as these, who needs fiction?

The dashing and indiscreet Chips Channon:

*Sometimes I am nearly rendered speechless by a weird coincidence. I had made a post to this blog about Baron von Steuben, the Prussian military officer who trained our fledgling nation’s ragtag troops at Valley Forge at the request of George Washington. Steuben was also an unapologetic pederast who was nevertheless honored by our nation with citizenship, titles, land grants and a lifetime pension by our grateful government (see post on Baron von Steuben in sidebar). My post included an unattributed portrait of Steuben, since it was the only image of the man available on the Internet.

Imagine my surprise when I was visiting the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, Pa., yesterday morning and entered a gallery in which the first painting I encountered was the very same portrait of Baron von Steuben I had included in my blog entry. Had I not researched von Steuben for this blog I would likely have walked right past this portrait, since I was seeking out Jamie Wyeth’s famous paintings of a pig and raven. A mother leaned down to her young son, who was admiring the von Steuben portrait, and told him that von Steuben was “the guy who straightened out our Revolutionary War troops.” Poor choice of words.

In reading the portrait’s descriptive placard I learned that the painter was Ralph Earl, the famous portraitist born in Massachusetts in 1751. Due to his “sympathies for the British,” Earl was forced to leave the country at the start of the American Revolution. Deserting his wife and two children, he traveled to England for seven years, where he married again without having been divorced. After his return to the U.S., Earl was sent to debtor's prison for failure to repay loans. He earned his freedom by painting portraits of prominent New York members of the Society for the Relief of Distressed Debtors (who knew?). Upon his release, Earl began a successful career as an itinerant portrait painter. Traveling around new England, he painted notables of the Revolutionary War and prominent citizens in their natural surroundings, many shown in regional landscapes depicting the subjects’ newly built houses and opulent furnishings.

Ralph Earl spent the last two years of his life in Bolton, Connecticut, in the home of Dr. Samuel Cooley. Earl’s death was caused by alcoholism at the age of 50. In 1935 a stone in Earl’s memory was placed in the Bolton Center Cemetery by the Connecticut Antiquary. The memorial even mentions his famous 1786 portrait of Baron von Steuben.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Cyril Collard, French Polymath

The “Découverte d’une oeuvre” series was launched by the Musée d’Orsay in Paris in the late 1980s in an effort to make its holdings known to those who would otherwise not likely visit the museum. They chose the medium of television and proposed 5-minute audiovisual interpretations of several of its paintings, each produced by a team made up of a choreographer, a composer and a director. Among the first works was Les raboteurs (The Floor Scrapers, 1988; 7 minutes, clip at end of post) directed by Cyril Collard (1957-1993), from the painting of the same title by Gustave Caillebotte (1875, shown above). The film was a choreography about the floor scrapers, their movements and sounds amid an all-pervasive emptiness. The idea was fully rooted in what was known as video dance: the dancers danced and the camera with them, while at different moments details of the painting appeared.

Openly bisexual Collard abandoned his studies in mathematics and physics and moved to Puerto Rico, where he began to write and develop other interests such as film and video production. He was a singer, actor, director, author, composer and film maker. He formed CYR, a music group that produced a few albums, and worked as an assistant director on several of Maurice Pialat's films. Collard shot documentaries for television and produced video clips.

His second novel, the powerful “Les nuits fauves(Savage Nights, 1989), thoroughly examined his bisexuality and his defiant, unrealistic and irresponsible perception and handling of his HIV-positive status. The movie version was released in 1992 with Collard himself playing the protagonist, a hedonistic and self-important film maker with an insatiable sexual appetite who insists on living his prurient lifestyle to the absolute hilt despite his HIV status, with tragic consequences. This bleak, uncompromising piece both enraptured and enraged the French audience. Critics applauded his braveness and controversial approach to such a taboo subject. With Savage Nights, Collard became the first artist ever to be nominated for the three top categories of the French Cesar Awards – Best Film, Best Director and Best First Film. Tragically, Collard died at age 35 from AIDS, just three days before the César awards ceremony.

The painting “Les raboteurs de parquet” (1875) is typical of Gustave Caillebotte's taste for unusual perspectives and scenes from modern life, including so humble an occupation as floor scraping. The 40" x 57" oil on canvas is on permanent display at the Musee d'Orsay in Paris.

Here is Collard's video interpretation of the painting:

Friday, December 23, 2011

John Medeiros, gay apologist

An Open Apology to Amy Koch
on behalf of all gay and lesbian Minnesotans

Dear Ms. Koch,

On behalf of all gays and lesbians living in Minnesota, I would like to wholeheartedly apologize for our community's successful efforts to threaten your traditional marriage. We are ashamed of ourselves for causing you to have what the media refers to as an "illicit affair" with your staffer, and we also extend our deepest apologies to him and to his wife. These recent events have made it quite clear that our gay and lesbian tactics have gone too far, affecting even the most respectful of our society.

We apologize that our selfish requests to marry those we love has cheapened and degraded traditional marriage so much that we caused you to stray from your own holy union for something more cheap and tawdry. And we are doubly remorseful in knowing that many will see this as a form of sexual harassment of a subordinate.

It is now clear to us that if we were not so self-focused and myopic, we would have been able to see that the time you wasted diligently writing legislation that would forever seal the definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman, could have been more usefully spent reshaping the legal definition of "adultery."

Forgive us. As you know, we are not church-going people, so we are unable to fully appreciate that "gay marriage" is incompatible with Christian values, despite the fact that those values carry a biblical tradition of adultery such as yours. We applaud you for keeping that tradition going.

And finally, shame on us for thinking that marriage is a private affair, and that our marriage would have little impact on anyone's family. We now see that marriage is more than that. It is an agreement with society. We should listen to the Minnesota Family Council when it tells us that marriage is about being public, which explains why marriages are public ceremonies. Never did we realize that it is exactly because of this societal agreement that the entire world is looking at you in shame and disappointment instead of minding its own business.

From the bottom of our hearts, we ask that you please accept our apology.

Thank you.
John Medeiros
Minneapolis MN

John Medeiros, a gay writer working in Minneapolis, Minnesota, is curator of Queer Voices: a GLBT reading series for queer writers. Note: John sent me an E-mail stating that his photograph and bio I had placed on this blog were copyrighted, so I subsequently removed them.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Bi-curious Essayist Christopher Hitchens

British-born author, literary critic and journalist Christopher Hitchens (62) died yesterday from pneumonia, a complication of oesophageal cancer. He was being treated at a Texas hospital.

Vanity Fair magazine, which announced his death, said there would never be another like Christopher. Editor Graydon Carter described the writer as someone of ferocious intellect, who was as vibrant on the page as he was at the bar. Hitchens fostered a reputation as a cynical contrarian.

Born in 1949, he began his career as a journalist in Britain in the 1970s and later moved to New York, becoming contributing editor to Vanity Fair in 1992. Radicalized by the 1960s, Hitchens was often arrested at political rallies and was kicked out of the Labour Party over his opposition to the Vietnam War. He became a correspondent for the Socialist Workers Party's International Socialism magazine.

In later life he moved away from the left. Following the September 11 attacks he argued with Noam Chomsky and others who suggested that US foreign policy had helped cause the tragedy. He supported the Iraq War and backed George W. Bush for re-election in 2004. No one was immune to his scathing (but brilliantly written) remarks: Bill Clinton was called a cynical, self-seeking ambitious thug, Henry Kissinger a war criminal and Mother Teresa a fraudulent fanatic.

The publication of his 2007 book God Is Not Great made him a major celebrity in his adopted homeland of the United States, and he happily took on the role of the country's best-known atheist. Hitchens was everything a great essayist should be: infuriating, brilliant, highly provocative and yet intensely serious.

Although twice married and the father of children, Hitchins commented openly about his bisexual past, in particular the homosexual activity of his student years. Leaked snippets from his memoir, to be published next month:

"Most boys decided quite early on that, since their penises would evidently give them no rest at all, they would repay the favor by giving their penises no respite in return. It was quite possible to arrange a vigorous session of mutual relief without a word being spoken, even without eye contact.

I didn’t lack for partners when it came to the everyday business of sheer physical relief.

Were poems exchanged? Were there white-hot and snatched kisses? Did we sometimes pine for the holidays to end, so that (unlike everybody else) we actually yearned to be back at school? Yes, yes, and yes.

Every now and then, at Oxford, even though I was by then fixed on the pursuit of young women, a mild and enjoyable relapse would occur, and I suppose that I can ‘claim’ this of two young men who later became members of Margaret Thatcher’s government."

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Nicholas Rodriguez

34-year-old openly gay actor Nicholas Rodriguez is one of the stars (Dan) of the web series Then We Got Help, and made his mark in the role of Nick on ABC’s One Life to Live in 2009. His soap opera character came between Kyle and Oliver in daytime TV’s first gay love triangle. All of the gay characters were written out of the show in the early months of 2010, but the storyline touched many people (clip at end of post). Rodriguez turned a four episode hire into a seven month stint.

Nicholas told MetroWeekly last year: ”In New York I had this one kid come to me and say, ‘I watched you propose to that boy with my grandma.’ This gay, 13 year-old boy was so excited that he got to see a man propose to another man. It was incredible.”

Rodriguez, the son of a football coach, is a talented singer, actor and entertainer who hails from Austin, Texas. The 6'1" Latino tenor made his Broadway debut as the King of the Apes in Tarzan and starred in a Washington DC production of The Light in the Piazza. He also starred as Curly (at left) in the musical Oklahoma!, a multiracial revival that became the best selling show in the history of Washington DC’s Arena Stage. Regarding his own ethnicity, Nicholas says, “My father's Mexican-American, and my mom's Cherokee and Welsh.”

Rodriguez’s partner of eight years is director Matt Lenz. “We first met when he directed me as Ramon in Love! Valor! Compassion! at the Zach Scott Theatre in Austin, Texas. He's incredibly talented and obviously good-looking. Matt's a really caring, funny person.

Matt Lenz: Nicholas is special. He's so grounded. He dreams, but he's also a realist. It's been thrilling to see him grow into a leading man. He plays Curly with such a masculine vulnerability. I'm so proud of him. Someone asked me, "What are you doing for Thanksgiving?" I said, "I'm happily playing the role of Mrs. Rodriguez for a few days." And Nicholas is a great cook. He makes fantastic chicken enchiladas. I'm spoiled. I found a sexy guy who also cooks.

Nicholas Rodriguez: And Matt is the master of the grill. His steaks always taste good. For me, I love cooking, because it's similar to acting and singing. You have a recipe or a way to do it, but you can embellish it and get creative. I love the Food Network, and I'm addicted to Top Chef. After the D.C. stint, I'm taking a class at the Institute of Culinary Education.

Regarding his role as Nick Chavez on One Life to Live: “Mindblowing. Teenagers would find me on Facebook and say, 'I never saw a gay person on TV I could relate to, until you.' I got a letter from a grown man in Mississippi who lives there in a small town that he finds soulless; he watched clips from One Life to Live because he couldn't be as open as he'd like to be. It's incredible that people identified with it. Before I did One Life to Live, I always told people that, 'Yeah, I'm openly gay, but you won't find me at the front of the parade.' But now that I've played a gay activist and seen people's responses, I know it doesn't behoove any of us to sit at the back of the bus. Change can happen, but only if we stand up for it. Because of Nick Chavez, I've realized that my voice is important.

A scene from One Life to Live:

In his review of Oklahoma!, Patrick Foillard of the Washington Blade wrote: “Rodriguez again destroys the fallacy that gay actors cannot credibly play straight romantic leads. The chemistry between him and Gamble is palpable.” A clip from a promotion interview during the Arena Stage production of Oklahoma!, for which Rodriguez won a Helen Hayes award:

Monday, December 12, 2011

Stephen Daldry

English-born film director Stephen Daldry (b. 1961) has had male lovers, he's had female lovers. He's not keen to be called bisexual, but he decided to take the path of convention by marrying New Yorker Lucy Sexton in 2001 – even though he does not call himself straight, either. Confused? Me too. Daldry and Sexton had a daughter in 2003. His 13-year relationship with male stage designer Ian MacNeil foundered a year before his marriage, when Dalton was named to Britain’s Pink List of most influential gay men.

Of course, what he does is his own business. What gay men do in their private lives no longer seems to matter so much in a wider social context, but I find it curious that he bristles at the “bisexual” label. WTF? Daldry himself has addressed his unorthodox lifestyle, saying: “I refuse to be boxed into the idea that 'oh no, I can't have kids because I'm gay.' I can have kids if I'm gay. And I can also get married and have a fantastic life." Lucy Sexton was a long-term friend before their marriage.

So there you have it.

What is not confusing about Daldry is his talent. He had a long and successful career directing stage plays before his first film, Billy Elliott, appeared in 2000. He is the only person to receive best director nominations for his first three movies. Billy Elliott was followed by The Hours (2002), The Reader (2008) and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011).

Daldry and his family make their home in NYC’s meatpacking district. 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

John Barrowman

Entertainer/actor John Barrowman was born to be on the stage. He's a dual citizen of the US and Great Britain, born in 1967 in Scotland but moving with his family to Illinois when he was eight years old. He relocated to San Diego to study performing arts at the United States International University, and as part of an exchange program, he returned to the United Kingdom in 1989 to study Shakespeare for six months. Because of his bi-national background, he alternately speaks with an American and Scottish (with his parents) accent.

Barrowman has scaled the heights of television and stage on both sides of the Atlantic, while forging a successful singing and entertainment career. As well, he has authored two memoirs. Barrowman is hugely popular in Great Britain.

Perhaps his highest public profile comes from his role as Jack Harkness in Doctor Who and its spinoff, Torchwood, in which he plays a lead bisexual character (pan-sexual might be more apt; he has sexual relations with men, women and aliens alike). These two interrelated television shows have aired from 2005 to the present. Torchwood is a BBC science fiction series about a team of alien hunters. The fourth season was aired during the summer of 2011 on the Starz network.

Here is a clip from Season 1: Episode 12 (aired January 2007)
Jack (Barrowman) travels back in time to 1941 and meets his namesake, an American Army Captain named Jack Harkness (in military uniform), the man whose identity he assumed after his death. The song is the 1940 standard, A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square, sung by Melissa Moore.

Barrowman's partner since 1993 has been Scott Gill. They became civil partners in 2006 and have homes in Cardiff (Wales) and in London.

In a recently published memoir, Barrowman revealed that when he was just beginning his acting career, management sent a gay producer to talk to him. The producer told Barrowman that he should try to pretend to be heterosexual in order to be successful. Barrowman was offended by the incident, and it made him more aware of the importance of his role as a gay public figure: "One of my explicit missions as an entertainer is to work to create a world where no one will ever make a statement like this producer did to me to anyone who's gay.” He has worked tirelessly as an activist for LGBT rights. In June 2010, Barrowman met with England’s Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron as a representative of the LGBT community.

According to his memoir, when the part of Will in Will & Grace came down to a decision between him and Eric McCormack, the producers decided to go with Eric, because John was too "straight-acting." John, who is openly gay, lost the role of a gay character to a straight actor. Nonetheless, it has been no detriment to Barrowman's career.

Here’s a clip of Mr. Barrowman showing his skills as a singer (he has several best-selling CDs as a vocalist). This is a television performance of John singing Maria from West Side Story.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Belgium Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo

Belgium held a national election last summer, but it was only this week that the European debt crisis forced the formation of a coalition government. Leading that coalition come Monday will be the quietly gay head of the Socialist Party, Elio Di Rupo.

The real problem Di Rupo will face is not that he’s gay, but that he speaks very poor Dutch. Mr. Di Rupo, the son of an Italian immigrant, is committed to cutting 11.3 billion euros from the national budget. He has also promised to improve his spoken Dutch, which is glaringly weak in a country where officials and politicians routinely are fluent in both of the country’s main languages. Mr. Di Rupo’s English is also weak.

“If you’re looking for public support for a government, it may be a problem when the leader of that government has difficulty speaking the language of the majority,” said Yves Leterme, the caretaker prime minister who will yield to Mr. Di Rupo (no sour grapes intended, I'm sure).

At 60, Di Rupo will be Belgium's first French-speaking prime minister in 30 years, a rare center-left voice in a European Union that has veered right, and one of few out gay world leaders. He's also the first Socialist to take the premiership in Belgium since 1974. But the fact that he speaks poor Dutch is a serious problem in a country where language is so important and so fiercely protected that, in areas of Dutch-speaking Flanders, town council meetings can find their decisions annulled if anyone is heard to utter a word of French.