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, February 29, 2012

Paulo Szot

Opera singer Paulo Szot (b. 1969) made his Broadway debut as Emile de Becque in the recent Lincoln Center Theatre revival of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic musical South Pacific (see photo below). He earned a Tony award for Best Actor in a Musical for his performance, and his name came to the forefront of operatic and Broadway baritones as a result of that career-changing role, which he played from April 2008 through August, 2010. Since that time he made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera and returns there next month to perform in Massenet’s Manon.

The baritone’s background is Polish-Brazilian. Both his parents were born in Poland, and that’s how he landed a last name beginning with “SZ” (by the way his name is pronounced "shawt") They emigrating to Brazil during WW II, so Portuguese was his first language. He lived in Poland for many years after he turned 18, so he considers himself both Polish and Brazilian. Szot studied voice at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland, and began a singing career in 1990.

Szot originally trained to be a ballet dancer, but was never on stage professionally, because he injured his knee while training and had to quit, thus opening the door to a career in music. In his early years he had learned to play piano and violin. Fast forward to 2010, and the world was delivered of an opera-turned-Broadway singer who seems the physical reincarnation of Errol Flynn, down to the pencil moustache.

Szot is openly gay, but came out in a quiet fashion. His sexual orientation was simply added to his Internet biography after an inquiry was made of his management. Szot has been in a long-term relationship, but does not mention his partner’s name. He simply states that his lover is “in the business,” and that he is not from the United States. Szot shares a house he built on the edge of the Brazilian rainforest with his partner and 4 Weimaraners. When he's on the road (which is most of the time), he talks with his dogs via Skype.

This Nearly Was Mine (South Pacific)

Of his performance in South Pacific, Ben Brantley of the New York Times said the following: "When he delivers 'Some Enchanted Evening' or 'This Nearly Was Mine,' it's not as a swoon-making blockbuster (though of course it is!), but as a measured and honest consideration of love."

The Nose (Shostakovich)

Paulo Szot made his Metropolitan Opera debut in the 2010 production of The Nose, the first ever staging of this opera by the Met. The unlikely crowd-pleaser, based on a story by Nikolai Gogol, is a fantasy about a Russian bureaucrat who wakes up to find his nose missing. When he finally tracks down the runaway facial feature, it's become a high-ranking official and celebrity. I’m not making this up.

Dmitri Shostakovich was only 22 when he wrote the angular, dissonant, percussion heavy score, but when the opera was first produced in Leningrad in 1930, the satiric tone ran afoul of Stalin's repressive government, and it was banned in the Soviet Union until 1974.

In an interview Szot related, “I was extremely nervous my first time on the stage, because it’s the Metropolitan Opera. As a first-time ever Brazilian male singer there, I had my whole country on my back, representing a new generation, so it was a heavy thing for me.”

In 2011 Szot returned to the Met to sing Escamillo (Carmen), and next month (March 26) he returns to the Metropolitan Opera in the role of Lescaut in Jules Massenet's Manon. It is interesting that David Pittsinger, who alternated the role of Emile de Becque with Szot in Lincoln Center’s South Pacific (so that Szot could fulfill previously secured opera commitments), will also be in the cast of Manon at the Met. I was fortunate to see South Pacific with both Szot in New York and Pittsinger (a gracious, talented straight man) at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, in the national touring company of the musical.

When the show’s run was extended on Broadway, Szot had to cancel performances in three opera productions in Brazil. He was amazed that he was cast in South Pacific in the first place, which came about when he answered a casting call from Lincoln Center. They were looking for an opera singer, and Szot was in the U.S. performing a Mozart opera in Boston at the time.

“First of all, I didn't think they would give me the role. I was just doing one of the many auditions I do whenever I am in town. I didn't think it would be very probable to hire a Brazilian man to do a French role in the United States on Broadway, you know?”

Szot photographed holding his Tony award next to presenter Liza Minelli (at left).

There are parallels to Ezio Pinza’s creating the role of Emile de Becque in 1949, when South Pacific first opened on Broadway. Pinza was also an opera star who crossed over to Broadway, but Pinza had retired from the Metropolitan Opera a year earlier. Szot has done the reverse – retiring from a Broadway production to make his debut at the Met. We can hope that Szot continues simultaneous careers on Broadway and in the world’s great opera houses.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Power Couple Fred Hochberg & Thomas Healy

Chair of the U.S. Export-Import Bank Fred Hochberg and partner Thomas Healy, a poet and public servant, share an art-filled apartment on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. Hochberg (b. 1951), one of the highest ranking business leaders in the Obama Administration, is heir to the Lillian Vernon mail order business, a company he began managing for his mother, transforming it into an international publicly traded direct marketing corporation described by Forbes as “one of the great success stories of American entrepreneurship.” He was appointed deputy administrator for the Small Business Administration during the Clinton presidency. President Obama nominated Hochberg to be chairman and president of Ex-Im Bank in 2009, and the U.S. Senate confirmed his nomination by unanimous consent. Hochberg has dedicated himself to community service and philanthropic involvement in civil rights, education and the arts. He served as chair of the Human Rights Campaign, and Out Magazine ranked him the 15th most powerful gay person in America.

Hochberg has been active in Democratic politics. In 2004 he was a delegate from New York to the Democratic National Convention. He raised $100,000 for John Kerry’s 2004 presidential run and did the same for Hillary Clinton during her campaign for the presidential nomination in 2008. He later gathered a similar amount for Obama after he won the Democratic nomination. After the November 2008 election, Hochberg was selected to serve on Obama’s transition team, tasked with overseeing transition at the Small Business Administration as co-Lead of the SBA Review Team. He has served on the Board of the Democratic National Committee and is one of the most senior openly gay members of the Obama Administration. As a couple, Hochberg and Healy (below) attended Obama’s first state dinner at the White House in 2009, one of three out gay male couples invited.

Tom Healy (b. 1961) is a polymath – a poet, public servant and art gallery owner; he was one of the first to open a gallery in Chelsea. Healy also directs arts programs at Columbia University. In 2011 President Obama appointed him to the Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board, which later elected him to serve as chairman. Under President Bill Clinton, Healy was a member of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS. Healy has played an active role in the New York City arts scene; after the September 11 attacks he served as president of the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, where he led rebuilding efforts for the downtown arts community. In 2006, Mayor Michael Bloomberg awarded him the New York City Arts Award, the city's most prestigious award for achievement in the arts.

Healy took a respite from the art gallery world to become a poet. His first collection of poems, What the Right Hand Knows, was published in 2009 to great acclaim. Healy frequently hosts Wilde Boys, a roving salon for gay poets, at his Fifth Avenue residence. Trivia: Healy grew up on a farm and flies airplanes.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Virgil Fox

A few decades ago, if you asked people on the street to name famous concert organists, they could tick off maybe three: J.S. Bach, E. Power Biggs and Virgil Fox (1912-1980) These days, younger people have likely never heard of the latter two, but those who were attending organ concerts in the 1950s-60s-70s will never forget Virgil Fox. I was just starting to study classical pipe organ when Fox’s career was ending, but his legacy endures decades after his death.

In addition to having prodigious talent and technique, Fox was an outrageous showman who alienated purists right and left – and he loved every minute of it. Virgil wore a red satin lined cape and a beret while performing, and he drove a pink Cadillac. The heels of his organ shoes were embellished with rhinestones. He insisted on being visible to his audiences (tough, if not impossible in most churches back in those days). He was also temperamental and demanding – organ tuners dreaded working for him.

Virgil Fox was the Liberace of the pipe organ, and the comparison is apt, because both were attacked for having lurid taste – in clothes, repertoire, personal flamboyance and performance practice. Fox was in-your-face gay and didn’t care who knew it, and his over-the-top, camp personal style was often at odds with the staid church where he performed. It was his practice to speak to the audience from the stage, discussing the music and thus bringing a new dimension to recitals. All that said, few people were neutral about Virgil Fox. You either loved him or hated him. His arch rival was English-born E. Power Biggs, a conservative historically correct performer who was the antithesis of Fox’s personal and musical style. Both were known for their performances of music by J.S. Bach, yet their interpretations were light years apart.

From 1946-1965, Fox was organist at Riverside Church in New York City, where he presided over one of the largest pipe organs in the world. His lover, Richard Weagly, was the Choir Director, and the acrimonious end of their relationship was played out in front of everyone. Worship at Riverside Church was often merely an accessory to the star of the show, which was Virgil’s organ playing, especially his flamboyant hymn interpretations. His fans showed up in droves on Sunday mornings. In the mid 1960s, however, Fox was asked to resign from his job at Riverside, because he had gotten “too big” for the church.

Virgil then took the pipe organ outside the church, going on countless tours with an electronic organ he called Black Beauty, playing recitals in concert halls, schools and on television, replete with light shows, smoke machines and mirrors. No lie. His shows at the Fillmore East, a NYC rock concert venue, were legendary. It was not uncommon for 2,000-3,000 people to show up for his live performances, and often hundreds were turned away. I kid you not.

Fox loved his audiences and would spend hours greeting his fans after every performance. He called everyone “honey” – men and women alike – and loved giving autographs. While seated at the organ console he once greeted a staid Riverside Church dignitary, “How good to see you, Lawrence, honey." The shocked and offended man replied, “I'm not your honey, and kindly never address me that way again.” Fox was not the least bit intimidated.

His records sold like hot cakes, and Capitol signed him to a lucrative six-album deal (a pipe organist!). Sixty recordings were to follow, and many of them are still available as reissues. Fox earned enough from concertizing to buy a 26-room mansion in Englewood, N.J., complete with swimming pool and – you guessed it – an organ whose pipes filled the attic, sun porch and basement. When a much younger lover, David, moved in, alienating many of Fox’s friends, fans and managers, Fox made no apologies. After receiving an honorary doctorate from Bucknell University, Virgil insisted on being called Dr. Fox, claiming that he got better service from hotels and airlines.

I first heard Fox in the late 1970s, when he played an electronic organ at Wolf Trap (outside Washington, DC) to an audience of more than 6,000. In a concert at the Kennedy Center in 1978, I witnessed his pipe organ and harpsichord recital of French music played in alphabetical order, arranged by key: from A-flat major on down to G-minor; he called it “A Gallic Gamut.” Some of the overflow audience was seated on the stage.

Fox spent his last months at his estate in Palm Beach, FL, Casa Lagomar, where he died of prostate cancer in October, 1980. He was 68 years old. Virgil had performed in public just six weeks before his death, and the New York Times obituary estimated that he had performed before more than six million fans during his 50-year career.

Perpetuum Mobile for Pedals Alone (Middelschulte): the video quality is crap, but this gives an accurate representation of Virgil’s technical mastery and flamboyant style. The composer, a brilliant German organist who lived most of his life in Chicago, was Virgil’s teacher. Fox frequently played this show-stopper as an encore.

Toccata (final mvt.) from Symphonie Concertante by Belgian composer Joseph Jongen. The last 40 seconds of this clip are thrilling. Fox often performed his own organ solo transcription of this movement at recitals.

A one-man symphony orchestra, Fox was known for his transcriptions of symphonic music for solo organ. Here he performers Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 on the huge Wanamaker organ inside Philadelphia’s downtown Macy’s department store.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Judge White Rules DOMA Unconstitutional

I can make no assumptions about the sexual orientation of this man, but his judicial ruling certainly has influence on our lives as gay and bisexual men, so I'm making him the second ever "honorary" subject of this blog. This federal judge (right) has found unconstitutional a key part of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the federal law which forbids providing federal government benefits to same-sex spouses.

U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey White (Northern California), appointed to the bench in 2002 by President George W. Bush (!), issued a ruling yesterday afternoon finding the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional in a case involving law clerk Karen Golinski's request for benefits for her female spouse. Judge White said the stated goals of DOMA, passed in 1996 and signed by President Bill Clinton, could not pass muster under a so-called "heightened scrutiny" test or even a lower "rational basis" threshold.

“The imposition of subjective moral beliefs of a majority upon a minority cannot provide a justification for this legislation. The obligation of the Court is to define the liberty of all, not to mandate our own moral code,” White wrote. "Tradition alone, however, cannot form an adequate justification for a law. ... The ‘ancient lineage’ of a classification does not render it legitimate .... Instead, the government must have an interest separate and apart from the fact of tradition itself."

Ms. Golinski is a married lesbian who wishes to put her wife on the health plan she gets through her employer, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. But, by declaring that federal law only recognizes opposite sex marriages, DOMA Section 3 prevents her from doing this, something that every heterosexual married federal employee is allowed to do. You may also recall that President Obama refused to defend DOMA in this case, ceding that role to Republicans in the House.

Another solid victory for equality! So pause for a moment to get up and dance around your desk. Marriage equality has gained a national legislative momentum that I hope is irreversible. My neighboring state of Maryland is within days of becoming the eighth state to allow same sex marriage, so stay tuned.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Ferdinand I of Bulgaria

Prince Ferdinand of Bulgaria was a tough sell. His mother, the daughter of a French king, had set him up with a suitable prospect for a wife, in this instance an Austrian Arch-Duchess. Doing as he was told, Ferdinand declared his love and proposed marriage while seated on a park bench. The Arch-Duchess could see through the fog of insincerity and nearly laughed in Ferdinand’s face. This effeminate, preening, sybaritic, self absorbed monarch in resplendent clothes, jacket adorned with bejeweled stickpins, could be interested in only one thing – improvement of his status as a European Prince. She rightly guessed that, for romantic interest, his attentions were set on young men, and not a woman, Arch-Duchess or otherwise. Perhaps it was the painted fingernails that gave it away. Or the custom made fine chamois leather gloves he wore – indoors. At any rate, Ferdinand struck out. Big time.

Although Ferdinand I (1861-1948) eventually entered into a marriage of convenience with a rich Italian princess (Maria Louisa of Bourbon-Parma, who bore him four children), his penchant for young men was well-known throughout his life. Ferdinand's regular holidays on the Italian island of Capri, then a famous haunt for wealthy gay men, were common knowledge in royal courts throughout Europe.

Ferdinand was born in the opulent Palais Coburg* (photos at end of post) in Vienna, Austria, as the Duke of Saxony. He later became Prince of the Koháry (Hungarian) branch of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, a ruling house dynasty of central Europe. You may recall that Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom, was born into this family. Ferdinand, from an immensely wealthy and well-connected noble heritage, was the grandson of King Louis Philippe I of France, the nephew of Ferdinand II of Portugal, cousin of both Queen Victoria and Leopold II of Belgium and second cousin of King Edward VII of Britain – not to mention being the nephew of Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria.

Ferdinand was given a military upbringing, but showed no aptitude for it. He was much more literary, interested in jewels, clothes and, indeed, those young blond men. Queen Victoria, his most prominent relative, greeted his 1887 accession as Prince Regent of Bulgaria with disbelief. She stated to her Prime Minister, “He is totally unfit, delicate, eccentric and effeminate ... he should be stopped at once.”

Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria was no fan, either. When Bulgaria and Russia affected a reconciliation in 1896, Ferdinand’s infant son Boris was converted from Roman Catholicism to Eastern Orthodox Christianity, the dominant religion in Bulgaria and Russia. In fact, the Bulgarian constitution required it (not to mention that Russian Tsar Nicholas II was the godfather of Boris). Franz Joseph was outraged and successfully petitioned the Pope to excommunicate Ferdinand. Ferdinand's wife, who was not consulted in the matter, was so horrified that she left Bulgaria and returned to her father in Italy, but she got no sympathy there, either. Her father ordered her to return to Bulgaria to her loveless marriage and ever domineering mother-in-law, who detested her.

Well, there you have it. One big happy family.

Sofia’s population was a paltry 11,649 at the time it was taken by Russian forces during the Russo-Turkish War (1877-1878). Sofia was declared the capital of an autonomous Principality of Bulgaria in 1879, and by the time Ferdinand arrived eight years later, the population had increased to nearly 19,000. Things were tough in Bulgaria in 1886. Twenty-nine year old Alexander I of Battenberg, the first non-Ottoman ruler of the newly autonomous state, had just been forced to abdicate at gunpoint in Sofia and was exiled to Austria. When the Bulgarian delegation set out to find a new leader for their country, it was no easy task. Their country was young, poor and stunted by difficult if not impossible political complications. They courted Ferdinand mostly because he was from a well-connected ruling house that would mean, if he were put on the throne, their fledgling nation would be tied to nearly every crown dynasty of Europe – plus he was available.

Ferdinand’s imagination started spinning out of control as he dreamed of a triumphal entry onto Bulgarian soil dressed as a dashing monarch. This idea was sparked by the arrival of a splendid military uniform replete with medals, epaulets, sashes and effusive gold trim, delivered to Ferdinand by the Bulgarian delegation in Vienna, playing deftly to Ferdinand’s lifelong bent for ostentation, pomp and show. The guy loved his clothes.

Bear in mind that Ferdinand was not the first choice as Prince Regent of Bulgaria. Not even close. He was a rather effeminate 25-year-old bachelor who obsessed over fashion, jewelry and flowers (violets were his favorites) – with no experience as a soldier, ruler or diplomat. However, every other European prince, duke, and assorted noble who was approached wanted no part of their political intrigues and turned it down, even the neighboring King of Romania. Ferdinand mulled it over and stalled, awaiting the approval of Europe’s great powers, but the impatient Bulgarian National Assembly went ahead and elected him in absentia – and Ferdinand ultimately accepted their call. Bulgaria had its giant neighbor Russia breathing down its neck and needed a man on its vacant throne post haste. As it played out, Central Europe would never be the same.

Ferdinand's handsome eldest son Boris (right), who would eventually succeed him at age twenty-four, as Tsar Boris III of Bulgaria.

To the amazement of his initial detractors, Ferdinand made a success of his reign until the political complexities leading up to WWI. Ferdinand ruled over Bulgaria for 33 years (1887-1918), first as Prince Regent, then as Tsar, after Bulgaria secured its complete independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1908. He re-established the royal dynasty of Bulgaria with legitimacy, since he could trace his ancestry back to medieval rulers of Bulgaria, who used the term Tsar instead of King. Thus Ferdinand's son Boris became the first Bulgarian monarch born on Bulgarian soil in a thousand years. On October 5, 1908, Ferdinand declared Bulgaria's independence while proclaiming himself Tsar (see above photo taken on proclamation day). He then went on a building spree, ordering the construction of many prominent and architecturally distinguished buildings still seen in Sofia today.

His ambitious and very rich mother, Princess Clementine of Bourbon-Orléans, was both the daughter of a king (Louis Philippe of France) and the mother of one. She set about making over the rather tatty nation her son was ruling. She built hospitals, orphanages, and the like as proof of filial affection. For her son’s birthday, she built a railway line connecting Bulgaria to the rest of Europe. She was a force of nature who completely dominated her husband and children. Ferdinand was her favorite son, and she habitually spoiled him rotten.

During Ferdinand's state visit to Paris in 1910, his first as Tsar of Bulgaria, the Parisians were effusive in their welcome. The president, prime minister and other leaders greeted the arrival of his train with a royal gun salute and loud cheers from the crowds lining the route from the station to his quarters at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where his apartment was furnished for the occasion with items from the palaces of the former French kings, notably Louis XIV and Louis XV. Every item in his bedroom had belonged to his grandfather, King Louis Philippe, including a vase with the portrait of his mother as young Princess Clémentine. At a speech in Ferdinand's honor at the Hôtel de Ville (city hall), the royal connection was illuminated by the words, "While we bow respectfully before the Tsar of Bulgaria, we also honor in his person the gallant son of our beloved France." Ferdinand swooned. When he drove through the grand boulevards of Paris, enthusiastic crowds cheered, "Long live the King!" It almost seemed as if the monarchy had been restored to France.

Ferdinand, however, turned out to be a genius at politics, playing the Great Powers against each other for almost 20 years, earning him the moniker “Foxy Ferdinand”. At the same time, he played arbiter to his country’s parliament and essentially did as he pleased, despite being merely a constitutional monarch. He even managed to gay up negotiations in the years prior to the First World War. As he expertly courted both major blocs, each of them included in their delegations a strapping young blond chauffeur who would take the Prince out for a drive into the woods between all these tiresome negotiations. Similarly, they invariably engaged their youngest, handsomest representative when they were seeking favors or concessions from Ferdinand. Worked like a charm.

In Proust's great novel A la Recherche du Temps Perdu, the author incorporated his impressions of Ferdinand during the time of the Tsar's triumph in Paris. When a duchess was asked by Ferdinand if she was ever jealous, she replied, "Yes, sir, of your bracelets." In the same book it is explained that the turnaround in relations between arch enemies Kaiser Willem and Tsar Ferdinand to forging an alliance in WW I was due to the fact that they shared strong homosexual* proclivities.

*In 1895 a newspaper interview given by the embittered former Prime Minister, Stefan Stambolov (who had worked to place Ferdinand on the Bulgarian throne), created a nine-day scandal across Europe, when Stambolov focused on his personal witness of Ferdinand’s homosexual activity. Ferdinand, who considered Stambolov an obstacle to his authority, had forced Stambolov’s resignation in 1894, and Stambolov's “interview” with the press the following year was blatant retribution. However, Stambolov was assassinated in a brutal street assault in Sofia shortly after the interview appeared in print. Hmmm....

Ferdinand’s first missteps emerged when he championed the 1912 formation of the Balkan League, consisting of Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece and Montenegro, with a goal of dismembering Turkey. Thus the First Balkan War of 1912 came about. Despite finishing up on the winning side, Ferdinand's territorial ambitions were stunted when his allies could not agree on sharing the Turkish spoils in Bulgaria’s favor. Thus an alliance was formed by Greece and Serbia against Bulgaria, and later Turkey and Romania joined them. From this atmosphere the Second Balkan War arose in 1913, with disastrous results for Bulgaria. Ferdinand’s people suffered a ruinous humiliation. Worse, when a young Bosnian Serb assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914 as payback for Austria’s annexation of Bosnia six years earlier, the stage was set for WWI.

Bulgaria tried to maintain neutrality but ended up a member of the Central Powers, consisting of members of the Austria-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires and Germany. In 1915 Bulgaria declared war on Serbia; days later the U.K., Montenegro, France, Italy and Russia declared war on Bulgaria. Unfortunately, this put Bulgaria on the losing side of the war. WWI shattered the monarchies of the Central Powers, overthrowing Kaisers, Emperors and Sultans alike. When it was all over, only one throne was left standing – and to preserve it Ferdinand abdicated to his 24-year-old son, who became empowered as Tsar Boris III of Bulgaria on October 3, 1918.

Fortunately, Ferdinand had other pursuits to fall back on. A true polymath,  he distinguished himself as an author, botanist, entomologist and philatelist – and a world class homosexual philanderer. But we need to back up a bit. When his first wife  died giving birth to their fourth child, Ferdinand's indomitable mother stepped in to raise the children. After his mother died, to satisfy dynastic obligations and to provide his children with another mother figure, Ferdinand married Eleonore Caroline Gasparine Louise (in photo at right), an East German Princess, on  February 28, 1908. It was another marriage of convenience, and she knew what sort of relationship she was getting into. Most assume the marriage was never consummated. Ferdinand even demanded separate bedrooms for himself and Eleonore during their honeymoon as guests of King Carol I of Romania. It was no surprise that Eleonore remained neglected by Ferdinand throughout their marriage.

Ferdinand was ever the master of ostentation and self promotion. Addicted to luxury motorcars, he ordered a Mercedes that took the factory three years to build. Known as the Royal Mercedes, it boasted an interior of rosewood and mahogany set with inlaid floral designs of ivory and gold. This Mercedes was the first car ever built with an ashtray, which Ferdinand had requested, and it was considered the most expensive automobile ever built at the time. Note the custom radiator cap fashioned in the shape of his Bulgarian royal crown.

Ferdinand was known for his pugnacious behavior. When visiting German Emperor Wilhelm II, his second cousin, in 1909, Ferdinand was leaning out the window of the palace in Potsdam when the Emperor came up behind him and slapped him on the bottom. Ferdinand demanded an apology, and the Emperor complied; however, Ferdinand exacted revenge by awarding a valuable arms contract he had intended to give to the Krupp's factory in Germany to a French arms manufacturer instead. Industrialist Friedrich "Fritz" Krupp had often crossed paths with Ferdinand on the isle of Capri, where both men pursued underage males for sexual gratification. On a happier note, during a visit to Belgium in 1910 Ferdinand became the first head of state to fly in an airplane, making sure photographers were there to record the event. But I digress.

On his journey to the funeral of his second cousin, British King Edward VII in 1910, a dispute over protocol erupted about the placement of Ferdinand’s private railroad car (above) in relation to that of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne. The Archduke won out, having his carriage positioned directly behind the engine, with Ferdinand's placed second. The dining car was the third coach from the front, and Ferdinand stubbornly refused the Archduke access through his own carriage to the dining car. Ferdinand wore a flamboyant silk turban on the day of Edward VII’s funeral, while other assembled crowned heads shared their disdain at Ferdinand’s ostentation in calling himself a Tsar. As well they gossiped about the fact that he kept a Byzantine Emperor’s full regalia, designed by a Parisian theatrical costumer, against the day when he might reassemble the Byzantine dominions beneath his scepter. The man loved his clothes! Nine kings, Ferdinand among them, led the funeral procession. After them came five heirs apparent, forty more imperial or royal highnesses, seven queens and a scattering of special ambassadors from uncrowned countries. Former President Theodore Roosevelt attended as a special envoy of the United States. Together they represented seventy nations in the greatest assemblage of royalty and rank ever gathered in one place, and the last of its kind.

In the video below, King Ferdinand can be seen in a display of temper at the 1932 wedding of Prince Gustaf Adolf, Duke of Västerbotten, to Princess Sibylla of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (future parents of King Charles XVI of Sweden) in Coburg. Victoria Melita, Grand Duchess of Russia (and granddaughter of Queen Victoria) was among the first guests to exit the church at the conclusion of the ceremony. After the bride and groom’s car had departed, as Grand Duchess Victoria was about to climb into the car that brought her, King Ferdinand of Bulgaria appeared behind her, ready to leave as well. The king kicked up a fuss that it was against protocol and unacceptable that the grand Duchess leave before him, since he “outranked” her, even as a deposed king – she was, after all, a mere Grand Duchess. Ferdinand prevailed, marching toward the car between an insulted and confused Grand Duchess and her 23-year-old daughter, Princess Kira, who had served as a bridesmaid. The onlookers were shocked by the king’s fiery displeasure.

After his forced abdication in 1918, Ferdinand lived a life of luxurious exile in Coburg, Germany. He commented, “The main thing in life is to support any condition of bodily or spiritual exile with dignity. If one sups with sorrow, one need not invite the world to see you eat.” He was pleased that the throne had passed to his son, and Ferdinand was not made despondent by exile, spending most of his time devoted to pleasant artistic endeavors, gardening, travel and natural history. He died of natural causes at age 87 in 1948 at the Bürglaß-Schlösschen ("little palace", photo above), a dynastic residence of the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha ruling house in Coburg, thirty years after abdicating his throne to his son. Tsar Ferdinand I's unusually long life spanned important world events, from the U.S. Civil War to the French commune of 1871 and on through two devastating world wars. Ferdinand’s 18th-century “little palace” still stands opposite the State Theatre in modern day Coburg, but is today used as a municipal building where weddings take place. The rear garden is the largest and most popular Biergarten in Coburg.

Tragically, Ferdinand outlived both his sons. His eldest son and successor, Boris III, died under mysterious circumstances*** after returning from a visit to Hitler in Germany in 1943. Boris III's son, Simeon II, succeeded him as Tsar (at age 6) only to be deposed by the Soviets in 1946, ending the Bulgarian monarchy that Ferdinand had re-established. The Kingdom of Bulgaria was succeeded by the People's Republic of Bulgaria, under which Ferdinand’s sole surviving son, Kyril, was executed. Amazingly, after the fall of the Soviet Union, Ferdinand's grandson Simeon II returned from exile in Spain in 1998 and resumed the role of leader of the nation upon taking office as Prime Minister of the Republic of Bulgaria. During his time in power, from July 2001 until August 2005, Bulgaria joined NATO and the European Community (full membership in the EU did not occur until 2007). The royal Vrana Palace buildings and grounds on the outskirts of Sofia were returned to Simeon and his sister in 1998. Simeon and his wife, who donated most of the acreage back to the city for use as a public park, to this day reside in the hunting lodge on the property. At age 74 Simeon is today one of the last living heads of state from the World War II-era, the only living person who has borne the Bulgarian title "Tsar", and one of the few monarchs in history to have become a head of government through democratic election. Update: In early 2012 Simeon ceded his rights as head of the princely house of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha-Koháry to his sister, Princess Marie Louise of Bulgaria.

***Conspiracy theories abound, since Boris III had defied Hitler’s demand to send Bulgaria’s 50,000 Jews to concentration camps. Under Tsar Boris III, Bulgaria was the only nation in Europe to save its entire Jewish population during the Holocaust, and Boris was the only world leader to defy Hitler face to face during the war. Two weeks after the acrimonious meeting between Boris and Hitler, Boris died after his return to Bulgaria, officially from heart failure. His two private doctors determined that Boris had died from a slow working poison that takes several weeks to kill its victim, the same sort of poison that had killed the Greek Prime Minister two years earlier. After the end of the war, when the king’s body was disinterred for examination, it was discovered that Communist forces had removed his coffin to a secret location, which remains unknown to this day. Only the king’s heart was found in the grave where he had been buried. In 1994 the United States Congress proclaimed King Boris III the savior of fifty thousand Bulgarian Jews, and King Boris III was posthumously awarded the Jewish National Fund's Medal of the Legion of Honor, the first non-Jew to receive the award, considered one of the Jewish community's highest honors.

Trivia: The one and only time I visited Bulgaria (the country is favored by a beautiful, mountainous  landscape), I was astonished that the head movements for "yes" and "no" are the reverse of what the rest of us use. If you ask someone's permission to take a photo and he moves his head from left to right, you're in the clear. The same goes for Greece, and it trips me up every time. True, I swear.

*Palais Coburg (above), Ferdinand’s boyhood home in Vienna, is now a luxury hotel where, for a high price, it is possible to soak up the aura of Ferdinand and his ancestors. The Palais faces the Ringstrasse, opposite the Stadtpark in downtown Vienna. It’s wicked expensive, so the closest I’ve come is a drink at the bar (also at a ruinous price); the hotel restaurant is popular with Vienna’s elite. There are just 35 rooms, each a suite. If you’re feeling flush, room rates are €670-€860 per night (converted to U.S. dollars = $885-$1,135). Photo below shows the opulent interior; the parquet floors are exceptional.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Billionaire David Geffen

Less than 48 hours after publishing this post, I learned that Geffen and Lingvall have announced a split. Maybe Geffen should consider a reconciliation with Cher - she has no problem hanging with the boys. Here's the report:

After six years of a life he could only dream of, former California college student Jeremy Lingvall (28) has split from his partner, billionaire media mogul David Geffen. The pair have parted ways because ‘the relationship had simply run its course’, the New York Post reported. A  source also claimed that there was ‘nobody else involved’.”

During their relationship Lingvall accompanied Geffen everywhere, even to the White House. Jeremy attended dozens of A-list celebrity parties he would have never have had access to on his own. But with no civil partnership or other property arrangement, Lingvall will not be entitled to any of Geffen’s riches now that they have split. Lingvall and Geffen began a relationship the year Jeremy graduated from college, 2006. I suppose Lingvall will have to dust off his resume and beef up his gigs as a DJ, often in partnership with Scissor Sisters’ front man Jake Shears; they call themselves Krystal Pepsy. I’m not kidding. So read my original post with those facts in mind: 

I try to avoid posting snarky stuff, but I am possessed of demons this morning.

Billionaires love their flashy toys, and David Geffen (born 1943) is no exception. He has a weakness for boy toys and heart-stoppingly expensive yachts. He owns Pelorus+, a 377-ft. $300 million trinket with two helicopter pads and its own submarine (annual operating costs top $10 million - I'm not kidding). At 453 feet, the mega-yacht Rising Sun++ is 76 feet longer, making it the eight largest yacht in the world. It has a basketball court and 82 rooms spread over 5 stories. It's so long that it can't dock at most ports, because it exceeds their size limits. I’m not making this stuff up. Why settle for one yacht, when you really need two?

I think exactly the same way.

He also collects art, especially paintings by American artists. In 2006 he sold Jackson Pollock's  painting No. 5, 1948 (above) from his collection for $140 million. The sale made No. 5, 1948 the most expensive painting ever sold, outstripping the $134 million paid a month earlier by cosmetics heir Ronald Lauder for Gustav Klimt's Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I**. No. 5, 1948 was originally owned by Samuel Irving Newhouse, Jr. and displayed at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC.

President Obama meets Geffen's boy toy (above).

Geffen’s super hot 28-year old partner Jeremy Lingvall (born 1983, but perhaps a bit long in the tooth for true "boy toy" status), who graduated from the University of California Santa Barbara in 2006 (!), attended the Obama’s first White House state dinner* (in honor of Indian prime minister Singh) on Geffen’s arm – well, not literally. And Lingvall didn’t have to lie about having a college degree. I should point out that Geffen is 68 years old, and if my math is correct, that makes him 40 years older than Lingvall (below, aboard one of Geffen's yachts, Rising Sun). I know, I know. But the man can afford it.

It doesn’t get any gayer than this: Imagine what Lingvall must think when recalling the fact that Geffen, his current sugar daddy, was gay icon Cher’s boyfriend for two years in the mid 1970s, ten years before he was born! Cher reported that, "People don't believe that, or they don't want to believe it, or they don't understand how it could be. But we were really crazy about each other."

Geffen and Cher in 1974 (left). Geffen's first move was to free the singer from her onerous business arrangement with estranged husband Sonny Bono, under which she was required to work exclusively for Cher Enterprises, which Bono controlled. Cher had no vote in decisions, even though she was the much bigger star. Geffen called the contract "slave labor." In short order, he had her quit The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour. She separated from Bono and in time for the Grammys had a butterfly tattooed on her posterior to celebrate her emancipation.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. In spite of Geffen’s over-the-top acquisitions of both metal and flesh varieties, we can’t lose sight of his equally over-the-top philanthropy. He is a major supporter of medical research, AIDS organizations and the arts. In 2002 he gave a staggering $200 million unrestricted endowment to the UCLA School of Medicine. In 1995 he donated $5 million to UCLA's Westwood Playhouse.

Geffen is a self-made billionaire in the music and entertainment industry – by most accounts worth just under $5 billion (that's 5,000 million dollars - think about it). Geffen dropped out of several colleges and started working in the mailroom at the William Morris Talent Agency, where he forged a document in order to prove he had a college degree, a requirement for a promotion he was offered. He went on to found record and movie production companies and sign major talent (Dreamworks SKG, Geffen Records, Asylum Records, etc.). Geffen is an openly gay man named by Out Magazine as one of the 50 Most Powerful Gay Men and Women in America, and he is listed by Forbes as one of the top 100 billionaires. And, if we dig down really deep and admit the truth, those of us who smirk and poke fun at Mr. Geffen do so because we’re really envious.

*Also in attendance at the 2009 state dinner were Facebook cofounder Chris Hughes and partner Sean Eldridge, chair of the U.S. Export-Import Bank Fred Hochberg and partner Thomas Healy, as well as activist Urvashi Vaid and her partner Kate Clinton. It is noteworthy that Geffen, a generous and dedicated Democrat, was seated at the Obama table, immediately to Michelle’s left. The times, they are a changin’.

**Klimt's Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I is on permanent display at the Neue Galerie in NYC, on the corner of Fifth Ave. at 86th St. Don’t miss the street level restaurant to the right of the entrance, the Viennese Cafe Sabarsky; it’s my favorite spot in NYC for breakfast (opening at a civilized 9:00 a.m.).

Pelorus, a 377 ft., $300 million accessory, overhanging the dock a bit:

Rising Sun, with rear basketball court:

Friday, February 17, 2012

Van Johnson

On screen he was cute, with red hair and freckles, usually playing the part of the boy next door, or the soldier who lived down the street. During the 1940s he was a Hollywood heart throb besieged by legions of screaming bobby-soxers. Off screen, he always wore his trademark red socks.

On screen he personified the wholesome, cheerful boy next door, always smiling and eager. Off screen he was a gay man living a lie perpetrated by MGM, who insisted he get married in order to quell rumors of his sexual orientation.

Van Johnson (1916-2008) was the last of the big screen stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood when he died at age 92. He could dance and sing and enjoyed a solid career as a movie star, earning praise for his roles in both musicals and dramas. Photo at top of post is with co-star Esther Williams.

His marriage and eventual divorce, however, garnered as much press as his career as a Hollywood star. MGM studio boss Louis B. Mayer bribed Evie Wynn into marrying Johnson in 1947. Johnson had been caught engaging in gay sex acts in public urinals, so MGM needed to protect its investment by having Johnson marry. Keenan Wynn was Van Johnson’s best friend, and when Mayer ordered Johnson to wed, Johnson replied that the only woman he would marry was Evie. Mayer took Evie aside and told her that unless she married Johnson, he wouldn’t renew her husband Keenan’s studio contract. Years later Evie said, “I was young and stupid enough to let Mayer manipulate me.” Keenan and Evie Wynn divorced solely to allow Van Johnson to marry Evie.

Many of his fans were alienated when Johnson wed Evie the day after her divorce from Wynn (photo at left), while those who were aware of Johnson's sexual orientation wondered how the marriage could be genuine. Nevertheless, they remained married for twenty-one years and had a daughter. As well, Johnson helped raise Evie’s two children from her marriage to Keenan Wynn. In fact, it was Johnson’s stepson Ned Wynn who outed him when Ned’s 1990 memoir “We Will Always Live in Beverly Hills” recounted the salacious details of his mother’s divorce from Johnson.

Thirteen years into the marriage (1960) Evie sued Johnson for divorce, citing cruelty and grievous mental suffering. A few weeks later she sued Wynn for fraud and breach of contract in their property settlement and for failing to pay child support. They briefly reconciled, and Evie traveled to London with Johnson in 1961, when he starred in the stage musical, The Music Man. They separated again in 1962, after Johnson entered into a scandalous affair with the show’s young lead male dancer. Their eventual acrimonious divorce was made final in 1968. Johnson called it “the ugliest divorce in Hollywood history”.

Twenty-five years earlier Johnson had been cast as the young pilot in A Guy Named Joe (1943) with Spencer Tracy and Irene Dunne. Midway through the film's production Van was involved in a near fatal car accident that left him with a metal plate in his forehead. Laid up for weeks, MGM had planned to replace Johnson in the film by recasting another actor. Both Dunne and Tracey insisted the production wait for Johnson's return. Had those two stars not intervened, Van Johnson might never have become a movie star, because the film was a huge box office success.

The next year Van Johnson was given the lead in Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944), a smash hit after its release. By 1945 Van Johnson was on the cover of every movie magazine and was tied with Bing Crosby as the top box office star of the year. Van was cast with June Allyson and Esther Williams in a number of popular, frothy musicals and comedies. By the time his contract was up with MGM in 1954, he had appeared in In the Good Old Summertime (1949) with Judy Garland, and State of the Union (1948), Battleground (1949) and The Last Time I saw Paris (1954) with Elizabeth Taylor (photo above). After leaving MGM, where he made 50 films, Johnson won acclaim for his appearances in The Caine Mutiny (1954) and Miracle in the Rain (1956).

After his Hollywood star began to fade, Van Johnson found a second career in television work. In the 1970s he began a career in summer stock and dinner theater. When he turned 60, he told a reporter that he had beaten cancer twice and was so booked up with summer theater jobs that he never made it home to his Manhattan penthouse and his two cats. At 69 he went back to New York and Broadway to replace Gene Barry as Georges in La Cage aux Folles, playing the role for a year. At 75, with his strawberry blond hair turned white, he toured as Captain Andy in Show Boat. Van Johnson's long time companion and partner was Allen Foshko, who was also his business manager.

A Guy Named Joe (1943, watch YouTube clip below) was the first of five films Esther Williams and Van Johnson made together (shown in photo). This movie put Van Johnson on the Hollywood map, but it almost didn't happen. Shortly into production Johnson was in a terrible automobile accident that crushed part of his forehead and nearly killed him. The studio wanted to replace him, but Spencer Tracy threatened to walk out if they didn't wait for Johnson's recovery. Tracy and MGM reached a compromise where the studio would push the shooting schedule back several months to accommodate Johnson; in return, Tracy and director Victor Fleming agreed to stop giving co-star Irene Dunne a hard time on the set.

Apparently Tracy and Fleming had taken an instant disliking to Dunne and teased her relentlessly, sometimes driving her to tears. Dunne later recalled A Guy Named Joe as a difficult shoot full of tension before Johnson's accident. She heard rumors of being removed from the picture altogether before she, her co-star and the director worked things out. While Johnson recuperated in the hospital with a metal plate in his head, Tracy and Dunne used the time to re-shoot several scenes since earlier rushes showed their visible tension onscreen. Van Johnson, who went on to become a big MGM star, remained forever grateful to Spencer Tracy for influencing the studio to wait for him to complete the picture. "Without Tracy," he later stated in an interview, "my career could have ended then and there."

Ironically, it was Johnson's injuries sustained on this movie that prevented him from serving in the real World War II, leaving him to rise to fame during the 1940s in the absence of many of Hollywood's established leading men. For Irene Dunne, who was already obligated to work on her next picture The White Cliffs of Dover (1944), the delayed filming schedule of A Guy Named Joe (view film clip below) meant working double duty as an actress on both.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Power Couple Chris Hughes & Sean Eldridge

Facebook cofounder Chris Hughes (right) and partner Sean Eldridge (left), political director for Freedom to Marry, announced their engagement a year ago. Hughes had proposed in the traditional way – down on one knee with a ring in a box – while the couple were celebrating New Years in Thailand. Four months later they were on the cover of The Advocate, headlining the annual list of forty LGBT leaders/newsmakers under the age of 40 (in their case, way under 40).

At age 19 Hughes was at Harvard on a scholarship when he and three friends founded Facebook. The 2010 movie The Social Network recounted that tale (Chris Hughes was played by actor Patrick Mapel). In 2006 Chris graduated magna cum laude from Harvard, then lived for a year in California. In 2007 he left for Chicago, where he oversaw the social media efforts of presidential candidate Barack Obama, who was then a long shot. The media subsequently put Hughes on a pedestal, honoring him with headlines such as “The kid who made Obama president.” Having made his fortune off Facebook (at least $500 million), he launched, a social networking hub aimed at connecting donors and volunteers to non-profit organizations.

Hughs met Sean Eldridge on a blind date in November 2005, when Eldridge was still a social network virgin. “I literally joined Facebook the day I met Chris,” Sean relates. Eldridge, three years younger than Hughes, also went on to campaign for Obama, as part of the team that put together Students for Obama. Heady from their political success, in 2008 they dined as a couple at the White House, as guests of Obama at his first state dinner. By 2009 Eldridge was a law school student at Columbia University, but dropped out in order to fight full time for the right to marry. Eldridge became communications director for the national group Freedom to Marry in early 2010 and was soon promoted to political director.

Since the couple make their in-town home in NYC’s Soho district, this cause was especially close to their hearts. Then, on July 24, 2011, New York State passed legislation giving gay couples the right to marry. Nevertheless, they decided to stick to their wedding date this coming June. They have planned a rehearsal dinner at Per Se, an intimate wedding at the couple’s home in Garrison, NY, and a reception that evening at Cipriani Wall Street, all orchestrated by Bryan Rafanelli, who planned Chelsea Clinton’s wedding.

With a victory in Washington State still just hours old, there are currently only seven states plus the District of Columbia where gay marriages have legal recognition – Massachusetts, Iowa, New York, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, Washington and DC. California allowed gays to marry for six months in 2008, until the Proposition 8 initiative reversed the legislation. A week ago the Ninth Circuit Court of California ruled 2 to 1 that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional, so stay tuned. If there is a momentum gathering for same sex marriage, Eldridge deserves a large amount of credit. Hughes is a major donor to Freedom to Marry and serves as an advisor. “As a gay man, I want the freedom to marry Sean so we can build a family and a life together over the long term,” Hughes says. “I think marriage is a basic fundamental freedom that every American should have.”

We all owe a huge debt to these two men. With the advantage of wealth, the force of passionate conviction and wisdom beyond their years, Hughes and Eldridge are destined to become major forces in progressive politics.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Private Romeo

Rising Stars Seth Numrich & Matt Doyle
Costar in Gay Indie Film & Broadway Stage Play

Young Broadway actors Matt Doyle and Seth Numrich (pronounced NOOM-rick) are filmed shaving in a locker room of a boys’ military high school – while delivering lines in iambic pentameter from Shakespeare. You’re not hallucinating, you’re watching director-writer Alan Brown’s Private Romeo, a provocative all-male film version of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Brown tosses in YouTube videos, social networking and lip-synched Indie rock for a contemporary take on the Bard’s tale of star-crossed young lovers – as gay male soldiers-in-training. Brown gets the deed done with an all-male cast of eight in a compressed 90-minute film now showing in select markets after numerous accolades at film festivals. Amazingly, much of Shakespeare’s script is intact. For added realism Private Romeo was filmed at the SUNY Maritime College in the Bronx, a high school in Mineola and Sarah Lawrence College.

From the routine of military training to stolen moments in shadowy hallways, Private Romeo's martial backdrop is a hotbed of homophobia and hazing rituals. Instead of Shakespeare’s tale of star-crossed lovers from rival families, the tension is transferred to eight male cadets, the only students on the grounds due to their peers going on a supervised land navigation exercise. They engage in marching, classwork, homework, and physical exercises. The classwork entails reading aloud from Romeo and Juliet. In the early moments the young men take on this task with a sort of goofy glee, mocking the boys portraying the female roles. But as the days pass, each becomes his part, and Sam/Romeo and Glenn/Juliet find themselves enamored with each other outside of class. The Bard’s celebrated play has a history of adaptability, having been transformed into Broadway’s classic West Side Story.

While filming Private Romeo together, Numrich (identifies as straight) and Doyle (identifies as gay) both auditioned for and were cast in Broadway’s War Horse, the Tony Award winner for Best Play of 2011. Both the current movie version of War Horse and the stage play are based on Michael Morpurge’s novel, acclaimed in all three forms. Private Romeo’s Seth Numrich (Private Sam Singleton) snagged the leading role of Albert in War Horse (still playing at Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theater). Doyle, who played Albert's cousin on stage, also understudied for Numrich's role. Numrich was the youngest student ever admitted into Juilliard's drama department, enrolling at age 16 in 2002. He played Adam in Gravity (2010), a TV comedy series about a group of eccentrics in an out-patient program for suicide survivors. Seth, who was a presenter at the 2011 Tony Awards, is a long distance runner when offstage.

Numrich, who grew up home schooled in St. Paul, also starred Off-broadway in Slipping (2009), a coming-of-age play by Daniel Talbott in which he played Eli, a gay high school senior in suburban Des Moines. The play was full to the brim with gay teen angst (as well as full-frontal nudity). Seth debuted on Broadway in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice (2010), as Al Pacino's son-in-law Lorenzo.

Seth Numrich (with his arm around co-star Sean Hudock) in a behind-the-scenes video while making Private Romeo:

Numrich introduces War Horse as a nominee (and eventual winner) for Best Play of 2011 at the Tony Awards ceremony:

Matt Doyle (Cadet Glenn Mangan), who originated the role of Billy Narracott in Broadway’s War Horse, appeared on Broadway at age 19 in the hugely successful Spring Awakening. As well he played Jonathan (Eric’s boyfriend) on three seasons of TV’s Gossip Girl. Matt left War Horse last month to begin work on Giant, a new musical based on Edna Ferber’s novel (music and lyrics by out gay man Michael John LaChiusa). Doyle will play the role of Jordy Jr, portrayed by a young Dennis Hopper in the 1956 film (Giant is remembered as James Dean’s last starring film role, released after his death).

When not acting, openly gay Doyle (right) also performs as a songwriter, pop vocalist and recording artist. On August 15, 2011, Matt appeared at NYC's celebrated Le Poisson Rouge (video clip follows) to mark the release of Daylight, his first EP of 5 original songs, co-written with Will Van Dyke. Inspired by the golden age of soul music, Daylight includes a cover of Sam Cooke’s Lost and Lookin’.

Alan Brown (right) is gay writer and director of three feature-length Indie films, including Private Romeo. His film short, O Beautiful, was included as a segment of Boys Life 4: Four Play. Brown is currently shooting his latest project and fourth feature film, Five Dances, again as both writer and director. He is also the author of the award-winning novel, Audrey Hepburn's Neck, set in Japan.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Dick Sargent

Actor Dick Sargent (1930-1994) was best known as the “second” Darrin on the 1960s TV sit-com, Bewitched. In a strange twist of fate, he was the original choice for the role when the show began, but a studio scheduling conflict prevented his taking the job when production began in 1964. Dick York played the character Darrin from the show’s inception until 1969, when Sargent took over the role, since a chronic back ailment prevented York from continuing the part. The network offered viewers no explanation for the different appearance of Darrin from 1969 through the show’s last season in 1972.

Sargent’s professional career began in the mid 1950s, and he worked until a year before his death from cancer in 1994. There was high drama in the last years of his life, when he openly declared his homosexuality. He called himself a “retroactive role model” in the battle for gay rights. Prior to his coming out in 1991, tabloids had written salacious items about Sargent’s relationship with a “young black guy.” Sargent commented on the tabloid outing at the time: “I'm not against outing in terms of being pegged as gay. I am gay, I always was. It can't really hurt me now, I mean professionally. But for them to reveal it as if they caught you, like some dirty little secret – that was despicable.” Sargent had a long-time male partner for 20 years before the man's death from a cerebral hemorrhage in 1979. From 1989 until his death, Sargent’s partner was African-American producer and writer Albert Williams.

Sargent gave an interview in which he talked about how so many Hollywood marriages are shams, especially those involving a gay actor  – “strategic moves” was the term he used. Dick also commented on the large percentage of gay actors among his Bewitched cast: “Now, whether George Tobias was gay or not, I couldn't say. But he never married, and his friends were always guys; he showed no interest whatsoever in women...” Even Sargent had "manufactured" a wife early in his professional activity, reporting it to the press to protect his career.

OK, then. This statement inspired me to do a little Internet research, and I found this comment:

At the funeral of George Tobias, Bob Siler, working as a parking attendant, noticed that there were more World War II vets than anyone else in attendance. One mourner told him that it was “well known among servicemen that if they were in Los Angeles, they were more than welcome to stay at George's ranch instead of spending money on a hotel. Everything was on George, who ‘couldn't do enough’ for the men fighting for his country”.

Guess that explains it.

Sargent’s take on being recognized as a celebrity: “Most of it is a pain in the ass. Sure, it can get you a theater ticket or a better seat in a restaurant, but a lot of times it's having your dinner interrupted or being asked for an autograph at the urinal.”

In June 1992, Sargent was Grand Marshal of the Los Angeles Gay Pride parade along with actress and former Bewitched co-star Elizabeth Montgomery.

He also spoke about what a gentleman Cary Grant was. The two went out on several dates, but there was no sexual activity, according to Sargent. “He hated being alone. He liked being around good-looking men. In fact, I heard all his secretaries were good-looking young men. He was indeed very closeted, but he didn't avoid you if you were a good-looking guy, the way some others will. I was just thrilled to be socializing with Cary Grant. It was the two of us, we'd go out together, then we'd talk, but nothing else.” Grant and Sargent made two movies together, but Sargent’s screen debut was in a 1954 film with Ronald Reagan (Prisoner of War). I’m not making this up.

When Sargent died after a 4-year struggle with prostate cancer at age 64, with his partner Albert Williams, age 37, at his side.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Michael Kors

American fashion designer Michael Kors (b. 1959), a Long Island native, studied at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan and began designing clothes at the age of 19. At age 22 he launched his womenswear line at luxury department stores and in 1997 was named the first ever women's ready-to-wear designer and creative director for the French fashion house Celine. Kors launched a menswear line in 2002, and left Celine a year later to concentrate on his own brands.

Kors has full collection boutiques in Paris, New York, Beverly Hills, Palm Beach, Manhasset, and Chicago and celebrates 31 years in business this year. He and his partner of 21 years, Lance LaPere, were married in New York last summer. LaPere (the taller of the two) started as the designer’s Paris intern in 1990, and the happy couple resides in a home on Fire Island.

Celebrities have worn Kors' designs in films and at Academy Awards ceremonies. Michelle Obama (photographed below wearing a Kors creation in the Blue Room of the White House) has worn his creations, as well as Jennifer Lopez, Heidi Klum, Joan Allen, Jennifer Garner, Gwyneth Paltrow, Cate Blanchett, Rene Russo and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Kors is known to thousands as a judge on the reality TV show Project Runway. Eight weeks ago Michael Kors Holdings filed with the SEC to raise $751 million in an IPO.