Role models of greatness.

Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Horatio Alger Jr.

Horatio Alger, Jr. (1832-1899) was a 19th-century American author who published more than 130 novels written for young boys. Of poor literary quality, these inspirational tales repeat the constant theme of rags to riches, illustrating how down-and-out boys might be able to achieve wealth and success through hard work, courage and determination. Alger thus became a significant figure in the history of American cultural and social mores, but his novels, which sold over 100 million copies, are rarely read today.

After graduating from Harvard Divinity School in 1860, Alger took a job as a minister in a Unitarian Church in Brewster, Massachusetts. This post was to provide a painful lesson that influenced his later literary career.

Alger wrote stories about handsome, poor boys who found themselves cast into the world to seek their fortune. Along the way, they inevitably encountered an older, richer man who took an uncommon interest in them. Through the guidance of the older man, the youths were led into a better society. Each and every one of his novels described homoerotic relationships between lonely, older men and needy, handsome youths. In today’s cruder terms, the plots of these books could be described as “rich sugar daddies and the boys who loved them.”

It should come as no surprise then, to learn that Alger had been dismissed from his job as a minister for the “abominable and revolting crime of unnatural familiarity with two young boys.” He was run out of town by a howling mob and subsequently fled to New York City, where he lived out his days as a deeply closeted homosexual, trying to escape and sublimate his sexuality – with varying degrees of success. In New York Alger discovered the world of street boys who lived by their wits, eking out a living peddling newspapers or shining shoes. Although he was nearly 40 years old, Alger practically lived at the Newsboys’ Lodging House, surrounded by the boys that enticed him. His erotic fantasies resulted in dozens of books about benevolent older men and needy young men, who often advanced their position by youthful good looks and charm.

A typical Horatio Alger novel is Digging for Gold. A handsome 16-year-old Iowa farmboy, Grant, becomes lost while making his way to California. Nearing starvation, he comes upon a cabin in the woods, occupied by an older bachelor millionaire, Mr. Crosmont, who takes a liking to him. The older man gives the youth a home, clothes, money and a job.

“I give it to you because I feel an interest in you, Grant. I can’t explain why, for I have met a good many young persons in my travels, but  never was drawn to any one as I am drawn to you.”

“I am glad to have so good a friend, Mr. Crosmont.”

“And I am glad to have found some one in whom I can feel an interest.”

Later, after Crosmont has settled in San Francisco, he writes a letter to Grant:

“I confess that I feel lonely. I am not a man to take many friends, and I have met no
one in whom I feel an interest since I parted with you. I begin to think that I should like
to have you with me, and I promise that you will lose nothing by transferring yourself to
San Francisco.”

Grant recognizes a sweet deal and hoofs it to San Francisco. The first day Crosmont greets Grant, he buys the boy a suit, gives him two building lots in the city, takes him into his home (rent-free) and offers him a job paying so much that Grant could buy another three building lots per month. Grant is just 16 years old, and Crosmont almost 50. Hmmm.

Well, there you have it. A typical Horatio Alger story.

Alger eventually gave away most of his royalties to needy young men, in keeping with the story lines of his novels. After his death in 1899, however, his sister destroyed all of his personal papers in an effort to avoid scandal. Alger's 1928 biographer, Herbert R. Mayes, fabricated many sources. Mayes's book became the basis for subsequent biographical sketches. Fifty years later, in 1978, Mayes admitted that the work was a hoax, and today few people realize that the stories about street urchins who make their way in the world were written by a man who had "a natural liking for boys," as Alger himself described it. In popular culture, his name has become synonymous with financial achievement of the "rags to riches" sort.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

David Sedaris

Openly gay author and radio performer David Sedaris (b. December 26, 1956) was raised in North Carolina. He began his career reading his own humorous essays on radio, which aired in the U.S. and the UK in the mid-1990s. Sedaris developed a knack for making people laugh by relating every-day occurrences about his family, jobs and relationships in the form of autobiographical, self-deprecating essays.

I first experienced David Sedaris live at a performance in a Washington DC suburban theater, in which he shared billing with fellow NPR notable Bailey White. I will never forget that Sedaris smoked a cigarette while on-stage! My friends kindly forgave me for quoting Sedaris for days and weeks afterwards.

Most people know Sedaris from his books, many of which have appeared on the New York Times bestseller lists for non-fiction. I think his masterpiece is Me Talk Pretty One Day (2000); the essays about his brother Paul (known as The Rooster) and his experience with a public school speech therapist (to correct a lisp) are classics. The second half of that book is about moving to France with his long-term partner Hugh Hamrick and the frustrations of language and culture shock. Sedaris describes himself and Hamrick as “the sort of couple who wouldn’t get married.”

His most recent book is Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary (2010), not one of his better efforts, in my opinion. Nevertheless, his books have sold more than eight million copies to date, and many of their chapters have appeared in the pages of Esquire and New Yorker magazines.

David is the brother of celebrated actress and author Amy Sedaris. The two have teamed up to write plays, and Amy has authored two best-selling humorous and satirical books on her own. She also bakes a mean cupcake.

This is a fine example of David’s humor, in which he relates first-hand experiences with the French medical system:

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Dr. Charles Silverstein

Psychologist Charles Silverstein (b. 1935) made history in 1973, when he wrote and presented the argument that convinced the American Psychiatric Association to declassify homosexuality as a mental illness. Since then, mental health professionals have regarded homosexuality as a normal variation of human sexual orientation. In 1987 the American Psychiatric Association elevated him to Fellow for his contributions to this field.

In 1977 he co-authored the landmark book The Joy of Gay Sex with Edmund White, a book that spawned two sequels. While each of his first seven books had been on some aspect of homosexuality, his eighth, For the Ferryman* (2011), is a departure in that it is an inspiring personal memoir.

This book focuses on his efforts toward gay activism and his long-term relationship with the much younger William Borey. Although handsome and intelligent, Borey was a loner who had never held a job. The book tells how these two very different people somehow managed to fulfill a need in each other over a period of two decades, before Borey succumbed to AIDS. For the Ferryman is a look into the hearts, minds and emotions of two men who grabbed on to each other to make the best out of life, delivering an uplifting message of enjoying every moment of life, despite any adversity.

Charles Silverstein’s For the Ferryman: A Personal History is available in e-reader and text-to-speech formats for $10.

“Dr. Charles Silverstein has written a memoir about the great love of his life – an eccentric, androgynous genius whom Charles adored and cared for despite all his flaws and addictions. Most writers idealize their lovers, especially if they've died young, but Silverstein presents his William with all his charm and sexual allure and intellectual brilliance – and all his maddening faults. I wept at the end of this brave, honest book—and I suspect you will too.”
– Edmund White, co-author of The Joy of Gay Sex

* Explanation of the book title, For the Ferryman. In Greek mythology, Charon is the ferryman of Hades who carries souls of the newly deceased across the rivers Styx and Acheron that divided the world of the living from the world of the dead. A coin to pay Charon for passage was often placed in the mouth of a dead person. Silverstein’s book is his payment to the ferryman after the death of his partner William Borey.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Jonathan Groff

Openly gay star Jonathan Groff (b. March 26, 1985) can sing, dance and act. He has appeared on Broadway and London’s West End (Deathtrap) and is no stranger to television and films. He is perhaps best known for the role of Jesse St. James in the television musical series Glee and for originating the role of Melchior Gabor in the stage musical Spring Awakening. Although it was his first stage appearance, he was nominated for a Tony Award for best actor in a musical for Spring Awakening.

While Groff has also guest starred on television – The Good Wife and soap opera One Life to Live – he seems most at home on the stage.

This summer he will star in the Los Angeles premiere of John Logan’s two-person play Red at the Mark Taper Forum, opening August 12. Groff will play the role of Ken, a young assistant to modernist painter Mark Rothko (Alfred Molina). The drama deals with the often contentious relationship between the two men as they work on a commission for the Four Seasons Restaurant in NYC.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Bunny Roger

There have always been flamboyant gay men, but few could hold a candle to Bunny Roger (1911-1997). In fact, I’m hard pressed to think of someone who was even in his league. Roger was glib, quick-witted, fearless – and the dandy to end all dandies. Christened Neil Munroe Roger, “Bunny” was the most eccentric of three life-long bachelor brothers, and by far the most interesting.

It’s difficult to imagine how he could take the time from being a full-time fop to establish himself as an important couturier, not to mention becoming a WW II hero. He died fifteen years ago this month, just shy of his 86th birthday, and he partied up until a month before entering the hospital for treatment for a fatal cancer. He bragged at the time that he had a waist size the same as that of Princess Diana.

The son of a self-made Scottish telecommunications tycoon, he taunted his no-nonsense father by peroxiding his hair. Roger read history at Oxford and studied drawing at the Ruskin. Oxford dealt with his indiscrete homosexuality by kicking him out. Maybe it was the rouge and dyed hair that gave him away. Undaunted, at the age of 26 he established his fashion house, Neil Roger, in London, and among his early clients was Vivien Leigh. Five years later he found himself serving in Italy and North Africa in the Rifle Brigade. Roger became a WW II hero known for his bravery and courage under fire, even though he exhibited a quirk or two, such as wearing rouge and chiffon scarves into battle. It is reported that he dragged a wounded fellow officer from a burning building that had been bombed. Roger once claimed to have advanced onto a battlefield brandishing a rolled-up copy of Vogue magazine while issuing the command “When in doubt, powder heavily”.

Perhaps he meant gun powder.

Following the war he was invited to run the couture department at venerable Fortnum & Mason, and he was quite successful at it. Bunny is credited with inventing Capri pants in 1949, while on vacation there off the Bay of Naples. He spent over £35,000 a year on his own wardrobe, which tended toward an extreme Edwardian look.

Roger was also well-known for the lavish and outrageous parties he hosted. These events were often themed, as in the Diamond, Amethyst and Flame Balls held to celebrate his own 60th, 70th, and 80th birthdays. Bunny wore an exotic mauve catsuit with egret feather headdress at his "Amethyst" 70th birthday ball in 1981 (see photo), and he followed that with a sequined "Ball of Fire" costume a decade later, which he wore as he emerged through fire and smoke to the applause of his 400 guests. For day-to-day wear, he favored jackets in lilac and shell-pink. Yellow was also a favorite hue. The man knew how to stand out in a crowd.

His father, Sir Alex, whom Bunny despised, did not live long enough to witness the mauve catsuit at the 70th birthday ball, but he exploded with anger in 1956 when a newspaper carried photos of Bunny's New Year fetish party at which men wearing leather bondage gear and high heels led women around tethered with chains. It seems his father had no sense of fun, although when Bunny, as a teenager, had asked for a doll's house as a reward for being selected for Loretto's junior sports team, he gave it to him. At the age of six, his mother and father gave him a fairy costume with diaphanous skirts and butterfly wings. Who knew what the future would hold? When he got a little older, Bunny plucked his eyebrows to resemble Marlene Dietrich, whom he adored. In later years his face was described as “much-lifted.”

Moving right along.

After his success as a couturier, Roger used his wealth to furnish his mansion with elaborate Gothic furniture, carved with bull and goat motifs, symbols of rampant male sexuality. He bought a set of 12 ebonized chairs and covered them in cowhide. He could have his butch moments, it appears.

But back to his clothes, which is what really mattered. Bunny Roger’s signature look was a high-crowned bowler hat paired with extraordinary spectator shoes he polished himself using homemade stains concocted from beeswax and natural dyes. Bunny enjoyed customizing his footwear, adding red laces, for instance, to compliment his ruby cufflinks. His footwear wardrobe was extraordinarily vast. For each of his suits he had four pairs of shoes or boots made, in order to maximize the number of looks for each trouser/jacket combination. Considering he owned over 150 Savile Row suits, this was no small footwear collection.  Bunny often had several pairs of the same shoe made when he found a favorite leather color or type; he owned no fewer than 14 pairs of pale blue and white kid spectator brogues. He was a great fan of Whisky Cordovan leather, the palest shade of shell cordovan, notoriously difficult to obtain due to the difficulty in tanning to such a light “tea” hue.

Did I mention that he loved to dance? He could really move those size seven feet.

From his obituary:
“Bunny was true: beneath his mauve mannerisms he was stalwart, frank, dependable and undeceived; to onlookers a passing peacock, to intimates a life enhancer and exemplary friend.”

There will never be another one like him. Have a gander at the goods in his closet:

Monday, April 16, 2012

George Tooker

The Waiting Room* (1959) – egg tempera on wood; 30" wide x 24" tall
Smithsonian Museum of American Art (4th Floor, Luce Foundation Ctr.)
8th and F Streets, N.W.
Washington, DC  202.633.7970

This painting as described by the artist:

The Waiting Room is a kind of purgatory – people just waiting – waiting to wait. It is not living. It is a matter of waiting – not being one’s self. Not enjoying life, not being happy, waiting, always waiting for something that might be better, which never comes. Why can’t they just enjoy the moment?”

Gay artist George Tooker (1920-2011) grew frustrated with bureaucracy while trying to obtain building permits to renovate a house in New York. In reaction, he painted several works that show “faceless” government workers and worn-down people getting nowhere. The clinical interior of The Waiting Room evokes the conformity of the 1950s and emphasizes the pale, drawn expressions on the figures. The people stand in numbered boxes, evoking ideas of standardization that force people into predefined categories. The sinister man on the left appears to be in charge of the “human sorting,” a mindless agent of bureaucratic scrutiny.

Your blogger lives in the Washington, DC, metropolitan area, so I have been able to view this painting numerous times. Although not a large piece, it always catches my eye, and I cannot pass by without stopping to admire its powerful message; it seems the very definition of purgatory.

*The Waiting Room was a 1968 gift from the S.C. Johnson & Son company. In every year since 2003, S.C. Johnson & Son (makers of cleaning products) has received a perfect 100% rating on the Human Rights Campaign's annual Corporate Equality Index report.

George Tooker was one of the America’s preeminent painters. A leading artist in the American Magic Realism movement, he regarded himself as a reporter of society, rather than an interpreter. Born in Brooklyn, NY, his family relocated to Belleport, Long Island. George took art classes from Malcolm Frazier, a Barbizon Style painter. Tooker attended the elite Philips Academy, a private boarding school in Andover, Massachusetts. In contrast to the school’s upper class environment, he observed the lower classes during trips to the working class textile towns of Lowell and Lawrence, experiences that would influence his political sensibilities, as well as his art.

Self Portrait (at right):

After graduating from Philips Academy, to please his parents Tooker went to Harvard to study English literature, where he  became active in socialist causes on campus. In 1942, he received his undergraduate degree and entered the Marine Corps, only to be discharged on medical grounds (the psychological stress of bayonet drill had reactivated an old intestinal condition). From 1943 he studied under Reginald Marsh and Kenneth Hayes Miller at the Art Students League in New York.

His lover (and fellow artist) Paul Cadmus encouraged Tooker to try the egg tempera medium, an Italian Renaissance technique that is difficult to apply and especially hard to change once on the gesso panels or masonite panels he used. He adopted the technique and made paintings that depict scenes of everyday American life that he transformed into iconic images – haunting scenes reflecting numbing isolation, anonymity, and mindless repetition.

His human figures were often androgynous and of indeterminate race, isolated in their bulky clothes, trapped in their own worlds. He worked at an exceptionally slow pace, generally producing only two or three paintings a year. Fastidiously planned and laboriously executed, each painting took months to complete.

Tooker is often compared to Edward Hopper, Andrew Wyeth, and Samuel Beckett in terms of his themes and visual style. His works are in the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art (NYC), the Metropolitan Museum of Art (NYC), the Columbus Museum of Art (OH), and the Smithsonian American Art Museum (DC), among others.

In 1968, Tooker (in his studio, above; photo by Tim Lowly 2001) was elected to the National Academy of Design and was also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. The 2007 National Medal of Arts was awarded to Tooker and presented by President Bush in a White House East Room ceremony.  Mr. Tooker received the award for “his paintings that combine realism and symbolism, transforming scenes of American life into iconic images. His metaphysical works reveal man’s journey from despair to triumph.”  The National Medal of Arts is a presidential initiative managed by the National Endowment for the Arts.

Mr. Tooker’s work was included in the “Fourteen Americans” show at the Museum of Modern Art in 1946, and his paintings also appeared in exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art and other major museums.

Tooker with Paul Cadmus (right):

His personal life was complicated. Although Tooker was in a relationship with Paul Cadmus, Paul was also the painter Jared French's lover. Not only that, but French was married at the time. When Tooker met the painter William Christopher and began a relationship with him, Cadmus gave it his blessing. With his new partner, William Christopher, they entered into a committed relationship and moved into a loft on West 18th Street in Manhattan, making custom furniture to supplement their art income. Tooker sometimes addressed homosexuality in his paintings, such as the terrifying “Children and Spastics (1946)”, in which a group of leering sadists torment three frail, effeminate men.

By the late 1940s he had developed his mature style and settled on the themes that would engage him for the rest of his life: love, death, sex, grief, aging, alienation and religious faith. After 1960 he worked in isolation in rural Vermont. In 1967 he moved to Malaga, Spain, with William, who died there in 1973. This plunged Tooker into a spiritual crisis that led to his embracing Roman Catholicism. He even produced an altarpiece (1980) for the church of St. Francis of Assisi in Windsor, VT.

Tooker died of natural causes at the age of 90 on March 27, 2011, at his home in Hartland, Vermont, a cramped little cottage in which he lived a life of Franciscan simplicity.

The Fountain (1950):

Window XI (1999):

Window VII (1966)

Friday, April 13, 2012

Gavin Creel

Openly gay actor Gavin Creel is set to play the lead role of Elder Kevin Price in the national tour of the musical The Book of Mormon. The tour will launch in Denver (August 14-September 2, already completely sold out) and will play in 16 other cities: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Detroit, Chicago, Boston, Washington DC, Des Moines, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Rochester, Pittsburgh, Toronto, Buffalo and Cleveland.

Gavin (b. April 18, 1976) is an Ohio-born activist, actor, singer and song writer who is also one of the three founders of Broadway Impact, an organization fighting for equality and the LBGT community. He came out publicly in a 2009 interview with Brandon Voss in Advocate magazine. As well, he has three solo vocal albums to his credit – the third, titled Get Out, was released last month on March 20, 2012.

He was recently in a production of the musical Hair on both Broadway (2009) and London’s West End (2010). Creel earned Tony Award nominations for Hair and Thoroughly Modern Millie (2002). He has also appeared on Broadway in La Cage Aux Folles (2004) and in the West End production of Mary Poppins. He’s come a long way since his first stage appearance in which he was a high school sophomore cast as Sir Sagamore in Camelot; the part had a grand total of two speaking words: “And mine.”

Gavin Creel wrote and performed this call to action song,  Noise – an Anthem for Equality:

Friday, April 6, 2012

Photographer Jack Robinson

Jack Robinson, Jr. (1928-1997, photo at left) grew up in Clarksdale, Mississippi, and attended Tulane University before dropping out after five semesters. He began his professional career in photography working for an advertising agency in New Orleans in 1951. Jack's hobby photographs documented night life of the French Quarter and the famed Mardi Gras excesses, as well as the thriving gay subculture in that renegade city. While working in New Orleans, Robinson fell in love with a young man named Gabriel, whom he photographed compulsively. Often nude poses, these photographs were especially sensual, distinguished by their play of light and shadow.

After spending a year with Gabriel in Mexico, the couple moved to New York in 1955, where Jack began a spectacularly successful career in celebrity and fashion photography. He was published in Vanity Fair and Vogue – more than 500 times in Vogue alone (1965-1972). An article in US Camera (1967) featured Jack’s work, publishing reprints of his portraits of Tom Wolfe, Sonny and Cher and Julie Christy. Diana Vreeland , legendary editor-in-chief of Vogue, chose Jack to do her own portrait. He also made particularly sensitive family portraits, as evidenced by the numerous photographs he shot of Gloria Vanderbilt, her husband Wyatt Cooper (a fellow Mississippian), and their sons Carter and Anderson Cooper.

In 1974 Vogue mounted a retrospective titled “50 Years of Women in Vogue”. Newsweek magazine then published a two-page spread that featured just six photographs from this show –  one by Avedon, two by Irving Penn, one by De Hoyningen-Huené, one by Edward Steichen and one by Jack Robinson. This cemented that fact that Jack was among the A-list of major photographers.

Carly Simon in Vogue, 1971

However, demons took over his life, stunting his career. His personal life was akin to so many other tormented eccentric geniuses from the South: Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, and numerous musicians, and Robinson turned to alcohol and drugs to cope. His homosexuality caused personal suffering, since he was gay at a time when it was not socially acceptable. Worse, his social circle included major players in drug culture and the club scene, such as Andy Warhol.

As he sank further into drug and alcohol addictions, Robinson’s work dried up. His relationship with Gabriel failed. He had to give up his chic photographic studio address at 11 East 10th Street and had to sell his beloved Steinway. A broken and addicted man, in 1972 Jack retreated to Memphis, where his parents lived. He gave up commercial photography and took up painting, eventually getting back on his feet with the help of AA. He became an assistant to noted artist Dorothy Sturm, designing windows for churches at Laukauff Stained Glass. He lived the last 25 years of his life in Memphis, mostly in seclusion. In 1997 Robinson saw a doctor for treatment for an illness and died of cancer within a month.

"Moses Window" at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital; designed by Jack Robinson for Rainbow Studios.

At the time of his death Jack had been working as a designer for Rainbow Studios, a stained glass manufacturer owned by Dan Oppenheimer, who was both Jack’s friend and employer. Dan knew that Jack had once worked as a commercial photographer but was unaware of his fame and stature in that field. Robinson left his entire estate to Oppenheimer, including 140,000 photographic negatives. Among them, Dan discovered a stash of celebrity photographic prints, mostly from the 1960s, in a box in a closet inside Robinson’s home. Among them were portraits of Warren Beatty (below), Richard Chamberlain, Joe Dallesandro, Clint Eastwood, Elton John, Liza Minnelli, Diana Ross, Jack Nicholson, Nina Simone, Malcolm McDowell, Carly Simon, Michael Caine, Lily Tomlin, Henry Kissinger, Sonny and Cher, Michael Tilson Thomas, Joni Mitchell, Ralph Lauren, Ike and Tina Turner, Beverly Sills, Andy Warhol, and The Who. These works, never before seen by Oppenheimer, captured the glitterati of that era, in the prime of their youth. Many of these photographs are included in a recently published art book, "Jack Robinson on Show: Portraits 1958-72" (January, 2012).

Oppenheimer remains proprietor of the Jack Robinson estate and is owner of Robinson Gallery and Archive in Memphis.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Phillip Spaeth

Two months ago the NBC network premiered Smash, a musical drama series that concerns itself with the creation of a new Broadway musical based on the life of Marilyn Monroe. After encouraging ratings, the show was renewed for a second season after just seven episodes had aired. It’s not just GLEE anymore.

Angelica Huston is featured in an important role as the musical show’s producer, but our focus is on the man candy – several gay characters played by attractive men. One of those is the character of ensemble member Dennis, played by the handsome and openly gay 25-year-old actor Phillip Spaeth (above). He has Broadway credits that include roles in Wicked, Mary Poppins, West Side Story and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. Spaeth also had a role in the movie Hairpsray (2007) and has made guest appearances on TV shows such as Gossip Girl and Royal Pains.

Spaeth (in red T-shirt above) and Smash co-star Megan Hilty (in pink) have known each other for eight years, as both were in the cast of Wicked on Broadway; Megan was Glinda, and Phillip was the flying monkey Christery. Phillip found out he had been cast in the part just before he graduated from high school in New Jersey.

Spaeth has commented that he wanted the public to know of his sexual orientation because of those young people who are dealing with bullying or struggling to come to grips with their sexual identity. He is happy that the show normalizes homosexuality into just another type of identity. Spaeth said that it would be a disservice to young gay people for him not to acknowledge his homosexuality in real life.

“You know, at the very base of it, it’s just love. You can’t really help who you fall in love with, and you can’t really censor yourself in the show, because gay life is such a huge part of Broadway. There are a lot of gay men on Broadway, and I think the show is doing a good job in showing acceptance and authenticity. The gay relationships formed on the show are very sweet and loving, and they’re very supportive, which should be the case in any relationship – gay or straight.”

Phillip acts as an unofficial behind-the-scenes photographer on the set, sharing many of the images with fans on Twitter. His years of dance lessons are evident in this Smash Press Kit photo (right).

Smash airs on NBC on Monday nights at 10 pm. You can follow Phillip on Twitter at @phillipspaeth

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Emilio Baz Viaud

Self-Portrait (1935)
Watercolor and dry brush on cardboard, 36" x 24"

This delicate but arresting self-portrait was painted when Mexican artist Emilio Baz Viaud (1918-1991) was just seventeen, three years before he entered the Academy of San Carlos. Whatever precocious talent he may have had as a child, it was apparently refined while watching his older gay brother Ben-Hur Baz Viaud at work on his own precisionist drawings. Ben-Hur, twelve years his senior, had also studied at the Academy before moving to New York in 1926, where he established himself as a successful commercial illustrator.

Emilio traveled several times to visit his brother, and it likely that he painted this work on one of those trips. Unlike his later self portrait (1941), shown below, this one from 1935 lacks any overt references to Mexico. Indeed, Emilio’s teenage image is closely related to a self-portrait by Ben-Hur, holding a brush at his easel, painted in the same year. In Emilio’s 1935 self portrait he wears a white shirt so simple that the buttons remain concealed; his hair is meticulously creamed and combed, and his young skin flawless. He holds a green pencil in his right hand and grips his elbow with the left, forming a stiff right angle that locks the lower half of the composition in place. The young artist strives for absolute elegance, perhaps hoping to prove a sense of sophistication beyond his years.


By comparison, the later self portrait casts aside delicacy, portraying a man with hyper-masculine, movie star good looks – bronzed and healthy. With pencil in hand and an almost hidden sheet of paper under his left elbow, Emilio is seated in front of his work table, ready to begin. Proportions and perspective are deliberately distorted, lending a slight surrealistic accent to the portrait.

These two self portraits, dated just six years apart, provide a telling window into the artist’s psyche. Unfortunately, Emilio Baz Viaud was little known, even in his native Mexico. It was not until late in his life that his work was reassessed and appreciated by a larger audience.

Born in Mexico City, Emilio first studied architecture. He was later taught painting by Manuel Rodríguez Lozano (1896-1971), a mentor who was also an openly homosexual artist. Emilio did not have his first exhibition until 1951, although his works were displayed alongside such eminent artists as Siqueiros and Diego Rivera.

Influenced by the Magic Realism movement, Emilio’s meticulous technique of applying oil paint to dry surfaces was praised by colleagues and critics, who unanimously compared his work to Renaissance artists such as Dürer and Boticelli.

For a short time in the 1970s Emilio Baz Viaud dabbled in abstract painting, but his legacy comes from his work realized prior to 1955, especially his portraits.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Chuck Palahniuk

After his electrifying debut novel, Fight Club (1996), became a publishing sensation and celebrated movie in the late 1990s (film still above), Chuck Palahniuk (pronounced PAHLA-nick) maintained a shroud of privacy over his personal life. He had a reputation as a quirky individualist, keeping a tight rein in controlling what the public knew about him. Over the years, several publications reported that he had a wife, but no further details were forthcoming. Turns out, those reports were false. He had all along been in a long-term relationship with a man.

When the 41-year-old writer thought Entertainment Weekly reporter Karen Valby was about to out him, he filed an MP3 audio report on the web site, The Cult, in an attempt to beat EW to the punch. Unfortunately, his audio post talked trash about Valby. It turned out his fears were groundless, because when the feature story appeared in the fall of 2003, it made no mention of Chuck’s homosexual relationship. She simply reported, “Palahniuk has no wife and declines to discuss his personal life on the record.”

Although Palahniuk quickly removed the audio post, it was too late. He had already outed himself. Fight Club had been his career-making book, spawning a true cult of hyper-masculinity. Throughout the country men had subsequently founded clubs where they engaged in unregulated fighting, in imitation of Chuck’s scenario in Fight Club. Certainly Palahniuk had to wonder how those myriad fans might color their opinion of him with the revelation that the book was the work of a gay male. He may have recalled John Cheever, whose bisexuality was revealed to the general public only after his death. Critics and other writers suddenly focused on Cheever’s sexuality, instead of commenting on the value of his works and his place in literary history.

Palahniuk had a lot to cope with. Some of his fans thought that Chuck was embarrassed by his homosexuality, because of his quick removal of the self-incriminating audio post. He had other things on his plate, as well. Just four years prior to his self-outing, his father, Fred, had been dating Donna Fontaine, whom he had met through a personal ad. She had an ex-boyfriend, Dale Shackleford, who had recently been imprisoned for sexual abuse. Shackleford had vowed to kill Donna  as soon as he was released from prison. After his release, Shackleford indeed followed them to Donna’s home after they had gone out on a date. Shackleford shot them both and dragged their bodies into Donna’s house, which he set on fire immediately afterwards.

While on tour to promote his novel Diary in 2003, Palahniuk read aloud a short story titled “Guts”, a graphic over-the-top tale of accidents involving male masturbation. It was reported that several dozen listeners fainted at the grizzly details. Playboy magazine would later publish the story in their March 2004 issue, but they refused to publish another story along with it, because they found the second work too disturbing. Chuck continues to read “Guts”(from his book Haunted), and people still continue to faint.

You may test your fortitude by reading it at this link:

A week ago Chuck Palahniuk survived a freak car accident. He was sitting in his car parked in a driveway when a semi trailer hit his vehicle on Friday, March 23, 2012. UPI reported that , “the semi’s driver took a curve too fast, tipping his trailer. The trailer slid toward Palahniuk’s car and struck the side of it before coming to rest blocking the westbound lanes.” His car was destroyed, but both Chuck and the semi-driver escaped unharmed; the trucker was ticketed for negligence. Palahniuk’s webmaster tweeted: "Spoke to Chuck last night. He’s fine and is recovering. Thank you all for your well wishes."

Palahniuk now lives as an openly gay man, and he and his unnamed male partner (and two dogs) reside in a former church compound outside Vancouver, Washington, in the state where he was born in 1962. They also share a second home in Oregon.

His most recent novel is Damned (2011), which concerns a thirteen year old girl who finds herself in hell, unsure why she has been sent there, but tries to make the best of it. Palahniuk has described the novel as if “The Shawshank Redemption” had a baby by “The Lovely Bones” and was raised by Judy Blume. “It's kind of like The Breakfast Club set in Hell.” Palahniuk has said the novel was written as a way to deal with the death of his mother from breast cancer in 2009. Highly positive reviews followed its publication.