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.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Carl Hester

There are only three out gay male athletes competing in the London Olympics, which began yesterday: Australian diver Matthew Mitcham*, and equestrians Edward Gal and Carl Hester, who are rivals in the sport of dressage. I published a post on Edward Gal two days ago, so today we'll get to know Carl Hester**, who is the only out gay athlete representing host nation Great Britain.

When Carl Hester (b. 1967 in London) decided to take up the sport of dressage in the early 1980s, he was already a natural. Only 18 months after he began training for the sport, Hester won the National Young Rider Championship (1985). He quickly landed on the British Young Rider team in 1988, and he hasn’t looked back.

This year’s Olympic Games will be Carl’s fourth. Unfortunately, he and his team have never favored well in Olympic competition; a slew of mishaps and all-around bad luck have kept him off of the podium. However, 45-year-old Carl has experienced much success in the international dressage circuit. Britain has never won an Olympic dressage medal, but Team Great Britain will arrive at Greenwich Park as reigning European team champions. Hester hopes to change his past misfortune and bring home Olympic Gold.

At the 2004 Summer Olympic Games in Athens, Carl and Escapado (his horse) placed higher than any other Briton – the same thing at the 2005 European Championships, where the pair ended up in 6th place. On the run up to the 2007 European Championships, Carl was injured and had to back out at the last minute. Bad luck continued into 2008. His two promising horses for Beijing’s Olympic Games, Lecantos and Dolendo, both suffered injuries, so he missed competing.

Hester was soon given an opportunity to ride a new horse, Liebling, and the two formed a quick, strong bond and won an international grand prix. A host of other great results would lead the British team to select Carl for the European Dressage Championships in 2009. Carl’s riding helped Team GB win a silver medal in that event, and he would repeat those results a year later with another silver medal.

As the 2012 Olympic dressage events approach, Hester, partnered with his horse Uthopia, is confident in his abilities and hopes he can help his team take the top prize.

**Among Hester’s former partners was another openly gay equestrian, Spencer Wilton.

*A much earlier post on Australian diving superstar Matthew Mitcham can be accessed by clicking this link:

Friday, July 27, 2012

Edward Gal

This is the first Olympics for 42-year-old openly gay equestrian Edward Gal (leading horse, at left), who will ride Undercover on the Dutch Olympic dressage team in London. His mount has competed as “Glock’s Undercover,” but commercial names are not allowed in the Olympics, so a simple “Undercover” must suffice. Gaston Glock, owner of the famed Austrian handgun company, is a brand new sponsor of the Dutch dressage trio of Edward Gal, Hans-Peter Minderhoud (seated, at left) and Nicole Werner.

But there’s a bit of soap opera going on here. You see, Edward Gal and fellow Dutchman Hans-Peter Minderhoud are long-term lovers, sharing a professional and personal life; they are partners, collaborating professionals and competitors in the show ring. Minderhoud and the mare Nadine became members of the Dutch Grand Prix team in 2007 and won historic team gold for Holland at the 2007 European Championships in Turin, Italy. As well, Minderhaud qualified for both team and individual dressage events at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

But I’m just warming up. Sponsor Gaston Glock, who just celebrated his 83rd birthday earlier this week, divorced his wife last year to marry 31-year old Kathrin Tschikof, CEO and manager of the Glock Horse Performance Center in Austria. Those of you quick with math will have already figured out that Gaston is more than 50 years older than Kathrin.

But that’s not the half. For those of you who are not readers of The Chronicle of the Horse or Euro Dressage, let me translate. Dressage (pronounced druh-SAHZH, French for “training”) is an ancient competitive equestrian sport in which a horse and rider perform a predetermined set of movements (in-place trots, halt, half pass, pirouettes, salute, etc.) in an arena – often to music – with minimal assistance from the rider. The dressage tests performed at the Olympics dressage competition are at the Grand Prix level (one of my regular blog readers has performed at the Prix St. Georges international level, so I asked him to proof this post). You may be familiar with the non-competitive dressage of the Lipizzaner stallions of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, Austria. I have twice visited the original stud farm of these magnificent white stallions at the village of Lipica* (spelled "Lipizza" in Italian) in modern-day Slovenia, a few miles inland from the Adriatic. The storied history of this Habsburg supported enterprise a stone’s throw from the Italian border hits you as you enter the grounds and gaze in awe at the sign stating “Since 1580.”

*Lipizzaner: the name is derived from the Slovenian word lipa (linden tree), which is common in the area. The staff at the Lipica stud farm to this day plant a new linden tree for every foal born there.

But I digress. The Germans have long dominated dressage and warmblood horse breeding. Nevertheless, Dutch rider Edward Gal (at left) and black stallion Moorlands Totilas (nicknamed “Toto”) accomplished an astonishing feat in 2010, winning triple gold at the FEI World Equestrian Games, the first ever to sweep the three available dressage gold medals at a single World Equestrian Games. Then a shocking sale of Totilas to a German owner took place later that year, breaking up the fabulous team of horse and rider, and the international dressage circuit was beside itself. The Germans had for years denigrated and loudly badmouthed the Dutch method of training, but were quick to snap up this Dutch trained miracle stallion, who was only in his second year in dressage despite being 10 years old; Toto’s success illustrated how capable Edward Gal was as a rider. Toto currently holds the world record for the highest dressage score in Grand Prix Freestyle Dressage, and earlier this year the Glocks tried to buy back Toto for Gal to ride in the upcoming Olympics, but the Germans wouldn’t sell. No surprise.

Turns out the Germans got their comeuppance. German dressage superstar Matthias Rath (pronounced RAHT), who had been training Toto for the 2012 Olympics, had to withdraw from the games earlier this month because of a glandular disorder. Let’s use the German term Schadenfreude to describe the likely reaction from Edward Gal.

I can’t finish this post without relating strange facts about the Dutch Dressage Team sponsor Gaston Glock. You see, Austrian-born Glock (below with young wife Kathrin) had never actually designed or manufactured a gun until he was 52 years old, but his Glock safe-action pistol has become known the world over. It has also made him enormously rich. When Glock was 70 (1999) Charles Ewert, one of Glock’s business associates, hired a 67-year-old French ex-mercenary to murder Glock with a mallet in a garage in Luxembourg in an attempt to cover up embezzlement of millions from the Glock company. I’m not making this up. Although Gaston received seven head wounds and lost a liter of blood, he survived the attack. Both hit man Jacques Pêcheur and Ewert were convicted and sentenced to long prison terms.

So, if you catch some of the upcoming Olympic dressage events next week (August 2-9) at historic Greenwich Park outside London, this bit of background might enhance your enjoyment. Let’s wish Edward Gal, who "plays for our team," the best success.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Konstantin Somov

Konstantin Somov (1869-1939) was a Russian Symbolist painter and illustrator associated with the World of Art movement (“Mir iskusstva” in Russian). Born to a father who was an art historian/curator and a  mother who was a superior musician, Somov became interested in 18th-century art and music at an early age. Growing up in a highly cultured family, he played piano, took singing lessons and started to paint. Significantly, he also became interested in men. In high school he had a passionate love affair with Dmitry Filosofov, who years later became Sergei Diaghilev's lover.

Somov (self portrait at left) studied at the Imperial Academy of Arts from 1888 to 1897. While at the Academy, he befriended Alexandre Benois, who later introduced him to Diaghilev and Leon Bakst. The World of Art movement, founded by a group of these students, promoted artistic individualism and other principles of Art Nouveau. Their magazine, with Diagilev as Editor-in-Chief, was highly influential in the world of art in the first decade of the twentieth century. Somov generously contributed to this publication.

Inspired by Watteau and Fragonard, he preferred to work with watercolors and gouache. For three years he worked on his masterpiece, Lady in Blue, painted in the manner of 18th-century portraitists.

During the 1910s, Somov executed a number of rococo harlequin scenes and illustrations for the poems by Alexander Blok. Many of his works were exhibited abroad, especially in Germany, where the first monograph on him was published in 1909. His lover from this time was Mefodii Lukyanov, and their relationship lasted more than twenty years.

Following the Russian Revolution, Somov emigrated to the United States, but found the country alien to his art. He relocated to Paris, where he lived out his days and was buried at the Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois Cemetery.

On June 14, 2007, Somov's painting Landscape with Rainbow (1927) was sold at Christie's auction house for US $7.33 million, a record for a work at an auction of Russian art (and seven times its high estimate). However, you might be more interested in some of his paintings of men, which are remarkable.The first of them is a painting called The Boxer (below), which sold last November for US $1.1 million, again at Christie’s auction house.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Robert Gant

Openly gay actor/producer Robert Gant has a role as a film director in Joshua Tree 1951: A Portrait of James Dean which screened at L.A.’s Outfest on Monday night, but I first became aware of him in his role as Ben Bruckner on the Showtime TV series Queer as Folk (2001-2005). The character Ben was an HIV positive college professor who became the long-term partner of lead character Michael (Hal Sparks), and the two eventually married in season 4. Gant came out publicly at the time Queer as Folk was on the air.

Born Robert John Gonzales in 1968 in Tampa FL, he studied law at Georgetown University in Washington DC and accepted a position with the L.A. office of Baker & McKenzie. The international firm's Los Angeles office closed soon thereafter, and Gant decided to abandon his career in law and devote his time to acting.

Gant stayed in the closet for over a decade while securing roles in television shows such as Caroline in the City, Friends, Melrose Place and Popular. Even after his success and recognition as Ben in Queer as Folk, he believes that openly gay actors are limited in their choices until achieving the stature of a romantic leading man. In 2009 Gant had a role in a BBC series called Personal Affairs that aired in the U.K. He was the sole American in the cast and crew, playing a straight guy from Amarillo, Texas.

Gant believes that “the last real frontier in Hollywood”  is an openly gay actor playing a leading romantic straight role.  Robert was cast as a straight man involved with a woman in the Lifetime movie Special Delivery, in which his character was involved with a woman played by Lisa Edelstein (House). The role involved an on-screen kiss.

Robert, who turned 44 on July 13, is involved in several philanthropic organizations that focus on the issue of aging in the gay community.

Trailer for a film about the ex-gay movement: Save Me (2007) with Chad Allen

Queer as Folk compilation of scenes with Ben (Robert Gant) and Michael (Hal Sparks). Considering that Sparks is straight, that's a whole lot of man-on-man kissing. Guess that's why they call it acting:

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Jerome Robbins

Jerome Robbins (1918-1998) was an American theater producer, dancer, director, and choreographer. Known primarily for his work in Broadway theater and ballet, he also directed Hollywood and television films. Of all his contributions over a career that lasted many decades, he is perhaps best known for the stage and film versions of West Side Story, which he choreographed and directed. Robbins was one of four gay male Jewish creators of this landmark show, collaborating with Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Laurents and Stephen Sondheim. Robbins won the Academy Award for Best Director with Robert Wise for the film West Side Story.

Born Jerome Wilson Rabinowitz in NYC, one month before the end of WW I, Robbins changed his last name to Robbins to disguise his ethnicity. He accompanied his sister to dance classes, and by the age of 19 had made his professional debut in a Yiddish Art Theater production. Robbins choreographed and performed at Lake Tamiment resort in the Poconos for five seasons, all the while dancing in Broadway musicals. In 1940 he joined Ballet Theatre (later known as American Ballet Theatre) and was soloist with that company from 1941 through 1944.

Robbins choreographed and danced in Fancy Free, a ballet about sailors on liberty that was staged at the Metropolitan Opera as part of the Ballet Theatre season in 1944. Oliver Smith, set designer and collaborator on Fancy Free, knew Leonard Bernstein, and eventually Robbins and Bernstein, both just 25 years old,  met to work on the music, resulting in a work of phenomenal success. Later that year, Robbins conceived and choreographed On the Town, a musical inspired by Fancy Free, thus launching his Broadway career. Again, Bernstein wrote the music. In 1947 he was praised for his comic Keystone Kops ballet in High Button Shoes, earning his first Tony Award for choreography.

During the 1950s barely a year went by without both a new Robbins ballet and a Broadway musical, and in this dual career he reached stratospheric heights in both fields. He directed and choreographed Irving Berlin's Call Me Madam, starring Ethel Merman. Robbins created celebrated dance sequences for Rodgers and Hammerstein's The King and I (1951), including the March of the Siamese Children, the ballet The Small House of Uncle Thomas and the Shall We Dance? polka between the two leads. He became associated with the New York City Ballet and was called in to perform uncredited assistance on troubled stage musicals, including Wonderful Town (1953). He worked on The Pajama Game (1954), which launched the career of Shirley MacLaine, and the Mary Martin vehicle Peter Pan (1955). As well, Robbins directed and co-choreographed Bells Are Ringing (1956), starring Judy Holliday. Other famed Broadway productions involving Mr. Robbins were Gypsy (1959) and Fiddler on the Roof (1964). But the magic year was 1957, when he conceived, choreographed, and directed a show that most feel is his crowning achievement, West Side Story. He won the Academy Award for Best Director with Robert Wise for the film version of that show, and the movie still holds the record as the film musical with the most Academy Award wins (10).

Robbins dominated the production of West Side Story, coming up with the original idea of a modern, urban Romeo and Juliet. Bernstein and Laurents added the idea of warring street gangs in place of Shakespeare's feuding families. The street warfare was between Puerto Ricans and U.S. born Americans, and at its most basic level the story is about how love can survive in a violent world of prejudice. The creators, all four of them homosexual and Jewish, knew a thing or two about prejudice. Other homosexuals involved in the project were set designer Oliver Smith, lighting designer Jean Rosenthal, costume designer Irene Sharaff as well as the first actor to play Tony, Larry Kert.

The West Side Story Broadway production team (1957), left to right: lyricist Stephen Sondheim, scriptwriter Arthur Laurents, producers Hal Prince and Robert Griffith (seated), composer Leonard Bernstein and choreographer Jerome Robbins (on ladder).

Complicating their bond, however, was the fact that Leonard Bernstein and Arthur Laurents, both of them blacklisted, were working with Jerome Robbins, who only a few years earlier, during the McCarthy era, had cooperated with those responsible for the blacklist by naming names. This was a stain on the record of Jerome Robbins and alienated him from many people. Robbins, a closeted homosexual, cooperated with the House Un-American Activities Committee under threat of exposure as a homosexual. Nevertheless, Broadway dancer Buzz Miller and Robbins carried on a five year live-in relationship (1950-1955), and Robbins later had affairs with actor Montgomery Clift, photographer Jesse Gerstein and film maker Warren Sonbert.

Bernstein recalled that the give and take and flexibility among the four young West Side Story creators was extraordinary. Each inspired the other to greater heights of creativity and genius. Robbins insisted that the entire ensemble of actors also sing and dance, which was an innovation and challenge in casting the landmark musical.

Laurents said, "I think the difficulty was having death, attempted rape and murder in a musical.  The subject matter – bigotry, violence and prejudice – might have precluded people from paying money to see that sort of thing – with dancing and an orchestra."

Carol Lawrence, who created the role of Maria, said, "The opening night in 1957 in Washington, DC, when the curtain went up for our curtain calls (after Tony's lifeless body had been taken away and the strains of 'Somewhere' played under the tolling of a single bell – it still breaks me up) we ran to our places and faced the audience holding hands. As the curtain went up, and we looked at the audience, they just looked at us, and we at them, and I thought, 'Oh, dear Lord, it's a bomb!' "

"We thought the thing was going down the drain," Laurents added. "Oh, it was awful."

"And then, as if Robbins had choreographed it," Carol Lawrence said, "they all jumped to their feet. I never saw people stamping and yelling, and by that time, Bernstein had worked his way backstage, and he came at the final curtain and walked to me, put his arms around me, and we wept."

Walter Kerr of the Herald Tribune opened his review with the classic and much-repeated line, "The radioactive fallout from West Side Story must still be descending on Broadway this morning."

The rest is American musical theater history.

Here’s a video of the 9-minute prologue from the movie version of West Side Story (1961). In spite of the Broadway production's critical success, the show seldom sold out, and it didn't make money until the movie version came along, introducing the show to millions. The choreography of Jerome Robbins is beyond brilliant, from the opening finger snaps to classical ballet moves incorporated into the movements of street gangs, to a choreographed rumble with rock throwing.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Ned Warren & John Marshall

Art Collectors and Lovers

Born into a fabulously wealthy Boston family of paper manufacturers, Edward Perry “Ned” Warren (1860-1928) was taunted as a schoolboy for being a sissy and a bookworm – and no wonder. It was his habit to get up at 5:00 a.m. so that he could study Greek before breakfast time. He kept a diary in which he detailed his schoolboy crushes, even writing poems about male classmates he particularly fancied. Ned made no attempt to keep his attraction to men a secret, much to the dismay of his distressed household.

Warren bristled at the Puritanical mores of New England, so he set his sights on Oxford, where the gay-friendly, all-male university scene was more to his taste. The English boarding school tradition was rife with consensual male/male sexual activity, and many of those habits continued to be practiced among the high born and well-connected young men at Oxford. Warren felt right at home wearing tweeds while courting his comely classmates over afternoon tea. He furnished his rooms with the finest silver, artwork, furniture, porcelain and crystal to provide a luxurious and impressive setting for entertaining his classmates. His rhapsodic speeches extolling the virtues of an all-male cult of Greek love found many sympathetic ears. As well, several university scholars focused on Hellenism and the homoeroticism of ancient art and culture, and Warren never looked back. From that moment he made England his home, and he soon became a major force in collecting and brokering Etruscan, Greek and Roman art, for which he had an uncanny passion. He also wrote a lengthy essay that was printed privately, A Defence of Uranian* Love.

*Uranian was a word used before the term “homosexual” came into use in the late nineteenth century.

During his second year at Oxford Ned met John Marshall, a middle-class Englishman who was studying to become an Anglican vicar. The two became lovers, and Marshall abandoned theology for the classics curriculum, taking top honors. After his father’s death in 1888, Ned began receiving an annual income of over a million dollars a year. The pair left Oxford the following year and set about converting an austere Georgian mansion (see photo above) in Lewes, East Sussex, into a showplace for classical art. Ned had proposed a plan by which the two would form a partnership to scout, purchase and broker the sale of antiquities. Marshall's parents, however, still expected their son to become a vicar, so Warren upped the ante, knowing that Marshall had long dreamed of living in a manor house. Worked like a charm. Marshall made his contribution to the new enterprise, as well. He educated himself to the point that he knew the value, provenance and authenticity of the pieces Ned was interested in, along the way becoming a skilled negotiator for such purchases. Warren's pockets were deep, and the couple began acquiring art to fill the vast rooms, albeit it at the same level and pace as famed collectors J. P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie and Henry Frick. Warren went on to become what is generally considered the most important collector of classical antiquities in American history. Warren and Marshall eventually had complete control of the market. Almost everything that was good, whether a new find or an old one, came to them for first refusal; competition had all but ceased.

Ned (left) and John shown with their beloved terriers.

Ned commissioned an “anatomically enhanced” version of Rodin's The Kiss (Le Baiser), telling the sculptor that he wanted the male figure to have a prominent penis. Although earlier versions of this statue did not feature a visible male sex organ, Rodin happily complied. This sculpture, turned down by museums in America for being too explicit, now resides at London’s Tate Gallery. Warren’s many bequests to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and New York’s Metropolitan Museum included large collections of vases and pottery depicting pornographic male images. The Boston museum finally cataloged and exhibited a few of them in 1950, but the Metropolitan tossed theirs into storage, where they remain to this day uncataloged, unphotographed, unexhibited and unacknowledged. Warren’s gifts and acquisitions to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts made up ninety per cent of its classical collection, which is regarded as one of the finest in the world.

A solid silver six-inch tall drinking goblet dating back to the first century was found near Jerusalem, and Ned purchased it from a dealer in Italy soon after its discovery. Since known as the Warren Cup, it illustrates two scenes of a man and a boy having sexual relations while being observed by a servant boy. The craftsmanship is exquisite, especially the finely wrought facial expressions, drapery and hair.

Warren’s attempts to sell it to museums in London and the U.S. were unsuccessful, because of its controversial depiction of full-on anal sex between men. This important example of classical art thus remained in Ned’s personal collection, and even subsequent owners never put it on public display. It was not until 1999 that the British Museum in London purchased it for a tremendous sum, and photographs of its pornographic details were splashed all over England’s tabloid press (detail below). It has been on display ever since and attracts large crowds.

In 1991 David Sox published Bachelors of Art: Edward Perry Warren and the Lewes House Brotherhood, which describes and illuminates many of Ned’s male companions. Handsome, single young men joined Ned and John’s household, ostensibly to assist in cataloging their acquisitions. If any of the villagers questioned these domestic arrangements, they were mollified by Ned’s generous scholarships and donations to local causes. Although Ned traipsed about between homes in Maine, Boston, Rome and England, his partner John Marshall usually remained in Italy or Greece to affect on-site purchasing of classical art. Their exchange of letters reveals John’s complaints of loneliness, which led to his entering into a marriage of convenience with one of Ned’s female cousins, who sought to end her unflattering designation as a spinster. She and John had become advisers and purchasers of antiquities for NYC's Metropolitan Museum of Art, so they spent most of their time together. Ned willingly financed the couple’s lifestyle in Italy, since it afforded him opportunity to pursue other young men. Almost immediately Warren took up with a handsome, straight English jock, making him his secretary and moving him into Lewes House, where he eventually started a family up on the top floor. Warren used his vast wealth to sponsor the educations of numerous young men who showed promise but had no money. His roving eye caused many a stormy scene in his on-again, off-again relationship with John Marshall. As he got older, however, Ned came back into John's fold.

For twenty years Ned, John and John's wife lived together under the same roof, Ned and John nestled together in the master bedchamber while John's wife slept elsewhere in the house. The three took every meal together and always traveled as a trio. After the death of John's wife, Warren and Marshall found themselves in residence at their apartment in Rome during the late winter of 1928. On the fifteenth of February John retired for the evening, saying that he was not feeling well. Ned gave him a kiss and joined him in bed, but John was discovered dead when Ned awoke the next morning. Ned, who never recovered from the shock, returned to England, where his own health rapidly declined. Ten months later John himself died in a nursing home at the age of sixty-eight, three days after Christmas.

Because of his open homosexuality, no members of Warren’s family attended the funeral, and none of the museums to which he had donated numerous and priceless works of art sent a representative to the January memorial service. Following the terms of Ned's will, the remains of Ned, John and John's wife were all interred under a sculpted urn in a small village in Italy where the three had often enjoyed the simple pleasures of the spa town.

Charles Eliot Norton, the American scholar and professor of the art history at Harvard, summed up Ned Warren in this fashion: “There is not and never has been in America or Europe a man with such capacities, will, and circumstances for collecting, and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (antiquities collection) must be entirely dependent upon him."

Friday, July 13, 2012

Bill Blass

William R. Blass (1922-2002) was first and foremost a handsome, gay fashion designer and society maven. As a couturier he made millions and was thus able to travel in the social circles of the rich and famous clients he dressed – Blass was on a first name basis with several presidents’ wives.

He was also a philanthropist, a collector of art, furniture and antiquities, and an activist. He lived a life of glitz and glamor, squiring around the wives of some of the world’s most powerful men. Scores of married women up and down Park Avenue called on Blass when their husbands were too bored or tired to go out for a black-tie party.

From the time he formed Bill Blass Limited in 1970, his career was on a rocket trajectory; by 1998 his firm had grown to a $700-million-a-year business. A native of Ft. Wayne, Indiana, he had been a protégé of socialite/fashion editor Baron de Gunzburg, as were Oscar de la Renta and Calvin Klein; these three men went on to dominate the fashion industry, each becoming far more famous than Gunzburg, their mentor.

Over the next 30 years he expanded his line of clothing for men and women to include swimwear, furs, luggage, perfume, and even chocolates. As well, he designed signature collection editions of Lincoln Continental automobiles from 1976 through 1992. The Blass name came to be associated with a uniquely American style of his own invention: tailored, sporty classicism, with an accent on tweeds, cashmere sweaters, impeccable evening gowns, and his signature blazers.

Many of the world’s richest and most famous women wore his creations: Jacqueline Kennedy, Gloria Vanderbilt (photo at right; a.k.a. Anderson Cooper’s mother), Nancy Reagan, opera diva Jessye Norman,  Barbara Bush, Candice Bergen, Barbra Streisand, Brooke Astor, Nancy Kissinger, Happy Rockefeller and Barbara Walters – for starters.

Blass served in the U.S. Army during WW II and began a career in fashion in NYC immediately after, in 1946. At the peak of his influence as a designer in the late 1980s he became a generous supporter of AIDS treatment services; Blass was also a major donor to Gay Men's Health Crisis at a time when most prominent people were silent about AIDS. One of the founder members of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), he was the first to receive the CFDA Perignon Award for Humanitarian leadership beyond fashion; Blass donated the $25,000 prize to the AIDS care center of New York Hospital.

In 1999 Blass sold Bill Blass Limited for $50 million and retired to his home in New Preston, Connecticut. Blass was diagnosed with oral/tongue cancer in 2000, not long after he began writing his memoirs. His cancer took his life in 2002, and he died at age 79, six days after completing his memoir, Bare Blass. His will bequeathed half his $52 million estate, as well as several important ancient sculptures, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Sotheby’s oversaw the auction of the designer’s possessions in 2003, bringing in $13.6 million, more than double the high estimates.  The contents of his NYC Sutton Place apartment and 1779 stone house in New Preston, CT (photos of both below), comprised the 475-page auction catalog (sold out at $45), instantly becoming a treasured collectible coffee-table item. Used copies sell today for $100-$200.

His homes were designed as virtual galleries for his vast collections. The interiors were considered influential and trend-setting, in that they mixed antiquities with nineteenth century objects.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Aaron Copland

Copland by Candlelight
by Victor Kraft

The talented boy from Brooklyn started piano lessons at age seven and began composing music by age eight. When he turned twenty-one his musical gifts were deemed so extraordinary that he moved to Paris to study with legendary teacher Nadia Boulanger. She was so impressed that she arranged for his works to be performed by symphony orchestras in Boston and New York. Audiences and critics hated what they heard. When they weren’t booing and hissing, they were spreading the word that his music was dull, derivative, unimaginative and ineffective.

Although Aaron Copland (1900-1990) is now considered a major figure in American classical music, he had to develop a thick skin for the first eight years of his professional career. Obviously Boulanger heard something in his music that was not shared by others. His personal life was a major disappointment, as well. He was not a social butterfly, nor was he handsome. To be honest, he wasn’t even attractive. He was tall, rail thin, careless about his clothes, had protruding teeth and an enormous nose. He wore glasses and his hair had thinned prematurely.

Although most other American expats lived a wild, Bohemian lifestyle while in Europe, Copland was geeky, reserved and a model of propriety. During the three years he lived and studied in Paris he was not sexually involved with anyone. It didn’t help that he liked his men handsome and very young. His first major man crush was with 16-year-old musician Israel Citkowitz; Copland was 26, and his feelings were not reciprocated. Next up was 19-year-old Paul Bowles, another musician; Copland was 29, and the result was the same. Then along came the stunningly handsome, muscular 17-year-old violinist Victor Kraft. Copland was 32, and it turns out the third time was the charm.

But Copland, thrilled at finally having his attentions returned, had already accepted an invitation from a fellow composer to travel to Mexico City for two months, so he called ahead to inform his host that he’d be bringing along a 17-year-old pupil for the entire time, saying, “Im sure you’ll like him.” Copland had intended to compose the full duration of his stay, but young Victor (photo at left) had other ideas, and he was quite persuasive. Victor insisted that Aaron take a real holiday, and the two spent many days at the beach while Copland happily photographed Kraft in the nude.

Copland had to keep up with Kraft’s youthful enthusiasm, and the pair frequently went clubbing until dawn. This was a 180-degree turn-around in Copland’s life, and he was so happy that he willingly agreed to Kraft’s desire to extend the stay to a full five months. The two acted like honeymooners, trekking off to Acapulco, Cuernavaca and Xochimilco.

A fortuitous side effect of this young love was Copland’s rebirth as a composer. He dropped his complicated, dense European style of writing and began filling scores with a fresh, simple kind of music, a reflection of the lifestyle he and Kraft had shared in Mexico. The first of these, El Salón México, resulted in something that Copland had never heard before – rave reviews and enthusiastic audience reception. In gratitude for his young lover’s inspiration and influence, Copland dedicated El Salón México to Victor Kraft (see top of title page below).

This piece was based on sheet music Copland obtained for four Mexican folk songs. “El Salón México” was a real place, an actual popular dance hall. Copland elaborated:

A sign on the wall of the dance hall read: “Please don’t throw lighted cigarette butts on the floor so the ladies won’t burn their feet.” A guard, stationed at the bottom of the steps leading to the three halls, would nonchalantly frisk you as you started up the stairs to be sure you had checked all your “artillery” at the door and to collect the 1 peso charged for admittance.  When the dance hall closed at 5:00 a.m., it hardly seemed worthwhile to some of the patrons to travel all the way home, so they curled themselves up on chairs around the walls for a quick two hour snooze before going to their seven o’clock job in the morning.

Copland then set about writing a string of hits, such as music for the ballet Billy the Kid and numerous film scores. Before he knew it, he found his soundtrack for the movie Of Mice and Men nominated for an Academy Award. Kraft had moved into Copland’s Manhattan apartment and took over the household, playing the role of charming host by planning and cooking for casual dinner parties. Kraft gave up his own career as a violinist to work in the field of photojournalism, going on to achieve great success in this endeavor. Kraft also insisted that Copland clear his schedule several times a year so that they could enjoy felicitous getaways as a couple.

At this time Fanfare for the Common Man, perhaps now the most recognizable 2-minute composition in history, came about as a commission from the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in 1942. It has since been used in advertising, films, rock anthems, and even as the wake-up call for astronauts. President Obama chose it to kick-off his inaugural celebrations in 2009. Success built upon success, and the cup that held Copland’s musical inspiration was suddenly filled to overflowing.

As Copland’s fame grew, Kraft saw to it that the composer had a stress-free home life. Victor planned vacations – local getaways as well as major treks to Cuba, South America and a return visit to Mexico. Kraft even found a cottage retreat for the pair when they needed a break from the hustle and bustle of Manhattan. Copland bought it, and they enjoyed their first stay in rural New Jersey in 1944. That summer Copland’s Appalachian Spring won the Pulitzer Prize. Two more film scores were nominated for an Academy Award, and his soundtrack for the film adaption of the Henry James novel The Heiress (1940) won the Academy Award for best musical score.

This photo of Copland at work in his studio was taken by Victor Kraft.

Film work meant that Copland was spending more and more time in California, while Victor had to stay behind in NYC, where he was working full time as a photographer for Harper’s Bazaar. Copland’s penchant for young male flesh began to breed trouble into their relationship, as his fame meant he had no difficulty attracting men 20-30 years his junior into the bedroom. In an attempt at making Copland jealous, Victor Kraft entered into an affair with Leonard Bernstein. When that ploy failed, Kraft delivered a bolt of lightning by marrying a female writer, Pearl Kazin, in 1951. The marriage went up in flames, however, lasting only a few months, and Kraft went back to Copland.

Victor had to accept that Copland would forever pursue young flesh, but took comfort that he remained the focus of Copland’s life. They continued to enjoy sexual relations, and Victor took on secretarial and managerial duties for the composer. While they lived a surprisingly open life as a couple, Copland never provided details of their relationship to the public. His stock comment was, “I’m married to my music.”

Hardly. Copland blazed a trail through relationships with many younger, talented young men – artist Alvin Ross, pianist Paul Moor, dancer Erik Johns (librettist for Copland's opera The Tender Land) and composer John Brodbin Kennedy, for starters. By the late 1950s, however, the strain of Copland’s philandering took its toll on Victor. He quit his job, got into fights with Copland’s younger lovers and suffered crying fits. Unable to deal with the emotional strain, Kraft married once more, settling into a house only a few miles from Copland’s residence. They had a son named Jeremy Aaron, who was born with brain damage. At this, Victor’s mind snapped. His handsome appearance lapsed into that of a sloppily dressed long-haired hippie. He sank into a ruinous drug culture. He begged Copland to reenter into a relationship with him, and upon his refusal kidnapped his own 7-year-old son and took him out of the country. Although Copland was alarmed by Kraft’s behavior, he did not break off all communication. Although Copland made sure Kraft was kept from high profile events, such as Copland’s presentation of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and various Grammy Award ceremonies, Copland remembered Victor’s positive influence on his music and life in their early years together. Most biographers agree that Copland’s feelings of guilt over his constant humiliations and betrayals of Kraft prohibited a clean break from each other.

Copland’s musical inspiration seemed to dry up as difficulties continued to plague his personal life. Nevertheless, he and Kraft continued to travel together and maintain sexual relations. After Kraft separated from his second wife, Copland traveled with him on trips to Israel and England (photograph at right, Yorkshire 1970). Six years later Kraft died of a heart attack while vacationing in Maine in 1976. He was sixty years old.

Upon Victor’s death Copland was devastated and entered into a period of clinical depression. He looked after Victor’s son and even paid for the boy’s tuition at a private school. As for Copland, major recognition continued to come his way – the Kennedy Center Honors in 1979 and a Medal of the Arts from Ronald Reagan in 1986 – but Copland had written his last great music well before Kraft’s death. Copland also ceased his pursuit of young men, likely because of guilt over the humiliating affairs that lead to Victor’s tragic demise.

When Copland died fourteen years after Kraft, there were great tributes and accolades that flooded the press. No public mention, however, was made of Victor Kraft. Every news source referred to Copland as a lifelong bachelor, when in fact he had been one of the first prominent homosexual composers to live openly with a male partner.

Note: Most of the source material for this post comes from Rodger Streitmatter’s book Outlaw Marriages: The Hidden Histories of Fifteen Extraordinary Same-Sex Couples, published in May of this year. Highly recommended. Streitmatter is a professor at the School of Communication of American University in Washington, DC.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Gerald McCullouch

“Officially” out Anderson Cooper has some competition for the title of Silver Fox. Openly gay actor, singer, stand-up comedian, pianist, TV host, model and film maker Gerald (hard “g”) McCullouch provides us with this succinct Twitter profile:

“CSI’s Bobby Dawson/OUT 100 honoree. A brazen misfit livin’ the bicoastal dream & diggin’ it moocho. My Gs hard & I end w/an ouch. Life’s short. Choose laughter.”

For more than ten seasons McCullouch (b. 1967) has played the recurring character Bobby Dawson, a ballistics expert, on the popular CBS television series CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. His first appearance was in episode two. McCullouch has also appeared on Law and Order, Beverly Hills 90210 and Melrose Place.

But Gerald’s television career is just the tip of the iceberg, and there’s so much accomplishment that I can only cover the highlights. He is perhaps most proud of his award-winning short film The Moment After (2002), for which he was producer, writer, director and actor. The basic plot centers on the “many things that seem to stifle the courage it takes to say ‘yes’ to life.” In an interview he recalled that after a Fresno screening, there were lots of CSI fans waiting to talk to him, but “this kid came up and hugged me. He was crying, so we went outside for a moment. He just kept hugging me and said, ‘Thank you. Your movie helped me understand my mother’s suicide.’ It was a really beautiful moment, because it illuminated the story we told.”

McCullough is generating buzz these days, because a sequel to the film Bear City (2010) is making the rounds of gay film festivals. The original film was a sort of “hirsute ‘Sex and the City,’ following the adventures of a group of bears (and their cubs) in New York City.” From the New York Times review (Oct. 21, 2010): "Warm, funny, thoughtful... a triumph in the audience-appeal category." Bear City was the winner of two OUTFEST Grand Jury Awards, and the film was a standout because it tackled a subject of gays discriminating against gays – in this instance, bears and cubs not revealing their inclinations to their other gay friends/family for fear of intolerance. 

The sequel, Bear City 2: The Proposal (2012), will have its East Coast premiere July 22 at Philadelphia’s QFest. Featuring most of the original cast from the first film, this sequel further explores the gay bear scene as the gang travels to Provincetown for Bear Week to celebrate the wedding of Roger and Tyler (Gerald McCullouch and Joe Conti). Much drama ensues.

Gerald created the lead role in Dan Via’s off-Broadway stage play DADDY (2010), which went on to enjoy a successful run in Santa Monica, CA in 2011, being extended several times. He has worked with such notable actors as Jeff Goldblum, Robert Redford, Natalie Portman, Heather Locklear, Liev Schreiber and William Shatner, among many others.

In November 2010 McCullouch was named one of Out magazine’s “top 100 most compelling members of the LGBT community”, an honor that took him by surprise.

For all things Gerald McCullouch, visit his web site:

And here’s the trailer for Bear City2: The Proposal. Catch it at a film festival near you.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Walt Whitman & Peter Doyle

A Long-Term Romance
Irish-born Peter Doyle was a streetcar conductor when he met the great  poet-journalist-essayist Walt Whitman (see engraving at left) in an encounter that developed into a 27-year-long relationship. Whitman, who is considered the father of American free verse, was more than twice Doyle’s age when they met in 1865: Doyle was 21, Whitman 45. Whitman was the lone passenger on Doyle’s horse-drawn streetcar on a wintry day in Washington, DC, and Doyle later commented that the bearded Whitman, with a blanket about his shoulders, looked like “an old sea captain.”

“I thought I would go over and talk to him,” Doyle revealed in an interview after Whitman’s death. “Something in me made me do it. He used to say there was something in me that had the same effect on him. We were familiar at once. I put my hand on his knee, and from that time on we were the biggest sort of friends.”

Friends indeed. Whitman did not get off at his stop, but rode all the way back to the station of origin, where the couple celebrated their first meeting by spending the night together in a nearby Georgetown hotel. Doyle went on to inspire some of Whitman’s greatest works of verse. What made their relationship remarkable was its openness. Both their families and all of Whitman’s friends knew them as a couple, and they often engaged in public displays of affection. They were regularly seen together on the streets, in the bars and on streetcars in the nation’s capital and frequently hiked together along the tow paths of the Potomac River. During these drawn-out walks of five to ten miles, Whitman would express his elevated mood by whistling and singing, interspersed with recitations of poetry. Although he had moved from New York to Washington when he first heard his brother had been injured in the Civil War (he walked the entire distance), Whitman considered the ten years he spent in Washington, DC, the most important ones of his life. Doyle played a large part in that assessment.

Whitman wanted to create a home together with Doyle, but Doyle had to uphold his duties to live with and support his widowed mother and siblings. Nevertheless, they spent most nights together, either at a hotel or in Whitman’s rooming house. After his shift as a clerk in a government office, Whitman would board Doyle’s streetcar and ride out the rest of Peter’s route. Whitman often had clothes made for Peter, who needed every cent of his earnings to support his family. Charmingly, Whitman would often surprise Doyle with bouquets of flowers, much as a man would do when wooing a woman. Totally smitten, Whitman took to calling Doyle “Peter the Great.”

They were a study in contrasts. Doyle (at right in photo) was short and slim, Whitman tall and burly. Doyle had been a Rebel artilleryman during the Civil War, later working in Washington, DC, to support his mother and brothers. Whitman was a great Union patriot, with a brother who had been a Union soldier;  Whitman had frequently volunteered to tend to wounded soldiers in Washington’s army hospitals, and his written descriptions of many of the young wounded soldiers crossed the line to eroticism. All his life Whitman surrounded himself with handsome, strapping young men of the working class.

Whitman delighted in Doyle’s recitation of limericks. Although his family had left Ireland for the U.S. when Peter was just eight years old, Doyle continued to spout off limericks old and new in his charming Irish accent. Whitman’s most popular Abraham Lincoln poem, “O Captain! My Captain!”, was influenced by Doyle, who had been an eyewitness to Lincoln’s assassination at Ford’s Theater in Washington, DC. Doyle had come to America with his mother and brothers on a ship that nearly wrecked in a storm on Good Friday in 1852. Good Friday was coincidentally the day of Lincoln’s assassination, so in a nod to Doyle, Whitman memorialized Lincoln as a ship’s captain who died piloting his vessel through a storm to the safety of port. This poem is metered and rhymed, unlike most of Whitman’s output of free verse. In fact, the poem’s first draft was in free verse, so it’s probable that Whitman revised it to honor Doyle’s rhyming ditties.

Between 1879 and 1890, Whitman delivered an annual lecture called "The Death Of President Lincoln," heard by many people who didn't know his poetry. The lecture described the murder as vividly as if Whitman had witnessed the shooting. Of course Whitman based the details of his lecture, which greatly increased his celebrity, on Doyle’s eyewitness account.

Before Walt met Peter he published a series of homoerotic poems known as “Calamus” (named for a  phallic-shaped plant known as an aphrodisiac), which resulted in Whitman’s being fired from his job at the Department of the Interior. Three of these poems lamented Walt’s earlier failed relationship with Fred Vaughan, who had gone on to marry after his break with Whitman. Peter successfully petitioned Walt to delete these three poems from the 1867 edition of “Leaves Of Grass”.

Although Whitman was open in his affection with Doyle, he nevertheless used code to refer to Doyle in his private journals. “16.4" stood for Peter Doyle, since “P” is the sixteenth and “D” the fourth letter of the alphabet. As well, he later erased the last two letters if “him” and replaced them with “er”.

After Whitman’s first stroke in 1873, Peter nursed Whitman for months. Whitman repaid Doyle’s kindness by recommending Peter’s brother for a Treasury Department job. After a second stroke Whitman went to live with his brother in Camden, NJ. Doyle visited frequently, but as years passed their relationship was reduced to an impassioned exchange of letters. Walt hid a new relationship with Harry Stafford from Doyle until Stafford finally broke with Whitman and married a woman. Whitman gave 18-year-old Stafford a ring, which was returned and given back several times over the course of their stormy relationship. Stafford once wrote to Whitman about the ring, "You know when you put it on there was but one thing to part it from me, and that was death."

Peter moved to Philadelphia after his mother died in 1885, so they were able to see each other frequently by living in such close proximity. Whitman suffered a third stroke in 1889, and Doyle suddenly became absent from his life, leading Walt to think that Peter must have died. Doyle explained later that it was too difficult to navigate the scrutiny of Walt’s housekeeper and care givers to be able to be at Walt’s side, although Doyle was able to make a personal visit shortly before Whitman’s death from tuberculosis in 1892. Peter attended the wake and subsequent funeral, remaining a part of Whitman’s surviving circle of friends until his own death in 1907.Peter Doyle was buried in the Congressional Cemetery* at 1801 E St. SE on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.

In 1897, decades worth of letters between Doyle and Whitman were published under the title Calamus, A Series Of Letters Written During The Years 1868-1880 by Walt Whitman To A Young Friend (Peter Doyle) by Boston publisher Laurens Maynard. From one of the reviews (1898) of this volume:

The publishing of the letters addressed by Whitman to Peter Doyle is justified by the fact that they throw all the light that is needed upon the poet's friendships with younger men, and upon that section of "Leaves of Grass" called "Calamus" in which he celebrates "the manly love of comrades." The sentiment in question, depending on a semi-physical attraction, is common among boys, young men of the working class, who can be considered as grown-up boys, and, as we are told by travelers, among savages. These letters show Whitman to have been one of the few in whom this feeling lives on into mature years; he seems to have been always attracted by, and attractive to, young men. The recipient of these letters was a young Confederate soldier, who, being paroled in Washington, became a car-conductor, and in that capacity first encountered Whitman, whose habit of conversing at every opportunity with men of that class is well known.

Subsequently, the reading of this book of letters between the two men was forbidden in the household of Peter’s sister, and Peter became a black sheep of the family after the volume’s publication. Doyle had indeed been brave in permitting their publication, given the public mores of the day.

Doyle spoke in an interview after Whitman’s death: “I have Walt's raglan here (goes to the closet and puts it on). I now and then put it on, lie down, think I am back in the old times. Then he is with me again. It's the only thing I kept amongst many old things. When I get it on and stretch out on the old sofa I am very well contented. It is like Aladdin's lamp. I do not ever for a minute lose the old man. He is always near by. When I am in trouble – in a crisis – I ask myself, ‘What would Walt have done under these circumstances?’, and whatever I decide Walt would have done, that I do.”

Well, there you have it.

In 1994 Martin Murray, founder of the Washington Friends of Walt Whitman,  published Pete the Great: A Biography of Peter Doyle in 1994. Murray and his friend Morgan McDonald have led walking tours of the places in DC where Whitman lived and worked. The text of the Doyle biography can be found at:

*Congressional Cemetery is also the final resting place of Sgt. Leonard Matlovich, whose headstone reads “They gave me a medal for killing two men, and a discharge for loving one.” Nearby are the graves of J. Edgar Hoover and his ‘special friend’ Clyde Tolson – details of their relationship will go down in the annals of infamy.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Chris Hughes & Sean Eldridge Marry

After a year-and-a-half engagement, Chris Hughes and Sean Eldridge married in a civil ceremony on Saturday, June 30 before 75 guests at their 8o-acre estate in Garrison, NY. William J. Corbett, a retired village justice, was the officiant. The subsequent reception at Cipriani, an ultra- posh Manhattan restaurant, included 400 guests, among them House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), actor Kal Penn, Newark Mayor Cory Booker, Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), TV host Gayle King, Huffington Post publisher Arianna Huffington, Facebook’s first president (and Napster founder) Sean Parker and freshly-married Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg. Guests were entertained by a big band jazz orchestra before a blue and white multi-tiered cake topped by two grooms, one blond and one brunette.

Just like Zuckerberg, the couple announced their marriage with a Facebook Life Event update along with a set of photographs. The moment must have been particularly sweet for Eldridge, who until a year ago was political director of the same-sex marriage advocacy group Freedom to Marry.

Mr. Hughes (holding leash, above), 28, works from New York City, Garrison NY and Washington DC as the publisher and editor in chief of The New Republic magazine (est. 1914), which he purchased last November. TNR is a highly-regarded Washington DC-based politics and arts magazine with a liberal bent. Hughes graduated magna cum laude from Harvard with a degree in history and literature before taking a job in California with Facebook, which he had co-founded with Mark Zuckerberg, Dustin Moskovitz and Eduardo Saverin. Hughes’ stake in the value of Facebook is today estimated to be $650-750 million. Mr. Hughes also led the online organizing for Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.

Mr. Eldridge, 25, is the founder and treasurer of Protect Our Democracy, an advocacy group based in Garrison that seeks campaign finance reform. He is also the president of Hudson River Ventures, an investment firm. Eldridge graduated from Brown University.

Note: On the same weekend that Hughes and Eldridge married, Facebook rolled out two new timeline icons that show two little grooms (above) and two little brides, to better represent the reality of gay marriage. Previously, all Facebook marriage announcements were represented by a little cake topper icon that depicted a bride and groom. Wedding photos by Mel Barlow, posted on the Facebook page of Mr. Hughes, naturally.

The couple met in November 2005 through a college acquaintance of Mr. Eldridge’s at a brunch in Harvard Square in Cambridge MA. Mr. Eldridge was working as a customer service manager for a moving company in Somerville MA, and Mr. Hughes was a senior at Harvard. At the time Hughes was already a founder of Facebook.

“He was very intelligent and charismatic,” Chris said of Sean. “He was very kind and politically engaged, and he cared about the world around us. All of that was very attractive to me.”

Eldridge was equally attracted. A week later, he asked Chris out on a date.

“I think we shared a lot of important, common interests,” Eldridge said. “We have a love of philosophy, politics and literature. He was one of the most intelligent and ambitious people I had ever met.”

Their first date was at Temple Bar in Cambridge. Sean said that he and Chris “had a great time. It all happened very fast.”

In this YouTube clip filmed two weeks after he became engaged to Hughes, Sean Eldridge delivers a short speech about the urgency of working for the right of same sex couples to marry. Inspiring.