Role models of greatness.

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

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Arnold Weissberger & Milton Goldman

I was drawn to a window display at a used book store in Hillcrest (San Diego), which was featuring a pristine copy of Famous Faces (1973), a six pound coffee table book containing 1500 photographs taken by L. Arnold Weissberger. I had never heard of him. I bought the book and upon my return to Washington DC fired up the computer to learn something about the author. Turns out that Weissberger, who was not formally trained as a photographer, never used a flash when taking pictures of his friends, all of whom were celebrities in the entertainment field. The book of photographs is a “who's who” of celebrities, and there are comments by Sir Noel Coward, Igor Stravinsky, Sir John Gielgud, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Rebecca West, Anita Loos, Orson Welles and many more. I discovered that entertainment lawyer Arnold Weissberger (1907-1991) and his life partner, theatrical talent agent Milton Goldman (1915-1989), were popular hosts known for throwing parties for A-list stars. Arnold was more than likely their lawyer, and Milton their source of jobs.

Milton Goldman was vice president of International Creative Management (I.C.M.), and head of its theater department. His clients included such luminaries as Helen Hayes, John Gielgud, Laurence Olivier, Arlene Dahl, Maureen Stapleton, Mary Martin, Christopher Plummer, Lillian Gish, Hildegarde, Vanessa Redgrave, Albert Finney, Ruth Gordon and Peggy Ashcroft. Goldman was also president of Martha Graham's Center for Contemporary Dance and served on the boards of other nonprofits. He served as father confessor, rabbi, psychiatrist, and best friend to many of the top stars he represented. Attending the theatre up to five times a week, he was always on the lookout for new clients. His weekends were devoted to reading and casting new plays.

When Milton met theatrical lawyer L. Arnold Weissberger, a relationship began that lasted thirty years. It was a wry coincidence that Arnold’s initials spelled LAW. Arnold was in partnership (as Weissberger and Frosch) with Aaron Frosch, who was executor of Marilyn Monroe’s will. Brooklyn-born Weissberger represented artists and theatrical personalities the likes of Otto Preminger, Martha Graham, Igor Stravinsky, Helen Hayes, Ruth Gordon, Laurence Olivier, David O. Selznick, Orson Welles, Placido Domingo, Truman Capote, George Balanchine, Carol Channing and Garson Kanin. Note the intentional overlap with many of Goldman’s clients.

Arnold, an avid art collector, was almost never seen without a white carnation (to match his white moustache) in the buttonhole of his suit’s lapel, and he was seldom seen with his jacket off. He spoke with an upper-class Boston accent, acquired by spending seven years at Harvard. Arnold and Milton entertained at their apartment on East 55th Street, between First Avenue and Sutton Place, before moving to 45 Sutton Place South. It was at the latter address that their entertaining took on a two-tier style, when they began holding separate A-list and B-list parties. They also entertained at their ocean-front weekend home in Seacliff, Long Island, but they had almost daily business lunches at the Four Seasons restaurant when in residence in Manhattan.

Details of a particular Weissberger-Goldman party from the 1970s:

Andy Warhol picked up Bob Colacello and took a cab to 45 Sutton Place South to attend a book party for Anita Loos given by Arnold Weissberger.  Warhol had forgotten his tape and camera, and there were lots of celebrities. Said Warhol, “Arnold Weissberger and Milton Goldman have the longest-running gay marriage in New York. Arnold is seventy-something, the biggest old-time show-biz lawyer and an amateur photographer. He takes pictures of everyone who comes to his house. He had a book out last year called Famous Faces, placed on the dining table at the party, and he was making the famous faces sign it next to their pictures.  Milton Goldman is sixty-something and a big agent at IFA.  Bob noticed that he was the only person under thirty there – barely – and I said that Arnold must be afraid to have young kids around because he might lose Milton.  All the butlers and bartenders were over sixty; they brought one drink at a time, and the tray shook.”

During the summers Arnold and Milton sailed to England on the Queen Elizabeth II and always took the same suite at London’s Savoy Hotel, usually for a month. The living room, which directly overlooked the Thames, was equipped with a grand piano. Thus their penchant for hosting stellar parties continued unabated.

When Arnold Weissberger died in 1981 at age 74, three days after returning from a vacation in Acapulco with Milton, Goldman was not mentioned in his New York Times obituary. However, when Goldman died eight years later, the NYT obituary stated that, as a young man, “he worked 10 years in the family’s gas station and then met the theatrical lawyer Arnold Weissberger, and began a friendship that lasted 30 years, until Weissberger’s death.” Milton had told this story to all of his close friends: when Arnold had pulled into his father’s gas station decades before, Milton pumped the gas – and they had lived happily ever after.

Today the Williamstown Theatre Festival administers an annual L. Arnold Weissberger Award that recognizes excellence in playwriting. The recipient receives a $10,000 grant, and the winning script receives a reading produced by the Williamstown Theatre Festival, of Williams College in the Berkshires (western Massachusetts), as well as publication by Samuel French, Inc.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Charles Demuth

Painter Charles Demuth (1883-1935) was one of the earliest American artists to expose his gay identity through forthright, positive depictions of homosexual desire. As a leader of the American Modernist movement, Demuth was best known as a pioneer of the precisionist style* and as a master watercolorist. Self portrait (1907) at right.

*an American idiom of cubism during the 1920s.

Raised in a well-off merchant family, Demuth had the financial freedom to pursue his artistic vision without regard for public opinion concerning aesthetics or sexuality. Born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, he started painting when a childhood illness rendered him unable to walk. Charles studied painting at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, where the realist tradition of former faculty member Thomas Eakins prevailed. Eakins was himself a painter of major works of homoerotic content.

In 1912, Charles began a relationship with Robert Locher, also from Lancaster, who was to become his life partner. After spending two years in Paris, the two men went to New York City, enjoying the bohemian lifestyle of Greenwich Village. They also embraced the summer artist colony of Provincetown, Massachusetts, where Demuth associated with leftist writers and artists committed to sexual liberation.

Charles Demuth (on right) with Eugene O'Neill in Provincetown, MA, 1916:

A watercolor series titled Turkish Bath (1916-1918), inspired by Manhattan's Lafayette Baths, suggested incipient homosexual contact, depicting men's mostly nude bodies suggestively arranged together.

However, it was a later work, Distinguished Air (1930) that was met with a decidedly homophobic reaction. Interpreting Robert McAlmon's story of the same title, the painting portrayed a situation at an exhibition opening in which a male couple admires Constantin Brancusi's notoriously phallic sculpture, Princess X (at right), while a straight male gallery-goer admires the crotch of one of the gay men. BTW, Brancusi denied that his sculpture was homoerotic. He claimed that it depicted a woman head's head atop a long neck, glancing downward. Sure.

Several exhibitions refused to include Distinguished Air, and Demuth responded by creating overtly homoerotic watercolors of sailors disrobing and fondling themselves. These works constitute a display of courage and self-respect that would not soon be repeated by other gay artists; however, they did not become well known until about fifty years ofter his death.

Demuth was also known for literary illustrations, such as those for a series of books by Honoré de Balzac, as well as books by Emile Zola (Nana) and Henry James (The Turn of the Screw). These illustrations reflect Demuth's taste for psychological distortion and the depiction of sexual conflict and social decadence

Demuth died in 1935 in Lancaster of complications from diabetes. He bequeathed his watercolors to his partner Locher and his paintings to his friend and fellow artist Georgia O'Keeffe. In 1981 a museum opened in the artist’s former home and studio (below) in Lancaster, PA, at 120 E. King Street.

More information at 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Freddie Mercury

Freddie Mercury (1946-1991) was the life force and front man of the rock group Queen. Born Farrokh Bulsara on the then British-controlled island of Zanzibar, Mercury’s first musical experience was playing piano at a boarding school in India. At age 17 he and his family fled the Zanzibar Revolution for England, where he studied art and graphic design at Ealing Art College. He would later use those skills in designing Queen’s famous signature crest.

Mercury was a singer with a four-octave range, which he showed off with abandon, making many of his hits nearly impossible to cover. He also served as songwriter and pianist for Queen, which was formed in 1971 in London. When he was invited to join the rock band Smile, Freddie Bulsara suggested they change their name to Queen and altered his own name to Freddie Mercury. Possessed of a wildly flamboyant stage persona, Mercury made the rock world sit up and take notice. Within four years the band had become an international sensation.

Bohemian Rhapsody, released in 1975 on their A Night at the Opera album, was their first world-wide hit. Two years later News of the World (1977) was released, and the album contained two of rock's most recognizable anthems, We Will Rock You and We Are the Champions. By the early 1980s, Queen had become one of the biggest stadium rock bands in the world. Their performance at 1985's Live Aid is regarded as one of the greatest moments in rock history.

A writer for The Spectator described Mercury as "a performer out to tease, shock and ultimately charm his audience with various extravagant versions of himself." He wrote rock music in disparate genres, effortlessly maneuvering between rockabilly, progressive rock, heavy metal, gospel and disco. Queen’s stadium concerts drew record-breaking large crowds. An estimated 300,000 fans attended Freddie’s last live performance with Queen in 1986.

Mercury also released several solo albums. Barcelona, recorded with Spanish operatic soprano Montserrat Caballé, contained elements of both popular music and opera. The title track received massive air play as the official hymn of the 1992 Summer Olympics, held in Barcelona one year after Mercury's death. Caballé sang it live at the opening of the Olympics with Mercury's part played on a screen, and again prior to the start of the 1999 UEFA Champions League Final in Barcelona.

Although Freddie came out as gay in a 1974 magazine interview, he maintained an important and enduring relationship with a woman, Mary Austin. Upon his death, Mercury left his estate to her. Mercury was diagnosed with AIDS in 1987, but publicly denied it until the day before his death at age 45 on November, 24, 1991. Mercury died of bronchial pneumonia due to AIDS complications. At the time of his death Mercury had lived with his partner Jim Hutton for six years. Hutton, a hairdresser, tested HIV-positive in 1990. He nursed Mercury during his illness and was present at his bedside when he died. Hutton died from cancer in 2010.

Mercury died an immensely wealthy man. In his will, he left the majority of his estate, including his home and recording royalties, to Mary Austin, and the remainder to his parents and sister. He also left £500,000 to his chef Joe Fanelli, £500,000 to his personal assistant Peter Freestone, £100,000 to his driver Terry Giddings, and £500,000 to his partner Jim Hutton. Mary Austin continues to live at Mercury's home, Garden Lodge (Kensington), with her family.

Freddie Mercury and Queen’s popularity continue long after his death. Of the 35 million Queen albums sold in the United States, about half have been purchased since Mercury's death in 1991.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Alfred Lunt

Alfred Lunt (1892-1977) was one half of the fabled acting team known as Lunt and Fontanne, the “toasts of Broadway”, who eventually became known as the first family of American theatre. The public was entranced by the storybook saga of a Wisconsin farm boy’s romance, Broadway stardom, and marriage to a demure English actress. But it was all a gross deception, starting with the farm boy image – Alfred was born the son of a businessman who died when Alfred was an infant; shortly thereafter his mother married a doctor. So much for the mid-western farmer image. Further, Lynn Fontanne (1887-1983), who was five years older than Alfred, had entered into a lavender marriage* with Lunt in 1922. Not to mention that their “family” never included any children. According to Linda Rapp (, their presentation of themselves as the “ideal American couple” for over 50 years may have been their most skillful performance. Nevertheless, they became the theatrical legend known as The Lunts.

*A marriage between a gay man and a lesbian to create the illusion of heterosexuality.

Alfred overcame childhood scarlet fever and loss of a kidney to pursue acting. After two years at Carroll College in Wisconsin, Lunt briefly attended Emerson College in Boston before joining the Castle Square Theatre repertory company, where he made his professional debut. Subsequently, Lunt first worked with Lynn Fontanne in a 1919 George Tyler summer stock production in Washington DC.

Fontanne, born to working-class English parents, was taken out of school at age fifteen in order to earn much-needed family money as a result of her father’s financial difficulties. Lynn, who  dreamed of becoming a professional actress, was rescued from this fate by being taken under wing by legendary actress Ellen Terry, who honed her dramatic skills. Fontanne began her professional career at the age of eighteen, playing small roles in forgettable plays. Her career languished until she met American stage star Laurette Taylor, whose marriage to English playwright J. Hartley Manners was itself a “business arrangement.” Laurette Taylor offered Lynn a role in one of her husband’s plays, and Laurette soon became a close friend and influential advisor of Fontanne. Lynn spent weekends at Laurette’s home, and it is widely assumed that they had a romantic and physical relationship. Manners did not object to his wife’s extramarital lesbian affairs, which included a relationship with Alla Nazimova. Although Laurette "stage-managed" Fontanne's romance with Alfred Lunt, she eventually became jealous of their relationship and began to exhibit vindictive behavior toward Lynn. Not surprisingly, Alfred and Lynn soon excluded Laurette from their social circle.

At right: Lunt and Fontanne in the production of The Great Sebastians (1955) playing a married vaudeville team whose act is mind-reading. It was typical of the light-weight dramatic fare they appeared in – implausible plots, played for laughs.

After establishing themselves as stars on Broadway, Lunt and Fontanne entered into a marriage of convenience in 1922. In 1924 they joined the Theater Guild, which produced plays of greater literary merit than those in which they had been appearing. The Lunts became established as an acting team upon the favorable public and critical reception of their very first Theater Guild production, Ferenc Molnár's The Guardsman* (1924); their success was so great that they repeated their roles in the 1931 movie version. They soon favored and developed controversial techniques such as overlapping dialogues, turning their backs on the audience and passionately touching each other on stage.

From that time on, they always performed on stage together, with a single exception – when Lynn appeared without Alfred in 1928 in Eugene O'Neill's Strange Interlude, at Alfred’s urging. Alfred called O’Neill’s play "a six-day bisexual race." Fontanne enjoyed one of the greatest critical successes of her career as Nina Leeds, the desperate heroine of that controversial nine-act drama.

*The Guardsman is being revived at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC (May 25-Jun. 23, 2013) in a brand new production  of this comedy about the sexual games of a married acting couple.

In the early years of their marriage Lunt and Fontanne lived in a NYC theatrical boarding house, where unconventional living arrangements were the norm. Over the years, their circle came to include gay playwright/actor/composer Noël Coward, gay photographer Carl Van Vechten, and the sexually ambiguous critic Alexander Woollcott.

In 1933 an item titled "Stage Stars in Queer Action" published in the tabloid Broadway Brevities targeted (without naming) the Lunts in an item that stated, "This little fact concerns two of the greatest stars of the legitimate theatre and who are supposed to be happily married. The pair, however, are as queer as a couple of bugs. He is a pansy who is conducting an affair with his male secretary, while she is a lesbian and has several girls acting as her lovers. Cute, eh?" Their marriage, fortunately, shielded their reputations, and the gossip was not taken up by the mainstream press, which would have ended their acting careers.

Their image as a respectably married couple also allowed them to take on sexually adventurous parts, such as starring roles in Noel Coward’s Design for Living (1933), which Coward wrote expressly for himself and the Lunts. The bisexual relationship between the male leads is suggested in the Playbill cover (left). That production showcased the flawless comic gifts for which the Lunts were particularly admired. Co-starring Coward himself, Design for Living dealt with a risqué sexual ménage-à-trois, and the splendid success of this play led to further scandalous dramatic roles, all well received by the public. In spite of such titillating fare, they became an established part of Broadway’s aristocracy.

Audiences adored their on-stage smooching, slapping, spanking, rolling about on the floor, and even (while aged 59 and 54 respectively) lying on a couch while Lady Lynn felt up Lord Alfred's trouser leg – scandalous fare for those times. However, Lynn Fontaine commented later that Alfred’s decision to commit himself to a team prevented him from achieving full recognition of his stature as an actor.

The wit and vivacity of their stage roles carried over into their business dealings. For example, the famous couple once sent a telegram to a movie mogul, turning down a studio contract worth a fortune: “We can be bought, my dear Mr. Laemmle, but we can’t be bored.”

However, the couple began to favor less controversial roles by the late 1930s, when NYC cracked down on the visibility of the city’s burgeoning gay community in preparation for hosting  the 1939 World's Fair. In 1940 they appeared in Robert Sherwood's There Shall Be No Night as the middle-aged parents of a man portrayed by Montgomery Clift. The Lunts took Clift, who was engaged in a homosexual relationship at the time, into their home and coached him in acting. They also suggested that Clift enter into a lavender marriage such as their own, in order to protect his career.

During the 1940s the Lunts started an over-the-top campaign to promote themselves as the ideal American couple. They appeared in magazines such as the Ladies' Home Journal as subjects of photographs depicting domestic bliss. In one such example they were shown jointly carrying a basket of vegetables on the grounds of their Wisconsin farm, where in reality Alfred gave full vent to his penchant for cooking and redecorating, endeavors traditionally pursued by the female partner in a marriage. About this time they negotiated an unusual contract clause that ensured that they never perform during the summer months.

Their stage careers were embellished by performances on radio and television, and they both went on to win Emmy Awards. On July 4, 1964, Lunt and Fontanne were given Presidential Medals of Freedom by President Lyndon Johnson. Six years later, both received special Tony Awards for lifetime contributions to the theater.

Lunt and Fontanne did not retire until 1970. Alfred Lunt died in 1977, nine days shy of his 85th birthday, and Lynn Fontanne passed away at age ninety-five in 1983. The inscription on their tombstone states that they "were universally regarded as the greatest acting team in the history of the English speaking theater" and that "they were married for 55 years and were inseparable both on and off the stage."

But now you know the rest of the story.


• Lunt and Fontanne were honored with a 33-cent United States postage stamp in 1999.

• The Lunt-Fontanne Theatre at 205 W. 46th St., NYC, was named in honor of the legendary acting team. The original 1910 theatre, called The Globe, had subsequently been converted to a movie house. It was gutted and rebuilt in its present configuration as a legitimate Broadway theatre in 1958 and renamed in honor of America's foremost husband/wife acting couple, who had starred in its first production, The Visit. Theatre-goers today may view a selection of photographs from their private collection on display throughout the lobby areas.

Ten Chimneys, Alfred and Lynn's estate in Genesee Depot, located in Waukesha County, Wisconsin, is now a house museum and resource center for theater.

• Although she lived in the United States for more than 60 years, Lynn Fontanne never relinquished her British citizenship.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Jonathan Groff: Part 2

27-year-old Jonathan Groff (left) and his boyfriend Zachary Quinto, age 35, are both out and proud actors. Although Zachary has recently wrapped filming J.J. Abrams' sequel to Star Trek,  this month it’s Groff who is hogging the media. Groff never formally studied acting, but he became a Broadway star six years ago as Melchior Gabor in Broadway’s Spring Awakening. He followed up with a television stint in twelve episodes of Glee as Jesse St. James, which made his face known to millions.

But as we speak, Groff is performing another stage role, this time in Los Angeles in John Logan’s play Red, which opened Sunday, August 12. Jonathan plays Ken (right), who is tutored by the much older 20th-century Russian painter, Mark Rothko (1903-1970). Rothko’s rage is aimed at the art world and, at times, toward Groff’s character.

Groff just finished shooting season two of Boss (a Starz original), in which he plays Ian Todd (below), a calculating and power-hungry staffer working as an advisor for Kelsey Grammar’s Chicago mayor Tom Kane. Details have been leaked that Groff’s character will be involved in some very sexual scenes with both men and women.

Says Groff, “I mean, the show is on Starz, so I definitely get naked at some point.”

Boss was nominated for a Golden Globe, and series star Kelsey Grammer took home the prize for Best Actor in a Drama Series. Boss: Season 2 premieres Friday, August 17, at 9 p.m.

Monday, August 13, 2012

"Francophile" Takes On His Father

My Dad Was Going to Vote for Romney,
Until I Wrote Him This Letter

This letter from a gay son to his Romney-supporting father was posted by Francophile on Reddit. Feel free to plagiarize with wild abandon to take a similar action. I have added the generic photo, edited the letter for length and corrected several glaring grammatical errors:


Since coming out to you and mom nineteen years ago, I’ve watched you vote for the Republican candidates in every major race. I’ve held my tongue, despite the hurt and anger that came from watching you vote for a party that has made a sport out of demonizing gay and lesbian people, like me, for political gain.

Now, for the first time in our nation’s history, a U.S. President and his party have publicly stated that gays and lesbians are equal citizens and should be protected as such under the law. I know you’re aware that Obama believes gays and lesbians, like me, should have the rights and responsibilities of marriage, and that the 2012 Democratic Party Platform will include marriage equality as one of its tenets. You will never know what it is to be gay in this world at this moment, but I’d bet at some point in your life you’ve known how it felt to have your essential worth validated by someone with authority. I can’t overstate the power of having my president and his party say to me, and the nation, that I am not less than, but equal to every other citizen, and to validate my inherent right to pursue my life with liberty and unimpeded happiness. Never before has this happened. So, never before have I made the argument that you should vote for a Democrat. But today’s a new day.

Four months ago, I sat at my younger brother’s wedding and watched you well up, speaking publicly with pride for the man he’s become and the woman he chose. His life, though certain to have unexpected turns ahead, has a clear path, one available to him simply because of his sexual orientation at birth. Mine has never been so clear. Oftentimes, being gay feels like being a salmon swimming upstream. Our relationships aren’t supported by tradition or institution. Too often role models we could have remain closeted, as openness invites derision. Further, the pressures in carving out a life with another person can often be too much to bear, because of the ever-present fear, instilled in us from our earliest memories, that we’re different and unlovable and/or bad.

Yet the resiliency of my community, in the face of such misunderstanding and hate, is astonishing and inspiring. They’ve taught me to think twice before underestimating the will of the human spirit in its slow march toward progress, whatever the circumstances.

I’m almost forty. Both of my younger brothers are married, enjoying all the rights and responsibilities of that government-issued status. Do you want that for me? Do you believe I should have someone beside me on my life’s journey, legally recognized as my spouse, able to visit me in the hospital, able to make my end-of-life decisions, with whom I’m able to build a financially interdependent life? I have to believe you do. I have to believe you’re too good a man not to.

But – if, like the candidate you’re supporting, you believe marriage should be only between one man and one woman, I feel sorry for us both: you, because it means you’re on the wrong side of history and your own son’s happiness – and me, because it means my father believes I’m “less than.”

In any other election, given any other choice, I’d stay quiet. If you, and others like you, wanted to believe the worst about Obama – a good man, trying to do good work – and vote against your own interests (Romney’s tax and Medicare plans won’t help you), I’d shake my head in wonder and watch you do it anyway. But this isn’t any other election. This election presents a clear choice between two people whose policy beliefs directly affect the course of my life. Let me be clear: A vote for Mitt Romney is a vote against me. There is no argument to counter that fact.

You might want to argue that you’re not a single-issue voter, but when the single-issue is your own son’s equality under the law, I wouldn’t recommend that argument. You might want to argue that, because you live in New York State, your vote won’t ultimately matter since Obama will carry the state anyway. You’re correct. He will. In that way, I suppose, your vote won’t matter. But it matters to me. You might want to argue just because you don’t like the idea of your son telling you what you ought to do. But, whatever else, you know I’m a good man. It’s been said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing;” and I’m a good man who’s never been good at taking action.

Can I change your mind? I hope so. I’m sure Mom would tell me it’s a lost cause, and maybe she’s right. But that would be sad. Because it might be nice one day to have my father stand up at my own wedding, realizing he helped make it happen.

Your Son

UPDATE: The father’s reply, in part: "I will honor your request because you are my son, and I love you. I do support the Democratic position on gay marriage. I hope this is a position that they really stand for and not just a political statement for votes."

Note from your blogger: My own father is deceased, but I remember having a conversation with my mother four years ago after she had returned from wintering in a bigoted southern state. I was able to turn her head, and she changed her vote to support Obama in 2008. All of us need to take part in this. Send this letter to your friends and urge them to do the same.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Count László Almásy

The English Patient (was a pack of lies...)

The prize-winning novel The English Patient (1992) and the much honored movie version (1996, with nine Oscar wins) deliver one of the most beloved romances of the past few decades. The book and film were both based on the activities of Count László Almásy (1895-1951), a real-life Hungarian spy. Too bad so few of the facts contained in the novel/film were true.

Where to begin? First of all novelist Michael Ondaatj made up Count Almásy’s affair with Englishwoman Katherine Clifton, portrayed by Kristin Scott Thomas in the film. Count Almásy (actor Ralph Fiennes), was exclusively homosexual, and among his many male lovers were several Egyptian princes. His most significant relationship, however, was with German military officer Hans Entholt, to whom he wrote passionate love letters. László even intervened to try to keep Entholt from being sent to the Russian front. In fact, there is no evidence that Almásy ever slept with a woman.

Central to the story were the severe burns to Almásy’s body and his resulting addiction to morphine, and in the book, Almásy dies from an overdose. In reality Almásy was never shot down, burned or captured in the desert, and he died in 1951 from dysentery at the age of 54, while visiting Salzburg, Austria. Not to mention that Almásy was not movie-star handsome like Fiennes. In fact his nose was so large and out of proportion to his other facial features that in profile it looked like a beak.

In truth, his life needed no embellishment or revision. It was filled to overflowing with daring intrigue, peppered with escapades involving some of the world’s most powerful and influential men.

László Almásy was born in 1895 in a Hungarian castle in what is now Bernstein* in eastern Austria. He showed an early aptitude for flying, and by the age of 20 was a pilot in the Austro-Hungarian air force. Disappointed at the disappearance of the empire, László drove Karl, the grand-nephew of Emperor Franz Josef, into Budapest in 1921 in an attempt to restore the monarchy, even though the empire was beyond redemption. It seems that Karl gave Almásy the title of count, which László used only abroad, because it was not an authentic hereditary title.

*Burg Bernstein (Amber Castle in English) is today a hotel that provides an escape from modern life. There is no traffic noise and no telephones or televisions in the rooms to disturb the serene atmosphere of tranquility and contemplation. Each evening guests dine by candlelight in the Knights' Hall, enjoying the culinary skills of the lady of the castle. There is electricity only in the guest suites, which are heated by fires fed from the hallway. Staying here is like being invited to visit your noble relatives, who live with magnificent antiques, enormous carved fireplaces and brocade walls. Rooms are priced from 180 Euros.

László was an intrepid explorer, and in 1933 Almásy discovered the Cave of Swimmers in Gilf Kebir in remote southwest Egypt along the border with Libya. The caves contain rock paintings created 10,000 years ago during the time of the most recent Ice Age. At the time Almásy was passing his hand-drawn maps to grateful officers of Mussolini's army in Libya. By 1940 he was involved with German military intelligence. By the summer of 1942, he aided Rommel's Afrika Korps by motoring 2,000 miles across the great desert from Libya, entirely through enemy territory using his own sketch maps. When he reached the Nile he dropped off two agents who were then able to set up German intelligence headquarters on a houseboat. Almásy then headed back along the same route. After achieving this stupendous feat, Rommel personally promoted him to the rank of major.

Almásy survived the desert campaigns and continued to work for the German Abwehr in Turkey, until he sensed he was on the losing side of a world war. Soon thereafter he began to feed his secrets to the British. Even so, when the war ended, he was sent by the Allies to Hungary and imprisoned in a Russian camp from which he escaped with the help of friends in the Egyptian royal family.

When Almásy (seated in photo above) died in 1951, his tombstone in the local cemetery in Salzburg was inscribed in Arabic, "The Father of the Sands", a moniker coined before the war by an old camel-rustler. Almásy was given a less grandiose epitaph by a British member of the Zerzura Club: "A Nazi, but a sportsman."

Sunday, August 5, 2012

U.S. Marine Justin Elzie

The military expects its rules to be followed and thus enforces them with an expected lack of compassion. It was January 1993, and the military’s policy at the time was to ban homosexuals from serving in the military. U.S. Marine Corps Sergeant Justin Elzie believed that President Clinton would fulfill his campaign promise and succeed in overturning that ban. It was Clinton’s first week as president, and he held a press conference on January 29 announcing a “compromise” policy that came to be known as “Don’t Ask – Don’t Tell.” Sgt. Elzie had earlier decided to come out publicly that same day, before he knew of the DADT policy decision. He learned of the details of the president’s press conference after he had arrived for the previously arranged taping for ABC, which aired that same evening. Elzie, who had served for eleven years as a Marine, came out on ABC's World News Tonight with Peter Jennings on January 29, 1993.

"I thought I had cover," Elzie said. "I thought it was a great chance to have a voice for myself and the tens of thousands of other gay servicemen and women. It was an empowering experience, as well, after living two lives, or sublimating one, for so long."

A Marine-of-the-Year winner, Elzie had been accepted into an early retirement program, but the Marine Corps removed him from that program and discharged him after his announcement. He became the first Marine ever investigated and discharged under Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and later reinstated, becoming the first Marine to challenge Don't Ask, Don't Tell with a Federal Court Case and went on to serve four years openly gay. Elzie ultimately won a four-year court battle, however, and was discharged with a $30,000 early retirement bonus. He now lives in Jersey City, NJ and works as an actor and writer in New York City. He is a Progressive Activist on Environmental and Civil Rights issues and a blogger on the Queer NYC blog team.

In his book Playing By the Rules (available in e-reader formats), Elzie describes his journey of self-discovery from his early years growing up on a farm in Wyoming to joining the Marine Corps and finding an underground gay subculture within the military. He was described by his superiors as an exemplary Marine with two meritorious promotions, being named Marine of the Year and having served as an American Embassy Guard. After coming out he was recommended for promotion and served as a Platoon Sergeant in charge of Marines on a ship and in the field. He testified at the Senate Hearings opposite General Schwarzkopf, participated in the MTV show Free Your Mind and was photographed by Richard Avedon for the New Yorker. His story appeared on ABC, CNN, NPR and in The New York Times. His book describes his struggle for acceptance by his parents, the Marines and the realization that “when you play by the rules, there are some things that can’t be taken away from you.”

Seventeen years after DADT was implemented, Justin was interviewed live (video below) on CNN on December 18, 2010, the day the Senate voted for its repeal. President Obama signed the repeal into law on December 22, 2010, and implementation of the repeal took place September 20, 2011.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Perry Brass

Originally from Savannah, GA, Perry Brass (b. 1947) is a poet, novelist, publisher, playwright, and activist who has published sixteen books, winning numerous awards in the categories of poetry, drama and fiction. He grew up as an impoverished gay Jew, which proved challenging in the suffocating homophobia of the South. At age 15, during the summer before his senior year in high school, he attempted suicide after overhearing other boys talking about his being gay. Rising from those depths, he worked up the nerve to have sex with another man at age 16, and by age 17 he was out of the South, hitchhiking all the way from Savannah to San Francisco in 1964, where he lived a “wild, crazy gay life, like Mark Twain with drag queens.” Two years later he moved to New York City, settling in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood. Photo by Jack Slomowitz.

Brass has been involved in the gay rights movement since he was in his early twenties. In 1969 he co-edited Come Out!, the world's first gay liberation newspaper, originally based in NYC’s East Village. Some of Perry’s first poems appeared in Come Out!, along with early efforts by Rita Mae Brown, Dennis Altman, Allen Young, and Tony Diaman. Brass was attending New York University in Greenwich Village, and with two friends in 1972 he started the Gay Men's Health Project Clinic, the first clinic for gay men on the East Coast, still operating as New York’s Callen-Lourde Community Health Center.

Perry Brass in 1971

In 1984, his play Night Chills, one of the first to deal with the AIDS crisis, won a Jane Chambers International Gay Playwriting Award. As a poet, his collaborations with composers include the much-performed All the Way Through Evening, a cycle of 5 nocturnes in reaction to the AIDS epidemic, set by the late Chris DeBlasio, who himself succumbed to AIDS. All the Way Through Evening became the title for a recent documentary by Australian filmmaker Rohan Spong about young composers who've died of AIDS. Other poetry by Brass set to music includes The Angel Voices of Men set by Ricky Ian Gordon, Three Brass Songs by noted composer-pianist Fred Hersch,  The Restless Yearning Towards My Self by opera composer Paula Kimper, and 12 Musical Figures, by Gerald Busby. The latter was used in the score for Robert Altman s film 3 Women (1977) and Paul Taylor's ballet Runes (1975).

Walt Whitman in 1989 from All the Way through Evening
Words by Perry Brass, music by Chris DeBlasio; Performed by Gilles Denizot (tenor) and  Mimi Stern-Wolfe (piano).

With his partner Hugh Young, Brass started Belhue Press in 1991. Perry Brass's work often deals with that intersection of sexuality, spirituality and personal politics that came directly and openly out of his involvement with the radical gay politics of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Among many other activities, he is currently a coordinator of the Rainbow Book Fair, the first and largest U.S. LGBT book fair. As well, he is a regular contributor to the Queer New York blog. Hugh and Perry make their home in the Bronx in a co-op apartment along the shores of the Hudson.

Perry Brass has published a trilogy of gay science fiction, Mirage and its sequels Circles and Albert (The Book of Man). Angel Lust is an erotic novel of time travel. Books of poems include Sex-charge and The Lover of My Soul. Many of his other works defy being categorized, combining disparate elements of spirituality, eroticism, social commentary; these works include non-fiction and historical novels. A hugely popular book was 2010's The Manly Art of Seduction: How to Meet, Talk to, and Become Intimate with Anyone. His work has been included in 25 anthologies, including the groundbreaking Male Muse edited by Ian Young and The Columbia Anthology of Gay Literature, edited by Byrne Fone.

I can highly recommend King of Angels (2012, available in e-reader formats), an emotional coming-of-age story about personal acceptance set in the early 1960s. It explores the sexual underground of boys at Holy Nativity Military Academy, a Catholic school in which the protagonist is the sole Jewish student. It’s one of the few novels I’ve read in which I went from the last page right back to the beginning. Don’t be put off by the cover of the print edition, as I was initially. From a recent review: “I laughed and I cried, but most of all I thought, and I remembered how it was growing up in one of the most turbulent periods of American history when communities tried to come together. Accepting ourselves is part of it all, and Perry Brass helps us with that in his brilliant new book.” – Amos Lassen