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.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Laurence Harvey

Film actor Laurence Harvey (1928-1973) was married three times, but he was actually a gay man who was trying to get the public off the scent of his true nature. His career stalled, and he did not become what anyone could call a major star. In spite of that, he got a lot of work, especially during the 1960s. Neither the public, critics nor friends said anything positive about his acting ability. He was in only one film that can be called a classic – "The Manchurian Candidate" (1962), with Frank Sinatra – but Harvey had little to do with its success.

George Jacobs, Frank Sinatra’s valet, wrote “Mr. S: My Life With Frank Sinatra,” a memoir in which he relates that Harvey often made passes at him while visiting Sinatra. Jacobs says that  Sinatra was aware of Harvey's sexuality but did not mind, passing it off as a joke: “He has the handicaps of being a homo, a Jew, and a Polock*, so people should go easy on him.”

*Harvey was actually born to a Jewish family in Lithuania.

British actor John Fraser , author of “Close Up,” also wrote that Harvey was gay, pointing out that Harvey’s long-term partner was James Wolfe, his manager who "discovered" Harvey in the 1950s. Harvey’s marriages to and dalliances with women were usually with females about twice his age.

Laurence Harvey (photographed in 1954, at right) was a master of deception. While he maintained his entire life that his birth name was Laruschka Mischa Skikne, it was actually Zvi Mosheh Skikne. His Jewish family moved from Lithuania to South Africa when he was five years old, and while living in Johannesburg he took the name of Harry Skikne. While in his teens he served with the entertainment unit of the South African Army during WW II. After moving to London, he enrolled in the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art where he became known as "Larry." Dropping out of the academy, he began to perform on stage and in films, simultaneously adopting the stage name "Laurence Harvey." At last a name he liked.

Dame Judi Dench (currently appearing in Skyfall in yet another terrific turn as M) appeared on stage with Harvey in Shakespeare’s Henry V in 1959. She later talked of being bewildered at how Harvey never actually looked at her during his speeches. At the time, Joss Ackland was quoted as saying, “Americans seemed to think Harvey was some sort of great actor, which his colleagues certainly did not.” * Harvey was regularly dismissed by critics. In his posthumously published autobiography, “Knight Errant,” actor Robert Stephens described Harvey as "an appalling man and, even more unforgivably, an appalling actor.” He was often accused of being unprofessional, as many commented on the frustration that resulted from his chronic late arrival on the set. Harvey played out his career largely in undistinguished films, TV work and the occasional supporting role in a major production.

*Incredibly, Harvey received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for his leading role in "Room at the Top" (1959), a British film. Although he did not win, he was more or less type cast; he played a conniving, ruthless, heartless social-climber.

David Shipman wrote of Harvey in 1972: “Laurence Harvey's career should be an inspiration to all budding actors: he has demonstrated conclusively that it is possible to succeed without managing to evoke the least audience interest or sympathy - and to go on succeeding despite unanimous critical antipathy and overwhelming public apathy. His twenty year career of mainly unprofitable films is a curiosity of film history.”

Although the British-made film "Darling" (1965) was one of the earliest films to depict gay characters in a sympathetic light, the closets were bursting on the set. There was Harvey, of course, but also Dirk Bogarde, who although deeply closeted, was having an affair with director John Schlesinger. Bogarde, who carried on a 40-year relationship with his agent, Tony Forwood, invested considerable energy in trying to portray himself publicly as a heterosexual. John Schlesinger hoped that his friend, Roland Curram, might be inspired enough by his role in "Darling" to come out of the closet. Curram always insisted he was heterosexual and went on to marry and later sire two children. In 1985, on the occasion of his divorce and ultimate coming out to his family and friends, Curram stated, “Of course, John was right.”

Well, there you have it.

Update from your blogger: I am aghast at some of the comments from my blog readers. This is not a personal attack. I am not "very young" (in fact, I'm close to retirement). I am certainly not antisemitic (I have been employed by a synagogue for 26 years). Before I wrote this entry for my blog about influential gay and bisexual men, I had known Laurence Harvey only as a second-tier movie actor, and his name was on a list of gay and bisexual actors. There are many gay and bisexual film and stage actors on this blog. But when I started to do research on Harvey, I was astonished at how much negative information had been written about him by those who worked with him during his film career. If you re-read this entry, notice how those comments are referenced and credited to those who wrote or commented about Harvey's less than charming traits. I have never met the man, and I have seen only four of his films. I have no grudge against him. I just related what I found out in my research on the man and cited those who wrote or spoke about him.

A scene from "The Magic Christian" (1969) in which Harvey recites Hamlet's soliloquy while stripping before an astonished audience (I'm not making this up):

Oh, I nearly forgot. Scottish-born actor John Fraser called Harvey "a whore" in his 2006 memoir, mentioned above. A very heavy drinker (for good reason, it would appear), Harvey died from stomach cancer at the age of just forty-five. He is buried in Santa Barbara, California, next to his daughter (by his third wife), who died at the age of thirty-five.

Trivia: In 1963, Laurence Harvey built a house in Beverly Hills (designed by Buff & Hensman) that came to have an incredible “gay” pedigree. Musical comedy composer Jerry Herman went on to own it, followed by Max Mutchnick, the co-creator of the TV hit Will & Grace. The 9,200 sq. ft. house was next sold to Ellen Degeneres, for $29 million in 2007. It was purchased six months ago from Ms. Degeneres by Ryan Seacrest (no comment, and nothing implied, naturally, but I do hear some choking noises off in the distance).

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Film score composer Richard Robbins

Richard Robbins, the film score composer who collaborated for 25 years with director James Ivory and producer Ismail Merchant, died November 7 from Parkinson’s disease at age 71. At the time of his death he was at home in Rhinebeck, NY, attended by his long-term partner, painter Michael Schell.

I must say that I am somewhat spooked by his death. My readers likely don’t know that I usually work on three or four blog entries at a time, and after my earlier post about life partners Merchant and Ivory, I did some initial research on Richard Robbins, who provided outstanding scores for  "A Room With a View," "Howards End" and "The Remains of the Day", among many others. Just today I began further Internet research for information about Mr. Robbins, in order to devote an entire entry to his musical contributions to film. You can imagine my shock when I found out he had died two weeks ago.

Robbins was nominated for an Oscar in 1992 for his score for “Howards End” and in 1993 for “The Remains of the Day”. He created the score for nearly every Merchant Ivory film from "The Europeans" in 1979 to "The White Countess" in 2005.

His creative partnership with Merchant and Ivory came about in 1976, when he was serving as acting director of the preparatory school at the Mannes College of Music (NYC). Robbins was the piano teacher of the youngest daughter of Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, the screenwriting collaborator of partners Merchant and Ivory. Richard and Ruth became friends, and she introduced him to Merchant and Ivory, who produced a documentary on the school’s young musicians. He served as Mr. Merchant’s assistant on Ismail’s next project, a film about ballroom dancers set at the Roseland dance hall in New York City. The creative quartet of Jhabvala, Merchant, Ivory and Robbins became close, and Robbins eventually became a composer, a move that outshone his original intention of a career as an educator.

The first score Robbins developed for a Merchant-Ivory film was for "The Europeans" (1979) a period drama based on the Henry James novel. He wrote a romantic, lush score for "Maurice," (1987), a film based on the E.M. Forster novel. That score won a top award at the Venice Film Festival, and Robbins considered it his favorite.

In 1994 Robbins collaborated with his partner, painter Michael Schell, on "Via Crucis" (Way of the Cross), a musical and visual collage representing the Stations of the Cross.

Richard “Dick” Robbins was born in Massachusetts in 1940 and studied music at the New England Conservatory in Boston, followed by a year of study in Vienna, Austria. His subsequent job at the Mannes College of Music in NYC brought him into the circle of Jhabvala, Merchant and Ivory, and the rest is cinematic history.

Here is a sampling of the score for “Maurice”, one of the great films about homosexual love and attraction:

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Joe Saunders and David Richardson

On Tuesday, November 20 (2012), Florida representatives Joe Saunders and David Richardson became the first openly gay members to be sworn into Florida’s state legislature. Richardson represents District 113 (Miami) and Saunders District 49 (Orlando). You should not be shocked to learn that both are Democrats.

Saunders and Richardson took their oaths with more than 50 state legislators in Tallahassee. Until now, Florida was the largest state in the union to have never elected an openly gay candidate to its state legislature. Richardson, a CPA and former auditor for the U.S. Department of Defense, had never before run for public office.

29-year-old Saunders was accompanied in the legislative chambers by his partner, Donald Rupe (on right in photo, below). "Standing there with him was a dream realized and a memory I'll have for the rest of my life," Saunders told the Orlando Sentinel.

Michael Kenny, Executive Director of Florida Together, a statewide LGBT advocacy coalition commented yesterday, "For the first time in the history of our state, we have openly gay State House Representatives. David Richardson will not only be representing the residents of State House District 113 in Miami Dade County - he will be a voice for all of Florida's LGBT residents, (and) congratulations to Joe Saunders on his victory as State Representative in District 49. There is no doubt that the people of Florida will be well served by Joe Saunders being in the legislature."

"Before you can participate in the conversation, change hearts and minds, and impact policy, you must first have a seat at the table. Until today, LGBT Floridians were shouting from the spectators section."

Florida's statehouse in Tallahassee:

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Duncan Grant

Duncan Grant: Bathing (1910)

Scottish born artist Duncan Grant (1885-1978) accomplished much more than the homoerotic nudes for which he is best remembered. He also worked in interior design and forged a career in costume and stage set design.  At age 28, along with art critic and fellow Bloomsbury figure Roger Fry, Grant founded the Omega Workshops, which changed the course of applied art and design in Britain. In this capacity Grant made major contributions to pottery and textile design.

One of his greatest commissions, however, was never realized. Hired to decorate the interiors of the great ocean liner, the Queen Mary, he completed the task, submitted his designs and was paid for his work. Although he was offered no explanation as to why his designs were not used, it was commonly understood that his work was too avant garde for tastes of the time.

Self portrait in mirror (1920)

Grant grew up an only child in Scotland, Burma and India, where his father served in British military regiments. Duncan’s English nanny encouraged his painting and took delight in his juvenile designs for wedding dresses. The young Duncan was influenced by the spectacle of the weekly regimental ceremonies and parades that took place in the numerous cities in India where his family was stationed at the close of the 19th century. They enjoyed a life of privilege, strictly maintaining British customs while living in the Subcontinent. At age nine Grant returned to Britain to attend boarding school. Although he won awards for art and music, he was otherwise a poor student. Coupled with his father’s financial difficulties, Grant  was unable to attend the prestigious schools his mother had hoped for. Instead, he settled into the Westminster School of Art (London). From that time forward, he never strayed from pursuing a career as an artist.

Duncan studied in Paris in 1906, and later at the Slade School of Art. He moved to 21 Fitzroy Square (London) in 1909 and thereafter became a regular at gatherings of members of the Bloomsbury group. Sharing with Roger Fry and Vanessa Bell a commitment to the decorative arts, he became co-director of the Omega Workshops in 1913.

Duncan Grant: textile design for embroidered firescreen, 1913

By all accounts a handsome, kind and charming person, Grant’s lovers included Adrian Stephen, Maynard Keynes and David Garnett, as well as his cousin Lytton Strachey. Though his sexual orientation remained homosexual throughout his life, he was the father of Vanessa Bell's daughter Angelica, and lived for many years at Charleston farm with the Bell family.

Charleston manor house

1930s photograph of the drawing room at Charleston, decorated by Duncan Grant

Herself an accomplished artist, Angelica grew up believing that Clive Bell was her father; she bore his surname and his behavior toward her never indicated otherwise. Angelica had sexual relations with two of Duncan Grant’s lovers, the Russian painter George Bergen and David Garnett, whom she married, unaware that her husband had been her father’s lover. I’m not making this up. In 1994 Angelica donated more than 8000 sketches and drawings by Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell to The Charleston Trust. Some of Grant’s major works hang in London’s prestigious Tate Gallery and National Portrait Gallery.

Duncan Grant: Interior with the Artist’s Daughter (oil on canvas, 1935)
In Grant's later years, poet Paul Roche (1916–2007), whom he had known since the mid-1940s, took care of him and enabled Grant to maintain his accustomed way of life at Charleston for many years. When Grant had been commissioned to decorate the Russell Chantry in Lincoln Cathedral in the late 1950s, Grant used his lover Paul Roche, youthful, blond and handsome, as the model for the face and body of Christ (below). The murals have recently been restored and the chantry reopened. Roche was made co-heir of Grant's estate, and Grant eventually died in Roche's home in 1978.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Evan Darling

This turns out to be my 300th post - with no end in sight! 

43-year-old Evan Darling has been a race car driver for 17 years and has won multiple divisional titles. As a kid he raced BMX bikes, transitioning to motorcycles for a while, then graduating to cars, where he was able to make good use of his heavy foot. He is a member of the racing body known as the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA, founded in 1944). Darling’s record includes wins at Daytona, Sebring, and a top 10 placement at the Koni Grand Am Challenge. Darling, who is also an ASE certified master technician, is also openly gay. His web site declares that he is an “Out, proud racer.” In fact, Darling is the only openly gay professional race car driver in the nation.

Although he has never made a big deal out of his sexual orientation, Darling has been out since he was 18. It wasn’t an easy admission. His parents sent him to psychological counseling in order to “fix” him, and his brother Ryan joined anti-gay organizations while at college. His brother continues to oppose LGBT rights as a leader in the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation.  In 1995 there were protests against homosexuals participating in Boston’s Veterans Day Parade, and Darling’s father, an attorney, represented the Irish American War Veterans against Boston’s LGBT community. Disheartened, Darling left the sport for a while to attend college in NYC but dropped out due to lack of support from his parents.

He eventually found his way back to racing cars. He began his amateur racing career in 2002, becoming the 2005 NASCAR Grand Am champion in his division. In 2007 he turned pro when he landed a job at Ferrari. Although NASCAR is the largest and fastest growing sport in the country, it isn’t exactly known for the progressive attitude of the drivers or the fans, so being a gay driver was a serious strike against him. In an interview Darling said, "It’s a good old boy network and the last couple of years it’s been tough to get cars and sponsors. I’m hoping that by telling my story, some folks in the gay community will step up and support my team." It takes upwards of a million dollars a year to support a car, driver and a technical team, so Darling has had to take the year off from racing for lack of funding.

Darling Races in Grand Am Road Racing (owned by NASCAR), which uses a track with many curves and banks. A Grand Am race can last as long as 24 hours, with multiple drivers taking shifts in one car during these endurance races. The cars themselves are stock cars which have been modified within certain rules.

Despite the challenges he faces, Darling continues to do what he loves and perhaps makes a difference in the lives of people who may not have any other LGBT role models. It’s possible that kids who grow up in NASCAR-loving families may not have access to cable networks like LOGO. He’s aware of the impact he may have as a role model for LGBT kids and teens, and that’s why The Trevor Project, a suicide prevention organization targeting LGBT youth, has become one of his sponsors.

Darling has been featured in many newspapers and magazines, chief among them Out Magazine, The Advocate, The Miami Herald and Auto Week. Click the following link to visit his personal web site:

Monday, November 5, 2012

Nicholas Ray

Bisexual American film director Nicholas Ray, best known for Rebel without a Cause (1955) and Johnny Guitar (1954), was a talented, undisciplined renegade whose Hollywood career lasted a mere sixteen years. Wisconsin-born Ray directed many films that explored the lives of lonely outsiders who refused to conform to the rigors of mainstream society.

Actor Farley Granger and writer Gore Vidal, Ray’s gay neighbors at the Chateau Marmont in Hollywood during the mid-1950s, both reported that Ray was simultaneously involved in affairs with lead actors Sal Mineo, James Dean, and Natalie Wood during the filming of Rebel without a Cause. Although he identified as heterosexual, Ray could be seen dancing with other men at the Chateau Marmont. Ray said he wasn’t gay because he had more affairs with women than men. Ray was also in denial about his crippling alcohol and drug abuse.

British-born screenwriter Gavin Lambert (1924-2005) met Nicholas in England while publicizing Rebel without a Cause. Seduced by Ray the night they met, Lambert was swept off his feet and accepted Ray’s invitation to follow him back to the United States, where he moved in with Ray at the Chateau Marmont. Nicholas found a job for Gavin as a screenwriter at Twentieth-Century Fox, and Ray and Lambert lived together for eight months. Lambert, who characterized Ray as a possessive and erratic lover, broke off the affair because of Ray’s alcohol abuse and infidelity with both men and women.

After dropping out of college, in 1933 Ray joined the first fellowship of participants at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin (Wisconsin). After eight months, the intensely moralistic Wright expelled Ray for homosexual activity. Ray relocated to NYC and met writer Jean Evans, with whom he had a son, Anthony (Tony), in 1937. By 1941 the FBI had opened a file on Ray, because of his socialist leanings and association with African Americans. In 1944 Ray was forced to resign his position with Voice of America on the basis of further damning FBI reports of leftist political sympathies and homosexual activity.

In 1946 Ray got a huge break when RKO assigned him to direct the filming of They Live by Night, a film-noir project for which Ray had written a screenplay based on Edward Anderson’s novel Thieves Like Us. Ray cast the film from a group of unknown contract players, chief among them Farley Granger (in photo above). Although previews of the completed film garnered positive reviews in 1947, distribution was delayed until 1949, due to marketing dilemmas. During this gap RKO’s new chief, bisexual Howard Hughes, protected Ray from appearing before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, which would have damaged his personal reputation as well as the reputation of the studio.

In 1948 Ray married actress Gloria Grahame, even though Nicholas had gambled away everything in the days leading up to their wedding in Las Vegas. In 1950 Ray directed In a Lonely Place, starring his wife Gloria and Humphrey Bogart. During filming of In a Lonely Place, Ray found his wife in bed with his teenaged son (Tony) by his previous marriage. Gloria and Nicholas divorced in 1952, and Gloria Grahame eventually married Tony Ray in 1960, an act that incited a public scandal that ended her movie career. Gloria had children by both father and son. I’m not making this up.

In 1953 Ray bought out his contract at RKO, but went to work for MCA when he was unable to establish his own production company. It was there that Ray made a success of Johnny Guitar (1954), in spite of Joan Crawford’s attempts to thwart the production. Intensely jealous of supporting actress Mercedes McCambridge, Crawford insisted that McCambridge’s scenes be reduced in favor of an expanded part for herself. Crawford destroyed McCambridge's costumes and threatened to leave Sedona, Arizona, where the film was shot. Although Crawford prevailed, and Ray was forced to make the adjustments, he delivered a brilliant film with strong gender-bending leanings. Its critical and commercial success was exceeded by Rebel without a Cause, released the following year.

Homosexual actor Sal Mineo portrayed Plato, a character that was perhaps the first gay teenager shown on the screen. Ray had wanted to include a scene showing James Dean and Mineo kissing each other, but cautious Warner Bros. executives nixed that idea.  Released shortly after the tragic death of James Dean, Rebel without a Cause was one of the highest grossing films of the decade, and by far the most commercially successful film of Ray's career.

Ray seemed on track to become one of Hollywood’s greatest directors, but his personal demons of gambling and drug and alcohol abuse thwarted his career. Astonishingly, by 1958 his Hollywood career was over, and Ray moved to Europe, where he experienced both success and failure for eleven years. Ray suffered a heart attack in 1962 while working on 55 Days at Peking (1963), his last studio project.

Settling in Chicago in 1969, Ray met Susan Schwartz, a student who eventually became his unofficial fourth wife. During the 1970s Ray settled down and taught film in New York. Unfortunately, he was diagnosed with cancer in 1977, which took his life two years later. During the summer of 2010, the Harvard Film Archive presented a month-long film series featuring the work of Nicholas Ray. Hosted by Susan Ray, Nicholas Ray’s “fourth wife”, with whom he shared the last ten years of his life, the festival showcased all of Ray’s twenty-odd pictures. The following link includes an excellent bio, commentary and descriptions of all the films:

Martin Scorsese introduces Nicholas Ray and his film, Johnny Guitar: