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.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Military Recruitment Art of Leyendecker and Barclay

I have already written a post about gay commercial artist J.C. Leyendecker (see sidebar), but a regular reader sent me this Leyendecker image used for Navy recruitment. Although I had not seen it before, I knew that Leyendecker took a back seat to McClelland Barclay (1891–1943) in the realm of military recruitment art, as the following images attest.

Barclay was a commercial artist born in St. Louis, and he had early success. By the time he was 21 years old his work had appeared in magazines such as the Saturday Evening Post, Ladies' Home Journal, and Cosmopolitan.

During World War I one of his military art posters won a prize given by the Committee on National Preparedness. He achieved great fame for Hollywood movie poster art beginning in the 1930s, but it was during World War II that his work for Navy recruitment posters allowed him to reach the height of his popularity and fame.

Barclay painted sailors who were notable for their handsome faces and well-defined physiques, and most of the posters were emphatically homoerotic. Although it is not known if Barclay had same sex relationships (he was married to a woman), he created some of the sexiest commercial male images, thus establishing a new military masculine ideal. The largest collection of his military recruitment posters is housed at the Naval Historical Center in Washington, DC (Navy Yard); 202-433-4882.

Theron MacKay, a gunner's mate who was sketched by Barclay in early 1943 recalls, "Me and another crew member were cleaning a gun, so we were bare from the waist up. Barclay had his sketch pad out and was drawing us. Being an amateur artist myself, I took an interest in what he was doing and asked if I could look over his shoulder. Well, he made us look like the finest human specimens that ever were! Really, we were skinny kids with our ribs hanging out. I said to him, 'I don't look like that!' and he answered, 'Well, if I sketched you like you are, it wouldn't make much of a recruiting poster, would it?'"

Barclay also achieved success with portrait painting and other commercial clients such as General Motors. His paintings for their Body by Fisher advertising campaign were instantly recognizable the world over. Barclay also designed women's jewelry, as well as utilitarian objects such as ashtrays.

A Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Navy, he also worked on airplane and ship camouflage designs. Barclay went missing in the Solomon Islands after his tank landing ship was torpedoed by the Japanese in 1943.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Frank Ocean

When the Grammy Awards nominations were announced earlier this month, openly gay/bi singer/songwriter Frank Ocean was nominated in six categories:

1. Best new artist
2. Album of the Year (Channel Orange)
3. Best Urban Contemporary Album (Channel Orange)
4. Record of the Year (Thinking Bout You)
5. Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (No Church in the Wild)
6. Best Short Form Music Video (No Church in the Wild)

The Grammy Award winners will be announced on February 10, 2013.

Ocean, who was born Christopher Breaux (known as Lonny to close friends), is twenty five years old. As a teenager in New Orleans he washed cars, mowed lawns and walked dogs to save up enough money to rent studio time. In 2005 Hurricane Katrina destroyed his recording facility, so he dropped out of college and moved to Los Angeles, where he made a living writing lyrics for Justin Bieber, Beyoncé and John Legend. Just a year ago he conceived and recorded his singing debut album – Nostalgia, Ultra – inventing a new persona. Songwriter Lonny Breaux became singer Frank Ocean (a tribute to Frank Sinatra and Ocean’s 11). Nostalgia, Ultra, an R&B album, was released in February, 2011 as a free download.

With the mid-2012 release of his first studio album – Channel Orange – Ocean came out on his blog, making reference to an unrequited love for a man (Ocean was nineteen at the time of this same sex longing). Ocean says he “cried like a baby” when he made the July, 2012 Tumblr blog post revealing his gay past: “I don't know what happens now, and that's alrite. I don't have any secrets I need kept anymore... I feel like a free man.”

On the songs Bad Religion, Pink Matter and Forrest Gump, Ocean sings about being in love, but the word used to identify the lover is “him” and not “her.” Thus Ocean became one of the first major African-American music artists to announce that he had fallen in love with someone of the same sex, notable because the industry is known for expressions of homophobia. In this instance, however, Ocean's sexual revelations were met with praise and support from throughout the music industry.

Channel Orange debuted at number two on the US Billboard 200, selling 131,000 copies in its first week, The album garnered rave reviews from music critics, who praised its idiosyncratic production, musical scope, and Ocean's songwriting. It was promoted with four singles, including Ocean's highest charting single "Thinkin Bout You", and his North American supporting tour in July 2012. At present the album has sold approximately 400,000 copies.

Bad Religion (Channel Orange) is a makeshift therapy session about unrequited love, taking place in the back seat of a taxi:

(sampling of lyrics)

It's a bad religion to be in love with someone who could never love you.
This unrequited love – to me it's nothing but a one-man cult & cyanide in my styrofoam cup.
I can never make him love me, never make him love me.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Louis Moreau Gottschalk

Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829-1869 was an American composer and pianist, best known as a virtuoso performer of his own piano compositions. He spent most of his career outside of the United States.

His father was an English Jew working in New Orleans as a real estate speculator, and his mother was of French descent. She had grown up in Haiti and fled to Louisiana after a slave uprising threatened the ruling class. By the age of thirteen, Gottschalk’s talent had become so prodigious that he was sent to Paris to study at the Conservatoire. Denied entrance to that august institution*, he studied piano and composition privately, culminating in his public debut in Paris at the famed Salle Pleyel in 1845. The precocious sixteen-year-old’s performance won the admiration of Chopin.

* The Conservatoire rejected Gottschalk’s application without hearing him on the grounds of his nationality. Pierre Zimmermann, the head of the piano faculty, derisively commented that "America is a country of steam engines".

During the summer of 1848 Gottschalk wrote two piano pieces based on Louisiana Créole tunes, La Savane and Bamboula. He introduced them into the salons of Paris in early 1849, and the strongly syncopated Bamboula (the title refers to Afro-Caribbean drums) quickly became an underground sensation. In April of that year he performed it at a public concert, where it was received with wild enthusiasm. Dedicated to Isabella II of Spain, Bamboula became one of his signature pieces. Gottschalk disliked performing the standard repertoire (Bach, Mozart and the like), but very much liked performing his own compositions, which were entertaining works of a unique voice that, unfortunately, were subsequently relegated to the category of “novelties.”  Some of his pieces found popular use in silent movie houses, and the public eventually identified his music as clichéd, and within a few decades, Gottschalk was condemned as hopelessly old-fashioned.

Gottschalk's first piano works appeared in print in the late 1840s. These syncopated pieces based on Creole melodies gained international popularity. Gottschalk left Paris in 1852 to settle in New York City, where in 1855 he signed a contract with a publisher to issue several piano pieces, including The Banjo and The Last Hope. The latter is a mawkishly melancholy piece that nevertheless achieved great popularity. Gottschalk found himself obligated to repeat it at every piano concert, writing, "even my paternal love for The Last Hope has succumbed under the terrible necessity of meeting it at every step."

Pianist Cyprien Katsaris performs his embellished version of “The Banjo.” Gottschalk’s music lends itself perfectly to this sort of treatment.

Gottschalk’s primary physical and emotional relationships were with men, and he had a particular fondness for young boys. On a concert tour of Spain he “adopted” a very young boy who accompanied him thereafter. Unlike many nineteenth century high profile homosexual or bisexual performers, Gottschalk never married. His extensive tours abroad protected him from the condemnation of America’s puritanical standards and judgment. 

At the age of twenty six at a concert in Dodsworth Hall, on Broadway at 11th Street, an area which was then the nerve center of New York City’s musical life, Gottschalk at last found his niche with an audience. Even with his new-found success and popularity, Gottschalk was a nervous nail-biter who bloodied his fingers before recitals, gnawing away at them anxiously. After his mother’s death in 1857 he left for a concert tour of the Caribbean that stretched out to five years. Upon his return, his country was in the midst of the Civil War, and Gottschalk became a Union sympathizer, in spite of his southern roots. He was a superlative showman, presenting flamboyant musical spectaculars. He once placed on a single stage forty pianos played by eighty pianists. All in a day’s work for Gottschalk.

After a tour of California in 1865, he once more left the U.S., this time for Panama City. Once there, Gottschalk decided not to return to NYC, instead pressing on to Peru, Chile, Uruguay, and Argentina, staying just one step ahead of revolutions, rioting, and cholera epidemics. He was greatly influenced by the melodies and rhythms of these countries, and they were echoed in his compositions. At the height of his success and popularity, Gottschalk contracted malaria in Brazil in 1869. During a concert in Rio de Janeiro later that year, Gottschalk collapsed at the keyboard, and on December 18, 1869, Gottschalk died at the tender age of 40. His body was returned to the United States for interment at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.

American pianist Eugene List (1918-1985) and Irishman Philip Martin (b. 1949) both championed the works of Gottschalk and performed and recorded most of the extant piano solo repertoire of 200 pieces. A 1995 biography by A. Frederick Star, Bamboula! The life and times of Louis Moreau Gottschalk, brought Gottchalk’s sexuality to the forefront.

"Fiesta criolla" from Gottschalk's Symphony no. 1, "La nuit des tropiques" (Symphonie romantique). The Basel Festival Orchestra conducted by Thomas Herzog in 2008.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Craig Claiborne

Craig Claiborne (1920-2000) was an American restaurant critic, food writer and cookbook author. Born in Mississippi, he was raised on the region's cuisine in the kitchen of his mother's boarding house. After serving in the U.S. Navy, he decided his passion lay in cooking, and he used his G.I. Bill benefits to attend the famed École hôtelière de Lausanne in Switzerland.

Upon returning to the U.S., Claiborne became a contributor to Gourmet magazine, a food-products publicist and most notably the food editor of The New York Times newspaper in 1957, where he created the four-star system of rating restaurants still used today. He quickly rose to the very top of his profession. His writings exposed the American public to ethnic cuisines, especially Asian and Mexican foods. He had a long-time professional (but not personal) relationship with the French-born NYC based chef, author and television personality Pierre Franey, with whom Claiborne collaborated on many books and culinary projects.

Claiborne (left) with professional collaborator Pierre Franey:

Claiborne was a gay man who was born too soon to be able to live openly in the public eye, causing major frustration in his life. Although he was out to most of his friends and colleagues, he struggled to come to terms with his sexuality. He also drank way too much and ignored his deteriorating health as time went on. Claiborne left his books and papers to the Culinary Institute of America and a few other things to friends. However, he bequeathed his house in East Hampton, his apartment in NYC and everything else not specifically named in the will to his (married) lover, James Dinneen, a physician. The tale of their meeting is related in Thomas McNamee’s new book (2012), “The Man Who Changed the Way We Eat (Craig Claiborne and the American Food Renaissance)”:

"The two were strolling past each other in Manhattan when they locked eyes, and it was love at first sight. Dinneen was married, with six children, and living in Florida. Yet in Claiborne style, the two had countless trysts over the next two decades in choice hotels throughout the world and dined exquisitely until age and illness parted them. Dying nearly a decade later, Dinneen left behind no acknowledgment of their even having met."

Claiborne wrote a memoir, "A Feast Made for Laughter" (1982), in which he detailed a dark and disturbing youth, despite the book’s lighthearted title. He took solace in the company of his mother’s African-American household staff as an escape from the taunts of his straight schoolmates, a difficult, doting mother (Claiborne didn't attend her funeral) and sexual involvement with his father.