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, August 30, 2013

Jeffrey Smart

Australian expat artist Jeffrey Smart (1921-2013) died in Arrezzo, Italy, earlier this year at age 91, with his partner of more than 30 years, Ermes De Zan, at his side. Born in Adelaide, Australia, Smart was known for his precisionist post-industrial paintings of everyday life. He trained at the South Australian School of Art and acknowledged his homosexuality in the early 1940s. He then traveled to Europe after WW II, where he studied in Paris. Smart returned to Australia in 1951 to work as an art critic for the Daily Telegraph newspaper. Following stints as a television presenter for the Australian Broadcasting Company and teacher at the National Art School in Sydney, in 1965 he relocated permanently to Italy, where he painted for the rest of his long life.

Erica Green, director of the Samstag Museum of Art at the University of South Australia, where Smart trained between 1937-1941, said Smart had left a "wonderful legacy of art". The museum mounted a retrospective of his work last year (Oct. 2012 - Feb. 2013) that featured the first public display of his last completed painting, Labyrinth (2011). "He has made a truly significant contribution to Australian art and to understanding how we view our urban landscape. That's really Jeffrey's legacy. He was a larger than life character, and he was loved by many people. He was an absolute gentleman, very gregarious, charming, a great host," according to Green.

Smart worked mostly with oil, acrylic and watercolors, generally using primary colors of yellow, blue and red with dark greys for his skies. This created an unusual effect in his works, with fully-lit foregrounds despite dark skies. His production style was a long and arduous one, resulting in a scant dozen or so finished canvases a year.

Smart’s autobiography, Not Quite Straight, was published in 1996. Following his death in Tuscany from kidney failure, the University of South Australia announced that upon completion of the newest building at its City West campus in 2014, it will be named the "Jeffrey Smart Building."

Below are several of Smart’s paintings, which sell for premium prices. In 2011, his “Autobahn in the Black Forest II (1980) sold for US $908,000.00 at auction in Melbourne (AUS $1,020,000).

Rushcutters Bay Baths, 1961

Morning Practice, Baia, 1969

Tuesday, August 27, 2013


Born in Germany, Horst P. Horst (1906-1999) was a much celebrated fashion photographer also known for portraits, interiors and still life arrangements. His work was shot mostly in black and white, with his subjects arranged in glamorous classical Greek-inspired poses with stark shadows (examples at end of post).

Photo at right: Horst photographed by Orphanos

Horst moved to Paris while in his early twenties to apprentice with celebrated architect Le Corbusier. Moving in artistic circles, in 1930 he met Russian photographer Baron George von Hoyningen-Huene (1900-1968). Hoyningen-Heune was working for French Vogue at the time, and within a year Horst became his photographic assistant, model – and soon thereafter his lover. With blond hair and a trim, muscular body, Horst was an ideal model, and his relationship with Hoyningen-Huene resulted in his abandoning the pursuit of a career in architecture.

Youthful model Horst posing for Hoyningen-Huene (1931):

Horst in a classical pose photographed by Hoyningen-Huene (1932):

While traveling in England the pair met British Vogue magazine photographer Cecil Beaton, and Horst’s long association with Vogue began in 1931, when one of his photographs appeared in the French edition of the magazine. He was hired by Vogue in 1935, after Hoyningen-Heune quit the magazine and moved to Hollywood. Among their difficulties was Hoyningen-Heune’s jealousy over Horst’s headlong success. Upon Hoyningen-Heune’s departure, Horst began a relationship with film maker Luchino Visconti.

In 1932 Horst’s first exhibition was mounted in Paris, and a glowing review in The New Yorker magazine made him instantly famous. Within three years he had photographed numerous Hollywood stars, high society notables and various and assorted nobility and royalty. At the age of thirty-one Horst took an apartment in New York City, where he met Coco Chanel. He was to photograph her designs for decades to come.

Horst met British diplomat Valentine “Nicholas” Lawford (1911-1991), who was posted in New York, and the two men became lovers in a relationship that lasted until Lawford’s death. Nicholas was to become Horst’s biographer (“Horst, His Work and His World” 1984) and together they adopted and raised a son, Richard J. Horst, who was eventually Horst’s manager and archivist. In 1943 Horst became a U.S. citizen under the name Horst P. Horst, relinquishing his birth name of Horst Paul Albert Bohrmann, although from the beginning of his career he had used just his first name. He served in the U.S. Army as a photographer and became a friend of President Truman, whom he photographed in 1945. Soon thereafter Horst began a series of First Lady portraits for Vogue, from Mamie Eisenhower (1957) through Nancy Reagan (1981).

In 1990 pop star Madonna released a music video of her enormously successful single “Vogue,” in which she posed in recreations of some of Horst’s most recognizable fashion photographs – "Mainbocher Corset" (1939, shot at four in the morning in Paris, above), a portrait of an exhausted model seen from behind, wearing a partially tied corset made by Detolle, as well as "Lisa with Turban" (1940), and "Carmen Face Massage" (1946). Unfortunately Horst had not given permission for his photos to be used, and he expressed his displeasure at receiving no acknowledgment from Madonna. Her tribute music video went right over the heads of most of her younger fans.

Having moved to Oyster Bay on Long Island in 1947, Horst designed a white stucco house that was reminiscent of homes he had seen in Tunisia while traveling with George Hoyningen-Huene. Horst sold an original Picasso painting to buy 15 acres of land from the Tiffany estate to pay for the house and property. Many of the furnishings inside came from his close friend Coco Chanel. While based there Horst shot a large body of work for Vogue and House and Gardens magazines, both Condé Nast publications, and his partner Nicholas Lawford wrote the articles that accompanied the pictures. Horst’s last published photograph appeared in British Vogue in 1991, the year of Lawford’s death. Suffering from failing eyesight and declining health, Horst was at his home in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, at the time of his death at age 93 on November 18, 1999. In 2001 a retrospective of his portraits appeared in the book, “Horst Portraits: 60 Years of Style”. Horst’s work is featured in nine other publications, as well.

Three male nudes:

Maria Callas by Horst:

Still Life by Horst:

Fashion models by Horst:

Baron Niki de Gunzburg by Horst:

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Harvey S. Ladew II

A bon vivant lifelong bachelor, Harvey Smith Ladew II (1887-1976) was an American horticulturist, golfer, painter, socialite, decorator, collector, writer and avid fox hunter who created extraordinary topiary gardens on his estate near Monkton, MD, north of Baltimore in the heart of Maryland hunt country. A member-at-large of the Garden Club of America (GCA), Mr. Ladew opened his Maryland estate to the public in 1971 as Ladew Topiary Gardens, considered by the GCA as "the most outstanding topiary gardens in America."

Although he was born in New York City as the son of a prominent American leather manufacturer, Harvey spoke French before he learned English, since the fashion among the super-rich was to hire French nannies. He grew up in an atmosphere of extreme privilege, for at the time of his birth, his father’s manufacturing interests enjoyed a capital of $120,000,000 (in 19th century dollars, not adjusted for inflation) and more real property assets than any other industrial enterprise in the United States. Dozens of machine leather factories were spread across New York, Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Tennessee.

The Ladew family owned a hundred foot long yacht, "not particularly large," according to Harvey, whose uncle had a yacht over 200 feet long. Among their homes were a lavish townhouse at 3 East 67th Street in Manhattan (since demolished) and Elsinore, a storied summer home in Glen Cove, the epicenter of Long Island’s so-called Gold Coast. The Elsinore estate boasted a full half mile of shore line. This area was the refuge of choice for turn of the century financiers, blue bloods of New York society and even some run-of-the-mill multimillionaires. Harvey’s father had enlarged the shore-front estate’s turreted Victorian mansion and added extensive greenhouses, gardens, kennels and stables. Harvey’s mother, an accomplished horse- and yachtswoman, oversaw the cultivation of rare orchids, roses and exotic plants inside the property’s dozen greenhouses.

When Harvey studied drawing as a child, his mother decided that only the finest curators from the Metropolitan Museum of Art would be suitable teachers. He had genuine artistic talent and later in life kept a studio with materials for painting in all his homes. Much of Harvey’s youth was spent traveling with his parents, especially to Ireland, England and France. His favorite pastime was sitting on thrones inside European castles. By the time he was fifteen, he boasted that he had sat on more thrones than all of Queen Victoria's vast family put together. Although erudite and polished, Harvey never got around to acquiring a formal education, due to his family's extensive travels. However, there were a few private tutors along the way.

When not traveling, Harvey was usually riding horses on lands of the many exclusive private estates of Long Island. In 1906 he organized an imaginative, quirky diversion for one of his family's elegant dinners; the guests were treated to a "pony banquet" entertainment, during which servants fed oats to the celebrated stud ponies from silver ice buckets as they were paraded before the highly amused guests. This spirit of whimsey permeated most of Ladew's later years.

Harvey was in Europe at the outbreak of WW I, so he served as an Army liaison officer for the American forces. After returning to America, he left the family leather business and spent the rest of his life indulging his interests. Upon the death of both of his parents, he and his sister liquidated their parents' real estate and leather business to divide their vast inheritance, so that at the tender age of twenty-six, Harvey's motto became, "play now, work later." He decided to enjoy himself and explore the world until age 50, when he just might possibly think about getting a job. Never happened – because at age 50 he was barely halfway through having fun. Thus began a life filled to the brim with costume parties, months-long vacations and chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royces. Throughout his life Harvey pressed full steam ahead with a cheeky disregard for convention.

Perhaps it was his mother who sparked his interest in horticulture, but Harvey became a self-taught master garden designer and topiary enthusiast. He had learned to appreciate topiary gardens during his annual fox hunting trips to England. For years he snipped away at yews and boxwoods on his 250-acre Maryland hunt country estate, Pleasant Valley Farm (above), executing astonishingly difficult feats of topiary brilliance, including a pack of hounds chasing a fox, swans, Churchill’s top hat and even a mounted fox hunter clearing a hedge. Amazingly, he designed, nurtured and maintained the topiaries all without professional help. There is a lot of whimsy here, such as a sculpture of Adam accepting the forbidden fruit from Eve while hiding two apples behind his back.  Ladew transformed a London theater ticket booth into a garden tea house, decorated entirely in pink, a favorite color.

Purchased by Mr. Ladew in 1929, Pleasant Valley Farm was at the time derelict, a crumbling farm house without plumbing or electricity; the grounds were completely overgrown. Harvey was drawn to the property because of the beauty of the landscape and its potential for fox hunting. He doubled the size of the existing house, which consisted of a 17th century structure joined to an 18th century building, and he set about hacking away at the unkempt lawns and gardens.

In 1968 the home's oval library was rated as one of the 100 Most Beautiful Rooms in America, but Ladew used it as an escape valve. He had a special lever installed that would allow one of the bookcases to swing open to allow immediate access to the gardens when he was informed of the arrival of an unwanted guest. Of special note is that he constructed the room in an oval shape to mirror the lines of the large partner's desk he had purchased. When it was discovered that the desk would not fit into any other room in the house, he added a new room to the north end of the house to mirror its oval configuration. With his typical wit, he called it his "circulating library."

Below: a topiary horse and rider clear a gate in pursuit of hounds.

Harvey hobnobbed with the cream of high society. When visiting the west coast he rode horseback in the Hollywood Hills with Clark Gable. His most intimate friends, however, were "A-list" homosexuals and bisexuals such as Noel Coward, Billy Baldwin, Hugh Walpole, Somerset Maugham, Jean Cocteau, Beatrice Lillie and T. E. Lawrence – for starters. Harvey enjoyed a forty-year friendship with Edward VII, the Duke of Windsor; his wife, the former Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor, was a native of Baltimore – both were bisexual renegades. Harvey played piano with Cole Porter, conversed in fluent French with writer Colette and partied with Elsa Maxwell. Add to the list of friends Terence Rattigan, Moss Hart, Clifton Webb, designer Anthony Hail and the renowned photographer Horst. Although Ladew was always discreet, he gravitated to friends who were male celebrity sexual rogues and "the women who loved them," if you get my drift.

In "Perfectly Delightful" (1999, Johns Hopkins University Press), a biography of Ladew by Christopher Weeks, the sexual orientation of Harvey Ladew is swept under the rug, yet it is always the elephant in the room throughout the book's nearly 300 pages. Not once is a personal relationship of any type mentioned, but there are hints. On page 58 Weeks relates that Harvey spent a “wonderful holiday in Venice with his longtime companion, the Belgian count François de Buisseret. A clutch of romantic-looking photographs exist as testament to that stay...” The mid-1920s photograph on page 59 shows Ladew and de Buisseret sitting knee-to-knee in St. Mark's Square in a romantic pose indeed. Weeks also mentions that there exists a photograph of the two men riding in a gondola, but I’m guessing that it was perhaps too suggestive to include in the book. Another hint appears on page 210: When the celebrated lesbian hostess Elsa Maxwell and her female partner Dorothy “Dickie” Fellowes-Gordon invited Harvey to accompany them on their long drive from the south of France to Venice, he invited a companion of his own, The Honorable John Young, who enjoyed a career in the diplomatic service. According to Weeks, “Perhaps it was the new friendship that made [Harvey] rave about the trip through Italy.” Weeks clearly idolizes his subject to the point that he omits anything overt that might cast shadows on Ladew's reputation.

On page 87 Weeks describes the close friendship between T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) and Ladew. Although the author mentions Lawrence's homosexuality, he is mute on Ladew. Weeks writes of their similar and highly eclectic tastes and interests, culminating with, "Finally, neither man married. Nor...did either man apparently ever give the slightest indication of wanting to marry." Weeks relates that a NYC gossip columnist wrote in the 1920s, "the tall, good looking (Ladew) was the despair of the ladies, withstanding their melting glances without a quiver."

Well, there you have it.

In this vintage photograph, Harvey is in deep conversation with Consuelo Vanderbilt:

Harvey gave decorating tips to Baltimore native Billy Baldwin, his lifetime friend. The celebrity interior designer later credited Ladew as the principal influence on his own unique perspective in interior decór. When the club house of the Elkridge-Harford Hunt was destroyed by fire in 1938, Harvey oversaw the redesign, rebuilding  and redecoration.

As Billy Baldwin wrote, “one of Harvey’s eccentricities was that he was not interested in society, per se. He was interested in all kinds of fascinating people.” He loved to travel, was an opera enthusiast, loved to throw elaborate parties, attended the theatre, was an expert raconteur, fox hunter, bridge player – and that was not the half. He dabbled in photography and writing, as well.

To say that he lived an outsized life is understatement. Harvey was once the houseguest of the Maharajah of Kapurthala, took a camel caravan across Arabia (with travel tips provided by his friend T. E. Lawrence/Lawrence of Arabia), spent weekends at dozens of the stately homes of England, and once lent a favorite horse to the Prince of Wales. His circle of friends included the likes of Edna Ferber, Richard Rodgers, Charlie Chaplin and Dorothy Parker – and assorted European royalty and nobility, who treated him as an equal.

The Great Depression be damned, during the late 1930s Ladew bought the John S. Phipps beachfront estate in Gulfstream FL, an exclusive polo sporting enclave adjacent to Delray Beach, south of Palm Beach. Gulfstream had been developed by the Phipps brothers, and Ladew was right at home among the polo set. He rechristened his property Pied-à-Mer, and his striped cabana-on-wheels (below) became a local beach landmark for more than 30 years. Unlike many storied Palm Beach area great houses, the Ladew-Phipps oceanfront home was not demolished for redevelopment or repurposed as a clubhouse for a gated golf community. It lives on today in full glory as a private home (photo above), although the open air theater-playhouse with tropical murals from the Ladew-Phipps era has since been converted into a guest house.

The April 1938 issue of Vogue magazine featured Pied-à-Mer’s “House of Cards,” an annex on the estate used solely for entertaining. As indicated by its moniker, the structure was decorated in a playing card theme, down to the floor tiles in the lavatories. Ladew was a master bridge player, and his estate in Maryland boasted a card-playing pavilion, as well. In 1944 Harvey painted a nude portrait of society decorator Billy Baldwin's naked backside lying in repose on a beach chair on the grounds of Pied-à-Mer. Today that small painting resides at Pleasant Valley Farm in Maryland.

Harvey also bought a 20-room luxury cooperative apartment overlooking Manhattan’s East River, so it appears he was partial to water views. At about this time his sparkling social life reached its peak, and it didn’t hurt that his sister Elise was married to W. R. Grace III, the son of the mayor of NYC. Names entered into his guest books included all the aforementioned plus John and Jacqueline Kennedy. For the rest of his days Harvey entertained and befriended the most celebrated minds of the 20th century. It was all, as he often said, “perfectly delightful,” and Harvey lived to a ripe old age to enjoy life to its fullest. At age 80 he wrote to his sister Elise: "Today I clipped several miles of topiary for exercise and pleasure."

Harvey Ladew died in 1976 at age eighty-nine. Fortunately, a trust supports Ladew Topiary Gardens in perpetuity, since it costs approximately $400,000 a year to maintain the Maryland estate. After Ladew's death, several valuable artworks at Pleasant Valley farm were sold and replaced with reproductions. Proceeds from this sale vastly reduced insurance costs and allowed the trust to become more generously endowed.

Ladew Topiary Gardens

Today’s Ladew Topiary Gardens feature fifteen themed garden “rooms” that occupy 22 acres on the grounds. A nature walk meanders through 80 acres of woods and fields, and a boardwalk takes in a wetland area and marsh. Mr. Ladew’s manor house showcases antique English furniture, paintings, photographs and fox-hunting memorabilia. In the barn, Ladew's art studio houses a permanent exhibit outlining his life and career, and a carriage museum displays vehicles used in Ladew's time, from a hansom cab to an Irish jaunting car. The former stables have been repurposed as a café. Both house and gardens are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. As well, Pleasant Valley Farm is today home to two 10-acre polo fields used by the Maryland Polo Club, so once more there is the sound of horses' hooves pounding the grounds of Harvey Ladew's estate.

Open daily April through October.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Rosario Crocetta

OK – pay attention. Let’s go back to October, 2012. Let’s say you’re a politician running for governor of Sicily, Italy – on an anti-Mafia platform. Let’s say you’re one of ten official candidates. Let’s say you’re not only anti-Mafia, but openly gay, to boot. You don’t need to be reminded that Sicily is traditionally Italy’s most homophobic region. People think you must have a death wish. But let’s say you won the election, with more than 30% of the vote, more than five percentage points ahead of the next closest rival.

Let’s say I’m not making this up. Rosario Crocetta, age 62, accomplished the near-impossible. His election was the first time a leftist candidate won the regional governorship in Sicily since 1947, the first time an anti-Mafia candidate won, and certainly the first time an openly gay candidate emerged victorious.

In 2003, as a member of the Italian Communist Party, Crocetta had won election to become mayor of Gela, a city on Sicily’s southern coast that is his home town. He made history by becoming the first openly gay mayor in all of Italy. A year before he left office in 2009, he switched party alliances and became a Democrat. However, his anti-Mafia platform resulted in numerous death threats, requiring 24-hour-a-day police protection. Assassination plots were waged against him in 2003, 2008 and 2010. Undeterred, he went on to serve two terms as mayor of Gela, then moved on to become an Italian representative to the European Parliament before running for governor of Sicily.

When Crocetta assumed office as governor, Sicily was close to default on its debts, thanks to reckless profligacy in the regional administration, and its last governor had resigned amid claims of corruption and links to the Mafia. Crocetta was able to cope with the nearly insurmountable odds against him, until his mother got wind of an assassination plot against her son. She quit eating and died forty days later. Crocetta went into therapy.

A smoker with a penchant for blue framed glasses, Crocetta says today, “I’m homosexual, which I call a gift from God, and no, I don’t hide it one bit!”. Talking about his successful campaign for governor, he said, “the fact that I’m here is almost inconceivable. Even I’m surprised.”

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Johnny Cummings

Johnny Cummings, the openly gay mayor of the small coal mining town of Vicco, Kentucky (pop. 334), was profiled on TV’s “The Colbert Report” on August 14, 2013. Described by locals as “the best mayor we’ve ever had,” Cummings, also the town’s part-time hairdresser, led a successful initiative to pass an ordinance banning discrimination based on sexual orientation. Thus Vicco KY became the smallest town in the nation to have such a law.

A part of Colbert’s recurring tongue-in-cheek feature titled “People Who Are Destroying America,” the segment consisted mostly of interviews with the town’s residents, who one after another fractured the stereotype of  “close-minded hillbillies,” a phrase used by one Vicco citizen. Local residents praised Cummings for his accomplishments and described how they approved of the anti-bias ordinance. An exception was the local pastor, who said he wished gays would “go back in the closet where they belong.”

The fifty-year-old mayor, who plays saxophone in his spare time, reports that five other communities have contacted him about how to enact similar anti-discrimination laws. Currently a Democrat, Cummings says that in the past he has switched between Democrat and Republican affiliation. He is pleased with how the satirical Colbert Report episode turned out, because he had turned down other media efforts to cast a lurid slant on Vicco’s recent notoriety. One organization had proposed filming a reality show on location, but Cummings dismissed that and similar offers. Instead, Cummings welcomed a feature on "The Colbert Report".

“To get your point across, sometimes you just gotta laugh,” according to Johnny.

The Comedy Central crew shot the "Colbert Report" footage last February, following a news item about the passage of the anti-discrimination ordinance that appeared in the New York Times in January, 2013.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Mark Beard

The mural of artist Mark Beard is the centerpiece of the interior of the Abercrombie and Fitch Flagship Store on Fifth Avenue in New York City. At left is a  portion of the artwork on the wall and ceiling of the popular store.

Using an alter-ego (assumed name) of Bruce Sargeant, Beard's works, such as large paintings, friezes and bronze sculptures, are featured in Abercrombie & Fitch's flagship stores in New York, Los Angeles, London, Milan, Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Tokyo. The 2008 commission for the Tokyo Abercrombie & Fitch store is his largest to date – an eleven story tall mural.

Much of Beard's artwork is decidedly homoerotic. Here's a painting titled "Three Handstands".

Mr. Beard is a New York City based American artist who was born in 1956 in Salt Lake City. His great-grandfather was an early Mormon pioneer who emigrated from England to Utah. Beard’s works are in many museum collections, including the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, the Whitney, Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. the Graphische Sammlung in Munich and Princeton, Harvard, and Yale Universities. More than 200 private collections (such as that of Ralph Lauren) include his artworks.

Mark’s studio (above) is littered with oil paintings, life drawings, heroic bronzes, ceramics, and architectural maquettes, illustrating that he is a virtuoso in many mediums. A noted set designer, he also has paintings, prints, sculptures and handcrafted books in collections all over the world.

Curiously, Beard channeled himself into several alter egos, each with a completely fabricated bio. He says this enables him to work within several distinct styles. Bear with me. First was the persona of “Bruce Sargeant” (1898-1938), a spoof on John Singer Sargent. “Bruce Sargeant” is an imagined English artist, a contemporary of E. M. Forster, Rupert Brooke and John Sloan, who purportedly died in a tragic wrestling accident. I kid you not. Mark then created Bruce Sargeant’s teacher, “Hippolyte-Alexandre Michallon”, a 19th-century French Academist. Michallon also taught “Edith Thayer Cromwell”, an American post-modern avant-gardeist. Next up were “Brechtolt Steeruwitz”, a Viennese Expressionist of complex personality, and “Peter Coulter” (b. 1948), a NYC based artist purportedly influenced by Cromwell and Steeruwitz. So Mark Beard is more than one artist – he is at least six. Beard made a mockumentary in which he played five of his alter egos, with critics discussing each artist’s work. I’m not making this up.

Mark Beard painting as Bruce Sargeant: Two Boys Seated on a Bench (below)

Mr. Beard is represented by ClampArt in New York City, where he resides in a 3,700 sq. ft. studio in Hell's Kitchen on West 38th St. that he bought with his partner, James Manfred. Mark Beard outside his NYC studio (below):

I'm afraid I've overemphasized Mark's paintings. He has designed sculptures (above) and the 18-foot tall doors of the Edmond J. Safra Synagogue (below) on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. The bronze doors bear a tree of life design, a representation of the process by which the universe came into being.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Andrew Sords

Delaware native Andrew Sords (b. 1985) is a concert violinist whose performance track record belies his age. Andrew has already appeared as soloist with more than 100 orchestras and has performed on noted recital series across the U.S., Europe, Australia, Korea, Canada, the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America.

He is a featured soloist on every track of New Age composer Sean Christopher’s latest album, “Transcendence” (2013, CD and MP3 formats).

Andromeda (violinist Andrew Sords):

But Andrew’s bread and butter lies with the performance of classical music repertoire. He is also an openly gay man. Based in Cleveland, Mr. Sords has performed with the Minnesota Philharmonic Orchestra (the first GLBT orchestra in America, founded more than 20 years ago)  and another GLBT ensemble, the Atlanta Philharmonic Orchestra (founded in 2004). On June 28, 2014, Sords will perform the Tchaikovsky violin concerto with the Atlanta Philharmonic as part of the Atlanta Pride celebration, so we'll have a gay violinist soloing with a gay orchestra performing a concerto by a gay composer (Tchaikovsky) at a gay festival. Awesome.

Notably, Andrew has been profiled in “Lavender Magazine” (Minnesota’s GLBT biweekly) and Pittsburgh’s “Out”, a GLBT monthly tabloid publication. However, Sords is known to a much wider audience through mainstream venues such as NPR’s Morning Edition and Sirius XM Radio.

Sords performs on a Belgian violin built by Augustine Talisse in 1912, with strings exclusively provided by Warchal, Inc. (Slovakia). Andrew plays with a nineteenth-century French bow from the workshop of Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume.

In January Sords will headline the 2014 Moscow Mozart Festival with concerti and chamber music performances, immediately followed by a return engagement with the Pro Musica Chamber Series of San Miguel, Mexico. When I conducted a telephone interview with Mr. Sords for this blog post, he had just returned from Fairbanks Alaska, where he was a featured performer in the city’s Summer Arts Festival. So successful is his career that these days he is booked for approximately two years in advance.

Mr. Sords was the featured violinist in a documentary on violin technique. He was honored by Pulitzer Prize nominated composer Kellach Waddle, who dedicated his violin sonata to the young violinist. In 2006 Andrew commissioned a violin concerto from composer Evan Fein and recorded it with the Cleveland Institute of Music Orchestra.

Strongly committed to extending classical music to everyone, Andrew dedicates a portion of his time at almost every engagement to educational outreach, master classes and community programming.

Andrew Sords is represented by EMC Artists, Ltd., and you can learn much more about him (and even read his tantalizing blog) at:

Thursday, August 8, 2013

James Henry Hammond

On the 150th anniversary of the U.S. Civil War, I am reminded of James Henry Hammond (1807-1864), author of the famous “King Cotton” speech made on March 4, 1859:

“You dare not make war on cotton – no power on earth dares make war upon it. Cotton is King.”

Hammond, an aristocratic Southern gentleman politician, served as a U.S. Congressman, as Governor of South Carolina and was elected to the U.S. Senate, where he served until the outbreak of the Civil War, upon South Carolina’s secessation from the Union. A Democrat, Hammond practiced law early in his career in Columbia, South Carolina. He was also a slave-holding planter who was a staunch defender of slavery and states’ rights. 

"I firmly believe," said Governor Hammond, "that American slavery is not only not a sin, but especially commanded by God through Moses, and approved by Christ through his apostles.” Additionally, he wrote that, “I repudiate, as ridiculously absurd, that much lauded but nowhere accredited dogma of Mr. Jefferson that ‘all men are born equal’.”

Hammond was also a voracious sexual rogue, and his political career suffered because of it. Hammond engaged in a passionate affair with Thomas Jefferson Withers, and two damning letters between the two provide explicit details of their sexual proclivities. Published by researcher Martin Duberman in 1981, the letters are remarkable for being rare documentary evidence of same-sex relationships in the antebellum United States. Writing to Hammond on May 15, 1826, Withers provides this example: “I feel some inclination to learn whether you yet sleep in your shirt-tail and whether you yet have the extravagant delight of poking and punching a writhing bedfellow with your long fleshen pole – the exquisite touches of which I have often had the honor of feeling.” The letter was signed, “With great respect I am the old stud, Jeff.”

Well, there you have it.

But his sexual appetites did not end there. In his diaries he described, without embarrassment or apology, his dalliances with four teenage nieces, all the daughters of Wade Hampton II. Blaming the seductiveness of the “extremely affectionate” young women, Hammond saw his political career  crushed for a decade to come, and the girls with their tarnished social reputations never married.

Nevertheless, the Hammond School in Columbia, SC, is named after him. Originally called the James H. Hammond Academy, the school was founded in 1966 as a segregation preparatory day school. Hammond's name was chosen because his grandson contributed significant money to the school's founding, and Confederate big-wigs were favored as names for white-flight private schools started as part of the backlash to racial desegregation of public schools.

Completed in 1859, Hammond’s Beech Island SC home, Redcliffe Plantation (above), is open daily for public tours. Three generations of his descendants and numerous enslaved families lived and worked at the site, which symbolizes the ambition, wealth and power of James Henry Hammond as a successful planter and politician who spent his life defending the southern plantation system and his status within it. Hammond died at Redcliffe Plantation on November 13, 1864, just two days before his 57th birthday. He thus managed to die before the Union army arrived in the area a few weeks later. General Lee surrendered the following April.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Hurd Hatfield

Throughout his career in film, television and stage productions, American actor Hurd Hatfield (1918-1998) was always associated with the Hollywood film, “The Picture of Dorian Gray” (1945). Playing the title role in Oscar Wilde’s tale of a vain young man who trades his soul to retain his youthful appearance made him a star. That fame was a double edged sword, however, because he was unable to shake the notoriety of the role, and just five years later he was appearing in a string of B-movies. 

"I have been haunted by 'The Picture of Dorian Gray'," he said. "New York, London, anywhere I'm making a personal appearance, people will talk about other things, but they always get back to Dorian Gray."

Born in New York City in 1918, Hatfield (1951 photo at right) won a scholarship to study acting at Michael Chekhov's Dartington Hall company in Devon, England. Returning to the United States with Chekhov's company in 1939, he began a sexual affair with fellow troupe member Yul Brynner a year later. Unlike Brynner, however, Hatfield remained exclusively homosexual his entire life. During the time the company was playing on the West Coast, Hatfield was signed by MGM and within a year director Albert Lewin’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray” was released in movie houses.

It is somewhat astonishing that Hatfield was even cast in the role, having made only one film prior to “Dorian Gray”. At any rate, he was thrust into the big leagues of a spare-no-expense production, and among his co-stars were the likes of Angela Lansbury, George Sanders, Donna Reed, Richard Fraser and Peter Lawford. This movie still is of Hatfield portraying Dorian Gray:

Hatfield's passive, somewhat delicate and androgynous performance was delivered with little feeling, as apparently intended, but the film’s huge success did not ignite his career. "The film didn't make me popular in Hollywood," he commented later. "It was too odd, too avant- garde, too ahead of its time. The decadence, the hints of bisexuality and so on, made me a leper! Nobody knew I had a sense of humour, and people wouldn't even have lunch with me."

It is telling that his next film for MGM was titled “The Beginning of the End” (1947), a tale of scientists working on the atom bomb. By 1950 Hatfield had decided to return to the stage. In 1952 he appeared on Broadway in Christopher Fry's “Venus Observed”, directed by Laurence Olivier, and the following year played Lord Byron and Don Quixote in Tennessee Williams's “Camino Real”, directed by Elia Kazan. He was Prince Paul in the Broadway production of “Anastasia” (1954), played the title role in Julius Caesar in the inaugural season of the American Shakespeare Festival at Connecticut, Stratford (1955) and appeared as Don John in John Gielgud's legendary production of “Much Ado About Nothing” (1959). Nevertheless, he still couldn’t shake the specter of “Dorian Gray.”

Hatfield returned to Hollywood, notably for two sexually ambivalent roles: the epicene follower of Billy the Kid (Paul Newman) in Arthur Penn's film of Gore Vidal's “The Left-Handed Gun” (1958) and a homosexual antique dealer considered a suspect in “The Boston Strangler” (1968).  He was also cast in two 1965 epics, “King of Kings” and “El Cid”, and in 1986 returned to the screen to play the ailing grandfather in “Crimes of the Heart”. He enjoyed a prolific television career, as well, including appearances in episodes of “Suspense”, “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” and “Murder She Wrote.”

Having been introduced to Ireland by his colleague Angela Lansbury, by the 1970s Hatfield was commuting between a 17th century estate in Ireland and his house on Long Island for acting assignments. Ballinterry House (above), his home in Ireland’s County Cork, was filled with the antiques and art he loved to collect. It was there that Hatfield died peacefully in his sleep at age 81, soon after having Christmas dinner with friends. Michael Garvey and Ann O'Sullivan now run Ballinterry House as a high end bed-and-breakfast accommodation. Oddly, their promotional materials make no mention of Hatfield's ownership.

A series of clips from “The Picture of Dorian Gray”

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Shane McAnally

38-year-old Shane McAnally is a Nashville anomaly – an openly gay country songwriter, singer and producer. Writing scores of songs a year to wild success, McAnally has written or co-written hits for Kenny Chesney, Lee Ann Womack, The Band Perry, Miranda Lambert and Kelly Clarkson, among many others. As well, he has penned songs for the hit ABC television series "Nashville".

According to McAnally, success finally landed on his doorstep after he came out. “My career really took off when I came out. When I stopped hiding who I was, I started writing hits.”

Shane has a definite propensity for mega-hit songs. Since November 2010, he’s co-written seven No. 1 country singles and dozens of other hits for the likes of Luke Bryan, Lady Antebellum, Reba McEntire and Kacey Musgraves.

McAnally writes chart-topping country songs from an office on the grounds of the Nashville home he shares with his husband and their 7-month-old twins. Last September, Shane married his partner of six years, Michael Baum, a former mortgage specialist who now runs McAnally’s production and publishing companies. The couple’s daughter and son, Dylan and Dash McAnally Baum, were born last December.

A Texas native, Shane appeared on the TV talent show “Star Search” while still a teenager. He lost, but went on to perform in Branson, Missouri, the country-music resort town. He dropped out of the University of Texas, Austin, to move to Nashville to pursue a career as a country singer. He signed a publishing deal with Curb Records and in 2000, he released his self-titled debut album. “I was sure I was going to be a superstar.” Although he shared a manager with Alabama and Kenny Chesney and opened for those acts on tour, the album flopped.

“The truth is, I probably would be dead if I had become a star, because at that point I was so closeted and so afraid of people finding out I was gay. There was no telling what would have happened.”

McAnally then decided to head to West Hollywood, the gay epicenter of Los Angeles, which blew his mind. He had never imagined that there was a place where gay men could walk down the street holding hands and kissing. From 2000-2007 he worked in Los Angeles as a bartender, all the while writing and performing under the name Shane Mack. Five “Shane Mack” songs found their way onto the soundtrack of the film “Shelter,” a gay-themed romantic melodrama. In the video for the movie’s theme song, “Lie to Me,” scenes of Shawn McAnally singing and playing acoustic guitar are intercut with clips from the movie. Have a look/listen:

McAnally returned to Nashville in 2007 to try his hand at country songwriting, but this time as an out gay man. The week he returned, country torch singer Lee Ann Womack recorded “Last Call,” co-written by McAnally with Erin Enderlin. It went to No. 3 on the country music charts and virtually established Shane’s career as a songwriter.

Shane scored a number one hit in 2010 when his song “Somewhere With You” was recorded by Kenny Chesney. In this video McAnally tells the story behind writing the song and then sings it himself.

McAnally has given up his youthful goal of being a country music singing superstar. “One of the greatest tools you have as a songwriter is anonymity,” Shane says. “If listeners know too much about the songwriter, they don’t get to insert their own characters. I don’t want the audience thinking that the guy who wrote the song is gay. Whether it’s a gay or straight guy or gal in the audience, I want them all to hear a song and say, ‘That’s my story.’ ”

Note: Most of the info for this post comes from a New York Times profile published in late May. I’ll wrap up this post with “Fade into You,” a duet written by McAnally for the ABC television series “Nashville”, renewed last month for a second season.