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.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Colin Higgins

Openly gay film director, actor, producer and screenwriter Colin Higgins (1941-1988) was born in New Caledonia, a French island nation east of Australia, although most of his formative years were spent in Australia and California. His father was an American, and his mother Australian. After earning a bachelor's degree in English from Stanford University, he went to UCLA, where he received an M.F.A. in screenwriting.

Although he had solid hits with Silver Streak (screenwriter, 1976), Foul Play (director and screenwriter, 1978), Nine to Five (director and screenwriter, 1980), and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (director and screenwriter, 1982 – the film adaptation of the stage musical), he is best remembered for an earlier film for which he wrote the screenplay – Harold and Maude (producer and screenwriter, 1971), which has become a cult classic. It tells the tale of a suicidal young man (Bud Cort) who falls in love with a 79-year-old woman (Ruth Gordon). Higgins wrote the screenplay, which formed the basis for his thesis while he was still a student at UCLA.

After graduating Higgins went to work for a rich man and his wife in Los Angeles as a part-time chauffeur and pool cleaner in exchange for free accommodation. The man was film producer Ed Lewis, and Higgins showed him a draft of Harold and Maude. Lewis took it to Robert Evans at Paramount, where the film project got the green light. Higgins wanted to direct the script himself, but Hal Ashby was hired as director. Ashby and Higgins were highly compatible, and both were pleased with the result of their collaboration, although it was not a great box office success upon its initial release.

Later Higgins (above left) received an offer from Jean-Louis Barrault (right) in Paris to turn Harold and Maude into a play for French actor Madeleine Renaud. Higgins took on the project, working on the French translation with Jean-Claude Carriere, and the play ran for seven years. The film of Harold and Maude continued to run in cinemas around the world, with some fans having seen it over a hundred times. By 1983 the film had turned a profit, twelve years after its original release.

In this clip from the beginning of the film, Harold meets Maude:

Higgins’ last film project was a 1986 television miniseries based on Shirley MacLaine's book, Out on a Limb. Sadly, Higgins died of AIDS-related illness in Beverly Hills, CA, in 1988, at the tender age of forty-seven.

Trivia: When Colin Higgins was having a hot tub and deck built for his backyard, he hired a young carpenter to do it. That carpenter was Harrison Ford. 

Queers in History (2009) – Keith Stern


Aggie Song: Best Little Whorehouse in Texas

Sunday, October 27, 2013

E. M. Forster

Edward Morgan Forster (1879-1970) was an English writer of novels, short stories and essays. After his father died before he was two years old, Forster was raised by female relatives who were affiliated with a stern evangelical sect. At the age of ten, a great aunt left him an inheritance that afforded him a private education while allowing himself to attempt a career as a writer. Forster detested public school, but found King's College, Cambridge, almost a paradise by contrast, with its strongly homoerotic atmosphere among students and faculty.

In 1901 Forster was elected to the elite Cambridge secret society The Apostles, leading to close ties with other members such as John Maynard Keynes and Lytton Strachey of the Bloomsbury group. After traveling for a year in Italy Forster taught a course at the Working Mens’ College, a part-time commitment he maintained for over twenty years in order to affirm his belief in reducing class barriers. Then four novels appeared in a five year period of creativity: Where Angels Feared to Tread (1905), The Longest Journey (1907), A Room with a View (1908) and Howards End (1910). This brilliant body of work, openly critical of Edwardian pieties, secured his fame.

In 1914 Forster completed the first draft of a homosexual novel, Maurice. Realizing that it was not publishable in England after the persecution of Oscar Wilde, he shared the manuscript with only a few friends, including Christopher Isherwood and D. H. Lawrence, who used it as the model for his heterosexual Lady Chatterley's Lover. Forster continued to revise Maurice* until 1960, but it was not published until 1971, after his death the previous year. After completing Maurice, Forster felt that his novel writing was over, as he had exhausted his insights into heterosexual relationships, yet could not publish the works with homosexual themes that affected him personally.

*The film version of Maurice, released by the Ivory-Merchant-Jhabvala team in 1987, was a success and remarkably true to the novel. In Maurice, an upper class man comes to find his true destiny with a working-class boy, the gamekeeper at an estate.

Scholars have long speculated about the reason for Forster’s low productivity after a string that included the aforementioned classics plus A Passage to India (1924), considered by most to be his masterpiece. A Passage to India delivered a sharp critique of British imperialism. Newly revealed papers from Forster, including his sex diary, reveal that his first sexual encounter with a man and the way it compounded his lifelong struggle with homosexuality killed his creative drive. He did not write any novels between 1924 and the time of his death in 1970. Forster lost his virginity to a wounded soldier on an Egyptian beach when he was 38 and later met Bob Buckingham, a married policeman, in 1930. Forster and Buckingham remained lovers until Forster’s death.

After 1924 Forster published only essays and reviews. The broadcasts of his essays on the BBC during the early years of the Second World War (published in Two Cheers for Democracy) delivered to the British people some of the most important writing of the mid-twentieth century, according to Adrian Barlow, a Forster scholar. In 1946 Forster accepted an offer to become an honorary fellow at King's College Cambridge, where he lived for the rest of his life. Although Forster struggled to reconcile the heterosexual English middle-class themes of his famous works with the reality of his affairs with working-class men, he went on to become an influential President of the National Council for Civil Liberties and a committed advocate of free speech.


Wayne R. Dynes – Encyclopedia of Homosexuality (1990)

Julie Bolder for The Advocate (2010):

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Christian VII

Born in Copenhagen, Christian VII (1749-1808) became King of Denmark and Norway and Duke of Schleswig and Holstein upon his father’s death, just a few weeks shy of Christian’s seventeenth birthday. Soon after his marriage at age seventeen to his 15-year-old cousin Caroline Mathilde (the sister of British King George III), Christian abandoned his conjugal duties and indulged in various debaucheries, notably sex with young men. He publicly declared that he could not love Caroline Mathilde, because it was "unfashionable to love one's wife."

Christian became progressively submissive to his physician, Johann Friedrich Struensee, who rose steadily in power in the late 1760s. Christian was a chronic masturbator, and this practice often interfered with his duties, since he prioritized it over his job in many instances. He indulged himself so much that the court physicians, Struensee included, were actually worried that he would eventually render himself infertile.

From 1770 to 1772 Struensee was "de facto" regent of the country and introduced reforms that were signed into law by Christian VII. The neglected and lonely Caroline Mathilde drifted into an affair with Struensee, but in 1772 the 23-year-old king's marriage was dissolved, and Struensee was arrested and executed. Under pressure from his mother, Christian himself signed the arrest warrant.

After the divorce, Caroline Mathilde had to give up her two children, one of which, Princess Louise Auguste, was widely believed to be the daughter of Struensee. Portraits of Princess Louise and Struensee bear a remarkable similarity. Caroline died of scarlet fever at age twenty-three.   

Christian was only nominally king from 1772 onwards, since he was considered mentally unstable. Until 1784, Denmark was ruled by Christian's stepmother Juliana, his physically disabled half-brother and Danish politician Ove Guldberg. From 1784 onwards, his son Frederik served as Regent, until Christian VII's death in 1808.


Craig Kaczorowski for


Sunday, October 20, 2013

David Armstrong

Photographer David Armstrong (at right, portrait by Deidre Schoo) was born in 1954 in Massachusetts and studied painting at the Boston Museum School and Cooper Union (NYC). He soon switched to photography and earned a B.F.A. from Tufts University in 1988.

Armstrong first received critical attention for his intimate sharp focus portraits of men, who were either lovers or friends. In the 1990s he began to photograph cityscapes and landscapes in soft focus,  to contrast his portraits. Street lights, electric signs and automobiles were reduced to a sensual, mottled blur (collected as All Day Every Day). A series of black/white portraits appeared as The Silver Cord. His most recent art book publication is 615 Jefferson Avenue (2011).

Armstrong’s photographs have been included in numerous group exhibitions here and abroad, in such prestigious venues as the Hamburger Kunsthalle (Germany). A large body of David’s work has appeared in print media: French Vogue, L’Uomo Vogue, Arena Homme+, GQ, Self Service, Another Man and Japanese Vogue, among others.  As well, he has contributed to advertising campaigns for a variety of clients, such as Ermenegildo Zegna, René Lezard, Kenneth Cole, Burburry, Puma, and Barbara Bui.

In 1996, Elisabeth Sussman, curator of photographs at the Whitney Museum (NYC), enlisted Armstrong’s help in composing Nan Goldin’s first retrospective. She gained such respect for Armstrong’s eye that she acquired a few of David’s pieces for the Whitney permanent collection. He was subsequently featured in the Whitney 1994 biennial.

David is based in Brooklyn, New York, where his primary subjects remain young boys and men. “It has to do with issues of my own,” he says. “This thing about male youth, this idea that something is fading. I get older and still take pictures of boys that are the age I was when I was first shooting them.”


New York Times interview:


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Scott Pomfret & Scott Whittier

Two men, both named Scott, met at a Boston gay bar in 2001 and entered into a romantic relationship. Two years later they decided that there must be a market among gay men for romantic stories such as their own, so attorney Scott Pomfret (now 44, in black t-shirt) and advertising copywriter Scott A. Whittier (38) decided to try their hand at writing romantic fiction.

At the height of the debate over same-sex marriage in Massachusetts in 2003, they founded Romentics (romance for men), a company to publish, promote, and sell their books. Inspired by the Harlequin romances that Whittaker's mother and grandmother received by monthly mail order, the couple’s collaborations include titles such as Razor Burn (2005) and Hot Sauce (2005 – Warner Books), books that are filled with heat, passion, obstacles to love and happy endings.

Pomfret, who works on fraud cases for the Securities and Exchange Commission, is from Wellesley. After college, he coached high school football in Massachusetts and Maryland, then went to law school. He practiced law at Ropes & Gray before moving to the SEC. He also wrote fiction and has published short stories in literary magazines. In 2001, he met Whittier, who grew up in Poland, Maine, graduated from the University of North Carolina and came to Boston to join the advertising business. Whittier was the one with the idea to write gay romance stories.

Other collaborations (available at Amazon):
Spare Parts (2004), Nick of Time (2004), Nothing Personal (2005), Surf’n’Turf (2006), E-Male (2009).

Pomfret and Whittier are also the co-authors of the Q-Guide to Wine & Cocktails (2007). The couple met over a vodka tonic and now live in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Scott Pomfret also wrote Since My Last Confession: A Gay Catholic Memoir (2008).

Full Boston Globe interview by David Mehegan:

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Nigel Hawthorne

Englishman Nigel Hawthorne (1929-2001) was a sensitive and intelligent actor whose work captivated the public during the 1980s when he appeared in the BBC television comedy series Yes, Minister and its sequel, Yes, Prime Minister. His star turn in the movie The Madness of King George (1994) brought him world-wide attention and spectacularly displayed his talent for dramatic roles. Hawthorne’s acting career spanned more than fifty years, but he struggled for recognition for the first thirty years, until he appeared in the popular Yes, Minister TV series, by which time he was more than 50 years old.

He had worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company in the 1980s and played King Lear with that troupe in 1999. He won too many BAFTA awards to count, and he won a Tony Award for Best Actor for his Broadway role as C. S. Lewis in the 1990 production of Shadowlands.

For over twenty years Hawthorne shared his life with screenwriter Trevor Bentham. Although he was an intensely private person, Hawthorn made no secret of his homosexuality. Nonetheless, he deemed it bad manners to "embarrass" people by talking about it. He was thus upset at being "outed" involuntarily in 1995 in the publicity surrounding his Academy Award nomination for the 1994 film, The Madness of King George. The movie was an adaptation of openly gay playwright Alan Bennett’s play, The Madness of George III (1991). Hawthorn had starred in both the British stage and Broadway productions of the play. Bennett insisted that Hawthorne also star in the Broadway staging, refusing to give him up for an actor more familiar to Broadway audiences. Hawthorne attended the Oscar ceremony with his partner Trevor (photo below), who spoke disparagingly about Hawthorne’s outing by the press:

“We have never made a secret of it, and you news people haven’t been that bothered, because he is not Tom Cruise, and he is not Robert Redford. He is a dear, sweet, kind man, hard-working and conscientious, and people respect that. We don’t go screaming around in leather trousers and go to gay bars. We are not interested in that, not remotely. We are two middle-aged people living totally ordinary, conservative, boring lives. We don’t party, we don’t riot, and we don’t have wild times. We are not those kind of people.”

So there you have it.

Hawthorne later spoke openly about being gay in interviews and in his autobiography, Straight Face (2003), which was published two years after his death. Hawthorne became Sir Nigel Hawthorne when he was knighted in 1999. He died from a heart attack in 2001 at age 72. He was survived by his partner, Trevor Bentham. On hearing of Hawthorne's death, Alan Bennett described him as "courteous, grand, a man of the world and superb at what he did...”


Post Apocalyptic Bohemian blog:

Keith Stern: Queers in History (2009)


A 3-minute clip from his star turn in the film "The Madness of King George":

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Marc Jacobs

New York born fashion designer Marc Jacobs (b. 1963) loves the spotlight. He’s not just a famous designer, he’s a celebrity whose personal life fills the gossip columns, and he likes it that way. When he gets a new tattoo, enters or exits rehab, takes up with another ex-prostitute or ex-porn-star boyfriend, the paparazzi are there in force. Jacobs (photo at right by Ed Kavishe) eats it up. His New York office is adorned by a framed cartoon of a woman selling her soul to the devil for tickets to a Marc Jacobs runway show.

His talent has made him very rich. The former stock boy is today worth well over 100 million dollars. A private chef tends the kitchen of his Parisian home that sports a knock-out view of the Eiffel Tower. The chubby, long-haired nerdy Jewish kid in glasses has transformed himself into a gym-buffed jet setter who hob-nobs with the rich and famous, all the while collecting serious art (Georges Braque, Andy Warhol, David Hockney). A restless spirit, Jacobs has just announced his departure as the creative director of the iconic French brand Louis Vuitton, a post he held for more than 15 years. During the first decade of Jacob’s tenure with Louis Vuitton, business at the couture house quadrupled. The reason for his departure? To concentrate on his own work. Jacobs sells his products – clothing, perfumes and luxury accessories (notably handbags that sell for thousands of dollars) – from more than 200 stores in 80 countries.

In 2010 he was ranked as one of the “100 Most Influential People in the World” by Time magazine, and in 2012 Out magazine declared him one of the “50 most powerful gay men and women in America.” France named him a “Chevalier of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres,” an award whose purpose is “the recognition of significant contributions to the arts, literature, or the propagation of these fields.”

In 1989 Jacobs posed for Vanity Fair magazine wearing nothing but his signature motorcycle boots and a yellow sheet. He topped that in 2006 when he posed with long-time business partner Robert Duffy in the buff for Protect Your Largest Organ T-shirts, sold to benefit skin cancer. That same year he designed ballet costumes for Amoveo, with music by Philip Glass, which debuted at the Opéra Garnier in Paris. In 2007 he posed nude on the cover of Out, the gay monthly magazine. In 2009 Jacobs dressed Muppets diva Miss Piggy in a custom stone-studded, black taffeta evening gown for her appearance at Macy’s Glamorama party. To promote his new men’s fragrance, Bang (“I like the sexual innuendo of it,” Jacobs said - photo above) he again posed nude, this time with his naked thighs splayed around an enormous bottle of the scent.

At a talk at Manhattan’s 92Y earlier this year, Jacobs confessed, “I love attention. Maybe my desire for attention is a little too out of control, but I’m very honest.”

And very rich.

In a New Yorker magazine feature in 2008, Jacobs told interviewer Ariel Levy, “I love frogs...this sort of fairy-tale frog that became a prince, and the chameleon who changes colors with his environment. ‘Zelig’ is my favorite film. I understand that. I can hang out in a sports bar with a bunch of straight guys and say ‘Go, Knicks’ and I can run around in the art scene and I can also be at the Met ball and be Mr. Fashion Designer with Anna Wintour. I can go wherever I want; I can be whatever I choose.” This, in the end, is Marc Jacobs’s superpower: “I can change colors – for my own amusement and, perhaps, the entertainment of others...That’s what I think everyone should aspire to in life – shamelessness.”

Full New Yorker magazine feature (2008):

While Duffy describes Jacobs as someone who is very insecure about his designing talent, it’s not reflected in the global end product. Jacobs just continues to chain-smoke his way from the runway to the bank. He seems to have an endless supply of ideas for ways to make money. In February of this year he was named the new creative director for Diet Coke. In honor of the brand's 30th anniversary, Jacobs will spend one year giving the brand a "stylish and light-hearted" make-over. Really.

Here Jacobs unveils his newly buffed physique on a balcony in Paris.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Hermes Pan

Born to a family of Greek immigrants in Memphis, TN, choreographer Hermes Panagiotopoulos (1910-1990) began his career as a teenager performing in New York City, where he got jobs in speakeasies and on Broadway as a chorus boy. Abbreviating his surname to a more manageable single syllable, Hermes Pan headed to Hollywood and found himself working on the dance sequences for the Fred Astaire film Flying Down to Rio. Pan was 23 years old.

Because he resembled Astaire physically, Pan sometimes doubled for him. A lifelong friend of Astaire, Pan’s greatest fame came from the nine 1930s musicals he choreographed for RKO-Radio Pictures, each of them starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers: Flying Down to Rio, The Gay Divorcée, Roberta, Top Hat, Follow the Fleet, Swing Time, Shall We Dance?, Carefree and The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle.  Astaire has been quoted as saying, “He (Pan) was the only person I ever saw who could dance like I did.''

Hal Borne, Astaire's arranger and rehearsal pianist, said, ''Hermes was terribly instrumental in everything that Fred did. He was really Fred's alter ego. His ideas for choreography were exactly what Fred wanted.'' In 1988, Pan recounted his collaboration with Astaire. While the choreographer was shaping the ensemble numbers, Astaire started working out his dances with Miss Rogers. Then, the two men would refine them together, and Pan would then introduce them to Miss Rogers. Finally, ''Fred and Ginger would rehearse and perform them.'' Laughing, he recalled, ''With Fred I was Ginger, and with Ginger I was Fred.''

Pan was also a deeply closeted gay man who had trouble squaring his sexual desires with his Roman Catholic faith and a disapproving mother. He eventually entered into a relationship with dancer Gino Malerba, as revealed in John Franceschina’s biography, Hermes Pan: The Man Who Danced with Fred Astaire. Like many gay men of the era, he seldom appeared in public with male partners, and he never lived with Malerba. However, Pan was a frequent escort of Rita Hayworth.

Over the course of his career, Pan went on to choreograph some fifty musicals. He earned an Oscar in 1937 for Damsel in Distress, starring Fred Astaire and Joan Fontaine. This was the first ever Oscar for choreography (then called Dance Direction), and Pan got a raise and bought a brand new yellow Buick convertible to reward himself. He also appeared on screen with Betty Grable (photo at top of post and video below) and Rita Hayworth. Pan won an Emmy in 1961 for Astaire Time: An Evening With Fred Astaire, as well as a Joffrey Ballet citation in 1986.

Pan died at his Beverly Hills home in September, 1990, at age 79.

Footlight Serenade (1942)
Betty Grable and Hermes Pan: Land on Your Feet


Band of Thebes

Peter B. Flint