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.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Charles XII, King of Sweden

Charles (Swedish: Karl XII) was a dashing, handsome* 15-year-old when he became king of Sweden in 1697. During the next 20 years he brought Sweden to its pinnacle of prestige and power through his brilliant military campaigning and victories.

The Great Northern War, as it was called, dominated his life, and he was called “Alexander of the North” by his admirers. He devastated the armies of Denmark, Russia and Poland. In the Battle of Holowczyn, for instance, despite being outnumbered over three to one against the Russian army, Charles pulled out a victory. Other than his military acumen, he was known for two things, his abstinence from alcohol – and a similar abstinence from women.

Charles was also brave to the point of folly. He led his men into battle believing that his example would spur on his men to follow his example. Unfortunately, he was killed on the battlefield at Fredriksheld by a bullet to the head, directly above his right ear. He was 36 years old at the time. Without his leadership, Sweden’s involvement with the Great Northern War ultimately ended in defeat three years after his death.

While his admirers explained away his lack of interest in women by saying he was “married to the military,” Charles had a robust sexual taste for military men. Two of his lovers were military leaders from his army – General Behnsköld and General Stenbock (Count Magnus Gustafsson Stenbock). He also had a serious affair with Prince Maximillian of Württemberg, a younger admirer who had volunteered to serve in his army at the age of 14. Charles called him his “Little Prince” after Maximilian was wounded at age 19 trying to protect Charles from bullets. As well, Charles was involved in a relationship with the much older Swedish field marshal Count Axel Wachtmeister, who had been a close friend of his father.

Voltaire so admired Charles that he wrote a biography in 1731, thirteen years after Charles was killed on the battlefield in 1718, and Samuel Johnson praised Charles in his poem "The Vanity of Human Wishes" (1749).

The Gay Book of Days (1987) – Martin Greif
Queers in History (2009) – Keith Stern
Jonathan to Gide: The Homosexual in History (1964) – Noel Garde

*Speaking of dashing and handsome Swedish men, 34-year-old bachelor Prince Carl Philip was involved in a crash last week when a bus rear-ended his Porsche. He has a taste for fast cars and knows how to fill out a royal uniform. He is shown here with his sister Madeleine while attending the recent wedding of their sister Princess Victoria.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

François Le Metel de Boisrobert

French lawyer, playwright, poet, courtier of Cardinal Richelieu and audacious, irreligious cleric, Boisrobert (1592-1662) was a founding member of the French Academy (Académie française). While Richelieu is given credit for establishing the French Academy, it was in fact Boisrobert who suggested to Richelieu the plan of that august institution whose forty governing members are referred to as “the immortals”. Boisrobert was one of its earliest and most active members.

He was also never far from scandal, and his blatant homosexual proclivities resulted in his being banished from courts and high society time and again, but never for long. His wit, humor and gifts as a  raconteur made him a favorite of both Cardinal Richelieu and Pope Urban VIII.

Although not high born, he became quite wealthy and gained access to the court of King Louis XIII, easily insinuating himself into the circles of noble women, whom he flattered and entertained. His sexual dalliances with the handsome male pages and servants of those in high places earned him the moniker “the Mayor of Sodom.” A contemporary remarked that, “He could have given the Greeks lessons in how to make love.” As a token of his favor, Richelieu conferred the title of canon at Rouen on Boisrobert, but this title of respectability did nothing to change his lifestyle, which was marked by the practice of feminine pursuits of gossip, sartorial excesses, entertainment, literature and art. His innate charm enabled him to play the role of courtier with skill and audacity.



Encyclopedia of Homosexuality (Dynes, 1990)

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Napoleon Bonaparte

French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) was the first French monarch in a thousand years to bear the title of emperor. So much has been written about his influence on history that I will not attempt a summary. However, I will bring up Napoleon’s being compared to Adolf Hitler by historians Pieter Geyl and Claude Ribbe and the response by David G. Chandler, a historian of Napoleonic warfare: "Nothing could be more degrading to the former [Napoleon] and more flattering to the latter [Hitler].”

An 1805 portrait of Napoleon by Andrea Appiani:

In Frank Richardson’s Napoleon: Bisexual Emperor (1973), the author, a British medical doctor, points out that Napoleon always surrounded himself with inordinately handsome young men, most of whom were given extraordinary military promotions.

Evangeline Bruce, whose biography is titled Napoleon and Josephine: An Improbable Marriage (1995), refers to a note written by the emperor during his exile on St. Helena, an island a thousand miles off the shore of Africa. Bruce relates that Napoleon confided that whenever he met a handsome man, his admiration was felt “first in the loins and then another place I will leave unnamed.” Bruce’s volume also explores the gradual reversal of roles in the marriage between Napoleon and Josephine. 

Keith Stern (Queers in History, 2009) mentions that Napoleon was particularly inclined toward same-sex love with his fellow soldiers, and that many of his aides were notoriously effeminate. General Duroc, who served as Grand Marshal of the palace, was widely rumored to be the emperor’s lover. As well, Gaspard Gourgaud*, one of Napoleon’s aides/lovers, jealously guarded access to his master.

The work of these researchers gives new meaning to the phrase, “Not tonight, Josephine.”

Note: For those of us who live in the U.S., we should recall Napoleon’s fire sale known as the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, in which President Thomas Jefferson accepted Napoleon’s offer to sell over 825,000** square miles of land for 60 million Francs (11.2 million dollars). This equated to less than eight cents a square mile – quite a sweet deal for the United States.

*Thanks to the alert blog reader who corrected my spelling of the name "Gourgaud."
** Thanks to another alert reader who corrected these numbers.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Clifton Webb

Born in Indianapolis as Webb Parmelee Hollenbeck, Clifton Webb (1889-1966) was an unlikely movie star. He began his career as a professional ballroom dancer at age nineteen, and by 1924 he was appearing on Broadway, eventually working his way into a few roles in silent films. During the 1930s Webb was under contract to MGM, but was little used. He continued to work mostly as a stage actor, notably in operettas, musical reviews and Noel Coward’s comedies Blithe Spirit and Present Laughter.

It was not until he was fifty-five years old that he had a chance at movie stardom. Webb found himself cast by Otto Preminger as columnist Waldo Lydecker in Laura (1944), over the objections of Darryl F. Zanuck, the head of 20th Century Fox. The film was a huge success, and Webb received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. A scant two years later he received his second Oscar nomination for his role in The Razor’s Edge (1946).

According to Scotty Bowers (Full Service, 2012), Webb was “obsessively proper, correct and well-mannered...polite to the point of being irritating.” Webb lived with his overbearing mother Mabelle his entire life. “Even though she knew he was gay, she would never discuss the fact with anyone. He took his mother everywhere: to movie sets, dinner parties, and even on vacation. They were inseparable.” Bowers writes that “Cliff was so outlandishly camp that he advertised his sexuality to all and sundry merely by walking into a room.” When asked if he were gay by director Jean Negulesco in 1952, Webb drew himself to full height and replied, “Devout, my boy, devout.”

Webb played the cantankerous and snide babysitter Lynn Belvedere in the huge hit comedy film Sitting Pretty (1948), for which he received yet another Academy Award nomination, this time for Best Actor. He appeared in two sequels as Mr. Belvedere, a role that was not far off from his personal life.

According to Jerry Frebowitz, “Clifton’s public social life...was legendary, as the star and his omnipresent mother Mabelle threw lavish Hollywood parties. He was inseparable from Mabelle, who called her son “Little Webb” his entire life. He lived with his mother until she died at age ninety-one in 1960. When she passed, Webb withdrew into relative seclusion, causing his good friend, noted playwright Noel Coward, to remark, as only he could, ‘It must be difficult to be orphaned at seventy.’ ” Clifton was not able to recover from his mother’s death, and when he died six years later, he was buried next to her in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles. Their graves remain a popular tourist destination in star-obsessed Hollywood.

Clifton Webb (in tub) with Dana Andrews in Laura (1944):

Webb appeared in twenty films after his success in Laura. His only film role after his mother’s death was Satan Never Sleeps (1962), in which he played Father Bovard, a self-sacrificing priest. Webb continued to mourn the loss of his mother until his own death from a heart attack in 1966.


Jerry Frebowitz at

Scotty Bowers – Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood (2012)

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Darren Young

In a TMZ video interview released on August 15, 2013, WWE wrestler Darren Young (b. 1983) publicly discussed his homosexuality. Thus Young became the first WWE star wrestler ever to come out while still signed to a major promotion. WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) wrestlers Pat Patterson, Chris Kanyon & Orlando Jordan had come out as gay or bisexual after leaving the company or retiring. Darren Young (real name Fredrick Douglas Rosser III) has been in a relationship with his partner Nick Villa for more than two years. The couple resides in Miami.

Nick Villa (left) with “Fred” Rosser, aka Darren Young:

Photo by Jeffery Salter

Later that day WWE released a statement in support of Rosser for being open about his sexuality, and various fellow wrestlers tweeted their support for him. Young also discussed having to overcome his childhood stuttering issues. To the wrestler’s astonishment and relief, he was greeted with open arms by not only the organization's management and fans, but also by his colleagues in the ring.

"They all embraced me, and that was just shocking to me. I truly love them," said Rosser. "It was such a relief. I'm not hiding anymore, and I'm living the dream."

Fred and his partner Nick later appeared as talk show guests on Ellen:

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Marsden Hartley

The American painter, poet, and essayist known as Marsden Hartley (1877-1943) was born Edmund Hartley in Lewiston, Maine. After studying at the Cleveland School of Art, he won a scholarship to further his education in New York City, where he became one of the first American artists to paint in the modernist style of Picasso, Paul Klee and Kandinsky. He launched his public career as an artist under the name Marsden Hartley (Marsden was his step-mother's maiden name). Through modern art promoter Alfred Stieglitz (noted photographer and husband of Georgia O’Keeffe), Hartley was given his first one-person show at Stieglitz’s noted 291 gallery, and Hartley gained immediate entrée into New York's avant-garde world.

Hartley went to Paris in 1912 and was welcomed into the influential artistic sphere of Gertrude Stein. While in Paris he was introduced to the abstract art of Franz Marc and Vassily Kandinsky. A year later Hartley settled in Berlin, where he fell in love with a German lieutenant, Karl von Freyburg. Tragically, his lover was killed in battle on October 7, 1914. Grief stricken, Hartley created some of his finest paintings to memorialize their relationship.

Portrait of a German Officer (1915):


He returned to New York in 1915, and by the fall of 1916 Hartley was sharing a house in Provincetown, Massachusetts, with Charles Demuth, another modernist artist. Demuth was one of the earliest American artists to reveal a gay identity through explicit yet positive depictions of homosexual desire. Demuth was also well acquainted with the gay scene of New York, where Hartley became friends with lesbian writer Djuna Barnes.

Hartley returned to Europe in 1921 and pursued his literary bent. He soon published Twenty-Five Poems, a book issued by Robert McAlmon's Contact Publishing Company in Paris. The Great Depression forced Hartley to return to the United States, but a Guggenheim fellowship allowed him to spend 1932 in Mexico, where he became a close friend of Hart Crane, who was also in Mexico on a Guggenheim fellowship. On his return voyage to the U.S., Crane was severely beaten after making sexual advances to a male crew member. Crane subsequently jumped overboard off the coast of Florida, and when Hartley learned of his suicide, he painted Eight Bells Folly (1933, below), a surrealist tribute to Crane.

During the middle years of the Depression Hartley supported himself in New York by participating in the Public Works of Art Project. He struck up a friendship with the Francis Mason family in Nova Scotia, and he was to live with them in a Canadian fishing community for several intervals during the rest of his life. Hartley returned to Maine in 1937, after declaring that he wanted to become "the painter of Maine" and depict American life at a local level. This aligned Hartley with the Regionalism movement, a group of artists who attempted to represent a distinctly American art.

Madawaska, Acadian Light-Heavy, Third Arrangement, 1940

He continued to paint in Maine, primarily scenes around Lovell and the Corea coast, until his death in Ellsworth in 1943.

Hartley's work belongs to an American current of expressionism in which he was a pivotal figure. During his lifetime, however, his shifts of style and the relative immaturity of the American art world prevented his receiving full recognition. This neglect augmented a loneliness that his shyness about his homosexuality induced. However, a full-scale 1980 retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York cemented his reputation.

The portrait below captures artist Marsden Hartley mourning the death of another man whom Hartley admired. A shadowy man haunting the background of this 1942 photographic portrait taken by photographer George Platt Lynes alludes to the loves of Hartley’s life that were lost and unspoken.


Wayne Dynes: Encyclopedia of Homosexuality (1990)


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Lee Hoiby

Composer Lee Hoiby (1926-2011) was best known for his operas and songs, although he originally sought a career as a concert pianist. After studying composition with Gian Carlo Menotti he made a career change, going on to make a significant contribution to American music. His vocal repertoire is favored by singers everywhere, especially his art songs, which are championed by such luminaries as Leontyne Price and Frederica von Stade. Many of the texts were selected by his partner, Mark Shulgasser.

Hoiby’s musical style and language were old fashioned. Critics wrote that much of his music could have been written a hundred years previously. When he encountered atonal music for the first time, Hoiby reacted with revulsion. “If music doesn’t have melody and harmony and rhythm as I understand it,” he said, “I’m not interested. A lot of that stuff sounds like wallpaper to me.”

For the most part Hoiby eschewed dissonance and rejected compositional “fads” such a serialism, minimalism and eclecticism. Over a span of sixty plus years of composing music, his style remained consistent and has now come full circle, in that today’s young composers are writing music that is in step with Hoiby’s lifetime output. 

Hoiby wrote only to please himself. He was not part of the musical establishment, instead keeping his distance. In a 2010 profile by Zachary Woolfe, Hoiby stated, “All I did was compose. I never went anywhere, I didn’t know anybody. I never went to any parties. I never met anybody. I’m basically not interested in social life, I guess.”

While composing his best known opera Summer and Smoke (1971), a musical setting of the play by Tennessee Williams, Hoiby had a breakdown that led him to a search for spiritual fulfillment. He joined a New Age group that was also attended by his future partner Mark Shulgasser, a writer and astrologist. “He’s the Jewish intellectual I’ve always wanted,” Mr. Hoiby said.

To mark its tenth anniversary in 2006, Minnesota-based male chorus Cantus commissioned Hoiby to set to music a letter written by Pfc. Jesse Givens, who was killed in Iraq in 2003. Addressed to his pregnant wife, unborn son and six-year-old stepson, it was to be opened only in the event of his death. The closing lines are "Go outside and look at the stars and count them. Don't forget to smile."

Last Letter Home performed by the Cornell University Glee Club:

Hoiby photographed with CANTUS male chorus performers at the premiere of Last Letter Home.

Hoiby died on April 8, 2011, at the age of eighty-five, and he was actively composing at the time of his death. He was survived by Mr. Shulgasser, who shared a home with Hoiby in a remote location in the Catskills.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Michael Huffington

Republican politician, LGBT activist, philanthropist, business executive and film producer Michael Huffington (b. 1947 in Dallas, Texas) was born rich. His father, Roy Huffington, was founder of the natural gas exploration company, Huffco, and Michael served as the company’s vice chairman from 1976 to 1990. He married Greek-born socialite Arianna Stassinopoulis (of Huffington Post fame) in 1986, but by 1998 he was a divorced man with two daughters who had revealed that he was bisexual.

In a Time magazine article by John Cloud (December 1998), it was revealed that openly gay financial guru Andrew Tobias, an old Harvard chum, said he was the first person Huffington told about his sexuality, forty years ago. In an Advocate interview (2006), Huffington stressed that he is bisexual, not gay. He claimed that on the Kinsey scale (from 0 as totally straight to 6 as totally gay), he is a 4.

According to a 1998 Esquire magazine profile by David Brock, Huffington said he began dating men in the 1970s while working at his family’s energy company in Houston, but suffered guilt and depression over the relationships. An affair with one man lasted about a year, but Huffington also continued to date women. At one point he made a private vow to stop sleeping with men. The profile makes the distinction that Huffington is homosexual, but not “gay”. Brock wrote, "Gay means so much more, carries so much cultural baggage, and he's not that. The word gay just doesn't describe him. It really doesn't.”

In a 2008 New Yorker profile of Arianna, we learned that before their marriage Michael Huffington informed her about his interest in men. “In my Houston town house I sat down with her and told her that I had dated women and men so that she would be aware of it.”   

During the 1990s Michael won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, where he served one term as a Republican from California. By just 1.7 percent of the vote he lost his subsequent bid for the U.S. Senate when Californians re-elected Dianne Feinstein. In the 2003 California recall election, Michael endorsed Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger instead of his ex-wife, Arianna Huffington, who was an opposing candidate. Although she withdrew before the election, her name remained on the ballot.

Since his coming out as bisexual, Michael has worked with various organizations such as GLAAD, GLSEN, the Human Rights Campaign, the Log Cabin Republicans, the Point Foundation and other groups to help educate Americans about gay, lesbian and bisexual people. Earlier this year Huffington was a signatory to an amicus curiae brief submitted to the Supreme Court in support of same-sex marriage during the Hollingsworth v. Perry case.

Huffington's philanthropic activities and commitments are varied and worldwide. A partial list of those organizations that he has supported financially and on which he has served on the Board of Directors include: the Aspen Institute (Aspen, Colorado), the Cathedral of St. John the Divine (NYC), the Culver Educational Foundation (Culver, Indiana), Georgetown University (Washington, DC), the Greek Orthodox Archdioceses of America (NYC), the Music Center of Los Angeles, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NYC), the Salzburg Seminar (Salzburg, Austria) and the University of California at Santa Barbara.

From 1991 to 2000 he was the co-owner of Crest Films Limited, a full-service film production company known for its Emmy-winning commercials, documentaries, and adventure films as well as its work on behalf of non-profit organizations. He produced or executive produced many award-winning films, including For the Bible Tells Me So, an insightful non-fiction film which was shortlisted for the 2008 Academy Award nominations for best documentary. Some of his other credits include Bi the Way, Dissolution, American Primitive, Grassroots and Father vs. Son. Huffington is also a producer of The Geography Club, a gay/bisexual-themed film that opens in limited release on November 15, 2013.