Role models of greatness.

Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Yannick Nézet-Séguin

A native of Montreal, Canada, Yannick Nézet-Séguin (Yah-NEEK Neh-ZAY Say-GUN) was named Music Director of The Philadelphia Orchestra in 2012. He is also Music Director of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra and Principal Guest Conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Since 2000 Mr. Nézet-Séguin has also been Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the Orchestre Métropolitain (Montreal), and he has conducted all the major ensembles in his native Canada.

Nézet-Séguin is also a notable opera conductor; he has a long-term relationship with the Metropolitan Opera, where he has been talked about as a credible successor to James Levine as music director, so stay tuned...

He is also the first openly gay conductor of one of the “big five” orchestras in the United States.
Mr. Nézet-Séguin’s partner of sixteen years, Pierre Tourville (shown in sunglasses behind Yannick), is the assistant principal violist of the Orchestre Métropolitain (Montreal), and they appear everywhere together. When the conductor was fêted by the city of Philadelphia a couple of years ago, Pierre Tourville was also introduced at every stop – amazing, considering that Philadelphia is not exactly known to be a progressive city.

In a New York Times profile by Daniel Wakin earlier this year, it was reported that “Nézet-Séguin is what the orchestra world is desperate for: a young, charismatic maestro who can win the respect, even affection, of grizzled orchestra veterans, the enthusiasm of audiences and the praise of critics, which has for him been pretty exalted.”

The 37-year-old conductor’s youth is reflected in his flouting of certain traditions – he frequently leads from the podium in a business suit and tie (Carnegie Hall), and he’s partial to tight V-neck sweaters and skinny jeans. While on vacation in Tahiti he acquired a turtle tattoo on his right shoulder, and his compact five-foot-five frame bursts with energy.

Again from Mr. Wakin’s NYT profile: “He seemed stunned by the ovation” (conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra in Verdi’s Requiem at Carnegie Hall). “Applause from his inner circle greeted him in the crowded dressing room. Attendants broke open bottles of sparkling wine. Mr. Nézet-Séguin embraced his companion, Mr. Tourville, looked him in the eyes and said, ‘Oui?’

‘Oui,’ Mr. Tourville answered. With an air of coronation, orchestra and Carnegie Hall executives toasted Mr. Nézet-Séguin. “

The conductor’s honors include a prestigious Royal Philharmonic Society Award, Canada’s highly coveted National Arts Centre Award and the Prix Denise-Pelletier, the highest distinction for the arts in Quebec, awarded by the Quebec government.  In 2011, he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Quebec in Montreal and was appointed a Companion of the Order of Canada in 2012.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Tchaikovsky: Tragic Gay Composer

Until recently, Russian musicologists have long denied that composer Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) was a gay man. He had a string of relationships with men, back from his student days up until his death. Tchaikovsky had a distinct taste for younger men, and his lovers included poets, musicians, servants and other members of the lower classes. Several sources report that when traveling abroad he sometimes used male prostitutes for sexual gratification.

Tchaikovsky was tormented by his suppressed homosexuality and the constant fear of exposure. Although he married one of his students, his attempt at straight family life was disastrous. Even though they remained married, he and his wife had no children and did not live together. Within two weeks of his wedding Tchaikovsky tried to kill himself, hoping to catch pneumonia by plunging himself into the Moscow River. At the urging of his doctor, he fled to St. Petersburg and never saw his wife again, although he continued to support her. She had several children by other men, giving each infant to an orphanage; she spent her final twenty-one years in a home for the certifiably insane.

All of Tchaikovsky’s successes were musical. He enjoyed world-wide fame, and the czar bestowed honors upon him and even granted him a life-long pension. The most significant of these awards was when Czar Alexander III conferred upon him the Order of St. Vladimir, which conveyed hereditary nobility. Tchaikovsky went on to achieve the greatest degree of popularity ever accorded a Russian composer. In 1891 he even conducted the inaugural concert at New York City’s Carnegie Hall.

Modest, his brother, was also gay. In an exchange of letters between the brothers, Tchaikovsky’s homosexuality is confirmed and openly acknowledged. Tchaikovsky had a nephew nicknamed “Bob” – Vladimir Lvovich Davïdov (1871-1906) – to whom he dedicated the Symphonie Pathétique (1893). The photo at left shows Tchaikovsky seated next to his nephew.

Bob, who was thirty-one years his junior, became Tchaikovsky’s lover from the late 1880s. Tchaikovsky was usually homesick during his musical tours abroad, hating the loneliness of large cities; he always longed to get back home to be with his beloved nephew, whom he called “my idol.” Tchaikovsky made Bob his heir, and his letter to Bob from a hotel room in London in May 1893 shows the nature of their relationship: “I am writing to you with a voluptuous pleasure. The thought that this paper is soon going to be in your hands fills me with joy and brings tears to my eyes.” In another letter Tchaikovsky wrote to his nephew, “If only I could give way to my secret desire, I would leave everything and go home to you.”

In late 1893 Count Stenbok-Fermor wrote a letter addressed to Tsar Alexander III complaining of the attentions the composer was paying the Duke's young nephew. Exposure would have meant public disgrace, loss of civil rights and exile to Siberia for Tchaikovsky and for his fellow former students of the School of Jurisprudence. According to some reports, the letter was intercepted, and a court of honor of the “old boys” of the school required Tchaikovsky to kill himself; Tchaikovsky promised to comply with their demand. A day or two later his “illness” was reported (Tchaikovsky poisoned himself in an act of suicide), and official accounts reported a death from cholera (Tchaikovsky’s relatives later confirmed the account of suicide, also relating that Tsar Alexander III was shown the incriminating letter from Stenbok-Fermor after Tchaikovsky’s death). When he died, at fifty-three, sixty thousand people applied for tickets to his funeral, which was paid for by the Tsar; for only the third time in Russian history, a Tsar ordered a state funeral for a commoner.

There are many theories about the actual cause of Tchaikovsky's death – both natural (cholera) and by suicide (poisoning). Conflicting reports arose within days of his death. Suicide would have been a crushing blemish on the reputations of both Tchaikovsky and his countrymen. Nevertheless, Tchaikovsky was adored in his native Russia, and he was perhaps the best cultural ambassador Russia had ever had.

Thirteen years after Tchaikovsky’s demise, his nephew “Bob” tragically took his own life, as well.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Ben Whishaw

Earlier this month it was announced that British actor Ben Whishaw (b. 1980), best-known for playing Q in the recent James Bond film Skyfall, has been chosen to replace Sacha Baron Cohen in the role of Freddie Mercury in Mercury, a film about the rock group Queen. The movie, slated for a 2014 release, will focus on Queen's formative years and the period leading up to the celebrated performance at the 1985 Live Aid concert. Cohen, who had been cast in the role back in 2010, left the much-delayed project over creative differences with surviving members of the band.

Stage, film and television star Whishaw, meanwhile, is currently appearing on stage in London’s West End in a revival of the award-winning play Mojo. Generally regarded as one of the most naturally gifted actors of his generation, when he was cast as the youngest-ever Hamlet at the Old Vic in 2004, one critic said: “This is the kind of evening of which legends are made.” This past spring Whishaw again appeared in a project with Judy Dench, this time in the world premiere of Peter and Alice, a play by John Logan.

In an interview in Out magazine, Ben said that he prefers not to talk about his personal life, because he deplores the scrutiny of celebrity. “I have no understanding why we turn actors into celebrities.”  He added, "For me, it’s important to keep a level of anonymity. As an actor, your job is to persuade people that you’re someone else. So if you’re constantly telling people about yourself, I think you’re shooting yourself in the foot.”

However, in August of this year his representative confirmed that Ben Whishaw had entered into a civil partnership with his lover, Australian composer Mark Bradshaw, in Sydney, Australia, in 2012.  The couple met on the set of Bright Star (2009), a film in which Whishaw portrayed poet John Keats. Bradshaw composed the score for that film, and Ben and Mark have been together ever since.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


The name Erté was the French pronunciation of the initials R.T., which stood for Romain de Tirtoff (1892-1990), a Russian-born Art Deco graphic artist and designer of jewelry, costumes, interiors, and sets for opera, film and the stage. Not to mention textiles, handbags, watches and perfume bottles. As his career played out, Erté and Art Deco became virtually synonymous. His 240+ covers for Harper's Bazar* magazine (1915-1937), which often depicted women draped in furs and jewelry, are today collectors’ items.

*Spelling later changed to Bazaar.

The son of a wealthy Russian Admiral in the Imperial Fleet, Tirtoff took the pseudonym Erté while working as a fashion designer/illustrator in Paris, so as not to disgrace his aristocratic Russian family, which expected Romain to follow in his father’s footsteps as a military officer. His artistic talent was discovered early, and his mother had a dress made after one of Erté's designs he had sketched at the age of five. At age 22 he appeared at a Parisian ball in 1914 clad in a self-designed silver lamé costume, complete with pearl wings and ebony-plumed cape.

In 1925, MGM studios (Culver City, CA) brought Erté and his partner, Russian Prince Nicolas Ouroussoff, from Paris to Hollywood, picking up the considerable expenses for both. When their ocean liner arrived in New York, they disembarked with fifteen steamer trunks and three assistants. Erté’s black, white and gray Monte Carlo atelier was reproduced in Culver City. He was treated like a star, installed in a hilltop house in Hollywood, given a chauffeured limousine, two bi-lingual secretaries and was interviewed by the press 200 times.

MGM head Louis B. Mayer, who was known to be intolerant of homosexuals, even invited the couple to his house for dinner. Erté reported that his relationship with Mayer was always pleasant, and Mayer expressed regret when Erté asked to be let out of his contract after designing costumes for just six films. Erté lived with Ouroussoff for nearly twenty years, until the Prince's premature death in 1933. By the 1920s homosexuals in film studio wardrobe, makeup and set departments enjoyed an extraordinary freedom and tolerance, an environment found virtually nowhere else in American industry. It wasn’t just tolerated, but being gay actually carried with it some cachet.

Graphic Art: Symphony in Black

In his 1975 autobiography, Things I Remember, Erté catalogued his homosexual encounters, starting at the age of 13. Readers learned that after the death of Prince Ouroussoff, he had a serious relationship with a champion Danish swimmer and decorator named Axel. Erté’s openness regarding his sexuality was in marked contrast to others in his field at that time.

Erté designing sets and costumes for the Folies-Bergère, the Ziegfeld Follies and the Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. Performers who wore his costumes included Josephine Baker, Anna Pavlova, Mata-Hari and Sarah Bernhardt.

Erté worked up until just a few weeks before his death from kidney problems in 1990, at age 97. Very wealthy by the end of his life, he was building a house in Majorca at the time of his death.  During his long career he produced Art Deco designs for furniture, lamps, sculptures, seriographs, lithographs and even playing cards.

Rooms from Chateau de la Sorcere, decorated by Erté:


Behind the Screen: How Gays and Lesbians Shaped Hollywood
– William J. Mann


Saturday, December 7, 2013

Kerwin Mathews

Kerwin Mathews (1926-2007) was an American film and television actor best known for action, adventure and fantasy films of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Mathews said that "a kind high school teacher put me in a play, and that changed my life." According to a classmate, he was a "handsome rascal".

After serving in the Army Air Corps during WWII, he entered into a seven year studio contract with Columbia Pictures. Although Mathews said his favorite role was that of Johann Strauss, Jr. in the Disney two-part telefilm biopic The Waltz King (1963), he is perhaps best known for his leading roles in children’s fantasy films such as The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958), The Three Worlds of Gulliver (1960) and Jack the Giant Killer (1962). He was convincing, and sometimes brilliant, in playing opposite animated figures. Mathews also acted in a number of horror and science fiction films.

In 1961, he met Tom Nicoll, a British display manager at Harvey Nichols, a luxury department store chain, and Mathews and Nicoll became partners for the next 46 years. When Mathews retired from acting in 1978, they moved to San Francisco, where they ran a clothing and antiques shop. At the age of 81 Mathews died in his sleep in San Francisco and was survived by his partner Nicoll. The City of Janesville, Wisconsin, where Mathews attended high school, subsequently renamed a street adjacent to the school "Kerwin Mathews Court". The renovated building now houses the Janesville Performing Arts Center.

Mathews opposite Nadia Sanders in OSS117:

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Tom Daley

Nineteen-year-old British diver Tom Daley (born May 21, 1994) won the bronze medal for Great Britain in the individual competition at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games held in London. Shortly thereafter he took a role in a British television diving reality TV show, Splash! He made his debut in the show's premiere as a mentor to the celebrity competitors taking part. The show was a ratings success, with an average audience of 5.6 million viewers, and has been renewed for 2014.

On December 2, 2013, Daley released a YouTube video announcing that he has been in a personal relationship with another man since spring of this year. He said, "I still fancy girls, but at the moment I've never been happier.” The video reveals that, while his mother and close friends have been supportive after he revealed his bisexuality, some members of his extended family reacted with “mixed” results.

The man he is dating is Oscar-winning gay rights activist Dustin Lance Black (see sidebar), who is twenty years older than Daley. The two celebrities met at the Kids' Choice Awards in Los Angeles last March and hit it off straight away. Since then Tom has been joining Dustin on trips abroad to Paris, Barcelona and Miami. Dustin’s work as a high-profile gay activist gave Tom the courage to come out by posting his YouTube video yesterday. Apparently the couple think nothing of their age difference and don't care what anyone else might think of it.

Daley has won medals in international diving competitions since 2007. He was just twelve years old when he won a silver medal in synchronized diving at the Australian Youth Olympic Festival, and awards have piled up ever since. However, his participation in competitive diving during most of 2013 has been restricted because of elbow and triceps injuries. Currently Mr. Daley is training for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games that will be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.