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, November 18, 2014

Dave Kopay

Former NFL player Dave Kopay

In a 2008 column that appeared in the University of Washington alumni newsletter, Jon Naito wrote a feature on Dave Kopay (b. 1942), a veteran National Football League player who had been an All-American running back at the University of Washington in the early 1960s. Kopay, who had relocated to Seattle after spending decades in the West Hollywood area of Los Angeles, had recently announced his intention to leave a $1 million endowment to the university’s Q Center, a resource and support center for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students and faculty. The value of this bequest amounts to half of Kopay’s estate.

While a running back for the Washington Redskins (1969-70), Dave Kopay had a relationship with teammate Jerry Smith, a star tight end for the team. In 1975, three years after his career in football had ended, Kopay gave an interview to the Washington Star newspaper in which he declared his homosexuality. He is believed to have been the first professional athlete to do so. It was while playing for the Washington Redskins under legendary coach Vince Lombardi that Kopay and Smith had their affair. Subsequently, Kopay disclosed that many of their Redskins teammates knew about their relationship. In a January 1998 Kopay profile in GQ magazine, David Kamp wrote:

...You had to comport yourself a certain way as a gay man on the Washington Redskins. When I ask Kopay how well-known it was among the 'Skins that he and Smith were gay, he takes me over to the 1970 team portrait that hangs on his foyer wall. "Walter Rock—he knew. Vince Promuto—he knew. Len Hauss—he knew. Pat Richter knew; he's now the athletic director of the University of Wisconsin. I'm sure Brig Owens knew—he was Jerry's best friend on the team. Larry Brown knew. Ray Schoenke knew. They knew and had ways of making me know they knew. I was always being kidded about it by Walter Rock: 'Where are you and Jerry going tonight? Anyplace we can go?' "...

In 1977 he wrote his autobiography, “The David Kopay Story: An Extraordinary Self-Revelation,” currently in its 5th printing. To this day the book remains a perennial favorite with people coming to grips with their sexual identities.

Kopay told the cable sports network ESPN about his relationship with Jerry Smith, calling it his “first real coming-out experience.” Although Smith died of complications from AIDS in 1987 at age forty-three, Jerry never publicly acknowledged his homosexuality.

Above: Artful image of Kopay by noted gay photographer George Dureau*, who died of Alzheimer's disease earlier this year.

*See separate post on George Dureau in sidebar

At the Gay Games VII in Chicago (July 2006), Kopay was a featured announcer in the opening ceremonies. Currently active as a motivational speaker, Kopay still receives hundreds of letters from fans of his book who received understanding, support and inspiration from his life story.

Kopay had grown up in a strict Catholic family, serving as an altar boy. He was tormented with guilt over his sexual attraction toward men, which drove him to enroll at a junior seminary while in his teens, hoping to “cure” himself by becoming a priest. Instead, he found himself intensely attracted to his fellow seminarians. He transferred to a Catholic high school, where he became a football player. At the University of Washington, where his brother was also on the football team, Kopay became a star running back, culminating in a 9-season professional career in the NFL.

While a member of the Theta Chi fraternity at the University of Washington, Kopay had a clandestine relationship with a fraternity brother. The two slept together on the porch of the frat house, usually after dropping off their female “dates.” His fear and insecurities led to major bouts of depression, and it would take more than a decade for Kopay to begin to confront his big secret.

In the meantime, Kopay entered into a marriage that ended in divorce.  He took measures to mislead others about his sexual orientation, feigning interest in women. Because he wasn’t like the stereotypical gay man, he did not think of himself as a homosexual, and the conflicts and personal torment continued.

Finally, after coming out to a reporter for a Washington, DC, newspaper three years after his professional career ended, he wrote his landmark autobiography, The Dave Kopay Story, which subsequently led to many opportunities as a public speaker and gay rights activist. Unfortunately, it also ended his hopes for a career as a coach. Kopay feels that he was effectively blackballed from the sport of football.

After reconnecting with his alma mater, however, Kopay has been given the recognition and support he had long sought. During halftime of a Huskies' game, he was honored by being named a “Husky Legend.” The crowd roared as he crossed the field, and the moment resonated with him. He was finally one of them.

At the time he wrote the Kopay profile for the UW alumni newsletter, Jon Naito was a reporter for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper, where he worked on the city desk. The link to his alumni newsletter feature can be found here:

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Friday, November 7, 2014

Edgars Rinkēvičs

41-year-old Edgars Rinkēvičs, the Foreign Minister of Latvia, publicly declared that he is gay in a tweet on Thursday, November 7, thus becoming the first openly homosexual cabinet member in the Baltics. He followed up a tweet in Latvian with an English-language version: "I proudly announce I am gay... Good luck all of you...” He went on to say, “Our country has to create a legal status for all kinds of partner relationships, and I will fight for this. I know that there will quickly be mega-hysteria, but #proudtobegay.”

This is a major political statement, because Latvia is one of just a few EU countries with a constitutional amendment (2005) that prohibits same sex marriage; some additional anti-gay legislation has already passed, with more in the works.

While Paris, Hamburg and Berlin have had gay mayors, and Belgium a gay Prime Minister, the former Eastern Bloc countries of the EU remain staunchly conservative, including their views on homosexuality. In Latvia there is open hostility toward gays, who are often attacked on the streets. Thus gays holding positions of influence there generally remain steadfastly closeted.

Latvia is set to assume the rotating presidency of the European Union on January 1, 2015, so this gives Mr. Rinkēvičs an ever higher profile platform for acceptance of homosexuals. He is one of Latvia’s most popular politicians and is a member of the ruling Unity political party. Latvia held elections in October, and Mr. Rinkēvičs’s post as Foreign Minister was just confirmed the day before his twitter reveal. He has served as Foreign Minister of Latvia since 2011.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Herbert List

Gay German photographer Herbert List (1903-1975) was the son of a prosperous family that ran a coffee brokerage business. List received a classical education in literature at the University of Heidelberg but apprenticed at his family’s coffee company, which afforded him travel to Brazil, Guatemala and Costa Rica. He began taking photographs during these business trips, and his legacy became black and white homoerotic photographs of young men.

In his earliest photographs List shot portraits of friends and composed still lifes with a Rolleiflex camera, using male models, draped fabric, and masks – along with double-exposures. He had a fascination with Surrealism and Classicism. List explained that his photos were "composed visions where my arrangements try to capture the magical essence inhabiting and animating the world of appearances.”

In 1936 List left Germany to take up photography as a profession, finding work in Paris and London. He was hired by magazines to shoot fashion photography, but he soon returned to still life imagery, producing photographs in a style he called "fotografia metafisica", which pictured dream states and fantastic scenes, using mirrors and double-exposure techniques.

During the late 1930s he traveled in Greece, where he took photographs of ancient temples, ruins, sculptures, and landscapes that were published in books and magazines. However, in 1941, during World War II, he was forced to return to Germany, but because one of his grandparents was Jewish, he was not allowed to publish or work professionally. In 1944 he was drafted into the German military, despite being homosexual and of partly Jewish ancestry. During the war he served in Norway as a map designer. A trip to Paris allowed him to take portraits of Picasso, Jean Cocteau, Christian Berard, Georges Braque, Jean Arp, Joan Miró and other international celebrities.

While working as art editor of Heute (Today) magazine he joined Magnum, a cooperative of photographers founded by Henri Cartier-Bresson, among others. For whatever reason, List contributed only sparingly from 1951 until the mid 1960s.

For the next decade he concentrated his work in Italy, where he began using a 35 mm film camera and telephoto lenses. In 1960 he shot portraits of Marino Marini, Paul Bowles, W. H. Auden and Marlene Dietrich (shown). Soon thereafter he gave up photography to concentrate on drawings, recently displayed at Berlin’s gay museum (Schwules Museum, Mehringdamm 61). Although List died in Munich in the spring of 1975, his style lives on in the work of Herb Ritts and Bruce Weber, particularly.

Trivia: In 1988, Stephen Spender published The Temple, a roman à clef of his pre-war years in Germany; the novel includes a character named Joachim, who is based on Herbert List.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

George Edward Kelly

If you are of a certain age, you know that Grace Kelly (1929-1982), who became the Princess of Monaco when not yet twenty-six years old, was a stage, television and film actress in her youth. She made her acting debut in The Torch-Bearers in 1949 at the Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope, PA. This popular satiric comedy was written in the early 1920s by her uncle, George Edward Kelly (1887-1974); the play takes pot shots at the egos and foibles of community theater. Apparently Princess Grace adored her uncle, and the two visited often – George accepting invitations to Monaco and Princess Grace visiting her uncle at his home in California. Many biographers relate that George was partly responsible for his niece’s becoming as actress.

Three years after writing The Torch Bearers, George Kelly won the Pulitzer Prize in 1926 for the play Craig’s Wife, subsequently made into three film versions. An earlier play, The Show Off (1924) had been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.

Gregory Kelly (husband of Ruth Gordon) portrayed Joe Fisher, and Louise Brooks was Clara, the girl next door, in the 1926 silent film version of George Kelly’s famous play, The Show Off, nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. 

What few people knew at the time was that George was a gay man. He maintained a 55-year relationship with his lover William E. Weagley (sometimes spelled Weagly), who was often referred to as Kelly’s valet. That Kelly was gay was a closely guarded secret and went unacknowledged by his family – to the point of their not inviting Weagley to Kelly’s funeral in Pennsylvania. Weagley quietly slipped in and took a seat in the back at St. Bridget’s in order to attend the service. Worse, the Philadelphia Kellys, who seldom missed an opportunity to pass moral judgment on others, forced Weagley to eat in the kitchen with the servants when George and William were visiting, thus reinforcing their acknowledgment that William was regarded as nothing more than George’s employee, a valet. While it’s true that William often cooked, typed, and performed secretarial services for George, William was much more than a traveling companion and valet. The couple were loyal, devoted partners who were deeply in love.

When George and William hosted dinner parties at their home in Laguna Beach, California, the two men sat at opposite ends of the table as equal co-hosts and partners. Subsequently, many of the Kelly clan of righteous Irish Catholics refused invitations from George.

Caricature of playwright George Kelly (at right):

George and William met in 1919, when George maintained a suite at NYC’s Concord Hotel. At the time, George was a vaudevillian actor and skit writer, as was his brother Walter. The story goes that William was working as a bellhop at the hotel, and the two became lovers within a short time after meeting. George educated William in the rules of etiquette so that the two could appear in high society as social equals.

Kelly’s play Reflected Glory (1936) was also about theater people, and it was the vehicle for Tallulah Bankhead’s first major NYC role, that of a woman’s difficult choice between marriage and a career.

In a profile published at the peak of Kelly’s fame, it was revealed that George had some quirky habits:

At first he insisted on directing his own plays, and he enacted every role.

He went out very little and often stayed at home for days, because he hated publicity and celebrity.

His writing desk had to be maintained in perfect order. An out of place piece of paper bothered him.

He often worked at writing plays at the typewriter in marathon 18-hour stretches.

He loved to travel, but he hated trains, preferring boats.

He collected watches by the drawer full.

George was an expert at horseback riding, bridge, tennis and golf.

He seldom attended the theater, going out to a play about once a year. He never saw his own plays from the house – he watched them while standing in the wings.

He had a remarkable memory and knew every line of all his plays by heart. Once he jumped into the lead role of his play Behold the Bridegroom (1927) with only five minutes’ notice.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Hartford Gunn, Public Radio & Television Pioneer

Hartford Gunn was the founding president of the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), but he was most proud of his success in putting into place the system that connected the PBS network by domestic satellite.

A pioneer in educational television, Gunn (1927-1986) was responsible for getting WGBH radio on the air in Boston in 1951, followed by WGBH-TV in 1955. The station flourished during the 1960s, and Gunn was chosen to head the new Public Broadcasting Service in 1970. Gunn had come to WGBH fresh out of Harvard Business School, at the age of 25, following military service. It was his first civilian full-time job.

Gunn (photo at right) as a new hire at WGBH Boston.

In the dozen years he led the Boston station, Gunn moved it into the front ranks of public broadcasting, positioning it to be one of the nation’s top two public stations. In the course of those years, Gunn created the first interconnected regional network (Eastern Educational Television Network, 1960) while working to assist communities in activating their public broadcasting licenses. He goaded National Educational Television (1954-1970) into adopting higher technical standards, including a major shift into color television.

While at PBS he led the planning for the satellite distribution system that is in place today. While others concentrated on programming, Gunn pushed for more sophisticated technical expertise to bring public television into the living rooms of every American.

Gunn  laboriously testified before state legislatures and the U.S. congress to get a public television network off the ground. During his presidency of PBS, he survived some acrimonious confrontations with the Nixon administration. The hiring of Sander Vanocur and Robert MacNeil* as principal correspondents for NPACT (National Public Affairs Center for Television) greatly disturbed President Nixon, who saw it as "the last straw" and demanded that all funds for public television be cut immediately. It was Gunn and the folks at PBS who prevailed. Note: The influential “MacNeil/Lehrer Report” aired until MacNeil retired in 1995; it lives on as the PBS NewsHour, and MacNeil is still one of the primary producers.

Gunn was a true “techie” and a serious audiophile, indulging his lifelong interest in classical music. While serving as senior vice-president and general manager of KCET in Los Angeles, he kept a 42-ft. Westsail (the twin of a sail boat owned by his colleague Walter Cronkite) at Marina Del Ray, CA. It was my great fortune to spend extended time on this boat, listening to Gunn as he regaled me with stories of the early days of public broadcasting. Note: the sound system on that boat could have filled a movie palace! A lifelong bachelor, Hartford lived a quiet, discrete homosexual private life.

Gunn went on to serve as vice-president of program development for COMSAT, based in Washington, DC. During that time he moved to nearby Annapolis, MD, where he built a waterfront home with a dock for his sailboat. The equipment to supply the media for his home in Annapolis occupied an entire room, an extravagant indulgence in the early 1980s. At COMSAT, he was largely responsible for setting up the first national satellite-to-home television network in the United States.

Unfortunately, it was discovered that he suffered from a rare form of thyroid cancer, which was treated by radiation, chemotherapy and unsuccessful surgery. He died in Boston at the age of 59, on January 2, 1986. His legacy was carried on by the Hartford Gunn Institute, first based in Illinois, which assisted in developing fundamental plans for building the second generation of public telecommunications.
The 21" Classroom goes on the air at WGBH-TV:

From left – Hartford Gunn, Michael Ambrosino, Bill Kiernan (the Massachusetts Commissioner of Education), Gene Gray (everybody's favorite science teacher on TV), and Norman Harris (Science Director, Boston Museum of  Science). The 21-inch Classroom (the name referenced the measurement of a TV screen) first aired in 1958, with programs on the French language, music, literature, social studies and science.

*Robert MacNeil, who has a gay son, famously took part in a panel discussion of news anchors for the 1993 convention of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association. MacNeil, who was once an aspiring actor and playwright, enjoys following the career of his son Ian (born 1960), a set designer who recently won a 2009 Tony Award for Best Scenic Design of a Musical for Billy Elliot: The Musical. In a 1994 episode of The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour, father and son openly discussed their relationship.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Stephen Hough

Openly gay poet and pianist

Paderewski: Nocturne (encore at Carnegie Hall recital)

Openly gay classical pianist Stephen Hough was born in England in 1961, although he has held dual citizenship with Australia since 2005 (his father was born in Australia). Hough holds a particular interest in unusual works by pianist-composers of the late nineteenth century, of which this video clip is an example. He plays with wit, charm, sophistication, humor, lyricism and generous doses of style.

Hough also composes and arranges transcriptions for piano solo, and often features his own works in recitals. Of late he has branched out into chamber and choral music. As well, he is a noted writer and researcher, publishing essays and writing album liner notes. He is something of a renaissance man, fully indulging his interests in painting, photography and blogging.

Hough has recorded over fifty CDs, and in 2008 he won the sixth International Poetry Competition*. Hough has spoken, written and blogged about his homosexuality and its relationship to his music-making.

Instead of limiting what we know about him, as is the custom of most classical musicians, Hough is quite open about his weaknesses, about moments when he’s deeply questioned his career choice as a touring musician, about battling ego issues, fighting nerves, and overcoming moments when he says he fails to reach his own high standards. Hearing him talk so openly and honestly about his vulnerabilities opens many to his art. I am a pianist myself, and I regard Hough as one of the top pianists of our time.

*Excerpt from "Early Rose", a prize-winning poem by Stephen Hough

...To the garden, awake,
Tiptoe, quick, go
Slick-stairs down the
Steps to the pre-dew
Night morn before the
Dawn's birth is born.
Follow to the foliage where,
Hidden as the future's
Fall or rise, the rose –
Petals closed – will bud-burst
A billion atoms of beauty...

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Composer Manuel de Falla (1876-1946)

Manuel María de Falla y Matheu was born into a prosperous family in Cádiz, Spain. His father was Valencian, his mother from Catalonia. Falla studied piano and composition with private tutors before entering the Real Conservatorio de Música in Madrid. His early compositions, written for small ensembles, were heavily influenced by Spanish folk music. He even wrote six zarzuelas (Spanish folk operettas).

In 1907 Falla moved to France, where he was influenced by the impressionists, especially Debussy and Ravel. During this time, he composed the well-received Trois mélodies, based on texts by the homosexual poet Théophile Gautier. His first work of importance, the one-act opera La vida breve (The Brief Life, first  performed in 1913) was followed by the gypsy gitanería (ballet) El amor brujo (Love, the Magician, 1915) and the folk ballet El sombrero de tres picos (The Three-cornered Hat, 1919). The latter was written for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes and premiered in London with sets and costumes by Pablo Picasso and choreography by Diaghilev’s gay lover at the time, Léonid Massine. Falla’s most ambitious symphonic concert work, Noches en los jardines de España (Nights in the Gardens of Spain), a nocturne for piano and orchestra, dates from 1916. This work, which became enormously popular, celebrates the bygone sensual and erotic atmosphere of Islamic Spain.

Manuel de Falla was homosexual, and it was widely rumored that he was involved in a menage à trois with French composer Maurice Ravel and Spanish pianist Ricardo Vines. Falla and Ravel were both closely guarded, private and extremely closeted homosexuals, leaving behind no written trace of their liaisons. Only their contemporaries related the relationship to future generations. However, the elegance, sensuality, and erotic suggestiveness of Falla’s music are interpreted by many as overt expressions of de Falla’s homosexuality, better than any written word.

The cultural center of Cádiz, the port city where Falla was born, is today called Gran Teatro Falla, in his honor. It is a magnificent Moorish-revival concert hall (1910) facing Plaza Manuel de Falla.

Significantly, the start of World War I forced his return to Spain. Soon after settling in Madrid, Falla met Federico García Lorca, the gay poet and a future collaborator, who was to become a close friend (see sidebar). In 1919 Falla moved to Granada for more peace and quiet to compose. During this time his home was a celebrated meeting place for Spanish gay intellectuals and artists. He and García Lorca worked on several collaborations, although only a few minor works resulted from their efforts.

Falla’s deep ascetic religiosity led him to be courted by Franco’s Nationalists, whom he saw as a check to the anti-religious sentiment of the Left. Falla was living with his sister when he was appointed President of the Institute of Spain by Franco in 1935. However, despite the high esteem he enjoyed in the eyes of Franco’s Nationalists, the composer was unable to prevent the 1936 execution of his friend and collaborator García Lorca, by then a successful homosexual poet with an international reputation. Falla, disillusioned by the homophobia of the Franco regime, dove even deeper into the closet and resigned his post in 1938. A year later he emigrated to Argentina, where he had been invited to conduct concerts at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires. Falla remained in Argentina, settling in Alta Gracia in the Sierra Córdoba region, where he was looked after by his sister until his death there in 1946. Franco's government offered him a large pension if he would return to Spain, but he refused. However, his image appeared on Spanish currency notes for many years.

By far the most recognizable Falla composition is Ritual Fire Dance, from El amor brujo (1915). First composed as a chamber piece, it is here played as a piano solo by Sebastien Koch.

By contrast Jota (from Siete Canciones Populares Españolas), written the same year as Ritual Fire Dance, is based on a popular Andalucian song to which Falla added an original harmonic accompaniment, to great effect. Acclaimed Israeli mandolinist Alon Sariel performs this piece with young pianist Nadav Herzka.

An excerpt from Nights in the Gardens of Spain, for piano and orchestra, here performed by legendary pianist Alicia de Larrocha (Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal with Charles Dutoit, conductor). Filmed at the Alhambra in the late 1980s (Larrocha died in 2009). En los jardines de la Sierra de Córdoba (3rd movement): Click this link (embedding disabled).

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Leonardo da Vinci

Because Leonardo da Vinci was born out of wedlock in 1452, he was denied both an education and a lucrative profession. Despite the stigma of being a bastard son of a notary and peasant girl, Leonardo went on to master anatomy, astronomy, architecture, botany, cartography, engineering, mathematics, music, poetry, science, optics, sculpture, sketching, geology and, last but not least, painting. The polymath of all polymaths, he also designed machines and drew plans for hundreds of inventions.

When he was 15, Leonardo moved from the village of Vinci to the city of Florence, known both as a great center of art and as a flourishing community of homosexual men (in those days the German word “Florenzer” [Florentine] was the term for a homosexual). When he was 24, Leonardo and three other youths were arrested in Florence on a sodomy charge. An anonymous tip alerted the magistrate of the city that a 17-year-old male was a gay prostitute, and Leonardo was listed as one of four patrons. No witnesses appeared against them, and eventually the charges were dropped. However, two months later Leonardo was again accused and this time jailed for two months, until an uncle arranged for his release. Leonardo never married, had any children or showed any interest in women, and he wrote in his notebooks that male-female intercourse disgusted him. Leonardo dealt with this controversy by leaving Florence to settle in Milan.

Thereafter Leonardo took pains to keep his homosexual life private, but he nevertheless always surrounded himself with attractive men. Although he started writing his journals in code, his art reflected his love of male beauty, and the models he used were sexually desirable young men. His relationship with the beautiful curly-haired Gian Giacomo Caprotti da Oreno (note Leonardo's painting of Caprotti at beginning of post), a former pupil, lasted twenty five years. For the last ten years of his life, Leonardo’s companion was a much younger nobleman, who would later serve as the executor of Leonardo’s estate.

When Leonardo died in 1519, Caprotti (better known as Salaì, meaning “little Devil”) inherited half a vineyard and several works of art, among them the Mona Lisa painting, now regarded as the world’s most famous portrait. Although Leonardo described Salaì as "a liar, a thief, stubborn and a glutton," Leonardo kept him in his household for more than 20 years, eventually training him as an artist. If Salaì had merely been a servant or pupil, he would have been dismissed.  Although Salaì stole from him on numerous occasions, Leonardo spent lavishly on clothing for his “kept” boy, even purchasing the 24 pairs of shoes the lad desired. What we do for love.

Many art historians believe that Salaì was the model for Leonardo’s homoerotic painting of John the Baptist. Salaì, a painter of modest talent, even created a nude version of the Mona Lisa, known as the Monna Vanna (shown at right). A page of drawings by Leonardo includes a sketch depicting Salaì from behind, pursued by a horde of penises on legs. I’m not making this up. We might have more of these had a pious priest not destroyed the bulk of Leonardo’s erotic gay sketches.

Leonardo eventually sent Salaì on his way, replacing him with a very young nobleman, Franceso Melzi, who described Leonardo’s affections as “a passionate and most fiery love.” Public knowledge of Leonardo’s homosexuality extended beyond his lifetime. In 1563, a book by Gian Paolo Lamazzo included a fictional dialogue between an interviewer and Leonardo. When being queried about the nature of Leonardo’s relationship with Salaì, Leonardo was asked, “Did you play the game from behind which the Florentines love so much?” Leonardo replied, “And how! Keep in mind that he was a beautiful young man, especially when about the age of fifteen.”

Undisputedly, Leonardo possessed the greatest mind of the Italian Renaissance. He wanted to know the workings of what he saw in nature. His inventions and scientific studies were centuries ahead of their time. He was the standard of ingenuity, and his intellectual inquisitiveness was the epitome of the Renaissance spirit. Six centuries later, the world is still in awe.

The following is from Serge Bramly's 1991 great biography of Leonardo:

No other personality was so intimidating, no other career so difficult to encompass, so biographers often resort to the assumption that Leonardo embodied some superhuman quality: "il divino". Vasari (a contemporary biographer of Leonardo) wrotes "there is something supernatural in the accumulation in one individual of so much beauty, grace, and might. With his right hand he could twist an iron horseshoe as if it were made of lead. In his liberality, he welcomed and gave food to any friend, rich or poor." His kindness, his sweet nature, his eloquence (his speech could bend in any direction the most obdurate of wills) his regal magnanimity, his sense of humor, his love of wild creatures, his terrible strength in argument, sustained by intelligence and memory, the subtlety of his mind which never ceased to devise inventions, his aptitude for mathematics, science, music, poetry. What's more, Leonardo was himself a man of physical beauty beyond compare.

Leonardo trivia:
He slept a paltry two hours a day.
A left-handed dyslexic, he tried to paint with both hands.
He was a stern self critic, destroying most of his work.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Frank M. Robinson

Openly gay San Francisco resident Frank M. Robinson (1926-2014) wrote science fiction novels, thrillers, magazine columns and political speeches. Born in Chicago, in 1973 he migrated to San Francisco, where he met Harvey Milk, the first openly gay American elected to a prominent public office (San Francisco city supervisor). Milk asked Robinson to be his speech writer, and Frank later found himself working on Milk’s famous “You’ve Got to Have Hope” gay pride speech: "We will not win our rights by staying quietly in our closets.... We are coming out to fight the lies, the myths, the distortions.... I am tired of the conspiracy of silence."

Frank became such a valued advisor to Harvey Milk, that Milk designated him as his successor in 1977 by way of a recording filed with Milk’s attorney (Milk was well aware of the possibility of his own assassination). Director Gus Van Sant persuaded Robinson to play himself in a cameo role in the 2008 film, Milk. When Sean Penn, in the role of Harvey Milk, stood in front of San Francisco’s city hall, just as Milk had done 30 years previously, Robinson was again in the crowd. “When I heard Sean say those words [almost verbatim] that I had helped write, I was so proud," Robinson said.

Unlike Milk, however, Robinson remained closeted for for many years for fear of not being able to keep his job or get new work. Little did the straight readers of Playboy magazine’s sex advice column (Playboy Advisor) realize that the columnist was a closeted gay man. Playboy had earlier published some of Frank’s fiction. Robinson also wrote for other magazines – Gallery, Cavalier and Rogue.

Three of his novels were made into films: The Glass Inferno (co-written with Tom Scortia) became The Towering Inferno (1974), The Power was made into a 1968 film starring George Hamilton, and The Gold Crew became an NBC miniseries retitled The Fifth Missile (1986).

Robinson was inducted into the First Fandom Hall of Fame (2001) for contributions to the field of science fiction, won an Emperor Norton Award* (2004) and received a Moskowitz Archive Award (2008) for significant achievement or contributions to Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror fandom. He was named the recipient of the Special Honoree Award by Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) earlier this year.

*Google this award. Unbelievable back story.

Robinson died a few weeks ago on June 30, at age 87, following a long illness. A public memorial service will be held at 7 pm on August 8 in San Francisco.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Harold Stevenson

Openly gay artist Harold Stevenson Jr was born in 1929 in Idabel, southeastern Oklahoma near the Texas border, where he decided to be a painter while still in the second grade. At age ten he opened a painting studio right in the middle of town, painting portraits (and selling them). Even while later living abroad, he maintained an  address in Idabel, where he lived until his death in a log cabin in the woods just outside of town. The artist incorporated his own hometown history into his painting when he created one hundred portraits of residents of Idabel for The Great Society (1967–68). Stevenson sold his estate in Wainscott NY (the Hamptons) and returned to reside in Idabel, where he died in 2018 at age 89.

Mitchell Algus, Harold’s gallery representative since 1992, recalls asking Stevenson if he was teased for being gay while a schoolboy. Harold replied, “Honey, I owned that school.” Stevenson’s longtime partner was Lloyd Tugwell II, a Choctaw art teacher who died in 2005 after a fall down the stairs at their Hamptons home. He is buried in the Stevenson family plot in Idabel.

In 1949 Stevenson moved to New York to pursue a career in art and almost immediately became the darling of international high society – Stravinsky, Cole Porter, Elizabeth Arden, Tennessee Williams, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Truman Capote, Kitty Carlisle, Gloria Swanson, Christian Dior, Peggy Guggenheim, Salvador Dali and the like. As an exhibitor in the 1964 Venice Biennale, his paintings of nudes were confiscated for indecency. 

He was part of the avant-garde movement and befriended Andy Warhol, who would make Stevenson the subject of Warhol’s first film, Harold, and would include him in the pop artist’s video Heat (1972).

In 1959, Stevenson relocated to Europe, where he resided in France and Italy and exhibited regularly in galleries for nearly twenty years. He was itinerant his entire life, jockeying between New York, Paris, Key West and southeast Oklahoma. During a career of nearly seven decades, the nude male figure always dominated his works (often labeled "homoerotic fantasies"), but the artist’s most iconic works were products of the 1960s.

The New Adam (1962)
Painting by Harold Stevenson Jr.; Model, actor Sal Mineo (1939-1976)

In early 1963 visitors to the Galerie Iris Clert, Paris, were hardly prepared for the painting that greeted them, a colossal 8-foot-tall by 39-foot-long male nude, precisely and sensually rendered in full anatomical detail. In Paris (and later in New York, Chicago, and L.A.), the work was greeted with “shock,” recalls self-taught Harold Stevenson, who conceived The New Adam as an homage to his lover, Lord Timothy Willoughby d’Eresby – although he used the actor Sal Mineo as his model. In an interview, Harold said of Mineo, “He was a sweetheart person, and kind of stupid.” Lord Willoughby (1936-1963), who was the grandson of Lady Astor, went missing at sea with his crew in 1963 on the way to Corsica, shortly after Stevenson had painted a portrait of him in 25 pieces, displayed in Paris in 1962. Stevenson had been invited along for the sailing, but declined.

Spread over nine linen panels and initially installed as a three-wall wraparound, The New Adam presented a vast, seemingly unbounded ocean of flesh. This work engaged a much older tradition in art, recalling countless female odalisques, as well as Michelangelo’s iconic image of Adam, whose pointing gesture Stevenson redirects inward, toward the body. Over 40 years later, the Guggenheim Museum New York was honored through an anonymous gift to have this landmark of art history join its permanent collection in 2005, but it has not been displayed since 2006.

Eye of Lightning Billy (1962), Stevenson’s large-scale painting of the close-up of a human eye, was included in the pivotal exhibition The New Realists (1962), which also featured artists like Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Robert Indiana and many others. The following year, Stevenson exhibited a 48-foot-high painting of the matador El Cordobas at the Eiffel Tower. It had to be taken down after four days because of the enormous traffic jams it caused. In the 1980s, while living in Key West, he incorporated references to Greco-Roman and Egyptian archetypes into his works. In the last decade of his life Stevenson focused on sensuous paintings of the young model Christopher John.

Sources: Ron Clark and Ted Mann

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Joseph John Bertrund Belanger

This photo booth portrait was taken in California in 1953, at a time when laws allowed police to target homosexuals, who could be arrested for holding hands in public or wearing clothing of the opposite sex. A photo such as this could have gotten the men arrested.

Time magazine recently reported that the man shown on the right was J. J. Belanger, a Canadian born in 1925 who served in the Royal Canadian Air Force from 1942 to 1944. He then moved to California, where he was one of the founding members of the Mattachine Society, an early LGBT organization which originated in 1950 in Los Angeles. Their initial name of Society of Fools was replaced by Mattachine Society, after Medieval French secret societies of masked bachelors who, through their anonymity, were empowered to criticize ruling monarchs with impunity. The name change was meant to symbolize the fact that gays were a masked people, unknown and anonymous.

During the 1970s Belanger became the Los Angeles coordinator of the Eulenspiegel Society, the oldest and largest BDSM (Bondage, Discipline, Sadism, Masochism) education and support group in the United States. During the next decade Belanger became involved with three LGBT organizations, the San Francisco chapter of the Stonewall Gay Democratic Club, Project Inform and the Quarantine Fighter’s Group.

Throughout his lifetime, Belanger was a devoted collector of historical LGBT artifacts and materials. This photograph of him is now part of the ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives at the University of Southern California Libraries (Los Angeles), the largest repository of LGBT materials in the world, which includes letters, notebooks, and audio recordings owned by Belanger. Many of Belanger's effects relate to gays in the military and AIDS activism.

Kyle Morgan, of the ONE Archives at the USC Libraries, recently wrote, “Here, in the midst of the 2014 (gay) pride season, what remains so remarkable and moving about this particular image is how quietly radical it feels all these years later. Belanger and another man have found a private safe space in the unlikeliest of places, an ordinary photo booth, where they felt so at ease...(that) they could kiss each other far from the prying eyes of a disapproving public.”

Sources: Time Magazine and Wikipedia

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Charles Laughton

Closeted gay stage & screen actor

Charles Laughton (1899-1962) was an English-American stage and film actor, screenwriter, producer and director. Born into a wealthy family of hotel owners in Yorkshire, England, he was raised a strict Catholic, leading to his tormented and guilty adult struggles with his homosexuality. After his father’s death, he left the innkeeping field and studied acting, his first love. He quickly became successful and  maintained careers simultaneously in England, New York and Hollywood. Laughton became a naturalized American citizen in 1950 and carved a career as a great character actor, since his portly figure and decidedly un-handsome face meant that most lead roles were not open to him.

While his pervasive unhappiness may have contributed to his accomplishment as an actor, it adversely affected his personal life. Tormented throughout his career by suppressed homosexuality and self-loathing, Laughton died in Hollywood in 1962, still deeply ashamed of his homosexual longings. He never publicly discussed or declared his homosexuality, except to his wife, Elsa Lanchester, an actress whom he married in 1929.

In the film The Private Life of King Henry VIII (1933, photo at left), he starred as King Henry along side his wife, who played Anne of Cleves. For this role he won an Oscar for Best Actor, and The Private Life of Henry VIII won Best Picture.

He went on to play the eccentric Captain Bligh in Mutiny on the Bounty (1935), and other great roles followed, most notably the lead role in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939). Laughton was hesitant to accept the role. Having long detested his own looks, the character of Quasimodo was perhaps a little too close to home. Nevertheless, he decided to take on the project, and the Hunchback of Notre Dame became Laughton’s best-known film role.

In addition to acting and directing, he embellished his career by becoming a noted orator and story-teller, giving hundreds of readings in wildly popular one-man shows.

According to Richard Bartone, “To dissipate his loneliness, Laughton sought the companionship of beautiful young men, many of whom began as his masseur or personal assistant. With a few of them, he developed long romantic relationships. He was happy and productive when involved in these affairs, but when certain men parted, work was disrupted and loneliness returned.”

Many of the actors and actresses with whom Laughton worked knew of his homosexuality, and it was rarely an issue on set or stage. But Laughton felt that his homosexuality rendered him vulnerable to attack by others. In Mutiny on the Bounty (1935), Clark Gable's homophobia created so much tension on the set that producer Irving Thalberg had to intervene.

Although Laughton trembled at a possible public scandal, he always brought lovers onto the sets of films to help him relax. Laughton's worst fear materialized while directing Henry Fonda in the play The Caine Mutiny Court Martial (1954). Fonda, angry at the play's development and execution, lashed out at Laughton by sneering. "What do you know about men, you fat faggot?"

Although Laughton generally played unsympathetic characters, he did so with passion and imagination. Some of Laughton's internalized homophobia was alleviated in 1960, after he and his wife bought a house in Santa Monica next door to gay writer Christopher Isherwood and his artist companion Don Bachardy. The two couples became close friends, and Isherwood's and Bachardy's gay militancy and pride helped Laughton achieve a degree of acceptance.

Following Laughton's death in 1962, Elsa wrote a book alleging that they never had children because Laughton was homosexual. She claimed that she and Laughton had never had sex, but she had not known Laughton was homosexual when they first married. “Remember,” she once commented. “He was a GREAT actor.”

In any case, it was known that Laughton greatly disliked children. Because of his disdain for them and the fact that he had to work with them while directing the film The Night of the Hunter (1955), most of the scenes with the children were directed by star Robert Mitchum, who had three children of his own. Mitchum stated that Laughton was the best director he had ever worked for. Laughton was severely disappointed by the commercial failure of The Night of the Hunter, which is today regarded by critics as one of the best films of the 1950s. It has been selected by the United States National Film Registry for preservation in the Library of Congress.

Laughton and Lanchester remained a couple, however, and their marriage was considered one of the most touching relationships in Hollywood, in spite of Laughton’s torturous emotional problems and the rumors that Lanchester herself had lesbian tendencies. Perfectly convenient.

Elsa Lanchester in her most famous role: Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

Monday, June 9, 2014

Ivor Novello

Welsh Composer, Playwright & Actor (1893-1951)

Born with the name David Ivor Davies in Wales, Ivor Novello was one of the most popular entertainers of the early twentieth century. He was a noted composer, singer, playwright, and actor. Most considered him a rival to Noel Coward, who was six years Novello's junior. Coward later wrote that he was envious of Novello’s handsome appearance and had sought to copy his glamorous, world-weary style. Coward and Novello went on to become good friends. In fact it was actor Robert (Bobbie) Andrews, Novello's life partner for 35 years, who introduced Novello to the young Noel Coward. Bobby Andrews and Novello were later to appear together in many of Novello's plays and musicals.

Novello’s first success was as a songwriter. At age 21 he wrote the music for Keep the Home Fires Burning, an immensely popular sentimental song of the WW I era that brought Novello money and fame.

In the 2002 film Gosford Park, the guests at a country house are entertained by Novello (played by Jeremy Northam), who performs on the piano. Six Novello songs were used in the soundtrack.

While Novello continued to write scores to songs, musicals and revues, he developed a career as an actor. His good looks, talent and suave style led to success on both stage and screen; he was considered England’s first great male silent film star, a British “Rudolph Valentino”. Like Coward, Novello enjoyed simultaneous careers in both Great Britain and the U.S. Novello earned enough money to buy a lavish, sprawling country house near Maidenhead in 1927. Named Redroofs, the property was the setting for extravagant, unconventional entertaining, often characterized by untempered homosexual excesses. Novello later bought a house in Jamaica where he and his partner Bobby Andrews went on holiday together.

Novello hit his stride in the 1930s, writing music for Drury Lane shows that blended musical comedy with opera, operetta and modern and classical dance. Novello frequently starred in his own shows. Unfortunately, he spent a notorious four weeks in prison during WW II for misuse of petrol rationing coupons, a serious offense at the time, and the trauma of this incarceration had serious and lasting effects on his life. The sentimental song We’ll Gather Lilacs was a huge hit (1945) during WW II, first appearing in Novello’s stage show Perchance to Dream.

Novello remained the most consistently successful writer of British musicals until Andre Lloyd Webber came onto the scene in the 1970s.

Novello died suddenly of coronary thrombosis in 1951, at the age of 58, at his London flat in the presence of Bobby Andrews. Thousands lined the streets to the funeral service, which was broadcast live on radio. For the past fifty-four years, the British Academy of Composers and Songwriters' annual awards have been nick-named the Ivors, in honor of Novello.

• Novello never allowed his left profile to be photographed or filmed.
• It was Novello who came up with the phrase, “Me Tarzan – You Jane.” Novello developed the dialogue for the 1932 film Tarzan the Ape Man.
Alfred Hitchcock cast Novello in one of his earliest films, The Lodger (1927, entire film at end of post).
• When Noel Coward got news of Novello's sudden death, he said "Please understand and forgive me, but I am too shattered by the news of Ivor Novello's death to write an estimate of his work or his personality that would do justice to either. We have been close friends for thirty-five years, and my feelings at the moment are too private and too unhappy to be put into words."

The web site for the Ivor Novello Appreciation Bureau can be found at this link:

We'll Gather Lilacs (song from 1945):

The Lodger (1927, early Hitchcock film)
Starring Ivor Novello

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Thomas Mann

Thomas Mann (1875-1955) was perhaps the greatest German novelist of the early twentieth century. In 1929 he won the Nobel Prize in Literature for his novels Death in Venice*, Buddenbrooks and The Magic Mountain (Buddenbrooks had sold more than a million copies in German before the Hitler era). Mann was referred to as the “heir to Goethe” during his lifetime.

Because his wife was Jewish, his family fled to the U.S. after Hitler took power in Germany; the Nazi Party revoked his German citizenship in 1936 in response to Mann’s public denunciations of Nazi politics. After teaching at Princeton in New Jersey, Mann moved west to California. Mann subsequently became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1944. From 1941-1953 he lived in Pacific Palisades above Santa Monica, California, a dozen miles west of downtown Los Angeles. A few years ago I tracked down two of his former homes at 740 Amalfi Drive and 1550 San Remo Drive, both in Pacific Palisades. I parked the car and peeped through the shrubbery, like a true stalker. The houses remain private residences, so be cautious if you want to mimic my questionable behavior.

While in California Mann recorded a series of anti-Nazi radio speeches, which were broadcast from Britain, so that they could reach German listeners. Ironically, the FBI kept a file on Mann from the late 1920s until his death in 1955, primarily to track any communist leanings. The last three years of his life were spent in a town close to Zürich, Switzerland.

Homoerotic, often unrequited, love was a significant feature in much of his writing. In Death in Venice (1912), for example, an older man’s hopeless affection for a young boy leads to tragedy. Mann’s personal experience contributed to that story: in the summer of 1911, Mann had been staying at the Grand Hôtel des Bains on the Lido of Venice with his wife and brother when he became enraptured by the angelic figure of Władysław Moes, an adolescent Polish boy.

Papers that were unsealed twenty years after his death revealed that Mann had been exclusively homosexual through his late twenties, and that Mann remained intensely attracted to men throughout his life. His diaries told of his struggle with his sexual orientation, as when he described his feelings for the young violinist/painter Paul Ehrenberg as “the central experience” of his heart. Shattered by the failure of this homosexual relationship, Mann fled into marriage, repressing for decades his homosexual yearnings. Nevertheless, at the age of 53 Mann fell in love with a 17-year-old boy, Klaus Heuser. At the age of 75 (!), Mann set his sights on a young waiter at a hotel in Zürich, immortalizing him in “Felix Krull.” After Mann’s diaries were unsealed, German reporters tracked down the waiter and found him working at the St. Regis Hotel in NYC. The aging hotel employee became a minor celebrity in Germany and appeared on television numerous times.

Embarrassingly, Mann’s diaries were embellished by sketches of shirtless gardeners, soldiers, and even his own son Klaus, who was a homosexual drug addict who ultimately committed suicide, as did another of his sons. Mann had three daughters and three sons, all of whom were bisexual or homosexual. Each became an artistic or literary figure, as well.

Thomas Mann achieved a cult status during his lifetime, a status that seemed to intensify after his death. Although there was always a net of latent homosexuality cast over Mann's life, his most ardent heterosexual fans chose to dismiss it as probable gossip or wishful thinking on the part of Mann's gay fans. The publication of his once-sealed diaries put an end to that line of thought.

*Death in Venice was made into both a 1971 film and an opera, the latter written by homosexual composer Benjamin Britten in the early 1970s. Britten's last opera, the work is unusual in that it is written for only three singers: a tenor (Von Aschenbach), a counter-tenor (the voice of Apollo) and a baritone who covers all the other roles; the young Tadzio (the object of Von Aschenbach's lustful obsession) and his family are portrayed by dancers. Excerpts from a production at Teatro La Fenice in Venice are contained in the following video:

The trailer for the 1971 film Death in Venice, directed by Luchino Visconti and starring the great homosexual actor Dirk Bogarde:

Thomas Mann (Quote from Death in Venice):
Solitude produces originality, bold and astonishing beauty, poetry. But solitude also produces perverseness, the disproportionate, the absurd and the forbidden.”

The entire novel Death in Venice can be downloaded in English translation for free at:
There is a link for a PDF format download as well (Rapidshare), using Adobe Reader software.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Andy Bey

Jazz pianist and vocalist

Andy Bey is an openly gay jazz pianist and vocalist. Born in 1939 in Newark, NJ, at the age of 17 he and his siblings formed a trio called Andy and the Bey Sisters. They performed together in Europe and across the country for eleven years, recording three albums before splitting up in 1967. During the 1970s he worked with Dee Dee Bridgewater and drummer Max Roach.

Twenty years ago (1994) Bey was diagnosed as HIV-positive but has continued his career while maintaining a regimen that includes yoga and a vegetarian diet; at the time of this writing he is 74 years old and counting. Herb Jordan assisted Bey with restarting his recording career. Their album, Ballads, Blues, & Bey (1996), helped return Bey to prominence. He also  collaborated with Fred Hersch, another openly gay HIV-positive working jazz musician.

Andy Bey received the "2003 Jazz Vocalist of the Year" award by the Jazz Journalists Association. He has released four albums within the last ten years and has a reputation as a consummate ballad singer, specializing in jazz standards.

Never Let Me Go (written in 1956 by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans)

Monday, May 12, 2014

Michael Sam

Michael Sam became the first openly gay player drafted by the National Football League when he was selected by the St. Louis Rams in the seventh round of draft picks over the weekend.

The White House issued this statement: "The President congratulates Michael Sam, the Rams and the NFL for taking an important step forward today in our nation's journey. From the playing field to the corporate boardroom, LGBT Americans prove every day that you should be judged by what you do and not who you are."

After Sam was shown on national television kissing his boyfriend in response to the good news, there was an immediate backlash. Although some compared Sam’s kissing his boyfriend to other athletes kissing their wives or girlfriends in similar situations, several prominent players tweeted their disgust, including Miami Dolphins safety Don Jones, who was summarily fined by his team and barred from team activities until he finishes "training for his recent comments made on social media."

Of course, Sam has only been drafted by a team; it is important to remember that he has not yet gained a place on a team roster. Enormous pressures from various factions await him.

On a brighter note, there’s this tweet:

"NFL guys get drafted. Kiss girlfriends. @MikeSamFootball kissed his boyfriend. Don't like?..that's a "you" problem," ESPN anchor Stuart Scott tweeted. "Congrats Mike!"

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Thomas Adès

London-born composer, conductor and pianist Thomas Adès (b. 1971) is one of the “hot” classical musicians on the current international scene.  He is also an out and proud gay man who, in 2006, entered into a civil partnership with Tal Rosner, an Israeli filmmaker and video artist. The two have worked on many projects together, and their apartment in Covent Garden serves as their center of creativity.

Your blogger was lucky enough to attend the world premiere of Polaris, a multi-media work for orchestra and five video screens (music composed by Adès, moving images by Rosner), written for the opening of Miami’s New World Arts Center in January, 2011. The center, designed by superstar architect Frank Gehry, is home to the New World Symphony Orchestra, led by gay conductor Michael Tilson Thomas.

London-born Adès graduated in 1992 from King's College, Cambridge, where his degree was classified as 'double starred first', indicating outstanding academic distinction. Success piled upon success. He was made Britten Professor of Composition at the Royal Academy of Music and in 2004 was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Essex. By the age of 36
a retrospective of his work was presented in London, and he was the focus of festivals in France Finland.

Asyla, a work for orchestra, was premiered in 1997 by Simon Rattle and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and received the Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition. Adès was the youngest ever recipient of this award. Asyla has since been performed across the world, including a tour of the Far East by Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic.

Adès composed a chamber opera, Powder Her Face (1995), which gained immediate notoriety for its musical depiction of fellatio. The Duchess character in the opera was based on the notorious Margaret Campbell, Duchess of Argyll, whose scandalous behavior in the 1960s was revealed during her divorce trial when photographs of her various sex acts were introduction into evidence.

This video clip is an excerpt from In Seven Days (2008), a creative collaboration between Adès and Rosner. The work depicts the biblical creation story via piano, video-installation and orchestra.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Jacques d'Adelswärd-Fersen on the Isle of Capri

I have already written two posts about men who sought sexual freedom on Capri, but this rocky speck of an island at the edge of Italy’s Tyrrhenian Sea has hosted so many gay and bisexual men that I dedicate this post to the entire island. The fact that I am sick of winter and wistfully recall warm August days on the island might have something to do with it. So here goes.

From the late 19th century to just prior to the First World War, Capri (pronounced KAH-pree, accent on the first syllable), was especially popular with wealthy gay men. Located about a 30-minute hydrofoil ride from Sorrento across the Gulf of Naples, the island, long a refuge for artists and writers, was a relatively tolerant, safe place for bisexuals and homosexuals to lead a more open life, one of undisturbed lasciviousness.

Then during the 1920s, especially, the island became populated by high profile lesbians in exile, such as artist Romaine Brooks. There was something about the island’s attitude and atmosphere that allowed wealthy expats to unleash their pent-up desire for larger than life extravagance. Thus the Marquesa Casati, an eccentric, bisexual femme fatale, traversed Capri while walking a pair of tame leashed cheetahs, often wearing live boa constrictors as necklaces.

Around the turn of the twentieth century such bisexual notables as Tsar Ferdinand I of Bulgaria and German industrialist Friedrich Krupp played out their same sex desires by hosting orgies that included local young males, who were generously rewarded for their “companionship” (see separate blog entries for both Friedrich Krupp and Ferdinand in the side bar). Later gay and bisexual men of importance who took up residence on Capri include British novelist Norman Douglas and American writer Gore Vidal. Stay tuned for future blog posts about those two.

Among the island’s more notorious homosexuals was wealthy industrialist, artist and writer Jacques d'Adelswärd-Fersen, an aristocrat who moved there in self-imposed exile from France after a 1903 sex scandal involving very young Parisian schoolboys and all manner of debauchery. At age 22 he inherited a vast fortune from his industrialist father.

One of Capri's more colorful characters, his best-known novel, Lord Lyllian, is a decadent satire inspired by his own scandalous downfall, but he was in fact better known as a character in books by others, especially Roger Peyrefitte’s gossipy L'Exilé de Capri, a fictionalized biography about Fersen. As well, he was one of many eccentric expatriate residents to inspire Scottish novelist Compton Mackenzie's tale of Capri, Vestal Fire.

In 1905 Baron Fersen built Villa Lysis (named for Plato’s dialogue on the nature of male love), one of the island’s more notorious monuments to sin and decadence that often played host to the aforementioned Marchesa Casatti. Perched precipitously atop an enormous outcropping of granite on the eastern tip of the island,  with stupendous views of Mt. Vesuvius, the villa seems to teeter on the brink of a freefall into the sea (see photo above). Fersen’s young lover-in-residence,  Nino Cesarini, was an inspiration for Bohemian artists.

The lad posed nude for portraits by German painter Paul Hoecker (painting of Cesarini at right) and Italian artist Umberto Brunelleschi, and for photographer Wilhelm von Plüschow. From 1909-1910, while in residence on Capri,  Fersen  published a monthly literary magazine promoting pederastic love. Their colorful life on Capri had a dark ending, however. A lethal cocktail of champagne and cocaine was ingested by Baron Fersen in 1923 (allegedly a suicide) in a room he built specifically for smoking opium. No kidding. The villa is open to the public, and the photo below shows the exotic gold mosaic embellishments in the column fluting.

The island was immortalized by the song Isle Of Capri (1934), made famous by British actress and music hall singer Gracie Fields, who was another island resident. By the time Frank Sinatra recorded this song for his 1957 album, Come Fly With Me, Capri was already popular with the international jet set, including the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Greta Garbo, and Noël Coward (see separate post).

Capri is still somewhat of a gay men's haven, but most come as day trippers to raid the luxury boutiques that litter the narrow alleys of Capri town. Men and women alike seek out historic perfumer Carthusia, who was granted permission from the Pope to use old formulas discovered by Carthusian monks to create fragrances like Aria Di Capri, whose evocative scent is inspired by Capri's sea breezes, warm sun, and blue skies.

Let it be said that your blogger is not a shopper, but even I have been known to sully the portals of a half dozen of Capri town’s boutiques (see photo at right) – more as a respite from the blazing sun, however, than from any interest in commercial goods. Most of the island is a pedestrian zone, so any visit will be a welcome vacation from motor traffic. Taxis with horizontal shade cloths (see photo below) and a funicular are popular ways to ascend from the marina up to Capri town, the island’s main village.

A few years ago I walked from the Piazzetta, the commercial and social center of Capri town, all the way to the ruins of the villa of Roman emperor Tiberius (twice actually, because of a dead camera battery), a 40-minute jaunt (all uphill, all the time), without once seeing even so much as a service vehicle – in August, the peak of high season. Tiberius ruled Rome from Capri during the last ten years of his reign, but no one can say exactly why he abandoned Rome for this rocky perch. Ancient writings describe pan-sexual Tiberius lazing in his pool while his adolescent male “fishes” nibbled at his nether regions underwater. It was good to be emperor.

Tiny buses traverse hairpin turns (on roads not wide enough for buses) to reach Anacapri, the other main town. This lofty village is situated near the top of the island and has a more tranquil atmosphere. The church of St. Michele Archangelo boasts a floor of painted majolica tiles depicting Adam and Eve and fantastical beasts. Villa San Michele (see photo above), the fantastical villa built by Swedish physician Axel Munthe in 1885, hosted Oscar Wilde after his release from imprisonment. The villa is open to the public and is one of the top travel experiences of my life. Go there. From Anacapri you can ride a chairlift to Monte Solaro, the island's highest point, for a breathtaking vista. No matter how or when you leave the island, it will be with wistful regret. Mental images of the island will remain with you for years.

Photographs of Capri by Adalberto Tiburzi, whose hometown is Rome.
I use these photographs under the terms found on his excellent web site: