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.

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.