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.

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