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, November 26, 2015

Sal Mineo

Bisexual actor Sal Mineo (1939-1976) was defined by two things: his unforgettable Academy Award–nominated role opposite James Dean in the film Rebel Without a Cause (at age 15), and his murder in Hollywood at the age of 37.

Nevertheless, the Bronx-born actor of Italian heritage appeared in 22 films, directed stage plays and operas and made many television appearances. While still a youth he was mentored by Yul Brynner in the stage musical The King and I,  Mineo had taken over the role of the young Prince Chulalongkorn three months into the show's initial run.

Sal Mineo was so convincing as Plato in Rebel Without a Cause* that he was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor, leading to his being forever typecast as a troubled youth. It was difficult for him to sustain an acting career when he became too old for such parts. A welcome exception came with the role of a Jewish emigrant in Otto Preminger’s film Exodus (1960), for which he won a Golden Globe Award and received a second Academy Award Nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Another escape from typecasting was his star turn as drummer Gene Krupa in The Gene Krupa Story (1959).

*Rebel Without a Cause also starred Natalie Wood. All three of the leads – James Dean, Sal Mineo (photo still from the film at left) and Natalie Wood – met with tragic, untimely deaths.

His mother, a quintessential stage mother, acted as his manager and spent his fortune faster than he could make it, leading to a series of financial crises, especially as his career tapered off.

In 1976 Mineo was stabbed to death in an alley next to his apartment building in West Hollywood by an unknown assailant. A year later actress Christa Helm was killed in the same neighborhood and in a similar fashion, and a pizza deliveryman by the name of Lionel Ray Williams was charged and convicted of that crime. Police had overheard him admitting to the murder of Sal Mineo, stating that at the time of the stabbing he did not know that his victim was Sal Mineo.

In “Sal Mineo: A Biography” (2010) by author Michael Gregg Michaud*, several rumors and speculations about Mineo’s private life are cleared up. British actress Jill Haworth, to whom Mineo was once engaged to be married, was not just a “beard” to mask a homosexual orientation. Although Sal Mineo idolized his bisexual film star James Dean, the two did not engage in sexual relations. The same with actor Don Johnson, who co-starred with Mineo in a stage production of Fortune and Men’s Eyes (1969), a play with a homosexual theme; Johnson and Mineo had once been roommates. At the time Mineo was murdered, he had been in a six-year relationship with male actor Courtney Burr III.

*From a book review by Gerry Burnie:
This exhaustive biography is not only a tribute to Sal Mineo, a talented and misunderstood individual who lived life to the fullest – no matter what he did – it is also a tribute to the author’s unrelenting dedication. For example, the writing of “Sal Mineo: A Biography” took Michaud ten years and three years of research to complete. Moreover, numerous interviews were conducted, most particularly with Jill Haworth and Courtney Burr (both were Sal Mineo’s lovers), to give it a personal insight beyond the written record...Full of details and previously undisclosed anecdotes, the biography captures a career of ups and downs and a private life of sexual impulses.

It is a little-known fact that Sal Mineo was the model for The New Adam, a colossal 8-foot-tall by 39-foot-long male nude painting (1962), precisely and sensually rendered in full frontal anatomical detail over nine linen panels by artist Harold Stevenson (b. 1929). Since 2005 the painting has been  part of the permanent collection of the New York City Guggenheim Museum (image below).

Thursday, November 19, 2015

John Cheever

Pulitzer Prize winning American novelist and short story author John Cheever (1912-1982) suffered from many demons, chiefly a debilitating alcoholism. Two years after his death his daughter Susan wrote a memoir, Home Before Dark, in which she mentioned her father’s guilt-inducing bisexuality, revealing that at the end of his life, when he had dried out, he found love with “Rip,” a former student whose real name is Max Zimmer. Rip moved in with Cheever and his wife Mary, driving the esteemed author to medical treatments and chopping wood for the fireplace. Max even served as a pall bearer at Cheever’s funeral and sat with the family during the service. While Rip was living in Cheever’s household, however, Cheever was so determined to give the appearance of a 100% heterosexual male that he took Rip out to the woods in order to have sex. Before Mary’s death she nevertheless said that she knew what was going on all along.

Susan’s brother Benjamin later edited a volume of Cheever’s letters, writing in his introduction how difficult it had been learning the extent of his father’s homosexual activity, even though Cheever had come out to Benjamin two weeks before his death. With the 2009 publication of Cheever: A Life by Blake Bailey, Susan Cheever said that she was astonished to learn how much gay activity there had been in her father’s life. Among his dalliances were relations with photographer Walker Evans, writer Calvin Kentfield, Tom Smallwood, Allan Gurganus and various male prostitutes – all of it leading to a toxic form of self hatred, for which Cheever was nearly unmatched.

After Cheever’s death from cancer, his widow Mary continued to live in their Westchester County, NY, home for more than thirty years. After Mary’s death last year at the age of 95, the five acre property once occupied by the “Chekhov of the suburbs” was put up for sale. The resulting media blitz in newspapers and magazines brought Cheever's name back from the dust bin, warts and all, including  knowledge of Cheever’s bisexuality and near death from alcoholism. If any good came from this, the publicity introduced his writing to a younger generation which had not read any of his novels or short stories.

Cheever wrote five novels and many dozens of short stories (many first published in the New Yorker), for which he won Pulitzer prizes, National Book Critics Circle awards, and the National Medal for Literature. As well, his work has been included in the Library of America.