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, March 22, 2020

Sultan Qaboos bin Said of Oman

Photo credit: U.S. Department of State

When Sultan Qaboos bin Said of Oman died on January 10, 2020, at age 79 without an heir, a letter was opened that revealed his hand-picked successor. The transition of power to his cousin, Haitham bin Tariq, who has two sons and two daughters, was peaceful -- and so far, that peace has held. 

Sultan Qaboos lived as a homosexual, with elegant, somewhat effete young men (displaying Rolex watches and other luxury items) populating his palaces. He was also known to have a male English lover. Qaboos had been educated in England and even served in the British Army. Although everyone in the Middle East knew of his homosexual proclivities, the Sultan never came out.

With support from the British he seized power from his father in a 1970 coup to become an absolute monarch who ruled by royal decree. The press was muzzled, and all media was censored before publication or broadcast, so nothing of the sultan’s homosexual activity was ever revealed to the public. In Oman, homosexual acts were punishable by up to three years of imprisonment, and Qaboos did nothing to create a more progressive environment for gays. Even so, there is a dynamic underground gay scene in Oman, but the police turn a blind eye to it. So to this day, Turkey is the only predominantly Muslim country in the Middle East where homosexuality is not outlawed (no longer true - several alert readers have pointed this out -- see comment section). 

Yet Sultan Qaboos enjoyed a reputation as an “enlightened” despot. Quite naturally he received good press in England and at home, where even the “live” news broadcasts were pre-recorded for purposes of censorship. Not a single unflattering comment or photo was allowed to be made public.

The sultan presented an image of a Renaissance Man – he played the flute, built an opera house (above) and maintained a full symphony orchestra that included female musicians (although they wore hijabs); all 120 members are Omani nationals.

He was partial to the pipe organ and had a large German-built instrument installed in the opera house in 2011. One of the stops is labeled “Flûte Qaboos” in honor of his flute playing ability. 


Over the course of a 50-year reign, he ended Oman’s international isolation, raised standards of living, increased business development, abolished slavery, granted freedom of religion and quelled a rebellion. He paved roads, built an airport, schools and hospitals, established a telecommunications network and spread electrification throughout the country. These achievements are remarkable. For a brief three years (1976-79) Sultan Qaboos was married to his first cousin, who later remarried. Their union produced no heirs.

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of his rule, the sultan built this grand mosque, one of the largest in the Middle East.

Now that Sultan Qaboos is dead, there remains only one other Middle Eastern royal known to engage in homosexual activity, the bisexual Crown Prince Hamdan bin Mohammed al Maktum of neighboring Dubai. But that deserves a separate blog post. Stay tuned.

San Cassimally
Royal Foibles (blog)

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

George Platt Lynes

George Platt Lynes - self portrait 1940s

c. 1952

The American fashion and commercial photographer George Platt Lynes (1907-1955) discreetly produced a large body of homoerotic images that he kept for himself or distributed to a carefully selected circle of friends. For many years after his death, it was thought that he had destroyed all his prints and negatives of male nudes, but it turns out that most of them had found their way into the archives of the Kinsey Institute (Indiana), which now possesses the largest collection of male nudes by Lynes to be found anywhere. 

During the 1930s, Lynes was commissioned as a fashion photographer for magazines such as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. After relocating from NYC to Los Angeles, he became Hollywood’s acclaimed celebrity portraitist. During this time he was also pursuing a personal body of black and white photographs of male nudes and homoerotic images that he kept private, fearing they would harm his reputation and business in a homophobic society. While his earlier nudes depicted idealized youthful bodies, such as a young Yul Brynner, he moved towards a rougher and more sexualized aesthetic in his later work. As a pioneer in masculine erotic photography, George Platt Lynes also helped forge Dr. Alfred Kinsey’s research on homosexuality.

Bill Miller (1953) by George Platt Lynes

Lynes was born in 1907 in East Orange, New Jersey, but a life-changing event came with his relocation to Paris in 1925, a move meant to prepare him for college. While in Paris he forged friendships among the artistic elite and was never seen without his camera. Once again stateside, he opened a photographic studio in NYC and began a private series of photographs that interpreted characters and stories from Greek mythology, but it was portraiture that brought financial stability. Today he is best known for his portraits of artists such as W.H. Auden, Jean Cocteau, Colette, Aldous Huxley, Igor Stravinsky and Thomas Mann. After he moved to Hollywood in 1946, he photographed Katharine Hepburn, Rosalind Russell, Gloria Swanson, and Orson Welles. In 1948 he moved back to NYC, where he remained until his early death from lung cancer in 1955.

Gordon Hansen (1954)

Robert McVoy by George Platt Lynes 

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Dr. Richard Isay

Psychiatrist Richard Isay Fought
Mental Illness Label for Gays

Dr. Richard A. Isay (1934-2012) was a psychiatrist and gay-rights advocate who badgered the professional psychiatric community to declassify homosexuality as an illness. Dr. Isay (pronounced EYE-say) was a married father of two sons who did not accept that he was gay until he was forty years old. At the time of his death from cancer, he was married to Gordon Harrell, an artist twenty years his junior.

Isay, who was a professor at Weill Cornell Medical College and faculty member at Columbia University, also authored several books, among them “Commitment and Healing: Gay Men and the Need for Romantic Love” (2006), “Becoming Gay” (1997), and “Being Homosexual” (1989).

Along his path to changing the way the psychoanalytic profession viewed homosexuality, Isay was attacked by his peers. Troubled by his own sexuality, Isay underwent ten years of therapy, after which he accepted that he was homosexual. Although he remained closeted for a time, he assisted gay patients in accepting their sexual orientation, instead of promoting a “cure” by way of therapy. He published articles promoting homosexuality as normal, not an illness or defect of development.

When Isay acknowledged his homosexuality at professional gatherings, he was attacked by his colleagues, who stopped referring patients and suggested the he needed more therapy himself. Nevertheless, over the course of fifteen years Dr. Isay championed the premise that the medical field based its views on ideology, not evidence.

Even though the American Psychiatric Association stopped classifying homosexuality as a disease in 1973, many members of the American Psychoanalytic Association (the oldest professional group for analysts in the United States and one of the most influential) continued to regard it as an illness. In 1992 Isay threatened to sue that association, ultimately forcing them not to discriminate in training, hiring or promoting gay psychoanalysts. Isay’s stubbornness paid off. By 1997, in a major turnaround, the American Psychoanalytic Association became the first national mental health organization to support gay marriage.

During the course of his illustrious career Isay also served as vice president of the National Lesbian and Gay Health Association and as a member of the board of the Hetrick-Martin Institute for LGBT youth in Manhattan.

Steven Sampson, a patient who became a friend, wrote after Isay’s death, “I think Richard was sort of a ‘bridge’ person, providing a bridge between different worlds that don’t always communicate. He was married with children, yet he was gay and had a long-term committed relationship with a man, in an environment in which long-term relationships were rare.”

From Andy Humm for Gay City News: Tobias Picker, the composer and a patient of Isay’s, wrote in an e-mail, “Richard said that fear of death came from feeling unloved. He knew he was completely loved by his husband, Gordon, and his family, and it was easy to see that he felt that love utterly and completely. He knew he was much beloved by his patients too. Not long ago, he told me...that he had no fear of death –– that he never gave it a thought.” Picker added, “For those who didn’t know him, his writings leave behind a lasting legacy of love.” Both his sons said that Isay’s favorite literary figure was Ferdinand the Bull from the Munro Leaf children’s book, the gentle beast who preferred flowers to bullfights. Richard Isay, famous for the fights he took on and won, was himself a "gentle beast".

In addition to his sons and husband, at the time of his death Isay was survived by his former wife,  a brother, and four grandchildren, one of whom served as best man when Isay and Gordon Harrell were married in the living room of Isay’s son Josh. Dr. Isay is buried in Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery (below), along with other gay luminaries Leonard Bernstein, Fred Ebb (of Kander and Ebb) and Louis Moreau Gottschalk (see individual blog posts in sidebar).

New York Times (Denise Grady)
Gay City News (Andy Humm)
Headline photograph: Ozier Muhammad (NYT)

Monday, March 9, 2020

Charles I of Württemberg

(in German: Karl I von Württemberg)

This is a long one, so grab some popcorn and settle in:

If you think of Stuttgart at all, it is most likely as the home of automobile manufacturers Porsche and Mercedes-Benz. However, Stuttgart is also the capital of Baden-Württemberg, a south German state bordering Bavaria to the east and Switzerland to the south. About 125 years ago a gay royal scandal nearly shook Württemberg off its foundations.

Karl Friedrich Alexander was the third King of Württemberg, from 1864 until his death in 1891. He was king at the time of the unification of Germany in 1871 and skillfully led his people in the decision to become part of the new German Empire. Born in Stuttgart in1823, at the age of twenty-three he married the Russian Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaievna, daughter of Tsar Nicholas I, and at the age of 41 Karl acceded to the throne upon his father's death. The couple had no children, because of Karl's homosexuality, so Olga and Karl adopted Olga's niece Vera Konstantinova.

Had an American pianist studying music at the Stuttgart Conservatory of Music not injured his arm, there might have been no scandal at all. Richard Mason Jackson (a pianist known by his middle name as “Mase”), along with Charles Woodcock and Donald Hendry became the objects of obsession by gay King Karl. The king was so smitten that he gave the Americans titles, positions and lavish gifts far beyond their station. They eventually held such sway over the king (and his purse) that the new German Chancellor Otto von Bismark had to intervene in order to sever their sordid influence over Karl. It was a royal soap opera the likes of which had not been seen in those parts, and the royal family was not able to cover it up. All the sordid details appeared in newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic.

In October 1888, the New York Herald republished a story from its European edition describing three American males who were said to be lavishly disposing of the monarch's money. The article said that an American named “Mase” Jackson was one of the three gentlemen playing “Piers Gaveston” parts in Germany." Gaveston was the male lover of England's King Edward II Taken literally, Americans "playing Piers Gaveston parts" with King Karl meant that they were performing the insertive role in anal intercourse. Although the newspaper chose a euphemism to describe such acts, the reading public at the time would have understood the meaning.

The same article focused on gossip circulating in Germany about King Karl and seances presided over by the “upstart” Baron von Jackson, of Steubenville, Ohio. The rise of Mase from poor, humble origins in Ohio to the aristocratic "Baron von Jackson" in Germany was juicy gossip in its day. Jackson's father, a cousin of General Stonewall Jackson, had died at the very moment of his son's birth in 1846. Raised by his widowed mother on a farm in Ohio, Jackson had moved with her to nearby Steubenville, and there studied the piano, developing an ardent desire to become a musician. At sixteen, unable to finish his courses at Mount Union College, Jackson returned to Steubenville, and taught music at Beatty's Seminary (a school for female teachers). He tuned pianos, became organist in the Methodist Episcopal Church and traveled often to Pittsburgh to enjoy the opera. Jackson formed a friendship with another Steubenville youth, a popular tenor, Will H. MacDonald, and, subsidized by relatives, traveled with MacDonald to Germany, to study at the Stuttgart Conservatory of Music. When Jackson injured his arm and was forced to give up the piano, he took a job in 1876 as assistant to the American Consul in Stuttgart, a position he held for five years. The handsome, young American walked daily through the Stuttgart parks and soon attracted the notice of the King, who was 23 years his senior. The newspaper reported that this “grew into a friendship of the most intimate character.”

In 1881 the homosexual monarch asked Jackson to join his household as a "confidential friend and companion." Jackson accepted, renounced his United States citizenship, and was made a Baron. He  added "von" to his last name and become a favorite of the King of Württemberg. A large apartment in the palace was assigned to “Baron von Jackson”, and a private entrance was constructed, connecting directly to the royal apartments. A handsome income and lavish gifts were bestowed upon him. The King had also added the American to his will, so that should his benefactor die, Jackson would still be immensely rich. All of these salacious details appeared in the newspapers.

But Jackson was not yet through exploiting his royal connection. Because of his intimacy with King Karl, honors were showered upon Jackson by the kings of Holland and Saxony, the Emperor of Austria, the Czar of Russia, and even the Pope, with whom he had an audience. After Jackson saved the lives of three men whose boat had overturned, King Karl made him a "Privy Councilor," and Jackson was called “Excellency,” an honor seldom attained by anyone other than royalty, and even then, usually late in life.


The coat of arms of the Württembergs: Fearless and Faithful.

The American's appointment to court caused a political furor. Next the New York Sun picked up the story and offered even more sordid detail to the controversy. They reported a love triangle, with Jackson seeking intimacies and favors from both the king and the Grand Duchess Vera. The king retaliated by making Jackson promise not to marry “during the king’s lifetime.”

Jackson was described by an American lady living in Stuttgart as the life of the American colony and "the funniest man I ever knew," with a quaint, droll way of talking. She added: "Men and women – and particularly children – liked him."

Jackson had been appointed "Reader to the King," a euphemism for the King's companion, one whom he could meet in ordinary fashion, without formalities. The king bestowed on Jackson rare works of art and gifts of diamonds, and the American was known as the man who had the most influence over the King.

The New York Star cited a response to the controversy by interviewing a nephew of Jackson, a Dr. Morrison of Steubenville: “It has been sneeringly said that the King of Württemberg fell in love with Jackson. Well, I don't see very well how he could help doing that. Mace was of the kindliest disposition that you could imagine, gentle almost as a girl, but so manly in bearing as to claim the admiration of all who came in contact with him. His weakness used to be his love for flowers.”

Well, that explains it!

Dr. Morrison noted that Jackson had saved the king from snowballs thrown by some intoxicated students and that the monarch had then become "perfectly infatuated with Mase." When the King heard Jackson play the piano "his infatuation became complete." The King had then insisted that Jackson consent to assist him in managing the realm. Neither the King's infatuation, nor the Ohio pianist's call to manage a kingdom was considered odd by his trusting relative. Dr. Morrison boasted that Jackson had written home, telling his relatives that the king called Jackson “My dear bosom friend, Jack.” Then things got really interesting when Dr. Morrison mentioned that Jackson blamed another American, Charles Woodcock, for kicking up a scandal. Dr. Morrison was told that Woodcock was jealous of the king’s attention to Jackson. But that wasn't the half.

Scroll down for part 2:

Among many internet souces, this one is major:
a 4-part series on all the subjects involved in this matter:
Author is Jonathan Ned Katz

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Charles I of Württemberg: Part II

I continue one of the most astoundingly lurid tales of European royalty.

It appears that King Karl (shown at left) had developed a taste for handsome young American men, and Jackson alone did not satisfy this hunger. Eight years after the Jackson scandal, the king fell under the spell of two more strapping lads from the U.S. In 1888 the Chicago Tribune newspaper told the story of NYC native Charles Woodcock, a tale of worldly ascent from humble butcher's son to a king's favorite. Returning from a first trip to Germany in 1873, Charles had joined the Church of the Disciples, presided over by the Reverend Dr. George Hepworth (make a mental note of that name). Woodcock graduated from seminary in Maine and was ordained as pastor of the Congregational Church in St. John, New Brunswick, Canada. Pastor Woodcock resided at the Victoria Hotel and soon became a prominent society man, spending his evenings in “entertainments.” It was whispered among some of the older boys of the town that Woodcock’s chambers in the hotel were often the scene of sordid stag parties. Woodcock was overextended financially, and troubles soon arose over reports of loose living and profligate behavior.

Woodcock spent his mornings at St. John's leading bookstore, and it was there that he met Donald Hendry, a low-born Canadian who became his constant companion. Hendry was known to be where “the fun was best.” Popular,  good-looking, affable and agreeable, Hendry was converted by Woodcock from his Baptist background to the Congregational faith. Invited by the Reverend Hepworth (there’s that name again) to make a Continental tour, both Woodcock and Hendry set off for Europe, ending up in Stuttgart. Like Jackson several years earlier, they, too, met the King of Württemberg and developed a profitable intimacy with him. In a repeat of Jackson’s performance, in short order the men found themselves at the highest levels of the court in an all-expenses paid romp with a king. Charles Woodcock, who inexplicably added “Savage” to his name (his mother's maiden name), became the constant companion of Karl. They were inseparable, going so far as to appear together in public dressed identically.

It was all too sordid and familiar. Finally, the naming of Charles Woodcock to Royal Councilor and his elevation to "Baron von Woodcock-Savage" in 1888 brought the resentment of Württemberg's courtiers to a frenzy. The title of Royal Councilor took precedence over that of Colonel, and an American thus passed at one step over the heads of the court officers who had been in the king’s service for twenty years.

Defending his friend, Hendry described Woodcock's relationship with the King as “hard work”: the American had to be always interesting and entertaining; he had to use all his extra time in reading and finding out what was going on in the world. Hendry said that Woodcock was doing the work of three men.

I’m sure we all agree. “Reading and socializing” is back-breaking work. Here's a photo of Woodcock hard at work in Venice, "reading" to the Grand Duchess Olga (left) and two of her ladies in waiting. Woodcock traveled as part of the household, wherever the royal family went.

The citizens of Württemberg thought differently. The courtier class of nobles saw themselves robbed of their traditional, profitable intimacy with the monarch and cheated of lucrative court positions. They observed that the King was completely in the hands of his American friends, with whom he spent hours daily, paying no attention to politics. Woodcock, especially, while holding no official position, had been elevated to leader of the court, and he was thus the most powerful man in Württemberg. The king provided palatial lodgings for the men and took them with him on exotic travels. When the king wintered in Nice, the king set them up in a luxury hotel next door. They were given titles, valuable gifts, royal favor and salaries. The king even gave Woodcock cash to pay off his debts left behind in Canada. Astonishingly, Woodcock ate daily at the king’s table, causing an outrage among the nobles.

From a reporter’s first hand account at the time: “This afternoon I saw Mr. Woodcock and the King start their daily drive.  I put Mr. Woodcock first, because it was upon him that the King had to wait, and an outsider would naturally take him for the monarch and the monarch for his domestic.  They drove off behind a fine pair of horses in grand style, cheek by jowl, for their daily conference on “spiritual matters.”

Eventually Chancellor Otto von Bismark himself had to intervene, and the Americans were eventually sent packing. Bismark had hired detectives to expose the ruse of the men. Woodcock claimed to have earned a Doctoral Degree from the University of Heidelberg, and he insisted that he be called “Doctor,” but no records could be found that he ever attended the university. Basically, Woodcock and Hendry were exposed as calculating, conniving, self-interested con-artists who had initially insinuated themselves into the king’s favor by posing as “spiritual advisors.” The detectives also exposed a sexual relationship between the American men and the king.

The resulting outcry forced Karl to renounce his favorite. The king was told that if the two Americans were not deported, his entire ministry would resign. The King released a statement on November 18, 1888: "At the command of my people I have sacrificed the noblest friend a monarch ever had." Woodcock returned to America, and King Karl found “private consolation” some years later with a German (at last), a Mr. Wilhelm George, the technical director of the royal theater.

Three years after the American lads were sent packing, Karl died childless at Stuttgart on October 6, 1891, and was succeeded as King of Württemberg by his cousin, his sister's son, William II of Württemberg. Karl rests, together with his wife Olga, in the Old Castle in Stuttgart.

When “Freiherr von Savage, Baron Woodcock,” the favorite of the King of Württemberg, returned to New York City, he moved in with his parents, ostensibly to “mourn his sweetheart,” a certain Miss Belle Carter, who had conveniently died a few months earlier. Claiming a female lover was his way of deflecting further innuendos about his intimacy with King Karl.

Bismarck's investigators had also reported that Dr. George Hepworth (you remembered, right?) had taken an interest in Woodcock's “education” many years ago and had given him the means to afford his studies; the detectives found evidence that Hepworth seemed to have a “special inclination to young men.” Those detectives even dug up dirt about the king himself. They discovered that the king’s sexual and unnatural sickness was shared with the king’s grandfather, King Friedrich I (1797-1816), also known to have had a strong sexual interest in men.

Perhaps you should stop to pour a cup of tea, in order to digest all this in a calm and reasonable manner, thus steadying your nerves.

Charles Woodcock-Savage later established a household with Donald Hendry in NYC, and they vacationed together in nearby Long Beach, New Jersey. During the summer of 1891 Charles and Donald hosted the Reverend George Hepworth (no!) and his wife at their cottage in Long Beach.

So there you have it.

But Woodcock never lost his need for luxury. In 1894, with Donald Hendry as best man (!), Charles married Henrietta Knebel Staples, a very wealthy widow with four children who owned a house on Central Park West and 84th Street, NYC. In 1900 they bought and substantially reconstructed one of the Princeton’s finest nineteenth century houses. All four of Henrietta's children changed their last name to Savage, and one of the sons even changed his first name to Charles. Creepy.

Stranger still: In 1906 Charles Woodcock-Savage published A Lady in Waiting: Being extracts from the diary of Julie de Chesnil, sometime lady-in-waiting to her Majesty, Queen Marie Antoinette (New York: D. Appleton and Company). He dedicated it "To a Noble Soul I Knew and Loved and Mourn." The King had died in 1891, so three guesses as to the identity of the dedicatee. The introduction gives an account of a diary found locked in a drawer of a cabinet sold at auction and bought by the translator's friend, who gives permission to publish the writings. The memoirs offered up are in fact a  pseudo-autobiography, with names and gender changed to protect the guilty.

As for Donald Hendry, he inexplicably subtracted three years from his actual age and studied to become a librarian. By 1910 he was employed on the staff of the Pratt Institute Free Library, in Brooklyn, New York, and for twenty-four years headed its Applied Science Reference Department. Hendry retired in 1934, as a bachelor at the age of eighty. When Hendry died a year later, his New York Times obituary said that he had spent "eleven years in Europe as a private secretary," a way of publicly naming his years with Woodcock, who had died in 1923. Today, Hendry's gravestone in Trinity Cemetery (Riverside Dr. at W. 153rd St.), lies between those of Charles Woodcock-Savage and his wife. I’m not making this up.

Oh wait. I’m sure you’re wondering whatever became of Jackson. Well, he survived the exile of Woodcock and Hendry, somehow untouched by scandal. Even after the death of King Karl, in 1891, Jackson maintained his position in Stuttgart society. However, a house servant, Karl Mann, who had worked for Jackson in the 1880s, extorted 1,075 marks from his former employer, threatening to denounce Jackson to the police for engaging him in illicit sexual acts. Jackson, taking a most unusual and courageous step, lodged a blackmail complaint against Mann in 1893, and Mann was found guilty.

This legal case provided ammunition for the newspapers of the German Social Democratic party to attack the immoral behavior of the upper classes. Recalling the King's "generous gifts to Jackson," one item remarked sarcastically that the American "must have been of quite extraordinary service to the person of the deceased king," thereby suggesting sexual relations. Jackson, the paper reported, had for long years practiced an abominable vice, the crime against nature.

The public scandal surrounding Karl Mann’s trial was too much for Jackson, who left Stuttgart for the United States. Returning to Steubenville, Ohio (named for the gay Prussian Baron von Steuben, as you will recall), he ended his days with his sister elsewhere in the state, thus resuming the role of a plain citizen. A life with an unassuming beginning and end, perhaps, but with a prickly spark in the middle.

Among many internet souces, this one is major:
a 4-part series on all the subjects involved in this matter:
Author is Jonathan Ned Katz 

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Charles Griffes

We know that the young musician from Elmira, NY, had a thing for men in uniform, because he wrote about it in his meticulously kept diaries. Subsequent studies abroad opened his mind to the emerging European homophile movement of Edward Carpenter, Magnus Hirschfeld, Oscar Wilde and André Gide, and he began to feel more comfortable with his sexual orientation. Nevertheless, once he returned to the United States in 1907 to take a job as a teacher at the Hackley School for Boys* in Tarrytown, NY, he became more circumspect and lived out the remainder of his short life as a closeted man. His departure from Europe was necessitated by the death of his father, leaving the young Griffes to support his widowed mother and other family members.

A brilliant concert pianist and composer, Charles Griffes (1884-1920, pronounced GRIFF-ess), was one of the first American composers to adapt avant-guard influences that were championed by Debussy and other Europeans. Called an "American Impressionist" by critics who didn't know how else to categorize him, he wrote highly listenable and sophisticated classical music that received praise from critics and composers, most notably Stokowski, Busoni, Pierre Monteux  and Prokofiev. His symphonic works received performances by the prestigious New York Philharmonic and Boston Symphony orchestras.

His home-town music teacher financially supported his flight from Elmira to study piano and composition in Berlin, Germany, while Griffes was still in his late teens. During his time in Europe he had affairs with several men, most notably Emil Joel, an older fellow student. Over a period of four years Joel guided Griffes’ artistic development, procured concert tickets and introduced him to such prominent musical figures as Richard Strauss, Enrico Caruso, Ferrucio Busoni, and Engelbert Humperdinck, with whom Griffes studied music. Joel even supported Griffes financially, enabling him to extend his time in Europe by a year.

As comfortable as he became among his peers in gay circles, Griffes never divulged his orientation to straight friends or associates. There was too much at stake for a man who had to support himself, especially when the job he held until his untimely death was at a boys’ school. Griffes was in a precarious position when he became infatuated with one of his male students, because no man of his time and position could have been openly gay without public disgrace. Nevertheless, he was constantly frustrated that gay men could not meet openly in public.

*The Hackley School (shown at right) is a private, exclusive all-male prep school in Tarrytown, NY. Internationally renowned gay architect Philip Johnson was a 1923 graduate just three years after Griffes's death. Most of the students go on to attend Harvard University.

However, Griffes was able to sneak away from Tarrytown to sample the gay life of NYC. He was known to patronize the Lafayette Place and Produce Exchange bath houses, for reasons that were obvious. He even entered into an intimate relationship with Officer John Meyer, a married New York policeman (remember that fetish for men in uniform).

Griffes composed song cycles, piano pieces, orchestral works and chamber music, much of the latter written as incidental music for stage plays. It is astonishing that he was able to do this while holding down a full-time job on the faculty of the Hackley School*. He composed, performed, arranged, revised and orchestrated everything, acted as his own agent and overcame difficulties with his publisher (G. Schirmer), all without outside assistance. Unable to afford editors or copyists, he had to correct proofs and prepare copies of his own large orchestral scores against the mounting deadlines that came with his enhanced reputation.

His most enduring compositions are "The Pleasure Dome of Kubla Khan" (1917), "The White Peacock" (1915), "Poem for Flute and Orchestra" (1918), and "Two Sketches Based on Indian Themes" (1916-1920). He also wrote a bold, passionate and difficult "Sonata for Piano" (1918).

Note: adjust your speakers, because this performance of The Pleasure Dome of Kubla Khan starts very softly and slowly:

Tragically, at the height of his fame, Griffes contracted influenza in 1919. Shortly after a Carnegie Hall performance of his music, he collapsed at the Hackley School for Boys in early December and was subsequently hospitalized. He died on April 20, 1920, only 35 years old, and his funeral was held in New York City. Musicologist B. Collins relates a poignant tale about the funeral service, held at the Church of the Messiah at Park Avenue and 34th Street. Unexpectedly, the strains of a Bach chorale wafted from across the street, where a music festival was being held in the 71st Regiment armory.  Standing on the parapets of the armory building, a choir of trombonists played a sort of “accidental” requiem. Both the sight and sound of the performance would have pleased Griffes, as all of the trombonists were in uniform. The building that replaced that church is a structure that now hosts rehearsals of the New York City Gay Men's Chorus.

Griffes had kept a diary in German in which he reported on his various forays to bathhouses and other favorite gay-friendly haunts. Unfortunately, several of the diaries were destroyed by his sister after his death to prevent widespread knowledge of Griffes's gay recreational New York City life, his attraction to men in uniform, and his long-term relationship with a married policeman. At the time of his death he was working on a festival drama based on the poetry of Walt Whitman.

Sources: Most of the information in this post comes from biographical studies by Howard Pollack, B. Collins and Thomas Riis.