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.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Gary Cooper

Bisexual American Screen Idol

For three years during the late 1920s über-rich Howard Hughes maintained a sexual relationship with a young, unknown but upcoming actor named Gary Cooper, buying him cars, watches, clothes and other lavish gifts along the way. At the time, Cooper, while playing only bit parts in silent films, was being supported financially by handsome silent film actor Rod La Rocque, who refused to buy him a car. Hughes to the rescue! 

La Rocque later entered into a marriage of convenience with Hungarian actress Vilma Banky, who had strong lesbian tendencies, and during their marriage both La Rocque and Banky continued to dally in same-sex relations. Freshly arrived from Helena, Montana, Cooper was tall (6’3”), devastatingly handsome and possessed of a legendary endowment, using his physical assets to acquire material goods from older, much wealthier men and women. Hughes was also bisexual, also well-endowed, and possessed of an obsession for bedding the most beautiful and glamorous people, regardless of their sex. For Cooper (b. 1901), his arrangement with Hughes was unusual in that Hughes (b. 1904) was actually a few years younger than he.

At the tender age of 26, Cooper’s two-minute appearance as Cadet White (above) in the silent film masterpiece Wings (1927) became his breakthrough role, leading to his career-making star turn in the talking film The Virginian (1929).

Hughes’s attention span was notoriously short, however, and his infatuation with Cooper cooled as he next set his sights on the dashing William Boyd, later known to millions as Hopalong Cassidy. Boyd’s costar Louis Wolheim once mentioned that the dazzlingly handsome Boyd, although basically heterosexual, wasn’t averse to letting a man service him if he felt it would advance his career. On this point Boyd and Cooper had a lot in common. Both Boyd and Cooper would attend the all-nude male beach parties on Catalina Island hosted by bisexual actor Richard Arlen, and a member of the Hollywood paparazzi once snapped a picture of the naked Hughes and Boyd sharing an intimate kiss in a secluded cove on the island. Hughes had to pay $10,000 to secure the negatives, thus preventing their publication. The man had enough money to make trouble disappear. Serious money. He received $10,000 PER DAY from a trust fund.

Photographed in 1932 by Cecil Beaton

Cooper had entered Hollywood as a hungry film extra in 1925. Later, on the cusp of stardom in 1929, Cooper met the Paramount contract actor Andy Lawler, a popular and flamboyant homosexual who became his closest friend. They even lived together until mid-1930. Lawler, born in Alabama, coached  Cooper's southern accent for the film, The Virginian. He also introduced Cooper to a wider, more sophisticated social circle that incuded openly gay actor Billy Haines and gay director George Cukor, whom Lawler had trailed out to Hollywood.

After Cooper became an American film icon, however, references to his relationships with Hughes and Lawler were whitewashed from his back story, a common practice by actors and actresses during the era dominated by the moral strictures of the 1930s Hays Code. Joan Crawford is a prime example. No more photos of Cooper and Lawler “out on the town” appeared in the press, and Cooper stopped attending Cukor’s notoriously gay social gatherings.

City Streets 1931

Most all of Cooper’s biographers mention the relationship between Lawler and Cooper, but few describe the relationship as sexual. At the most they report that aspect as “rumor”. However, E. J. Fleming, in his book The Fixers, accurately labeled Cooper “bisexual”. But the most reliable witness was William Kizer, Lawler’s cousin, who insisted that Gary Cooper was enmeshed in a serious relationship with Andy Lawler. They took cozy weekend trips and even moved in together in 1929/30, while Cooper was also dating the volatile Mexican actress Lupe Velez. “Volatile” is understatement; she once stabbed him and later fired a shot at Cooper as he was boarding a train in LA in 1931. Velez tolerated Cooper’s dalliances with men, so long as she could participate as well (!). Cooper confessed to Hughes that he had slept with both La Rocque and Velez.

Paramount Lot 1933

According to Hollywood chronicler William J. Mann, Gary Cooper suffered a devastating breakdown after the studio-engineered split from Lawler. Nevertheless, after an initial distancing, Cooper and Lawler reunited as lifelong friends. Their special relationship is referenced in both Jeffrey Meyer's biography Gary Cooper: American Hero and Larry Sidwell's The Last Hero: A Biography of Gary Cooper. 

Cooper's subsequent career as a major film star is well documented, so your blogger refers younger readers to his Wikipedia page, for starters.

Sources (other than those mentioned above):
Patrick McGilligan -- George Cukor: A Double Life (2013)
Darwin Porter – Howard Hughes: Hell’s Angel (2005)

The following glamor shots, mostly from the 1930s, further reveal Cooper's legendary good looks, a far cry from his later somewhat weathered "lonesome cowboy" persona.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Dominick Dunne

No one could drop names like the bisexual celebrity chronicler Dominick Dunne (1925-2009). For a quarter of a century he contributed regular columns to Vanity Fair magazine, starting the year after VF relaunched in 1983. Dunne began his career at the magazine with a gut-wrenching dispatch from the trial of his daughter’s killer. As VF’s resident diarist, he hobnobbed with legends of Hollywood and high society and chronicled the great scandals of the times. He contributed articles about Claus von Bülow, Imelda Marcos, the Lyle and Erik Menendez murder trial, Adnan Khashoggi, William Kennedy Smith’s rape trial, the death of multi-billionaire banker Edmond Safra, Brooke Astor’s neglect by her son, Phil Spector’s murder trial, the Princess Diana inquest, the O.J. Simpson trial, and even Monica Lewinsky. 

Dunne came to own this sort of gossipy reporting, and no one of his caliber has emerged to take his place. He reported on the underbelly of the world of the rich and famous for an audience of the world's literary and social elite. His monthly column provided an insider’s glimpse into high society, captivating VF’s readers. Justice, a collection of articles that had appeared in Vanity Fair, was published in 2001.
Shortly after Dunne died at age 83, his son Griffin outed him publicly as a "bisexual" during an interview on Good Morning America, as he was promoting his father’s last book (Too Much Money). In the semi-autobiographical book Dunne wrote,  “I’m nervous about the kids, even though they are middle-aged men now, not that they don’t already know. I just don’t talk about it. It’s been a life-long problem.” In Frank Langella’s tell-all book, Dropped Names – Famous Men and Women As I Knew Them, Langella devotes a chapter to Dunne, who commiserates with the author about the agonies of being a closeted gay man.

Griffin said it was just like his dad to “finally come out and then leave. It was hardly a big deal either way.” His son said that when Dunne was getting stem cell treatments in Germany to fight his fatal cancer, a man named Norman was “looking after him,” and that they obviously had a “long loving relationship.”

Dominick with wife Ellen and their three surviving children (two others had died in infancy): Griffin, Dominique, and Alexander (photo from the early 1960s).

Dunne was married for 11 years and was the father of five children, only three of whom lived to adulthood. Born into a wealthy family in Hartford, Connecticut, at age 19 Dunne was awarded the Bronze Star for his service in World War II, for saving the life of a wounded comrade. His family, however, was outside full acceptance by the New England old money society. A Catholic family surrounded by wealthy Protestants, the Dunnes were also considered nouveau riche – two major strikes against them. Dunne’s grandfather, who ultimately became a tycoon, had worked as a butcher. Of his grandfather, Dominick wrote: “He was simply a remarkable man, my grandfather. He was knighted by the Pope for his philanthropic work, but he never forgot he had been born poor. Never!”

Dominick’s father, dismayed by his son’s artistic leanings, called him a sissy and beat him for it, once so viciously that his left ear swelled to three times its size and turned purple. Throughout adulthood, Dominick remained partially deaf in his left ear.

In 1965 his marriage to socialite Ellen Beatriz Griffin ended in divorce. He began his career in New York as stage manager of The Howdy Doody Show but moved his family to Hollywood in 1957, where he worked as a television executive producer. He subsequently produced feature films, including the gay-themed classic, The Boys in the Band (1970). Dunne threw grand parties attended by celebrities such as Dennis Hopper, Natalie Wood, Tuesday Weld, Paul Newman, and Steve McQueen. Unfortunately, drugs and alcohol became an unmanageable part of his life, and in 1974 he escaped to a cabin in Oregon (without a phone or television), where after six months he regained sobriety and began a career as a writer, at the age of 50. When he learned of his brother’s suicide, he moved back to New York City.

Eight of his books became best sellers, and it is for his career as a novelist and investigative journalist that he is best remembered. Several of his books were made into TV movies, and he became the master American chronicler of crime and celebrity.

On Halloween of 1982, Dunne was informed that his actress daughter, Dominique (best known for her portrayal of the teenage daughter in Poltergeist) had been found strangled. Her assailant was her ex-boyfriend, John Sweeney, a chef in Los Angeles. Dunne wrote about the murder trial in the newly relaunched magazine Vanity Fair. On the basis of dollars per word, Dunne became the highest-paid magazine writer in America.

In August of 2009, Dunne lost a long battle with bladder cancer while in residence at his East Side apartment in NYC. He was survived by two sons, Alexander and Griffin. The latter has acted in films such as An American Werewolf in London and After Hours.

Dunne’s country house in Hadlyme, Connecticut, was featured in Architectural Digest in May, 1992. The colonial-style home on five acres included a garage apartment, which Dunne turned into an office and work space for writing. Although he lived alone, he had frequent house guests from all over the world and made close connections with local citizens.

Note from your blogger -- this is a revision of a post originally published in 2012.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Ramón Novarro

Revision of previous post:
Mexican born Ramón Novarro (1899-1968) was Hollywood’s silent-film Latin superstar. While he was still a teenager his well-off family moved to California to flee the Mexican Revolution, and Novarro immediately found work in films, accepting nine uncredited bit parts. Possessed of a fine voice, he supplemented his income by working as a singing waiter. Novarro then worked in three silent films under his real name, Ramón Samaniego, and at age 22 he appeared in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921), a major studio release starring Rudolph Valentino. Rex Ingram, that film’s director, worked hard to make Ramón a star and suggested that he change his surname to Novarro. By 1922 studio publicity was calling Novarro “the next Valentino.” 

Photo below: In The Midshipman (1925) Novarro’s co-star was Joan Crawford.

Then two things happened that changed Novarro’s life forever. Valentino died of a ruptured appendix in 1926, and Novarro appeared in the title role of the critically acclaimed Ben Hur (1925), an epic film that took the country by storm, making Novarro a major star. Ben-Hur, which cost between $4-6 million in the mid-1920s, was the most expensive film ever made, adjusted to today’s dollars. Its original theatrical release lasted for years, and the film was re-released in 1931 with added music and sound effects. Photos below:

Novarro, who had appeared in Ben Hur "as naked as the censors would allow", brought to the screen a delicate masculine body and boyish eroticism that unsettled many male viewers. Although his screen persona was usually that of "a boy in love", he displayed an androgynous quality similar to that of Valentino. However, there was a natural style to Novarro's acting that distinguished him from his rivals, and critics praised the ease and charm of his performances. By the mid-1920s Novarro was commanding $100,000 per picture, a fortune at the time.

Novarro reading in a still from The Flying Fleet (1929) 

Great successes followed with The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg (1927) and the talking film Mata Hari (1931, photo below), opposite Greta Garbo. He made a successful transition to talking films and played opposite some of Hollywood’s greatest female stars, including Joan Crawford and Myrna Loy.

Here is a clip from Mata Hari, with Novarro helplessly enthralled by Greta Garbo.

However, Novarro’s homosexuality brewed trouble for his career. MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer demanded that Novarro marry to cover up his true sexual orientation, but Novarro refused. He defiantly shared a home with Herbert Howe, his publicist, enjoying a romance in a house they sold to Joan Crawford. Novarro, a devout Catholic, had difficulties reconciling his sexuality with his deep religious convictions. Along with the pressures and demands of Hollywood, these factors led to the actor’s eventual alcoholism, which ruined his career. When Novarro's contract with MGM Studios expired in 1935, the studio did not renew it.

His next career moves resulted in one failure after another. He pursued a career as an opera singer, planned to reinvent himself as a star of the stage and accepted smaller and smaller film roles in B movies. During the last ten years of his life he worked as a guest star on TV episodes. He appeared as a priest on NBC’s western series The High Chaparral the year of his death (see photo).

What happened next was a great tragedy. Because Novarro had made wise investments at the peak of his career, he was able to live out his life in a comfortable style, in spite of the collapse of his career. During his last years he lived as a near recluse in his fabulous home, usually drinking until he passed out. For sexual gratification, he set up liaisons through male escort services. In late October, 1968, 70-year-old Novarro was brutally tortured and beaten to death by Paul and Tom Ferguson, two brothers/hustlers who believed that the actor had a large sum of cash in his home. Finding just $20 in the pocket of Novarro’s bathrobe, they left the actor to choke on his own blood. The sordid press coverage of the murder outed Novarro as a homosexual to those who did not already know.

In this clip Novarro sings “The Night Is Young” in a highly-accented tenor voice. Novarro fashioned himself as possessed of a voice capable of an operatic career, an opinion held by no one other than himself. Fortunately, the clip offers a fine series of photographs that play up the actor’s great good looks.


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