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.

Monday, October 18, 2021

Rex



When the artist known as Rex began working in New York City in the mid 1960s, his erotic pointillist style drawings gained immediate notoriety. At the time, photographic erotica was still illegal, but drawings and stories were protected by U.S. Supreme Court Free Speech rulings. His art was showcased in various gay magazines, such as Drummer, Straight to Hell, Honcho and The Advocate, and for a brief time his work illustrated S&M and leather-themed paperback erotic novels.

In addition to his hardcore illustrations, Rex produced poster art for gay venues in NYC and San Francisco. A famous series of iconic posters, calendars and T-shirt designs were commissioned by the legendary New York sex club, The Mineshaft. However, it was his depraved, hardcore fetish drawings in a series of self-published portfolios circulated underground that cemented his reputation as a leading artist of homoerotica. Rex was to illustration what Mapplethorpe was to photography.

A numbered limited edition hard cover portfolio of his drawings was published in Paris in 1986, and Rex Verboten, a retrospective hardcover volume on his work, was distributed by the German publishing house Bruno Gmünder.

As a creator of sexually perverse and psychologically disturbing imagery, his subject matter fell victim to the political correctness and self-censorship that intimidated gay media during the Reagan era. For this reason, Rex relocated to Europe, where he continues to live and work (Amsterdam).
 
Among his contemporaries, Rex’s work stands out for its challenging content. His art continues to be confrontational and controversial as he dares to produce images of marginal and perverse sexual urges that many of his viewers may not ever want to admit to but nevertheless find savagely erotic.

Because this blog does not contain hardcore adult content, it was difficult to find examples to illustrate this post. Enter "Rexwerk" into a search engine, however, and mind-blowing examples of his art will sear into your mind. Amazing, singular stuff.


Wednesday, October 6, 2021

J.C. Leyendecker

Note: Original post updated October, 2021

At the turn of the twentieth century Joseph Christian Leyendecker was the most in vogue American illustrator of his day. J.C. Leyendecker (pronounced LION-decker) was born in 1874 in Montabour, Germany, a town NW of Frankfurt, not far from Koblenz. His family moved to America in 1882, seeking a better life in Chicago, where Joe studied at the famed Art Institute. Both Joe and his younger brother Frank were gay, and when Joe won a contest to design a cover for Century magazine, he earned a good deal of money when his prize-winning entry was issued as an art print. He was soon able to quit working at an engraving firm and took Frank with him to Paris, where they both enrolled at the prestigious Académie Julian art school.

After their return to the U.S., Joe and Frank relocated to NYC in 1900 to better their chances at winning commissions. Working as a team, they produced oil paintings as illustrations for magazines and books. Although Joe was clearly the more talented of the two, it was Frank who was responsible for hiring the model Charles Beach, an act that forged a union between Joe and Charles that lasted fifty years.

Beach, twelve years Joe’s junior, left his native Canada for NYC at age 16 to pursue a theatrical career, for which he soon discovered he had no talent. His greatest asset was his appearance, as he was extraordinarily handsome, tall and possessed of an exceptional physique. He was also confident and charming. Charles wisely decided to abandon the stage to seek jobs as a model. He was 17 years old when Frank Leyendecker hired him in 1901.

Joe, who was painfully shy and given to stuttering when asked to speak, was a real contrast to Charles. Joe was short, nondescript and socially reticent, but at first glance he was head over heels for Charles Beach. Charles soon rented an apartment just a few blocks from the Leyendecker’s studio, and most nights Joe stayed at Beach’s dwelling. The tantalizing illustrations Joe produced using Charles as a model jump started Joe’s career. Before long Charles started managing business details for the Leyendecker brothers, negotiating ever higher prices for their magazine illustration commissions. Beach prodded Joe into approaching the Saturday Evening Post magazine about creating themed covers for national holidays, resulting in a contract that kept Joe busy for decades.

Many of these covers featured men fashioned after Beach’s Adonis-like face and physique. Each time one of these covers appeared, the magazine’s circulation increased, and by 1913 the Saturday Evening Post became the most popular magazine in the world. These covers, wildly popular with the public, also made Joe Leyendecker rich and famous. He was soon earning $50,000 a year – over a million dollars when adjusted for inflation. The magazine’s  May 30, 1914, Mother's Day cover single-handedly birthed the flower delivery industry, thus creating an American tradition.

Leyendecker also introduced what is perhaps our most enduring New Year’s symbol, that of the New Year’s Baby. For almost forty years, the Saturday Evening Post featured a Leyendecker Baby on its New Year’s covers.




Against his brother Frank’s opposition, Joe had been persuaded by Charles to provide illustrations for advertisements. His work for men’s clothing companies was blatantly homoerotic, but it made Leyendecker’s name a household word. The success of Joe and Charles as a team culminated in 25 years of illustrations for Arrow shirt collars, for which Charles was invariably the model. The “Arrow Collar Man” was soon the symbol of fashionable American manhood – the male equivalent of the Gibson girl. These Arrow shirt collar ads created a sensation. In the early 1920s the Arrow Collar Man drew 17,000 fan letters a month, along with gifts and marriage proposals. By 1918 Arrow collar sales topped $32 million.

The image of Charles Beach was so universally known that strangers stopped him on the street. Both Charles and Joe took pains, however, to keep their personal union out of the public eye, since exposure as homosexuals would have ruined both their careers. In 1914 Joe designed and had built a 14 room house in suburban New Rochelle, where Joe (J.C. as intimate friends called him), brother Frank and sister Augusta all co-habitated. Frank and Joe maintained studios in separate wings of the house. Upon the death of Joe’s father in 1916 Charles moved in, as well. The household entertained extravagantly, hosting high-profile A-list guests such as Walter Chrysler and Reggie Vanderbilt. Joe and Charles inaugurated a networking strategy of mixing business with pleasure, using social contacts to procure business. Gossip columnist Walter Winchell reported on these parties, but never mentioned the private relationship between the two men. Journalists refrained for fear that they would no longer be invited to those most-coveted social events. 

 

Trivia: the Leyendecker home in New Rochelle still exists as the Mount Tom Day School. Photo below.



In 1923 brothers Frank and Joe had a falling out, and Frank’s life lapsed into a downward spiral. Unable to secure commissions on his own and unable to find a male partner, he succumbed to abuses of drugs and alcohol. Frank died of a drug overdose in 1924, reported by many as a suicide.

Joe’s popularity and productivity reached its peak in the 1930s. Although Norman Rockwell blatantly copied Leyendecker's style and subject matter, Joe was undaunted. By that time his work had appeared on more than 300 covers of the Saturday Evening Post. However, commercial photography was rapidly becoming the go-to medium for print advertising, and Joe's commissions began to dry up. About the same time, during the 1940s, Joe began to feel the ill-effects of  heart disease. While sitting in his garden in New Rochelle in 1951, he suffered a heart attack in the presence of Charles and died in his lover’s arms. Soon thereafter Charles destroyed all correspondence between them, as requested by Joe, in order to conceal their private relationship from future scrutiny. Charles had inherited half of Joe's estate but had to sell many of Leyendecker's original canvases in order to support himself. Tragically, Charles died in 1954, just three years after Joe’s demise.

Today an original Leyendecker oil painting will cost a collector dearly. In 2018, against a pre-auction estimate of $70,000, Leyendecker's oil The Oarsman was sold for $275,000. The model, of course, was Charles Beach. Photo below:


Other significant Leyendecker paintings:














There is a wonderful collection of J.C. Leyendecker’s works in Newport, Rhode Island. The National Museum of American Illustration, housed in a gilded-era mansion on Bellevue Avenue known as Vernon Court, holds the largest collection of Leyendecker paintings in one place. The museum can be visited on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Details at:

http://americanillustration.org/

Friday, October 1, 2021

Xavier Dolan

Openly-gay Montreal film maker Xavier Dolan (b. 1989), who somehow managed to write and direct five well-received movies in as many years, won the Jury Prize at the Cannes* Film Festival for Mommy back in May, 2014. Mommy tells the story of a single mother raising a violent and troubled teenage son. They receive unexpected help and friendship from their shy neighbor, a female schoolteacher on sabbatical who suffers from a crippling stutter. This was Dolan's first film to achieve significant success at the box office, and it won the Cesar Award for best foreign film in 2015.

The Québécois director, writer and actor Dolan said in his acceptance speech:

“The emotion that I feel in contemplating this mythic room is overwhelming. I’m overwhelmed with gratitude, standing before this jury. I’ve received so much love over the last week. We do this work to love and be loved, as revenge for our imaginary loves...People are entitled to their own tastes, and some will dislike what you do; some will dislike who you are. But together we can change the world. By touching people, making they laugh and cry, we can change minds and lives. Not only politicians but artists can change it. There are no limits to our ambition. Everything is possible for those who dream, dare, work and never give up.”

Canadian Xavier, who speaks flawless, unaccented English, has nevertheless worked exclusively within the genre of French-language cinema. He has been compared to Woody Allen (only younger, cuter and gay!), because both make character-driven films about relationships, and both act in their own movies. At age nineteen (!), Dolan electrified the film world with I Killed My Mother (J'ai tué ma mère – 2009), a semi-autobiographical movie that he wrote, directed and starred in. The winner of dozens of awards, that film was about a young homosexual at odds with his mother.


Dolan’s Tom at the Farm (Tom à la ferme – 2013) dealt with a young gay man’s encounter with the family of his recently deceased lover; the parents were not aware that their son was gay, nor were they aware of Tom’s relationship with their son. Heartbeats (Les amours imaginaires – 2010) explored a love triangle in which a man and a woman have a relationship with the same man. Laurence Anyways (2012) chronicles a ten year span of a male-to-female transsexual's relationship with her female lover. His eighth film, Matthias and Maxime, released in 2019, features two men who act in a film with a script that requires them to kiss each other, awakening long-dormant feelings for each other; Dolan himself plays the role of Maxime. For this film Dolan served as director, producer, costume designer, writer and editor.

Xavier Dolan, who tops out at 5' 6½", celebrated his thirty-second birthday in March. Trivia: the Quebec-specific French-language dubbed version of the animated series South Park features Dolan as the voice of Stan. Not to mention that he directed the video for Adele's hit single "Hello" in 2015.



Sunday, September 5, 2021

Yannick Nézet-Séguin

(Updated since the original 2013 post) A native of Montreal, Canada, Yannick Nézet-Séguin (Yah-NEEK neh-ZAY Say-GAN) (b. 1975) was first named Music Director of The Philadelphia Orchestra in 2012, and subsequent contract extensions assure this position through the 2025-26 season. This makes him the first openly gay conductor of one of the "big five" orchestras in the United States. 

In 2016 the Metropolitan Opera (NYC) announced that Nézet-Séguin would assume the title of Music Director beginning with the 2020-21 season, but following the termination of James Levine for sexual misconduct, he took the title two years early, beginning with the 2018-19 season.

Since 2000 Mr. Nézet-Séguin has also been Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the Orchestre Métropolitain (Montreal), and he has conducted all the major ensembles in his native Canada.

He was also Music Director of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra from 2008-2018, and today holds the title of Ehredirigent (honorary conductor) of that organization.

 
Mr. Nézet-Séguin’s partner of sixteen years, Pierre Tourville (shown in sunglasses behind Yannick), is the assistant principal violist of the Orchestre Métropolitain (Montreal), and they appear everywhere together. When the conductor was fêted by the city of Philadelphia some years ago, Pierre Tourville was also introduced at every stop – amazing, considering the tortured history of gay conductors. After all, Leonard Bernstein had married a woman at the advice of famed conductor Dmitri Mitropoulos, and both those men led closeted lives.

In a New York Times profile by Daniel Wakin, it was reported that “Nézet-Séguin is what the orchestra world is desperate for: a young, charismatic maestro who can win the respect, even affection, of grizzled orchestra veterans, the enthusiasm of audiences and the praise of critics, which has for him been pretty exalted.”

The 46-year-old conductor’s youth is reflected in his flouting of certain traditions – he frequently leads from the podium in a business suit and tie (Carnegie Hall), and he’s partial to tight V-neck sweaters and skinny jeans. Many times he conducts without a baton, in the style of Mitropoulos. While on vacation in Tahiti he acquired a turtle tattoo on his right shoulder, and his compact five-foot-five frame bursts with energy.



Again from Mr. Wakin’s NYT profile: “He seemed stunned by the ovation” (conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra in Verdi’s Requiem at Carnegie Hall). “Applause from his inner circle greeted him in the crowded dressing room. Attendants broke open bottles of sparkling wine. Mr. Nézet-Séguin embraced his companion, Mr. Tourville, looked him in the eyes and said, ‘Oui?’

‘Oui,’ Mr. Tourville answered. With an air of coronation, orchestra and Carnegie Hall executives toasted Mr. Nézet-Séguin. “

The conductor’s honors include a prestigious Royal Philharmonic Society Award, Canada’s highly coveted National Arts Centre Award and the Prix Denise-Pelletier, the highest distinction for the arts in Quebec, awarded by the Quebec government.  In 2011, he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Quebec in Montreal and was appointed a Companion of the Order of Canada in 2012.

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Fairy Tales: Hans Christian Andersen

Hans Christan Andersen (1805-1875), known as the father of the modern fairy tale, was forced to go to work at the age of eleven, when his father died insane. Hans was apprenticed to a weaver and tailor in Odense and later worked at a tobacco factory. He had a high pitched voice and effeminate mannerisms, and once his trousers were pulled down when other workers suspected that he was a girl. At the age of 14 Andersen left Odense for Copenhagen to seek a career as a singer, dancer or an actor – he had a beautiful soprano voice. Eventually he was able to find sponsors to pay for his education. Andersen was an eccentric, overly sensitive student and exceptionally tall, almost ungainly, with an enormous nose that marred his looks. His feet, arms and legs were disproportionately large for his frame. In his later fairy tales, a common theme was that the ugly physical appearance of the hero often concealed great inner beauty, not revealed until after a series of misfortunes. He knew what he was writing about.

Andersen managed to publish his first novel upon graduation in 1829 and went on to become Denmark’s leading man of letters, writing novels, dramas, poetry, travel books and autobiographies. In 1837, at the age of thirty-two, he began writing the fairy tales for which he was known throughout the world. Andersen traveled across Europe and Africa, and was once hosted by Charles Dickens in England, although Dickens was nearly driven mad by Andersen’s prissy, effeminate ways and hypochondriacal bent.

Biographers tend to label Hans Christian Anderson as bisexual, and a few even suggest that he may have remained celibate for his whole life. However, he engaged in many romantic relationships, especially with young men, with whom he exchanged torrid letters. Many of his fairy tales were autobiographical, especially those that describe impossible love and poor self image, such as The Ugly Duckling* and The Little Mermaid. Andersen’s The Shadow is a fairytale that parents seldom read to their children, because it's so disturbing. It suggests that each of us has a shadowy part that will, if we let it, destroy us.


*From "The Ugly Duckling":
“He now felt glad at having suffered sorrow and trouble, because it enabled him to enjoy so much better all the pleasure and happiness around him; for the great swans swam round the new-comer, and stroked his neck with their beaks, as a welcome.”

His statue in Central Park (NYC) features the author sitting and reading to a stray duck. The 1956 sculpture by Georg J. Lober was constructed with contributions from Danish and American schoolchildren. It was cast at the Modern Art Foundry in Astoria, Queens.




Upon his death in 1875, his private journals were discovered, in which he detailed his enthusiasm for masturbation. He placed a cross mark in his journal for every time he masturbated. I kid you not. In the book “Hans Christian Andersen: The Life of a Storyteller,” Jackie Wullschlager writes of the open love letters Andersen wrote to handsome young men. He also wrote similar letters to a few women, such as the soprano Jenny Lind, but the women were always unapproachable and out of his league. His letters to young men were obviously an outlet for his sexual desire and his sensuous, romantic nature. Andersen's novel, O.T., depicting an intimate male friendship, was influenced by his unrequited love for Edvard Collin, whose eventual marriage sent Andersen into a tail-spin. When Andersen died, he was initially buried next to Collin and his wife Henrietta, until descendants of Collin had the bodies of Edvard and Henrietta re-interred elsewhere, leaving Andersen’s grave standing alone (in death as in life!). A healthier, reciprocal romantic relationship was carried out with the Hereditary Grand Duke of Weimar, Carl-Alexander von Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, whom Andersen met in 1844.

Andersen titled his autobiography “The Fairy Tale of My Life.” There is indeed something miraculous about the transformation of a poverty-stricken, uneducated child into a world-renowned writer. In it we learn that Andersen suffered from dyslexia and agoraphobia – not to mention the fact that he was a strict vegetarian. He also feared being burned or buried alive.

When Andersen's funeral was held at the Cathedral of Our Lady in Copenhagen (August 11, 1875), a national day of mourning was declared. Throngs of people attended the funeral, including royalty and many celebrities. His fairy tales were translated into more languages than any other books except the Bible, and his stories continue to influence and inspire children and adults alike.

The Little Mermaid
Highly disturbing and morbid tale about a mermaid who makes a diabolical bargain with a sea witch and suffers her tongue to be cut out and her tail to be lost, all for the love of a prince. Inevitably, he completely fails to recognize the enormity of her sacrifice.


The Red Shoes
Vanity is the sin of the anti-heroine (vindictively named Karen after Andersen's loathed half-sister) in this nasty tale, which was made into an acclaimed film in 1948. Karen's sin of going to church in bright red shoes and failing to care for her grandmother is punished by her being forced to dance unceasingly – forever. Rest comes only when her feet are cut off with an axe. Nice!

The Ice Maiden
There is a touch of the earlier Snow Queen in this novella, a dark, tragic love story about Rudy and Babette who are stolen away by the icy Glacier Queen, a terrifying figure who represents death.

Poultry Meg's Family
One of several of Andersen's highly charged and erotic tales. The sexually voracious heroine, inspired by a Danish historical figure, swaps a comfortable life with her rich husband for a bit of "rough trade" and lovers who beat her.

Anne Lisbeth
Spooky story telling the fate suffered by a woman who rejects her ugly son and becomes a nursemaid to the count's son instead. Retribution comes in the form of rejection by those she has served, the drowning of her own son and guilt-ridden nightmares. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.


Friday, August 13, 2021

Erté

The name Erté was the French pronunciation of the initials R.T., which stood for Romain de Tirtoff (1892-1990), a Russian-born Art Deco graphic artist and designer of jewelry, costumes, interiors, and sets for opera, film and the stage. Not to mention textiles, handbags, watches and perfume bottles. As his career played out, Erté and Art Deco became virtually synonymous. His 240+ covers for Harper's Bazar* magazine (1915-1937), which often depicted women draped in furs and jewelry, are today collectors’ items.

*Spelling later changed to Bazaar.

The son of a wealthy Russian Admiral in the Imperial Fleet, Tirtoff took the pseudonym Erté while working as a fashion designer/illustrator in Paris, so as not to disgrace his aristocratic Russian family, which expected Romain to follow in his father’s footsteps as a military officer. His artistic talent was discovered early, and his mother had a dress made after one of Erté's designs he had sketched at the age of five. At age 22 he appeared at a Parisian ball in 1914 clad in a self-designed silver lamé costume, complete with pearl wings and ebony-plumed cape. True.

In 1925, MGM studios (Culver City, CA) brought Erté and his partner, Russian Prince Nicolas Ouroussoff, from Paris to Hollywood, picking up the considerable expenses for both. When their ocean liner arrived in New York, they disembarked with fifteen steamer trunks and three assistants. Erté’s black, white and gray Monte Carlo atelier was reproduced in Culver City. He was treated like a star, installed in a hilltop house in Hollywood, given a chauffeured limousine, two bi-lingual secretaries and was interviewed by the press 200 times.

MGM head Louis B. Mayer, who was known to be intolerant of homosexuals, even invited the couple to his house for dinner. Erté reported that his relationship with Mayer was always pleasant, and Mayer expressed regret when Erté asked to be let out of his contract after designing costumes for just six films. Erté lived with Ouroussoff for nearly twenty years, until the Prince's premature death in 1933. By the 1920s homosexuals in film studio wardrobe, makeup and set departments enjoyed an extraordinary freedom and tolerance, an environment found virtually nowhere else in American industry. It wasn’t just tolerated, but being gay actually carried with it some cachet.


Graphic Art: Symphony in Black



In his 1975 autobiography, Things I Remember, Erté catalogued his homosexual encounters, starting at the age of 13. Readers learned that after the death of Prince Ouroussoff, he had a serious relationship with a champion Danish swimmer and decorator named Axel. Erté’s openness regarding his sexuality was in marked contrast to others in his field at that time.

Erté designing sets and costumes for the Folies-Bergère, the Ziegfeld Follies and the Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. Performers who wore his costumes included Josephine Baker, Anna Pavlova, Mata-Hari and Sarah Bernhardt. 



Erté worked up until just a few weeks before his death from kidney problems in 1990, at age 97. Very wealthy by the end of his life, he was building a house in Majorca at the time of his death.  During his long career he produced Art Deco designs for furniture, lamps, sculptures, seriographs, lithographs and even playing cards.

 




Rooms at Chateau de la Sorcere (France), decorated by Erté:


 




 

 

 

 

 

Sources:

Behind the Screen: How Gays and Lesbians Shaped Hollywood
– William J. Mann

Who's Who in Gay and Lesbian History

Wikipedia

Photos of interiors at Chateau de la Sorciere: "Fantasy Furniture" by Bruce M. Newman and Alastair Duncan (1989)

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

George Dureau

King of the New Orleans Art Scene




New Orleans based painter, sculptor and photographer George Dureau (1930-2014) died from complications of Alzheimer’s disease. His black and white photographs, charcoal sketches and arresting paintings captured the spirit of New Orleans at its highest and lowest levels. Many of his art works were strongly homoerotic in nature, and he favored nymphs and satyrs, as well as live male models who were dwarfs and/or amputees. His art was placed all over New Orleans, in restaurants, bars, museums and outdoor public spaces.

Dureau was a larger than life character, often seen on his bicycle or black Jeep cruising through the old quarter. His unkempt long hair and beard, coupled with his booming bass voice spewing forth bawdy comments, led some to label him Mephistopheles. Dureau called himself a “neo-classical homosexual,” a reference to elements depicted in his paintings. He had a rare talent for being able to paint outsiders, often picked up off the streets, in a way that elicited no pity. There was always a dignity in the expression of his subjects.

George was a legend in his own time, and seemingly every citizen of New Orleans knew who he was. While it would have been to his professional advantage to relocate to NYC, he stayed put, reigning over his home town art scene. In fact, Dureau managed to forge a national and international reputation while staying home.


He had a vibrant personality and sharp wit, and he was a great entertainer. His buffet spreads looked like still life paintings, everything arranged just so. His youthful work as a window dresser was evident. Dureau’s apartment/studios were a riot of “arranged” clutter, a delight to the eye, which joyfully darted from one surprise and treasure to the other.

When recent medical costs led him to sell artworks and furnishings, his friends rallied and made sure the bills got paid. They were more than willing to give back to a local denizen who had brought such quirky interest and joy to their lives.




Friday, July 23, 2021

Cesar Romero

Tall, suave and sophisticated Cesar Romero (1907-1994) was a star of Hollywood films and television. At the start of his career he was known as the "Latin lover/gigolo" type in  a string of  film musicals and romantic comedies, but he was also famous as the rogue bandit, The Cisco Kid, in a spate of low-budget western movies. However, to a younger generation reared on television, Romero was best recognized for his role in the campy 1960s Batman TV series as the white-faced, cackling villain called The Joker. As well, he starred as a bumbling corporate villain in a series of Walt Disney comedies, such as The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1969). Fans and critics alike agreed that Romero was a major talent who proved himself an enduring and versatile star in a variety of roles during his more than 60-year career as an actor, dancer and comedian.

He was also a deeply closeted gay man to his fans. When he was interviewed by author Boze Hadleigh, Romero gave a revealing, often comic account of what life was like in the Golden Age of Hollywood for a closeted gay man (in Romero's instance, also Catholic and Latino). Because he was "out" to all his entertainment industry colleagues, it was often stated that Romero's homosexuality was Hollywood's worst kept secret. That interview is included in Hadleigh's book, Hollywood Gays.

Cesar Romero was born to wealthy parents in New York City in 1907. His Italian-born father had made a fortune as an importer/exporter of sugar refining machinery, and his Cuban mother was a concert singer. Romero’s first job after attending Collegiate and Riverdale County Schools was as a ballroom dancer, and for years he served as the dancer/escort of major stars such as Barbara Stanwyck, Marlene Dietrich, Joan Crawford, Carmen Miranda, Lucille Ball and Ginger Rogers.  Romero first appeared on Broadway in Lady Do (1927), and his first film role was in The Shadow Laughs (1933).

His life was a full-out pursuit of superficial social events such as art exhibit openings, movie premieres and fashion shows. At the time there was a running joke that Romero would attend the “opening of a napkin.” He was uniquely equipped for this lifestyle, since he was handsome, tall (6-ft. 2-in.), suave, wealthy, witty and a real fashion plate. His wardrobe contained more than 30 tuxedos, 200 sport coats and 500 tailored suits. He practically lived at the Ambassador Hotel’s Coconut Grove nightclub (Los Angeles), dancing and flirting the night away. Romero’s signature trimmed moustache was so identified with his persona that he refused to shave it off for his TV role as the Joker in the Batman series. Makeup artists grudgingly applied the heavy white facial makeup on top of his moustache.

He took a break from his acting career during WW II to serve in the U.S. Coast Guard in the Pacific (at left) but immediately returned to his acting career. Ever charming and discreet, Cesar Romero earned the reputation as the quintessential "confirmed bachelor," although Hollywood insiders knew all about his long-term relationship with Tyrone Power (photo at end of post) , Gene Raymond and other actors of screen and stage. As an interesting aside, Romero’s Hollywood social nickname was “Butch.” I’m not making this up.

Critics and fans generally agree that Romero's best performance was as Spanish explorer Cortez in Captain from Castile (1947). In 1953 he starred in the 39-part espionage TV serial Passport to Danger, which earned him a considerable income from a lucrative profit-sharing arrangement. Although Romero became quite wealthy and had no further need to work, he could not stay away from the cameras. He surprised everyone in Hollywood by taking on the role of The Joker in the hugely successful TV series Batman (from 1966). He also guest-starred on dozens of TV shows, including Rawhide (1959), 77 Sunset Strip (1958), Zorro (1957), Fantasy Island (1978), Falcon Crest (from 1985) and Murder, She Wrote (1984).

Romero died of a pneumonia-related blood clot on New Years Day in 1994 in Santa Monica, California, just six weeks shy of his 87th birthday. He has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: at 1719 Vine St. (for television) and at 6615 Hollywood Blvd. (for motion pictures).


Tyrone Power (left) and Romero on a trip to South America (shown below).



Note from your blogger: In researching Romero’s life, I was surprised how many writers used the words, “rumors of homosexuality.” Romero’s sexual orientation is based on fact, not rumor or speculation – he freely admitted his homosexuality during his lifetime and allowed writer Boze Hadleigh (Hollywood Gays) to write about his dalliances with other gay or bisexual men. Many fans of Hollywood stars dismiss reports of their favorites’ homosexual activity, but they fail to realize that, for most stars, a public “outing” would have been the end of their careers. Those who knew about a star’s true sexual orientation waited until the actor/actress was deceased to speak about it, out of respect for their colleagues’ careers. Hollywood is disproportionately populated by gays and bisexuals, on both sides of the camera.

Cesar Romero sings and dances his way through Romance and Rhumba (1941) co-starring Alice Faye and John Payne. Such roles were typical of his early movie career. Many examples of Romero's TV and film appearances may be found on YouTube.com


 

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Allen Klein & Bliss Hebert

Long-time partners Allen Klein (left) and Bliss Hebert were married on October 15, 2013, at the ages of 73 and 82, respectively. The couple resides in Miami.

Opera scenery/costume designer Klein and opera stage director Hebert have worked together since 1962. They have collaborated on more than 100 productions since they met while working at the Washington Opera in DC, where Hebert was General Manager from 1960-1964.

Allen Klein created productions for the Vienna State Opera, Deutsche Oper Berlin, La Fenice in Venice, the Scottish Opera, the Edinburgh Festival and the Glyndebourne Festival. Bliss Hebert, who earned a master’s degree in piano performance from Syracuse University, worked with Igor Stravinsky on three of his operas, including five productions of “The Rake’s Progress.” According to Rosalie Radomsky of the New York Times, Klein and Hebert encountered Stravinsky and his wife Vera, along with conductor Robert Craft, in front of Carnegie Hall after a screening of Disney’s film “Fantasia,” which included an excerpt from Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring.”

“They greeted Bliss with great happiness and many kisses,” Allen Klein said, adding that, “Stravinsky was tiny and glowing with electricity.” Bliss then introduced Allen to Stravinsky. While Bliss was speaking with Robert Craft, Allen remained alone with Stravinsky. At one point, Stravinsky took Allen by the arm and asked, “Tell me, my dear, do you love our Bliss very much?”

“I recall being rather shocked by such a question,” Allen said. “Remember, this was 1964. I stuttered out, ‘Yes, I do,’ to which the composer responded, ‘Well then, my dear, you must take very good care of our Bliss.’ ”

Allen added, “ I’ve tried to do that ever since.”


Source:

Rosalie R. Radomsky, The New York Times

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Prince Johannes von Thurn und Taxis

Dateline 1979, Bavaria. Openly bisexual Prince Johannes von Thurn und Taxis (1926-1990) was the richest man in Germany and its largest land owner. His fortune cast a web of banks, breweries, enormous land holdings in Brazil, vast private forest lands (80,000 acres) in Germany, extensive fine art collections and eleven palaces and castles. The 53-year-old bachelor prince resided in his 500-room St. Emmeram Palace in Regensburg, some 60 miles northeast of Munich, where his family had lived since 1748.

In the fifteenth century his ancestors had developed a European postal system that earned them a great fortune. Soon the postal coaches began accepting paying passengers, so we get the term “taxi” from the family enterprise. For over 300 years the family held a monopoly on the postal system of the Holy Roman Empire.

The 12th-century Italian Dukes de la torre, based near Bergamo, were the ancestors of the Thurn und Taxis dynasty. Emperor Ferdinand III recognized the Thurn und Taxis line as successors to the Torriani dukes. The Italian word Torre (tower) became Thurn, and Tasso (badger) became Taxis, and their family tree dates back to 1445.

During WW II Prince Johannes served in German intelligence and was imprisoned by the British from 1945 to 1947. For the next 35 post-war years he kept a relatively low profile among his royal and noble peers. But after the death of his father in 1982, the prince became head of the Thurn und Taxis family as full inheritor, and he began to spend money like a Vanderbilt. His 210,000 sq. ft. palace was furnished with 400 clocks, maintained by a full-time servant whose only task was to wind them in perpetual rotation. All the windows were washed weekly. Johannes retained 70 liveried footmen and parked 20 cars in his garage. But his idea of a fun night out was to troll the gay bars in Munich.

Imagine then the surprise when he announced he was ready to settle down with an impoverished  distant aristocratic cousin, Countess Gloria Schönburg-Glachau, a high school dropout and onetime waitress some 34 years his junior. Upon their marriage she was 20 years old and three months pregnant with their first daughter. A second daughter arrived two years later, but Prince Johannes could not breathe a sigh of relief until Albert, their only son, arrived the next year.


Prior to the birth of a son, Johannes had a pressing inheritance problem. According to tradition, his wife had to be a noble descendant of the Holy Roman Empire who would bear him a son. Otherwise his fortune would be splintered into numerous fractions of its $2.5 billion value. When the prince ran into his distant cousin Gloria in a Munich café, a lightbulb went off. Gloria not only fit the bill of proper lineage, she was willing to accept his sexual preference for men. It was a win-win; she was rescued from poverty, and he would be able to keep his vast estate intact. Young Prince Albert II would be full-inheritor.

The couple lived a life of debauchery, a wild, hedonistic jet-set lifestyle. Gloria drove around town on a lipstick red Harley-Davidson. She sported outrageous clothing, makeup and hairdos, and she proudly bore the moniker “Princess T-N-T.”



Encouraged by her husband, Princess Gloria enjoyed a lifestyle of extreme decadence. In 1986 she spent $20 million on a three-day 60th birthday party for Johannes, crowned by a costume ball held at their St. Emmeram palace, where Gloria appeared as Marie-Antoinette.  She ordered a birthday cake lit by 60 pink, phallus-shaped candles, a not-so-subtle hint at her husband’s sexual preference. 500 guests had been flown in on private jets to enjoy days of over-the-top debauchery. Mick Jagger, J. Paul Getty Jr. and Saudi Arabian businessman Adnan Khashoggi were among the guests.

Prince Albert was just seven years old when his father died of complications following two heart surgeries in late 1990. That day Albert became the 12th Prince of Thurn und Taxis and the youngest billionaire in the world. The 6'4" tall bachelor (and to this day still a bachelor) Prince Albert turned 38 years old a few days ago, on June 23. He is an extraordinarily rich business man and professional race car driver (he has crashed a Lamborghini or two). Albert became full-inheritor of the Thurn und Taxis fortune (est. 3 billion dollars) on his 18th birthday in 2001. Should you bump into him during your travels, his correct form of address is His Serene Highness the Prince of Thurn und Taxis (you're welcome).

Princess Gloria stands above her two daughters and son Prince Albert.




Today Princess Gloria spends two months each year at her loft apartment in Chelsea (NYC), enjoys her beach compound in Kenya, keeps an apartment in Rome and has a sprawling lake house in Bavaria. Prince Albert today makes his home at the ancestral Schloss St. Emmeram (below) in Regenburg. At 500 rooms and 210,000 sq. ft., give or take, it is the largest home in Europe still maintained by a princely family. It even contains a throne room and a riding hall for the practice and performance of extreme dressage.

 




19-century palace addition: bowling lane






Prince Albert von Thurn und Taxis, full inheritor,
photographed in his throne room.



Sources: Gloria, die Fürstin (Peter Seewald, 2004), Wikipedia & Tim Allis for People Magazine (1991)