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.

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)

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Rufus Gifford Named Chief of Protocol


UPDATE:
President Biden has tapped former U.S. Ambassador to Denmark Rufus Gifford to serve as the State Department's new chief of protocol. Gifford is openly gay.

As chief of protocol, Gifford will retain the rank of ambassador. He will assist President Biden and other top U.S. leaders with proper diplomatic protocols when visiting or receiving foreign dignitaries. Gifford will also schedule itineraries for visiting officials from abroad. He had previously served as Deputy Campaign Manager for Biden's 2020 presidential campaign.

This is my original post from October, 2016:

My regular blog readers may recall a post from exactly a year ago reporting the marriage of Rufus Gifford, the U.S. Ambassador to Denmark, to his partner, a veterinarian named Stephen DeVincent, at Copenhagen’s city hall. Among the wedding guests were Crown Prince Frederik and Crown Princess Mary of Denmark, who had become close friends. Rufus and Stephen were married by the Lord Mayor of Copenhagen. 

The front page of Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal, however, carried a feature article reporting the viral sensation of the ambassador’s reality TV show, “Jeg er ambassadøren fra Amerika” (I Am the Ambassador from America), which averages about 200,000 viewers per episode. So far there have been 10 installments. Ambassador Gifford won the Danish equivalent of an Emmy for his role, in which he muses about being a gay ambassador and his regrets at not seeing more of his husband, who spends long stretches of time stateside to attend to his job.

Contributing to the success of the show is that Gifford, 42 years old and Hollywood handsome, makes sharp, witty comments about what is essentially a boring job – there is virtually no strife between the two nations. The show has followed him around the grand ambassador’s residence, traveling home to Boston to see his parents, making sojourns to Greenland, celebrating a birthday, even spending a night with the elite Danish Frogmen Corps. Gifford steps into his limousine, he steps out of his limousine, he goes to the gym, etc. The series culminates with the ambassador’s wedding to his male partner. A 35-year-old Danish female fan of the show says she isn’t looking for false drama, like that of other reality shows, but that she savors the scenes when Gifford is at home with Mr. DeVincent and their dog, Argos. But there is that one time when Gifford strips down to his Calvins to change into a SWAT suit (not disappointing).

As a result of this show, Gifford’s celebrity in Denmark is such that people on the streets shout, “Hey, Rufus!” and ask him to stop for a selfie, completely forsaking the honorific of his office. And that’s the way he likes it.


All 10 episodes are available for streaming on Netflix: “I Am the Ambassador”. Note from your blogger: Ambassador Gifford is charming beyond description.



















*Note: last year six gay male ambassadors currently representing our country gathered for an event at D.C.’s Newseum: Ambassador to Australia John Berry, Ambassador to the Dominican Republic James Brewster, Ambassador to Denmark Rufus Gifford, Ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Daniel Baer, Ambassador to Spain James Costos and Ambassador to Vietnam Ted Osius. All were appointed by President Obama and approved by congress. Amazing, since homosexuality was until recent times grounds for dismissal from foreign service. When President Bill Clinton nominated openly gay James Hormel for ambassador to Luxembourg in 1997, Hormel was strongly opposed by some Republican members of congress for his sexual orientation, and the appointment was thus stalled. Clinton then used a recess appointment to install Hormel as ambassador in 1999, making him the first openly gay ambassador to represent the U.S. 

Newlyweds Rufus (right) and Stephen leave Copenhagen's city hall: 



 

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Cole Porter

At the time he sang second tenor in the Glee Club at Yale, Cole Porter (1891-1964) also appeared in stage roles and performed cabaret sets at private parties. It became his habit to step out of the chorus just before the choir’s last number to sit at the piano to accompany himself in a solo performance of songs and patter, much of the clever and cheeky material his own. Although he was listed just once in the program, the audience usually kept him there until he had gone through 10-12 encores. Reviewers called him the “highlight” of the concerts, “a clever imitator, strong singer and comedian”. Then, as later in life, Porter wrote both the words and music to his songs.

After one year he dropped out of Harvard Law School, where he had resided with Dean Acheson, the future Secretary of State. His unwavering D-grades in all his law courses resulted in a transfer to the School of Music in 1914 for his second year at Harvard. For a time he studied music with Pietro Yon, who went on to become famous as organist at NYC’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Porter, who was exclusively homosexual, met his future wife Linda at a 1918 wedding reception in Paris, where he had lingered after serving in France in a volunteer ambulance unit during the final year of WW I. At least that's what he told Linda. Although Cole appeared on the streets of Paris in various military uniforms, later biographers revealed that Porter never served in the military of any country. Porter maintained a luxury apartment in Paris, where he entertained lavishly. His parties were extravagant and scandalous, with a little of everything sprinkled in for good measure – much gay and bisexual activity, cross-dressing, international musicians, Italian nobility, and a large surplus of recreational drugs. For a twenty-something boy born on a farm in Peru, Indiana, things were moving fast.


Linda Lee Thomas (at right), a fabulously wealthy socialite divorcée, was descended from the Paca family (one of whom was a signer of the Declaration of Independence) as well as from the Lees of Virginia. Linda was well aware of Porter’s homosexuality, but they nevertheless married on December 12, 1919, and remained based in Paris as bon vivants of hedonistic high style until 1937, when war clouds forced their return to the U.S. Many of their circle suspected that Linda might be lesbian or bisexual, while others thought of her as asexual. Whichever was true, their marriage was without sex, but certainly not without love. They adored each other. Years later Linda miscarried, but it is not certain whether Cole was the would-be father. Linda was known to have affairs of her own, but it cannot be determined if they were sexual. It’s all a cloud of ambiguity.

After their honeymoon in southern France and Italy, Cole sought further formal musical training, enrolling at the Schola Cantorum in the Latin Quarter of Paris. He soon abandoned his notion of writing serious orchestral music, however, and did not complete the curriculum.

Linda, thirteen years older than Cole, provided him with a passport to social landscapes he could never have traversed on his own. Their world was a fusion of outrageous Bohemianism and mad-cap Roaring Twenties liberation, tossed together with moneyed misfits, exiled royalty, show business personalities and assorted impoverished creative geniuses. Included in their social circles were Coco Chanel, Lauritz Melchior and Arthur Rubenstein, who loved to sit down at the piano to play Cole Porter songs. In short, they knew anyone worth knowing.

Soon after their marriage, Linda bought a much larger Parisian residence in 1920 at 13, rue Monsieur, a street just one block long, not far from Les Invalides and the Rodin Museum (and purchased for more than $10 million in today’s money). The rear garden backed up to the house of Nancy Mitford, the British novelist, biographer and socialite, who was involved in a romance with the homosexual Scottish aristocrat Hamish St. Clair-Erskine. But I digress.

Linda’s house in Paris was so large that they rented a suite of rooms to Howard Sturges, a close friend of Linda’s who became Cole’s dearest life-long friend. Sturges lent Linda a beautiful painting by Christian Bérard, which hung for years in their Parisian drawing room. Sturges, a witty, old-money Boston socialite, was a trained violinist who kept a pet bear and walked a pig on a leash through the streets of Paris. I’m not making this up.


Hostess Elsa Maxwell (a closeted lesbian) leans over a smiling Cole Porter. The legendary society maven was a huge fan and patron.



Sturges often traveled with Cole and Linda, wherever their journeys took them, and Cole and Howard made this three-way friendship more complicated when the two men entered into an affair. The Porters were peripatetic to the extreme. They always traveled with an entourage of servants and friends, usually picking up the tab for their guests, and quickly became acquainted with Egypt, Monte Carlo, Italy, London, Biarritz, Spain and New York. To say that the Porters lived large is understatement.

Cole and Linda befriended wealthy American ex-pats Gerald and Sarah Murphy, and together they made the South of France a fashionable year-round resort destination. There were striking parallels in the lives of the Murphys and Porters, not the least of which was the fact that both Gerald and Cole were married homosexual men.

In 1923 Cole’s wealthy grandfather died. Long disapproving of Cole’s choice of a career, he made no mention of Cole in his will. Of the four million dollars left to Cole’s mother, however, she gave half to her son, then 32 years old, who later said the inheritance didn’t spoil or ruin his life – it just made it wonderful. Well, not everything was wonderful. It was about this time that Porter tested positive for syphilis.

Soon Cole and Linda became part of the social set of Prince and Princesse Edmond de Polignac. The princess, based in Paris, was heir to the singer sewing machine fortune. She was a captivating lesbian married to a homosexual (and financially destitute) prince, who was himself a talented amateur composer. They hosted private musical salons that drew on the talents of Stravinsky, Fauré, Satie, Ravel and Milhaud. The Polignac’s musical afternoons were for decades the most important and influential venue for new French music.

For five summers during the 1920s, the Porters descended upon Venice, renting the fabulous Palazzo Rezzonico. During the summer of 1925 Cole became completely smitten with Boris Kochno, a Russian poet, librettist and Ballet Russes dancer who was Diaghilev's collaborator. Their correspondence survives, and Porter comes across as a love-sick puppy. Soon thereafter, Porter returned to the U.S. to write shows for Broadway and Hollywood. While living in New York, Porter found that paying for sex was less complicated emotionally, and it allowed him to indulge his taste in sailors, marines and assorted prostitutes.


Until recently Porter's piano (right) stood on the cocktail terrace of the lobby of the Waldorf Astoria hotel in NYC, where Cole and Linda Porter kept an apartment* in the Waldorf Towers, the residential wing of the hotel. The 1907 Steinway grand, with a hand decorated walnut case, was a gift from the hotel in 1945. Upon Porter's death in 1964, the piano went downstairs to the lobby.


Monty Woolley, who often joined Cole to cruise New York City's waterfront bars and bordellos, recounted that one night, a young sailor they approached by car asked outright, "Are you two cocksuckers?" Woolley responded with, "Now that the preliminaries are over, why don't you get in and we can discuss the details?"

Cole’s numerous male lovers included Nelson Barfeld (a dancer/choreographer who was a former U.S. Marine), Robert Bray (a married Californian) and Jack Cassidy (a character actor). Not to mention architect Ed Tauch, director John Wilson and longtime friend Ray Kelly, whose children still receive half of Porter's copyright royalties. After relocating to  Hollywood, he was a regular guest at George Cukor's Sunday all-male pool parties, but soon the two became rivals. While renting a beautiful Hollywood home owned by renowned homosexual actor-decorator Billy Haines, Porter held competing all-male parties, and Cole’s became the more valued invitation. Porter was not discrete. A recent biography recounts that in his later years, Cole kept "breaking appliances so he could lure cute repairmen into his lair". As well, Scotty Bowers's recent Hollywood tell-all recounts that Porter had a decided taste for giving oral sex to Marines while suffering verbal abuse and humiliation. The homosexual relations were not casual. All of Porter's sexual activity was homosexual, and he became more brazen in the more open and permissive atmosphere of Hollywood. Linda reacted by staying away from California, sailing back and forth between her residences in Paris and New York. She was quietly making plans to divorce Cole.

Then in 1937, Cole was involved in a tragic horse riding accident and fractured both his legs. This was especially debilitating and humiliating to the ego of a vain man who placed enormous value on looks and a dashing appearance for both social and sexual reasons. He was in the hospital for months as his mental and physical health waned. He was in constant pain from his leg injuries and underwent 34 operations, all ultimately unsuccessful. Linda changed her plans and returned to Cole's side; they shared quarters at the Waldorf Towers in NYC, and before long he returned to writing songs.


Porter hired a driver and a personal assistant, who tended to details such as getting Cole into and out of wheelchairs, elevators and buildings. Soon enough Porter was reviving his lusty male/male activity. Once he graduated from a wheelchair to a cane, he maintained a small house overlooking the ocean at Lido Beach on Long Island, which he used for male/male trysts. Frank Walsh, a soldier stationed at Governors Island, recalled attending a party at Porter's Lido Beach residence, describing it as "a drinking and sex party, nearly orgiastic, with fifty or more soldiers kissing, drinking and engaging in lots of very graphic sex." At about this time Cole tripped on a stair and broke his left leg again, causing a major setback to his recovery.

Cole Porter portrait by Richard Avedon, 1950.

In 1945, he lent his permission to the movie project Night and Day, allegedly about the life of Cole Porter. Although a great boost to his ego, the plot was a wildly fictionalized biography. His friends thought it hysterically funny, knowing the divide between fact and fiction. The movie overlooked Porter’s overly pampered and controlled youth, his notorious gay life and his sexless marriage of social convenience; instead it lent credence to the tall tales Cole spread about himself, such as his (fake) war record and injuries. According to friends, Cole enjoyed the movie's wildly fictional account, and he especially savored having closeted movie star Cary Grant play a heroic, straight version of himself. Fortunately Porter did not live to see the 2004 film De-Lovely, a wretched misstatement of facts and an utter bore. I do not know how it was possible to make the extravagant, over-the-top lives of Cole and Linda Porter, portrayed by Kevin Kline and Ashley Judd, appear so dull.

Porter's greatest hit musical came late in his career. Kiss Me Kate (1948) is a play within a play about a troupe putting on Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew. W. H. Auden even called it a much better piece of theater than The Taming of the Shrew (!). A film version hit movie theaters in 1953, also to great acclaim, but Porter's risqué lyrics had to be sanitized to avoid the Hollywood code censors, thus robbing the musical of much of its comedy. The film was originally released in 3-D.

A major blow came with Linda’s death in 1954. She died after a long illness from chronic respiratory problems at their apartment in the Waldorf Towers in NYC. Although they had separated only to reunite several times, they remained devoted to each other. She left an estate of over $1.5 million, in which Cole had a lifetime interest (Cole had also inherited the bulk of his mother's half million dollar estate, but needlessly worried about money constantly). He was given Linda's Williamsport, Massachusetts, estate outright (description below), as well as all of Linda's personal belongings.

Unfortunately, Porter descended into further creative silence and social isolation in 1958, when his right leg was finally amputated. Porter was embarrassed and incapacitated by the surgery. Linda Porter had acquired a 40-acre estate in Williamsport, MA in 1940, and after her death, Cole became a virtual recluse at Buxton Hill**, as the property was named (current photo below). In a bizarre act Porter ordered the Tudor-style main house razed after  Linda's death and moved a caretaker’s cottage to the location of the original house. According to one of his biographers, visitors to Buxton Hill became fewer and fewer, because most weekends Porter was wicked drunk and ignored his invited guests, some of whom dubbed the farm, “the torture chamber.” At Cole’s death from kidney failure in 1964 (at a nursing home in Santa Monica), the Buxton Hill estate went to Williams College, but returned to private hands a few years later. It recently served as a luxury inn, with tennis courts and a 30' X 50' swimming pool. And the whole shebang (structures and 40 acres of land) subsequently hit the market for $4.5 million. 1425 Main St., Williamstown, MA. It has since gone off the market.

**When Cole Porter formed his own publishing company, he named it Buxton Hill.



* Porter’s 5-bedroom apartment in the Waldorf Astoria was available for rent last year at the rate of $150,000 a month. No lie. The Porters had lived in several apartments at the Waldorf Towers from 1939 to 1954, but Cole moved into this much larger unit just after the death of Linda. When Porter moved to apartment 33-A (1955-1964), he hired Billy Baldwin to do the interior design work. Baldwin was so well-known for his love of slipcovers that Cole Porter joked that he didn’t want to come back to find his piano slip covered! After Cole Porter died, Frank Sinatra moved in. Quite a pedigree for Waldorf Towers apartment 33-A (floor-plan porn below).



Of note: Porter’s wildly successful 1934 musical Anything Goes was revived on Broadway in 2011, and a touring company took the show to audiences all across the country.

His body of work includes some 1,400 songs. Some are one-offs which continue to astonish listeners today. For example, in Miss Otis Regrets (1934) we are told by a servant of a polite society lady how her employer was seduced and abandoned. In just a few lines of lyrics, we learn that Miss Otis hunted down and shot her seducer, was arrested, taken from the jail by a mob, and lynched. The servant conveys Miss Otis's final, polite, apologetic words to her friends: "Miss Otis regrets she's unable to lunch today." There is not another song like it.


Carmen McRae
's impassioned reading of "Miss Otis Regrets..."




Among Cole Porter’s classic American standards are:


Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye (1944)
Ray Charles and Betty Carter’s classic reading of Porter’s extraordinary tune and lyric:

When you're near there's such an air of spring about it.
I can hear a lark somewhere begin to sing about it.
There's no love song finer, but how strange the change from major to minor
Everytime we say goodbye.






Begin the Beguine (1935)

Don’t Fence Me In (1934)

From This Moment On (1950)


I Love Paris (1952)

I Get a Kick Out of You (1934)

I’ve Got You Under My Skin (1936)

In the Still of the Night (1937)


Let's Do It, Let's Fall In Love (1928)

Night and Day (1932 - one of ASCAP's top 10 all time money makers)

You’re the Top (1934)







True Love (1956)
Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly sing a duet aboard the yacht True Love in High Society, the musical remake of Philip Barry’s 1939 stage play, The Philadelphia Story (made into an acclaimed film in 1941).

 



Some songs have remained inexplicably obscure. After You, Who? was a great favorite of Mabel Mercer, but I had not heard anyone else sing it in years. Imagine my surprise when John Barrowman included it on a recent album.



After You, Who? - The Gay Divorce* (1932)

Though with joy I should be reeling that at last you came my way,
There's no further use concealing that I'm feeling far from gay,
For the rare allure about you makes me all the plainer see
How inane, how vain, how empty life without you would be.

After you, who could supply my sky of blue?
After you, who could I love?
After you, why should I take the time to try,
For who else could qualify - after you, who?
Hold my hand and swear you'll never cease to care,
For without you there what could I do?
I could search years but who else could change my tears
Into laughter after you?

* Hollywood codes forced the 1934 film version to be called The Gay Divorcée. Censors would not concede that a divorce could be something joyous. I kid you not.

Trivia: Cole Porter was left handed and found it awkward to write down music on staff paper. He worked out a solution by turning the paper at a right angle, so that the staff lines were vertical. True.

Friday, April 23, 2021

King Ludwig II of Bavaria (1845-1886)

Paul von Thurn und Taxis, a Bavarian prince, kept a diary, but like everything else concerning him in the Regensburg archives of the powerful and wealthy Thurn und Taxis family, it was destroyed. Aside from the fact that he pursued a career as a professional stage actor, a likely reason is that Paul was an intimate, devoted boyfriend to the Wittelsbach crown prince Ludwig (shown at right), who ascended to the throne at age eighteen. Paul and Ludwig engaged in behavior that would be unflattering to the Thurn and Taxis dynasty.

From a letter sent by Paul to Ludwig on May 5, 1866, when King Ludwig was 20 years old:

“Dear and Beloved Ludwig! I am just finishing my diary with the thought of the beautiful hours which we spent together that evening a week ago which made me the happiest man on earth… Oh, Ludwig, Ludwig, I am devoted to you! I couldn’t stand the people around me; I sat still and, in my thoughts I was still with you...How my heart beat when, as I passed the Residenz, I saw a light in your window.”

Paul and Ludwig also shared a passion for composer Richard Wagner and the theater. Paul was gifted with a beautiful voice and sang for the king many times. When Paul and Ludwig visited Wagner’s home, the lads shared a “cosy little room,” as described in one of Paul’s letters. Wagner rehearsed Paul in a portion of his opera Lohengrin, which was performed for the 20th birthday of the king on August 25, 1865, at the Alpsee in Hohenschwangau, where Ludwig’s family had a favorite castle. It was magnificently staged with Paul dressed as the hero Lohengrin, wearing silver armor, drawn over the lake by an artificial swan as the scenery was illuminated by electric lights. The King sat enraptured as his intimate friend sang his favorite music.

A year later, on New Year’s day, 1867, all Bavaria was delighted to hear the announcement of their dashing King Ludwig’s engagement to Princess Sophie, a native Duchess and sister to “Sisi,” the beloved Empress of Austria. The royal wedding was arranged to take place on Ludwig’s 22nd birthday, August 25, but an official announcement early in the summer postponed the nuptials until October 12. However, Ludwig broke off the engagement a week before the marriage was to take place. In a long letter to Princess Sophie, he stated that the engagement and wedding had been forced upon him; he loved the Princess “like a sister” and hoped to remain her friend.


Ludwig's Coronation Portrait






There was a reason for the postponement and ultimate cancellation. During the summer Ludwig had met Richard Hornig, a groom employed at one of his stables. A blond, blue-eyed Prussian, five years older than the king, he was to become one of the most important people in Ludwig’s life. Hornig was a superb horseman, and their mutual love of horses allowed a friendship to develop. In a short time Hornig was seeing the king constantly and intimately. Hornig soon occupied the office of Crown Equerry and Master of the Horse. He controlled all horse transport, coaches and carriages, stabling, purchase, breeding and training of the Royal horses, which numbered around 500. The king and Hornig often visited the king’s remote castles, chalets and mountain huts, mostly in a four-horse carriage, but sometimes in a romantic, illuminated sleigh in the moonlight. When the two dined at the king’s castles, they were waited on by footmen dressed in 18th-century livery.

Hornig was soon acting as go-between for the king and his ministers, much as Queen Victoria’s John Brown, which caused much tongue-wagging and criticism. Ludwig and Hornig also set out on a journey through Germany to France, with the King traveling incognito as Count von Berg. It was during this time that the king issued a postponement of his wedding. The appearance of Richard Hornig in his life led to the king’s full break with Sophie. Ludwig’s homosexual relationship with Hornig made him realize that a normal love for any woman was not possible.


In fact Ludwig II went on to have a succession of handsome male companions, two of whom were Hungarian theater star Josef Kainz and courtier Alfons Weber. They were both good-looking young men, and Ludwig treated them as other royal males treated their mistresses.  Ludwig showed Kainz special favor, giving him expensive gifts, inviting him for stays in the king’s castles and asking him along for a vacation in Switzerland. They even had their photo taken together, although it is scandalous that in this portrait Kainz is seated, and the king is standing (photo at left). The king was an imposing figure at 6'4" tall.

King Ludwig was an obsessive, devoted patron of the composer Richard Wagner. The king wiped out Wagner’s enormous debts, built him a theater in Bayreuth custom designed for his operas as well as a private villa across town. Wagner lived on money supplied by the king. As the king aged, he became an eccentric recluse caught up in the building of fantasy castles decorated with murals depicting scenes from the legends upon which Wagner’s operas were based, all the while ignoring matters of state, which were left to his staff of ministers. It was during Ludwig’s reign that Prussia launched a successful campaign to unify all the disparate German kingdoms into one unified German Empire, with Prussian King Wilhelm I as kaiser.

When the king’s ministers caught wind that Ludwig was planning to dismiss his entire cabinet and replace them, they acted first. They plotted to depose him constitutionally, on grounds of mental illness, subsequently issuing a statement that he was unable to rule. However, this was accomplished without any medical examination, so the king’s diagnosis of insanity remains suspect. Among the list of bizarre behaviors described in this “medical report” was the fact that his young groomsmen were often ordered to strip naked and dance for the king’s entertainment. Poor taste, perhaps, but not insanity. Three of the four psychiatrists who signed the damning medical report had never met the king, and none had ever examined him.

Even so, the ministers made plans to place Ludwig’s younger brother on the throne. On June 12, 1886, a commission arrived at Neuschwanstein castle and served the king with an order of deposition, escorting him to Schloss Berg on the shores of Lake Starnberg. The next day the king’s body was discovered floating in the lake, alongside the corpse of Dr. Gudden, one of the psychiatrists who had declared the king insane. Gudden’s body showed evidence of a struggle and attempted strangulation, suggesting that the king tried to kill him (Ludwig was 6'4" tall and heavy-set, so there is validity to this theory). The exact cause of the king’s death remains open to speculation, since an autopsy found no water present in his lungs.


Ludwig is best known as an eccentric whose legacy is intertwined with the history of art and architecture. He commissioned the construction of several extravagant fantasy castles and palaces, the most famous being Neuschwanstein. Since his legacy of these grandiose castles lives on in the form of massive tourist revenue, King Ludwig is revered by many in Bavaria today. Here is a photo of the extravagant ceramic stove adorned with figures of Tristan and Isolde in the bedroom of Ludwig II at Neuschwanstein palace in southern Bavaria.


The three most-visited of Ludwig's castles:

top to bottom: Neuschwanstein, Linderhof and Herrenchiemsee





 

Franz, Duke of Bavaria (b. 1933) is the present head of the Wittelsbach dynasty. He is a gay man who lives in a suite of apartments in Schloss Nymphenburg (Munich), the summer residence of the Wittelsbach kings of Bavaria where King Ludwig II was born. The Duke will be 88 years old in July. Here Franz is photographed in 1993 with his nieces Duchess Marie Caroline of Württemberg (b. 1969) on the left and Duchess Elizabeth in Bavaria (b. 1973).

The Wittelsbachs were opposed to the Nazi regime in Germany, and in 1939 Franz's father Albrecht took his family to Hungary. They lived in Budapest for four years before moving to Somlovar Castle in late 1943. In March 1944, Nazi Germany occupied Hungary, and on October 6, 1944, the entire family including Franz, then aged 11, was arrested. They were sent to a series of Nazi concentration camps including Dachau. At the end of April 1945 they were liberated by the United States Army.

Note: Franz also uses Schloss Berg, the modest castle on Lake Starnberg, as a retreat. This is the location where King Ludwig II's body was found in 1886. Today a memorial cross rises from the water's surface a few yards off shore, marking the exact spot where Ludwig's body was discovered in waist-deep water. The "official" cause of death was by drowning, but this is still disputed. 40-year-old Ludwig was a strong swimmer, and no water was found in his lungs.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Cary Grant & Randolph Scott - Part I

Deeply closeted Hollywood Lovers

Cary Grant and Randolph Scott


Cary Grant & Randolph Scot share an intimate moment outside their Santa Monica beach house (1930s).

Though he married women five times, movie star Cary Grant (1904-1986) enjoyed many gay relationships during his early career in New York and Hollywood. His most famous same-sex romance was with fellow actor Randolph Scott (1898-1987), the rugged star of numerous westerns.



Grant and Scott met at Paramount Studios in 1932 and were immediately attracted to each other. Soon after, they moved in together, sharing a house at 2177 W. Live Oak Drive near Griffith Park in Hollywood. The arrangement was explained away by studio public relations agents as a way for two young actors to “cut costs and share expenses,” even though both men could easily afford their own homes. Even after Grant’s studio-arranged marriage to Virginia Cherrill, the two men continued to bear a torch for each other; just a few months into Grant's marriage, he attempted suicide. After a 13-month marriage, in a 1935 divorce settlement, Cherrill received $50,000, which was equivalent to 50% of their community property at the time. Grant moved back in with Scott.

Randolph Scott


Randolph Scott (above), beyond handsome.

Between liaisons with other men and women, Grant and Scott’s relationship endured, well known to their colleagues in the industry. In the late 1930s, Grant and Scott occupied a Santa Monica beach house at 1019 Ocean Front (since renumbered – now 1039). In fan magazines, they were  photographed together in domestic bliss, wearing aprons and cavorting pool side or on the patio. According to Grant’s biographer, they believed their public openness and flamboyance would raise them above suspicion of homosexuality. The public bought it, and Grant enjoyed a screen career as a suave ladies’ man for the next three decades, while Randolph Scott made popular westerns, always playing rugged, masculine characters.

Don’t miss My Favorite Wife (1940 - available from NetFlix), a film featuring Grant and Scott as co-stars in a screwball comedy. In this trailer for the movie, Scott appears with Cary Grant at the 1:45 mark.

Cary Grant & Randolph Scott - Part II

Where there’s smoke...
Hot Saturday (1932 Paramount Pictures)

Grant and Scott met at Paramount while making the movie, Hot Saturday, and sparks flew on screen and off. In one scene a very tall 34-year-old Randolph Scott (Bill) dances with his fiancée (Ruth, portrayed by Nancy Carroll). 28-year-old Cary Grant (Romer) emerges from the rumble seat of his car as he arrives at the dance, and Cary Grant cuts in on Carroll and Scott, and the sexual tension between the two men is so hot that Nancy Carroll is all but superfluous. See for yourself on Netflix.




American actor Randolph Scott reaches out to British born Cary Grant.



The two stars shared a Santa Monica beach house (jokingly known as Bachelor Hall) during the 1930s as well as a mansion in Los Feliz (2177 West Live Oak Drive* – the house still stands). The two cohabitated for 11 years and remained friends throughout their lives, and between them had seven marriages. Randolph Scott’s career reached its peak in the 1950s, when he was the king of Hollywood westerns.

Both went on to marry heiresses. It is well known that Grant was married to Barbara Hutton. Scott was married to heiress Marion DuPont for three years, but they did not live together or have a sexual relationship. Scott remained in Los Angeles, while Marion pursued her equestrian interests at her estate in Virginia known as Montpelier. This, er 55-room mansion in Orange, Virginia, was the ancestral and retirement home built by President James Madison. Today a framed black and white photograph of Scott sits on a bookcase in the Montpelier museum annex that preserves the Art Deco interior of DuPont’s equestrian trophy room; the photo is the sole reference to their marriage. The rest of the house has been returned to its appearance as it was when President Madison lived there. Weirdly, Scott had served as best man at Marion’s first wedding. Stranger still is the fact that Scott had been born in Orange County, Virginia. Clearly fond of each other, Marion and Randolph remained close friends all their lives.

People who knew them early in their careers said Grant and Scott lived openly gay lives behind closed doors, but, as was the case with Rock Hudson, arranged marriages were the order of the day. Studios had to protect their financial properties and interests. The name "Bachelor Hall" and the reported parade of women through there were orchestrated by the studios, who wanted to keep their valuable actors away from any scandal.

Famed homosexual film director George Cukor said this about the homosexual relationship between the two: “Oh, Cary won't talk about it. At most, he'll say they did some wonderful pictures together. But Randolph will admit it – to a friend.” Chronicler of Gay Hollywood William J. Mann, in his book Behind the Screen -- How Gays and Lesbians Shaped Hollywood, relates an incident from the 1970s in which a maitre-d' at a Beverly Hills hotel saw Grant and Scott sitting in the back of the restaurant, late at night, now old and white-haired, after all the other diners had left. They were holding hands.

Nevertheless, legions of fans refuse to believe that either man ever took part in a homosexual relationship. Yet both fashion critic Richard Blackwell and glamor photographer Jerome Zerbe claimed they had affairs with both Grant and Scott; and before meeting Scott, Grant had lived with gay Hollywood costume designer John Orry-Kelly.


An oft-repeated swipe was: “Archie Leach (Cary Grant's birth name) was gay, but Cary Grant was straight.” He later said that ultimately, he BECAME Cary Grant, the guy up on the screen, because that’s what everyone wanted him to be.

That says it all, I think.









Photo: Cary Grant in the prime of his youth.




The mansion and pool shared by Cary Grant and Randolph Scott during the 1930s in the Los Feliz area of Los Angeles. The house stands to this day.