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.

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: