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.

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Sir Ian McKellen

English born Sir Ian McKellen (b. 1939) is perhaps the most famous openly gay actor who has played more straight than gay characters. His work is known to generations of movie, TV and theater-goers. During the 1960s he began his career as a classical actor specializing in Shakespeare. Six decades later, he was playing King Lear during the 2017 season of the Chichester Festival Theatre.

Although he began a modest film career in 1969, it was not until he appeared in several Hollywood blockbusters that he was introduced to an entirely new generation of movie-goers. The X-Men (as Magneto) and Lord of the Rings (as Gandalf) franchises of the early 2000s and the more recent Hobbit films have brought world-wide fame and recognition. Recently he was seen in the live-action film version of Beauty and the Beast, in which he portrayed Cogsworth. As well, his December 2016 London stage performance of Harold Pinter’s No Man’s Land with Patrick Stewart was broadcast to movie theaters worldwide as part of the National Theatre Live Encore series.

Sir Ian came out publicly on BBC television in 1988, just shy of his fiftieth birthday. Since then, he has been involved as an activist for multiple LBGT rights issues. He freely uses his name recognition to advance international causes that could use a boost. 

McKellen was knighted twice. In 1991 he was appointed Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (which granted him the use of the title “Sir”) and again in 2008 for services to the performing arts, becoming a part of the Order of the Companions as Companion of Honor (CH).
Sir Ian’s official web page, launched in 1997, contains an in-depth look at his enduring career. There are hundreds of photographs, both personal and professional biographies, essays and links to his blog and the many causes he champions.

He has received a Tony award, a Golden Globe award, a SAG award, two Oscar nominations, five Emmy Award nominations and four BAFTA nominations – as well as every major theatrical award in the UK.

McKellen’s performance as Gandalf the Grey in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring brought him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor and a Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Award. He received his first Academy Award nomination, for Best Actor, for his portrayal of gay film director James Whale, in Gods and Monsters (1998). McKellen starred as Richard III (1995) in his own screen-adaptation of Shakespeare's play, which he also produced. Other film credits include Six Degrees of Separation, Cold Comfort Farm, Bent and The Da Vinci Code.

McKellen has also been honored for his extensive television work, from the miniseries The Prisoner to his monumental performance in King Lear, from his reincarnation of Tsar Nicholas II in the tele-film Rasputin, to his classic guesting as himself in HBO's Extras. He co-starred with Derek Jacobi and Frances de la Tour in two seasons of ITV's series Vicious, which aired on PBS in the US. On the first night of Channel 4 in the UK, McKellen played a mentally handicapped man in Stephen Frears' Walter. He delighted everyone with his 10 episodes in Britain’s longest running soap, Coronation Street.

Sir Ian is also a co-founder of Stonewall UK, which lobbies for legal and social equality for gay people.

Monday, November 21, 2022

Charles-Camille Saint-Saëns: 1835-1921

NOTE: Your blogger recently performed an organ work by Saint-Saëns, so this post has been expanded and updated.

When his father died when he was only three months old, Charles-Camille Saint-Saëns was raised by his mother in Paris and continued to live with her until her death. He became one of the world’s most famous composers in his day, and he was a homosexual possessed of a complicated private life, which often revealed his dark side.

Saint-Saëns was a child prodigy (on the level of Mozart), and made his debut as a concert pianist in 1846, before his eleventh birthday. As an encore, Saint-Saëns offered to play any of Beethoven's 32 piano sonatas from memory. Word of this incredible experience spread across Europe and as far as the United States, where it was mentioned in an article in a Boston newspaper. Having all 32 of Beethoven’s sonatas in ones fingers, ready for concert performance, was an unheard-of feat (then as now), all the more astonishing when offered by a ten year old.

By the age of 13, Saint-Saëns was attending the Paris Conservatory. He soon gained recognition among his peers as an organ virtuoso, eventually attaining the highly coveted position of chief organist at the Madeleine Church in Paris, a post he held from 1858, at the age of 23, until he was 42 years old. His weekly organ improvisations captured the attention of all Paris. As a composer, he was highly versatile, writing operas, symphonies, concertos, much chamber music, masses and other choral works, songs and solo literature for organ and piano. His opera Samson et Dalila still ranks among the standard repertoire of opera houses all over the world. His music was wildly popular during his lifetime, and he was well-connected with other composers, particularly Hector Berlioz and Franz Liszt. Gabriel Fauré, who was Saint-Saëns's favorite pupil, soon became his closest friend.

His now popular Le Carnaval des animaux (The Carnival of the Animals, 1886), for two pianos and orchestra, was intended as a private entertainment for friends, and Saint-Saëns forbade its public performance during his lifetime. The part of the narrator, now frequently included during performance, was added by others after his death. It is a little-known fact that Saint-Saëns had the distinction of being the first noted composer to write a musical score for a motion picture, The Assassination of the Duke of Guise (L'assassinat du duc de Guise, 1908), featuring actors of the Comédie Française in Paris.

Once called a second Mozart, Saint-Saëns soon made many enemies, who were envious of his stellar success and disdainful of his biting sarcasm. Later in life he was declared to be a “composer of bad music well written.” In old age he came to be mocked for his rabid conservatism, his dislike of modern music, the campaigns he mounted against French composers Claude Debussy and Cesar Franck, his shocked disapproval of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring (allegedly infuriated over what he considered the misuse of the bassoon in the ballet's opening bars) and his insistence, during World War I, that all German music be suppressed. He was never shy with opinion.

Saint-Saëns was a true polymath. In addition to conquering the world of music as composer, conductor, critic, teacher and concert organist and pianist, he excelled in the fields of geology, archaeology, botany, mathematics and lepidoptery. He held discussions with Europe's finest scientists and wrote scholarly articles on acoustics, occult sciences, ancient theatre decoration, and early musical instruments.  Saint-Saëns wrote a philosophical work that spoke of science and art replacing religion, and his pessimistic and atheistic ideas foreshadowed Existentialism. Other literary achievements included poetry and a successful farcical play. He was also a member of the Astronomical Society of France, giving lectures on mirages; he had a telescope made to his own specifications and planned concerts to correspond to astronomical events, such as solar eclipses.

The private life of Camille Saint-Saëns was filled with turmoil. He was homosexual but realized how much marrying would bolster his reputation. Understandably, he showed little outward sign of wanting to marry. However in 1875, at the age of almost 40, he began an affair with nineteen year old Marie-Laure Truffot, which led to marriage. Immediately after their wedding, Saint-Saëns declared that he was too busy for a honeymoon and took Marie straight home to live with his mother. Thereafter the composer treated his wife with deep disdain, until the arrival of children brought out a more sympathetic side. But tragedy intervened when both children died within six weeks of each other in 1878. André, aged two, fell from a fourth floor window, and soon afterward his baby brother Jean became ill and died. Saint-Saëns blamed Marie for the children's deaths, and a short time later he walked out on her in the middle of a holiday trip. Though there was no divorce, Marie never saw him again.

Saint-Saëns was solitary and secretive, prone to disappearing for weeks at a time. He could also be a remarkable host, often entertaining friends lavishly at his Paris home, where his performances in drag were well-known among his circle, particularly his impersonation of Marguerite, the female soprano lead in Charles Gounod's opera Faust. He is reputed to have danced in ballerina tutus for the entertainment of fellow gay composer, Tchaikovsky.

After abandoning his wife, Saint-Saëns traveled extensively. He began spending winters in French-speaking Algeria, which became a favored holiday spot for European homosexuals who enjoyed the adolescent male companionship easily available there. He was quoted as saying, "I am not a homosexual, I am a pederast." Saint-Saëns died of pneumonia in Algiers, at the age of 86, on December 16, 1921.

Have a listen to his hugely popular orchestral work, Danse Macabre. I’m sure you’ll recognize it.

Trivia: Pianist Franz Liszt made an astonishing piano solo transcription of this piece.

Saturday, November 12, 2022

Don Lemon

UPDATE April 24 2023: Don Lemon was fired from his job at CNN.

UPDATE November 2022: On September 15, 2022, it was announced that Don Lemon will co-anchor a new CNN morning show with Kaitlin Collins and Poppy Harlow. On October 12, 2022, it was announced that the morning show will be named CNN This Morning.

In 2009, Don Lemon (b. 1966) made Ebony magazine’s list of 150 Most Influential African-Americans. When he came out in 2011, the CNN news anchor jested that he was “a double minority,” being both black and gay. Born in Louisiana, Lemon found his first on-air work in Chicago as a co-anchor at NBC5 News and as a correspondent for The Today Show and The NBC Nightly News. Joining CNN as a reporter six years ago, he covered the 2008 presidential election and the accusations of child molestation against Bishop Eddie Long,  during which Lemon revealed that he himself had been molested as a child. As well, he hosted a panel on transgender representations on The Joy Behar Show.

Currently a network correspondent and weekend anchor for CNN Newsroom, Lemon has won the Edward R. Murrow Award for covering the Washington DC sniper’s capture. As well he won an Emmy Award for a special report on the real estate market in Chicago.

Lemon stands out for his willingness to challenge public figures and his own industry. He tackled his own demons in his memoir, Transparent (2011), revealing the difficulties of being both black and gay. In the book he discussed racism in the black community, homophobia, and the sexual abuse that he suffered as a child. Lemon also publicly condemned the “pray the gay away” therapy.

Lemon has become an eager spokesperson for the LGBT community, speaking at events for the Human Rights Campaign and GLAAD, and he has received honors from the Anti-Violence Project and the National Lesbian and Gay Journalism Association

“I abhor hypocrisy,” Lemon stated in a recent interview. “I think if you’re going to be in the news business and telling people the truth..., then you’ve got to be honest. You’ve got to have the same rules for yourself as you do for everyone else… I think it would be great if everybody could be out. I think if I had seen more people like me who are out and proud, it wouldn’t have taken me 45 years to say it.”

Monday, October 24, 2022

Actor Luke Macfarlane

Update October 2022: 42-year-old Canadian actor Luke Macfarlane (b. 1980), is starring in the movie "Bros", a gay rom-com that is playing to many. many empty seats in theaters nationwide. Your blogger has seen it, and the problem is not the cast. The problem is the script. As a surprise to no one, straight audiences do not want to see a movie in which Mr. MacFarlane's purported love interest is a bitchy, pushy uber-queer.

A major disappointment.

All that off toward one side, Mr. MacFarlane is perhaps best known for his portrayal of a gay man on ABC’s TV series Brothers & Sisters (2006-2011), is out in real life. The actor, in the role of Scotty Wandell on the drama, went public with his sexual orientation in 2008 in a newspaper interview in which he revealed that his family and friends were all aware of his sexual orientation.

He said, “There is this desire in L.A. to wonder about who you are, and what’s been blaring for me for the last three years is how I can be most authentic to myself, so this is the first time I am speaking about (my sexual orientation) in this way.”

In a May 2008 episode of Brothers & Sisters (photo and video clip below), McFarlane’s character wed his gay lover, Kevin Walker (played by straight Welsh actor Matthew Rhys), and he hoped the plot would help viewers overcome anti-gay prejudices.

Macfarlane adds, “We’re saying that this can be part of the cultural fabric now, because it was two series regulars, two people whom you invited into your home and saw every week.” The popular and highly praised Brothers & Sisters television series (2006-2011) won four GLAAD Media Awards for Outstanding Drama Series. Veteran actress Sally Field, who headed the ensemble cast, won a Primetime Emmy Award and a Screen Actors Guild Award for her portrayal as the matriarch of the Walker family.

Macfarlane, also a classical cellist and trumpeter, was the lead singer and songwriter for the band Fellow Nameless, which produced an underground album.

As well, Luke has enjoyed both stage and film careers since 2003. Although he appeared in the acclaimed 2011 Broadway premiere of Larry Kramer's The Normal Heart, he has been most active in television productions. Since 2014 he has made prominent appearances in The Night Shift (NBC), Killjoys (SyFy) and Mercy Street (PBS), as well as thirteen Hallmark Channel movies (not a typo). In the near future is a major role in "Platonic" an Apple TV+ comedy series (10 half-hour episodes ordered so far).

In 2018 Luke was made a naturalized U.S. citizen.

Luke in "Killjoys":

Luke plays the cello:

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Jack Cole

Jack Cole (1911-1974) was the most influential choreographer you’ve never heard of. As a dancer, choreographer and director, Cole’s relative obscurity today belies the major influence he had on stage and cinema musicals of the 1940s-50s and -60s. Considered the father of modern jazz dance, his many disciples became much more famous than their muse – Gwen Verdon, Bob Fosse, Jerome Robbins, Tommy Tune, Matt Mattox, and Alvin Ailey, among others. According to Agnes de Mille, “They all stole from Cole,” a sentiment shared by his greatest interpreter, the sassy redhead Gwen Verdon – Cole’s protégée.

A New Jersey native, Cole ventured far beyond his modern-dance roots. Entranced by the Asian influences of the Denishawn Dance Company, he studied bharata nātyam with master instructor Uday Shankar (Ravi's uncle). As a dynamic, powerhouse solo dancer, Cole projected tough masculine energy. Photos show the elegant, muscular young Cole striking sphinx-like poses dressed in harem pants and jewels, captivating audiences at NYC’s Rainbow Room with exotic, weird, entrancing movements. In many ways, he was America’s Nijinsky. He was also homosexual, but he remained closeted during his entire career. Even though the field of choreography is not exactly overly populated by heterosexuals, such were the times.

Entering the Manhattan nightclub scene, he infused Afro-Caribbean, Spanish and Asian dance motifs into floor shows. During the late 1930s the Jack Cole Dancers headlined at leading nightclubs, including regular stints at NYC’s Rainbow Room and Ciro's on the Sunset Strip in L.A. He then became a master choreographer for Broadway. stage. Among his many hits were Kismet (1953), A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1962), and Man of La Mancha (1965).

His greatest fame came from his work in nearly 30 films. Miraculously, he was able to coach stellar performances from untrained dance novices: Betty Grable, Rita Hayworth and, most notably, Marilyn Monroe. He made Rita Hayworth sizzle in “Put the Blame on Mame” in Gilda (1946). Cole was responsible for Grable’s astonishing “No Talent Joe” number in Meet Me After the Show (1951). Perhaps his greatest triumph was “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” a show-stopping performance by Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953). That was the role that made her a famous sex symbol, and Cole was responsible for every shimmy, strut, arm gesture, shoulder shrug and hip bump. Monroe, a complete dance novice at the time, was so impressed by his coaching that she insisted he work with her on five more of her film projects.

Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend

This production number made Marilyn Monroe a star. Her every gesture is Cole’s creation; he was even responsible for her breathy singing delivery. Knowing her limitations, he made a showcase number out of her available talents.

Ain’t There Anyone Here for Love

(Jane Russell – Gentlemen Prefer Blondes)
Can there be any question that it was a gay man who choreographed this number?

20th-Century Fox does not allow embedding, so you’ll have to click the link below to see this production number.

"Marilyn and I had never danced before; we were a pair of klutzes," Russell told Cole biographer Glenn Meredith Loney of Dance magazine. "Jack was horrible to his own dancers, but with us, the two broads, he had the patience of Job. He would show us and show us and then turn us over to Gwen Verdon." Russell said she fled several sessions in exhaustion, while Monroe begged Cole and Verdon to continue into the night. Cole not only choreographed the Gentlemen Prefer Blondes dance numbers, he directed them, as well. Russell revealed that “Gentlemen” director Howard Hawks was not even on the set when the dance sequences were being shot.

Much of Cole's choreography reflected the hip, cool-Daddy flavor of the Beat generation. His infamous knee glides were a trademark, but famously hard on the knees of the dancers. Cole was a slave driver, notoriously demanding of his dancers. He was a known terror in the dance studio, a force to be respected and feared. He cussed a blue steak, sparing no one, and his technique classes were brutal. When a female dancer fainted in rehearsal, others were afraid to stop, hopping awkwardly over her body. He harangued bandleaders who didn't swing and scolded chatting customers during his nightclub performances. Wearing harem pants and sporting a bare chest, he once chased a belligerent client down Wilshire Boulevard wielding a kitchen knife.

In his 1984 Cole biography, "Unsung Genius," Dance magazine writer Glenn Meredith Loney relates that, although Cole purported to loathe Los Angeles (keeping a Manhattan pied-a-terre for Broadway work), his primary residence was in an isolated location in the Hollywood Hills, way up on Kew Drive on a precipice reachable only by a dangerous, narrow twisting road, barely wide enough for one car. This was the perfect place for a closeted gay man to hang out, and Cole lived here from 1943 until his death from cancer at 62 in 1974. In his last two years of life, he was a treasured UCLA dance instructor and a scholar with an impressive private dance library.

Jack Cole: Jazz Dancing

Friday, September 30, 2022

George Maharis

UPDATED BLOG POST: George Maharis died at home in Beverly Hills on May 24, 2023. He was 94 years old.

Hollywood actor George Maharis (b. 1928) was arrested November 21, 1974 and charged with committing a sex act with a male hairdresser in the men's room of a gas station in Los Angeles. 46 years old at the time, Maharis was booked on a sex perversion charge and released on $500 bail. Six years earlier Maharis had been arrested by a vice squad officer for lewd conduct in the restroom of a Hollywood restaurant; the officer said Maharis made a pass at him.

Well, now that we have that out of the way...

Best known for his role as Buz Murdock on the hit 1960s CBS television series Route 66, Maharis had just posed nude for Playgirl magazine the year before his 1974 arrest. Route 66 was a 1960-1964 series about two guys and a Corvette who roamed the country together – often dressed in coats and ties, for no apparent reason. I kid you not. Maharis received an Emmy nomination for this role in 1962. However, Maharis left the wildly popular show before it ended its run, and there has been much speculation as to why.

Maharis told the story that he had contracted infectious hepatitis in 1962, and that the shoots were so grueling that to continue would risk his health. He asked the producers to give him a less arduous schedule, but they refused, and he left the show, to be replaced by Glenn Corbett in the role of  Lincoln Case. However, others relate a different scenario. Route 66 producer Herbert B. Leonard found out that Maharis was gay and was having a hard time keeping his star’s sexual activities away from the press. Maharis also used the illness, Leonard said, as an excuse to break his contract so that he could get into movies. Co-star Martin Milner (in the role of Tod) and a Route 66 writer-producer confirm this version. 

George Maharis & Martin Milner

Maharis eventually did break into movies, but they were all forgettable B-grade films. Maharis also played stage roles, but nothing ever matched his success as Buz on Route 66, and the TV show never recovered from Maharis’s departure.

According to Karen Blocher, who is working on a book about Maharis and has interviewed him for the project, the reality of why Maharis left Route 66 is a combination of the two. She writes, “The producers felt betrayed and duped when they learned of Maharis's sexual orientation, and never trusted him again. Maharis, for his part, started to feel that he was carrying the show and was going unappreciated. So when he got sick, and came back, and started griping about the working conditions, the producers assumed it was all a ploy to either get more money or else get out of his contract and go make movies. In a less homophobic era, they might have communicated better, and worked things out instead of letting each other down.”

Maharis also had a singing career, releasing seven albums between the years 1962 and 1966, a time period that overlapped his appearance on Route 66. Maharis regularly appeared in Las Vegas nightclubs during the 1980s. Video below.


Here’s a complete Route 66 one-hour episode from early 1962.

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Steel Magnate Friedrich Alfred Krupp

The multimillionaire German steel industrialist F. A. Krupp (1854-1902) loved the Italian island of Capri, off the coast of Naples, where he resided for several months each year at the Hotel Quisisana*. He kept two yachts there, Maya and Puritan, from which he entertained and pursued his hobby of oceanography. He could well afford to, since his father – Alfred, the Cannon King – had amassed the largest personal fortune in Germany. Alfred's power was so great that crowned heads negotiated directly with him.

While on the island, Krupp (known all his life as Fritz)  indulged his homosexual leanings in a big way. He set up a lavish private pleasure club in a grotto, where he entertained underage Italian boys, mostly the sons of local fishermen. Man on man sex was performed to the accompaniment of a live string quartet, and orgasms were celebrated with bursts of fireworks. Solid gold pins shaped like artillery shells or two crossed forks, both designed by Krupp, were given to the boys if they performed well. I'm not making this up.

When Krupp's wife, back home in Germany, heard rumors of what was going on, she went straight to Kaiser Wilhelm II, who promptly had her committed to an insane asylum in Jena. The thinking was that the Krupp industrialist empire (steel and arms manufacturing) was too vital to German national security to be compromised, even if such lurid stories were deemed true. Besides, Fritz was an important philanthropist who advanced the study of eugenics, which was later to become associated with the Nazis. The company lives on today as Thyssen-Krupp AG, the result of a controversial merger completed in 1999. The new company operates worldwide in steel manufacture, capital goods (elevators and industrial equipment) and services (specialty materials, environmental services, mechanical engineering, and scaffolding services).

But I digress. Krupp’s homosexual tastes predated his holidays on Capri. Conrad Uhl, proprietor of the Hotel Bristol in Berlin, related that he was charged with supplying Fritz with young boys when he stayed there. However, the German press eventually found out about Krupp's illicit private affairs, and printed the whole story, complete with damning photographs taken by Krupp himself inside the grotto on Capri. On  November 15, 1902, the Social Democratic magazine Vorwärts reported that Friedrich Alfred Krupp was homosexual, that he had a number of liaisons with local boys and men, and that his principal attachment was to Adolfo Schiano, an 18-year-old barber and amateur musician who lived on Capri. A week later, Krupp requested a meeting with his close friend, Kaiser Wilhelm II, whose circle of friends included many prominent gay men. On the day he was to meet the emperor, November 22, 1902, Krupp was found dead in his home. Rather than face disgrace, Krupp had committed suicide; he was 48 years old at the time.

The suicide was covered up, and his body was concealed in a casket with no autopsy, even though law required it. No one, not even close relatives, was allowed to see the body. After three days, Germany had a great memorial ceremony involving the Kaiser, who was closely allied to the family. When Fritz was laid to rest in the Krupp family cemetery in Essen, his tomb was guarded day and night.

Ten years ago, when I first visited Capri**, I looked down in wonder from the Gardens of Augustus to the switchback paved footpath known as the Via Krupp, a scenic walkway constructed by Fritz in 1900. Ostensibly Via Krupp was a connection for Fritz between his rooms at the Hotel Quisisana and Marina Piccola, the small port where his marine biology research ship (ironically named the Puritan) lay at anchor. Secretly, however, this path conveyed him to Grotta di Fra’ Felice, the grotto where sex orgies with local boys took place. When the scandal surfaced, Krupp was asked to leave Italy in 1902, and a week  after his return to Germany his life was over.

*The Grand Hotel Quisisana is today a member of Leading Hotels of the World.

**At the time I had no knowledge of this lurid tale. Today there is a small family-run three star hotel called Villa Krupp on Capri which many people mistakenly believe was built by Fritz Krupp. However, this structure was built as a private villa in 1900 by Eduardo Settanni. By the way, Capri was then known as the gay capital of Europe, hosting hordes of lesbians and gay men, who could pursue their interests openly. Tip: remember to pronounce Capri with the accent on the first syllable (KAH-pree).

The Via Krupp descends 300 feet from the Gardens of Augustus to Marina Piccola, where Fritz hosted all male sex orgies in the nearby Grotta di Fra’ Felice. The iron gate pictured below leads to the grotto. He referred to this grotto as the "holy place of a secret fraternity," and he gave out golden keys to the private gate to waiters and fisherman. He wasn’t even trying to be discrete. This stone path, which had been closed for thirty years because of the danger of falling rocks, was reopened to foot traffic in 2009.

Photo below: On Capri Fritz Krupp satisfies his "needs," which leads to disaster (Auf Capri geht Fritz Krupp den Bedürfnissen nach, die ihm schließlich zum Verhängnis werden) – a scene from the 2009 three-part German TV miniseries, Krupp – Eine Deutsche Familie. In this scene Krupp (center) brings one of the local boys back to his hotel to "satisfy his needs."

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Tsar Alexander I of Russia


Alexander I (1777-1825), emperor of Russia from 1801 to 1825, was born in St. Petersburg, where he was raised by his grandmother, Catherine the Great. He was the first Russian King of Poland (1815 to 1825) and also the first Russian Grand Duke of Finland and Lithuania. At age 24 Alexander ascended to the Russian throne after the assassination of his father, Tsar Paul I. For Alexander’s indirect involvement in the plot to kill his father, he suffered from guilt the rest of his life.

Rumors of Alexander’s homosexuality began soon after his coronation in 1801. His companion and aide was Prince Peter Volkonsky, who served the Tsar as Chief of Staff and Imperial Minister, going on to become one of the most decorated officers in the Russian army. Prince Volkonsky was, according to K. K. Rotikov, “partial to a fair few of his fellow officers.” Alexander was so smitten that he once tearfully proposed that he and Volkonsky “retire together to a villa on the Black Sea.” It should be mentioned that Prince Volkonsky had also participated in the plot to remove Tsar Paul I from the throne.

Well, there you have it.

The dashing Prince Peter Volkonsky:

During the early part of his rule, Alexander relied on four of his young male companions for political guidance and support. Whatever Alexander reaped from his relationship with those four lads, it was definitely not astute political advice. Alexander spent the first years of his reign fighting Napoleon, who defeated him at the Battle of Austerlitz (it was Prince Volkonsky who commanded the Russian troops). Forced to sign the humiliating Treaty of Tilsit in 1807, which  among other things brought the Holy Roman Empire to an end, Alexander made a comeback in 1812 by defeating the French – cue Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” while dusting off Tolstoy’s ”War and Peace”. For a brief time Alexander became a hero across the continent. 

All that off to one side, the tsar had two daughters with his wife and four other children by two mistresses. It appears he was a quite active bisexual.

After the Congress of Vienna in 1815, however, Alexander’s mental state deteriorated, and he turned to religious mysticism. He had hoped to establish a new Christian order in Europe through a Holy Alliance with Austria and Prussia, but he ended his reign as a recluse.

Napoleon said of Alexander I, "He was the slyest and handsomest of all the Greeks!*"

*At the time of Napoleon’s comment, “Greek” meant “homosexual male.”


Queers in History (2012)


Saturday, August 20, 2022

Siegfried Wagner's Homosexual Circle

Siegfried Wagner (1869-1930), son of the great German opera composer Richard Wagner (father and son in photo at right), displayed a feminine demeanor while growing up and was greatly attached to his mother. During his student days he often dressed up as a ballerina, and he had affairs with several of his fellow male students.

Siegfried, who was also the grandson of pianist/composer Franz Liszt, became part of a circle of high-profile closeted homosexual men, including English composer Clement Harris, tenor Max Lorenz, writer Oscar Wilde, illustrator Franz Stassen and Prince Philipp of Eulenburg. In 1892 Clement Harris and 23-year-old Siegfried set off on an around-the-world tour together, and the two fell deeply in love. Wagner kept a portrait of Harris on his desk for the rest of his life.

When journalist Maximilian Harden later accused Prince Philipp of Eulenburg and others close to Kaiser Wilhelm II of homosexuality (Harden-Eulenburg Affair), Siegfried either had to get married or be exposed for what he was. So it was that in 1915 at the age of 46, after strong prodding from his mother, Siegfried Wagner married an 18-year-old Englishwoman named Winifred Klindworth, with whom he had four children, thus providing heirs for the continuation of the Wagner dynasty. His sexual orientation, however, became the source of both scandal and concerted attempts to erase it from the history of the Wagner family.

Siegfried Wagner in his twenties (left).

When the Wagner dynasty’s papers were bequeathed to Bayreuth’s Richard Wagner Foundation in 1973, Winifred Wagner included Siegfried’s musical scores but withheld her husband's correspondence. This was consistent with the family’s notorious stalling and purging of any revelations that would taint the legacy of Richard Wagner.

In response to Harden’s insinuations about his sexual nature, Siegfried replied, “There was ugly gossip about Frederick the Great, too, the greatest king of all time – and he made Prussia great and strong! So don't worry. I won't defile the House of the Festival.” The irony in that statement is that all the rumors and gossip about Frederick the Great were true.

Siegfried did not give up social and sexual relations with homosexuals, however, and he and Franz Stassen (1869-1949), a gay artist who had served as the best man at Siegfried’s wedding, continued a social and artistic relationship that lasted for decades. Stassen (at left) was a noted Art Nouveau painter and illustrator who also married. Siegfried introduced Stassen to Wagnerian tenor Max Lorenz (1901-1975), much admired by Hitler, even though Lorenz was a gay man married to a Jewish woman. For a time Stassen and Lorenz were involved in an affair. When Hitler, who was a financial supporter of the Bayreuth Festival, could no longer publicly endorse Lorenz, it was Siegfried’s wife Winifred who used her influence to rescue Bayreuth’s star heldentenor from public disgrace, exile and possible imprisonment over a charge of homosexuality.

Most historians concede that Hitler and Winnifred (below) carried on an affair after Siegfried’s death in 1930; there were even rumors of a possible marriage. Although Winifred was proud of her association with Hitler, when he visited her at Bayreuth, she took pains to conceal the connection. Hitler would register at the Hotel Bube in nearby Bad Berneck, and Winnifred would send her own car to pick him up, so that Hitler's ostentatious Mercedes would not be seen pulling into the driveway at Wahnfried, the Wagner family's villa built for Richard Wagner by King Ludwig II of Bavaria.

Following in his father’s footsteps, Siegfried Wagner was also a composer, but his operas, although popular during his lifetime, never entered the standard repertoire. In 1896 Siegfried began conducting at the Bayreuth Festival and from 1906-1930 was the festival’s sole artistic director. In Siegfried’s controversial 1930 staging of his father’s opera Tannhäuser, he boldly embellished several scenes with scantily clad male teenagers. In the opening Venusberg bacchanal scene their costume consisted of ballet slippers and loincloths -- nothing else. Don't believe me? There is archival video on YouTube.

Siegfried dedicated one of his eighteen operas to Franz Stassen, who designed stunning illustrations for the programs for Wagnerian opera productions at Bayreuth (example at right). Franz also published homoerotic drawings and paintings and went on to become a major player in the Teutonic Art Nouveau style. During the last decade of his life Stassen wrote recollections about his male "soul mate", thus publicly hinting at his own homosexuality. An aside -- Stassen was adept at illustrating male posteriors, most often naked, in a fashion we would describe these days as "perfect bubble butts".

In the previous decade Stassen had also become associated with the Nazi Party. He created four important tapestries for Hitler's Reich Chancellery in Berlin that illustrated motifs of the Germanic Edda sagas. In gratitude, Hitler awarded him the title of professor in 1939.

After 1941 Franz lived openly with his male partner and professed his homosexual orientation, but the Third Reich generously overlooked and ignored this declaration. In the final phase of World War II, Hitler included Stassen in the Gottbegnadeten (Gifted by God) list of important artists most crucial to Nazi culture.

Wagnerian tenor Max Lorenz (right) was homosexual as well, but in 1932 he married Lotte Appel, a Jewish singer who was aware of his sexual orientation going into the marriage. Max’s homosexuality was tolerated by the Nazis as a well-known secret, because Lorenz was a favorite of Hitler. When Lorenz was dragged into court because of an affair with a young man, Hitler advised Winifred Wagner, the director of the Bayreuth Festival after Siegfried’s death in 1930, that Lorenz would not be suitable for the Festival. She replied that in that case she would have to close the Festival, because, “...without Lorenz, there can be no Bayreuth.” Lorenz was thus retained.

As for his Jewish wife Lotte, Max insisted on being open about his marriage of convenience, which was taken as a provocation by the Nazis. Once when Lorenz was away from his house, the SS burst in and tried to take Lotte and her mother away. At the last moment Lotte Lorenz was able to make a phone call to Hermann Göring’s sister, and the SS was ordered to leave their residence and not bother the women. Göring stated in a letter dated March 21, 1943, that Lorenz was under his personal protection, and that no action should be taken against him, his wife, or her mother.

Siegfried Wagner -- Violin Concerto in One Movement (1915):

Second Movement (1927) of Siegfried Wagner’s Symphony in C (in the earlier 1925 first version of the symphony, the slow movement was recycled from the prelude to Der Friedensengel, an opera written in 1914):