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.

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):

Friday, August 5, 2022

Sal Mineo

Bisexual actor Sal Mineo (1939-1976) was defined by two things: his unforgettable Academy Award–nominated role opposite James Dean in the film Rebel Without a Cause (at age 15), and his murder in Hollywood at the age of 37.

Nevertheless, the Bronx-born actor of Italian heritage appeared in 22 films, directed stage plays and operas and made many television appearances. While still a youth he was mentored by Yul Brynner in the stage musical The King and I,  Mineo had taken over the role of the young Prince Chulalongkorn three months into the show's initial run.

Sal Mineo was so convincing as Plato in Rebel Without a Cause* that he was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor, leading to his being forever typecast as a troubled youth. It was difficult for him to sustain an acting career when he became too old for such parts. A welcome exception came with the role of a Jewish emigrant in Otto Preminger’s film Exodus (1960), for which he won a Golden Globe Award and received a second Academy Award Nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Another escape from typecasting was his star turn as drummer Gene Krupa in The Gene Krupa Story (1959).

*Rebel Without a Cause also starred Natalie Wood. All three of the leads – James Dean, Sal Mineo (photo still from the film at left) and Natalie Wood – met with tragic, untimely deaths.

His mother, a quintessential stage mother, acted as his manager and spent his fortune faster than he could make it, leading to a series of financial crises, especially as his career tapered off.

In 1976 Mineo was stabbed to death in an alley next to his apartment building in West Hollywood by an unknown assailant. A year later actress Christa Helm was killed in the same neighborhood and in a similar fashion, and a pizza deliveryman by the name of Lionel Ray Williams was charged and convicted of that crime. Police had overheard him admitting to the murder of Sal Mineo, stating that at the time of the stabbing he did not know that his victim was Sal Mineo.

In “Sal Mineo: A Biography” (2010) by author Michael Gregg Michaud*, several rumors and speculations about Mineo’s private life are cleared up. British actress Jill Haworth, to whom Mineo was once engaged to be married, was not just a “beard” to mask a homosexual orientation. Although Sal Mineo idolized his bisexual film star James Dean, the two did not engage in sexual relations. The same with actor Don Johnson, who co-starred with Mineo in a stage production of Fortune and Men’s Eyes (1969), a play with a homosexual theme; Johnson and Mineo had once been roommates. At the time Mineo was murdered, he had been in a six-year relationship with male actor Courtney Burr III.

*From a book review by Gerry Burnie:
This exhaustive biography is not only a tribute to Sal Mineo, a talented and misunderstood individual who lived life to the fullest – no matter what he did – it is also a tribute to the author’s unrelenting dedication. For example, the writing of “Sal Mineo: A Biography” took Michaud ten years and three years of research to complete. Moreover, numerous interviews were conducted, most particularly with Jill Haworth and Courtney Burr (both were Sal Mineo’s lovers), to give it a personal insight beyond the written record...Full of details and previously undisclosed anecdotes, the biography captures a career of ups and downs and a private life of sexual impulses.

It's a little-known fact that Sal Mineo was the model for The New Adam, a colossal 8-foot-tall by 39-foot-long male nude painting (1962), precisely and sensually rendered in full frontal anatomical detail over nine linen panels by artist Harold Stevenson (1929-2018).

   Since 2005 the painting (panels separated, above) has been  part of the permanent collection of the New York City Guggenheim Museum, as shown in the image below. Note: currently not on display.