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, September 19, 2017

Pier Paolo Pasolini



Italian film director, poet, writer, actor and painter Pier Paolo Pasolini (1922-1975) was a highly controversial figure who was at the center of postwar European intellectual life. He was involved in 33 trials relating to scandals, censure and assorted controversies. He was also a defiant homosexual, visionary artist, a Catholic who was tried for insulting the Church, and a non-aligned Leftist.



Pasolini was born in Bologna and became a member of the Communist party in 1949, but his political enemies outed him as homosexual, resulting in his being expelled from the party. This ruined his career as a teacher, resulting in a move to Rome, where he wrote poetry and novels of high quality, although laced with obscenity, which brought on subsequent prosecutions. He favored scandal and going against the tide, with a willingness to shock.  Beginning in the 1960s he began writing plays while he was dabbling in film-making. It is for his films that he is remembered today.


While openly gay from the very start of his career, Pasolini rarely dealt with homosexuality in his movies. One of several exceptions was “Salò” (1975), made the last year of his life. Subtitled “The 120 Days of Sodom,” the film depicted the Marquis de Sade’s compendium of sexual horrors. His personal life, however, was jump started when at age forty he met the great love of his life, fifteen-year-old Ninetto Davoli in 1962. Pasolini cast him in his 1966 film “Uccellacci e uccellini” (The Hawks and the Sparrows). Even though their sexual relations lasted only a few years, Ninetto continued to live with Pasolini and was his constant companion, also appearing in six more of Pasolini’s films.


But all of this brilliance, sordidness and controversy was extinguished when Pasolini was just 53 years old. In 1975, in an act of gruesome cruelty, Pasolini was murdered by being run over several times with his own car on the beach at Ostia (the port of Rome). Seventeen-year-old hustler Giuseppi Pelosi, who was later spotted driving Pasolini’s car, was arrested and confessed to the murder. Pasolini’s body was marked by broken bones, crushed testicles and gasoline burns. Twenty-nine years later Pelosi retracted his confession, claiming that three people who denounced Pasolini as a “dirty communist” had committed the murder. New evidence indicated that Pasolini had been murdered by an extortionist, that several spools of the film Salò had been stolen (the film had not yet been released at the time of the murder), and that an eyewitness had seen a group of men pull Pasolini from his car, but the judges responsible for the investigation found that the new evidence did not justify a continued inquiry – this was Italy, after all! The crime has never been fully resolved.

Because so many of Pasolini’s films depicted a sexual and moral reality that did not reflect what society sanctioned, controversy was aroused at every turn. In addition to written works, a list of his films (1961-1975) can be found on Pasolini’s Wikipedia entry:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pier_Paolo_Pasolini

From San Francisco film critic Michael Guillen:


"Pasolini's cinema takes its inspiration from many sources: Renaissance painting, Romanticism, Freudian psychology, Italian neo-realism, ethnographic film-making, and music – his films share an affinity to musical structures and form. His aesthetic often rebuked traditional film grammar, opting instead for a spirit of experimentation. More often than not, he drew upon non-professional actors, casting peasants and urban youths who brought an authenticity and edginess to his narrative films. Behind the camera, Pasolini collaborated with top-notch film-makers, including cinematographers Tonino Delli Colli and Giuseppe Ruzzolini, costume designer Danilo Donati, and composer Ennio Morricone, often working with the crew on location, be it Syria, Yemen, or the impoverished outskirts of Rome. As a poet/film-maker, he spoke of his 'tendency always to see something sacred and mythic and epic in everything – even the most humdrum, simple and banal objects and events.' "

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Richard Grenell

Trump Nominates Openly Gay Man 
For Post as U.S. Ambassador to Germany



The White House announced that earlier this month President Trump had nominated openly gay Richard Grenell (b. 1966) for the post of U.S. ambassador to Germany, a position that requires Senate confirmation. The press release did not mention that Grenell is gay or that he was a Trump delegate to the Republican National Convention last summer, but Grenell has experience in diplomacy. During the George W. Bush administration, he was the longest serving U.S. spokesperson at the United Nations, advising four U.S. ambassadors (2001-2008).

Grenell briefly served during the 2012 presidential election as a foreign policy spokesperson for Republican nominee Mitt Romney, but resigned after less than two weeks amid pressure from social conservatives over his sexual orientation. An official of the American Family Association issued a statement at the time characterizing Grenell as a “gay activist” who would be trying to promote a “homosexual agenda.” Even so, Grenell was the first openly gay spokesman for a Republican presidential candidate.

Make of this what you will, but Grenell, who is under contract with Fox News, describes himself as a gay conservative Christian. After graduating from Evangel University, a Christian school affiliated with the Assemblies of God denomination, Grenell earned an advanced degree from Harvard’s J. F. Kennedy School of Government. A member of the Log Cabin Republicans national organization, in 1995 he worked with Paul Ryan when both were congressional staffers on the same floor. Grenell has a same-sex partner of 15 years, Matt Lashey, who graduated from Jerry Falwell's Liberty University. When serving under President Bush, Grenell tried to get his partner’s name listed in the U.N. “bluebook” directory, but the request was denied by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

While Grenell has endorsed same-sex marriage and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2013, he has expressed skepticism over the Student Non-Discrimination Act and former President Obama's 2014 executive order against anti-LGBT workplace discrimination among federal contractors. Like Trump, Grenell is hostile to the press and often accuses reporters of biases that compromise their reporting. He also shares our president’s mean-spirited Twitter habit.



The post of U.S. Ambassador to Germany has been vacant since January 20, 2017 (inauguration day), when Trump ordered all non-career diplomats to vacate our embassies world wide, without replacements. The length of time our ambassador posts have sat vacant is unprecedented.

Your blogger doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Sources: Wikipedia, the Dallas Voice, and the Washington Blade.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Tom Ford



Self-made, fabulously successful fashion designer/film maker Tom Ford celebrates his 56th birthday today (born August 27, 1961 in Austin, TX). He grew up in Santa Fe, NM, but moved to NYC while in his late teens, ending up with a degree in architecture (!) from Parsons. Along the way he studied art history and fashion, taking breaks to act in television commercials, followed by a year and a half in Paris – with his eyes wide open.

Fast forward – following stints in major positions at iconic fashion houses such as Perry Ellis, Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent, he launched his own luxury brand in 2006, and sunglasses have never been the same. He designs for both men and women – clothing, shoes, bags, eyewear, fragrances, makeup – winning major awards while practicing his exacting craft. Responding to criticism that he objectified women, Ford stated he is an "equal opportunity objectifier" and is "just as happy to objectify men".

On the horizon was a whole other career as a film director, screenwriter and film producer. In 2009 he wrote, produced, financed and directed “A Single Man,” an adaptation of Christopher Isherwood’s 1964 novel. The film premiered at the Venice Film Festival and resulted in an  Academy Award nomination for Colin Firth as Best Actor. “Nocturnal Animals” followed in 2016, winning the Grand Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival. This second film, written, co-produced and directed by Ford, is based on the Austin Wright novel, “Tony and Susan” (1993). Ford received Golden Globe nominations for Best Screenplay and Best Director.

Ford lives with his partner of more than 20 years, journalist Richard Buckley, with whom Ford shares homes in London, Los Angeles and Santa Fe. Last December the couple snagged the William Haines designed home of former socialite and philanthropist Betsy Bloomingdale, wife of the department store heir. The home is located in the exclusive Holmby Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles – with annual property taxes in the $350,000 range. Success comes with a price tag.

For a more detailed bio, click this link:
http://www.tomford.com/about

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Dimitri Mitropoulos

Greek-born orchestra conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos (1896-1960) had a distinct style while on the podium – he didn’t use a baton, he conducted without a printed musical score in front of him, and he displayed an intense, vigorous physicality (later mimicked by Leonard Bernstein and Gustavo Dudamel – all three of them criticized for it).

Born into a deeply religious family, he trained to be a monk, but abandoned that plan when he learned that the church would not allow him to keep a musical instrument in his cell. His musical career rose to the very heights of his profession, most notably as principal conductor of the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra for twelve years, followed by his appointment to the New York Philharmonic in 1950, a position regarded as the most prestigious in classical music in the United States. A talented pianist and composer in his youth, Mitropoulos championed difficult, complex newly-composed music, but it was during the time of his studies in Berlin that he redirected his focus from performing and composing to conducting.

But for all his international success and acclaim, he was victimized for his homosexuality.  During the time that Mitropoulos and Bernstein were having an affair in NYC, Mitropoulos advised the much-younger Bernstein to get married if he wanted to better his chances at leading a major symphony orchestra. Bernstein, a gay man, took his advice and married an actress – and went on to succeed Mitropoulos as conductor of the New York Philharmonic.

Photo below: Mitropoulos as both soloist and conductor with the Minneapolis Symphony.



At the height of his success as conductor of the New York Philharmonic, Mitropoulos became the subject of rumor and innuendo spawned by the open secret of his homosexuality, and he became a victim of McCarthy-era homophobia. He invariably dodged questions about his bachelor status by claiming "I married my art." Fear of being outed publicly forced Mitropoulos to sublimate his sexual desires, and he claimed that music making was a substitute for his “unlived sex life.”

Mitropoulos always lived modestly, even while being one of the highest paid conductors in the country; he gave away most of his money to assist struggling musicians and orchestras. He was sweet natured and kind, showing great professional respect for his orchestra members, but he was criticized for that, as well.

As support for Mitropoulos waned in NYC, the NY Philharmonic board looked for a replacement that would epitomize the masculine, heterosexual ideal. Ironically, they settled on Leonard Bernstein and named him co-conductor with Mitropoulos for the 1957-58 NY Philharmonic season. Bernstein took over as sole musical director in the fall of 1958. Although Mitropoulos bowed out gracefully, championing Bernstein’s talent, the loss of that job created a wound from which he never fully recovered. During the last years of his life Mitropoulos toured the world as guest conductor of major orchestras, but he succumbed to a third and fatal heart attack in late 1960 while rehearsing Mahler's Third Symphony with the La Scala Opera Orchestra in Milan. He was sixty-four years old.

Note: principal sources for this post are Linda Rapp and Geoffrey Bateman.

This video gives an up-close view of his “baton-less” conducting style – excerpts from a rehearsal and performance with the New York Philharmonic.

Third movement (Mephistopheles) of Franz Liszt’s A Faust Symphony:

Friday, August 4, 2017

Arthur C. Clarke

Famed science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke (1917-2008) was a visionary whose works, which blended scientific expertise and imagination, led to tantalizing ideas and possibilities about outer space and our relation to it. When he died in Sri Lanka, where he had lived since 1956, he was an out gay man, having posted particulars on his own web site (arthurclarke.org) in 2004.

He and film director Stanley Kubrick gave us the classic science fiction film 2001: A Space Odyssey; they were jointly credited with the screenplay. Astronomer Carl Sagan, cosmonauts and media producers alike credited Clarke with influencing the public’s attitudes toward space exploration. Gene Roddenberry acknowledged Clarke’s influence for the courage it took to pursue his “Star Trek” project in the face of ridicule from television executives. Clarke is almost universally proclaimed the preeminent science fiction writer of the 20th century. He delighted in confronting his fictional characters with obstacles they could not overcome without help from forces beyond their comprehension.

“I’m rather proud of the fact that I know several astronauts who became astronauts through reading my books,” he admitted. Yet he did not acknowledged his sexual orientation until 2004, even though he was known to host orgies with young Sri Lankan men for nearly fifty years. Many commented that he thus did a disservice to gay writers throughout the world who admired his work. However, it should be noted that the main character of Imperial Earth was bisexual and lived in a futuristic society in which exclusive heterosexuality and homosexuality were not practiced. Also, the main character of his novel Firstborn was gay.

Among his output of nearly 100 books are some, such as Childhood’s End, that have been in print continuously. His works have been translated into 40 languages. In 1962 he suffered an attack of poliomyelitis, which returned in 1984 as post-polio syndrome, a progressive condition characterized by muscle weakness and fatigue, forcing him to spend the last years of his life in a wheelchair. Still, he kept writing, and accolades continued unabated. English born, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1998.

In an effort to keep his homosexual proclivities private, he married an American diving enthusiast named Marilyn Mayfield in 1953. They separated after a few months. An important relationship was with male diver Leslie Ekanayake, who lived with him in Sri Lanka; in fact, the two are buried next to each other. As well, many of Clarke’s young male partners were installed as servants in his Sri Lankan household. Although Clarke was likely spooked by the traumatic false accusations of pedophilia by an English tabloid, his efforts to remain closeted were so successful that few acknowledgments of his homosexuality are extant, even after his 2004 self-outing and subsequent death in 2008. Kubrick biographer John Baxter cites Clarke's homosexuality as a reason why he left England, due to more tolerant laws with regard to homosexuality in Sri Lanka. Fellow science fiction writer Michael Moorcock commented, “Everyone knew he was gay. In the 1950s I'd go out drinking with his boyfriend” (Clarke himself was a teetotaler).

Friday, July 28, 2017

Jean-Michel Basquiat


New York City graffiti prodigy Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988) had honed his signature painting style of obsessive scribbling, elusive symbols and diagrams alongside mask-and-skull imagery by the time he was 20. He sold his first painting in 1981. Although he received extraordinary exposure and acclaim as a painter, the Brooklyn-born artist was also an accomplished poet and musician. But his meteoric rise as a multi-genre artist was cut short when he died from a heroin overdose at age 27*.

In the early 1980s he fell under the spell of Andy Warhol, with whom he collaborated on a series of paintings. Some say he entered into an intimate relationship with Warhol, his idol and mentor,  but Basquiat’s sexual relationship with fellow East Village artist David Bowes is better documented. However, no matter how fluid his sexual orientation has been described by art historians, most of his sexual relations were with women.

Although Basquiat’s Caribbean heritage provided ample subject matter (his father was Haitian and his mother of Puerto Rican descent), his art incorporated influences from African-American, Aztec and African cultures. Contemporary heroes such as musicians and athletes factored into his paintings, as well. Basquiat was often associated with Neo-Expressionism, and his works were shown at NYC’s most prestigious galleries and events. Tragically, a rapid descent into drug culture eventually stunted his creativity and artistic output. 


Untitled (1982): $10.5 million at auction
 

At a Sotheby’s art auction two months ago (May 18, 2017) Basquiat's “Untitled 1982" painting depicting a face in the shape of a skull, created with oil stick and spray paint, set a new record high for any U.S. artist at auction, selling for $110,500,000. Not a typo. The pre-sale estimate had been $60 million, aligned with the previous Basquiat record that had been set last year at $57.3 million, also for a skull painting. Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maesawa now owns both.

A 2009 documentary film, “Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child” was shown at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival and on PBS television in 2011.

*Basquiat is buried at Brooklyn’s historic Green-Wood Cemetery, alongside other gay and bisexual luminaries Leonard Bernstein, Dr. Richard Isay, Jean Moreau Gottschalk, Fred Ebb (of the Kander & Ebb song-writing team) and Paul Jabara. See their individual posts in the sidebar.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Paul Jabara


 Paul Jabara and Donna Summer



You might not know the name, but you know the music. Songwriter, producer, singer and actor Paul Jabara (1948-1992), of Lebanese ancestry, won an Academy Award in 1979 for writing the Donna Summer disco hit "Last Dance" (Oscar for best original song for 1978's “Thank God It’s Friday”). A native of Brooklyn, NY, he made his Broadway debut in the original cast of “Hair,” going on to create the role of King Herod in the original London production of “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

Although he wrote songs for Barbra Streisand (“The Main Event”), Bette Midler (“Jinxed”) and a duet for Streisand and Summer (“Enough Is Enough”), he is perhaps better known as the author of “It’s Raining Men” (The Weather Girls). Jabara also produced Streisand’s Grammy Award-winning “Broadway Album.” As a singer himself, he released seven albums. “Paul Jabara and Friends” (1983) featured a 19-year-old Whitney Houston.


The incomparable WEATHER GIRLS:



Paul’s movie career included roles in "Midnight Cowboy," "The Lords of Flatbush," "The Day of the Locust," "Honky-Tonk Freeway," "Star 80," "Legal Eagles" and "Light Sleeper." He also appear on television in "Starsky and Hutch," "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman," "The Equalizer" and the made-for-television movies "The Last Angry Man" and "Out of the Darkness."

Jabara died from AIDS at just 44 years old. He is buried at the historic Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, alongside such gay luminaries as Leonard Bernstein, Fred Ebb (of Kander & Ebb), Louis Moreau Gottschalk and Dr. Richard Isay (see separate posts in sidebar).


LAST DANCE video -- Donna Summer


Sources:
Wikipedia
New York Times obituary (1992)

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Dr. Richard Isay





Psychiatrist Richard Isay Fought
Mental Illness Label for Gays


Dr. Richard A. Isay (1934-2012) was a psychiatrist and gay-rights advocate who badgered the professional psychiatric community to declassify homosexuality as an illness. Dr. Isay (pronounced EYE-say) was a married father of two sons who did not admit to himself that he was gay until he was forty years old. At the time of his death from cancer, he was married to Gordon Harrell, an artist twenty years his junior.

Isay, who was a professor at Weill Cornell Medical College and faculty member at Columbia University, also authored several books, among them “Commitment and Healing: Gay Men and the Need for Romantic Love” (2006), “Becoming Gay” (1997), and “Being Homosexual” (1989).

Along his path to changing the way the psychoanalytic profession viewed homosexuality, Isay was attacked by his peers. Troubled by his own sexuality, Isay underwent ten years of therapy, after which he accepted that he was homosexual. Although he remained closeted for a time, he assisted gay patients in accepting their sexual orientation, instead of promoting a “cure” by way of therapy. He published articles promoting homosexuality as normal, not an illness or defect of development.

When Isay acknowledged his homosexuality at professional gatherings, he was attacked by his colleagues, who stopped referring patients and suggested the he needed more therapy himself. Nevertheless, over the course of fifteen years Dr. Isay championed the premise that the medical field based its views on ideology, not evidence.

Even though the American Psychiatric Association stopped classifying homosexuality as a disease in 1973, many members of the American Psychoanalytic Association (the oldest professional group for analysts in the United States and one of the most influential) continued to regard it as an illness. In 1992 Isay threatened to sue that association, ultimately forcing them not to discriminate in training, hiring or promoting gay psychoanalysts. Isay’s stubbornness paid off. By 1997, in a major turnaround, the American Psychoanalytic Association became the first national mental health organization to support gay marriage.

During the course of his illustrious career Isay also served as vice president of the National Lesbian and Gay Health Association and as a member of the board of the Hetrick-Martin Institute for LGBT youth in Manhattan.




Steven Sampson, a patient who became a friend, wrote after Isay’s death, “I think Richard was sort of a ‘bridge’ person, providing a bridge between different worlds that don’t always communicate. He was married with children, yet he was gay and had a long-term committed relationship with a man, in an environment in which long-term relationships were rare.”

From Andy Humm for Gay City News: Tobias Picker, the composer and a patient of Isay’s, wrote in an e-mail, “Richard said that fear of death came from feeling unloved. He knew he was completely loved by his husband, Gordon, and his family, and it was easy to see that he felt that love utterly and completely. He knew he was much beloved by his patients too. Not long ago, he told me...that he had no fear of death –– that he never gave it a thought.” Picker added, “For those who didn’t know him, his writings leave behind a lasting legacy of love.” Both his sons said that Isay’s favorite literary figure was Ferdinand the Bull from the Munro Leaf children’s book, the gentle beast who preferred flowers to bullfights. Richard Isay, famous for the fights he took on and won, was a lover at heart.

In addition to his sons and husband, at the time of his death Isay was survived by his former wife,  a brother, and four grandchildren, one of whom served as best man when Isay and Gordon Harrell were married in the living room of Isay’s son Josh. Dr. Isay is buried in Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery, along with other gay luminaries Leonard Bernstein, Fred Ebb (of Kander and Ebb) and Louis Moreau Gottschalk (see blog posts in sidebar).


Sources:
New York Times (Denise Grady)
Gay City News (Andy Humm)
Headline photograph: Ozier Muhammad (NYT)

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Paul Bowles



Paul Bowles

Bisexual American expatriate Paul Bowles (1910-1999) was a polymath who enjoyed successful careers as a composer, translator, novelist and poet. Until he was 35 years old he showed more interest in poetry and musical composition, although his legacy rests on his novels.

In 1937 Bowles met Jane Auer (1917-1973), a lesbian writer from a wealthy Long Island family. She walked with a permanent limp, the result of a riding accident when she was 14 years old. Both were only children who had grown up on Long Island, had lived abroad and spoke fluent French. Although American by birth, they spoke French together for the rest of their lives. Both Bowles and Auer preferred same sex partners, so their friends were baffled when the two married in 1938, having known each other for just a year. As a condition to marriage, they both agreed to be sexually “free,” while knowing that their union would upset their respective families. Paul’s anti-Semitic father, whom he hated, called Jane a “crippled kike.”

Marriage allowed each to express their homosexuality, instead of hiding it. Eighteen months into their marriage, they ceased sexual relations, although they remained devoted to each other for the rest of their lives. They were polar opposites in temperament and habits. Paul was restrained, but Jane was beyond wild. After both inherited some money, they pooled their resources to live a vagabond life free from the necessity of salaried jobs. In 1947 they settled in the city of Tangier, Morocco, living in separate apartments. They became permanent expatriates, remaining in Tangier to live out their lives.
 





At that time Tangier’s status as an international zone (separate from the rest of Morocco) had been restored, lasting until Morocco’s independence in 1956. The city’s population comprised 31,000 Europeans, 15,000 Jews and 40,000 Muslims. The cost of living in Tangier was extraordinarily cheap, and both Paul and Jane were able to receive guests from the cream of the crop of influential intellectual homosexuals. Paul became a habitual abuser of hashish, Jane of alcohol. Unfortunately, both also entered into dangerous relationships with Arab lovers. Jane, with Cherifa, who dominated and eventually destroyed her life; Paul, with a 16-year-old boy named Ahmed Yacoubi and his successor Mohammed Mrabet, 30 years younger than Paul.

Any search engine can yield a list of Paul’s musical and literary works, but his best and most successful novel was The Sheltering Sky (1949), in which Paul and Jane appear as Port and Kit Moresby, a couple who journey to northern Africa to rekindle their marriage but fall prey to the dangers surrounding them, experiencing horror and tragedy. A distinguished film version was released in 1991, with Bowles himself as narrator, also appearing in a cameo role (at age 79). Unfortunately Jane, whose literary efforts were in direct competition with her husband’s, has not enjoyed an enduring literary legacy.

While continuing to live in Tangier, Jane descended into illness and insanity. Having given away all her money and possessions, she caused Paul to have to cover checks she wrote without funds to support them. She died in a  psychiatric clinic in Málaga, Spain, at age 56. Paul died in his modest home in Tangier in 1999, at the age of 88.



A strange relation:

SALLY BOWLES – LIFE IS A CABARET

After writer Christopher Isherwood met Bowles in Berlin, Isherwood borrowed his surname in creating the literary character Sally Bowles, included in a collection of semi-autobiographical stories called Goodbye to Berlin (1939). Isherwood based the character on a woman he had known while living in Berlin. British playwright John Van Druten adapted Isherwood’s story for a 1951 Broadway play, I Am a Camera, for which Julie Harris won a Tony Award for portraying Sally Bowles. Producer Harold Prince commissioned the team of Kander (music) and Ebb (lyrics) to write the score for Cabaret, a musical version of I Am a Camera, which opened on Broadway in 1966, running for three years. It is a little-known fact that Judi Dench debuted the role of Sally Bowles in London’s 1968 West End production of Cabaret (photo evidence below). Judi Dench had never done a musical in her life, but John Kander later said that she was the best Sally Bowles he had ever seen, before or since.


Liza Minelli won an Oscar for her portrayal of Sally in the 1972 film version. Cabaret remains an oft-revived landmark of American musical theatre. A 2014 year-long Broadway revival starred Alan Cumming as the cabaret emcee and Michelle Williams as Sally Bowles.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Leo Varadkar

Openly Gay Leo Varadkar to Become
Prime Minister of Republic of Ireland


Ireland has just elected its first gay Prime Minister. 38-year-old Leo Varadkar (b. 1979) will become the youngest ever Taoiseach* and the fourth openly gay world leader, after Belgium, Iceland and Luxembourg. However, Varadkar must wait until Tuesday, June 13, before formally being appointed Taoiseach under Ireland’s election method. The Dubliner previously served as the Minister for Social Protection and Minister for Health, and was first elected to parliament at the age of 27.

“If my election...today has shown anything, it is that prejudice has no hold on this republic,” Varadkar said after his victory was announced in Dublin yesterday.

He is leader of the ruling Fine Gael party and will become Ireland’s first Prime Minister from a minority ethnic background. Varadkar’s father Ashok, who comes from Mumbai, met his Irish mother Miriam while they both worked at an English hospital. Dr. Matt Barrett has been Leo’s partner for two years, and both are fitness enthusiasts. Leo studied medicine at Trinity University (Dublin), so both Matt and Leo are qualified medical doctors. Prior to the election, Leo had stated that he would not expect Matt to accompany him on official government business (the couple are not married).

Varadkar is now one of two openly gay world heads of state currently in office – Luxembourg’s prime minister Xavier Bettel is the other. Other previous world leaders were former Belgian Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo and former Icelandic Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurõardóttir.

In 2015 the Republic of Ireland became the first country to pass gay marriage by public vote.

*Pronounced “TEE-shocks”. It means “chieftain” or “leader” in Irish. Outside of Ireland the term Prime Minister is used.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Kander and Ebb

After studying music composition at Oberlin and Columbia, John Kander (b. 1927), at left in photo, settled in New York City, where he worked as an arranger, accompanist, and conductor. He met lyricist Fred Ebb (1928-2004), at right, in 1963, and they formed a four-decade-long song writing team that produced such stage hits as Cabaret (1966) and Chicago (1975), both of which were made into award-winning films.

In 1965 Kander and Ebb joined forces with Harold Prince and George Abbott on a show called Flora, The Red Menace, which made a star out of nineteen-year-old Liza Minnelli, who won a Tony Award for her performance. In fact, Miss Minnelli and Chita Rivera went on to debut much of their material. The rest is Broadway history: The Happy Time/1968, Zorba/1968, 70, Girls, 70/1971, The Act/1977, Woman of the Year/1981, The Rink/1984, And the World Goes 'Round/1991, Kiss of the Spider Woman/1993, Steel Pier/1997 and The Visit/2001. Most of their collaborations were shows that explored the dark side of relationships, and few resulted in a happy ending.

Their contribution to the film score of Martin Scorsese's New York, New York/1977 yielded one of their most celebrated songs, sung by Liza Minelli in the film; however, it is Frank Sinatra’s cover that has become the most enduring interpretation.

Kander and Ebb – their two surnames were indivisible – it was impossible to say one without the other. Both were openly gay, and it was wrongly assumed by many that they were long-term lovers. In 2003, Kander, who has lived for nearly thirty years with Albert Stephenson (a choreographer and teacher) addressed those rumors in an interview in which he described the nature of his non-professional relations with Ebb as "his 40-year partner in creativity but never in domesticity, much less romance."

Marvin Hamlisch said of Kander and Ebb, "All I can remember is that working with Fred Ebb was a lot of fun. You know, John Kander and Fred Ebb wrote as a team. So, most of the songs that were written when we usually worked with Liza (Minnelli) were written by them. However, when it came to doing arrangements and working on Liza with a Z and putting things together, I loved working with Fred Ebb. We had the best time. He and I were really good friends. It was just delightful. He was a very, very smart man. And he was very funny. And he was very caustic. I think he probably wrote for her better than anyone in the world could have written for her. He just understood her so well."

After Ebb succumbed to a heart attack* in 2004, Kander continued working on the unfinished collaboration Curtains/2007, a murder mystery musical for which David Hyde Pierce won a Tony Award for best actor in a musical. Rupert Holmes supplied additional lyrics to complete the work. Alas, Curtains was not A-list Kander and Ebb. On a happy note, in 2010 John Kander wed his long-time partner, dancer and choreographer Albert Stephenson. Kander, who turns ninety this year, continues to work at his life-long profession. His most recent musical is The Landing/2013, with book and lyrics by Greg Pierce.

*Frank Ebb is buried at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York, also the final resting place of Leonard Bernstein.

Update: July 28, 2014

John Kander was present at the White House to receive a prestigious award presented by President Obama, who spoke these words:


The 2013 National Medal of Arts (is given) to John Kander for his contributions as a composer. For more than half a century, Mr. Kander has enlivened Broadway, television and film through songs that evoke romanticism and wonder and capture moral dilemmas that persist across generations.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Alex Morse, Young Gay Mayor

UPDATE: In November, 2013, Morse was elected to a second term as mayor. In 2015 he was elected to a third term, and in January 2017 he turned 28 years old. Original post was published on November 16, 2011.

Out and gay Alex Morse (at left, photo by Rob Deza) is the newly-elected 22-year-old mayor of Holyoke, Massachusetts, but CBS did not mention his sexual orientation on their Sunday news segment on Morse. That issue simply wasn't an issue in this campaign, according to The New Civil Rights Movement, a website dedicated to gay rights topics, especially same-sex marriage.

"He is gay. He is out. He has worked for the cause. He just won a stunner of a political victory, and as hard as this is to conceptualize, being gay was not a complicating factor in his campaign," writes Jean Ann Esselink in an article titled "On Our Radar – Mayor-Elect Alex Morse" that was posted Sunday on the website.

The 2½-minute CBS news segment included some hardscrabble images of the heavily Hispanic city, where a third of residents live below the poverty line and unemployment hovers around 11 percent. Morse, who takes office in January, says he's looking forward to managing a city with a $120 million budget and nearly 40,000 residents.

"I think of my age as an incredible asset, in that I haven't been around for 20 (or) 30 years. I'm not beholden to special interests. I haven't been around long enough to owe anybody a political favor," the mayor-elect told CBS.

But the optimism of Morse – a recent Brown University graduate who launched a mayoral bid while still attending the Ivy League school – shines through. He played up the city's bright spots, including a high-tech office park expected to serve as a magnet for new jobs and plans to renovate the old Victory Theater.

"One of the most satisfying things to do in life is to do what others tell you you cannot do, and I think that's what we did throughout this campaign," Morse says in the CBS interview. "Never once did I listen to folks who said, 'You're too young, you haven't paid your dues.'"

Morse, a political neophyte who won 53 percent of the vote in last Tuesday's election, unseated incumbent mayor Elaine A. Pluta, a longtime public servant and Holyoke's first woman mayor.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Xavier Bettel

Luxembourg's prime minister, Xavier Bettel (b. 1973) is at present the only openly gay world leader*. He became the first European Union Leader to enter into a same-sex marriage when he wed his civil partner, Gauthier Destanay, in May, 2015. Destanay, who works as an architect, comes from neighboring Belgium, and Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel attended their wedding.

A native of Luxembourg, Bettel had become the youngest member of the Luxembourg Parliament at age 26 (1999). When he was sworn in as mayor of Luxembourg City in 2011, Destanay stood by his side. Continuing a meteoric political career, Bettel became Prime Minister of Luxembourg in 2013.

Bettel’s Deputy Prime Minister, Etienne Schneider (b. 1971) is also openly gay and married his partner, Jérôme Domange, earlier this year.

Luxembourg is a Grand Duchy, bordered by France, Germany and Belgium. The constitutional monarch is Henri, Grand Duke of Luxembourg (b. 1955 – not gay!), who has the power to appoint the prime minister and represent Luxembourg’s interests in foreign affairs. Bettel with Grand Duke Henri (below):








Trivia: Bettel’s mother is the grand niece of Russian composer/pianist Sergei Rachmaninoff. 

*Bettel (b. 1973) is the third openly gay world leader. Belgian Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo left office in October, 2014, and Iceland’s Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir left office in May, 2013. That leaves Bettel as the only gay leader still in office.


In 1997 President Bill Clinton appointed openly gay James C. Hormel as ambassador to Luxembourg. Although Hormel was eminently qualified for the post and quickly won approval from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he was subjected to an ugly confirmation battle during which he was defamed and belittled by homophobic GOP senators such as Jesse Helms and John Ashcroft. His nomination was effectively blocked by Republican Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, who refused to schedule a vote. Finally, two years later, in May 1999, to the outrage of some Republicans, Clinton named Hormel ambassador via a “recess appointment.” Hormel thus became the first openly gay ambassador to represent the United States. That was the same year (still closeted) Xavier Bettel became the youngest member of the Luxembourg parliament. 

Luxembourg, the second-wealthiest country after Qatar*, was ranked #14 overall by U.S. News when it published a 2016 list of the 25 “best countries” **. Luxembourg ranked No. 1 in Open for Business and No. 10 in Quality of Life. Luxembourg is a major center for large private banking, and its finance sector is the largest contributor to its economy.

*GDP per capita $88,000; Luxembourg was $81,000.

**There were nine categories, such as Heritage, Entrepreneurship, Cultural Influence, etc. The U.S. ranked #4 overall, Great Britain #3, Canada #2 and Germany #1.  


UPDATE:

Pope Francis Welcomes Bettel and Husband 


In March 2017 Pope Francis welcomed the world’s only openly gay leader and his husband to the Vatican. Catholic officials invited Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Xavier Bettel (center) and his husband Gauthier Destenay (left) to the Holy See, where they were met upon arrival by Georg Gänswein* (above right), the dashing German-born Archbishop who still serves as personal secretary to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Bettel and Destenay joined other European heads of government for the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome on March 25, 1957.  The treaty established the European Economic Community (EEC), a major stepping stone to the establishment of the European Union (EU).

Bettel commented, “It was a great pleasure and honour for me and Gauthier to be welcomed by the leader of the Catholic Church.”

*60-year-old Gänswein rightfully earned the nickname “Gorgeous George” (Bel Giorgio). He appeared on the cover of the January 2013 Italian version of Vanity Fair magazine and was the inspiration for fashion designer Donatella Versace’s 2007 “Clergyman Collection.” For recreation the Archbishop plays tennis, flies airplanes and skis (he was once a ski instructor).

So there you have it.


Sources:
 

Joe Morgan (Gay Star News)
Wikipedia

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Poet Fitz-Greene Halleck


I just cracked open Adventures in Old New York* (Bowery Boys 2016), a birthday gift presented to me last month. There’s an entire chapter on Central Park, which I have visited too many times to count, but I didn’t know the quarter mile path bordered by huge American Elm trees that makes a straight shot north from the zoo to the Bethesda fountain and terrace is called The Mall**, and the southern part of it is known as Literary Walk. It’s here that our Bowery Boys make the gay connection. Literary honorees include Sir Walter Scott, Shakespeare and Robert Burns, but there’s also a statue of Fitz-Greene Halleck. Who? Never heard of him.

Turns out Fitz-Greene Halleck (1790-1867) was a Connecticut-born writer of romantic and satirical poetry who was so popular that 10,000 rabid poetry fans joined President Rutherford Hayes and his entire cabinet for the dedication of his Literary Walk statue in 1877, marking the tenth anniversary of  the writer’s death. Imagine that today – 10,000 people attending the unveiling of a statue of a poet. Hard to believe, but at that time (pre-radio and TV) authors were the celebrities of American culture. Halleck enjoyed tremendous readership among the general public, even though his poems and essays were infused with homosexual themes. Considering late nineteenth-century mores, the celebrants likely played down the gay stuff.

Halleck was dubbed “the American Byron” during his lifetime. Edgar Allan Poe wrote, “No name in the American poetical world is more firmly established than that of Fitz-Greene Halleck.” Charles Dickens spoke fondly of Halleck, and Abraham Lincoln read his poems out loud to friends at the White House. Newspapers published his newly-minted poems all across America and Great Britain. These were extraordinary endorsements, considering that Halleck’s writings had “gay” written all over them. Not all criticism was positive. Mark Twain ridiculed Halleck and referred to him as "girl."

Fitz-Greene, also an essayist and noted Byron scholar, moved to NYC when he was twenty-one and found a job as personal secretary to John Jacob Astor. Halleck became one of the original trustees for the Astor Library, which later formed the nucleus of the New York Public Library (Fifth Ave. at 41st Street).

Halleck was love sick for a certain fellow poet Joseph Rodman Drake (1795-1820), who partnered with Halleck in writing The Croaker Papers, a satirical send up of New York society. Published anonymously and serialized in leading newspapers, these poems seemed to delight even their targets of derision, the upper crust of New York City. Both writers were members of the “Ugly Club”***, a club specifically for handsome young men. Drake played the flute and had a fine singing voice, and joined by Halleck’s recitations, the two would entertain the membership of The Ugly Club. The two soon became inseparable.


Drake’s relationship with Halleck was fictionalized in what many call America’s first gay novel, Bayard Taylor’s “Joseph and His Friend” (1870, three years after Halleck’s death). The book is addressed to “those who believe in the truth and tenderness of man’s love for man.” Taylor had known both men and even delivered a speech at the dedication of a Halleck statue in Connecticut, in addition to the one in Central Park. See sidebar for separate post on Bayard Taylor.


But Drake (pictured above, on a vintage cigar box label), who had studied medicine, was unable to delay his early death from tuberculosis, and Halleck mourned the loss for the rest of his life. When Drake died, his coffin was followed by thirty carriages, a fitting tribute to his enormous fame at the time.

Drake had married a year before his death, and Halleck reluctantly served as best man.

“I officiated as groomsman, though much against my will...He is perhaps the handsomest man in New York – a face like and angel, a form like an Apollo...I felt myself during the ceremony as committing a crime in aiding and assisting such a sacrifice.” While Drake was on his honeymoon, Halleck could not eat, sleep or work, and fell into a serious depression. Such was the extent of Halleck’s life-long obsession with Drake that in his will the poet asked for Drake’s body to be exhumed and buried next to him.

Halleck’s biographer described the poet’s last major work, “Young America,” as both a jaded critique of marriage and a pederastic boy-worship reminiscent of classical homosexuality. Halleck rhapsodizes over his fourteen-year-old male subject in salacious detail.



All of this was news to me. So a recent warm spring day found me strolling Central Park’s Literary Walk, where I located Halleck’s granite statue. There he sits, with legs crossed, for all eternity. According to the Bowery Boys, his was Central Park’s first statue of an American.

*528 pages of fascinating details of NYC’s history told in a way that never fails to captivate. The Bowery Boys are the transplanted midwestern guys – Greg Young and Tom Myers – who produce award-winning podcasts about NYC, their adoptive home.   

**The mall is on the east side of the park, running roughly from 66th-72nd streets.    



***The Ugly Club was exclusive to the point of secrecy. Membership was by invitation, and open only to the handsomest and most foppish young men in NYC. They held seances and all male balls and recruited members from “what the ladies call rather pretty” and the men called “models of manly beauty.” Even so, there is no evidence that it was an exclusively homosexual body.


Halleck’s poetry is breezy, charming and witty. One can understand his popularity among readers of the day in this excerpt from “Fanny”. What many readers missed, however, was that his poem was the vengeful response to the fact that Drake withdrew from their writing partnership upon  marriage. This poem rails against matrimony, suggesting that marriage should be for money (Fanny’s father was rich!), not love.


FANNY (1819): excerpted verses; the entire poem numbers more than 1,500 lines

VIII
A decent kind of person; one whose head
   Was not of brains particularly full;
It was not known that he had ever said
   Anything worth repeating—’twas a dull,
Good, honest man—what Paulding’s muse would call
A “cabbage head”—but he excelled them all

IX
In that most noble of the sciences,
   The art of making money; and he found
The zeal for quizzing him grew less and less,
   As he grew richer; till upon the ground
Of Pearl-street, treading proudly in the might
And majesty of wealth, a sudden light

X
Flash’d like the midnight lightning on the eyes
   Of all who knew him; brilliant traits of mind,
And genius, clear and countless as the dies
   Upon the peacock’s plumage; taste refined,
Wisdom and wit, were his—perhaps much more.
’Twas strange they had not found it out before.

XXV
Dear to the exile is his native land,
   In memory’s twilight beauty seen afar:
Dear to the broker is a note of hand,
   Collaterally secured—the polar star
Is dear at midnight to the sailor’s eyes,
And dear are Bristed’s volumes at “half price;”

XXVI
But dearer far to me each fairy minute
   Spent in that fond forgetfulness of grief;
There is an airy web of magic in it,
   As in Othello’s pocket-handkerchief,
Veiling the wrinkles on the brow of sorrow,
The gathering gloom to-day, the thunder cloud to-morrow.




Sources:

The American Byron: Homosexuality and the Fall of Fitz-Greene Halleck
(2000), by John Hallock.

That’s So Gay: Outing Early America –  The Library Company of Philadelphia
                                           
Wikipedia

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

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 is 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. At present he can be seen in the live-action film version of Beauty and the Beast, in which he portrays Cogsworth. As well, his December 2016 London stage performance of Harold Pinter’s No Man’s Land with Patrick Stewart is being 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).



Mckellen.com
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.


Thursday, March 16, 2017

Herbert May

Herbert A. May (1891-1968), an executive vice president of Westinghouse, was a socialite and avid fox hunter who liked to entertain at Rosewall, his 28-room mansion in Pittsburgh. When his wife died of pneumonia in 1937, he was left to raise three young sons and an adopted daughter. In the ensuing years he enjoyed a quietly successful career in the railroad and banking industries and became a patron of the arts. May was head of the Pittsburgh Civic Opera and enthusiastically pursued his interest in ballet. 

After a gap of 20 years, he married for a second time, and he rose to fame with this social upgrade. His bride was none other than Marjorie Merriweather Post (wedding photo, above), one of the richest women in the world. On June 18, 1958, the couple married at her daughter’s Maryland estate. In a reply to a congratulatory telegram from her granddaughter, Marjorie replied, “Walking on fluffy pink clouds.”

Herb was the last of her husbands – number four – and at age 67* on his wedding day, he was four years younger than Marjorie, who was vibrant, energetic, youthful looking and the undisputed queen of Washington DC society. Her philanthropy kept the capital city alive. But Mr. May kept a big secret from Marjorie. He was actively bisexual.

Although Marjorie had been warned, she brushed it off as mere gossip. After all, Herb had been married and fathered three sons. Although she had met him thirty years earlier, she was happy to become reacquainted in 1957, two years after an acrimonious divorce from diplomat Joseph Davies. There was much to like about Herb. He was handsome and silver haired, but fit. As well, he was soft-spoken, diplomatic, charming, well-liked and kind.  He loved parties and loved to dance, and he had mastered the art of blowing through money. Herb had told his children not to expect any inheritance.

Before the wedding Marjorie’s daughter had been told that Herb was homosexual, and some of Marjorie’s friends repeated tales about Herb’s attachment to a male dancer from the Washington National Ballet and a handsome male personal secretary. Incredibly, Herb brought this secretary along on their honeymoon. Still, none of this deterred Marjorie. She was at the peak of her power in Washington, and Herb shared so many of her interests, while providing a partner for entertaining and carrying out her various acts of charity.

Mr. May was the poorest of Marjorie’s four husbands (one was E. F. Hutton), so she set up a trust fund for him. She was attracted to his intelligence, patronage of the arts, success in business, etc., but she was won over by his warmth, enjoyment of people and his obvious pleasure in her company. They were both tall, thin, elegant and handsome people who looked for all the world like a king and queen. 

But Herb did not want to abandon his home and family in Pittsburgh, and Marjorie did not want to leave Washington, where she exerted major influence. They compromised by agreeing to commute between the two cities, and Marjorie retired from the board of General Foods, the source of her fortune. This gave her time for concentrating on ramping up the cultural scene in Washington, which she thought to be woefully inadequate for a capital city. She installed her husband as chairman of the board of the National Ballet, from which Herb was soon selecting individual male dancers for special interest and attention.


Marjorie's plane, named the "Merriweather":




However, Herb soon did Marjorie a huge favor by helping her overcome her fear of flying. She intended to commute to Pittsburgh by train, but for one trip he arranged for a company plane, a Lockheed Lodestar, to transport Marjorie to Pittsburgh. The flight was ultra smooth, and the weather was calm. A half hour into the trip she told her husband that she was enjoying the flight, then a few minutes later said to him, “Herb, I want one.” He explained that a plane like that cost several million dollars, plus a crew and maintenance. She replied, “I didn’t ask how much it costs. I want one.” Shortly thereafter she purchased a British-made Vickers Viscount turbo-jet (above) powered by four Rolls-Royce engines, capable of accommodating 44 passengers. Herb suggested the name "Merriweather", his wife’s middle name. She was best pleased. Of course, she ripped out all those seats and furnished the interior as a living room with sofas, chairs and tables. Instantly, this became her favorite mode of transportation. She began using “Merriweather” to transport all her friends to and from her estates in Palm Beach and the Adirondacks.


In a short time, however, cracks began to develop in their connubial bliss. Herb grew to resent Marjorie’s restrictions on alcohol. She was stingy with cocktails and wine at her parties, which were otherwise lavish beyond description. To the amazement of her guests, she subsequently extended the cocktail hour to a full thirty minutes and began stocking guest rooms at her retreats in Florida and New York with liquor. As a life-long Christian Scientist, her personal limitation of alcohol consumption remained a steadfast practice, but she was eager to please Herb. Marjorie also included Herb’s four children in stays at Mar-a-Lago (Palm Beach, Florida) and Top Ridge (the Adirondacks in New York). Mar-a-Lago, the spectacular winter social haven, had been shuttered since Marjorie’s divorce from Joseph Davies in 1955, but Herb talked her into reopening it in 1961. Marjorie was thrilled to once more be at the top of the heap of Palm Beach society. However, it was there at Mar-a-Lago (below) that Herb was to meet his downfall.




Mar-a-Lago is now owned by President Donald Trump, who runs it as a profitable membership club.

Herb was well aware that, by being married to Marjorie, he had become one of the most powerful men in Washington. But trouble was brewing. In spite of her age, Marjorie had a voracious sexual appetite. Herb was complaining to friends that he was astonished that a woman in her seventies desired daily sex. Also, by the 1960s Margaret Voigt, Marjorie’s social secretary who ran all of her social affairs, had become Marjorie’s most powerful staff member. Herb and Marjorie’s children voiced concerns that Margaret had become too influential as the social gatekeeper for access to the heiress. Margaret even ate at Marjorie’s table. When Herb made the mistake of criticizing Margaret’s inefficient office practices, a resentful standoff ensued. Shortly thereafter, a set of photographs arrived on Marjorie’s desk. They showed graphic evidence that Herb was a practicing homosexual.

The pictures showed Herb naked as he cavorted with much younger men and boys around the oceanfront pool of Mar-a-Lago. Next a blackmail attempt was made, with threats to publish the incriminating photographs unless hush money was paid. Marjorie was astonished and equally surprised that her daughter, actress Dina Merrill, knew about Herb’s proclivities before the marriage had taken place. Nevertheless, friends and family knew that until that moment, Herb and Marjorie had enjoyed a warm, romantic relationship.

With irrefutable evidence presented to her, Marjorie decided that divorce was the only option. By 1964, it was a done deal. Their marriage had lasted a scant six years, and Marjorie was pleased to have the embarrassing incident behind her.

She was not vengeful, however. When Herb suffered a stroke after the divorce, Marjorie paid the medical bills and provided an apartment in Fort Lauderdale where Herb lived until his death in 1968*. And she continued to be in contact with Herb’s children, particularly Peggy, who had formed an especially close relationship during the marriage. Marjorie’s loyalty to Herb’s children was mutual, and they knew they were fortunate to be allowed to maintain a relationship with a great lady. Marjorie died in 1973, at age eighty-six.




*Note: 
The New York Times obituary, published on March 13, 1966, offered facts that clash with those stated in Rubin’s book. According to the Times, Mr. May died at a hospital on St. Thomas at age 71. He had suffered a stroke while on a cruise. If he had been 71 years old in 1966 (the year of his death), he would have been born in 1895, making him eight years younger than Marjorie, who was born in 1887. Yet Rubin declares that May was four years younger than his wife – 67 years old to Marjorie’s 71 years on the day of their marriage. She also stated that he died in 1968, whereas the NYT obituary was published on March, 13, 1966.
 

Sources:
American Empress – Nancy Rubin (1995)
http://www.paulbowles.org/marjoriemerriweatherpost.html


Thursday, March 2, 2017

Prince Egon von Fürstenberg

Eduard Egon Peter Paul Giovanni Prinz zu Fürstenberg (Prince Egon von Fürstenberg, 1946-2004), was a bisexual fashion designer, socialite and interior designer. A member of a German aristocratic family, he was a businessman who managed to keep his name in the press, tabloids especially. Although his given name ended in “zu” Fürstenberg, not “von” Fürstenberg, he chose the latter, because it was better recognized and understood by the public.* In any event, his proper form of address was “His Serene Highness.”

In 1969 he married fashion designer Diane Halfin, a Jewish Belgian-American whose mother was a Holocaust survivor. The marriage was opposed by Egon’s father, mostly for anti-Semitic reasons. Diane’s marriage to Prince Egon brought her a noble title and helped her fashion design business rise to international prominence. 

 


Prince Egon and Diane von Fürstenberg
 
However, the couple became estranged and lived apart after 1972, just one year after their second child was born. In 1983 Prince Egon remarried, this time to an American, Lynn Marshall. That union was childless. But during and between those marriages Prince Egon had many male partners. He was frank about his bisexuality and the openness of his first marriage. He even professed his bisexuality and drug abuse to New York magazine and the Italian daily La Repubblica. Many of his friends remember that among his favorite hangouts were the NYC gay bars Flamingo (for drugs – they had no liquor license at that time) and The Barefoot Boy – not to mention his legendary gay partying on Fire Island.

Fürstenberg certainly didn’t need to work, but he was fascinated by the fashion world. He later published two books on fashion and interior design: The Power Look (1978) and The Power Look at Home: Decorating for Men (1980). After a lowly start as a buyer for Macy’s department store and a designer of plus-size women’s clothing, he launched a successful men’s clothing line. Eventually he opened an interior design firm in New York City, but his career was forever in the shadow of his first wife. It was Diane, not he, who made the name “von Fürstenberg” a famous brand. 


Nevertheless, Diane and Egon remained life-long friends, and she gave him a professional push or two, helping to assure his success. His signature logo reflected noble blood and love for high society – a crown with a star (upper right in photo below). 



In 2004 he died in Rome at the age of 57, survived by his two children and both wives. There was a delay in revealing a cause of death, leading many to confirm what was known by his intimate friends, that his death was from AIDS. Later it was reported “officially” by his second wife that he had died from liver cancer. 



Egon with Errol Wetson and his wife Margaux Hemingway,
and model Pat Amari (right).
Photographed by celebrity photographer Gary Bernstein.

Egon was born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth. He was the son of Prince Tassilo zu Furstenberg and Clara Agnelli, the sister of Fiat mogul Gianni Agnelli. Egon was also a cousin of Princess Caroline of Monaco (b. 1957) and the King of Sweden, Carl XVI Gustaf (b. 1946). Although he was born in Switzerland, Egon grew up in a Venetian palazzo with a staff of 21 servants, one of the perks of having a mother with the last name Agnelli. 

In 1965, while studying economics at the University of Geneva, he met fellow student Diane Halfin, from a wealthy German family. After their marriage, they settled in New York City, where Diane started her dress business, and Egon abandoned a career in banking to attend classes in fashion design. The von Fürstenbergs were lionized for their trendy life-style and frank discussion of sexual escapades outside of marriage. They maintained a frantic social life and were among the revelers who participated in drug infused nights at Studio 54.

The Fürstenberg family first rose to prominence as a thirteenth-century noble house in southwestern Germany (Swabia), as part of the Holy Roman Empire. Their noble status was elevated to a princely house during the seventeenth century. Today there are two Fürstenberg  ancestral residences: a magnificent Baroque palace in Donaueschingen (first image below) and a Renaissance palace in Heiligenberg (second image). 




*Note: A German noble with “zu” before the surname meant that the family still owned the hereditary feudal land holdings and residence, while many un-landed commoners who were subsequently ennobled simply placed a “von” before the surname. Thus, “zu” carried far greater prestige. I know, I’m always telling you more than you want to know.
Sources:
Wikipedia, People Magazine profile (Dec. 21, 1981), NYT obituary, Village Voice

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich

 


Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich (1857-1905), one of the fabulously wealthy Romanovs, was notorious for his homosexual exploits. While serving as Governor of Moscow from 1891 to 1905, he proved  partial to young male flesh, often of the prostitute variety. However, being the younger brother of Tsar Alexander III and the uncle of Tsar Nicholas II (ousted by Lenin in 1917) afforded him the ability to live an indiscreet gay life.   

There were at least seven gay grand dukes at the time – uncles, nephews and cousins of the last two tsars (Alexander III and Nicholas II) – and Serge, as he was called, was at the top of the heap. He was involved in a series of homosexual affairs between 1874 and 1884, when he was living in St. Petersburg. Imperial Chancery Chief Alexander Mossolov complained that Serge’s scandalous private life was the talk of the town. Although there were laws criminalizing homosexuality, the Romanovs chose not to enforce them. During this same time period there was even a gay tsar -- but not a Russian. Tsar Ferdinand I, of German/French ancestry, ruled neighboring Bulgaria from 1887-1918 (see separate post in sidebar).

Although Grand Duke Sergei married Princess Elizabeth of Hesse (a granddaughter of Queen Victoria), his sexual orientation assured a childless marriage. However, they became the guardians of the son and daughter of Sergei’s younger brother, Grand Duke Paul, with whom Sergei had enjoyed a special closeness as a youth. Brother Paul had been banished from Russia and stripped of all titles and privileges when, after the death of his first wife, he married a divorced woman of lower social class in 1902, without being granted permission by his nephew, Tsar Nicholas II. 

The Grand Duke c. 1903
 
Sergei’s wife complained that he showed more affection to their adoptive children than to herself. As a consequence, Sergei suggested more than once that she take a “husband” from her own entourage. Ella, as Princess Elizabeth was called, was more an object of possession than affection, a strikingly beautiful woman Sergei could adorn with jewels to parade before society. Meanwhile, Sergei routinely attended musical performances with his male lover. The Grand Duke had special interests and proficiency in languages, art and music. He was a skilled painter and even played flute in an orchestra. He also wore a corset to accent his trim figure and posture. As well, he had a nervous habit of playing with the many rings on his fingers and never appeared self-assured, despite his rank.


Grand Duke Sergei was strict, ultra-religious and without the good humor of his brothers. In his later years he lived in constant fear of assassination, as his own father had been a victim of a terrorist assassination. Unfortunately, such a fate came to pass. While traveling alone by carriage inside the walls of the Kremlin Sergei was killed by a terrorist bomb in 1905, just months after he had retired from the Governorship of Moscow. He was 47 years old at the time of his death.

As for his legacy, he had enjoyed a successful military career, earning promotion to Colonel and eventually General. After active duty in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78, he was awarded the Order of Saint George for bravery and courage in action with the enemy. After a visit to the Holy Lands, he became Patron of the Russian presence in Jerusalem, including chairmanship of a society dedicated to the upkeep of Orthodox shrines in the Holy Lands. As Governor of Moscow, however, he oversaw the expulsion of 20,000 Jews, victims of infamous government sponsored pogroms under Tsarist 
Russia.

Sources:
Dan Healey – Homosexual Desire in Revolutionary Russia (2001)
Joseph Howard Tyson – 57 Years of Russian Madness (2015)
John Perry – The Flight of the Romanovs (1999)
The Advocate
Wikipedia